A relationship coach for most of my adult life, though official titles and facilitations have morphed and changed along the way, I found myself invited to participate on a panel with other experts on sex and relationships. I am not saying that I am a sex expert, but early in my religious career, my wife and I did share a ministry focused on religious folks and sex. In those early days, our message was to remove the evil shadow over the issue of sex among married religious folks, insisting that sex is good, not evil. And tried to help them approach marital sex as sacred and enjoyable, not just something that you do out of a sense of duty.
I felt like I was the most out-of-place participant on the panel but realized that I could bring a unique perspective to the topic arena. For instance, religious individuals and leaders are often reported as being sexually deviant, and due to the attention-grabbing fascination or headline news, people often shudder whenever they think of someone being in this-or-that mainstream religion, or if in a smaller independent spiritually oriented group, may be erroneously referred to as a sex cult. It’s the old one bad apple spoils the whole bunch vibe. People can be so heavily influenced by the news media.
Having a ru=ich history in religious counseling, I am often privy to information that the standard therapist or scientific researcher has because the individuals that I work with are more apt to tell the truth and include details when protected by clergy-penitent privilege. Surprisingly to me, I have seen a wide variety of issues across the wide spectrum of sexuality, even within the confines of religion in all stages of membership and clergy. All the while, keeping a welcoming, non-judgmental, open perspective, respecting each individual to be at whatever place they might be in their spiritual journey, even when it was hardest to do so, even in those early years.
I quickly began to understand that sexuality is a spectrum, and even though I am opposed to the labels that are heralded by my peers, I do agree, that for those of particular sexual persuasions, it can be comforting to know that you are not the only one. And believe me, no matter how you feel like you are the only one that feels that way about sex (whatever that means to you), there are so many people out there that feel the same way.
Even in those early days of our ministry, my wife and I would encourage reverently religious folks to entertain the idea of expanding their horizons in private in the marital bed, often citing the first part of Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled,” which means that a husband and wife can enjoy all the joy that can be celebrated between each other, sexually, without limitation, with consent, encouraging exploration and experimentation. We purposely left out the remainder of the scripture because it dealt with relationships outside of the bonds of marriage, and we only did marital counseling. Even so, there were many challenges that religious couples would face when one or both partners strayed outside of the marriage. The most common, infidelity, as you might have guessed.
No doubt, there are endless possibilities among sexual persuasions that couples may experience, and it is not uncommon for any person to move through phases or evolve to and through a variety of sexual orientation(s) throughout one’s journey. This can be highly problematic when one partner changes his or her sexuality when in a committed relationship.
For instance, a couple may be equivocally matched, both being demisexual (someone who is only sexually attracted to another with whom they feel they share a deep emotional bond) at the relationship’s outset, but one partner begins to discover that he or she is freysexual (someone who is only sexually attracted to someone they do not know or strangers). This can be a problem, and most certainly will be. Of course, discovering one’s latent homosexuality can also come as a surprise.
These kinds of changes leave telltale signs that the other partner begins to notice, so planning a path of action is beneficial as soon as the one who is changing becomes aware of it. The partner who is not changing may see this as a sign of betrayal if not included in the change early on. So, some disclosures, and/or seeking a coach, counselor, or family therapist, earlier would be far better than later.
Often, the change takes place in secrecy. Sometimes the one who is changing, and does not understand the change is taking place and hides his or her feelings because they are struggling with trying to figure out what’s going on. In other circumstances, maybe change is not happening at all. Maybe one member of this couple has always had a particular style of sexual interest but feigned being more compatible with the other partner by “acting as-if” out of love, commitment, expectations of others (we see a lot of this in the religious community), denial, or even maliciously to exploit the partner in some way.
If there is to be any hope for the couple’s survival, if that is the agreed-upon intent of both parties, then openness and honesty is the best way to approach the issue.
And, yes, couples do survive these kinds of changes. If it is faced head-on, and the couple’s love and commitment is great enough to survive such a challenge.
Although I was nervous and felt awkward about participating on the panel, I definitely feel as though I would say, “yes,” to a similar invitation in the future.