Sexual refusal is definitely a hot topic. I hear from varied voices on this sensitive subject. Some defend sexual refusal, stating that it’s horrible to suggest someone engage in sex just to please their partner. On other end are those who believe that not getting frequent sex is grounds for divorce.
What’s the truth? Especially for those living in sexless marriages, defined as married couples who make love fewer than 10 times per year?
Cutting off sexual intimacy in marriage is sin. I don’t think there’s any two ways about that. Now, stick with me for a bit if your hackles just rose and blood rushed into your head. This is not the only point I’m going to make.
But yes, when you get married, one of the promises you’re making is to enter a “one flesh” relationship with your spouse. God designed marriage to include sexual intimacy, and you have an obligation — and the privilege — of having sex regularly with your spouse.
Look at these scriptures to see what I mean:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24)
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
The patriarch Jacob certainly understood sex to be an important part of his marriage:
Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her“ (Genesis 29:18-20).
You should be having sex in marriage. But does that mean you’re supposed to flop down on your bed and just let your spouse have his or her way with you? Noooo!
Sexual mistreatment is sin too. Did you read that verse up there about yielding to your spouse? Nothing in the Bible says it’s okay to force or demand your way in the marriage bed. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You are not your spouse’s sex toy.
One spouse shouldn’t be used by the other to satisfy a sexual need or desire. Our obligation to have sex in marriage doesn’t supersede our obligations to be loving and respectful. Read Ephesians 5:21-33, a passage bookended by these verses: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” and “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 describes love as patient, kind, and honoring others. There’s nothing kind about dismissing your spouse as a person and expecting him or her to simply perform sexually for your benefit.
There are both sides to this — you should be having sex, but with mutual respect and pleasure. That’s the relationship you should be working toward.
But what do you do with a sexless spouse? This post will not answer that question fully, because the right answer would be specific to your scenario. But ask yourself a few things:
Do I have problems I need to own? If you’ve been demanding, dismissive, or dogged in your approach, you need to stop your own sinfulness, ask for forgiveness from God and from your spouse, and pursue a more loving path.
What’s the underlying reason for his or her refusal? Whether you understand or not, there’s a reason why your spouse is refusing. It’s often that way with sin: We’re doing the wrong thing for reasons that make sense to us. Sometimes it’s because a spouse doesn’t understand what they’re doing; they truly don’t realize how important sexual intimacy is, the benefits to your marriage, or how their refusal is breaking your heart. Even if you’ve said it a million times, some spouses don’t get it. They don’t feel that way, so it’s hard to comprehend.
Or there could be solid reasons why your spouse says no — like physical pain, sexual abuse in their past, relational conflict, depression, etc.
Your spouse doesn’t need you to beat them over the head; they need your support to work their issues out. Those obstacles are not only keeping you from getting sex, but keeping your spouse from enjoying the blessings God has for them.
What baby steps could we take? If possible, I’d get everyone in problem situations to take a giant Mother-May-I step toward healthy sexual intimacy. But most of us don’t get the blinding-light-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience that changes our lives on the spot. We’re less like Paul and more like Peter — whittling away at our bad stuff and replacing it with God’s truth. So take steps in the right direction, even if they are smaller than you’d want.
Those beautiful cathedrals around the world were built stone by stone, and beautiful sexual intimacy can be built step by step. Patience and perseverance are tough callings, but these traits will serve you well in this journey. Weeks, months, years down the road, you may be amazed at how far you’ve come. I’ve heard many redemption stories from couples who are glad they didn’t quit.
What does your spouse need? It’s easy to get caught up in your emotional pain and sexual frustration, to focus on what you‘re not getting. But what about your spouse? What does he/she need to feel safe and cherished? Brainstorm a hundred ideas if need be — things you could do that would show your beloved that you truly care about their comfort and pleasure. Stash deposit after deposit into your spouse’s “love bank,” filling him or her up with assurance after assurance that you love and desire this person you’ve chosen. This is not a tit-for-tat trick, but rather a calling to invest in the woman or man you love. From that place, some wonderful things might happen — to your spouse and to you.
Do you have the right to leave? I’d be remiss if I didn’t deal with this question that arises from time to time. If your spouse stubbornly refuses to have sex, talk about sex, give any indication that anything will change regarding sex, do you have a right to leave the marriage? After all, if this is downright sin, don’t you have an out?
Yet I can’t find biblical justification, through commands or example, for exiting the marriage. While I ache terribly for those individuals in this situation, lack of sex alone doesn’t seem to warrant divorce. Believe me, it was hard to even type those last words, knowing the hopelessness and despair some of you have felt. All I can say is God is with you in your darkest times. You cannot control all of your circumstances, but you can make choices on how to respond and who to turn to — your Heavenly Father who knows your pain. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Finally, why don’t we talk more about the sin of refusal? This charge is laid against churches generally — that we preach against the sexual sins of commission like adultery and pornography but ignore the sin of omission when one spouse stops sexual activity in a marriage. Let me assure you that I’m among those who believe we should talk about it. The Bible is clear about the responsibilities — better yet, blessings — of physical intimacy in marriage.
One preacher summarized the singles and marrieds situation in his church this way: “The people who aren’t supposed to be having sex are, and the people who are supposed to be having sex aren’t.” We need to attend to both sides of this equation!
When I was growing up, about the only time I heard the word “sex” in church, it was followed by “-ual immorality.” It gave the mistaken impression that God was solely concerned with His people avoiding extramarital sexual activity. When God is equally concerned with us diving into intramarital sexual activity!
Thankfully, I see this message changing among Christians — more people willing to address head-on the challenges of sexual intimacy in marriage and to encourage not just sex acts but physical intimacy between husband and wife. And it goes both ways. It’s not just about getting the sex you want; it’s about experiencing the intimacy you both want. Let’s proclaim that message. Over and over, until Christian marriages thrive in this area.
WHY NOT START READING NOW? Or learn more about Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design and where to buy by clicking HERE.