1 Corinthians 7:4-5 says: “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.”
This is an oft-quoted verse regarding sexuality in marriage. Some have read it as meaning that you can never say no to your spouse — a position with which I am uncomfortable. In fact, Sheila Gregoire explained what “deprive” really looks like in a marriage, and it’s not a single instance of “Not right now.”
But beyond even the relational issue of whether you can ever refuse your spouse’s sexual advances is the sad reality that some, even Christians, have used this idea that your spouse owes you sex to commit what is essentially marital rape.
Haven’t heard of that term? It’s a real thing.
And it’s a horrifying experience to have the someone you should trust more than any other person treat your body with such blind violence. According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN): “Research shows that it can be equally, if not more, emotionally and physically traumatizing than rape by a stranger.”
All states have laws against rape, including marital rape, although prosecutions are not common. A broad definition is “any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent.”
But whether any laws existed against marital rape, it’s still wrong.
The Bible doesn’t deal specifically with marital rape. Perhaps the closest scriptures that we have are regulations from Deuteronomy specifying that a man who violates a woman will have to marry her and will never be allowed to divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). At first read, this seems appalling! Did God actually say you could get a wife by starting out your relationship with rape? But these regulations were made in the context of the culture of that era. At a time in history when many cultures allowed men to use women however they wanted, Israel discouraged such horrid behavior by warning men that if they tried that . . . they’d better be ready to provide for that woman for the rest of her life. And in such a culture, a violated woman would not be considered marriageable because she was no longer a virgin, so this regulation made sure she was provided for.
Without a specific verse on marital rape, we turn to principles. And the principles of the Bible are very clear about how we should treat one another.
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1 Peter 3:7
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:25-28
“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” Proverbs 31:10-12
Moreover, you can take any “one another” passage in the Bible and know that it applies to marriage too. For example:
“Live in harmony with one another.” Romans 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8
“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“Love one another deeply, from the heart.” 1 Peter 3:8
“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Ephesians 4:32
Rape has no part in a loving, giving, godly marriage. It is never okay to force your spouse to have sex. If you have been the victim of marital rape, that was not okay. That is not what God intended when he said that you have an obligation of physical intimacy in marriage.
If your marriage is at the point where spouse has drawn the line and said no to sex, and the other is tempted to force it, get help. It’s not okay to deprive your spouse of sexual intimacy, but it’s not okay for anyone — spouse included — to force you into a sexual act.
Why would I tackle this sensitive subject? Because it happens. I know someone it happened to.
Sexual intimacy should be the voluntary sharing of our bodies with one another in marriage. You don’t have a right to withdraw from that duty, but your spouse doesn’t have a right to use your body as he wishes. As the first verse cited indicates, your body belongs to you, and you yield it to your husband. Willingly.
Yes, you can be raped in marriage. No, it’s not okay with God. Seek help if this has happened or may happen soon. Talk to your pastor. Seek a Christian counselor. My prayers are with you and your marriage.