If we talk about "healthy intimacy" in marriage, we must be talking about having sex as often as a couple would like to, right? Nope! This thinking is dead wrong and will eventually undermine and can even ruin your marriage. It really can! Not to worry though because we would love to help you with a healthier view of intimacy, one that will keep your marriage happy and thriving for many years to come, instead of merely the next 15 minutes. To help us figure this out, let’s look to both science and the Bible because they both have much to say on the subject.
To truly understand intimacy in marriage, we must start with its intended purpose which is to foster deep and meaningful connection between two people. This is what the Bible (the oldest authority on marriage) tells us in Genesis 2:24. There we read, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” The word “flesh” here taken literally means “person.” So how can a man and his wife become "one person?" Obviously, they can’t physically become one person. However, they can become one emotionally and spiritually. Therefore, the Bible is trying to tell us that the purpose for marital intimacy is to join us together, as husband and wife, both emotionally and spiritually.
Now let’s try to understand the purpose for physical intimacy from a much newer source, science. The latest science tells us that there is a chemical cocktail created when there is physical intimacy with deep emotional connection. This cocktail of endogenous (meaning produced from within) chemicals includes; dopamine, norepinephrine, testosterone, oxytocin, and serotonin. All of these chemicals are known to have an impact on our emotional state and our ability to connect with others.
In a healthy marriage, this means a husband and wife will be focused solely on each other for a time, thanks to the dopamine. Norepinephrine allows both partners to sear an image of their lover’s face and naked body into their brains in a way that will endear them to each other for years to come. Testosterone promotes a desire in both men and women for the object of their affection. Oxytocin acts as a natural tranquilizer that will lower blood pressure, blunt sensitivity to pain, reduce stress, and promote cuddling and sleep. Last but not least, serotonin brings a deep feeling of calmness that further allows a couple to put the worries of life aside for a time and connect at a deeper level. Does all of this sound like it fosters both emotional and spiritual intimacy in a marriage? Indeed, it does!
It looks like science and the Bible agree here, but what about our culture at large? What message does our culture send us about physical intimacy or it’s purpose in our marriage? This is a much more subjective question, but we would love to share our perceptions. We understand our culture to be saying that sex is, “all about me.” As in, “I need to make sure I get my needs met.” Or, “Everybody hooks up and you are a prude if you don’t.” And, “Looking at pornography is just another way to get my needs met and it’s not hurting anyone.”
In our view, our culture is clearly at odds with both science and the Bible. The divide is even greater than you think. Remember what we just learned from science about all those chemicals? When you are caught up in unhealthy sexual experiences (including hookups, porn, and more), these same chemicals works against a healthy relationship and will undermine a marriage. Here’s how.
Remember how dopamine causes a person to hyper-focus during physical intimacy? In the context of marriage, this benefits the couple and their connection, but in the context of hookups or porn, dopamine will cause a person to hyper-focus on someone or something (not their spouse) that will come back to haunt them. In other words, you think you are just hooking up, but will struggle to forget this person, or this image, or this incident. You may think that the darkest corners of pornography will help you climax and then you can get on with other things, but this could not be further from the truth. During porn use, the hyper-focus will cause a person to struggle to get images out of their mind. This is the beginning of the addiction as this person begins to lose control of their thoughts. Sound scary? We think so too. Remember how norepinephrine sears an image into our brains? This is beneficial in a committed marriage, but troubling outside of one. An extra shot of testosterone will cause desire for one night stands or more pornography, taking this person further and further away from their spouse. The oxytocin rush (without a permanent object of affection like a husband or wife) will act as a tranquilizer, much like heroin in this case, because there are no natural safeguards in place the way there is in a healthy marriage. Lastly, serotonin adds to the self-medicating nature of someone who is turning to fleeting relationships or porn for physical satisfaction.
In summary, the purpose of healthy physical intimacy, or sex, in a marriage is to bond a husband and a wife together in deep and meaningful ways that little else can accomplish. Is this the purpose that physical intimacy serves in your marriage?
If you have any comments or questions about this post, we would love to hear from you in the comments below.