Marital intimacy advocates often advise wives to engage more and spice up the sex in their marriage. Plenty of wives could use gentle, or even more passionate, encouragement to be adventurous in the marriage bed. But some wives get cornered by their husbands with inappropriate requests . . . and then they try to balance that with all these suggestions by Christian authors and speakers to be sexually available and active with their husbands.
The result can be a sense of obligation and feelings of guilt to go along with sexual activities that make a wife very uncomfortable or even feel wrong.
I recently received such a message from a wife who explained how her Christian husband requested she watch porn and engage in multiple-partner sex. When she balked, he accused her on not being adventurous enough and even boring in bed. This wife genuinely wants to please her husband, so she’d gone along with some of his requests and felt sick about her involvement.
She was right to feel sick. What he’d asked her to do was sinful, damaging to their relationship, and eroded trust.
Meeting your husband’s physical intimacy needs doesn’t mean you put up with any and every sexual request. If your husband is bullying you into sinful practices or painful activities, you have every right to set boundaries. God never expects us to submit to someone’s request when it violates His commands. Even if that someone is your husband.
So how do you set boundaries in the marital bedroom?
1. Prayerfully consider your list of Do’s and Don’ts. Make sure your unwillingness to do something sexually has a legitimate basis in Scripture, personal conscience, or damage to yourself or others. Sometimes we erect false walls based on poor teaching or understanding, and we need to reconsider our reluctance. So first align your list of marriage bed do’s and don’ts with God’s perspective, your health, and common sense.
2. Explain your desire to have healthy sexual intimacy. Communicate to your husband that you also desire to have fulfilling sex. Commit to prioritizing sex and working together to create satisfying, relationship-building sex for your marriage. Let him know you’re willing to try some new things, have sex more frequently, etc. Express in positive terms how you want to improve your sexual intimacy and increase pleasure (yours and his) in the bedroom.
3. Let him express his desires. It’s only fair that you allow him to have some say. Let him tell you what he wants and why he believes he wants it. What is it he’s trying to achieve? If he’s suggesting truly sinful practices, this may be difficult to hear and you may disagree with every single word. However, some suggestions he’s made could tap into an underlying desire you could meet in some other way. For instance, if he’s asked to have sex in a public place because an outdoor location excites him, you might be able to find a secluded location that meets your need for privacy and respect for others while still giving him an extra thrill. Letting him express his desires and reasons will help you better understand where he’s coming from, and perhaps where he’s getting his information and ideas.
4. State your boundaries. Let him know what you will and won’t do. Be firm yet calm as you explain which request you simply cannot comply with and why. If it’s a sin, let him know you will not dishonor the Lord—that your allegiance belongs first to God. Some husbands may push, try to make you feel guilty, claim you’re prude or boring, accuse you of unfairly denying him, or even trot out a few submissive wife scriptures in an attempt to get his way. Stand firm. Keep your cool, even if he loses his. If the tension gets too high, walk away for a while and gather your composure. You’re not denying him sexual intimacy, but you are setting reasonable boundaries for your marriage bed.
5. Explain what your response will be if he crosses a boundary. This is an if-then statement such as “If you suggest watching porn, I will not have sex with you that night” or “If you bring home another couple for group sex, I will leave.” Such statements place the decision-making in proper hands: He makes his choices, you make yours. But he must understand that choices have consequences. And repeated attempts to put you at physical, emotional, or spiritual risk will result in a specific response from you that keeps him from gaining anything he wants. Note this isn’t punitive, but simply letting him know you will engage in proper ways but withdraw when he treats you poorly.
6. Follow through. And this is the hardest part. Sticking with what you said you would and would not do. As any parent knows, consistency is key. If you said you’d do a if he does b, you’d better do a when b appears. Every. Single. Time. If the infraction is so extreme you have to pack it up and go somewhere else, have that plan in place. If you need a counselor or mentor on hand to help you follow through, find someone you can confide in, trust, and contact when necessary.
7. Continue in love and prayer. Okay, maybe this is the hardest part. Because while setting up boundaries may work in the long term, there will likely be a time when you experience more conflict and more unhappiness in your marriage as the dynamics are shifting. Change can hurt. But in the long run, it’s the only way to grow and experience better sexual intimacy. While waiting to reap what you’ve sown, or perhaps as your marriage tumbles down further and further, you’re called to continue in love and prayer. Treat your husband as well as you can in other areas of the marriage, showing love and respect and concern. Pray for him and for your marriage. Keep your conscience when it comes to sexual intimacy, but also keep your conscience when it comes to how you treat others—including your wayward husband.
You may want to pick up a copy of Boundaries or Boundaries in Marriage, both excellent books by John Townsend and Henry Cloud, which explain in more detail how to properly set good and effective boundaries.
Strive for positive, active sex in your marriage. But remember you’re his wife, not his sex toy. Godly sexual intimacy should be forged together in mutual love and respect.