By Mark Ellis –
For those influenced by the ministry of Ray and Anne Ortlund, including this author, most were struck with the beautiful fragrance of their marriage and divine romance that magnified the impact of their speaking, writing, broadcasting, and disciple-making.
Ray Ortlund served with distinction for 20 years as senior pastor of Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, California and as a featured speaker on the international Haven of Rest radio program. His wife Anne was a gifted author, speaker, and songwriter.
Together, in the early 1980s, they made a tape about sex that became an underground classic among the young married couples influenced by their teaching and searching for answers amidst an explosion of detrimental sexual stimuli. Their tape, “Sex in a Growing Marriage,” forms the basis for this article.
To a surprising extent, they made the case that the sexual part of marriage should be a top priority for Christian couples.
“If someone gave you a million dollars, wouldn’t you give that million dollars a lot of thought and care?” Anne remarked. “Wouldn’t you go to a financial advisor and go to seminars and do all you could to learn how to handle that money? The sexual possibilities in your marriage are that kind of gift from God. They deserve at least that much attention,” she said.
Sex should not be so uncomfortable or embarrassing that spouses ignore it. “Friend, you’re not weird if you think a lot about sex,” Ray said. “You are perfectly normal. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those interested in sex and liars.”
Ray acknowledged they had some conflict over the issue during their marriage. “We are two long-time marrieds who have done a lot of struggling in our sex lives together and we’ve even hurt each other, but we’ve hung in there and come into wonderful days,” he said.
Anne observed that many spouses have tussled over sex. “Maybe you’re a husband whose wife doesn’t want any sex with you at all. Maybe you’re a wife who almost never has an orgasm, a climax, and you’re afraid to say so. Maybe you’re a husband who feels rejected. Maybe you’re a wife who feels used. Maybe you’re so desperate for the sexual fulfillment you’re not getting it’s crisis time.”
“Maybe you’re just so busy you’re worn out, so worn out your sex life has gone down the drain,” Ray added. “Maybe you think sex is boring. To you it’s the same routine time after time and it’s a drag. Maybe your appetite for sex is so far behind or so far ahead of your partner that you are constantly feeling pressured or frustrated.”
They made the point that these very real problems don’t go away or get resolved on their own. They need to be addressed for the sake of a healthy relationship.
The Ortlunds also emphasized that their message was for married couples, not Christian couples living together or having sex outside of marriage – a growing trend. “Sometimes couples say, ‘We’ve given our hearts to each other. We’re in love. We have a commitment between us. That’s something better than a piece of paper.’
“No, no, we’re assuming that piece of paper!”
“We’re talking about sex that is holy, because it is sanctioned by both God and society, and you have a certificate to prove it,” Anne added. “Fabulous sex is like a fabulous recipe. You follow the rules of the cook and the food is going to turn out great. You follow the rules God made for sex — remember, he invented it — and it may come out better than your wildest dreams.”
The Ortlunds defined successful sexual intercourse as “intercourse in which both partners are having good strong orgasms or climaxes at least much of the time.”
“Successful intercourse is absolutely crucial to a great marriage, but it’s not the whole thing,” Anne noted. “It’s a reflection of all your married life. So if you’re going to be great in bed, you have to be great out of bed. The question, then, what you can do in the whole of your married life to make your sexual life together wonderful?”
They suggest four keys to a healthy marriage that will lead to great sex.
First, function according to your role. “The husband must husband. The word is not just a noun; it’s a verb too,” Ray noted.
In John 15:1 (KJV) Jesus says, “I am the vine; my Father is the husbandman.” Newer versions translate husbandman as gardener. “To husband your wife means to tend her the way God tends us, to watch over her, care for her, take away carefully anything that shouldn’t be there, nurture her, and keep her thriving and productive and beautiful,” Ray said.
“Husbanding your wife means standing between her and the hard knocks. Care for her, look after her, ask how she feels. Be sure she gets enough sleep. Assume financial responsibility for her. That’s husbanding the way God designed it to be. To husband your wife will challenge you all your life. It will be God’s way to grow you up, and make you truly male in the most godly use of that word,” Ray noted.
Anne asks what women can do to truly be a wife, not just a live-in. “You have to admire your husband, build him up emotionally, believe in him, think in your eyes that he’s 10-feet tall, and tell him so over and over and over. Why is that so basic, so key? Because man has built into him an ego so unique, so precious, and so fragile and crucial to his making it in life.”
“A man who has a woman undermining him and nagging him and doubting him and negating him has a terrible uphill battle. A man who has a wife that backs him all the way has every chance of going to the moon and doing anything he feels called to do and doing it well,” Ray adds.
“God said it’s not good for man to be alone. Give him a helpmate suitable for him. And if being a help sounds demeaning, the psalms say that God is our help and uses the very same word.”
Anne suggests that affirmation is important: “Tell him you like the way his hair curls around the back of his neck. Tell him he has the best looking hands, there is no one as cute as you, that he’s wonderful, smart. How did you figure that out? How did I get anybody as terrific as you? Tell him ‘I love you, I love you,’ over and over.”
“He has to start acting like a husband, tending and caring for his wife. And she has to start acting like a wife, encouraging and admiring and building him up.”
If a couple doesn’t function according to their roles, they open themselves up to quarrels, disappointments, and even infatuations with others.
The second foundation for a healthy marriage leading to great sex is to find a shared goal. “Find a common purpose,” Ray urged.
“Keep that goal in front of you and shape your lives by it. Keep it sharpened and focused. Subtract from your lives what doesn’t contribute to it,” Anne added.
Anne mentioned a woman she knew going through a divorce, who held important roles in several organizations and was also working on a graduate degree. “She is busy busy, and her husband has gotten bored and lonely without her, so he’s gotten totally absorbed in his business and probably has a girlfriend on the side.
“She needs to resign from all the distractions, no matter how good and how worthy they are and come back to her husband again and find a purpose in life together.”
Anne reflected on a time when their schedules were overloaded and their sex life suffered. Success had driven them apart and their creative energies were going in different directions. “The trouble was, Ray still had a lot of sexual energy not burned off and I was too tired to notice. Ray would resent that and be tense and irritable with me, which certainly didn’t lure me into love making anyway. Sex times were once a week or less and they were quick and routine, not really fulfilling to either one of us.”
One day Anne collapsed in tears. “I saw her in her weakness,” Ray recounted.
She really isn’t this powerful, self-sufficient amazon I thought she was, he thought, and maybe she really does need me after all.
It encouraged Ray to seek to woo Anne again. “We actually reshaped our careers to have one goal again, to go in one direction in something that was fulfilling to us both.”
The third key for a healthy relationship and sex life is to expect marriage to change and grow. “Expect your marriage to be in constant change,” Anne advised. “It is always either growing or deteriorating. Expect passages from one stage to another.
“A five-year-old child can’t communicate too well or do math. A five-year old marriage won’t understand each other’s moods too well or be very good at understanding interpersonal problems or have money managing or sex all figured out. It doesn’t mean you’re failures or your marriage is no good. It’s only five-years-old. Give it time.”
The Ortlund’s fourth key to a fulfilling marriage and sexual life together is to nourish romantic love. “Maintaining romance only happens by a conscious act of your will. It’s a decision you make and it’s an ongoing discipline.”
It begins with noticing each other. “A marriage hurts when you had a cut finger for a week and he never saw,” Anne remarked.
“Or you cut off your moustache to please her and she never said a thing,” Ray added.
Ray recalled the time Anne had gotten her hair done. “When I saw her I didn’t say a thing, but I did comment on a friend of ours when she got hers done. That’s not too sharp. That really doesn’t help the romance.”
Noticing your spouse communicates: I am aware of you. You’re more important to me than anybody. You are special to me.
“For a woman, sex begins in the morning,” Ray observed. “If he says, ‘Don’t tell me you burned the toast again!’ Those words will turn her down sexually. And the effect will still be in her that night.
On the other hand, if the husband says, “You look beautiful this morning,” or “I’m so lucky to be married to you,” these words turn up a woman sexually. It is preparing her for a great time that evening.
“If you want a cold partner in bed, go ahead and argue and put her down,” Ray said.
Adequate time is important for nourishing romance. “Nothing ruins sex life more than fatigue and frantic schedules. If sex is slapped between two other activities…say between a late TV show and sleep, the message comes through loud and clear that other things are more important. When you can, let sex take the whole evening. Give it plenty of time. Even anticipate it during the day knowing you have a prearranged date that night in bed.”
“We think it’s important to say that hasty sex is better than no sex at all. First Corinthians 7 says that sex is to be regular and faithful.”
“Is your schedule tight? Get sex in anyway. Have you just had an argument? Well, you need sex more than ever,” Ray emphasized.
“God made sex the therapy for almost all the marriage problems you can name,” Anne said. “Refraining from sex just adds one more problem. You will get more irritated and tense and resentful and little problems will become big ones. Keep coming back to each other for sex.”
The Orlunds say the bedroom should be a hallowed, private, inner sanctum of the marriage. “As far as the outside world is concerned, you must be absolutely modest. As far as the two of you are concerned, there shouldn’t be any modesty at all. Shut out the world and turn on each other.”
“In the Garden of Eden the man and woman were naked and unashamed and free in the presence of God and each other,” Ray observed.
“Your marriage bed give you a little taste of that original Garden of Eden. There is no sin involved in married sex. There is no shame and there need be no hang-ups,” Anne adds.
Who should initiate lovemaking? “I think sometimes one and sometimes the other. Don’t think that the guy should always start things. Any husband loves it when his wife makes a pass at him and chases him around the room,” Ray said.
Anne described a couple in which the husband pleased himself first, then went to sleep, without any regard for his wife’s fulfillment. “These two Christian young people had entered marriage with the naïve idea that their love was so powerful that everything would work out naturally. That may be true of pregnancy, but it certainly isn’t true of female orgasm.”
Dr. Ed Wheat once told a group of husbands, “If you do what comes naturally in lovemaking, you can almost count on being 100% wrong.”
“Naturally, most men are aroused very fast and their wives are aroused more slowly,” Ray explained. A man is mainly aroused by sight, whereas his wife responds to tender words and touch.
“We said something about tender words to nourish the romance in your marriage, and get you ready for your times together in bed. But now that you’re in bed the words ought to be more specifically sexual: ‘Your breasts are so beautiful. I love the feel of your lips.”
Ray noted the words of the lover in the Song of Solomon for inspiration: “How beautiful you are my darling, oh, how beautiful. Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mt. Gilead. Your neck is like the Tower of David, built with elegance. Your two breasts are like fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”
“He admires each part of her body and he tells her so.”
“Pour on the words,” Anne urged. “They are a sexual turn-on for your wife to arouse her to respond to you.”
Touch is crucial to both spouses, but especially a woman. “A woman’s orgasm may not be easy to achieve without patience and experimentation, understanding, and skill,” Ray noted.
“A woman’s orgasm is much more complicated than a man’s,” Anne explained. “So it will probably take longer for her to learn how to get there. And it will take a while for the husband to help her get there. She mustn’t be embarrassed if she’s slower.
Understanding the wife’s anatomy is important. “Sooner or later, the most sensitive area of all, which he must get to know well, is the clitoris. It’s that little button between the outer lips of her vagina, toward the front. God created the clitoris with absolutely no function at all except to give the woman sexual pleasure. It’s the only reason the clitoris exists. It’s God’s special beautiful gift to the woman he made.
“The husband needs to know he should begin rubbing the clitoris gently and slowly and only gradually work up. If he stops for a minute he may lose it all. It’s like a Boy Scout rubbing two sticks together to start a fire. Once you get the momentum going, don’t lose it if you want the sparks to begin to fly…Rare is the wife who can reach orgasm without this direct stimulation.”
The couple’s foreplay ultimately leads toward that high moment when both are so excited that his penis finally enters her vagina. “That is of course the high point of sexual intercourse, that’s the moment for both when time seems to stand still and ecstasies come which are almost indescribable,” Ray said. “If you can match your climaxes to come at the same time, wonderful, probably sometimes you can. Sometimes you can’t. Don’t worry about it. Just use those gentle loving fingers to make sure you both get there and neither one is cheated.”
Dr. Tim LaHaye said: “Genesis 4:1 says that Adam knew his wife and she conceived. What better way is there to describe the sublime, intimate interlocking of mind, heart, emotions, and body, in a passionate eruptive climax that engulfs the participants in wave of innocent relaxation that thoroughly expresses their love.”
The subsiding following lovemaking is referred to as the afterglow. “Anne and I usually pray in each other’s arms after we have sex and praise God for each other and for the gift of sex.
Proverbs 5:15 and following says: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well, (talking about the wife). May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth, a loving doe, a graceful deer. May her breasts satisfy you always and may you ever be captivated by her love.”
“God gives you sex for comfort, for healing, for joy, and for binding you together,” Anne said. “It’s his gift. He’s so good to you. Sex and prayer ought to be two joint adventures, always growing in your marriage. They ought to grow together.”
They note that a women’s magazine took a survey which showed that the greater the intensity of a woman’s religious convictions, the likelier she is to be highly satisfied with the sexual pleasures of marriage.
“When you begin to understand how much God loves you,” Ray said, “enough to sacrifice his precious Son on the cross to pay the penalty of your sins, then you will begin to understand what godly love really is, the privilege of losing yourself, sacrificing yourself to make another happy and fulfilled. Push out from here, my friend, and let your marriage grow.”