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SOURCE:  Louis and Melissa McBurney/Christianity Today

Oral Sex, Anti-Climax and Pain vs. Desire

Is oral sex wrong between married partners? I’ve talked to a couple of Christian friends about this, and the consensus is that men are generally for it, while women are generally against it. So who’s right? Is there a biblical answer?

Louis: Your observation is correct. When couples don’t agree on oral sex, the men tend to be the ones who are for it. But in our counseling experience, we find about as many couples who say they practice some type of oral sex as those who don’t. Generally the problem is not so much with cunnilingus (the husband stimulating his wife with genital kisses) but with fellatio (the wife stimulating her husband’s penis by mouth).

The wife’s resistance may be explained by a variety of causes. Rarely is it related to childhood sexual abuse where she was forced into fellatio. Sometimes a wife is responding negatively to insistent demands by her husband, which feel threatening to her. Also, there is often a revulsion to the idea of oral sex because of uncleanliness and strong genital odors.

Medically, the practice is generally safe unless there are infectious genital lesions (e.g. herpes, condyloma, chancres, etc.). These call for medical treatment. However, the anal area is not sterile and should be avoided in sexual play.

Biblically, there is no clear directive. Some verses in Song of Solomon seem to suggest oral sex, and Hebrews 13:4 might imply that any mutually agreeable behavior between husband and wife is sanctioned. The Levitical laws that carry the most explicit sexual directives and prohibitions do not mention oral sex.

Melissa: Sexual intimacy is always best when it is mutually satisfying. If oral sex causes dissension, then it is destructive—especially if you’re not talking openly about your disagreement. Trying to understand each other’s perspective could help a lot. Find some time to talk when your emotions are not so high from lovemaking. Be as open and frank as possible. You might find that you can work out a compromise.

We’ve been married 12 years, and my husband has always had a problem with retarded ejaculation. He can’t climax while having sex. I don’t want to make the problem worse by complaining about it, but it makes me feel unappealing. The doctors say the problem is psychological, and my husband seems to resent the idea that he should see a therapist. Our marriage is great otherwise, but I’m frustrated about this. What should I do?

Louis: Assuming your doctor has ruled out the physical causes of retarded ejaculation (e.g. neurovascular disorders, drug side effects, etc.) and that the pattern has always been present, I would advise you to look at it in the context of your entire relationship. You say your marriage is “great otherwise,” so the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may apply.

If your husband is not resistant to sex, is sensitive to your sexual needs and can lovingly bring you to orgasm, I don’t think the problem has anything to do with your attractiveness. The most common psychological causes of this disorder are a compulsive personality where control and scrupulosity about cleanliness may create anxiety; a fear of impregnating one’s wife; or a deep-seated (probably unconscious) ambivalence toward women.

Genital union is fun and important for a sense of sexual oneness, but intra-vaginal ejaculation is not necessarily symbolic of commitment, attraction, passion or love. A couple may find orgasm quite pleasurable without penetration. Stimulation to climax can be mutually satisfying with a variety of techniques. If you find orgasm more intense and complete during penetration, then continue that approach. And follow it up by stimulating your husband to ejaculation.

Because of infections and a difficult childbirth experience, I have vaginal scar tissue and a damaged gland that, short of a miracle, will never heal. As a result, intercourse is very painful for me. My husband understands this is not my fault, and I understand his need for regular sex. I dread having sex, but should I keep enduring it out of love? Resentment is growing between us.

Louis: The idea of “enduring” sex for any reason is distressing to me. We human beings are created with such a marvelous aptitude for healing and adaptation that I’m usually optimistic about the potential and probability for healing.

First of all, you and your husband should call a temporary moratorium on penetration, though not on sexual relations and pleasure. Second, check out all possible medical or surgical procedures that might relieve the physical problem of the vaginal scar tissue. The vagina is an elastic, expandable structure, and removal of the old scarring might be possible.

I assume you have already pursued medical avenues for relief, so third, I suggest that you begin the exercises of “sensate focusing” that can let you find nonpainful, enjoyable ways to give each other pleasure. This approach usually involves taking turns bringing each other physical pleasure—first through nonerotic stimulation such as massage, and then progressing slowly over many weeks to erotic, sexual stimulation without penetration. The later steps include some gentle, well lubricated vaginal massage with one finger, then with two, etc., halting at the first sign of pain. This gradual approach can prevent vaginismus, the spasm of the vaginal walls that creates most of the pain of intercourse. You should direct your husband in this process and proceed very slowly (over a period of months) in order for the conditioned pain/anxiety response to subside.

Since I’m not sure what physical damage has occurred, it is impossible for me to predict whether you have clitoral responsivity. If your clitoris is intact, you should be able to experience orgasm once the pain response is alleviated. Even if the pain cannot be overcome, love-making without genital union should still provide sexual satisfaction and relational intimacy.

Melissa: Working through this type of problem can deepen your relationship. Expressing love to each other as you consider each other’s needs and difficulties can help you both realize how important you are to each other. The key, again, is communicating openly, tenderly and unselfishly. The Lord designed us to have a strong need for each other. When we work to meet one another’s needs, our love for each other, ourselves and God expands and deepens. I hope you will use this difficulty to let that happen.

Real Sex columnists Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., were marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counselled clergy couples.

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