Reclaiming True Marital Intimacy

By Kimberly Hahn 

Kimberly Hahn is a Catholic speaker and author who for decades has shared her wisdom with other wives and mothers. She is the host of the podcast and radio show Beloved and Blessed and the author of numerous books and Bible studies. 

kimberly hahn, beloved and blessed, family life,
Photo Credit: Jakob Owens

God enables our bodies to speak his life-giving language of love. Sex is God’s idea; it is not the consequence of sin. In marital sexuality the meaning of unity is evident through bonding, the purpose of unity is evident in babies, and the joy of unity is evident through pleasure. Here is a brief look at each of these three aspects.  

Unity through bonding. Marriage is the intimate unveiling of one another. “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Husband and wife give and receive this gift of vulnerability through nakedness, approaching one another with awe and reverence. Their intimate act of marriage strengthens their bond. This bonding occurs independent of intent; even a prostitute, having sex only for pay, bonds with her partner (see 1 Corinthians 6:16). A couple bonds whether they think of sex as an isolated act, a part of a date, or an expression of lifelong commitment. This is reality. 

Hollywood rarely depicts this reality. Talk show hosts guide guests with questions like, “Do you have sex on the first date? How long do you wait before you begin to cohabit? Do you even want to have children?” It is about the moment, rather than life together.  

Jay Leno, in a “Jaywalking” bit, asked women about casual sex. “Do you ever go to bars to pick someone up?”  

One woman said, “Every weekend.” 

Startled, he asked, “Do you even know their names?” 

She immediately responded, “That would be too personal!” 

Too personal to know their names, not too personal to have sex? My eyes welled up with tears—this young woman was someone’s little girl. She had so much experience with sex and no clue what it was about. 

Sex should not be the experience you live for with new partners or positions or pornography. Premarital sex creates an appetite for illicit sex that leaves spouses unprepared for routine in marital sexuality. Some people think that sex is fun before you marry, and then kiss it good-bye. A man was overheard at a wedding saying cynically, “There goes their sex life!” 

Sex should not be reduced to mere biology, as if we were no different than animals being satisfied, whether or not we marry. A marriage license does not entitle one spouse to expect gratification of sexual desires regardless of the other’s feelings. A misinformed college student stated, “I want to get married so I can have all the sex I want!”  

We want to reclaim the truth about marital sexuality. We have the privilege of expressing profound truth with our bodies: I am yours, and you are mine. In marriage this bond is a blessing. We fulfill our longing to become one flesh, to give ourselves with abandon, and to receive the gift of the other.  

Each intimate act of marriage renews our covenant. We become one flesh, which further unifies, strengthens, and fulfills our bond of love. Even our lovemaking can be a prayer. The wife’s womb, like a sacred vessel, is set apart for consecrated use. The man is the high priest who enters the inner sanctuary, the holy of holies, within his wife.  

He enables her womb to become a living tabernacle when he gives her his seed. 

Love incarnated in babies. Giving your sexuality in service to God does not refer only to priests and nuns. As married persons, we also yield our sexuality to serve God. He gives us the grace we need to live the life to which he calls us. This includes our privilege in sharing in God’s creative power. The two become one (see Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31); and that one is so real, as my husband says, that nine months later you might have to give it a name! The child helps us visualize and deepen our union. We see our love incarnate in our cherished child.  

Faithful, committed, lifelong love creates the bond and mutual long-term support necessary for raising children. It provides the security of a stable marriage, capable of weathering the changes and challenges we face throughout life. 

We receive each other in fruitful love, spiritual as well as physical. “[H]usband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.”  

We share a profound and abiding love so that our conjugal fidelity will flourish. This love creates a “deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action.” Thus the sanctity of marriage enables our family to become a “sanctuary of life.”  

Each marriage is a new family. Even when no children result, “[the] marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice” (CCC, 1654).  

The joy of unity—sensual and spiritual. When Adam first saw Eve, he recognized what husbands and wives should acknowledge: They are a gift to each other. “In God’s eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. . . . The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return.” This is a fully human love—an enduring and growing love to meet the demands of the vow. 

Committed, marital love involves sensuality, through which we express physical attraction and desire, sentimentality, through which we enrich our emotional attachment, and spirituality, through which we help each other grow in virtue and faith.  

Eros, the Greek word from which we derive erotic, is much richer in meaning than self-seeking pleasure. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.” Purification and renunciation restore eros to “its true grandeur” as we seek the good of our spouse.  

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What is the secret to a strong marriage and family? The answer is simple and difficult at once. Proverbs 31 tells us that a wife who loves the Lord with all her heart can fully give herself to her spouse and children. In Beloved and Blessed: Biblical Wisdom for Family Life, Kimberly Hahn provides insight into the most important relationships in a woman’s life.