God intends sex to be hot and awesome inside marriage, and commands abstinence outside of marriage. That’s a difficult expectation! Our society says that abstinence is a waste of time and effort — maybe even harmful — but that’s how difficult endeavors often look to people who don’t want to try. Climbing Mount Everest looks foolish, dangerous, and difficult, and many people who make the attempt fail, but I can only imagine how fantastic the journey is for those who succeed.

In any event, my purpose here isn’t to advocate for abstinence. If you’re a Christian, God commands it. (See: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 and Hebrews 13:4, among many other verses.)

However, it’s unfortunate that the command for sexual purity has been widely applied within the church so as to avoid almost all other discussions about sex. Most unmarried Christians are taught to abstain before marriage, but little else. There’s an unspoken expectation that right after the wedding ceremony a switch will flip and the newly married couple will somehow “figure it out” on their own. This is a recipe for disaster! And, in fact, it often leads to sad results: mismatched sexual expectations between spouses that aren’t revealed until it’s way too late — either so far into the relationship that it’s too painful to break it off, or even after the wedding.

So, my strong encouragement for unmarried Christians is twofold:

  • Give some serious consideration to your sexual expectations for your future marriage, long before you have a potential spouse in mind.
  • Have a frank conversation about sex early on in any relationship. It may quickly become obvious that your partner isn’t on the same page as you, and you can spare yourselves a huge amount of heartache by breaking things off quickly.

The difficulty is obvious: how can you learn any of this without having sex? How can you know what you like if you’ve never tried it? To some degree you can’t, but that’s fine. The point isn’t to be  a sexual dynamo before you get married. Think of it like you’re planning a vacation to a place you’ve never been — first consider for yourself the kind of vacation you’d like to have, and then discuss your ideas with your partner and compare. If you get excited about the same kind of things, great! But if you want to sit by the pool every day and your partner only wants to hike, then you need to figure if and how to compromise, or whether to just cancel the trip.

It isn’t only the specific sexual interests and expectations that reveal a lot about your compatibility, but also the way in which you and your partner engage in the discussion. There are no “wrong” answers, but if your answers and approaches are significantly different from each other then that might be a red flag. Is your partner open to your ideas and desires? Is your partner suggesting things that repulse you? When there are disagreements (as there are bound to be), is your partner eager to compromise? Or resistant and stubborn?

This conversation about sex shouldn’t be a one-shot, although one discussion may be enough to rule someone out. After the first discussion you’ll both probably have more ideas and questions, so bring sex up again in a week, and another week, and another. Eventually you’ll both either be super-excited at the prospect of sex together, or one of you will be dreading it. If you’re early in the relationship, that dread should be enough motivation to get out while you can.

So what kind of topics should you discuss? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • What do you think is the purpose of sex in marriage?
  • What do you think are God’s expectations for sex?
  • What makes you most excited about sex? Most nervous?
  • How often do you think about sex?
  • Have you ever had an orgasm? Do you masturbate? How often? How do you touch yourself? Where? When?
  • What most turns you on? What turns you off? What sights, sounds, touches, experiences, smells, tastes…?
  • How often do you think you’ll want to have sex when you’re married?
  • What should you do when one spouse wants to have sex and the other doesn’t? What if this happens frequently?
  • When is it ok to refuse sex with your spouse? Tired, sick, angry, busy, pouty, worried, sad, distracted…?
  • Even if you know you wouldn’t enact them in real life, what kind of sexual fantasies do you have?
  • How should spouses compromise if one person wants to do something sexually that the other doesn’t?
  • What activity are you most excited to do sexually after you’re married?
  • Is there anything sexual that you definitely won’t ever do?
  • How do sex and romance relate in your mind?
  • Do you want to take charge sexually, or be led? Or both at different times?
  • What do you think about oral sex and anal sex?
  • Do you think sex should be playful or serious?
  • Would you want to try new things, even knowing that some you might end up disliking?

As you go through this list I’m sure you’ll branch off in many other fruitful directions. It you’re still excited about each other after having this discussion a few times then your sexual compatibility isn’t likely to be a roadblock to your relationship.

The key is that you have to be honest and vulnerable with each other — if you can’t, then that itself is a huge red flag. The internet is full of sad stories about “bait-and-switch” relationships in which one partner (usually, but not always, the woman) was sexually adventurous before the wedding, and a cold fish after. If a frank discussion about sex is had early enough in the relationship, then it will be easier for both partners to be honest because the stakes will be lower — you won’t already have invested several years into the relationship that you’re afraid of losing. Even if one partner wants to deceive the other, it will be harder for him or her to succeed at it over the course of a long, multi-part discussion.

Don’t just assume that you and your potential future spouse are on the same page about sex! Have the discussion and be honest — with each other and yourselves.

Got any other tips to share for discussing sex with a potential spouse? Leave a comment!

Several recent studies show that up to 30% of men admit to faking an orgasm with their current partner. The potential for a woman to “fake it” is a common trope, but it’s often ignored that men can fake it, too.

Previous studies have shown that men’s rationales for feigning orgasm are not so different from the reasons why women play pretend in bed. Both have reported that they fake because they’re intoxicated, to arouse their partner, and to end sex sooner; the most common reason among both genders is preserving partners’ feelings. This new survey indicates that men who pretend to orgasm because they want to avoid having a talk about their sexual needs are less likely to be satisfied in their relationship and in bed. The study’s authors say these men “might be contributing to [their] own low desire and satisfaction by reinforcing unsatisfying sexual activity by feigning orgasm rather than communicating [their] sexual needs and desires.”

But the root cause of this problem—faked orgasms as sub-ins for honest conversations about sexual desires—lie in gender norms that compel men to strive for unrealistic benchmarks of sexual performance. “The image is that men are always up for sex, which makes you feel under pressure to perform even when you don’t want to,” Harvard urologist Abraham Morgentaler said of men’s reasons for faking.

Those same improbable expectations have given rise to women’s pretend orgasms, too. The authors of a 2010 study that found up to 80 percent of women faked orgasms wrote that women often do so “because their men are so goal-directed they won’t stop until a woman climaxes.” Our social construction of sexual pleasure has pegged men’s orgasms as simple—inevitable, even—and women’s orgasms as complicated reflections of their male partner’s sexual abilities. The authors of the new Canadian survey write that these reductive ideals may encourage men to feign orgasm to “appear normal” and women to fake it so their partners’ egos don’t crumble.

As I bolded above, Morgentaler is right: faked orgasms are a poor substitute for honest conversation. For both husbands and wives, it’s important to be honest about our needs and desires. We’ve written a lot here about the importance of sexual enthusiasm and responsiveness, so I suppose it’s important to reiterate the importance of genuine vulnerability.

No matter how great your sex life is with your spouse, not every sexual encounter will go perfectly. Our bodies aren’t machines: sometimes the stars don’t quite align for orgasm, even for men. Don’t be ashamed, be honest. Sometimes there’s some circumstance about the situation that can be fixed or avoided in the future, but sometimes there’s no real explanation — let it go. Try again later!

If your sex life with your spouse is generally good but you have a few misfires, don’t sweat it, that’s normal. If the misfires and frustration begin to overwhelm the successful encounters, then consider talking to your doctor or a Christian counselor who has experience dealing with sexual issues. In either case, honesty is the best policy. Faking an orgasm might spare you and your spouse some immediate embarrassment, but it won’t help in the long run.

Share your thoughts in the comments!