I’ve followed the coverage of the Ashley Madison list, each scandalous revelation exposing yet another seemingly wholesome family man with a wandering eye. We know by now that many Christians, and our leaders, visited this site. Sadly, sin can be a great equalizer as we fall under our lust for attention, sexual satisfaction, and freedom.
As a mother of a three-month-old and twin toddlers, I can’t help noticing the young husbands and fathers who sought affairs through Ashley Madison. Despite appearances of happy families, despite praising their wives for loving them and caring for their children, these men wanted more, and looked for it in the dark corners of the Internet.
This reality hit close to home for me, and perhaps for many parents in the tiring early months and years after starting a family. Having a baby drains you physically, mentally, and emotionally; sometimes I feel too exhausted to carry a full conversation with my husband, let alone be intimate with him. We are both overwhelmed.
As much as we love each other and our growing family, I’d be lying if I didn’t say this season isn’t grueling. Even knowing that our lives would change for good once we welcomed our children, I could never expect this: how crying babies, middle-of-the-night feedings, and a steady stream of communicable diseases takes its toll on every aspect of our marriage. Most days, all I want is to sit across the table from my husband just to remember what his eyes look like. I want to have a conversation that doesn’t end with, “We’ll finish this later,” as we chase a two-year-old out of the room or pick up a crying newborn.
As the men exposed by Ashley Madison are judged in the court of public opinion, it’s easy for us to speculate why these people fell to infidelity: they were unhappy in their marriages, they stopped guarding themselves against temptation, they had an insatiable need for sex. But perhaps there’s an underlying problem that applies to all of us: skewed expectations of sex in marriage.
I’ve written before about how we evangelicals have championed good sex far beyond what’s biblical or healthy. And I worry particularly for young families. New moms and dads can't keep up with each other’s sexual rhythms or longings for connection. There will be times, whether during the wife’s postpartum stage or the husband’s long business trips, when couples have to go without sex. If we view our sexual urges as a need that must be fulfilled, we risk seeing these periods as a failure of some kind (as if new parents need more to worry or feel guilty about).
As Christians with a robust understanding of marriage and intimacy, we must adopt a view of sex that honors the reality that we can’t have sex on demand. Sex is an activity done in service of our spouse, not motivated solely by our own desires. That’s why God designed sex for the context of a relationship. It’s not a right but a gift—one we give in covenant love and sacrifice.
Husbands and wives often aren't prepared for how much sex will change after each baby. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before a woman’s body has healed enough to start having sex again. Even then, many postpartum women suffer low libido, fatigue, or concern that sex will be painful. From sore breasts to C-section wounds to self-consciousness over lingering weight, it can be hard to feel desirable.
During these times, or any seasons where we find ourselves unable to have sex when and how we would like, grace for each other comes first. It’s okay to want sex and not always get it. Life in a fallen world means we do not always get what we want when we want it. It’s good for us to remember that sex, while playing an important and God-given role in marriage, has never been ideal. Our sex lives and relationships are tainted by sin. As I wrote last year:
Sex is marred by infertility (Gen. 11:30). Sex is marred by selfish aggression and rape (2 Sam. 11; 13:1-22). Sex is marred by physical limitations. Sex is marred by manipulation (Gen. 19:30-38; Gen. 38). Sex is marred by our own sinful hearts (Judg. 16). Sex is even marred by the daily grind of life. Sex, like the wider marriage relationship, is filled with the highest of highs and the most mundane lows. It's part of living in a post-Genesis 3 world.
And all too often, sex is marred by infidelity, for the desire to seek another to give you the sex and intimacy that you deem missing from your marriage. We can't pretend that husbands and wives won’t experience seasons where they won’t be sexually (or emotionally or relationally) fulfilled by their partners. Instead, I’d like to acknowledge that it happens to all of us—even in the most loving and faithful relationships—and that that’s okay.
In an Ashley Madison age, let’s dismantle our evangelical idol of perfect sex lives in marriage. In a broken world, our relationships will ebb and flow, hurt and heal, evolve and grow. In honoring our vows made to each other, and before the Lord, we trust that God will see us through, “for better and for worse.”