“I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive,” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NIV)
Do you know that verse? It’s such a good one to memorize. Essentially, it is saying “Anything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial!”
Let’s continue on in our conversation about sex and address the issue of boundaries.
If you missed part one of this series, you can check it out HERE.
With my Christian premarital couples, especially, I get this question a few times a month: “So, what’s okay… and what’s not okay?” Typically, I find that the need to even ask a question like this suggests an attempt to justify behavior that feels like it is rubbing against a moral boundary (pun intended). If the Holy Spirit is working in us, then our conscience is submitted to Him and when it comes to defining sexual boundaries outside (or for the sake of this post, “inside”) of marriage… most of the time, the conviction that we feel when we are approaching or crossing a personal decision regarding sexual boundaries based on our morals/values can’t be relieved or vindicated just by asking our counselor (or anyone else) their opinion on how far is too far.
So, why are boundaries necessary?
I will let the experts answer this question:
“God created us to be free, and to act responsibly with our freedom. He wanted us to be in control of ourselves, and to have a good existence. He was behind that idea all along. But as we all know, we misused our freedom and as a result, lost it. And the big fruit of this loss of freedom was the loss of self-control. We have felt the results of that ever since in a wide variety of misery.
Consider a few of the alternatives to self-control:
- Relationships where people try to control each other
- Faith that is practiced out of guilt and drudgery instead of freedom and love
- The replacement of love as a motivator with guilt, anger and fear instead
- The inability to stop evil in significant relationships and cultures
- The inability to gain control of our own behavior and solve problems in our lives
- The loss of control to addictive processes
- The generational cycle of sin unable to be broken
These are to name a few. So, it is now no wonder why the need for boundaries was felt so deeply. They are so dear to the heart of God that He says it was one of the motivators for the sacrifice of Christ Himself: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1) Jesus died to set us free: from sin, from the devil, from the world around us. And that is the essence of what boundaries teach—freedom.” (Copyright © 2000 Cloud-Townsend Resources).
So, we see that we were created to be free, but chose to behave in a way that caused that freedom to be stripped from us (for our protection) and that a sacrifice was necessary to restore freedom to us. Wait, boundaries teach freedom? Yes, and they need always be motivated by love! What I’m hearing from the statement above is the deep importance of doing away with motivations stemming from anger, fear, guilt, and control and moving towards the desire to experience God’s best for our lives. A basic definition of a boundary might be “This is what’s okay, and this is what’s not okay.” God wanted to do away with the evil and brokenness that comes when we misuse our freedom, so the most amazing boundary ever was set into motion and Jesus decided to sacrifice His life for you and I in order that we might experience true freedom and the restoration of self-control.
What happens when boundaries are absent or broken?
If we examine this explanation of boundaries and apply it to the topic of sex, we begin to understand the importance of good communication and Holy self-control in the expression of this act of intimacy. Using the context of marriage, I want to attempt to summarize the alternatives to self-control that we need to watch out for based on Cloud and Townsend’s commentary above as it is related to the topic of sex:
- Sex as a method of control and/or attempting to initiate the act of sex with your spouse using guilt is destructive and dangerous. For instance, the decision to withhold sex from your spouse as punishment is a form of manipulation and leads to feelings of shame and ultimately, greater disconnection.
- Deciding to “escape” through the use of pornography can become an addiction that negatively effects your ability to engage in healthy sexual behavior with your spouse and often leads to increased feelings of shame. Repeated exposure to pornography also skews expectations connected to appearance (of self and spouse), performance, acceptable/safe sexual behavior, and the likelihood of engaging in other extra-marital sexual behavior.
- Refusing to take ownership in marital conflict and instead blaming your partner is a form of defensiveness motivated by a desire to self-protect. This keeps your spouse at a distance and creates a cycle of unhealthy and unhelpful, damaging communication that creates greater division in your marriage. The emotional distancing that happens because of this makes the act of sex seem unfulfilling, robotic, and/or unsafe.
- Without pursuing intentional healing and activating the courage and humility needed to work through past and present hurts, pain, and trauma- a misunderstanding of sex can be perpetuated and passed down to your children. This, unfortunately, can cause generational sexual misconduct and leave a legacy of broken relationships and strained or absent communication.
I can identify with one of these. I’m stuck. What should I do next?
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life,” (NLT). One goal of a boundary is to define your sense of self, so that you can guard and maintain it (self-control). Part of this process happens when we take time to identify our needs and then figure out how those needs fit with the needs of our partner. Within the context of sex, we must learn how to communicate these needs in a respectful, timely and transparent way so that the four examples above cease to be options and consequences.
One thing you can do today is to pause and pray. Ask the Lord to help you to increase your awareness about these three things:
- When it comes to sex, what feels good and what doesn’t. What are some barriers to sharing these with my spouse?
- Emotional needs that you may have that have not been expressed. What are some barriers to sharing these with my spouse?
- Past hurt/unforgiveness/bitterness/trauma that has been left unprocessed and unreconciled. What are some barriers to healing regarding these events?
If you and your partner are struggling sexually, take some time to write down answers to these statements/questions. If you find that it is difficult to talk about this with one another about these things or that the conversation leads to greater conflict, consider setting up an appointment with one of our professional counselors to help mediate the conversation and provide some insight into getting “unstuck” and growing in the area of healthy sexual connection. We are here for you and care about your marriage! Through strategic steps we can help with marriage counseling.
*What questions you have? Our next post is going to be answering your questions about the benefits of a healthy sexual relationship. Private message us on Facebook, or send a confidential email to us to remain anonymous.
Here at Cornerstone, we care deeply about people’s holistic selves, included in which is the topic of sex. We have several counselors who are passionate, equipped, educated, and well-versed in discussing issues surrounding this subject as well as any role that faith may play in relation to it. Please give us a call at 303-902-3068 or email us at: [email protected] if you’d like more information about setting up an appointment with one of our qualified, professional mental health counselors to help you in the process of overcoming these barriers to healthy sexuality.
**Boundary setting to increase intimacy does not apply to abuse situations. There are people who choose to be abusive (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually) regardless of the actions of the one being victimized. Abusers can be very manipulative and cause their victims to believe that they have done something to merit these traumatizing actions and in some cases, that they deserve the abuse. In dangerous situations like this, it is important to escape the abuse and get to safety. If you are in a situation where you are being harmed by another person in any of the ways listed above, you deserve to be in a safe place. Seek help to get out of these relationships and find safety (i.e. Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence- 303-831-9632)
Meet some of our counselors who specialize in working through sexual issues with both premarital and marital couples.
Devin P. Pierce, M.A., LPCC, NCC
Some of Devin’s specialties include:
– ABBT (Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapy), EFT, Person-Centered Therapy
– premarital and couples counseling (Devin is Prepare/Enrich certified)
– sexual identity formation, sex counseling, pornography issues
– issues involving family members with mental illness and/or addiction
Click here to learn more about Devin.
Trudi Beck, M.A., M.S., LMFT
Some of Trudi’s specialties include:
– couples/relationships (Trudi is Prepare/Enrich certified)
– blended/stepfamily issues
– sexual abuse
– grief and loss
Click here to learn more about Trudi.
Sean F. Taylor, M.S., LMFT, CAC II
Sean is the Founder and Director of Cornerstone Christian Counseling and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Some of his specialties include:
– EMDR, EFT, CBT, CAC II
– couple’s counseling (dating, marriage, re-marriage; Sean is Prepare/Enrich certified)
– family counseling/parenting issues
– sex therapy
– men’s issues
– trauma therapy
Click here to learn more about Sean.