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Better Married Sex: Shaunti Feldhahn & Dr. Michael Sytsma

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
February 7, 2023 5:15 am

Better Married Sex: Shaunti Feldhahn & Dr. Michael Sytsma

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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February 7, 2023 5:15 am

What’s normal in bed? Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and sex therapist Dr. Michael Systma offer tips for better, fulfilling, and connected married sex.

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Listen to Shaunti Feldhahn & Dr. Michael Sytsma podcast, Married with Benefits.

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I'll be really honest because I've said this to Anne in this area, there's a fear that creeps in if it's been a while. I've told her, I'm afraid to touch you because I feel like you're going to feel like, oh, you're touching me now and it's not about love or affection. And so you feel like I'm using her and so I don't want to do that.

So the next thing you know, you're in a bad cycle. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Anne Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson. And you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So you'll remember 30 years ago, we're starting our church. We decide we really want to reach the guy that doesn't go to church.

So that's sort of our hope that we'd reach those kind of people. So the first series, do you remember what it was called? Yes. What was it called? You don't remember.

It's called The Art of Awesome Living. Oh no, I don't remember that part. It's the lamest title ever for a series. But in 1990, we thought that was cool, but we decided let's just hit all kinds of different topics, trying to see who might come. So we did a message on stress and anxiety, on marriage and relationships, parenting. And then week four, I put together a message called Sex, colon, What a Great Idea. That's what I do remember.

You remember that? Yes. So I give this message. We're in a little cafeteria.

We've got 40 people on our core team, and maybe a couple hundred show up, right? And it grows real quick. But anyway, I get done. I'm talking to somebody in front of this little made-up stage, and I see this guy walking toward me. And I don't want to judge him, but by looking at him, like, that dude looks like he hasn't been to church in a long time. And he walks up, and I'll never forget. He goes, hey, I don't know what they call you around here, but that was one blank of a sermon.

He just barks it out. And I'm thinking, wow, this is great. This is the guy we're trying to reach. I go, hey, tell me your story. You've been here before.

No, I haven't been to church in 30 years. And he was so proud to tell me that, too. And I go, well, how'd you end up here today? He goes, I'll tell you how I ended up here.

My wife came here last week. I was in bed. And she came home, and she goes, honey, you're going to like this church. He goes, I don't like any churches. I'm not going to church.

Don't even try any. He goes, I'm literally still in bed. And he goes, well, here's what they're talking about next week. And he goes, she read off your program.

Sex. What a great idea. And I said, he's got that right.

I'll be there. And so he shows up. Mike was his name. Six weeks later, gave his life to Christ. It ended up serving in our church for decades. It's just this beautiful story. And just so our listeners know, it was a biblical viewpoint of God.

And that's my whole point. What we decided to do early in our church is say, this is something the church needs to be talking about. And we need to go to the word of God and the creator of sex and say, what's his design? And that's all I did in that message.

And he heard it and said that was one of the best comments I've ever gotten by a servant, by the way. And so that's what we're going to do today. We've got Shanti Feldhahn in the studio. She's a researcher and an author and a great friend of ours. And this is quite a combo in the studio today, because not only do we have Shanti, we have a certified sex therapist, Michael Seitzman, in the studio.

I don't think we've ever had a certified. I don't think so. Michael, you're smiling. Do you like that title? You know, it's one I've gotten to be comfortable with. And part of what I love about it is if we're going to speak to the subject, let's make sure that we've really studied, that we've tested, that we've shown ourselves to be approved, and to have a large organization say, yeah, you've got all the education, the training, the experience. That is comforting to me.

Yeah. How did you two connect on this book? Because this book, by the way, I'll give our listeners the title. It's called Secrets of Sex and Marriage, Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. And I'm just going to tell you, we endorsed it because it's one of the best I've ever seen on this topic. And part of it is this combination, this beautiful combination of it's biblical, but it's research-based, and it has the expertise of therapy.

So, yeah. How did you two end up combining for this? So, Dr. Seitz-Michael, he has been one of our sort of friends and advisors for me and Jeff as we've done the research on men and women and marriage and all these other things over the years. Whenever we would come across this topic and have to study it, half the time I'm calling Mike going, help, because I don't understand what I'm seeing in the data.

And so he's been an advisor for all this time. And when we felt like we were being led into tackling this topic, which, by the way, Jeff and I were like, no. But you did feel led to it. We did. The last research topic that we did was for our book Thriving in Love and Money, because money is one of the big issues in marriage.

Well, guess what? One of the other big issues in marriage is. And so we recognized we really needed to do both, but we also recognized that on this topic, we could do damage if it wasn't really accurate. And so we recognized that Mike was absolutely 100 percent the person to sort of co-labor on this, especially because he's also a researcher.

Like, it could not have been more perfect. God set that up. I started off pastoring, working and starting churches, and bringing the message of the gospel to where people are hurting.

And this is an arena that people just hurt. And so to continue on and get ongoing training until getting my Ph.D. specializing in marital sex therapy, that Ph.D. meant seven Ph.D.-level courses in research and statistics. And then that, followed by about 40,000 hours of listening to stories, begins to shape how you view the subject.

And so to have her say, let's do something together, I went into it kicking and screaming with my heels dragging. Oh, he totally did. Because for him, I mean, and I'm putting words in your mouth, but we actually, he says this in the book, for him, he's like, well, but there's all these exceptions. You know, if 90 percent of people say one way, that means 10 percent don't. And it's like, yeah, it can't be a 3,000-page book.

So we will say that it's 90 and 10, but we can't, like, go into all of those other, like, specialty topics. Because as I give an answer to just about anything, I'm thinking of real couples, real individuals where that answer doesn't work. You know, their story doesn't fit the typical one.

And they often get wounded by the simple answer, so that's tough. And balancing that with, but there is a message that God has to tell here. And how do we make sure that message gets out?

And Shanti's really been awesome in helping to craft that message and put it together. Well, the thing that we felt like this was an opportunity to do is all the research that Jeff and I have done over the years on marriage and parenting and workplace and all, you know, all the different areas of our lives and our relationships. We have found that so many of the points of pain and so many of the heartaches that we have don't come from, like, the big, huge specialized things. Like, they come from the little day-to-day misunderstandings and the little day-to-day ways that you're trying really hard, but maybe trying hard in the wrong areas or that you're hurting each other without intending to. And so to be able to say, can we focus on a lot of that stuff?

Like, what are the things that impact most marriages in their intimate life where most couples, if they just knew this or that, it would make a big difference? I got really excited about studying what were those things. Were you surprised? I mean, the subtitle is Eight Surprises. And so as the day is coming in, were you surprised, Michael? Like, was it anything to you that was surprising?

Shanti's shaking her head no. There really wasn't an awful lot that was surprising to me. Sometimes the extreme of the numbers was a bit of a surprise, but the direction that they went was not a surprise to you, Shanti? For me, yes. One hundred percent of it was a surprise. Really?

Now, why is that? Yes. Well, I mean, one of the topics that is to me something that explains something I had been seeing in the research for years and years and years that I didn't know what was underneath it is that, you know, a lot of people think if they're not connecting in an intimate way, it means that they, you know, somebody has a higher libido than the other.

You know, that just the drive is different, right? That's what we've always thought. That's what we've always thought. And we've actually taught that. I just hate to say this out loud. Maybe, right? That is a real issue. And we'll get we can get into that.

But I was so stunned once we actually dove into some of these. What are the reasons? How often it's not that. And how often it's like, for example, that there are two different types of desire and it just functions differently for different people.

And especially honestly, there's a big statistical correlation with men and women, that there's just some things that work physiologically differently. And suddenly, as I was, you know, kind of we were getting the data and figuring out the numbers and I would be telling, I would be telling my girlfriends, they're like, what are you finding? I can't believe you didn't call me and tell me. Well, I think actually I did. I think we actually had this conversation when we were speaking together in that cruise a couple of years ago. Oh, yeah. And I'm like, guess what I found out?

And you had the same reaction that I did, which is, are you kidding? Like, it just helps explain so much. So anyway, we can get into that topic. Well, I think we need to now. Our listeners are like, tell us.

Tell us what that topic is. And I'll frame it this way. You have eight surprising secrets. We're probably not going to get them all. You know, we'll get some of them in this broadcast in the next one. But if you want all eight, are you going to get all eight on our podcast, Married with Benefits? We are going to try.

Yes, the podcast can go into more detail than what we can do here. So that's our Family Life Married with Benefits podcast with Brian Goins. I can't imagine how that's going to go as well. We're going to have a whole season three. It's going to be great.

It's going to be great. But I just frame it this way. As a pastor, and we've been in ministry over 40 years in marriage areas and traveled the country and spoken on this, the questions on this topic have heightened in the last 10, 15 years, just for us out traveling around. And I know you know that as well. But this is so important that we're talking about.

I just feel as a pastor trying to help people, people want to know what God's Word says, what's the Creator's perspective. And how do I navigate this? You know this. You wrote the book on it.

But I love, Shanti, I love what you and Jeff have done. Every book has the, here it is in a chart. Here's where you're going to go. You know, I'm a guy that's like, I'm going to go there first. And it gives you an outline. But you start the book with this question.

I love it. It was, what are couples up to in the bedroom? And a guy like me is like, yeah, I want to know. Am I normal?

Am I abnormal? What'd you find out? Well, there's a lot there. Mike, tell them what your main question is that you get.

So, you know, for over 20 years doing this and speaking in various churches and organizations. And I ask, just give me any question you, and we have lots of ways that they can anonymously submit them. And probably the primary question I get is something along the line of, am I normal? What is normal?

What do couples do? Are we within the typical kind of range? And then the next one is, can we?

You know, is this okay? Or how do we do this kind of stuff? And the what is normal is one of those questions that a sex therapist, we really struggle with. We don't like to answer that because what is normal is really varied based from couple to couple. If you want to just ask maybe a typical what is normal question, what is the average that couples have sexual encounters? How often does that go?

And we'd step back and say, well, that depends on how long have you been married? How old are you? How many kids do you have? Are one of you starting a business? Are one of you starting a new job? Has one of you had a baby?

Have you just moved recently? All of those things. One of you?

That would be you. All of those shape it dramatically to say what is normal. Well, it depends on the context.

And so that does get difficult. But if we step back, one of the things we found is that right about what percentage was sexless? It was 23 percent in one survey and 21 in another.

Really high number. What is sexless? What we in the sex therapy field would often identify as those that are- A quarter, almost a quarter of marriages? Are engaging less than once a month. And that's what one of the things I was interested to find out is that in Mike's field, they consider a marriage to be sexless.

If they're having these encounters less than once a month. And so that was 21 to 23 percent, depending on our survey, which is a pretty high number, more than one in five. Were you surprised by that, Shanti?

Oh, I was very surprised by that. Now, we should also say that ended up being highly correlated with age as well. And we went up to age 75.

And that is a unique artifact of where we're at in history. COVID has not been nice to couples in this realm. Other studies that have been done in the field around this time have shown a decrease in sexual activity amongst couples during the COVID age. And our research was being done during that.

So that shapes it a little bit as well. But if we remove those couples, which is a very high number of couples and is problematic, but if we remove those, we're running about 1.3 times per week. Four times in three weeks is what that means.

And yet that varies by a lot of different factors, contextual factors. One of the things that did surprise me was the greater number of kids, the higher the frequency. What?

Wait, wait, wait, wait. Exactly. Well, we had different categories, zero kids, one, two, three, and plus. And we expected or I expected that the higher number, there would be less frequency.

And it was dramatically the opposite. And I started off by looking at our dyadic data, which means the data where we were asking both a husband and wife. And I thought, this is just wrong. There's some kind of an artifact in this that is. And so I looked at the individual survey we did, which is 1100 married people.

And the numbers were almost identical. I'm shocked by this. I think it's cool.

It's the coolest. I think it turned some of the assumptions about kids like hurting your marriage in some way, like some of that that's running underneath the surface and some of our perceptions. It turns on its head and says, no, actually, this is a good thing. It's enhancing. It's enhancing. Yeah, help us understand, like if you're a couple like us listening to this and you hear a stat like one point three times a week, what do you want to do with that information? As a couple, do you want to go, oh, we're under, we're over, we need to do.

I mean, what do you do with that? Mike would probably have a different answer as a therapist. I'll tell you automatically what to me is the biggest issue is that it gives you a little bit of a framework, remembering that the average is not necessarily the right one for you. The analogy that Mike used in the book is 70 percent of the people in your neighborhood may have a pet, for example.

You may be the 30 percent that doesn't because you're traveling all the time or there's a reason you don't have a pet. And so it's not like there's a right or a wrong, right? It's just these are all just different, you know, sort of perceptions and what works for you. However, I think it is helpful for people to be aware that, for example, suppose that you have one spouse that is a higher desire than another and the other one is much lower. And they're like, well, I think it's fine if we have sex once every three weeks.

You just have a crazy high sex drive. And to look at the numbers and go, um, no, that's not weird, right? That there's a wide range of normal. It's hard to say what's normal, quote unquote, but it gives people a little bit more perspective on it. And by the way, one of the things I should mention, that sexless number that's so high, the actual number of true sexless where they say they never have sex is only nine percent of the population, which is still quite high.

One in ten. You guys seem to have some concerns over the couple that is not engaging in sex. Like that's concerning to you.

It is. And I've had a lot of people come up to me, women come up to me and say that's the case for them. Like we never have sex anymore.

And as a therapist, Mike, you would be concerned about that? Well, that's a symptom of something that's going on. And to step back and figure out what does this mean?

You know, and if I tie that to what do we do with the 1.3? Well, you look and see where are we at in comparison to it? Well, we're higher. Well, what does that mean? Well, we have a better marriage than the typical marriage, so we're connecting more intimately than the typical marriage. That's a good thing.

We're below that. Do we need to work on intimacy? If it's absent, the couple needs to figure out what that's about. Sometimes there's a lack of sex for a really good reason. It may be that there's a physical issue that's going on. There may be a disease process that's happening that has short-circuited their ability to connect.

Even in those, we would encourage them often to get creative. There may be other things that the couple can do to continually engage in physical intimacy that is enjoyable for them, even if their stereotypical behaviors no longer are an option due to disease. Others are sexless because the relationship's unsafe, that something's been brought into that covenantal marriage, that it's not safe to be that intimate with each other, and they're in the process or need to be in the process of healing that safety. I will occasionally have couples come in, and one spouse will say, we're here because we're not engaging sexually, and I listen to the story, and I quite openly say, I'm not going to encourage it at this point because it is unsafe. We have to grow this relationship up first.

We have to get it safe before we can engage. So there may be a host of reasons why this couple is not engaging, and that's what we want to step back and figure out. Sometimes one of the things that I've seen as I've talked to women at, like, women's events, that kind of thing, though, is that sometimes it just becomes a habit. Sometimes you just get out of the habit of connecting, and one of the things that we spent quite a bit of time looking at, and there's different studies on this that can help go further that are more complicated than my little brain can process, but there is actually a chemical reason why sometimes when you get out of the habit that you want intimacy less. Like, you're literally your body, those chemicals in your body just aren't stimulated as much, and so if you want it less and the chemicals aren't there, then you want it even less.

And so you have it less, and then the chemicals go down, and then, so it's like a negative cycle. And one of the things that in general, now, this is, there's all sorts of exceptions to this, but in general, to sort of make that decision and say, you know, as long as the relationship is safe, as long as there's not some of these factors that Mike was talking about. And there's an enjoyment in it. And then there's an enjoyment in it. To be able to say, you know what, yeah, I've been running around after kids, or I've been busy and I'm just not thinking about it, but I'm going to decide, and we can talk more about, because that's actually one of the different types of desire I was talking about earlier, but to just decide and knowing that that's going to stimulate those chemicals in your body, and you're actually going to be more interested next time, which means that then you might do that more and then stimulate those chemicals more. And so it becomes more of a positive cycle. Because when I talk to a lot of, again, on the women's side of the world, I talk to a lot of women where it's just they've gotten out of the habit and they're just not, quote unquote, interested.

And part of it is because they're out of the habit. And I know from a husband's perspective, I'll say it this way. I know a husband, a friend of mine who would say, no, this is me.

I'll be really honest, because I've said this to Anne in this area. There's a fear that creeps in, for me anyway, if it's been a while. I've told her, I'm afraid to touch you because I feel like you're going to feel like, oh, you're touching me now. And it's not about love or affection. And so, yeah, and there's the negative cycle. So then you pull back like, I don't want her to feel that way. So I'm just, even though, and the next thing you know, another few days have gone by and you're like, now I feel even more fear. And so I don't know how many men feel that way, but I think I know Anne has said this. I know other wives have said to their husbands, there's not any affection in our marriage. And so you feel like I'm using her. And so I don't want to do that.

So the next thing you know, you're in a bad cycle. You guys have just identified what makes a difference. You said, I came to her and I said, I'm afraid this is what's going on. You guys are communicating about it. You're talking about it. I feel like Michael's counseling us. I like it.

I really like it. We're not paying you neither. But our research showed the same thing. It did. You know, we started by saying that this book can't be, the answer is to communicate more. But the research came back and said, the answer is to communicate more. And all of the factors across the board showed that couples that are communicating effectively are healthier, better, more satisfied, more frequent. All of the factors that we're looking at were tied to how well the couple talked. I mean, I love how you said this in your book.

You know, wrong assumption. We have a difficult time talking about sex, but that's okay. Actions speak louder than words. Truth, actions may speak louder than words, but without the words, you may not be getting much action.

So well said. Okay. Well, give us a homework for today. Like, we've been talking about this. This is what couples are talking about.

What can we do to begin the process of communication? Well, I think you identified something that's important to keep in mind as foundational. We're often have been taught not to talk about it, that it is a sacred subject and it is a sacred subject. And we're uncomfortable talking about it. Most couples don't have a good language for it.

And it's so easy to misunderstand what each other is saying. That the first exercise I encourage couples to do is pick up a good book, something written by somebody who has some good training. We might be recommending a particular book at this point, yes. But there are actually a lot of good books out there, and I encourage couples to sit down and read it out loud to each other. Together.

Together. And take turns with who the reader is. And the goal is not to get to the end of the book.

The goal is to pause regularly and go, I think this author is just crazy. Nobody is like this. And don't be surprised when your spouse looks at you and says, what do you mean nobody's like that?

That perfectly described me. And couples start hearing themselves use language, and it gives them language, and it helps make them more comfortable with having these conversations. And they are often surprised when they just begin talking through it. Now they have a foundation, and they can say, you know, is there a way we could let each other know when this touch is just cuddling? Or when this touch, we want it to be more intimate.

Can we have a language for that? And it allows couples to really lean in and be more intimate across the board just by communicating with it. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Shanti Feldhahn and Dr. Michael Seitzma on Family Life Today. And if the thought of talking out loud about sex with your spouse feels uncomfortable, like maybe you have over the last few minutes, first of all, you're not alone. And secondly, Shanti's got some words of encouragement for you.

That's in just a minute. But first, we wanted to let you know that Shanti and Dr. Michael have written a book called Secrets of Sex and Marriage, Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. We'd love to send you a copy along with Family Life's online course called Nearly Complete Guide to Better Married Sex. Both of those are our gift to you when you partner financially with us today. You'll help more families hear conversations just like today's, conversations that point to the hope found in Christ.

You can give at or by calling 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You know, as we've been talking about this, it's interesting to start to ask the question, how much time are you actually spending with your spouse? And what could your family look like if you spent intentional time this upcoming year pursuing the people you love the most? It could be inspiring. It could be eye opening. One year, 500 hours, a lifetime of impact. That's the goal of our one year marriage challenge called 500 Hours Together.

You can find a link to that challenge in the show notes on All right, here's Shanti Feldhahn with some words of encouragement for spouses who aren't exactly thrilled about talking out loud about sex. One of the things that is intimidating for an average couple, you know, like me and Jeff is you have to talk about sex. It's like, what? You know, it's like, it's so scary. And one of the things that we realized somewhere along the way in the process is that the scary part is talk about sex. And it's actually much more simple than that because really what you're talking about is not like people are thinking, are you talking about techniques and body parts?

Like what are you talking about? No, there's all sorts of stuff that's running under the surface in our hearts. And there's all sorts of insecurities and worries and things that matter to us that we wouldn't have been able to really articulate. There's all of this stuff that's running under the surface. And once you know that, like, for example, that when you talk about reading our book out loud to one another or some of these others, it's that stuff that's being identified. It's that underneath the surface stuff that you're talking about.

And that's a lot more freeing. It's the emotional things. It's what are you thinking and feeling about? What is this, you know, when you haven't been together in a certain amount of time, what does that do in your heart?

Like that kind of stuff is much more compelling to talk about. It's incredibly intimate. It is intimate. The reverse of that, too, is how do you feel when it's pressured? When you haven't hit that 1.3 and you're feeling like I have to step up?

That is destructive. That's another great thing to talk about. And to be able to say this is actually destructive to our relationship because I pull back more and more because the pressure's there. So how can both of them step back and create a space between them that both want to be in and it's enjoyable for both of them? That takes them talking about the individual uniquenesses of who they are. And tomorrow, David and sit down again with Shanti Feldhahn and Dr. Michael Seitzma to talk about combating something that commonly happens in marriage.

The feeling of being unattractive, unwanted and undesired by your spouse. That's tomorrow. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-10 03:59:43 / 2023-02-10 04:12:30 / 13

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