Life Without Physical Intimacy

By August 30, 20104 Comments

Last week I was directed to a blog post written by a single woman about her struggle to live without physical intimacy in her life. Not only was the post refreshingly transparent, but it was also a helpful reminder to me as a now married woman. I still remember sitting in a Bible study full of married women, myself a single woman, as each member of the group bemoaned the chore of having sex with her husband. When they turned to me and apologized, “Oh sorry, Sharon! You must feel so awkward right now!” I replied, “Actually, I’m trying to figure out what you all are complaining about.”

It’s easy to take the comforts of marriage for granted. It’s also easy to forget the great struggles of being single. I hope the following excerpt will be an encouragement to those who find yourself at in the same place as the author. I also hope it will serve as an important reminder to those of us who seek to love you.


In our culture it seems ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ when women desire sex as a means to emotional intimacy.  But no one believes that a woman could struggle with the purely physical.  So, I’ll go ahead and put this blog out there just in case it might be an encouragement.  This struggle has provided for me the biggest challenge and deepest ‘suffering’ of singleness.

I believe that one day, I will look at my life and say with confidence that the single greatest blessing I have experienced of singleness has been pain of learning to live without physical intimacy.

Part of why it’s been so painful is it is probably the struggle that has confused me most.  It’s been (and is) a pretty hard sell to get my body on board with the idea that I’m not missing out on what I was created for.  It’s challenging to not feel entitled.  And in a moment of absolute vulnerability, it’s one of the things that has made it the hardest to trust my sweet and faithful God.  And in some ways – in dark and frightened places – I feel forgotten and betrayed and confused.

Because I know He knows me. I know He knows my body and my heart and I know He designed and wired this desire inside of me in the same way He wired my belly to grumble slightly around 11:02 AM.  My hunger is designed to prompt me to eat.  And so I do.  And yet, my Father has told me that when I am hungry in this sense I must trust Him and not find food for myself.  And He has seen fit not to give me any guarantee that this hunger will ever be satisfied.

There is pain.  There is pain in watching my friends be fed one after another with the thing I feel like I need the most.  There is pain in facing each morning with the knowledge that today there will be no daily bread for this hunger.  There is pain as I sit, feeling as though I am starving to death, and listen to my married friends try to explain to me that eating is overrated. [Emphasis added]

And the truth is: this is the biggest blessing of my life.

You know what it makes me think about?  Fasting.  Fasting is strange.  I think it’s weird that God is about physical fasting.  It involves a need that is seemingly purely physical.

When I am lonely, I ultimately want God.  When I am sad, only God can bring true joy.  When I am afraid, it points me to the promises of God.  When I feel rejected, unwanted, unloved, alone, in all these needs, God alone will bring true and lasting peace.

But, when I’m hungry, I want a cheeseburger and some fries.

Physical desires seemingly terminate on physical things.  And that’s the beauty of fasting.  God commands us to fast, not so that He can prove He is as good as a cheeseburger by making our hunger go away. God commands us to fast so that we learn to feel hungry and trust Him in the midst of that gnawing sense of need.

The goal of fasting is not for God to remove our hunger, but for us to learn that in the midst of hunger He is trustworthy.  The feeling of hunger is the point of the fast.  God wants us to feel hunger so that we are reminded that we are not supposed to be satisfied and we are supposed to long for Him.  We fast to reflect that we trust God regardless of what our bodies tell us.  He is our authority, not our bodies.

Today, my body wants something tangible and physical.  My body doesn’t know that God will satisfy all my needs.  It just wants what it was made to have.  And today, I don’t get to have that.  And so the line is drawn in the sand and the challenge is made.  Today, what will be my source of truth?  Who will be the one who determines what I need?  My body?  Or my God?  Who knows my needs better?  Me or Jesus?  When I feel so clearly what I ‘need’, will I trust Him that there is a greater need?  Will I learn to be hungry so that I can trust Him in hunger, not just in plenty?

There is no area in my life that makes me more likely to doubt the promises of God than this area.  I have told friends through tears that many days I do not feel like I have everything I need for life and godliness because of this.  I do not know how I am going to persevere in light of my hunger and in light of my Father’s gracious call to purity.

And so, this pain, more than anything else will teach me to trust.  Each day, as the sun goes down and I still find myself securely held in the arms of the Father, my faith is built.    He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never be hungry.  He promises to give me everything I need to not starve to death on the road home to Him.  And today I’m alive; He has proved Himself faithful.  He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never ever falter.  He promises to give me everything I need to finish this race.  And today I love Him; He has proved Himself faithful.  He will finish the good work He began in me.  There is only one thing I really need.  And it is secure.

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  • Blake says:

    That is really good stuff. I looked over some of the other things she has written and added her blog to my feed reader. I’d like your opinion on something Sharon now that you’re on the “other side.” Is there more that married couples can do in the realm of physical intimacy to encourage singles? Allow me to elaborate.

    Most of friends have this nasty habit of burning all the bridges to their single friends once they get married. People I used to talk to, hang out with and pray with several times a week get married and now I’ve only heard from them a handful of times in the last few years since then. I have been lucky to become close friends with a married couple. My best friend and his wife are really good about being open about the struggles of married life and being an ear and place for sound advice when it comes to my own struggles with singleness. Outside the two or three hugs I get from him in a week I would not be touched by anyone ever in a year outside of the couple of times a year I see my family. This realization lead me to remark that without physical intimacy the internet world really doesn’t seem any less real than the real world because physical touch goes a long way to make the real world real. Are there more and better ways the church should encourage married couples to be more involved in the lives of singles? Are their ways the Church can build healthy community across all kinds of divisions in being more open to find appropriate ways to simply touch each other?

  • Sharon says:

    Blake, you raise an interesting point! I think there are two very separate issues going on here:

    First is the issue of physical intimacy, which is somewhat distinct from the relationship between single people and married people. And the reason I saw that is this–to an extent, you can determine how much physical touch you have in your life, and it has little to do with your married friends. The reason I say this is that my husband is a big hugger. As long as I’ve known him (as a single and a married man) he always hugged his guy friends and told them he loved them whenever he saw them (still does). That’s something I’ve admired about him–he sets a tone of openness and intimacy with his guy friends, something that is hard to do in our uber-homophobic culture. In so many cultures around the world it is normal for men to show respect for one another by holding hands, and it’s completely heterosexual. It is more culturally acceptable for women in America to express that kind of affection toward one another, but men have far fewer options.

    That said, I would encourage you to be the initiator of this type of intimacy instead of waiting for others to do it. Become a hugger. 🙂 Of course, this kind of physical affection will not quench the desire for sexual intimacy that the blog writer was also referring to, but it is certainly an important step.

    The second issue you mentioned is that of the relationship between singles and marrieds. The relational dynamic you referred to is a much bigger issue than whether married men hug their single guy friends. Even if a married man is not a big hugger, it is important for Christians to have hospitable marriages in which any person, single or married, would feel welcome. Unfortunately, some couples are better at this than others, but there are definitely couples out there (and it sounds like you have found one!). Rather than spend time feeling frustrated with the couples who aren’t good at hanging with singles, I would focus my time on the couples who are.

    I do think, however, that this is a much bigger issue than the singles/marrieds division. Even as a married woman I can still feel alienated from my friends who have kids, since I don’t have any yet. Exclusive language and behavior happens at every stage in life and culture, and that is a much bigger problem that the church needs to be addressing. The singles/marrieds divide is just a symptom of it.

  • Denise says:

    Thank you! This sounds like what my heart is saying. It’s far and away my most painful struggle–the only thing to stir up real envy, frustration, despair. At times, my whole heart screams, “It’s not fair!” This post was timely encouragement.

    I’m so thankful the Bible is very clear that we will be blessed for our patience and perseverance (in ALL things). I don’t understand why I’m still alone…but because of God’s precious word, I know what to do about it: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, patient in prayer.” ~ Rom. 12:12

  • Dina says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post because this is something that I struggle with on a daily basis and recently have been struggling more. This is a subject that is hard for me as a single woman to talk about because its hard to admit and be honest about. I have recently decided to get serious about being saved and that is where the struggle has gone from bad to worse. I know I must trust God and His timing for everything and reading your blog entries really help.

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