This podcast episode with Ryan and Selena Frederick was originally posted on August 15, 2020.
God cares about your sex life! In a time where we are bombarded by various messages about sex, it is so important to hear what the designer of sexual intimacy says about building great sexual intimacy in our marriage.
- What the Bible has to say about sex
- How couples can build strong sexual intimacy if they have different sex drives and desires
- How parents of young kids can balance all of their responsibilities and still have enough energy for sexual intimacy
- The impact of pornography on sexual intimacy
- Part 1 of our episode with Ryan and Selena Frederick: impactus.org/podcast/fierce-marriage
- Website: Fierce Marriage
- Book: See-Through Marriage
As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commission from qualifying purchases on Amazon.ca. Learn more.
Announcer: Welcome to the Impactus podcast. Today we have a special episode with Ryan and Selena Frederick, the founders of fiercemarriage.com. This episode originally aired in August 2020.
Ryan and Selena spoke with Impactus about God’s design for sex, and the fact that God cares about your sex life. They unpack what the Bible has to say about sex between a husband and wife, and what it means to have a healthy sexual intimacy in marriage.
So let’s go to our Impactus podcast with Ryan and Selena.
Kirk Giles: Ryan and Selena, welcome back to the podcast. Great to have you on with us again.
Selena: Yes, good to be here, thank you.
Ryan: Yes, thanks for having us.
Kirk Giles: So last time we talked about vulnerability in that level of intimacy in marriage, talked about how we develop a see-through marriage using your book as an example. Today we’re going to focus on a topic that we know is extremely important to a lot of couples, and we know that because of the questions we get and the number of people who are reading things, articles on our websites and all those kinds of things. So we’re going to talk about sexual intimacy today in the podcast.
And I'm just curious, let’s kind of try and start the conversation by bridging to our last conversation about developing a see-through marriage. How does developing that kind of vulnerability in our marriage relationship, how does that impact our sex life?
Ryan: Yes, I mean, that’s an incredible question, and I think we talked a lot about world use in the last episode, and I think that does inform this as well. I think the worldly view of sex is very distorted; I think nobody would really argue that, listening to this podcast.
But one of the biggest differentiators is that in the world’s view it’s a sexual, physical carnal act, and carnal meaning that it’s just a bodily act, it’s not in any way attached to our emotions. I'm exaggerating a little bit. I think they’ll acknowledge there’s emotional attachment there, but in the Christian world view, sex is so much more than just that, right. It’s an outcome of a promise, of a covenantal promise. It’s the sealing and the expression of that covenantal promise.
When a couple consummates their marriage on their wedding night, they are coming together literally as one flesh, what they’ve already done kind of emotionally and spiritually when they committed to –
And so when we talk about being see-through and being vulnerable, it’s really to me, it’s on every level, knowing that as we breathe the sense of safety and intimacy, emotionally and spiritually with one another, reflationary with one another, that sense of safety of intimacy just naturally has an overflow that flows into the bedroom in a really beautiful, remarkable way.
And I think a couple that is emotionally, spiritually and relationally safe and intimate, is very likely to have an emotionally safe and fulfilling physically intimate life. Does that make sense? Yes.
Kirk Giles: So really the difference between just sex being a physical act, versus sex being able to become something that is almost as deep emotional, spiritual and physical experience, that kind of intimacy.
Ryan: Yes, I mean, that sense of oneness, it’s where you kind of – I mean, I would hope that a lot of the men listening to this, or couples listening to this, they kind of have an experience, at least at some point, the sense of extreme oneness, right, where you almost don’t know where you end and your spouse begins, right, when you're just kind of in this dance of intimacy and it's all-encompassing, right.
And that’s why one of the – in our book Fierce Marriage, we talk about the purposes of sex, and one of the purposes – it’s the most profound purpose of sex – is that it’s in many ways it’s a reflection and a reminder of the Gospel and that here I am, fully exposed, fully naked, like, literally, but also emotionally, and still, you still love me fully, right, in that complete vulnerability and that complete nakedness.
And so it’s a picture of a big spiritual truthy, that without that, without that emotional safety, that emotional intimacy, that picture is not as full and to me, sex is not as enjoyable without that level of agreement.
Selena: Right. I think there’s a lot more – I think there’s a lot more purpose in it, right, that you were saying, than just – not just, but unifying with your spouse. But God has allowed us to procreate that way as well, and to yes, build unity, but also, like we’re trying to get to, is being known in a deeper way, that I don’t think any other aspect of marriage allows for the way sex does.
So therefore, I think there’s a lot of things that maybe we have expectations around or we thought might be intuitive but really aren’t. And so what do we do with those – not necessarily insecurities, but unsureness, right? Where do we go from there and what does transparency look like in, like, we’re having sex so we’re fully transparent, right.
But you know, there’s definitely some fear that can be involved, or shame, if it hasn’t been addressed, if there’s any passive use and addictions that haven't been, you know, brought to the surface, then would not really be known.
And I think it was Jen Wilken that said, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know,” is that right? Did I say that right?
Selena: OK. [Laughs]
Ryan: That’s good.
Selena: So, knowing each other, I think, is where it begins.
Ryan: That’s good.
Kirk Giles: Yes, that’s very good. How do you respond to a spouse who says, “I'm trying to know my spouse, but there seems to be a wall that’s there.” And especially when we’re talking about sexual intimacy, it seems like, I know, for a lot of couples, it just feels like one person is more interested in sexual intimacy than the other one seems to be. And so the person who’s more interested tends to feel frustrated, because they feel like there’s a wall. They're trying to know their spouse.
So, what do you say to both spouses, the one who’s kind of got their guard up, and what do you say to the spouse who’s trying to know the other person but just getting frustrated because the other person’s guard is up?
Participant: Yes, well, first off, that’s hard, difficult, and if there were kind of a pill you could take that would fix everything, that would be amazing. But there’s no real shortcut to working through some of these issues.
I’ll speak for the spouse that has kind of the desire for more, because that tends to be the dynamic in our own marriage, in general terms. So, I think we’ve experienced the greatest breakthrough when – I think in the last episode we talked about selfishness versus selflessness, and I think somehow, if you can approach this without an agenda – or let me rephrase that: with your only agenda being that you want to know your spouse more – I'm going to say your wife – more, right.
So, in other words, I'm not just trying to get sex, even though I do want it. [Laughs] I'm trying to understand why this is an issue and why we’re not meeting in this issue. If you can approach it with that – and it’s easier said than done – then I feel like you can start having really productive conversations around it. Because you're never going to get through without talking, you're never going to get through without having deep, long conversations around how this is affecting your lives and what your perspective’s on, so –
Selena: And then the spouse, I guess, that is a little more hands-up, like, cautious, I don’t want to move too fast here, or something. We actually, believe it or not, experienced this recently, where we just kind of have been like, “why is this kind of the dynamic with us? Lord, what is happening here?”
Ryan: Speaking of transparency. [Laughs]
Selena: Here we go. No, I mean, you were really great. We had a really difficult conversation, and it took a while to figure some things out.
Ryan: Like, days, not just – that wasn’t just a, you know –
Selena: Yes, when you brought this idea to me about how it is a gift; that sex is a gift that we can experience together, that enabled me to have just more, I think, mental breakthroughs of saying, “this is not just a check off the list,” which I think to can very easily fall into, the longer you're married. This is not just – not just, but yes, I understand the purposes and all that.
But understand that it’s a gift to be experienced, to be given to each other, to – I don’t know, I needed something to help me see beyond kind of just the act and the expectations, but what is this bigger picture of us together. And so engaging in that, I think, was very helpful for me, to just be giving of myself and to see sex in a different light and be grateful and want to engage quicker, more, so –
Ryan: And that’s so –
Kirk Giles: Just – I really appreciate you guys being that open and vulnerable with your own story on this, because it’s not like you’ve only been married a month; this is – right. So this is obviously – the beauty of sexual intimacy is that there’s just this constant opportunity to keep learning. And not just sexual intimacy, but everything in a marriage relationship, is this opportunity to keep discovering each other, keep discovering the gifts that God’s given to us.
And even the things that we know mentally, but then sometimes some things get in the way, to kind of keep coming back and reminding ourselves of the gifts of God for us in our life, including sexual intimacy.
And so, you know, that’s where a lot of patients and a lot of just – for a lot of guys, we get into this spot of, OK, well, we’ve had the discussion, the discussion has been resolved, check it off the list, and why do we have to keep coming back and revisiting this conversation? You’ve got to understand, this is a relationship, and you're talking about people and humans, and there’s dynamics that are always changing, and you're always going to be growing, so you have to keep coming back and having these kinds of discussions.
Ryan: Yes, yes.
Kirk Giles: It’s good.
Selena: [Unintelligible 00:10:55] human.
Ryan: And you're echoing part of our conversation, it sounds like. We’re going on seventeen years; I feel like we’d be further along than this. [Laughs]
Selena: Well, we change as people, don’t we?
Ryan: Yes, and so –
Selena: Like the season changes, and –
Ryan: And so we have to keep coming back, and that was – I just want to finish with this thought, because I know there’s a lot of people listening who’ve probably experienced this, or are experiencing this right now – is go through it together, talk through it together, but just do all of that without ever giving up.
And that’s the thing, a lot of couples will lose hope and then they’ll start to give up on each other, they’ll start to give up on this aspect of their marriage. And there’s pockets of despair, but I will say, there’s always going to be the other side of that; there’s always hope and there’s always greater closeness, there’s always greater joy.
And so I mean, we felt all those emotions just recently. It’s like, “it’s never going to work, we’re never going to figure it out,” but I just kind of, we could rest in your covenant and say, like, “Well, this is my wife and we’re going to work it out together and we’re going to keep talking as soon as the dust settles,” and by God’s grace you do find healing and find a way through it.
Kirk Giles: Yes, that’s so good. You know, I find that a lot of people seem to be searching for kind of a magic solution to have a great sex life. And you know, I think a few years ago, back when the Fifty Shades movies were so popular – and I don’t know what it’s like in the States right now, but as we’re recording this podcast, the number one movie in Canada on Netflix is a movie called 365.
And it’s a story about a woman who has been kind of feeling disconnected in her relationships in life, and there’s a rich guy who basically comes and says, “I want to spend money for you to come and live with me for a year, and I'm going to make you fall in love with me.” And basically, in the course of that year they fall in love, and there’s just these – and part of the allure of the movie are some of the sex scenes that have been in the movie. And I’ve been reading some just different things from different people about the kind of intimacy that people are being drawn to in this movie.
So for me, it just begs the question – it seems like Hollywood has no problem and the internet has no problem trying to portray a certain image of sexual intimacy and what sexual intimacy should be like. And a lot of times as Christians, we say, “Well, sex is a good gift from God,” but we don’t go a lot further than that. We just kind of say, “Sex is a good gift from God.”
And it leaves a lot of people wondering, like, well, what does a God-honouring sex life even look like? So how do you answer that?
Selena: Have you read Song of Solomon? That’s what I would begin with first of all.
Ryan: That’s good.
Ryan: Well, OK, so I like to look at this through two different kind of lenses, and that’s what the Bible prescribes, right, for a healthy sex life. And the other lens is what the Bible describes as a healthy sex life. So there’s prescribing and there’s describing.
So, a prescription is like, here’s how we keep the marriage bed undefiled, right, here are the behaviours we should prioritise in our lives in terms of our own purity, in terms of the purity of and how we view and approach our spouse. Those are prescriptions for health. That’s like saying, you know, eat healthy and you’ll be healthy, right. It’s the “do these healthy things and sex will be healthy and good.”
Then there’s the descriptions of kind of – well, I like to think of it as kind of the output. So it’s describing something that’s already happened, it’s describing the way it is if health is attained in these regards. Of course, this all requires that we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s word. And we can say on a high level, on a surface level, sex is a good gift from God.
But now, if we submit ourselves to His vision of it, that’s where the game starts to change, like, truly; that’s where the game truly changes. And so the description is what Selena said. It’s, go to Song of Solomon and read it, and read it again – it’s not a long book.
It’ll make you blush. You’ve probably read it, you're probably familiar, but it’s got some pretty vivid imagery, and especially in terms of the Bible. You could read it outside of the Bible and it would still be vivid. But the point I'm trying to make is that a married couple can experience these things.
The problem is that we tend to, instead of looking at the prescription and the description in Scripture, we’re looking at the prescription and the description in culture. And so instead of looking at it through that lens, looking through the world’s lens.
And the world has – it has no idea what love is, they don’t. Outside of the Bible, they don’t know. You ask one person on the street, and the next person’s going to have a completely different answer. And so that begins to taint our view and our expectations of sex, you know, because a lot of guys go in a marriage with a history of pornography, looking at pornography, watching it. And so they have this view of this is what sex is going to be like. And then that’s all kind of overblown, because their wife is not an actress in an adult film so they're going to have to kind of reconcile that with reality.
And then they feel the sense of let-down, they say, “OK, that’s wrong.” But then they start maybe watching these movies and saying, “Well, if I don’t feel these emotions this movie made me feel, then somehow it’s missing.” You see, we completely miscalibrated the conversation. I mean, it calibrated on the world of God.
Let art be art, right. There are certain aspects of a romantic story that should help us feel romance, right, and obviously we’re not watching explicit scenes or things like that, but some of that is really good stuff, as long as we always calibrate ourselves on God’s word and into reality. Because let art be art, let reality be reality.
Selena: Well, and the world’s really good at disqualifying our personhood, right, and disqualifying our humanity in the way of, like, sex gets better because you start knowing the other person more deeply. And you start unifying even more, because, like, I love you more, because I know you more. And the world, I think, would just distort it and set all these fantasy expectations.
But it requires the one thing of taking out the person, the actual human being, their decisions, who they are, their insecurities, their fears, you know. And so God is like, “No, I’m bringing two humans together, two people with two different personalities, desires, faults, strengths, weaknesses. And they are going to learn to love each other, and through their intimacy, they're going to grow to know each other better than any movie could ever try to portray, right. The expectations are actually real, they're actually flesh, they're known. And so, yes, I don’t know if that just takes us –
Ryan: I think you just – I want to rearticulate what you just said, because it hit me so hard, is that it gets better as you know each other more. A lot of guys, they think if they could just get a certain type of reality in the actual act of sex together, then they’ll feel fulfilled. Or if they can get a certain quantity –
Selena: A lot of lies out there, mm-hmm.
Ryan: A certain quantity and quality of sex will make it for a good sex life. And what I just heard you say is that the intensity is not governed by the activity itself, but by the underlying relationship, which to me, is so profound. It’s like saying, “look at this amazing car; it’s a sports car with this awesome paint job on it and it’s got a go-kart engine in it.”
And you can dress it up as much as you want, it’ll never go where it – or as fast as it was designed to go. You’ve got to put the engine in there and then you can actually, you know, get up and go the way it was designed to get up and go. [Laughter] I could use that verbiage.
Kirk Giles: That, on a guys’ podcast, is a great illustration. [Laughter]
Kirk Giles: I know that one of the big challenges for a lot of couples is that sex becomes a struggle when they have young kids. And you know, they're trying to balance their jobs as parents. A lot of times both parents are working, there’s just taking care of the house, taking care of the kids, and then by the time it comes time to go to bed, they just want to go to bed because they're exhausted. [Laughter]
Selena: The struggle is real. [Laughs]
Kirk Giles: So in the midst of all those kinds of life responsibilities, how can a couple still have enough energy for kind of any form of sexual intimacy?
Ryan: Mm-hmm, I think it’s helpful to reframe it: kids are a blessing. I love it. We love kids, and all couples should have lots of kids, right. But I want to use this word, and that’s why I say the preamble there. You kind of have to be like a crisis scenario, and it’s apt, because we were talking about this with some friends last night, about the crisis we’re currently in – COVID and all this other stuff.
Viewed as a crisis in that you're almost in crisis mode in that you realise that – you acknowledge that we’re in the middle of something kind of abnormal. Young kids: it’s not life as usual, it’s not marriage as usual, it’s a season.
So, in crisis planning in non-profit organisations, it doesn’t look too far ahead. They're looking, you know, three months out instead of nine months out, right. So what that short view lets you do is focus on the present and realise it’s temporary. I think that’s the biggest thing a couple can do to find growth and strength in this area. Say, “this is hard, it’s a crisis. Kids are great, it’s a crisis, but it’s not forever. So we’re going to hunker down, we’re going to figure out how to make this work, even when we’re tired, and we’re going to talk through that.”
And then from there, I think, by acknowledging it, reducing the amount of fatigue as you can in terms of like – because that in itself will relieve a lot of that fatigue, emotional fatigue.
Selena: What’s that – what’s that blog post about sex, the free train and that?
Ryan: Oh – [Laughs]
Selena: The Spectrum of Sex.
Ryan: The Spectrum of Sex, yes.
Selena: That one’s been a real helpful one for us and for – so understanding that not all sexual experiences are created equal right, and so having those expectations of sometimes it’s just a quick connect, and that’s what we’ve got to do and that’s OK. And then there’s other times where it’s going to take longer and it’s good and we get to involve ourselves in that, and that’s a good thing. And I think calibrating that during those seasons of young children, or children that are just in your space [laughs] all the time, no matter how old they be, I guess, has really, I think, allowed us to have grace with each other in terms of finding that time and space.
Ryan: Yes, to use the same sportscar analogy, you get the freight train; I want to make sure people know we met by freight train.
Selena: Right, just throw it out there.
Ryan: We compare it like a sportscar versus a freight train. A sports car is fast to a point, it’s there fastest, you know, and then a freight train takes a lot of time to get up to speed, but it can carry a much larger, you know, capacity, a much larger load with it. And so emotional load, those sorts of things.
So, knowing that in your marriage, that some intimacy is like, this is a physiological thing, we seem to connect, boom, let’s do it. The other thing is, let’s give ourselves an evening; let’s go out to dinner, knowing that intimacy is coming, and let’s enjoy that to its fullest. I think knowing and understanding those different opportunities; you know, for one you pay for the babysitter, the other time you just put the kids in front of a screen, right, let them watch a movie, [Laughter] type of thing. So, yes, talking through it is crucial.
Kirk Giles: And putting a lock on your bedroom door too – just saying. It’s a whole – but it’s true.
Selena: Yes, tangible things.
Ryan: Our bedroom door lock is actually broken at the moment, so we’ve learned to shove certain types of shoes, like, to wedge the door closed. And they’ve actually tried to open it, and we’re like, “No, stop.” [Laughter]
Kirk Giles: It’s just that’s – you're just like, “trust me, you don’t want to come in here right now.”
Ryan: [Laughs] Yes, it’s for your own good. Stay out.
Kirk Giles: Hey, there was a report in the New York Times that I read recently that said the term sexless marriage is the most googled phrase about marriage.
Ryan: No kidding? Wow.
Kirk Giles: Yes, and Newsweek said that anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of couples find themselves in a sexless marriage. So I think there might be some people listening to the podcast today who are just living with that reality, or even maybe bordering on that reality. What kind of advice would you give to couples who are living in that space?
Ryan: Hmm, yes. It’s tempting to jump to conclusions as to why that’s the most googled phrase. But I do want to kind of propose a theory, if you will. You know, online pornography is so rampant, I feel like a lot of times a sexless marriage is usually a symptom of sex being had elsewhere, right. And I mean, there’s sex satisfaction being found elsewhere.
I mean, a lot of couples we talk to – and it’s in the hundreds, in the thousands on a monthly basis – are writing in. I'm not just saying, like, podcasting too, but actually writing in, asking questions, is this. You know, how do we – my husband’s addicted, or I'm addicted as a wife, or I'm addicted as a husband. And so that’s another topic all together, but I do want to say, that’s probably a contributor, and honestly, that sort of lack of intimacy is the result of probably just not investing and being truly transparent with your spouse. Investing in them, investing in your marriage.
On a monthly basis – I’ll make this fast – I like to go on kind of a personal – like, just me, get away just to be with God. You know, recently I was doing a longer hike and I was praying, and I said, “God, how can I love my wife better?” and just asking Him that question was so profound, right. Marriage guy, right, marriage blogger, marriage writer, I’ll – novel concept – ask God how to love your wife better.
And He was, like, “You know what you can do?” And this is my – you know, I'm putting my take on it. “Listen more and don’t jump to conclusions,” basically. And I got home, and I told Selena that, and she was, like, “Mm-hmm, God is good.” She was like, “I’ve been praying for that.” [Laughter]
Selena: It really was an answer to prayer.
Ryan: Your prayer saboteur over here.
Selena: [Laughs] Saboteur.
Ryan: But that was a cue to me to invest into the marriage in a new way, and communicate that to her, and what that did is that that opened up all sorts of doors for all types of intimacy, really, so –
Selena: And I would speak to maybe if there isn’t an extreme – not extreme – but if there isn’t an addict ion maybe present, or maybe there’s just kind of a cold spell too, that they're just having a hard time, a difficult time connecting. A lot of times for us, we go back to our friendship. We focus on what aspects we liked about each other, you know, maybe before we got married, or how laughing together just – we joke on our podcast a lot about the office. It’s really held our marriage together for a lot of funny reasons.
But focusing on your friendship and not underestimating that, spending time with each other, doing what each other enjoys, just not – I mean, I may not enjoy something that he does, but I want to be with him. Sowing those seeds, I think, can definitely start breaking the ice a little bit and helping each other draw closer.
So maybe not totally sexless, but it feels kind of cold and we haven't been engaged in a while, like, that would be a good thing to do.
Ryan: Yes, that’s good.
Kirk Giles: Good advice guys, appreciate that. We’re out of time for this podcast. I want to again give people a chance to connect with you in the work that you're doing. So for anyone who didn’t hear from the first podcast, tell us a little bit more about your site and the ministry work you're doing. I just – I think just so everybody knows who’s listening, I think that the two of you are some of the – you're two of the top writers and contributors in the Christian community on the topic of marriage and all things marriage.
Kirk Giles: And I've been very encouraged and impressed with the ministry work that you're doing. And I know that you are a blessing to the Christian community, and so I'm very grateful that we’ve had the chance to have this conversation. But I really want all of our listeners to be able to stay connected with you guys on an ongoing basis. So tell us a little bit about your site.
Ryan: Kirk, you're so kind. It’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said.
Selena: My heart needed that. Thank you so much. [Laughs] Awesome.
Ryan: So encouraging.
Selena: Happier days, so thank you so much.
Kirk Giles: It has been heavy a few weeks here.
Ryan: Yes, and I really appreciate that. We write primarily at fiercemarriage.com, that’s kind of our content hub. We also have the Fierce Marriage podcast that drops weekly and sometimes twice a week, with interviews. And then we have books on Amazon. You can find a lot of stuff just at fiercemarriage.com. But yes, I really appreciate it – appreciate your kind words.
Kirk Giles: Well, thank you guys, appreciate having you on the podcast, and God bless you in the days ahead in your ministry work.
Ryan: Thanks Kirk. Take care.[Music]
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Impactus podcast. To learn more about living a life of purpose and Godly impact, check out impactus.org.