When I married my sweetheart at the age of 27, more than two decades ago, I thought I was sexually smart and confident. But there was so much I had yet to learn.

I wish I’d known that TV and movie sex, music lyric sex, porn sex, “50 shades” of romance novel sex is Not. Real. Sex. Screen stars and music idols are not making love, they are making money!!! (Why do we let them fool us?!)  All of the aforementioned should come with the warning, “Don’t try this at home!” So much of life — and love — is about learning to distinguish real from fake.

There are five synonyms in my computer thesaurus for the word intimacy: familiarity, closeness, understanding, relationship and confidence.  Real sexual intimacy transcends body parts and orgasms. The original (Biblical) word for married sexual intimacy is yada. Yada means to know, to be known, to be deeply respected. The word doesn’t actually reference anything physical. Just like the original man and woman KNEW one another in the beginning, real intimacy EXPOSES the REAL inner you to your spouse. It reveals us to our mate at our deepest, most vulnerable selves. It is the one place where we can be naked and unashamed. The 10 years of fake sex that I had before I married –outside of covenant– was a (distorted and harmful) delusion compared to the real deal.

I wish I’d known that our first sexual experiences imprint us. This is important because our prior sexual exposure will affect our marriage bed. The manner in which we are introduced to sex is etched onto our psyche. Our initial patterns of sexual involvement tattoo a message, a definition, onto our brains of just what sex is. Our first experiences will *train* our bodies and minds to respond sexually in specific ways. It is critical to understand that the initial messages (sex is wrong, sex is bad, sex is nothing, etc), feelings (shame, fear, apathy, etc) and habits need to be identified, corrected and healed.

I wish I’d known that faithfulness begins before marriage. Christian singer Mandisa sports a T-shirt that says “Purely Loving My Husband and I Haven’t Even Met Him.” Unfaithfulness before marriage increases our vulnerability to unfaithfulness after marriage.

I wish I’d known why sex is so important to a man. I’ve learned that in general, men filter a lot of emotion through sexual expression. Women are not more emotional than men; we just have a wider variety of outlets for our emotional energy. Culturally speaking, there are just two “acceptable” emotions for men: aggression or lust/sex. Women are expected to be “emotional.”  We are free to do a lot with our feelings. We cry, talk to our friends, go to the spa or get some retail therapy. But men are supposed to be *tough.* (How many times have you heard that men are *babies* when they get sick?)  The only thing men are free to do with their emotions is to get aggressive (play sports, work out, etc.)…or have sex. Whether your husband feels angry, tired, fearful, hurt, confused, frustrated, happy or excited, he will probably want to *express* his emotion sexually. Don’t get mad at him. He’s wired that way. He is not likely to come to you and say, “Honey, I had a hard day, I need to be close to you.” He will probably just give you the signal that he wants to get it on! A wife needs to understand how much her husband wants and needs to connect sexually with her and to have her respond to him out of her love for him.

I wish I’d known that secrets block intimacy. Past abuse, promiscuity, addictions, pornography, masturbation, abortion, anything that you are too *ashamed* of (or too fearful) to share with your mate will hinder your sexual connection. If either of you withholds or hides parts of yourself from your mate, there will be problems. Real sexual intimacy happens in trust and safety.

Sexual intimacy requires emotional maturity. I’ve read that there are three levels of intimacy, each building upon the previous. Think of a three-layer wedding cake.  The first (bottom) layer is “self-intimacy.” This involves honestly assessing, valuing, and respecting yourself. The second (middle) layer is “conflict intimacy” where you develop good conflict resolution skills, i.e., knowing how to “fight fair.” The final (top) layer is “affection intimacy,” where you develop the capacity to truly love, being able to give and receive affection. Real sexual intimacy happens here. Conflict is inevitable. In order to reach the top level of affection intimacy, we first have to take the steps to know ourselves and learn how to effectively resolve conflict.

Sexual intimacy takes time. Some experts have said that it takes a “20 year warm up” to get to the point where two spouses fully know each other sexually. There was a lot of swinging from the chandeliers in my early years of marriage. It was great. But time has given us a level of intimacy– an enjoyment, comfort and security– that we did not expect. We’ve learned an intricate dance, choreographed especially for and by the two of us. Real sexual intimacy just gets better with time, practice and patience.

Real sex is a spiritual act. It is a gift and not a goal. It is the picture of the blissful union of Christ and His Church. I think that is why the world is so sexually driven. I call it the desperation of our separation. G. K. Chesterton once said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”  True sexual intimacy grows out of the relational intimacy we nurture with our Creator. *Becoming one* in marriage is the fruit of our growing as individuals in our faith. If you missed the mark of sexual purity before marriage, there is hope. My husband and I didn’t wait for one another and there was quite a bit of sexual brokenness in both of us. The good news is that God is the Redeemer. Sex is His idea. Whether we make it to the altar pure or not, nurturing our spiritual intimacy with God is the key to real sexual intimacy with our spouse.