I was raised as a religious youth to be good and chaste, and subsequently I ended up suffering from the all too common "Good Girl Syndrome." In other words, once I'd saved myself for my wedding night, I made the transition physically, but not mentally or emotionally. I adapted to all the other aspects of marriage quite well, but I did (and still do) turn red if my sexuality comes up in a conversation (for example, telling someone that I'm pregnant). It wasn't that I never enjoyed myself, but I had been fed so many cultural messages about sex being dirty, just physical, animalistic, and anything but spiritual, so it was hard to look at it as good, let alone holy. I still wanted to be a righteous person, and I wasn't finding much (especially from religious sources) that ever talked about sex in a positive light. So even though I knew that it was ok to have sex when you're married, there was still a part of myself that was always uncomfortable with the fact that I was sexually active. I even recall shortly after my wedding having the thought "well, there's no going back [to virginity] now, it's too late."
Now physical pleasure is a valid aspect of sex (and needn't be considered 'dirty,' I think, unless it is the only reason for the sexual relationship...which of course would not be the case in a marriage). Procreation is an important part of sex too (but, again, not the only reason for the relationship!) With that said, (at least for me) finding the spiritual side of sexual intimacy was what finally helped me move out of the 'virginal youth' mindset and into being able to be a 'lover' wife. I deeply wish that I had figured out both my problem and the solution years ago when we were first married, but it's better late than never I suppose. I finally tuned in to myself as a sexually active person, and it's remarkable how much better my life (all aspects of it) have become.
So how did I recover from my Good Girl Syndrome and find the spiritual side of sex? There were several parts, but first I should note that my husband has been supportive of me throughout this process, and that it was not his fault in the first place. He always wanted me to be able to love the physical side of marriage as he did, and tried to help me in whatever ways he could think of. But there were things going on inside me that couldn't just be loved away, and it took a while to find and fix them.
- I had to realize what was wrong with me in the first place. It wasn't just that I was tired, or hormonal, or had low libido because of the nursing baby...it was that in some deep-seated part of my unconscious I wasn't comfortable with my own sexuality. I faced that and called it by name, and naming your demon is the first step to killing him.
- I read The Soul of Sex and it was very helpful for me in appreciating sexuality as much larger than just the physical act. The author explored classical archetypes and discussed sexuality from a philosophical perspective that was very helpful to me. (If you didn't read my book review, click the link there and go read it. Please! That book was literally life-changing for me.)
- I got in touch with my pagan side. A number of pagan religions (notably wicca) teach that the sexual act is the ultimate thing in the universe, the Great Rite between Goddess and God. It joins opposites into a whole that is greater than the parts, and finds resolution in the dichotomies of existence. Considering the common pagan belief that we all have aspects of gods/goddesses within us, or all have the potential to become gods/goddesses, then when we enact the Great Rite we are creating a microcosm of that holy (and vital) resolution.
- Think about things like what I mentioned above (both in and out of the bedroom): the unified whole being greater than the parts, the physical unification being a symbol for spiritual and other unity in your marriage, etc. Discuss these ideas with your spouse.
- Lighting candles. We have a few fancy ones from this etsy shop, but mostly we have cheap tealights and they work just as well. The ambiance of candlelight is not only romantic, but many
photo by Alice Harold
- Try a bath (you can add candles there too!) Ritual washings are part of many religions, so try washing each other before proceeding to other activities.
- Massage one another with oil (or lotion). Anointing with oils and formalized touching are found in many spiritual practices. Take the opportunity to use repetitive motions and physical touch to arouse and relax your spirits as well as your bodies.
- Anything which shuts out the world can be a way to tune into the spiritual. So, in intimate times, shut out the world, and tune into your own spirit, your spouse's spirit, and the Spirit that is over your marriage.
- If consummation is the 'magic moment' (afterwhich you are 'married' and would have to seek a 'divorce' rather than an 'annulment'), then every time you re-consummate your marriage it could be considered a way of renewing your vows. Think about that!