The Meanings That We Put to Sex

Humans are meaning makers. Unlike animals that simply go through life eating, reproducing and doing what they must to survive, people constantly interpret life. We map our world to measure our worth and the validity of our actions. Am I enough? Does he want me? Did I fail again? Will this get me what I want? Everything has a meaning, and how we interpret the meanings have an enormous impact on our self and our openness, especially in the high stakes game of love and sex.

Meanings Outside of Marriage

Outside the confines of marriage, sex can feel freer because of the meanings we can offer ourselves. If we only seek pleasure, and not relationship, then who cares what this person next to me thinks. Excitement, unbridled expression, adrenaline, and the taboo can easily fuel passion without worrying about the intruding thoughts of whether you measure up. If our fiancé pushes the boundaries, it is because we are so irresistible, not because he can’t handle his sexuality. We assign meanings to sex outside of marriage, and at least initially, they feel less consequential.

Meanings Within Marriage

Within marriage, the intensity of meanings amplify. We have chosen this person to be the one, forever. What if they reject the very thing that I most want? Are we really sure of their love and desire now that they are stuck with us? What if I am not man enough to please her? Does he really care about me, or does he just want me to satisfy his sexual “needs”? These are powerful meanings and impact sex in profound ways.

Meanings during sex are conveyed not just through words, but through actions, our attitudes and the subtle clues that we gather. And the meanings, whether accurate or not, impact both our desire and our bodies responses. Though animals rarely struggle with sexual function, we often do because we assign meanings to sex. What our minds and our heart interpret can derail our bodies natural response of arousal. The ability to assign meaning can  allow us to feel loved and connected during sex, or it, can  make us feel completely rejected or used. Meanings can be positive or negative, impacting both men and women but playing out in different ways.


For women the meaning of sex can completely short circuit desire, or responsiveness.

When sex is about caring for the husband’s needs, wives don’t exactly look forward to sex. Desire thrives on choice and be chosen, not on duty and feeling stuck. Though she may dutifully serve him the rest of their marriage, they will never experience the freedom and desire that comes with choice.

When a wife struggles with orgasm, she can start interpreting her husband’s attentive attempts to help her respond, as confirmation of her brokenness. Rather than receive his love, she manages her feelings of inadequacy by giving up, avoiding sex, or blaming her husband.

If a husband constantly coaxes his wife to be more expressive, then her meaning becomes, I will never be enough. Rather than feeling excited about learning new things, she avoids sex as a way to avoid feeling like a failure.


Negative meanings of sex impact men in similar ways but also in more subtle ways.

If a husband knows that his wife is just serving him, then he may hurry things along and tune her out, so that he won’t feel rejected.

When a wife does not experience pleasure during sex, a husband can interpret meanings that go right to the core of his sufficiency as a man.

One of the tricky things about meanings is that much of it goes unspoken, unquestioned, and unchecked.

We might think our husband doesn’t care about our lack of orgasm during sex because he doesn’t bring it up. The reality might be that he feels so bad about our lack of enjoyment, that not only does he never acknowledge or talk about it, but he hurries through sex just to get it over with. What we view as insensitive might actually be him caring immensely.

Assigning the meanings of sex often has more to do with ourselves then our partner. So let’s take a look at how we move beyond some of the negative meanings that impact sex..

Questioning the Meaning of Sex

  1. Start paying attention to what meanings you assign to sex- both positive and negative. Don’t judge them, just observe them. What is sex telling you about your husband, yourself and what you believe about sex?
  2. Check the facts. Is the meaning that you assign during sex accurate? Is it in line with who your spouse is? How does the meaning fit with what God says about sex? Are you still believing lies about sex, or yourself, or your husband? Have you asked your spouse about the way that you are interpreting their actions?
  3. Is the meaning that you assign to sex helpful? The meanings you interpret might be telling you that things need to change for your well-being or self-respect. Or the meaning might be a way of beating yourself up, or trying to control what you do not have control over.
  4. If the meaning is inaccurate or not helpful, think about ways that you can reframe the meaning. Claim your choices and who you want to be. Instead of thinking, “How can my husband want to do this to me?”, think “My husband is choosing to love me.” Claim the sex you want and start operating by faith in a way that is in line with what you want.
  5. Check your heart in the ways that you might be conveying meanings to your spouse. Even if we say nothing, our spouse  can pick up on our resentment, anxiety, blame, or disappointment. Ask God to reveal what is in your heart. Take responsibility for your own actions and what you bring to the marriage bed. Great sex happens when 2 healthy people come to the table.

Final Thoughts

The meanings that we both interpret and convey during sex can powerfully influence how we feel, how our bodies respond and the experience of oneness from sex. We must take ownership for accurately interpreting meanings, by confronting lies, dealing with baggage and leaning into what God wants for us. Don’t just ignore the negative meanings that impact you. Take a closer look at them, check the facts, and ask questions. Address your own actions and attitudes that might be conveying negative meanings to your spouse. Don’t just have sex. Together create meaningful sex – that is life giving and something that you look forward to.

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