Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?

After writing what turned out to be a controversial post on faith and sexless marriage, I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about my next Q&A post, which I would like to be about practical steps you can take to address a sexless marriage.

In preparation, I Googled that subject and found various posts on the matter of sexual refusal as a sin (which yes, I believe it is). Many of them were posts written by fellow marriage bloggers I’d already read, but there were some additions.

Here’s what stopped me short, though: In pages and pages of my search, I found almost no posts or articles written by pastors or biblical scholars on sexual refusal in marriage.

How is that possible – I thought – when I know that it’s an ongoing issue for too many in the Church?

Blog post title + two pairs of feet in bed turned away from each other

Most of the posts I did find suggested the prescription of addressing your spouse’s sinfulness according to Matthew 18:15-17. The steps as described are:

  • Speak directly to the person who has sinned against you (your spouse)
  • If they won’t listen, take one or two others along as witnesses (being careful whom you choose)
  • If they still won’t listen, bring the matter to the attention of the church (not really the whole, but church leaders)
  • If they still refuse to listen, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (remembering that Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors as outsiders but not enemies)

And I agree with all of that. It’s in the Bible! Spoken by Jesus! How could I not?

But here’s where the prescription, sadly, seems to break down in real life: How do I tell those in you in sexless marriages to go to your church for help with this issue, when I know full well that many of you will find precious little support there?

I’ve had spouses write and tell me that the Christian counselor they went to see brushed off the total lack of sex in their marriage, choosing instead to concentrate solely on communication issues or even saying that sex wasn’t that big a deal. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve begged their minister to preach or teach about sex in marriage, including the need to address sexual refusal, and they get waved off. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve approached church leaders and explained the heartache they’ve experience in their marriage, only to be told to suck it up, pray harder, and love their spouse more.

Poet Robert Frost famously said, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” And that is how I feel about the Church. My community of believers has been an anchor for me in many of life’s storms, and they feel like family in so many ways. I love the Body of Christ.

But I also get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage.

I get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage. Click To Tweet

These sad, true stories above have been told to me both through my ministry here and personally. Moreover, my Google search on the subject demonstrates how silent the Church as a whole is on this topic. So where are the ministers and church leaders willing to speak boldly for the sake of all kinds of intimacy in marriage, including the physical intimacy God clearly wants spouses to have?

I know they’re out there. But their numbers aren’t large enough yet. We still have work to do in the Church.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin. Our Lord knows what He’s talking about! It’s a beautiful process done well and has turned back many hearts to God.

And if your spouse’s sin was adultery, I suspect the vast majority of you would receive compassion and support from those in your local church. But what if your spouse’s sin is the unfaithfulness of refusing you for years and years? What if they have cut off the physical intimacy entirely in your marriage and won’t even talk about it? What if your heart is a gaping wound in your chest that just happens to involve your private parts as well? Will you get the support you should get?

I want to say yes. I soooo want to say yes.

Because I love the Body of Christ.

Yet I’m a realist, and I know that too many churches, too many Christians, have failed in this area. We have left a large segment of emotionally pained spouses with nowhere to go.

We can’t accept that status quo. Something has to change.

So today, I’m just throwing this out there and asking my readers to answer any of the following:

  1. Have you personally experienced a church leader or counselor brushing off your concerns about a sexless marriage? If so, would you calmly share what happened? (Note: I don’t think berating individuals will help and just adds our own sin to the mix.)
  2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?
  3. Have you helped someone in your church address a sexless marriage? What did you do, and was it (in any way) successful?
  4. If you’re a pastor or church leader, why has it been difficult for you or others to address the issue of sex in marriage head-on?
  5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?

Where this goes, I don’t know. But it’s past time we talked more positively about healthy and holy sex in marriage and more honestly about all the sexual sins that can entrap us and damage the intimacy of our marriages.

And I want to be a part of the conversation that changes our churches for the better.

140 thoughts on “Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?

  1. Cindy Gullo

    I can only comment on #2: Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message? The answer would be a big resounding NO!!! Our Pastor teaches a sunday school class called “marriage and family”, my husband and I attend his class. He follows notes from a long-gone pastor he knew and when he gets to any part in the notes dealing with sex, he glosses right over that part. I do not recall EVER hearing him preach from Song of Songs. He and his wife are the LAST people I would turn to if I was having a “sex” issue in my marriage. Sad, but a fact.

    Also, on another but kind of related topic …… our church has a christian day school. I think it would be a fantastic idea (and needed) to have a mandatory sex ed/health class (divided, of course). None of the kids/young adults that I know in our church, especially the girls, have a clue how their bodies work. But, because sex is TABOO, that will never happen. Also a sad fact.

    I came to the conclusion long ago that many of the people in my church and their kids (our pastor, wife and grown children included) have lived their lives under a rock. None of them have any idea what reality is.

    Reply
  2. Nick Peters

    I could count on one hand the number of sermons I’ve heard on sex in the church and I’m 37. We wonder why it is our young people screw up so much with sex. Could it be we’re actually not giving them the Biblical worldview on it?

    I think we should teach about 1 Cor. 7. That’s one of the most relevant passages. It explicitly says that there should not be sexual refusal except for mutual consent and even then, only for a short time.

    What if we lived that?

    Reply
  3. Doug

    Thanks for raising questions on the subject! Perhaps much of the problem is due to the church cowering to popular sexual-gender equality views of society. Men and women are definitely made different and these differences must be taken in consideration for a relationship to be blessed. In a sexless marriage, what the man should do is different from what the woman should do. For example, women are made to be responsive to a man’s leadership. Much sexlessness may be attributed to a man’s failure to lead in love. In such situation it will do no good to bring church force into the situation as means of getting the wife to open up. These men need to learn how to love and seduce their wives, yet the church has been primarily approaching sex as a duty of submission from wives.

    “We love because He first loved us.” This is the pattern men need to be learning.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      So I agree that men and women are quite different. However, are you saying that Jesus’ prescription for how to deal with this is different depending on gender? Because I don’t see that in the Scripture at all.

      Reply
      1. Doug

        Matthew 18 does not seem to be talking about husband-wife relationships. Christ does not force his bride to love Him. He says, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.”

        If a wife does not desire to be loved by her husband sexually, that is one thing. If a husband does not want to love his wife sexually, that is quite another.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Okay, so I can go with Matthew 18 perhaps not being about husband-wife relationships (not saying that I agree, but I can entertain that idea). However, there’s no force in that passage either. At every step, the one sinning has a choice of how to respond. So I don’t understand how your comment about force applies.

          Reply
          1. Doug

            The force I’m referring to is in the form of social pressure: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” Some denominations like Presbyterians, take “church” to mean elders. It’s a group of men. Should a group of men be telling a wife she needs to have sex with her husband? Should a whole congregation? Will either of these jump start a wife’s libido?

            The great need for husbands is lover instruction.

          2. Ola

            Hi i love the post, as a young pastor can you provide guidelines of how to address this in a church sermon as i doubt there are many guidelines on how to address this from the pulpit

          3. J Post author

            Thanks, but I’m not a preacher. I don’t know how ministers should do this, but I trust that they can figure it out with their particular congregations in mind. It takes intentionality and courage, and that’s what I’m calling for. But preaching guidelines? I suggest a qualified preacher or biblical scholar provide those.

          4. Anonymous

            Thanks for the your response, I think you are more qualified than you know.

            Thanks for the Stedman post I will look at that also.

  4. FreeinChrist

    I can only answer 1 and 5.
    No, haven’t been brushed of. My leader actually wanted to talk to my wife but he is a little to old school and I felt he would approach the whole thing from the wrong angle so I told him not to. Through your blog and others I find a way to speak to my wife about this and things are getting better but I am happy that he at least took it serious. This is sadly not the reaction of all leaders.

    5. This may seem harsh but oneway churches will start to talk about it is when we stop saying that a sexless marriage can be the cross Gods ask us to carry. This is a hard topic but sometimes saying what you said in your last post leads to a mentality that doesn’t lead to change. Because if this is the cross I need to beat then why should I complain? If I will get rewarded in heaven for staying in a marriage where my sexual and emotional needs aren’t met then what is a church leader going to say? But if people in church would start to divorce because of this then maybe more leaders would get how important this is. Because the thing is that he Bible never mentions this to be a sin. Yes you can interpret it like that but it’s not clear that ist is a sin so many leaders may not know how to approach this. And it doesn’t get better when someone who lives in a sexles marriage hears that you have to resist every temptation or you are not godly enough because this adds up to the ideathat the sexlessness is just a test that you will be rewarded for. The sad truth is that if you sin while in a sexless marriage you will go to hell but if you deny sex there are no consequences for you in the long run. If your spouse leaves you its your spouses who is seen as the enemy. The “sinner” who will burn in hell. Or at least receive a hell on earth. For it to be taken serious we need to stop seeing a sexless marriage as a cross to bear but as a sin. Would you tell a spouse who’s spouserefuses to stop watching porn or sleep with others to bear their cross? Or to simple just pray and pray. Some time yes but in the long run their has to be consequences either separation or divorce. When sexlessness has consequences that’s when the church hopefully will talk about it. But as long as it is seen as a”cross to bear” it will only be seen as a test

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I hear the hurt, and I ache for you. Thanks for telling your story.

      But AGAIN, I’m going to defend myself and say that I never said sexlessness is just a cross to bear that you should put with. That’s not what I think, nor what I said. I was talking about one’s faith in God due to that issue.

      Reply
      1. FreeinChrist

        Thanks but thankfully God is working in us both.

        But it really sounds like that. But I’m not only taking about your post. How many times are people who are refused told after they have tried everything that separation or divorce is ok? You rarely see that. Why? Because it is not seen as a real sin. What will a person who is refused hear? “we will pray for you” but how much does that help. Would we say that to someone who’s spouses is living in sin? It does happen. It most people would say separation and divorce. Again, as long as sexlessness in marriage is treated as a cross you have to bear(even if that wasn’t what you were aiming for there are others that do say that, the mentality of that is always there) then the church won’t see it as a necessity to talk about. Because there are no consequences for he refuses only for the one who is reused if he/she decides to separate or divorce. I know there are several reasons to refusal of sex and sometimes it is the refused spouse fault. That’s how it was in my case. I was addicted to porn and it wasn’t until I confessed to my church elders and my wife that things changed and me and my wife are rebuilding our sex life thanks to Gods grace. She saw the minor faults she had done and I of course saw my major faults and could start to change. But then there are those cases were the spouses doesn’t want to. Most spouses know you should have sex and whether there is hurt and so on this needs to be addressed. It can’t become an excuse not to change this. My porn addiction was was a symptom of a lot of hurt in my heart that needed to be dealt with. But what motivated me to change was me knowing that this is sin. This will have consequences for my marriage, my kids, my life and my church. And my eternity. If sexlessness isn’t seen as a problem then no one will talk about it. And when will it be seen as a problem when we actually talk about real consequences of it. When we sadly have to tell refused spouses that have done everything that they maybe should consider separation or divorce, that’s when churches will start to take it serious.
        And when we stop seeing sex as something shameful and stop thinking that self-control means that you should love your whole life in a sexless marriage.

        Reply
      2. Sean

        I can definitely confirm that! You never said, and I don’t believe that you think that a sexless marriage is ever acceptable.

        The hard thing to accept is when a person has a spouse who refuses to humble him/herself, trust what the Bible says, and do what God said to do. Personally, I felt so abandoned by God while being in that situation for so long. But I did put up with her abuse because I didn’t want to be a part time dad. I feel like I was able to be a positive influence in the lives of my daughters. So honestly, I felt that putting up with abuse was necessary for me to be the kind of father that I needed to be.

        Reply
  5. Cara

    I can’t remember my pastor ever preaching on marriage (sex or otherwise) unless it’s a blip in a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day kind of sermon-but that would not have been about sex on any level)
    Seems to me that other than teaching the teenagers “don’t do it”, the church seems to perpetuate the thought that God isn’t concerned about or involved with sex.

    Reply
    1. Cindy Gullo

      Cara, my church is very close. Once in a while, usually around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day our pastor’s sermon will include a little blip about marriage NEVER sex, unless he is telling the teens that pre-marital sex is a sin, they shouldn’t date until they are in college, no kissing, no touching ……. blah, blah, blah

      Reply
  6. Ruth Buezis

    Talking about addressing sexless marriages is simply addressing the symptom instead of the root causes. There are reasons that people don’t want to have sex. Whether it is the after affects of a porn addiction, sexual abuse, strong purity messages in the church, performance anxiety or lack of any pleasure during years of serving a husband. As painful as it is for the spouse that is being refused, the refuser has to be approached with compassion and empathy and resources for help. Yes, a spouse that is being refused should stand up and say, “I cannot live this way. I want us to get help.” and the the church support them. The church has to start talking about sexl – and not just in some general way that provides no real answers. Support groups for sexual abuse or porn cannot be shrouded in shame or hidden. We have to normalize conversations about sex because in some way all of us have struggled. It does not help to just tell people, “you have to have sex with your spouse because the bible says so.” The message is, “God wants you to be whole because He loves you. He created you for intimate connection with Him and with your spouse. He created sex as an amazing way to glue the two of you together, but it is not easy. We want to help provide answers and support to help you embrace this gift from God that will take your marriage from ho hum to amazing.”

    Reply
  7. Sean

    1. Have you personally experienced a church leader or counselor brushing off your concerns about a sexless marriage? If so, would you calmly share what happened? (Note: I don’t think berating individuals will help and just adds our own sin to the mix.)

    -Yes, an elder who was an old friend who had not had a conversation with me in 20 years, found out that I had filed for divorce for 6 years of sexual refusal and verbal abuse. He did not have the courtesy to meet me face to face, but only made a phone call. He asked me why I had filed for divorce, and I told him. He did not listen or care, but only told me that “God hates divorce.” Since he had been such a good friend, I didn’t respond, but I was totally floored. He seemed to not even hear my reasons or ask what I had tried. I was very disappointed.

    2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?

    Yes, there have been sermons on the subject. They just said to save it for marriage and God will bless you. I have been in church almost every Sunday for over 50 years and I have NEVER heard a single sermon mention sexual refusal.

    3. Have you helped someone in your church address a sexless marriage? What did you do, and was it (in any way) successful?

    Yes, I was teaching a class and the verse that says, “Keep the marriage bed undefiled” came up. I said that it of course meant to condemn adultery, but I asked if refusing to have sex with your spouse was keeping the marriage bed undefiled. You could have heard a pin drop. After a lot of silence, one man brought up 1 Cor. 7, but the class was almost over. A woman, who incidentally was beautiful, came up to me after class and asked if not refusing was applicable to husbands as well. I told her that it absolutely was, and refusing sex in marriage was a sin regardless of who was refusing. She was very happy. About 6 weeks later, she said that she had been reminding her husband of what I said, and he had stopped refusing her. It made me very happy.

    4. If you’re a pastor or church leader, why has it been difficult for you or others to address the issue of sex in marriage head-on?

    -I am not either, but I have talked to several. They all have said that it is just too personal of a matter to address in the pulpit or in a class. They also were afraid that talking about sexual refusal might offend someone.

    5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?

    – I guess the only way any change will happen will be if the Church is forced to admit that this is a major problem. I am afraid that the only way for this to happen would be for several high profile couples have some MAJOR problems like adultery or pornography AND that the refuser will be willing to admit that he/she is at fault. Unfortunately, I have RARELY seen a refuser admit fault, other than Julie Silbert and Chris Taylor.

    Reply
  8. Bobthemusicguy

    HOORAY! Yes, let’s talk about the sin of sexual refusal. But let’s also put it in the context of what sexual intimacy, as well as other kinds of intimacy, should look like in a Christian marriage. I discussed this with my pastor recently, telling him my story of being refused and how God turned it all around. He didn’t brush me off but thanked me for my honesty. I told him that he must address this in the marriage study he’s leading now. I’m going to send him a link to this blog post.

    I’m convinced that at least some of the sexual refusal is a consequence of the purity message that has been hammered home for so long, without being balanced by a sex-positive message about sexual intimacy in marriage. The message has been, Until you’re married, don’t do it. When you’re married, just go figure it out, and good luck.

    There is another culprit behind this, in my opinion, one I’ve expressed several times in my comments on various blogs. That’s the idea that sex, being physical, is therefore fleshly and is to be avoided, or at least regretfully indulged in. In my pursuit of clarity on this, I found that the Greek word for body (sarx) gives two related but different derivatives, sarkikos and sarkinos. I don’t remember which is which, but one pertains to anything that is simply physical. The other has to do with the flesh, i.e., the sin nature. Sex is fleshy, like eating, walking, talking, etc. Of course it can be pursued wrongly, like the others can (gluttony, gossip, going where we shouldn’t go.) When I brought this up to my pastor, he knew immediately which two words I was talking about.

    I hope many, many pastors and church leaders will read your blog post and get with it and teach the truth. When my wife and I were in the worst of this, we never went to anyone for help. Partly out of shame, partly out of not knowing what to expect. I’m in a position of leadership in my church, and I felt (and still feel to some degree) that I can’t be more open about this, even though God has changed our marriage. It’s too bad that I have to think, What will people think? I guess I have to accept that it’s hard to be transparent because of negative reactions in the church.

    Reply
  9. Wesley

    I will take 5. Your article is so on point. About a week ago i was invited to talk about the Sex Conversation to a group of Young Christian women. Oh the issues that come out of the bedroom. They all agreed that the church has an iron cast apathy for discussing sexual and intimacy issues and this has indeed left many spouse in a limbo. I and a few others have taken this matter on and are encouraging women and men, not necessarily always together to openly discuss these matters as they affect our spirituality and service in the lord. I also make a deliberate effort to counsel younger ministers to tackle this matter early on in ministry before they crystallise. We have to literally take this by force of all hope will be lost, as the sweet bedroom tunes have been lost.

    Reply
  10. concerned

    While I believe they are sexless marriages. What about the ones that are not sexless but there is one partner that feels like they deserve to have sex because they are married. That is the foundation they built the marriage on. The sole reason they got married in the first place. And they assumed sex would continue on just as it had prior to marriage and even more and better. Then you have the other partner that married out of love for the person, and for the life they wanted to have with that person. Fast forward years down the road, kids, trials and troubles, there is a recurring struggle about and directly to sex. Their ability to love is directly linked to sex and whether they get it or not. Their whole attitude is based on whether they have had sex the night before. There is score keeping, Recordkeeping, there has been straying from marriage,even an emotional affair, a few times viewing inappropriate things pornographic but just short clip video and then some images. The partner that married for love is constantly berated and scripture beat with the bible verse of Not holding your body from your spouse because it is not your own.. Even though there has been many times thru guilting and constant prodding that that spouse gave into the need as a sacrifice of love, yet that just seemed to cause more crave, and less recognition that they are trying to meet the needs even though their own need is not being met. So the marriage isn’t sexless by far but the one thinks that their love and need of sex supercedes the idea that they need to love their spouse whether they get sex or not..and That they should be loving to and towards them not just when they have sex on the mind. I think many of this is wrapped up in demonic attacks to divide the marriage since the beginning,mostly maybe leading back to having sex before marriage, and then full involvement in pornography and multiple sex partners along with perverse things too from the one who married for sex and out of lust. The other partner had sex before marriage with that person alone. One craves love and the other seems far more concerned with sex. How does that battle resolve? Any articles?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      That’s a whole other question I can’t fully address in the comment thread here. But you make a great point that the command not to deprive one another of marital relations (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) is never to be used like a verbal fist punch in your marriage. When people only look at that one verse, they miss the larger message that God has about sex as a pleasurable act in marriage and one part of intimacy in that covenant.

      I really think a lot of spouses need to apply the 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 test to their marriage beds: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” If you’re impatient, unkind, dishonoring, selfish, angry, and score-keeping about sex in your marriage, how is that loving your spouse?

      Reply
    2. Brian

      I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be mean but I would say that 99% of men get married to have sex and as much of it as they want. I would go so far as to say that if men knew going into a marriage that their wife was going to lose interest in sex that they would never marry to begin with. I will say for myself that I wouldn’t have. Why would I put up with all the troubles a marriage brings if I don’t get the one thing I wanted out of it?

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        The “one thing”? I understand what you’re saying, but that really does play into the stereotypes about men that don’t help this issue. OF COURSE most men want sex! I completely agree. But they also desire love, a great love, that includes lots of sex.

        And that’s just the majority situation. Because it’s actually not 99% of men. Experts believe that in 15-30% of marriages it’s the WIFE who has the higher libido. And this is borne out in the emails I receive. Wives aren’t the only ones refusing; I have several emails from wives whose husbands have shut down in the sex department.

        I don’t know your circumstances, but “all the troubles a marriage brings” isn’t what I’m now experiencing in my marriage, nor are many others. Indeed, a majority of marriages are happy. If that’s not where you are, I pray that you can find a way to change your situation. Praying.

        Reply
        1. Brian

          J, of course you are right that men want to experience love with a woman, but I would go without that feeling of love if I knew going into marriage that my sexual needs wouldn’t be met. I can have all my emotional needs met in other ways, but without sinning I can’t get sex outside of marriage.

          I’ve heard the 15-30% number before with regard to women who are the higher drive spouse, and it’s so foreign a concept to me that it’s difficult to imagine. I wonder if the marriages began that way or it became so over time. But beyond that, I believe that women would still be driven to marry in a way that men would not if sex was off the table. This is just a gut feeling of course, but it’s supported by the fact that most young men I know have no interest in marriage at all because their sexual needs are being met outside marriage. At the same time, all the young women I know still desire marriage even though they can get sex outside marriage anytime they want.

          Im thankful for what you do J and I’m sorry if I’m coming across as mean and bitter. I suppose 13 years of disappointing marriage will do that to a man. It’s no excuse and I’m working on it. It’s just hard to understand how most women are so different sexually.

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            I can definitely sense the deep hurt in your responses. I ache for you.

            I have, however, talked to plenty of wives who say it would be a lot easier to have another female as a roommate, friend, etc., but they want to be married because of the intimacy of that relationship…a big part of which is sex. I’d venture the same is true for men, even if it manifests in a somewhat different way. And your statement that “most young men I know have no interest in marriage at all because their sexual needs are being met outside marriage”? The vast majority of men do eventually marry, so they apparently do want something else. I think in youth the physical drive is often stronger, while the emotional and spiritual drive to be with someone comes with maturity. Unfortunately, in a sexless marriage, that longing is so deeply unmet that it’s felt as both a high physical and emotional yearning.

            Praying, praying, praying for you.

          2. Brian

            J, I thought about my comment about young men getting their sexual needs met and your response that many men still want to get married later in life. I think you might be right but the data and trends aren’t clear yet. If many of these men do want to get married later, my theory would be that it’s still primarily sexual in nature.

            These men are putting an ugly bandage onto their emotional need for sex with a woman by having casual sex and with porn. Just as the porn left me ultimately hollow, so too will this lifestyle leave these men. Eventually this emotional hollowness might lead them to begin seeking a long term commitment or even marriage, with the expectation that it will provide the kind of loving sexual experiences they always needed.

            I know I can’t speak for all men, but I think I’m pretty close to accurate for the overwhelming majority. Maybe I’ll feel differently in 30-40 years as my sex drive starts to recede. So yes, for men like me sex is an absolute expectation for marriage. If you threw all the other possible benefits out the window and left only a completely satisfying sex life I think most men would be all in. Take sex out and I think you would have a hard tim finding any takers until possibly very late in life. Could this be said for women? I honestly don’t think so, but I’m not a woman.

          3. Doug

            Brian, I think you paint a realistic picture of modern society where men are led by their sex drives, not God. For the Christian man, love of wife is to be led by the command of Christ, not sex drive (or lack of it). Women are primarily responders to this love (or lack of it). If a woman senses that all her man is after is sex, and she doesn’t sense love, she will eventually sour on him. If these conditions continue too long, the man will be unable to recover his woman’s affections, no matter how hard he tries.

          4. Sean

            Brian, I can tell you that if I had known that my refuser was going to force me to have a celibate honeymoon, I would have cancelled the wedding. Also, I still struggle with the fact that so many people enjoyed a lot of fun, casual sex, and then get to have a good sex life in marriage, when I turned down a lot of chances for premarital sex because I was led to believe that I would have a good sex life when I got married. I really feel that I was deceived.

          5. J Post author

            I actually had a discussion about this scenario with my college-aged son this weekend, specifically about those who waited, struggle with sex in marriage, and feel cheated. We talked about it in the context of the Church’s responsibility to preach more than Wait Until Marriage and Avoid Sexual Sin. Yes, those are important, but we have to address the positive aspects of having sex in marriage and why it’s so important to invest in this arena! I really want people to hear stories like yours so that we can change our approach. Then when a refusing spouse comes to Church, we have a chance of reaching out to her/him and spurring them to take action to heal their marriage and grab hold of God’s design for sexual intimacy.

          6. Brian

            Doug, Paul actually said it was better not to get married, and goes on to say this:
            “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
            ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:8-9‬ ‭NASB‬‬

            In other words, what is the reason to get married as opposed to staying single as Paul did? Well, In Paul’s opinion it was to keep from “burning with passion”. And what was to prevent a man or woman from burning with passion in the confines of a marriage? Sex. You get married so that your need for sex will be met.

            Now, it’s clear that inside marriage a husband has responsibilities to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Of course a man shouldn’t want only sex from his wife. But all of that aside, I think a husband has a need to be respected and to be given sex. A wife has a need to be loved and be given sex likewise. I think this is a basic requirement just as abstaining from adultery is.

            Now, shouldn’t a man love his wife regardless of the treatment he is given, just as Jesus loves us no matter how many times we fail Him? Yes. I believe this is the standard. Once you are in marriage, you are called to love her no matter what. What I’m saying is that if I had been given prior knowledge of how sex would be starting with the honeymoon, I don’t think I would’ve done it.

          7. Doug

            Brian, no doubt God instilled the drive in us for sex. It is the effect of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply; to have children. Birth control has largely seperated the two. It seems Paul was unique in that he had been exempted from this divine, innate urge. You would expect him to be happy with his situation, since it corresponded with his makeup. This is not the case for most. As for entering a sexless marriage, historically this was always grounds for a marriage to be annulled, sex being how the marriage is consummated. If a man and woman are not chomping at the bit to have sex before the wedding, that should raise a big flag.

  11. Five Under Six

    J, I appreciate your commitment to truth. I find this article very interesting! I was raised in a conservative Baptist setting, and sex was most definitely preached on (tho not often). I was always taught that a wife should never ever ever refuse her husband (if the reverse was taught, I don’t remember it). My husband was taught this, to the point he believes I am sinning if I don’t supplement with oral or manual during my period or when recovering from childbirth (which I personally find offensive, but… Anyway) But I suspect, from the comments I read on marriage blogs, that my situation is a little unique.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Wow. I have heard that at times, mostly that girls and younger women were taught that by older women in the church that they should never say not to their husband. Which rubs me all kinds of wrong, because it communicates such falsehoods as (1) sex is just for him (never supported in Scripture); (2) his needs matter more than yours (not only unsupported, but her marital right is mentioned first in 1 Cor 7:3-5); and (3) husbands should expect sex whenever they want (which doesn’t pass the Ephesians 5:28 test).

      I’m sorry that you’re dealing with that side of things, because the need to address sexual refusal (“depriving,” which isn’t the same as saying no to a specific time or a specific act!) doesn’t mean that we should tell spouses to schlep to the bedroom and just surrender. We have to talk about dealing with the underlying issues that prevent us from having Song of Songs physical love in our marriages!

      Reply
      1. Five Under Six

        I guess it bothers me for two main reasons. 1, I don’t typically refuse him. We are active at least twice a week, often more, so me being unavailable is usually for reasons I can’t control, and it’s not like I’m saying no for selfish reasons 2, he wants compensation for times when I am physical unable to participate in a reciprocal way which makes it, really, all about an orgasm for him. This makes the rest of our sex life feel incredibly empty to me! But… That’s really off topic from the issue you are dealing with here.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          It’s related to how we talk about sex in the Church and the messages Christian wives and husbands have received.

          Reply
      2. Five Under Six

        You say her martial right is mentioned first, and I agree. But here’s the thing, I would NEVER push my husband to give me an orgasm when he is physical under the weather – flu, etc – whether it was my “right” or not. At this ought point I same even imagine pressuring him of he has a more permanent problem, but I guess I can’t know that until I get there. It would seem unloving in every way. So naturally, when he pressures me for his “rights” when i am out of commission, I perceive it as unloving, when I am confident he doesn’t mean it that way. He is in every other respect the most loving, caring husband.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Yep. The problem is that the “right” isn’t about getting sex whenever you want. It’s about your spouse not depriving you (a long pattern of sexual refusal without cause). Too often we focus on one part of the passage, without paying attention to the other parts. And again, you have to look at what else God said sexual intimacy in marriage and love generally toward others. Putting it all in context, no loving spouse demands or expects sex when there are good reasons to say no this time.

          Reply
          1. Mitt

            I look at the issue of the “right” of conjugal relations this way:

            It is a fact that both husband and wife have a conjugal right, meaning a right to regular sexual relations. Regular in this case, is based on several factors but is about 1-2 times per week minimum, not considering unusual circumstances or seasons of life.

            Within the context of this right is the responsibility on both husband and wife to use their God-given sexuality to encourage and nurture the sexuality of the other. The wife cultivates her sexuality in service to her husband by maintaining her physical appearance, responding positively to his overtures, and taking responsibility before God for her contributions to sexual problems and seeking his Grace to solve problems.

            The husband has the responsibility before God to confidently and aggressively pursue his wife sexually which means he blocks out distractions and gives her the time she needs and social interaction she requires to make sex emotionally rewarding for her. He also has to answer to God for ways in which his actions have hindered the sexual aspects of the marriage and be willing to address those problems with his wife in a spirit of mutual giving and loving.

            Both spouses are responsible for the sex life and both have a right to sex within marriage. The husband does not have greater or lesser responsibility and neither does the wife. If he fails to initiate it does not give his wife a get out of sex free card. She needs to step up and take the lead in the absence of his initiative. If she fails to respond it does not give the husband a free session of porn-induced masturbation. He needs to continue to pursue her and develop the endurance to withstand sexual temptations brought on by sexual refusal.

            However, if the problems are chronic, either from extensive sexual refusal, porn addiction, or adultery, the marriage has been broken and must be repaired or ended.

  12. Rachel

    As for #1 when my husband and I were struggling we never thought to go to the church. #2 My husband and I led a bible study in our church on marriage and yes we addressed this but it was a slow star. It was the first time so we treated softly but now are seeing results. #3 We are finding that people struggle talking about this subject but as we make it safe for them, the discussions are happening. We mostly talk about it on our Facebook page, which is mostly church people, and we have already seen couples benefit from it. #4 I actually don’t find it difficult to talk about the subject at all. As a church leader, my goal is to make it a healthy subject in our church. It takes time, but we are so excited about the healing that is alresdy taking place. Our pastor has said he could never do it so that’s why we are. #5 I believe that our pastors and church leaders are struggling in this area just like the rest of the body. So I believe that if we help the leaders, they in turn can help the body.

    Reply
  13. Mrs Happy

    On #4 I have been an associate pastor in the past (I am now raising our children full time). I once preached a sermon on the Sabbath and I found this Jewish resource which encouraged love making as a good practice for the Sabbath. I wanted to include that in my sermon, but my Senior Pastor said it was too inappropriate. I’m not sure whether that was because I was single at the time, or because he was worried about how people would react, or because there were teenagers in the service, but I still don’t understand why a good, godly Biblical encouragement to make love to your spouse is inappropriate.

    Some of the churches I have been in have been so conservative, so I know that teaching in depth on sex would cause much offense and division. For example one lady in my current church decided to stop doing zumba. I asked her why and she referred to all the shaking and sexy moves. I responded by pointing out that she was in a class full of women, so it didn’t matter. “Oh but God sees!” she replied.
    A marriage class would be a far better venue to address these topics in such a church, that way those who are offended can stay away 🙂
    It’s hard when leading a church to balance godly, biblical truth with causing so much offense that the church (or sections of it) may not recover. Sometimes it seems easier to go with the less risky option and not say anything. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach things, but I can understand where it is coming from.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks for sharing this. I think what happens sometimes is that preachers and church leaders are fearful of the outspoken critics, when they are only a few of the members while a majority of members desperately need that message. How can we change that dynamic?

      Reply
      1. Mrs Happy

        I think moving this much needed message away from Sunday sermons (for a time) can help, along with bringing in experts from outside – like yourself! Somehow it can seem more acceptable when it’s not the pastor doing such teaching. Sometimes a retreat or marriage class format can break the ice. Once the ice is broken, it will be up to the pastor to gradually become bolder in preaching the same thing from the pulpit.

        Most the pastors I know haven’t been exposed themselves to this sort of teaching, but I think if you can get them to see that it bears fruit in people’s lives they will jump on board and be willing to risk more.

        Reply
  14. john

    This sounds all too simple but if one or the other marriage partner
    has not totally given themselves or daily submitted themselves to Christ,
    there won’t be a total submission of love to one another.
    The sexless marriage may hinge on a spiritual problem .
    If you can’t let go and trust God deeply chances are you are not
    going to let go and deeply trust each other in love. And so the church
    should address the problems that occur when you sit on the fence and
    the sexless marriage may be one of the resulting problems.

    Reply
    1. E

      The further I get along my Christian walk, the more convinced I am that getting into closer relationship with God (through bible reading, study, meditation and prayer) is the answer to all of life’s problems! I agree that pretty much all relational issues (and probably actually all sin in general) can be ‘fixed’ (or would become a non issue) when the people involved are closer to Christ.

      I don’t have any experience of church at all, but I think the best way for churches to help hurting people is just to preach what the bible actually says, with context, backstory and interpretation (I especially believe in the importance of ALL members of the congregation to actually STUDY the bible, not just listen to the preacher on Sundays) and teach prayer and how to have a relationship with God and Jesus. I think if you’ve got that down, the Holy Spirit will be working on, in and through everyone, and everyone will come out looking more Christ-like, which is our ultimate goal. The ‘church’ really needs to be less worried about ‘upsetting’ and ‘offending’ people. The Church’s job here on Earth to to glorify God and lead people to become ‘on fire’ converts to Jesus, not half hearted ‘Christians’ who pick and choose what parts of the bible they want to follow. The church is not supposed to deliver a popular message, it is supposed to deliver the Truth, that is,Christ. I think this applies whether the issue is sexual refusal, gluttony, lying, idolatry, or any of the multitude of sins we fall into.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        You know, the longer I do this ministry, the more I believe that a high majority of sexual problems in marriage come down to this: selfishness. We might not like admitting that, but it’s true.

        Now there are other underlying issues and physiological problems and so forth, but the loving, generous spouse wants to work on those for the sake of their marriage. And believe me, when I say that, I’m convicting myself as well. None of us has it down perfectly, but some do need to work on this more than others.

        Reply
        1. E

          I’ve been thinking about this today, and I agree with you that selfishness is a major issue, and a lot of other problems are actually symptoms of selfishness.
          But, i think that even that selfishness is actually a symptom of something else…fear. Fear that if I don’t look after myself, no one else will.

          And that’s where I think walking close to God comes in. If we have a close relationship with Him, we have faith that He is looking out for us, and that makes it so much easier for us to be selfless.

          Reply
  15. KarenR

    J Parker you are a gift ! I was one of the ones a little “triggered” by your last post. Your heart is truly to help not that I EVER doubted that. Bless you.

    This knocks it out of the park because you have given what people in desperate situations need which are PRACTICAL STEPS beyond just encouraging people to continue to pray about sexual refusal. I have compassion because spouses who refuse suffer along with those who ARE refused and typically there is sexual trauma, abuse, shame etc. attached to the story of people who refuse sex with their spouse. They both miss out on the full gift of marriage.

    Sexual refusal and an unwillingness to get help is sin and is not Gods desire for Christian marriage. The fact of the matter is Christian marriage is a sexual relationship at its core and chronic sexual refusal needs to be dealt with lovingly and strongly out in the open (appropriately) so that spouses suffering in silence are not made to feel that, “Oh well, looks like I drew the short straw in marriage and I guess I just have to deal with this.” No!

    The church has indeed failed marriage because so many people are uncomfortable talking about sex and I think people see it as a carnal thing instead of one of our greatest gifts. Our sexuality and our spirituality are inextricably linked and He has given us this gift as an integral part of marriage. Christian marriage is to be a sign and a wonder of the glory of God. Sexual intimacy in marriage is not the icing on the cake but it is the cake.

    Reply
  16. Rachel

    I’m the wife in a sexless marriage. I’m a mom to 3 kids under 5, one I’m breastfeeding and getting up with many times at night. I’m tired, stressed and touched out. But beyond that, I don’t feel emotionally close to my husband. I don’t feel loved, other than out of obligation on his end. I have no desire to be intimate with someone I feel so distant from. Not to mention sex is just awful. It’s really all for my husband, he barely touches me, just has his hands on either side of me until he’s finished (I never finish, not once in 8 years of marriage) and that’s it. There’s no closeness, tenderness, passion, or pleasure (except his). I was told sex would be this amazing gift if I waited for marriage, so I did, instead it’s just another chore that I honestly avoid. This post has convicted me that I need to change and be much more available and willing, but it will honestly be a sacrifice.

    Regarding the church, I think they fail in all ways regarding sex. There are so many broken couples who are struggling with this area, but we can’t talk about it and the church offers no help or guidance.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Oh, Rachel. How heartbreaking! I hope you have or can talk to your husband. You both need to address this situation in your marriage. Praying for you.

      Reply
    2. Sean

      “This post has convicted me that I need to change and be much more available and willing, but it will honestly be a sacrifice.”

      I appreciate your attitude, but your H also needs to learn how important it is to please a woman. Would he be open to learning more about pleasing a woman? On the few occasions my refuser would allow sex, I did everything I could to make sure she enjoyed every minute of it, and reached an orgasm. It did no good and she finally cut me off totally.

      I hope he will listen to you.

      Reply
    3. Anonymous Guy

      This is hard to read, and I’m sorry for your situation. I could be way off-base here, but if you both waited for marriage before having sex, there is a chance that your husband simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. I don’t say that to excuse him…I say it from a place of experience (I did not wait for marriage, and I still didn’t know what I was doing).

      No one ever talked to me about what it really looked like to please my wife. I didn’t understand her pleasure, how she orgasmed, what she needed, none of that. And since she never said, “Hey, this isn’t doing much for me – I need more!” I just assumed everything was great. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years into our marriage, when the emotional disconnectedness almost ruined us, that I picked up a few books and had the light bulb moment. I was actually embarrassed! It started a long process of us being brutally honest with each other, and I heard things from her that were very difficult to hear as a husband. But since then, our intimacy has grown exponentially and we are open and honest with each other about needs and desires.

      I don’t think this is about you becoming more willing, at least not as a way to try and make this better. That might make you resent him more. I would suggest picking up some books and start peeling back the onion with him, layer by layer. This is not a quick process. It requires humility, love, patience and the willingness to change.

      Now, if you’ve done all this and he’s still selfish about his needs, that’s different.

      Reply
  17. Rev Mike

    J. To answer your post would take a book I think. I am a pastor and have been in ministry since 1960, first for children, then youth, then assistant pastor, then senior pastor. With each age group I would approach them differently about sex. We talked a lot about sex, but it was usually abstinence based. When in college I began to marry couples, but I had never been trained about talking about sexual refusal. In seminary I had a class on pre-marital counseling and sexual refusal never came up.

    As I grew older I began to teach classes on sex with adults and youth. It was the most attended classes, but also the most uncomfortable classes. People were very nervous and hardly ever asked a question. The elders of the church were very concerned about my teaching about such a controversial topic. I got one shot at it, then I was encouraged to move to Bible Studies, not sex studies.

    I was married and had no sex counseling from my pastors. One of my professors was told to counsel me. I had one hour with him, and my wife was not present. It was very uncomfortable, and I was so glad when that was over.

    Move forward 25 years. My marriage became a sexless marriage for 25 years. Did I tell anyone? NO! Did I seek counseling? NO! Did I think it was a sin? NO!

    After 50 years of marriage, I was counseling a young couple about their upcoming marriage and sex life. I told them they could have a great sex life together. At that time I was researching help for them and ran across a blog called Sex in Marriage. I was learning some great resources, and texted the blogger.

    I told him I was in a sexless marriage and wanted to again have a great sex life. He asked me a few questions, told me to talk to my wife, I took courage and did, and my wife and I have had a great sex life for the last 2 years.

    After I came back together with my wife, I told my church I was going to have a series of messages on family, marriage and sex. It was the most uncomfortable few weeks in church. Some said if I continued they would stop coming to church. But even during all those messages I never brought up the idea of SEXUAL REFUSAL AS A SIN.

    I did not even think sexual refusal was a sin. I never thought about it. Not until recently and reading several bloggers write about sexual refusal as a sin, did I com to the conclusion that it probably is. Yet, as I have read, there are still several caveats that do not make it a sin.

    Even though, as a pastor, you might believe something does not make it easy to talk about. Nor does it make the elders and congregation want to hear about it. There are probably a few couples going through this difficulty and could receive some counseling. But does the whole church need to hear about what is happening in the lives of a few?

    I have a few young couples that I write to on a blog. I sent them a message on sex every day for awhile. Two new brides asked me to take them off the list. What do I do?

    Reply
    1. Bobthemusicguy

      Rev. Mike, I have a suspicion that it is more than a few couples gong through this. I have no statistics to back that up, but just in conversation and from reading blog posts, I guess it is more common than anyone would guess. J, do you have ant stats on this topic?

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        It’s really hard to get great statistics with sex. For obvious reasons, it’s all self-report, and people don’t always report accurately. Maybe someday, some tech guru will devise a study where you wear an innocuous gadget that will note when you have sex and then report that. (Although, even then wouldn’t people try to game the system like they do with FitBits?) But the primary estimate I’ve seen is 15% of marriages being sexless, meaning fewer than 10 encounters per year.

        As for actual data, here are two snippets:

        “Searches for ‘sexless marriage’ are three and a half times more common than ‘unhappy marriage’ and eight times more common than ‘loveless marriage.’ There are 16 times more complaints about a spouse not wanting sex than about a married partner not being willing to talk.” – Searching for Sex, New York Times
        In a survey of nearly 16,000 Americans between age 18 and 60, by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, 12% reported not having sex in the prior year. How common are sexually “inactive” marriages?, Relationships in America

        Reply
  18. alchemist

    #2 Yes and yes. My pastor preaches through entire books at a time. So if sex comes up, which it does, it’s talked about. He’s also said, from the pulpit, that sex should be happening in marriage and none of it outside of marriage (even that message is getting scarce in some churches. I’ve had a pastor tell me she knows people who have pre-marital sex with integrity… o.O).
    He’s also said you should not marry if you’re not willing to have sex at least 3 times a week.
    Our pre-marital counseling had “Intended for Pleasure” listed as required reading. We didn’t talk about it as much, but we were *much* older than the average couple getting married and it was his first time doing pre-marital counseling. He did ask if we had questions. His wife is a nurse, so I know she gets questions about birth control from the young ‘uns getting married. I’ve seen the RUF pastors pre-marital package. It is extensive and covers a lot of aspects of sexual intimacy/ baggage/ communication etc.
    I’ve heard sex compared to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in a women’s Sunday school class.

    #5 First of all churches should be concerned about the gospel more than anything. If they are focussed on the gospel, including the reality that we all sin in all sorts of ways all the time, we’ve got a basis for a discussion. The church should also actually apply church discipline. Which can only happen when the people in the body 1) know each other 2) are intentional about community 3) understands that Christian community means we need to call each other to godliness 4) people are concerned with people more than an image 5) willing to put time and effort into cultivating real friendships/ mentorship relationships.

    I’ve no direct experience of this, but I can tell you there are people who are willing to get all up in your business and ask you hard questions if you will let them. So if this was an issue, I’m reasonably confident I could find a wise woman to advise/ pray/ support in the local body. I’m also reasonably confident there is at least 1 elder I could approach to call my husband to account. Which reminds me, we should actually work on getting a marriage mentorship couple. We kind of do, but we’ve not seen them for ages.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Wow, this is great! I think that’s exactly how this should go: You preach the Bible, but you don’t back off from the passages that deal with sexuality. If God was willing to speak about it, we should too.

      Reply
      1. Mrs Happy

        I agree with this!!! As a preacher, I enjoy preaching through whole chunks of scripture, because it forces me to deal with the tough stuff. It also means that less common topics that might ordinarily be missed get a look in!

        Reply
  19. Bobthemusicguy

    You know, it always seems that scripture passages get taken, not out of context, but separated from the big picture of the whole teaching of scripture. The 1 Cor. 7 passage is making an assumption that gets overlooked. It’s assuming that the couple are regularly having sex and that “taking a break” is for spiritual growth, like a fast from food. This couple are apparently spiritually mature, they are rejoicing in their mutual sexual intimacy, but sometimes they abstain in order to consciously focus on God. It’s not a license to browbeat the refusing spouse into submission.

    A more full depiction of marriage is in Ephesians 5, and it’s a passage full of heavy responsibility, especially for the husband. How can I love my wife as Christ loves the Church? That is a frightening prospect, and one that, except for the work of the Holy Spirit, would be hopelessly impossible.

    By all means, let’s teach about the sin of sexual refusal. But there are a lot of other sins spouses commit against each other: neglect, rudeness, nagging, abuse, contempt, all sorts of things straight from the pit of hell. Any man who regards his wife sexually as simply a place to have an orgasm, is despicable and in need of teaching and discipline.

    I speak as a man who was refused for years, first severely limited and then totally refused. But I also had to be chastened by God for wrong attitudes on my part. And to this day, I believe my wife’s refusal was based on a wrong teaching about what the flesh is. Neither of us saw how sexual intimacy is a spiritual thing. Ephesians 5 teaches us that marriage is a reflection, an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church. I believe that every aspect of marriage, including sex, is a part of that image. A married couple engaging in sex are enacting what I think of as a sacred drama, if you will. No, we don’t have a prayer meeting in bed. But we are celebrating an intimately close relationship that is analogous to our relationship with Christ. All of this in the bigger context of all Christians submitting to each other and putting others ahead of ourselves. That is how Christ loves us sacrificially.

    Reply
  20. SLS

    26 year old married man here. I can answer questions 2 and 5.

    “2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?”

    All the churches I have regularly attended have preached on sex in marriage. For the most part the teaching was sound but there were definitely some missing pieces. Refusal was mentioned, but not called a sin (or even refusal). It was always referred to in the context of the wife refusing the husband. In fact, I remember one sermon where the pastor made a joke about husbands refusing wives and then said, “just kidding. A man would never turn down sex.” As an avid reader of marriage blogs and forums I know that is a load of hooey.

    The cure for sexual refusal was always touted as do more work around the house, love your wife better, sex begins in the kitchen, etc. Now there is nothing wrong with encouraging husbands to love their wives better and be better spouses. That said, there was zero encouragement of the wives to do the same.

    In other words, lack of sex was always the husband’s fault.

    “5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?”

    1. First of all, be willing to talk about sex in marriage in the open. One time I was visiting a church and the lesson in the adult Sunday School class was on 1 Cor. 7. Being quite familiar with that passage I looked forward to discussing it. Unfortunately the teacher skipped around the passages about sex and declared, “we aren’t going there.” I made points where I could but the class ended up missing out on those passages.

    If we can’t even talk about sex in marriage then nothing will change.

    2. Balance the “do’s” and “don’t do’s”. One thing that boggles my mind is that many in the church are more than willing to discuss sexual sin (homosexuality, porn, pre-marital sex, etc.) but shut down at the mention of marital sex. No wonder so many Christian couples have problems with sex in marriage. Most of what they have been told about sex is, “sex is dirty, awful, and dishonoring to God so save it for the one you love.”

    I know of a pastor that teaches on the positives of sex in marriage three times more often than the negatives of sexual sin in order to counteract negative feelings about sex in marriage.

    More thoughts in next comment…..

    Reply
    1. SLS

      3. Make people aware of the resources available to them. There are a ton of resources out there for Christian couples who are struggling in the marriage bed or just want to improve their sex lives. This blog and The Marriage Bed forums for example have been very helpful to my wife and I.

      Reading these resources would also be helpful to pastors preparing to preach on the subject. The pastor I mentioned earlier who laughed at the idea that husbands would refuse wives would be quickly disabused of that notion after reading HH&H.

      4. Encourage pastors to preach the Word boldly and not be afraid of causing offense. As others have mentioned some pastors are afraid to speak about sexual refusal because they will offend congregants. Sometimes offense is necessary.

      5. Make sure the teaching filters down into small groups and individual lives. While it is wonderful to hear the truth about sex in marriage proclaimed in the pulpit the impact of such teaching isn’t fully felt until it permeates the church body.

      Adult group leaders need to reinforce the message that sex in marriage is a wonderful gift of God and that wanton refusal by either the husband or the wife is a sin against Him.

      Student leaders need to teach the younger generation the same thing and focus on teaching the whole story of God’s design for sex rather than just, “don’t do it.”

      Individuals need to promote positive attitudes about sex in marriage to their families and friends.

      Reply
    2. J Post author

      What boggles your mind, boggles mine too. We have sadly put the words “sexual” and “sin” together so much in too many churches that people get the sense God thinks it’s dirty. And He created it to a beautiful thing! It just has boundaries, in the context of a covenant marriage. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
    3. Sean

      “In other words, lack of sex was always the husband’s fault.”

      Unfortunately, this is the message that seems to prevail in most churches now.

      Reply
  21. Katie

    Yes. The church I attend is actually doing a 2 part message on sex, marriage and purity right now. I have both helped individuals in the church through issues with sexless marriage, adultery, pornography, etc. and have heard of church leadership doing so as well. Blessed to be a part of this church body!
    Also, wanted to share that your blog and the blog of the Generous wife & Generous husband helped my husband and I to navigate marital issues revolving around sex several years ago. What you do is valuable and so important! Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Tom

    1. No, the counselor my wife and I see occasionally is practically obsessed with sex, in a good way. However, my wife is very uncomfortable talking about those things, so not much gets accomplished.

    2. There has been only one message I can recall in the 7 years we’ve been attending our current church, and it was pretty surface level. I don’t think spousal refusal was addressed.

    3. Not to my knowledge.

    4. N/A

    5. I haven’t heard this in my church (thankfully), but I’ve read reams of Christian articles online that place all the blame on the man for his less-than-stellar sex life. He’s not leading well enough. He’s not loving well enough. He’s not helping around the house enough. And so forth.

    While in some cases this may be true, in my experience the men I know who aren’t having the sex life they desire are good, hardworking men who deeply love their children and their wife. They’re already doing all those things, and telling them it’s not enough and that they need to double-down on a strategy that is not working is madness.

    But outside of your blog and a handful of others, the subject of women and their refusal of sex* as something _they_ need to work on themselves appears to be verboten. And that’s really frustrating. If my preacher would ever approach that subject I’d be jumping out of my seat shouting “Hallelujah!”

    *Yes, not all women are the ones doing the refusing. But they do make up the majority.

    Reply
  23. Another high-drive wife.

    Long, long ago when we were engaged, the pastor did the premarital counseling in which he told me not to “ever refuse your husband”. He did not tell my husband not to refuse me and I considered (might have even threatened) going back to him and telling him the flip-side needed to be covered as well.
    Several years into our marriage, after much (if not outright refusal) neglect, my husband confided in me that he had been molested as a child by a distant relative. After praying for healing and working together through that, our situation improved greatly.
    I did consider his refusal a sin and I did use Corinthians as a club of correction. That did not solve the situation for either of us individually or as a couple. We were so young and immature I don’t think we even knew to pray for answers for our sex life, but God was merciful and provided them anyway!
    Still as you have mentioned, we have had seasons where one of us is the higher-drive spouse and the other frustrated. Right now we are both high-drive and having so much fun!!
    Thanks so much for all your work & ministry dear J.

    Reply
    1. Sean

      Congratulations! I am so glad when I hear about a marriage where this issue has been resolved. Unfortunately, my STBXW absolutely refused to even admit that her refusals were wrong. She said she had ALWAYS been faithful, even with 6 years of total celibacy.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        Six years is a long time. I always wonder in such cases why someone stopped. What about sexual intimacy doesn’t appeal to a spouse? There’s often an underlying cause that makes sense to the refusing spouse. If you can get at that and speak to the issue…

        Reply
  24. Doug

    Perhaps part of the reason the sexless marriage syndrome exists in the church is because the church pushes a flawed concept of what it means for a husband to love his wife. A man is said to love his wife if he is hardworking and loves his kids. No doubt these are noble traits, but they are not what turns a woman on. Women don’t look for these traits in romance novels. The church must teach a husband that it is critical he make his woman feel sexy and highly desirable at all times. He must demonstrate he greatly values her as a companion and enjoys spending time with her. He must demonstrate he hears her and values her thoughts. He must be taught that masculinity expressed through acts of courage, decisiveness, and bold leadership are also essential to the equation. He should be encouraged to look at masculine examples commonly portraid in movies of the past: John Wayne, Gregory Peck, even today in the fictitious character of Ross Poldark. Men must be taught to emulate masculine men, not the boy scouts.

    Reply
    1. Another high-drive wife

      Doug, you are right that it is critical that a man make his wife feel desirable. My husband attended a men’s conference years ago in which the men were admonished that a “wife is what you’ve made her” in reference to a wife’s self-image. I think many will protest that we women must work on our self-image and I agree that we must, (to help myself I do eat healthy, exercise, etc) but from the way my husband looks into my eyes, the many ways he has communicated to me how “gorgeous” I am, how he has pleaded with me to “believe him”—he has “made” me FEEL like I look like a runway model!!
      (I don’t, but he can keep believing it!)

      Reply
    2. FreeinChrist

      I totally agree but that also encourages a train of thought that is also wrong: That sex is only for men. And that men have to earn sex. How does it do that? That train of thought that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible(in that way at least) says that it is the man that wants sex so to get sex he has to fulfill some requirements. He has to be like this, this, this and so on. So men who are like me who are still learning to be good at taking decisions and stand for them, who doesn’t feel so strong compared to my strong willed wife and so on I should not expect sex until I become this spiritual macho man that my wife adore? Even if I am loving , caring and always try to put her first in any other way? It also enforces the thought that a man has to “buy” sex from his wife. I try to be a helpful husband. I do the laundry, waxh clothes, take care of our kid and work. But right now there is a mess in a living room that my kid has left there, the kitchen is a mess too. In my county it’s 00:48, I need to correct over 50 pages of homework but I feel really guilty because comments like that makes me feel that if I don’t fix all that even if I have done the laundry the whole day my wife won’t have sex with me because then I am not worthy of having sex. It doesn’t get better that she specifically said that if we cleaned the appartment in these two days we would have sex. I have worked hard to fix the appartment because there are a lot of things to do but I gave up today. I mean I would have cleaned everything anyways but to have to do it for sex just killed it for me. The third thing this mentality does is that it enforces the thought that sex is only for men. Is it only for men? The Bible never says that. It never specifically talks about women refusing their husbands. It talks to both spouses. Sex is as much for a husband as for a wife. But with that mentality we enforce the idea that sex is for men and women have to “charge” a lot to get it. Of course a man should appreciate his wife but putting all the burden on the man doesn’t make things better. What does a wife have to do to get some sex? Sex must be built on grace and love. Of course I need to be a good husband and a loving husband. But it would feel really nice if my wife decided to have sex with me not just because I have been doing things but because she loves me and wants to share the intimacy that sex means with me.

      Reply
        1. J Post author

          So I agree with this, but I hesitated over the comment. Because while I’m a complementarian, there are levels of that and I think husbands also help their wives. So I’m not really sure how to take that part.

          Reply
          1. Doug

            That’s cool. Just saying there are ways a woman consciously helps a man, but even her unconscious “biological” makeup helps a man in that it stimulates him to act the way God intends. A husband should see his wife’s lack of desire as a wake up call, and rise to the challenge. More than likely he needs to change.

  25. Anonymous

    I have been a Christian for over 50 years and married 355+ years. I had no idea that sexual refusal was possibly a sin until 5 years ago (read about it on a Christian blog). I have heard many sermons on sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and porn but none on sexual refusal and sexless marriages. When I have talked to Christian brothers about the lack of sex in my marriage, I was told it was basically my fault…I need to be a better husband, do more about the house, engage in more conversation with my wife, etc. If this fails to improve my sex life, then “I just need to suck it up”.

    Even when I was in counseling for my depression, I would bring up my sex life issues. My counselor did not directly deal with this issue and would focus on something else. He said that my sex life would improve as I improved in my depression. Guess what? My depression is under control but my sex life has declined even more…

    Reply
    1. FreeinChrist

      I’m really sorry to hear about your situation. It makes you think about if this is what God wants. I hate the “just suck it up ” talk that many Christian do. Like it was something noble to live like that. Like sexlessness is just something one should accept, a cross to bear. It also brings up the question if divorce because of sexlessness is justified. Would a refused spouse find support from his/her church if he/she makes that decision?

      Reply
    2. Rachel

      I’m praying for you right now! I speak healing and restoration into your marriage. I believe in miracles I really do. I’m a living example of that. Please don’t give up in believing for your marriage.

      Reply
      1. RickyB

        My counselor told me with my wife present that sex was not a need but a desire. It was all the excuse my wife needed to relegate sex to an asterisk in our marriage, as in:

        Marriage = Love, Parenting, Trust, Communication, Spending time together, eating together, going on trips together, financial oneness, worshiping together and a lifetime of celebrations and activities.*

        *Activities may or may not include sex.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Honestly, I struggle with the word “need.” Because I believe sex is crucial for a marriage, just like conversation and quality time. If you don’t have those things, why did you get married? You could be friends or business partners, but companionship and physical intimacy are what make it a marriage!

          However, too often I’ve heard of spouses who want more sex going to their mate and saying, “I need sex” or “Sex is a need for me.” And that’s typically ineffective. It’s usually better to talk about sexual intimacy in terms of a desire, a longing, or really an essential in marriage. Yes, that connotes “need,” but…

          Anyway, had I been your counselor (and I’m not licensed, although I have a degree), I would have shifted from the word “need” but still communicated to your wife that sexual intimacy is a core aspect of marriage. I guarantee other counselors would do that, but unfortunately you got one who didn’t.

          Reply
          1. RickyB

            You have to distinguish between physical needs and relational needs. No one will die from a lack of affection or trust in a marriage. But I could never imagine a wife complaining to a marriage counselor about the lack of either and hearing the counselor tell her “You don’t really need affection and trust. You’re not going to die without them.”

            See the distinction? But why does only sex have to be justified as a need based on physical survival?

            And while arguing for the need for sex in a marriage might not be the most persuasive argument for my wife to want to have sex, establishing that sex IS a need is vitally important for my own peace of mind going forward. I need to be able to convince myself that it is a need or else I might fall into the trap of feeling guilty every time I approach her about sex. I can wait until the most optimal opportunity, help her with all the chores, buy her a nice gift, and because sex is just a desire and not a need, I will feel this pang of guilt in my gut that all my efforts are just selfish. I need to know it is a need for my own peace of mind that my aggressive sexual pursuit of my wife is a good and noble thing, not a cheap and selfish thing.

          2. Brian

            You know, I’ve heard of this concept of women needing men to help out around the house in order for her to be sexually motivated so much, and yet I don’t know if it’s even effective. It certainly wasn’t effective in my circumstances. I almost wonder if it’s completely counterproductive to turning a woman on despite prevailing wisdom from the culture or even what women say or even think they need.

            After all, I’ve never heard of a single instance on any of these blogs of a man starting to help out with chores and his wife was suddenly overwhelmed with sexual desire. Anecdotally I’ve even heard that some women lose respect for their man when they do such things. I would love to see any studies that look at this.

          3. J Post author

            I’ve talked to many wives who’ve reported that they were more able to engage sexually when they had help with things that kept them too busy or too exhausted to put forth effort in the bedroom. It’s not a tit-for-tat (no pun intended), but rather just helping your wife enough that she has energy reserves to engage sexually.

            All that said, if a wife has no inclination to be sexually engaged, sweeping the floor or whatever isn’t going to turn her on. It’s an approach that works for those wives who already have the desire or understand the importance of sex in marriage, but just don’t feel like there’s enough left of themselves to give with all they have to do.

          4. Brian

            J, I agree completely that someone who is extremely tired or stressed out is much less likely to become aroused. The level of tiredness needed to affect libedo is probably directly proportionate to that person’s sex drive. That being said, I don’t feel that this is the message men are being told in many cases, and I think in far too many instances tiredness isn’t the root issue at all.

            When a spouse turns off the sex on the honeymoon, I would venture to say that chores aren’t going to help 99 times out of 100.

            As a side note, I think the majority of counselor are substandard and completely female-centric, especially about sexual issues. In marriage counseling I poured out my story to a Christian counselor and told him what I wanted out of the marriage sexually.

            After hearing all of that he basically downplayed the importance of sex and told me that a couple might be having sex “almost every day” for the first few months, but that would wane and grow much less important. Now, I didn’t want sex almost every day, I wanted it 5 times a day when I was 22 years old. Even now 15 years later once a day is just about right. But for my desires to be completely downplayed like that crushed any hope I had that he would see my side fairly.

          5. Ann

            I agree that doing the honey-dos won’t give desire, but if a wife’s love language is acts of service, doing something that is important to her or maybe doing dishes or putting the kids to bed will (as you said, J) help her have the energy to enjoy special hubby time. I am not a low-drive wife and I still occasionally tell my husband “oh honey, that’s foreplay” when he does one of those things on my list.

          6. RickyB

            By the way, that counselor now runs a business consulting firm that teaches companies how to leverage happiness to improve morale and increase productivity. I wonder how it would make him feel to know how miserable his words from several years ago have made me ever since. I have always struggled with this feeling that every time I approach my wife about sex I am being selfish. She doesn’t help with this feeling because she has told me that the only reason she has sex with me is out of guilt.

  26. Marisa

    Blessed to be in a church where the pastor talks about sex. He talks about why you keep it for marriage only and challenges young adults with that concept in a society that tells you otherwise, also talks about why you need good sex in marriage – for oneness, keeping temptation at bay, and gave stats on how much more fulfilled people were with sex in marriage versus singles. Also talked about how your body is not your own in the concept of marriage and does counselling with couples who have issues with sex in marriage. Just last Sunday he did a sermon on sex and how it is one or the issues non Christians have with a becoming Christians and how God created orgasms and the pleasure of sex and how it is a small taste of how amazing heaven will be as it is a dull comparison to the glory we will experience in Heaven

    Reply
  27. Galen Young

    Our church runs a class called ‘Christian Family and Sex’. However it is offered very rarely [over 30+ years we have requested it many times]. And this class does not address refusal.

    #1 – yes
    #2a yes, 2b no.
    #3 no

    Reply
  28. Tad

    The only thing ever taught im church about sex is scary stuff. The purity stuff of necer do it and scary pictures and stories of STD’s and basically every negstive thing. And oh, by the way save it for marriage.

    All teaching how sex is bad and dirty and somehow we are supposed to look forward and enjoy it?

    Nope I don’t see how that cojld possibly lead to sexual problems in marriage. Sarcasm included!

    Sex is NEVER brought up from the pulpit. Premarital counselling had a survey of compatibility for all sorts of areas, sex included. All it did was identify my wife and I as completely incompatible. But I naively thought sexual experience would change my wife over time. 27 years later sex is still the biggest wedge in our marriage.

    The lastor as I recall now did have some hesitation of marriage for us, but wife and I were comfident “love would conquer all” and we wojld figure it out. How naive of us both. I love my wife, but if I were abme to go back and talk to that young man discoverimg the incompatibility of sex, I would do everything in my power to counsel him to NOT get married to her.

    Traditional counseling teaches that sex is just a symptom that the “real” problem lies in othwr aspects of the relationship. Well after 2 years of counseling and all is well EXCEPT when the counselor even remotely touched on sex and rhe wheels fall off did the counselor FINALLY believe that indeed, sex is THE issue! After which a few sessions and my wife up and unilaterally quit counseling!

    Sex is a HUGE issue in marriage and the church is totally 100% failure. The church complains about the divorce rate and bemoans how so many end in divorce, and then won’t touch the issue of sex because it might offend someone. Well I find it offensive that the chirch is being so completely gutless and irresponsible to avoid the sex issue which I believe is at the heart of a great percentage of the failed marriages. I believe many affaires and unfaithfulness is the DIRECT reault of refusal and the fall of temptation that 1cor7 discusses.

    I know af a great many, if not most of the married men I know all say that the worst thing in thier life is the sexual aspect of their life. One man I mnow has. Ot had sex for MANY years, he has not stated exactly but I know for sure it is more than 10 years!

    I know some wives are refused too. And is just as bad.

    Reply
  29. Paul Barr

    Related question. A few years ago, I read a book that quoted an “Old Testament scholar” using a verse that basically said it was adultery to WITHHOLD sex from a spouse. I have recently been trying to find which book I read but I do not have time to reread all the books I’ve read in the past few years. Has anyone heard or read about this interpretation?

    Reply
  30. Alicia

    I can only answer questions 2 and 5. IN answer to question 2, no, our pastors have never once preached on sex and marriage. They’ve done whole sermons series’ about marriage, but including sex in those sermons, most definitely not. Nor was it covered in any way during my husband and my premarital mentoring. When I had asked about the topics and areas covered, there was everything from communication, finances, each other’s family dynamics and what we thought of the other’s family, and the desire to have or not have children. But nothing at all about sex. Sad, but hardly surprising. I’ve never heard it talked about in any church I’ve attended over the years, except of course being told not to have it before marriage. That’s about the extent to which the church talks about sex. Nothing about what to do after you’re married. Question 5: I’m not sure how to answer it, because I’m not sure why the church is so reluctant to discuss it in the first place. Is it a standby from the old days when sex was a dirty taboo topic, and good Christians didn’t talk about it? I imagine so. Rarely do I say the church should bring something into the modern age, but they should do so here. the world talks about sex plenty…more than plenty. Why doesn’t the church, why don’t Christians? If the place we can safely talk about it is the world, then that’s where a lot of us go, even us as believers. It’s a sad day when I get more compassion, encouragement, and marriage-positive advice about issues regarding sex from my nonbelieving friends, and only one of my Christian ones has given me any. So I’ve stopped talking to Christians about it…except for blogs like this. I really think the church needs to do a serious evaluation of the reasons we don’t talk about sex, address them directly and honestly, and take it from there.

    Reply
  31. Chris

    Does the church address sexless marriage? No. And here is a metaphor as to why. Sexless marriage is like a hand grenade in the church. Its rolling down the aisle, in between the pews. And it does not have a pin in it. And everyone sees it, and they know that when it goes off, it will be ugly. So rather than someone manning up and jumping on it, everyone runs from it at top speed to avoid being hit by all the little pieces of shrapnel that are going to come flying off and hurting everyone in close proximity.

    Reply
  32. B

    I’ve never heard anything in church about sexual refusal, at all, and certainly never from my point of view – as a much higher drive wife. While J and Bonnie (as well as a very few fellow readers) have been supportive, most people are not supportive of higher drive wives at all. I’ve even been accused by male readers of being a liar, some don’t believe high drive wives exist. Lots of women have been very judgemental of me as well, they assume I must be a shrew, or repulsive, because they can’t imagine a husband who doesn’t want sex all the time. It’s a weird spot to be in. But you can bet that if I get that reaction from strangers while commenting anonymously on blogs designed to help marriage, there is NO WAY IN THE WORLD I would ever bring these issues up at church of all places! We would be harshly judged (both of us) and frowned upon in the blink of an eye. Sad, but true.

    My husband and I did go to counseling about a year ago. The counselors (a couple) focused mainly on my husband’s anger (at that time). When I finally brought up the subject of our differences in libido, they kind of glossed over it, and gave us a book to read called “His Needs, Her Needs.” ??????????? That book may be good for many couples, but it takes the approach that a husband’s main need is sex. It would have been less painful for them to smack me with the book!!! We started reading it together and even my husband seemed very uncomfortable. We gave the book back after chapter two and explained it was doing more harm than good.

    I’m no pro, but my advice to counselors would be – if you are counseling a couple where the wife has the higher drive, don’t recommend that book!!

    Thank you, J, for providing a place where women like me – who don’t fit the mold – can share their feelings, too.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I didn’t have the best reaction to that book either, by the way, in part because of how he defined the husband’s and then the wife’s needs. However, when you go through the course, you find that the author agrees that those are stereotypes and you get to figure out what your own Top 5 needs are. Sex was in the Top 5 for me both times I took the class, but only in the second one did another wife have it on her Top 5. I’ve since wondered if others had it, but didn’t want to share that aloud.

      Reply
    2. Sean

      “Lots of women have been very judgemental of me as well, they assume I must be a shrew, or repulsive, because they can’t imagine a husband who doesn’t want sex all the time. It’s a weird spot to be in.”

      I am so sorry for your situation. I really feel that high drive women have it much harder than high drive men. I really am hoping for the day when women like you are seen as normal. Please don’t ever try to change yourself.

      Reply
    3. Rev Mike

      My wife went from no drive to high drive. I love her and love her high drive. It still does not match my higher drive, but we get along much better.

      Reply
  33. John

    So one question to ask is how are we to deal with selfish
    Unresponsive. spouse who will demand love making on their
    terms,their way ,and timing ?
    My way or no way buddy.
    I find this attitude repulsive and look to Our Father
    For Him to deal with daughter.
    He has been so good to me as He promises.

    Reply
  34. Larry

    Pray harder, suck it up, and if she doesn’t change, God will reward you is the message I’ve received for the past three years.

    The problem is that it’s an extremely difficult way to live.

    Reply
    1. FreeinChrist

      It’s such a stupid thing to say IMO. If something goes against Gods will how is that supposed to be rewarded. “If you stay with your spouses altough your spouse is using porn God will reward you” I know there are churches who would say that but many would say no, that it isn’t right. Then why is it right to say it to someone who suffers everyday in a marriage where his/her needs aren’t met?

      Reply
      1. Larry

        Free in Christ, you’re exactly right. That’s what I wrestle with. This isn’t what God wants. So how do we handle it?

        I think there has to be a mix of two things for churches to respond – love and compassion for the refused spouse and church discipline for the refuser. Mrs. PArker made a great point about how much love and compassion woilf be extended to a cheated spouse. Never thought of it that way. In light of thay the response I’ve gotten really does seem like a cold shoulder.

        Mrs. Parker, I go to a rather large church and was thinking of emailing the pastor about this. Can I include a link to your blog?

        Larry

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Yes, but let’s not stop there. Because I also think we need love and compassion for the refuser, as part of “church discipline.” Anyway, I’m going to covering this subject a few times on my blog, as a series. You might want to watch for those posts. Thanks!

          Reply
          1. Larry

            Mrs. Parker (off-topic – I have no idea what your first name is and don’t need to know, but you look like a Jane!),

            Absolutely! I’m with ya! If the refuser is committed to repenting and recognizes his/her guilt and is committed to change, no qualms from me! I am fully committed to my wife and want nothing more than for my wife to change. I think most if not all husbands feel that way. By all means – I’m a huge supporter of that. That’s what I want more than anything. Forgiveness, love, grace, compassion, and restoration for the refuser is absolutely great!

            But the ball must be placed in their court first.

          2. J Post author

            I love the name Jane! Always have. But that’s not it. And while I prefer people call me “J” here (because that’s how I’ve always been known), it’s not like I’m in Witness Protection or something. It’s Julie.

            Thanks for the comments!

  35. Loretta

    I honestly think this is a subject a lot of people are uncomfortable with, uncomfortable to teach on and uncomfortable to have to discuss, especially if you come from a household that kept sex talk taboo. I have heard a couple of marriage classes go over the subject and address it, but no one actually wanted to discuss it, most everyone was uncomfortable, and a lot of assumptions were made. One time in a small group, a strong couple shared their marital struggles from their earlier days and how the video series over Song of Solomon by Tommy Nelson helped them. We watched the videos and had great discussions, but one of the husbands said “why do we even need to talk about it? Can’t we just keep it within our own marriages?” It broke my heart, because it does need talked about. Couples struggle in this area and people are forced to turn to the internet for information and support, which may not be good, loving, or biblical.

    Reply
  36. Bobthemusicguy

    Some general observations.

    I find it revealing that both this blog post and your post about losing faith in God because of a sexless marriage have a large number of comments. But your post on praying for your spouse has only one reply. It seems when we hit such hot button topics, everyone, including myself, chimes in. But one of the most constructive things we can do is pray for our spouses.

    The reason people may lose their faith in God due to a sexless marriage (or most anything else, for that matter) is because the Church IS failing them in so many ways. I struggled for years with being assured of my eternal security, and is was not until about ten years ago that I got some clear Biblical teaching (not in a church) that turned it around. My wife and I ended the sexless status of our marriage by God’s direct guidance through His Word, not in the church.

    But let’s remember that we have to individually and as couples seek God’s will and ways, and not rely on the Church to pull us through every time. Yes, we need to speak up about marital sex, and taking a stand against the culture around us, even when it is unpopular and even when it might shock and offend. (I like the hand grenade analogy Chris posted above.) My parents, like many others, let the church take over our spiritual education. My parents, both Christians and my dad a deacon, never talked about sex. And they didn’t talk much about God. So sex wasn’t the only thing I grew up confused about.

    Let’s all of us involved in this blog conversation commit to do whatever we can to get the conversation going about marital sex, in all of its joys, responsibilities, ups and downs, as part of a full Bublical teaching about marriage. In Bible studies, in sermons, in special classes or workshops. And at home in our marriages and with our children. It will be too late to address the pain and suffering that many spouses go through, but it might help turn around some marriages. It may be too late to even save some marriage from divorce. But maybe, just maybe, we can help some young people, married or still single, deal with these issues and prevent many problems.

    And let’s remember to keep all of this as part of comprehensive Biblical teaching about how we should live in this fallen world, and how our eternal destiny is of ultimate importance.

    And let’s keep each other in prayer, and keep the conversation going with grace and compassion.

    And let’s be willing to be open and vulnerable about our own experiences so that the entire Body of Christ can hurt or rejoice together, learning from each other’s failures and victories.

    Reply
    1. Rev Mike

      We heard much about sex in our church especially the younger ages. We assumed that if you were married that the couple were having sex. If they were not, then they were on the brink of divorce.

      My wife and I did not have sex for 25 years. Yet I was not on the brink of divorce. It was embarrassing to talk about divorce, and we would not do it because of children, financial reasons, our vows, were leaders in the church, etc. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that were not having sex. I wanted everyone to see us as the perfect couple.

      Usually no one can tell if a couple is not having sex. How does anyone know unless they tell. Usually there is no group that you trust enough to open up to share these sensitive issues. There is too much gossip in the church as it is, no one wants to add to the the gossip in the church.

      So, where do you get help. I found help on line. Thank God for bloggers in the last 15 years who have stepped up and took on this task of helping couples navigate though some of these sticky sex challenges.

      Reply
  37. Sexless in Seattle

    1.
    The standard answer seems to always be, “well, you should be doing more around the house” and “how are you helping to lighten her burden”. I handle the yardwork, do dishes every night, work fulltime plus so that she can be a stay-at-home parent, even now that the kids are all in school – that’s a tremendous burden and weight to be the sole breadwinner employed in a competitive results-based industry that operates well beyond a 9-to-5.

    2.
    A previous church did a full sermon on it with worksheets and everything. One of the worksheets had both spouses mark down what frequency would be considered ideal. I put down a couple times a week. She put down a couple times a month. We compromised and had sex 3 months later.

    3.
    Hasn’t come up. The last couple years are really when I’ve doubled-down on focusing on my relationship with God and repairing that bridge. I sadly spent a number of years buried under the weight of pornography. Still working through the walls that built between me and God. And yes, part of that process was coming clean to my wife. She quite rightly viewed my sin as tantamount to adultery and now is using the pain of that as a reason that she can’t ‘be with me’. Of course that doesn’t explain the previous decade of her refusal and (if we’re using the 10x/year as the benchmark of a sexless marriage) living in a sexless marriage pretty much from Day 1. I don’t ever want to blame her actions for my horrible decisions and transition from an occasional use of porn and masturbation to what I would call addictive and self-destructive levels, but I can say, it definitely did not help and make our marriage bed a safe haven and respite from the temptations I now thankfully have been able to make headway on with the help of mentor from Church and an accountability app. I suppose I felt in some way I deserved her refusal. We attempted counseling but the focus was on communication, she mostly wanted me to come clean about my porn habit, but doesn’t want to touch on her refusal at all in any way. Things did get better for a while, until I had a relapse that I apparently quite stupidly confessed to her and now we’re over 5 months into being non-physical again because she can’t be physically intimate with someone she doesn’t trust. It’s just so messed up and messy. I really do feel, and she agrees, I can’t point out the speck in her eye when I’ve got a massive timber in mine. There’s days I can’t see this going anywhere but divorce. Or maybe I’ll just have a heart attack from built up stress and not have to worry about it anymore.

    4.
    n/a. And this part pains me so much. I truly feel that I spent decades steeped in sin and stunted myself spiritually so much that I took myself ‘out of the fight’ so to speak. That’s a heavy cross to bear.

    5.
    Open the dialogue. See it from both sides that refusal is as damaging as adultery, in fact, it’s really it’s the same sin. Loving yourself more than your marriage.

    Reply
    1. FreeinChrist

      Hey man I have been thinking about your comment all day and I just wanted to comment since I am/was in the same situation. I know it’s hard and i guess like me your paying for your actions. That’s what sin does it kills to consequences that kills us and our relationships. It’s good that you are getting help so that you can get free. I just wonder if your wife has told you about how all of this has made you feel and how you can help her. When I confessed I didn’t only confess my sin but also started to talk from my heart for the first time I think in my short marriage. My addiction started when I got burned out/depressed. My wife saw what was happening to me but didn’t do much because she thought it was her fault. I got stuck in porn and she chose to focus on her role as a mother. The emotional distance grew bigger. I had confessed a couple of times before but she only shut it down and didn’t want to know much. This time tough now that I am getting out of this burnout/depression I told her everything I felt. About the lack of affection too. Not in a accusing say but just opening my heart. She then opened her heart and it came all out. How my addiction made her feel unloved, unwanted and ugly. It crushed my heart to hear that and it made me really see what a selfish jerk I had been. I never want to make her feel like she isn’t beautiful because she is a wonderful, beautiful and sexy woman who I had taken for granted. The talk we had changed both of us I think. She became more affectionate and I have thanks to God made a lot of progress , something I didn’t see in the three years I have struggled with this. So maybe she needs to speak about all this , just to get it out.
      Now, everything isn’t perfect with my wife. Sex is off the table still , I think? She is pregnant now and isn’t of course in the mood so much but I told her when I confessed that I wouldn’t mention sex until she did. She has done it once and I don’t know when next time will be. A few months? A few years I don’t know. As you say maybe this is the punishment we have to live with but I wonder if divorce isn’t best sometime. I feel like we are going to fix this but if nothing ever will then I wonder if divorce is the right way. I mean there has been adultery. There are no biblical hinders for divorce and if she wants to leave she should feel fre to do that. I told my wife she had all right to divorce and I wouldn’t make it hard for her. I don’t know what the best action for you guys are but if you prove that you changed and she won’t forgive you the. Maybe there isn’t anything you can do. You must understand she needs time the hard part is to know how much or when it’s time to give up. I pray God will help your marriage and give you wisdom.

      Reply
  38. Wayne

    A lot of good responses here. Let me see what I can bring to the table, as a husband married for 23 years. Some comments first, then the questions.

    First, I almost always come back to the need, in my opinion, for couples to deal with non-sexually issues first. That often means for us guys, yes, being more loving, attentive, shouldering more responsibility, what have you, though I have no use for the guilt that gets heaped on us men by the church, or even by society too. To be fair women get hit with it too, though often for different reasons that may or may not be similar, or gender specific. However, life often is a grind, and can be tedious and mundane in the best of times, and the better we can make it through those times, the better off we couples will be in the bedroom, at least in the long-term. We cannot do it without God’s help; fortunately, He is a very present help, and there is a Sabbath rest promised to His people. (Exhaling here in the midst of a very busy week.)

    Note: of course, this can work the other way. I know, as a man, during seasons when we are deeply in love with each other, and ravishing each other as the Bible indeed encourages us, there can be NO more powerful motivator to do better and better with those mundane tasks. Not saying it increases my ability, only my motivation, and “motivation” isn’t even a strong enough word for it. But going that route in a sexless marriage seems like putting the cart before the horse. I know. I’ve been there.

    Second, I couldn’t agree more, the church has done a downright terrible job addressing sexlessness, frustration, or even sex at all. But I agree, simply berating people and leaders doesn’t help anybody, especially when they themselves often just don’t know what to do. I can say this from direct experience: if the church doesn’t step in here, the world will be all too glad to fill the void left by the hole in leadership. I really don’t mean to sound boastful, but in our earlier years of marriage my wife once asked me “Where did you learn to love like that”?! I can’t remember my response, but it would be something concise, like “on the street”. Which is where I got saved, by the way, not in church. Yes, the lessons the world teaches are often flawed at best, steeped in darkness and win at worst, but at least it’s something, and something is more than nothing. I would have to think *this* would motivate churches and church leaders to do better, though not necessarily increase their/ our ability. Now the questions:

    1–Not exactly brushed off; I myself had learned “Christianese” a little too well. In one instance, I held out hope because my wife and I “have good communication”. Which is true, but it didn’t answer the burning, unfulfilled desire and questions in my heart.
    2–No church we’ve been part of.
    3–I empathize well, but that’s about it.
    4–We’re a new and very small church, still getting to know each other. TBD
    5–See “motivation”; no easy answers.

    Reply
    1. Wayne

      Got pretty lengthy in my comment above and so ran out of room in the question-answer part. I want to add one thing to church leaders needing to be more genuinely motivated to help, and that’s honesty. To pastors and other teachers, if you don’t know how to answer a burning question, say “I don’t know”. If it’s your opinion, say it is your opinion. If quoting scripture, make sure you have the right context, and in THIS context see how it fits with helping couples with their sex lives. If all you can do is grieve with those grieving, do that. People know when we’re being genuinely sympathetic or empathetic, and when we’re just lording it over them and don’t know what we’re talking about. Even if they can’t tell at first, it doesn’t take long to find out.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        Absolutely my favorite Bible teacher at Christian college was a brilliant man who knew so much about the textual courses he taught. But now and then, when someone would ask a question, he’d just lean forward and say, “I don’t know.” It was refreshing. It made me feel like no human being has all the answers, that we’re all in this together, and that’s okay.

        Reply
    2. Wayne

      My original comment should read “darkness and sin (S, not W!).” I rea-eally don’t like auto-correct!! Perhaps it was clear from the context. Just making sure.

      Reply
      1. Mitt

        Wayne – “I almost always come back to the need, in my opinion, for couples to deal with non-sexually issues first. That often means for us guys, yes, being more loving, attentive, shouldering more responsibility.”

        This is almost the counselor’s boilerplate to husbands but it is wrong for two reasons:
        1. If a man is truly motivated by frequent sexual relations, it is not putting the cart before the horse to ask the wife to empower her husband’s self improvement by increasing her focus on improving the sex life. We act like the husband is the only one who should be assigned action items here.

        2. Assuming that increases in choreplay and touch-feelies in the marriage are how a wife’s libido operates is only correct if that is truly what the deficit is. But I would argue that in today’s highly feminized culture, men – especially Christian men – suffer from a lack of essential alpha qualities necessary to create sexual tension in marriage. Bold aggressive sexual pursuit is called for rather than wimpy begging for mercy sex.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          It’s not really an either/or. Touch-feelies and helping your wife take care of your mutual household aren’t in opposition to being a masculine leader in your home. If you want an example of a man who was bold yet caring, masculine yet gentle, leading yet humble … I suggest taking a look at the life of Jesus.

          Reply
          1. Mitt

            Notice the qualifier – “if that is truly what the deficit is”

            I am making the point that it IS both, and that the alpha qualities are de-emphasized excessively because of the anti-masculinity bias of our feminist age. This has infiltrated the church in the form of the “christian nice guy” syndrome. He maybe “nice” but he is phony and not sexy.

        2. john

          In our current society the roles of husband and wife are complicated and somewhat confusing stemming from the society’s lack of benchmark beliefs. When we play god and each decide what is right ,correct and expected out of each role , there is bound to be a lot of ill feelngs.
          Getting clear on a real life bible based married life should reflect would be a start to better ways
          to live married. Its the doing because you love not because of duty the cornerstone of life and that is achieved only when you make that a deliberate goal in each ones life.

          Reply
  39. Pingback: Q&A with J: “What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage?” Part 1 | Hot, Holy & Humorous

  40. Wilma

    I’ve only been married a few years, but one thing I observed is all my peers were very open about their excitement and questions about sex before and right after they got married, but a couple years later absolutely no one talks about it. I really can’t tell if someone might be struggling and how I could approach it.

    My earliest memory of a pastor talking about sex from the pulpit is covering the purposes of marriage – purity (as in being made holy, not just sexual purity) procreation, and passion, and the latter talked about sexual pleasure and companionship.

    Later I went to a church which was exceptionally open; they preached from the Song of Songs and didn’t shy away from 1 Corinthians 7 (nor verses commending singleness) but the preacher was later exposed in serious sexual sin and that was very discouraging. Satan is strategic.

    My last positive experience was with marriage counseling. We were given a book to read and discuss together and our pastor also recommended Sheet Music. He told us that the average is 2x a week and to always try to beat the average. He also prepped us for the reality that marriage doesn’t cure sexual temptation and to seek out help, and also cultivating an honest and positive environment so your kids can ask questions.

    But since then, the only times I’ve heard references to sex in church is in clarifying Biblical marriage, and listing porn quickly in a list of possible sins you might need to deal with by way of sermon application. However our pastor does have an evening class coming up on sexuality and I’m curious what he will cover.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      The current average appears to be 5 times a month, or just over 1x per week. Sadly, it has indeed gone down. But we should indeed be above average!

      I like that you had as much attention to this subject as you did. But it should ongoing in our churches throughout our lives. Blessings.

      Reply
    1. J Post author

      It took me a while to moderate this comment, because I wanted to go read that whole sermon. Which I finally did, and it is wonderful to see how biblical and bold he was! I certainly knew his name, but I couldn’t place and then discovered that two of his interns were Chuck Swindoll and Luis Palau. I love how Stedman finished out his sermons with these words in prayer:

      “Our Father, once again we thank you for the frankness with which your Word deals with these matters. Forgive our squeamishness, our unnecessary prudishness about these things. Teach us, Lord, the beauty and the glory and the joy of sexuality.” How many of our churches could say those same words!

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I figured you would want to read it in its entirety before letting the comment through, and I’m glad you did. Isn’t it refreshing to know that someone preached with such boldness? I just wish we could find this kind of teaching in the church today. I’m sure it exists, but I’ve never heard it.

        Reply
    2. S

      Wow, that was quite the sermon! Very good! Can hardly believe he preached this publicly, and so long ago. I was quite impressed with the many “mutual pleasure” references.

      J, while I have never heard anything too much about sex growing up in the church, since reading your blog for several years, my husband has preached some sermons on marriage, covering 1 Cor 5-7 among other chapters, and I was so proud of him. Your blog has helped us see some issues we had no idea were out there.

      Many blessings to you!

      Reply
  41. Bobthemusicguy

    J, I got an interesting email today that relates to this topic. My wife and I had listened online to an excellent sermon that dealt with adultery. This is a highly regarded pastor of a larg church in the Midwest. His sermon ad excellent, as they always are, but I emailed him later that to ask if he ever dealt with sexual refusal in his church.

    He finally wrote back and said that gets addressed in men’s and women’s ministries (no details given) but that a sermon would not be an appropriate setting. It should be dealt with in the form of pastoral counseling with a couple.

    That’s just the sort of attitude that shoves this issue under the rug. When I was a refused spouse, I would never have gone to my pastor because I as ashamed and blamed myself to a large degree. The church leader who openly confronts this is rare indeed.

    Reading many of the comments on these blog posts of yours discussing refusal breaks my hart. I am blessed to have a healed and restored marriage, no thanks to any church. But I think of all the pain, heartbreak, suffering, and yes, divorce, that could possibly be prevented if churches were open about the sexual sin of refusal and dealt with it firmly but with a great deal of love and compassion.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I’m curious to know how it’s appropriate to talk about adultery in a sermon, but not sexual refusal in marriage. I sincerely don’t get it.

      Reply
      1. Sean

        This is the kind of comment that makes me admire you even more. Yes, the same Bible that forbids adultery also forbids sexual refusal, yet only one is appropriate to discuss in the pulpit? It makes no sense at all.

        Reply
        1. Bobthemusicguy

          The sermon we heard was in a setting where young children were present, so he discussed it in the form of a parable. The adults understood clearly what was being addressed, and the kids understood the underlying message of faithfully keeping promises. In fact, that is really what adultery is about, keeping faith with your spouse.

          Therefore, refusal could be addressed in the same way. The underlying issues of sexual refusal are keeping vows and mutual submission and servanthood. Those are issues that must be addressed in many contexts. If more Christians understood that sex is not just about pleasures of the body, but is about the oneness that God desires and commands, then I think there would be much pain avoided and troubled marriages healed.

          I am blessed that my wife came to understand that her refusal was wrong and she was ready to reengage sexually with me out of pure obedience. I came to understand that my sexual relations with my wife were just that: relations. I took my focus off my physical needs and desires and focused on our oneness. The physical pleasures are wonderful, but it’s even better than I hoped because it has drawn us so much closer.

          Surely this could be dealt with from the pulpit, directly or parabolically, as the context dictates. That fact that it is relegated to “counseling” indicates that it is not a priority. Husbands and wives are embarrassed and ashamed to go for counseling until desperation drives them. By then, it’s often too late to hope for much progress.

          Reply
  42. Pingback: A Loveliness of Links ~ October 2017 - The Forgiven Wife

  43. John

    I have followed your post on a sexless marriage. I have been married twice and have experience the lack of sex in both marriages. My first wife was raised very strict and it was a direct cause of our sexless marrige. My current wife and I started out having a great sex life, but things changed after her parents died. In both marriages we have tried consulting, Medical Doctors and Prayers. It’s hard enough dealing with the lack of sex, but the fact that no one really seams to care is even harder. The fact that there seams to be no good answer is just plain hard. It takes over your life and you spend way to much time thinking about it. You keep hoping that you will say or do something that will cause it to change. You keep hoping that today will be the day that you will feel love, passion, and you can get on with your life.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I think you summarized the feelings of the refused/neglected spouse very well. I ache for you, and I pray that you can find some answers.

      Reply

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