Christian Living


Decoding "The Language of Sex"

Do you know the formula for great sex? You can, says relationship expert Dr. Gary Smalley and pastor Ted Cunningham. In their book, The Language of Sex, the authors draw from their years of counseling experience to help couples develop this aspect of marriage.

The authors identify three essential ingredients that couples must have to cultivate a satisfying sex life. These crucial factors, the authors say, don’t hinge on the physical act itself. It is the health of the relationship that determines the temperature in the bedroom.

“You fix the relational side and sex is a by-product,” Cunningham says. “It’s a barometer of what’s happening. You’re not going to fix any problems in marriage with more sex, more creative sex, or bringing in perversions. The fix is focusing on the relational side.”


The first step to establishing a healthy relationship that will lead to great sex, the authors say, is to honor your mate. This means that couples need to show their spouses how valuable they are and that they appreciate them.

“There was a point in time when guys were very curious and fascinated by their wives, their girlfriends, or their fiancés, and they got excited by them,” Cunningham says. “Then something happened in years two through seven in the marriage where that curiosity and fascination were replaced with duty and responsibility. We lose the creativity. We lose the spark. We lose the honor.”

 Often, as that initial sizzle in the relationship cools, couples start to feel less attracted to each other. Part of the problem, the authors say, is that couples tend to only see what they want to in their spouses.

“You look for the evidence to support whatever decision you’ve already made,” Cunningham says. “So the first step in this equation is to make the decision that your mate is valuable. If you think your husband is lazy, a deadbeat, and worthless, you’ll only ever see him sitting around on the couch eating junk food. You won’t ever see him doing the things you probably fell in love with in the first place.”


The second ingredient in establishing a healthy sexual relationship, the authors say, is security. Couples must ensure that their mates feel safe. This means refraining from judging, criticizing, or trying to change them. It also means never using sex as a weapon or a reward.

“When you feel safer and safer with your mate, you open up your heart and you reveal everything you can about yourself because you are not going to get judged,” Smalley says. “Then intimacy, which is best-friendship, happens naturally. That’s the joy of creating a secure, safe relationship. That’s what God intended.”


This deeper level of intimacy is the third ingredient for a healthy sexual relationship. Intimacy is a “deep friendship,” Smalley says, and sexual attraction grows out of that. “Then the husband and wife both actually desire the sexual relationship when they are feeling safe with each other.”

Men, especially, need to understand the importance of this type of intimacy for women. Research has shown that 10 to 15 minutes of meaningful conversation releases oxytocin in a woman’s brain, the same chemical that is released during sexual arousal. This prepares her for sex, and she feels more connected to her husband.

“Intimacy to a man is defined by sex,” Cunningham says. “Intimacy to a woman is talk, conversation, words.”

“The average man would never know that 10 minutes of listening and deep conversation with understanding, actually coats his wife’s brain with the same feel-good chemical or hormone that she feels during orgasm,” Smalley says.

While these three values – honor, security, and intimacy – work together to form the basis for a satisfying sex life, the authors also point out that is important for couples to discuss the expectations that they have of each other.

Beware of 'Sexpectations'

“We all bring expectations into our marriage,” Cunningham says, “how we are going to spend money, how many times a year we are going to visit family, what kind of vacations we are going to take. Life is full of expectations.”

Couples enter into marriage with different expectations about sex too. While it is a good idea to approach this in pre-marital counseling, many couples never broach the subject before they get married. Even after they are married, the authors say, couples do not talk about these “sexpectations” because the subject has always seemed taboo.

“Most churches would teach this,” Cunningham says. “You don’t ever talk about it. It’s embarrassing. So we send people into marriage ill-equipped and unprepared. They are embarrassed by it.”

But couples must close the gap between their expectations and the realities that they experience if they want a healthy sex life. The authors identify three “sexpectations” that are an issue for most couples: frequency, endurance, and performance.

“Some men think that they are going to get married and they are going to be able to live out every sexual fantasy they’ve ever had in their life,” Cunningham says. “Or they think they married someone with the agility of an Olympic gymnast.”

“You have to deal with all three of these sexpectations,” he says, “because if you go in thinking its seven days a week and your wife goes in thinking it’s one or twice, it’s going to create conflict. The key to resolving those three is to talk about them.”

The authors hope their book will open up a new dialogue between couples and encourage them to begin working on the fundamentals of their relationships. As couples improve in their communication skills and reach deeper levels of intimacy, the increased satisfaction that they crave in the bedroom will naturally follow.

“Our motivation is for couples to understand how they can enjoy this part of their marriage more than they have up to this point,” Smalley says.

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