Q&A with J: “Is It Okay Not to Have Sex in Marriage?”

Today’s question comes from an unmarried woman who’s considering marriage … and whether sex must be a part of that relationship.

Mainly my question is, is it ok to not have sex in a marriage? So if I don’t want to have sex, should I never get married? Because women around me are always saying how great sex is in marriage and what a blessing it is and I have come to despise that. I read Christian blogs on the topic and they say the same kind of stuff and how a wife shouldn’t deny her husband sex. What if the husband is ok with not having sex too? Is that possible? Because my boyfriend … says it’s ok to not and he’s ok with not and we can come pretty close to sex without actually having it. Is that alright? He has a medical condition as well “adrenal insufficiency” which most likely won’t allow him to have kids. I don’t know if that also affects his desire to have sex but if it does, maybe that’s why he’s ok with not.

… I don’t want to be with him and waste both of our time if he is super driven to have sex and I won’t give it to him. I didn’t want to go all the way to a month before marriage and realize we have such a big problem. But we seem to agree on it. We’re very careful and wanting to do the right thing with our future and I’m hoping you can help with these questions. I haven’t been able to find anything on “a fear of having sex” on the Internet so I am asking directly and personally now.

Couple lying back to backJust a note for the readers: In the full email, it was clear that her “boyfriend” is very close to being a fiancé.

Now to the question: Is it ok not to have sex in a marriage?

Well, what are the purposes of marriage? You can see a number of purposes for marriage in the Bible:

It appears that first one is off the table for you two, with his medical issues. But honestly, all of those other purposes should be present in a healthy, godly marriage.

And sex is involved in a lot of those other purposes as well. You need sex to procreate; sex promotes romantic love; sex deepens intimacy; and the sexual act itself reflects the unity God desires to have with us.

Sex is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the marriage relationship from all others. I can have a roommate with whom I form a partnership, and we can be friends and serve God together. But that isn’t a marriage. A friendship between man and woman becomes marriage when we link our lives and our bodies in a covenant relationship before God.

You simply can’t find me a marriage in the Bible that didn’t include sex. So if all biblical marriage relationships involved sex, maybe God is communicating something about its importance. After all, sex was His idea from the beginning:

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:22-25).

Why would God make sure there’s an entire book in the Bible devoted to romantic and sexual love? Song of Songs makes it clear that there’s barely a heartbeat between a husband and wife saying, “I love you,” and then desiring physical intimacy:

How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant (Song of Songs 1:16).

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens
and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies.
 (Song of Songs 6:2-3). (Gardens/flowers in Song of Songs are euphemisms for a woman’s sexual organs.)

Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villagesLet us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love (Song of Songs 7:11-12).

God intended for married couples to experience sexual pleasure and intimacy. It’s in His Word, and I just don’t know how a couple can get around that. Now I understand some couples cannot engage due to physical/medical constraints, but that’s an exception — not the rule.

The Bible also talks about how sexual intimacy in marriage can serve as a protection against your husband or you wandering away and falling in love with someone else. I’m not guilt-tripping you here with, “if you don’t put out, he’ll go get it elsewhere.” Cheaters choose to cheat, and that’s their sin. Yet healthy sexual intimacy helps to keep you both focused where you should be.

Here’s how Proverbs 5:15-19 says it:

Drink water from your own cistern,
    running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
    your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
    never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.

It’s in the New Testament as well, from 1 Corinthians 7:3-5:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Honestly, I don’t know all the reasons you’re reluctant to have sex once you’re married. But your statement that “I haven’t been able to find anything on ‘a fear of having sex’ on the Internet…” tells me that you’re actually frightened about intercourse.

I get that. But I want to reassure you that there are answers to and ways to overcome that fear. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse in your past, go grab The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender and even its accompanying workbook. If you’ve been taught that sex is dirty or feel like it’s just icky, I’d suggest The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Gregoire. If you don’t understand how it all works and how it’s part of God’s plan, pick up The Pursuit of Passion by Julie Sibert and Jeff Murphy. If you need a biblical view of how to approach sex in marriage, check out Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage by yours truly.

Read Christian articles and blog posts and books about sexual intimacy. Hear beyond the message that sex is something you should do in marriage to the truth that sex is something your marriage should do for you.

Sex isn't just something you should do in marriage, but something marriage should do for you. Click To Tweet

Just look at a few practical positives of sexual intimacy in marriage:

In the long run, a healthy sex life in marriage will be one ingredient that can make your relationship stronger, deeper, and longer lasting. So I pray that you seek out godly sexual intimacy and have a blessed marriage.

Related Post: Mystery 32 – What’s So Beautiful about Marital Intimacy?

NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON SATURDAY.

39 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “Is It Okay Not to Have Sex in Marriage?”

  1. Anonymous

    To answer the question “is it okay not to have sex in the marriage”, I would say yes. If one spouse has severe chronic medical issues that make sex difficult, if not impossible, I would think that no sex is okay.

    There are many other situations where there no sex in a godly marriage.When my father-in-law got remarried in his 60’s after his 1st wife died, he remarried for companionship. Sex was the last thing on his mind.

    In regards to the letter written above, I would recommend that she should not pursue marriage until she resolves her “fear of sex”.

    Reply
    1. John

      I get your point, and I agree with you, that if one spouse has a medical condition that make sex difficult/impossible, no sex is okay – with some caveats.

      I’m going to skip the obvious, that if the medical condition occurred before marriage, that the engaged couple, if one has such a condition, should inform the partner. For example, if a husband had penile cancer and thus by treatment is unable to have an erection (or worse!), he ought to inform his prospective wife before the marriage. Similar to being infertile – if you know beforehand that you are, and it gets close to engagement, you should inform your prospective wife/husband, who might consider having no children a deal-breaker. The point being you shouldn’t hide things from a prospective spouse.

      (actually this goes for a lot of topics, not just sex! Finances, debts, exes, family problems, addictions, etc)

      Anyways, I believe that, short of complete paralysis, a spouse with a medical condition ought to be able to do =something= that fosters intimacy. Can’t have intercourse? How about oral sex? Can’t have oral sex? How about manual? Can’t get an erection (naturally or with medication), you can use a toy (or oral, or manual). The point is, fostering sexual intimacy is about more than the actual physical act of intercourse with penis in vagina. Its mostly about forming a connection with your spouse. And I believe its not only the right thing to do, but your responsibility as well to do so. Find some kind, any kind, of solution. It =can= be done.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        Yes, that’s true, John. That’s one reason why I talked about unwillingness, because willingness to do something toward sexual intimacy for the marriage can go a long way toward finding answers and even alternatives. Thanks so much for your comment.

        Reply
      2. Todd

        Perfectly summed up the way I saw things in regard to this post. I couldn’t help but think there are some deeper issues underlying the reason for the question having been asked.
        After reading the post, I pretty much came to the same conclusion that you did.
        Just seems like the common sense answer I guess…

        TD

        Reply
  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Truly an interesting post!

    If I may offer a thought…yeah, you can have a marriage without sex, but it’s not for everyone.

    Let me explain – I’m a very well-trained, and highly experienced ‘security contractor’. The path that led me to be very good at my job also killed off any real possibility for physical intimacy, because, frankly, war is a whole lot more interesting than sex.

    And yet, I’m married…I found a woman who saw an appeal in having a comrade and protector, someone who loved her unto death but who could not make the connexion to effective physical intimacy. We tried; it was rather a hilarious disaster.

    Sure, we’ve missed something, but what we do have is a bond forged on love, devotion, and duty. That’s not a bad thing.

    Reply
  3. Nick Peters

    I remember a man I was part of a men’s group with once saying the same kind of thing about a girl he liked.

    Excuse me if I’m skeptical of the fact that living with a woman like that and seeing and experiencing more nudity won’t lead to a desire for sex.

    Reply
  4. Amanda

    I think its difficult to say that everyone who cant have sex shouldnt get married. There are some physical and mental diseases that can make sex impossible and I find it rather cruel that those who are “broken” are damned to a life of loneliness. People who cant have sex long for physical touch and closeness too…

    Reply
    1. a. nony

      I think it’s really REALLY important to emphasize that a life of celibacy is NOT the same as being “damned to a life of loneliness.” The picture of rich, vibrant, close-knit, life-sharing community that I see in the Scriptures is not a life of loneliness for anyone, be they never-married, married but abandoned, unhappily married, happily married, divorced, widowed, having many children, having few children, having no children. Someone with no desire for sex would, I am sure, nonetheless feel right at home in a place where shared meals and open doors were the norm, where the 70+ widow and the young married couple and their young children and the older divorced man and his teenage children sat down together, the youngsters being passed from lap to lap, everyone talking and working and laughing and crying together.

      The church has a sacred obligation to step up their game in creating that kind of beautiful covenant community where people of all walks of life share their joys and sorrows together. Companionship and connection ARE NOT just for married folks, not according to the scriptures, at least.

      Reply
  5. J Post author

    Just to clarify: I made a point that an exception could exist for physical/medical issues. I could add mental disease to that list (which I figured was in the “medical” category). However, that’s not what most people are dealing with. The vast majority of people in sexless marriages are dealing with one or both spouses being unwilling, not incapable. Yet from a biblical perspective, sexual intimacy was clearly intended to be part of the marriage covenant.

    Reply
    1. Amanda

      “Unwillingness” is often a mental issues that has not surfaced yet. Many people dont remember childhood abuse until they are much older for example. Sexual aversion is a mental disorder also. Since I have been diagnosed with several mental issues and studied it more, I have come to see that there can be much more underlying trauma in certain situations. Of course a married couple should have sex if thats possible for both. But if medical problems arise during marriage then we are called to love our spouse like Christ loves the church. And He certainly didnt expect His needs to be met. Thats just as much part of the marriage vows as sex is for a healthy couple. I just think we should be careful to lable people as unwilling if we can not rule out mental/medical issues for sure. Because that would be pretty unfair on that person.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        I agree that mental/medical issues can preclude sex. However, we’re called to work on those things and deal with them so that we can give our spouse and our marriage our healthiest, holiest selves. I could not cover all of the potential reasons why this reader has fears, because honestly, the post would have ended up being 3,000 words. So I included a quick run-down, which certainly mentioned possible abuse and named a resource to help someone get started on a path of healing.

        Reply
  6. Anonymous

    My heart truly breaks for this girl. How did her perception of intimacy (and sex) get so skewed? (Oh right, we live in the 21st century ?). I hope and pray one day she sees the pure beauty and “magic” that happens between husband and wife in the bedroom! Not the first time, or even the first week, but it’s amazing what can happen over time if you don’t give up! Keep doing what you’re doing, J!

    Reply
  7. CSL

    Just a quick line to say that the writer was using an imprecise search term, “fear of having sex”. If the writer takes the time to search on the phrase “Sexual Aversion Disorder” or “Sexual Aversion Syndrome”, she will find that it is listed as a disorder in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5).

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Gosh, this post has made me wonder.
    Should two people who aren’t interested in sex, but who want a companion to share their life with, not marry just because neither are interested in sex?
    Wouldn’t that situation be much better than a married couple where one wants and needs sex while the other isn’t interested or is plain unwilling?
    If we consider people who are uninterested in sex “broken”, (as Amanda coined it) does that mean they should be damned to a life of loneliness?
    Thank you for the Thought provoking post.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Here are some problems with the we’ll-just-be-companions approach: You get married, say you don’t care about sex, and then you don’t get all the benefits of sex — vulnerability, physical intimacy, bonding, etc. — so what happens to your relationship then? Aren’t you cheating yourselves out of what God intended for you to have? And what if one of you decides that they want sex after all and is either (1) tempted to engage with someone else whose companionship they enjoy and who offers sex or (2) starts resenting the other spouse? Also, if at least one of you goes into the marriage with the idea that sex is part of this deal, many times the other spouse becomes convinced over time…and then the couple enjoys what they should have. But if you both willingly shortchange your marriage in this way?

      And I completely understand, and agree, that there are individual cases where sex is not possible — which deserve a different answer. But I reject the notion that singleness means you’re “damned to a life of loneliness.” Some people are called to remain single and celibate and experience amazing relationships and very full lives.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Very good thoughts.
        I would agree that singleness doesn’t mean you’re “damned to a life of loneliness”.
        Many people have amazing single celibate lives….I have both a sister and a brother in such situation. Beautiful people.

        But what about Ecclesiastes 4:9-12….Two is better than one?
        It’s not easy making it alone these days. Pooling resources has it’s advantages.
        Sharing a life with another human being can be quite fulfilling and ease many burdens life brings.
        What about all the couples who do marry with all the advantages of sex-
        vulnerability, physical intimacy, bonding, etc. and one then decides that they don’t want sex after all? Does that not lead to temptation and resentment? Isn’t this a pretty common problem?

        Again, I’m not at all advocating marrying into a sexless situation.
        It’s just a question I asked myself after reading the article and reading some of the responses. It made me wonder…. Isn’t it a possibility that two people who are uninterested in sex be able to have a mutually satisfying relationship and share finances, burdens, sorrows, happiness, perhaps even adopted children, non sexual intimacy, etc. to lead a long happy life together?
        Perhaps having two single siblings getting along in age has made me wonder about how their lives might be different with a life companion….sex or not. Everybody needs somebody.

        This is just a hypothetical question that this article raised in my mind.
        I guess a philosophical kind of question. Please don’t take my intentions wrong.
        I just think it is a valid question to ask. Actually, it was the original question asked.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          I understand what you’re saying. In fact, I’d had that same “but wait…what about?” feeling in the past.

          But looking at the Bible, I don’t see a provision for that relationship you describe being a marriage. I can find childless married couples in the Bible, but not sexless married couples. Every indication of Scripture is that sex is supposed to be part of the deal.

          Reply
      2. AC

        And isn’t sex one very important part of being a marriage. I mean the Bible doesn’t talk about any ceremony or something when it comes to marriage. It just talks about sex. As it says in the verse that the man and the women will become one flesh. I get all interpretations that they have to be one in soul and spirit and etc. But the Bible verse says very clear that they are going to become one flesh. It could easily have said one soul(just some verses before that the Bible talks about soul) but it says flesh. I believe that shows that the foundation of marriage is sex. I don’t understand people who says that sex is just a “little part “of marriage. If it was just a little part of marriage then why did God use it as something that would unite two people in such a special way. If that’s what united them the first time then that is what will keep them together. That’s why adultoury is so horrible because it destroys that. And that’s why no sex in marriage can be so devastating to a marriage. I’m not saying that all other parts of marriage are wrong. Communication, trust and so on has to be there but sex is a cornerstone in a marriage. There are exceptions as you have mentioned and God knows that I believe. But apart from the exceptions a marriage isn’t a marriage without sex according to the Bible. I must say that I think her question is good and it’s really nice of her to considering to stop the relationship if they aren’t going to be on the same page on this. More women should do that. Sure some men would say that it doesn’t matter and that they will love her anyway but just wait after some months or years. I sometimes wish my wife would have told me she wasnt going to be so excited about sex in the marriage as it seemed she was before our marriage. That would have made me think if that was what I want because (sadly) my sexuality is kind of a big deal of who I am so I really respect this girl for thinking like that.

        Reply
  9. Clark

    Sadly I fully understand the roommate or partnership side of marriage.
    Even to try to touch her in a romantic / sexual way and I’m told I treat her like a piece of meat. I am going out of my mind.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      My heart breaks for you. I doubt she has any idea of the emotional pain her rejection causes. I hope you can find ways to reach out to her gently and lovingly, but firmly enough for her to understand that she is depriving you — and herself — of what God intended you to have. Saying a prayer.

      Reply
  10. Bobthemusicguy

    Sounds to me like the man is making excuses. My son has “adrenal insufficiency” (Addison’s disease). It’s treatable with daily doses of cortisone taken in tablet form. While it is serious, most Addison’s patients live completely normal and healthy lives, including sexually.

    It seems to me that both of them have real issues buried deeply that they are not facing. Those need to be addressed honestly and completely before entering into marriage. Otherwise, it will be a time bomb that will go off sooner or later, with potentially devastating results.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I didn’t research Addison’s disease, and I’m not really familiar with its complications. But thanks for that information! It also sounds to me like they’re dodging some issues, and addressing them honestly is important for a healthy marriage.

      Reply
  11. Nick Peters

    The idea of a life of loneliness is a misnomer. For we Christians, Jesus Himself was unmarried. Was He doomed to a life of loneliness? We’ve wrongly taken a very good thing, sex, and made it the ultimate. It’s just saying “If you can’t have sex, then you’re due to a life of loneliness. Christianity only gives two options ultimately and wisely so. Either a life of celibacy without sexual intercourse of any kind, or marriage where you only have sexual intercourse with your spouse. Happiness is possible in both, but while we honor and respect sex greatly, let us not seek to turn eros into a god. It will be a demon instead then.

    Reply
  12. B

    I’m encouraged that this woman asked her question now, before marriage. It does seem like there are some issues here.

    I’m no expert, but I’d strongly suggest some in depth pre-marital couples counseling. They may be pleasantly surprised that they do in fact want to share the gift of married sex with each other once they deal with whatever they’re going through.

    My husband and I had no premarital counseling. We’ve been married over 20 years. We do have sex (although not nearly as often as I would like – but we’ve already covered that :). Anyhow, we recently started counseling with a Christian couple, and oh my the issues we have uncovered! The working through it has brought us closer than before.

    I’ll be praying for the woman who asked the question and her boyfriend.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Premarital counseling is a great idea! I was recently listening to an interview with clinical psychologist and marriage author Dr. Les Parrot, and he pointed out that those couples who get premarital counseling have something like 35% better change of staying together. That’s well worth your time and effort!

      Thanks for the suggestion, B.

      Reply
  13. Eric Wiggin

    J,
    Given the # of responses in the short time this post has been up, it seems this is certainly a needed blog–and I agree with your comments. My take: this young lady and her BF need to RUN to a godly marriage counselor, the sooner the better. She has some deep-seated issues from her past that need to be dealt with.

    Further, marriage consists of two elements: 1. a covenant; 2. sex. At least once. Can anyone truly claim to be “married,” even though legally attached, if there’s been no sex? I don’t believe so. The first and best description of marriage in the Bible (after Adam & Eve) is Genesis 24. Verse 67, of the old King James Version, reads: “And Isaac brought (Rebekah) into his mother [deceased] Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah [to bed]; and she became his wife . . . As for the covenant, that’s in verse 58: “I will go.”

    I’ve known older widowers who remarried after 50+ years of having regular sex with the mother of their children. Such relationships have often ended in divorce, when they discovered that the elderly widow imagined that a kiss at the altar was all the sex they needed. This is a perversion of of God’s intention. Men and women do sometimes live together as brother and sister of course, but if they’re going to take the pledges of matrimony it is hypocrisy to refuse sex.

    Eric

    Reply
  14. Jack

    Is it OK? If both agree, by definition, yes, it’s ok.

    Is it likely that, however honestly and with however much good faith they each now think it’s ok to have a sexless marriage, one of them will become significantly disappointed about their marriage at some point in the future? Yes, extremely likely.

    Some issues aren’t issues…until they become issues. Life is not static, nor are our relationships.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      “If both agree, by definition, yes, it’s ok.” That was my reaction for so many years, but I think a lot of problems have arisen from people saying that they just want to do things their way. Doesn’t God’s opinion on what a marriage — the institution He designed — should have matter?

      But I absolutely agree with your second paragraph. It’s quite likely one will become “significantly disappointed” in the future, regardless of what they say now, if they pursue a sexless marriage by choice.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
      1. Jack

        🙂 I do so agree with all you wrote, both in the original post and in your reply.

        There is part of my head that says that, regardless of what they’re missing, if they’re BOTH completely WILLING to accept that, it’s hard for me to tell them they’re wrong. But you’ve sliced it a little differently, and better. They’re not wrong, but they’re missing a ton of what God has intended and enabled us to do for each other.

        But my real point was that I frankly do not believe for a moment that a year, five years, or even 15 years from now, one of them won’t wake up to what’s missing and then there’s going to be pain, possibly in industrial quantities, possibly with horrible breakage and brokeness, which could have been avoided. 🙁

        Reply
  15. Cara

    I can’t imagine it for myself but if both are agreeable? Maybe they just want companionship and the commitment that comes with marriage or don’t want to be
    Perceived as “shacking up”?
    I understand that that’s not a marriage as we see it or as God intended marriage to And they are missing out on some awesome fun and intimacy. But maybe it just plain beats being lonely?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      But I don’t understand why being single equates to so many as being lonely. If someone doesn’t want a marriage as God intended, maybe they should pursue other relationships that are fulfilling and to which they can fully contribute.

      I’ll give an example. I know a single woman who has two roommates and together they provide a foster home for children in transition. What a beautiful life!

      Reply
  16. Lynn

    The first post mentions a father-in-law remarrying at the age of 60 for companionship and sex was the last thing on his mind. Don’t be so sure. I married a 75-year old widower and sex is pretty close to the first thing on his mind. He told me that he would have curbed his desire if I hadn’t wanted much activity. I hoped, before marriage, that we wouldn’t have to ‘do it’ very often, but when I saw how happy it made him, it started to make me happy, too. But if he hadn’t shown an interest? Neither would I.

    Reply
  17. Mike

    J, I had 20+ years marriage with good sex, and 20+ years of marriage with no sex. I have one year of great sex now. The 20 years without sex made me grumpy, mean, selfish, hurtful, snippy, argumentative, and just an all around difficult person to be with. A year ago when I finally challenged my wife to have sex again, I became a different person. I immediately became helpful, compassionate, kind, easy to get along with. I was shocked. I wanted to be around my wife all the time. I did not try to be different, I just was. I had no idea that sex had such great benefits.

    Reply

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