Sexual simmering: Reclaiming intentional time with your spouse

Written by Gary L. Thomas
Published on October 01, 2021

One of the great challenges of sexual fulfillment in the twenty-first century is that there’s so little time and energy left over to enjoy sex. I get sympathetic laughs in my talks whenever I mention “hotel sex.” Two of the main reasons hotel sex (or vacation sex) creates such a different experience are time and energy

Most of us who are older than thirty will find that our sexual desires aren’t like a light switch. We can’t just flip them on, even if we really want to. I know many wives and husbands feel terrible (because they tell me so) when their spouse is really in the mood, and they just aren’t. 

They wish they could be. They may even try to get there. But sometimes it feels like they just can’t. 

From simmering to boiling

Sex therapists recommend a practice called “simmering.” Debra Fileta, who cowrote with me Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimaging Your Love Life, is the therapeutic professional here, not me, so I’ll offer my amateur’s definition: simmering is letting sexual tension build without bringing it to a boil. 

It’s not foreplay—it’s fore-foreplay. The purpose behind simmering is simple: it’s much easier and quicker to go from simmering to boiling than it is from cold to boiling. 

Too many of us live in a sexually cold manner most, if not all, of the time. Pursuing simmering sets us up for the occasional boil. 

Radiant routine 

Erica has four young children, and she calls her care for them a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. Her husband, Timothy, helps, but he works outside the home, which means decisions throughout the day tend to fall on her shoulders alone. 

In the face of this reality, their sex life took a nosedive. Both Erica and Tim mourned their diminished lovemaking without casting judgment on either partner. They both felt tired and overwhelmed at the prospect of finding a surprise thirty-minute window and having the energy to act on that window—all while trying not to be distracted by the fact that the thirty-minute window would soon end, even if things didn’t progress. 

Their counselor suggested planning their times of sexual activity, an idea both Erica and Tim thought sounded horrible. “The last thing I need is another task on my to-do list,” Erica complained. “That will only make things worse.”

But then the counselor explained the concept of “simmering sex.” She urged them to wed that concept with planned sex: “Make the entire day a routine of getting ready for sex.” And the “call to duty” that Erica feared became a hot appointment she didn’t want to miss. 

Erica started taking a few minutes longer for her Friday morning showers (their planned day of lovemaking), making them more sensual. She thought about what she would wear during the day—underneath her clothes and on the outside as well. She and Timothy started sharing some text messages and even, on occasion, a photo or two. 

Timothy learned to get home a little early on that day to help with the household duties. He took charge so Erica could enjoy a few hours without having to make a decision. Things took a huge step forward when he started bringing dinner home without asking Erica what she wanted. 

He figured out that “making another decision” was part of mothering for Erica, and on Friday nights, she wanted to leave mothering far behind. 

Intentionality with your spouse

The need for Erica to experience a momentary escape from mothering is why, if they got a babysitter and went out to eat, Timothy made sure every child was tucked in while Erica went straight to the master bedroom. He knew that for Erica to simmer on those days, he had to keep a wide berth between her and her mothering tasks. 

Over time—it took them a few months to work everything out—Fridays became ritualistic. Erica’s long morning shower, her dressing in an intentional manner, the desire-inducing text messages, and Timothy’s commitment to removing obstacles that stole Erica’s desire (making decisions and mothering) all created a simmering atmosphere. 

Now Erica says planned sex is one of the best things that ever happened to their marriage. A caveat here: Guys, don’t assume that your wife’s hindrances are identical to Erica’s. Maybe your wife doesn’t mind making decisions and would be offended if you didn’t ask her opinion about what to bring home for dinner. 

Maybe kissing her kids good night puts her in the mood to connect with the father of those children. The key is to figure out what turns your spouse on and what turns them off and then start to “simmer” accordingly. 

Let your entire day be the provocative conclusion to the Song of Songs, “Come away, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains” (Song of Songs 8:14 NIV).


Taken from Married Sex by Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta. Copyright © 2021 by Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.   For a God-honoring guide to making your sex life better, pick up a copy of the new book Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimagining Your Sex Life, by Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta, M.A., LPC.  


Consider a few extra resources:

Investing in your marriage is worth the sacrifice

Reimagine your relationship: How to reorient your marriage after you become parents

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Gary L. Thomas

Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including Married Sex, When to Walk Away, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, and Sacred Marriage (over one million copies sold). He has a master’s degree from Regent College and was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Western Seminary. Gary has spoken in 49 states and 10 different countries.

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