Dave Willis works to build healthy marriages and families through his ministry Stronger Marriages. Now he and his wife, Ashley, are partnering with XXXChurch.com founder Craig Gross to help married couples build a healthy sex life.
While he acknowledges that there are many things that are important to a marriage, "I think the root of a lot frustration in marriage comes back to sexual issues."
Together with Craig and Jeanette Gross, he and Ashley are encouraging husbands and wives through the Best Sex Life Now video series to use key principles such as communication, service and forgiveness to attain a physically, emotionally and spiritually satisfying sex life.
Here is a transcript, edited for length and clarity, of The Christian Post's phone interview with Dave and Ashley Gross.
Christian Post: What would you say to those encountering this series for the first time and are wondering, why focus on the sexual relationship when sex is not the most important part of a marriage?
Dave Willis: I would say it definitely takes a lot more than sex to create a healthy marriage but it's nearly impossible to create a healthy marriage without it and so we intentionally want to deal with this issue head on because I'm convince that it's the root of a lot of marriage conflict and frustration.
CP: What is the starting point for a spouse who knows something is wrong with their sex life but doesn't know how to bring it to the attention of their mate?
Dave Willis: In that case … it might not just be a sexual issue but an issue with communication and intimacy and trust within a marriage because the way that God designed that marital relationship all those things are intertwined.
So if a spouse feels like they can't have an honest conversation about sex with their husband or wife, then I think there is a deeper issue going on that is much broader that sex itself because husband and wife should be able to talk about anything even when it is uncomfortable and I recognize that some of these issues can be uncomfortable because it can expose places where we feel inadequate, maybe you can dig up past hurts.
I think a lot of times we carry in baggage from past relationships or even in some cases, abuse from our past and we carry those wounds into the bedroom with us so we're not really sure how to talk about those or deal with those. But in every situation, the husband and wife have to be able to say we don't want to settle for mediocrity when God has called us to have a thriving marriage. So what are the places in our marriage that are not thriving right and how to improve it, and if sex is on that list, and for most couples, it is, what can we do to make that better? Let's just talk about it—not in an accusing way of one person saying you don't want to do it enough or whatever, but just to really talk through it and say what would it look like for this part of our marriage to be beyond our wildest expectations. And to be able to talk about your sex that way but also to be able to talk about every aspect of your marriage that way and what's going to happen is deeper intimacy and trust and communication across the board will strengthen the marriage and then as a result of that I think the sex life as a couple will improve as a result.
CP: In the series you and your wife, Ashley, and Craig and his wife Jeanette talk about the transition from single and abstinent to married with sexual expectation. Why did you choose that as a topic of discussion?
Dave Willis: Yeah, that's huge. I think it all goes back to, not to blame it all on the church not teaching it right. We talk about in the series both in the church and in Christian homes people with very good intentions keep their kids from having sex by in essence just saying forever it's a bad thing. Don't do it, it's only for married people, it's a bad thing and you're just kind of hardwired to try to put it out of your mind as much as possible and to flip that switch all at once. And to go from sex not at all part of your life to now it's supposed to be something where you're so natural and so at ease and like anything, it's an adjustment, it's a process.
When you're learning to walk for the first time, which is also something that's very natural, you stumble at first. Actually you stumble a lot but that does mean you just stop trying because eventually you'll walk and you'll learn to run and it's the same thing with sex.
I think we set up a lot of our Christian married newlyweds to either feel like if they don't have just mind-blowing sexual intimacy and ecstasy on their honeymoons that they've done it all wrong and all the waiting was for nothing. We build it up so much that we're setting them up for failure because we're asking them to be an expert at something that they've not done or we've pre-programmed them to think it's bad for so long that they have a hard time flipping that switch and really being able to enjoy the beauty and intimacy of that moment so it's a process.
Getting into meaningful and pleasurable intimacy, it requires really getting to know somebody on all levels; that takes a lot of time. It requires getting comfortable with something that you haven't done before; that takes time. So yeah, it should be a lot of fun on the honeymoon but we tell people you're not going to have the best sex of your life on your honeymoon. It takes building that intimacy over time with your spouse but sometimes people have a negative experience or it doesn't live up to the hype right away and it just puts them on this trajectory to thinking something's wrong with them and so instead of dealing with the issue, they just say sex isn't that important anyway and they push aside the gift and tool that God intended to be the supernatural glue to hold the husband and wife together and they're ignoring that completely which causes just frustration in all levels of the marriage.
So if the sex life is avoided or just kind of dealt with as a chore, the husband and wife are missing out on one of the most profound ways they should be connecting physically and emotionally and spiritually.
CP: You mention in the series that sexual intimacy starts at the beginning of the day creating an atmosphere that allows couple to be intimate in the bedroom. How can couples use key marriage principles such as communication and partnership to build and strengthen the sexual relationship?
Dave Willis: It's all connected. My wife is quick to say that I'm never sexier than when I am doing the dishes or when I am folding laundry. For her that is the best foreplay imaginable and so we try to encourage husbands and wives in that way to say if you'll make it an effort all day to connect and to support each other and to serve each other, it's going to make that next step, that natural progression to sexual intimacy feel natural instead of feeling forced. So find ways to support each other throughout the day.
CP: Culturally women are not encouraged to talk about sex in the same way men are. So how do you want to reach women with this series?
Ashley Willis: I think you've really hit the nail on the head right there. Just first of all we want to get women talking. I was actually at a women's retreat a months of weeks ago. It was all women and we were just hanging out and one woman, I can't remember how we got into the conversation, but she basically said that she was just kind of disgusted with her sex life. And it was funny, just because she brought it up, there were a few other wives who kind of chimed in saying "I know, we struggle with this too." And it was probably the first time that I have been around a group who was able to be open and honest and I could tell that when she first said it she was a little reluctant and a little embarrassed but then it really got the conversation going.
With this series, we really just wanted to get women talking and not just with each other, we really want them talking with their husbands because that's kind of what with the women I was talking to, that's what it really came down to. I was like have you ever told your husband this, have you ever talked about your feelings, your disappointments and feeling like it's a chore (and) she said "no, I just feel embarrassed and I feel like he won't understand." With the series Dave and I and the other couple really encourage people to not be embarrassed. If you can't talk about it, then it's never going to be fixed and you're never going to have the sex life that you want.
Also… a lack of communication about sex in marriage can lead to either being just really dissatisfied by the sex life or people even looking outside the marriage and so it's just so important to be open to talk about it.
CP: What are some misconceptions about women and sex that women might believe about themselves or that husbands believe about their wives?
Ashley Willis: I think a lot of times, like you said before, that men – people assume that men are much more comfortable talking about it because studies show that men think about it more often than women. But that doesn't mean that we don't think about or we don't have desires.
I do think when we are being raised, especially in Christian homes… our parents teach us to be chase which is biblical, to save ourselves for our husbands. But in that process, we're taught that sex is a dirty thing or it's the thing we just don't talk about until we're getting ready to be married. I understand where parents are coming from but I think a better approach would be to talk about what a gift sex is, that God designed this amazing gift for marriage and it's like the best gift you get to celebrate on your wedding night and that's why you want to save yourself. But it's not dirty at all but it's very powerful and so if it's used in the wrong way, it could hurt you and it can hurt that other person. I think that's how we need to approach it
I think so many times and me included and I actually talk about this in the series, I was raised kind of in that way where it was something we never talked about, it was something dirty and I know my parents did this solely to help me. I know they had the best of intentions but it was very hard for me to flip that switch when it came to getting married and you deal with so many emotions. You feel – if you've been taught your whole life that sex is kind of this dirty thing and now you're married, you can't just automatically become this person who feels completely comfortable with sex. So I do think we're doing a disservice to our daughters if we don't raise them up to know it is beautiful and we teach where sex is supposed to take place.
CP: I asked your husband about this but I want to pose the question to you too, how can couples use the key marriage principals to build and strengthen the sexual relationship?
Ashley Willis: With the cleaning thing we always tease and say if you're doing the dishes, that's like foreplay to us or putting away laundry. But I also think women especially – and this is what Dave talks about, with men it's easy for them to kind of put everything else on the backburner and just have sex. I don't know if they're just wired differently that way but with women, even if Dave and I had a fight that day or if there's something that I haven't told him that I'm kind of angry at him about and he may be completely unaware of it, it's hard for me to get in that mood because there's something that's unresolved. So I think obviously a healthy part of a healthy marriage is that communication, you know, not letting things be unsaid, don't build up resentment, don't let a fight go unresolved and just like with that being a heathy part of communication. I do believe that directly affects our sex life as well.