Unequal Sexual Yokes
In 1 Corinthians 6:14 we are reminded to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers”. The picture is from the ancient practice of farming using two oxen. They are bound together with a heavy wooden beam across their shoulders so they can pull the plow behind them. But if farmers did not put oxen of equal size beside each other, they could not pull evenly and the plow veered to the side.
The Apostle Paul is reminding us that if followers of Jesus Christ marry non-followers we will see things go off-track very quickly. Marriage ties two people together and if they are pulling unequally, it can end in disaster. That is just how it works.
Let me apply this picture to the sexual desires and preferences of single Christians considering marriage. In my many years of relationship counseling, I have seen many unequal sexual yokes and these cause things to go off-track very early in marriage – many times on the honeymoon. I see six different unequal yokes:
1. Dissimilar Beliefs about Sex: As much as Christianity is trying to raise its children with the idea that sex is wholesome, healthy and desirable for believers, this has only begun to happen recently. For centuries, sexuality was barely tolerated as a practice within the Christian marriage and never spoken of in teachings from the pulpit. Many groups forced their members to submerge their sexual identities completely. The children that emerge from this sexual silence often have little choice but to believe that sex is wrong, dirty or relatively unimportant. It is not their fault; it is what it is.
Now, let’s say a young woman grew up in that cultural understanding of sex. She begins to date a man who has become a Christian without having grown up in that tradition. Even though they may both be virgins when they get married, he might have a view on sex completely different than hers. Since all they really focus on in the courtship is avoiding intercourse or mutual stimulation, they have no idea they are about to join themselves to an unequal yoke. As the months and years of married life go by, He wants to allow sex to filter through to every part of their interactions. She only focuses on sex when they are actually making love. The rest of the time, she never speaks about sex, never reads about it or plans for it. Over time, he will resent her and may come to believe she doesn’t care about sex. In actuality, she is mostly asexual, meaning that sex has very little part of her thought life. You can see how this will tug them apart. They may never even know why.
2. Dissimilar Sexual Appetites: Regardless of how they grew up, it is important to understand that different people have different sex drives. There is a myth that men have a larger sexual appetite than women. This may be true when we look at a huge sampling of the human race. But I have seen just as many women whose appetite for sexual release is greater than their husbands. Many times it depends on what time of the month it is. There are women at the peak of their menstrual cycles who could have sex five times a day. But we dealt with that in a previous article.
If a couple starts out married life with vastly different sexual appetites, they will begin to read meaning into those differences that aren’t necessarily there. If a woman has the greater appetite, she might think her husband does not care enough to really commit to their mutual happiness. If the husband has the greater appetite, he often implies his wife is unloving. In both cases, this unequal yoke is simply a physical difference and has no other meaning at all. But try telling that to someone who wants to make love every day married to someone satisfied with once a month.
3. Hetero/Homo coupling: This should be an obvious one, but often those with homosexual attractions marry those who are completely heterosexual. There are many reasons this is done, and some of the motivations are even noble. I counseled one couple where both partners felt that homosexuality was not to be practiced regardless of how one of the partners was attracted to the same sex. Since this person did not want to completely rule out sexual intimacy in their lives, they “settled” for a heterosexual partner. This unequal yoke never works well for the other partner. In their case, he wanted sex less and less with her and was drawn continually to homosexual porn. No one was surprised when she divorced him, even though it devastated both of them.
4. Dissimilar Health Profiles: Since sexuality is often a function of a person’s physical health, when someone is vital, healthy and living a life of consistent health practices, they will be ready for sex more often and with more vigor than a very unhealthy person. When a very healthy person marries someone who is unhealthy physically, this will affect their sex life. It takes a lot of understanding to work through these issues when they happen after marriage (such as with a car accident, cancer or other diseases), but is the part of sexual counseling most people don’t consider. However, when a couple is dating and their health profiles are completely different, they should consider this will not turn out well in bed.
I know a couple where the man is a long-distance cyclist. The woman is very sedentary, but loves to come to his races. She eats poorly and even though her weight does not fluctuate much (she apparently has a high metabolism), her energy level is many steps below his. He has the capacity to have intercourse for over an hour and she can barely perform half that time. It is causing a lot of problems. They should have thought about this before marriage.
5. Differing Experience Levels: This is the one unequal yoke most people think of. They assume if one person has had dozens of sexual partners and the other person has had none or few this will cause a lot of problems later. Not necessarily. It is a problem if the more experienced person spends their time comparing their marriage partner with former partners. And, they may find that there is a degree to which they are emotionally tied to several of their former sex partners, causing a problem with fully engaging emotionally with their spouse. But the difference in experience can be bridged fairly well if all things are laid on the table. If the less experienced person has a teachable heart and does not feel threatened, this can work out quite well. The real problem lies in the emotional effects those relationships had on the experienced person rather than the sexual aspect.
6. Different Communication Patterns: Suppose a couple is dating and the conversation turns to marriage. As they talk out some of the many issues involved with coming together in a covenant relationship, one person is forthcoming and transparent and the other person is not, this will ALWAYS affect their sex life. Sexuality is perhaps the most intimate topic of conversation for humans. We only open up completely to another person when we trust them.
Those who practice bondage/discipline sexuality often say this is why people crave to add bondage to sexuality: They want to learn to completely trust themselves to another person. Transparent people are more trusting. Closed communicators desire to hide things. This will show itself in sexuality.
How can we avoid these unequal yokes? There really is only one way to do it, and that is to have frank conversations before marriage. If you find there are significant differences between you, there are two alternatives. First, you can decide that sexuality in marriage is too important to ignore these dissimilarities and then decide you would rather marry someone who is closer to your sexual place. Or, you can use this as a stepping stone to counseling and therapy. All sexual problems can be solved, though it may take a considerable time with some people.