The Challenges of Physical Intimacy In Marriage

Lisa May, Live the Life South Florida Executive Director

Over the years of working in the relationship education arena, I’ve found that most of our challenges are relatively common in that many of us struggle with the same issues. Satan deceives us into believing we’re the only ones struggling with the particular problem, and then we isolate ourselves because we’re either too embarrassed or ashamed to reach for help. 

To remove the stigma of asking the questions that make us uncomfortable and vulnerable, we decided to host an online “After Hours” Q & A with our LivetheLifeSoFlo Instagram account. We go live every Wednesday at 9:00 pm. During the week, people can submit questions anonymously, and we respond during our “go live” time. As I pondered our article this month, I thought, why not share the questions and our responses with you regarding physical intimacy. My guess is many would ask the same questions, and it seems disingenuous to never address physical intimacy in a marriage and family ministry.


Q – My spouse can no longer perform physical intimacy. What do I do with my burning desires?

A – It’s not unusual for a couple to experience the inability to have intercourse. For some it may be for a while, but for others it may be permanent. If you’ve not already sought medical advice, I will encourage you to explore what’s caused the inability. Very often stress and other health-related issues are the culprits. Many can be alleviated with proper medication. Whether this is for a while or a permanent challenge, a couple can experience sexual pleasure. Intercourse isn’t the only equivalent of sex. Foreplay is sex and creates an environment of giving rather than taking; it’s other-centered. When we focus on how to give pleasure and birth arousal for your spouse, the emphasis is on them rather than on me. 

Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family, says, “Things like 10 minutes per day of ‘inner-life conversation (talking about the highs and lows of the day), date nights when you do something new and exciting, working out together, laughing together, affection (kissing, holding each other for 10 minutes) — these things can provide similar benefits that sex provides the marriage.” Sex is intended for our pleasure, but we also need to consider ways to be emotionally and spiritually united to keep the marriage strong. 

The word burn has a me-centric undertone of obsessive desire rather than longing or yearning. If your desires are burning, I encourage you to self-assess whether this is caused purely by lack of physical intimacy, or is it being fed by activities such as pornography, musical lyrics, movies or books that are provocative. If so, remove those things from your environment and hold fast to Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- THINK about such things.” 


Q – I am no longer attracted to my spouse and have little desire for intimacy. What do I do when it’s not enjoyable to me?

intimacyA – Again, it’s not unusual for spouses to lose attraction to one another over time. Very often life comes in and takes over; we have careers, children, laundry, grocery shopping, bills that need to be paid, etc. “Unconsciously, people may become stuck in their specific daily roles — like a parent, boss, caregiver, teacher, etc. — and consequently communicate with their partners with the same demeanor. I’ve seen this many times in relationships where a teacher by day speaks to their spouse in the same tone and manner as they speak to their students. The same has been true of us as parents; we speak and respond to our mates as though we are their mother or father. Long term, this can change our image in our partner’s eyes and reduce the attraction.” -Nazanin Maoli.

If we interact with our spouse as one more thing “I have to do” rather than “what I get to do,” the dynamics of the relationship will change. It reminds me of the story of the Two Wolves. The origin is unknown and is sometimes attributed to the Cherokee Indians. It’s the story of a grandfather using the metaphors of two wolves or dogs to explain the inner conflict to his grandson. He tells his grandson that every man struggles with two wolves or dogs that live within him; one is good and the other is evil. When his grandson asks which wolf wins, the grandfather answers whichever he chooses to feed is the one that wins. If we only feed the dog of humdrum, pay the bills, pick up the dry cleaning, wear a tattered t-shirt to bed, and never feed the dog of a date night with candles or alluring lingerie, then the dog of no attraction and no desire for intimacy wins. Nazanin Moai, the host of the podcast, Sexology, teaches, “We take for granted that just because we were attracted to our partner once, the same attraction will stay forever without effort.” If you want your relationship to be as it was in the beginning, then you have to treat it as you did in the beginning. Add some thrill; we are all responders.


Q – Can it be harmful in my relationship to fantasize?

A – Fantasizing is a normal and natural part of life. If your fantasies are about your spouse and they aren’t physically harmful to your spouse, that’s great. Still, if you’re fantasizing about a sexual experience with someone other than your spouse, that puts your relationship in jeopardy.


Q – Is it okay to follow and “like” or “heart” social media pictures of the opposite sex?

A – We all know that this isn’t a question about responses to friends and families’ posts. This is when we receive an image of a provocative picture. The answer is NO; it’s not okay. 1 Peter 2:11 says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” As John Piper beautifully states, “Christians don’t succeed in every battle. The issue is that we resolve to fight, not that we succeed flawlessly. We don’t make peace with sin. We make war…”


Our prayer is this was helpful and not offensive. Sex is a gift from God and meant to bring pleasure, but the enemy has made it tawdry and something we are uncomfortable discussing. Scriptures make it clear that it was and is intended to be shared in a married relationship. 


My beloved is mine, and I am his…(Song of Solomon 2:16).


Live the Life South Florida exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. Lisa May is Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida. She can be reached at [email protected], by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308, or visit

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