Monthly Archives: July 2016

Is Refusing Sex in Marriage a Sin?

No entry sign VectorSexual 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.

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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.

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What Are the Real Purposes of Sex?

What’s the point of sex anyway?

Historically in the Church and in our society currently, we often misunderstand the real purpose of sex. There are three basic reasons for God’s gift of sex in marriage.

What Are the Real Purposes of Sex?

Reproduction. Genesis 1:27-28 says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.'” At that moment, He had created vegetation, animals, and humans — all with their own ways of reproducing. His design for us was a sexual relationship between husband and wife that had the potential to create new life.

When you really think about this process, it’s pretty incredible. Male and female come together, join their complementary bodies, and an egg the size of a grain of sand and a sperm 1/30th that size merge. From there, cells differentiate, a baby grows in the womb, and a full human being emerges months later. Let me tell you, when you look (up) at your man-sized teenage son, it’s particularly astonishing that this whole process started with a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence. And all that . . . began with the sexual act.

The first direct mention we have of sex in the Bible shows this purpose of reproduction. And Eve understood how incredible this was: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1). I can imagine her tone as she said, “I have brought forth a man,” like Holy canoli, how did that happen?!

And over and over, we see similar phrases:

  • “Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).
  • “Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth” (Genesis 4:25).
  • “There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er” (Genesis 38:2-3).
  • “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son” (Ruth 4:13).
  • “Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (1 Samuel 1:19-20).
  • “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon” (2 Samuel 12:24).

Throughout history, the Church has had this reason down pat. Just like we understand that we need to eat to keep our bodies going, we understand we need to conceive children to keep our families and our communities going. This was the official teaching of the Church for many years — that sex was for procreation.

“The early Church Fathers of the Patristic Age did indeed teach that the marital act was solely for procreation and that spouses should intend children when they engaged in intercourse” (Catholic Online, Sex: Only for Procreation?). St. Augustine famously believed sexual passions to be a consequence of The Fall and thought that, if sin had been avoided, humans would reproduce “by a calm act of the will” (Christianity Today, What Would Augustine Say – On Sex: God’s Blessing or Humanity’s Curse?).

Procreation has been an easy reason for Christians to embrace throughout the centuries. The Bible’s message is that children are a blessing (see Psalm 127:3-5; Proverbs 17:6; Mark 10:13-16). Given the first commands to man to “be fruitful” and the many times God blessed His people with children, it’s not surprising that reproduction has been championed for centuries as a main purpose of sex.

Pleasure. I started to write, “this reason is more recent.” But I don’t think that’s true. It’s both ancient and recent. That is, in Bible times sexual pleasure in marriage appears to have God’s high blessing (see Song of Songs 5:1). In Jewish tradition, pleasure was seen as a woman’s right in the marriage bed. She was not to be deprived of it by her husband (see Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 24:5).

Through a culmination of influences (Gnosticism, an attempt to avoid the sexual immorality prominent in secular cultures, the rise of monastic societies in the Church, etc.), the Christian Church came to view sexual pleasure as opposed to spiritual purity. Indeed, the Song of Songs became viewed strictly as an allegory of Christ and His Church, with this view perhaps best espoused by Origen in the 3rd century. He believed that Song of Songs was the “meat” of scripture and could only be fully understood and appreciated by the spiritually mature. He worried about those who, “not knowing how to hear love’s language in purity and with chaste ears, will twist the whole manner of his hearing of it away from the inner spiritual man and on to the outward and carnal; and he will be turned away from the spirit to flesh, and will foster carnal desires in himself, and it will seem to be the Divine Scriptures that are thus urging and egging him on to fleshly lust!” (Origen, The Song of Songs Commentary and Homilies).

But I wouldn’t put much stock in that, since Origen thought the body was so evil that he also slept on the floor, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself based on his interpretation of one line in Matthew 19:12: “There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Not to be too graphic, but a guy who’d cut off his own nuts probably isn’t too bothered by not having sex for pleasure.

This perspective — but not self-mutilation — was the official stance of the Church for many years: that we Christians should be careful not to enjoy sex too much. Otherwise, it smacks of loving the flesh overly much and not being sufficiently spiritual. Of course, this view fascinates me given the physical acts that many such proponents took to display their spirituality. For instance, charity — a definite Christian virtue — involves the physical act of actually helping people with bodily needs, like food, water, clothing, shelter. Are we not to take pleasure in helping people around us? Must it merely be duty and nothing else?

Anyway, the Church has thankfully moved away from that in recent years, with an acknowledgment that we allowed outside philosophies to taint what the Bible really says. Just look at verses like these:

A loving doe, a graceful deer—  may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love” (Proverbs 5:19).

“I have come to my garden-my sister, my bride. I gather my myrrh with my spices. I eat my honeycomb with my honey. I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with love!” (Song of Songs 5:1).

“How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine” (Song of Songs 7:6-9).

If you need more convincing — note our biology, ladies. That handy-dandy clitoris has no role to play in reproduction, solely pleasure. God wanted us to enjoy the sexual act and the intimacy that we feel when we’re physically one-flesh with our beloved covenant mate.

Intimacy. Speaking of intimacy, I tend to think this is the crowning jewel. Because, to be honest, you could reproduce and feel pleasure during sex without marriage. We see it in society all the time. But there’s something special about sex that makes it an act God intended to gift husbands and wives. Yes, of course he wants daddies and mommies to raise kids, but not every sexual act creates a baby. What’s the purpose of those other times?

Ephesians 5:31-32 says: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Well, what’s that’s about? How is becoming united/one-flesh in marriage like our relationship with Christ? I think it’s about the deep, loving intimacy between lover and beloved.

This is not the only time marriage is compared to God’s relationship with His people. For instance:

“For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5).

“I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion” (Hosea 2:19).

God prizes intimacy. Between us and Him. Among His people. And certainly between husband and wife. In fact, He infused the sexual act with ways to make it feel especially intimate, like the vulnerability of nakedness and body chemicals like Oxytocin and Dopamine to make us connected to our lover.

And these effects are not seen in short-term bursts of sexual activity. Rather, the intimate feelings come when we are linked to a partner again and again, in longer-term relationships. As in marriage.

Sex is something to be uniquely shared with your spouse, and thus it creates a deep intimacy when you partake together regularly and lovingly. God intended sex for reproduction and pleasure, but also to nurture intimacy between husband and wife.

Those are the three primary purposes for sex I see in the Bible. What benefits have you seen from having sex in your marriage?

It All Comes Down to This

This has been a hard week in the United States, with the death of citizens and police officers and a lot of mourning, reflection, and conversation. I’ve seen repeated pleas on Facebook from people longing for our citizens to get past this violence and move toward peace and understanding for one another.

After hearing the news, my own fingers hovered above my keyboard as the Facebook status prompt stared back at me. I wanted to say my own piece, to add something brilliant to the discussion.

But I didn’t. I didn’t know what I could add to the discussion. Rather, I just kept thinking that we need to somehow return to the basics.

I see it in violent conflicts across the world, in racial tension here and elsewhere, in churches with internal battles, in our workplaces, communities, and homes. And I see it all the time in marriages. How we miss the opportunity to do what’s right because we don’t really have the foundational principles running through our lives.

Frankly, it’s why my own marriage struggled for so long. Sure, I could break down all the reasons we had problems, explain the inherent difficulties of merging two lives from disparate backgrounds, and on and on. I could even say that God wasn’t answering my many, many prayers that He heal my marriage. Except that God and I know better.

What ultimately improved my marriage was me getting back to the basics. I had to learn how to daily treat my husband the way God wanted me to treat him — with patience, kindness, love, honor, selflessness. And, believe me, I’m still on the journey of learning. As imperfect as I am, I have a long way yet to go.

I know some of you are struggling through some great hardships in your marriage. And you have no idea how things can turn around. I’ve heard some of your stories, and there are some heartbreaking challenges you face. You’re probably questioning your spouse’s love, your marriage’s future, and perhaps even your own faith.

When we go through crises — whether a country faced with cop/citizen conflict or a despairing marriage — we might do best to breathe and think about returning to basics. What can really make a difference in the moment.

Jesus gave the standard, and it’s one I now try to live my life by. You probably know it as The Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

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Matthew 7:12 is another source for this statement, and in that passage Jesus says that principle sums up all the law and the prophets. Yep, it all comes down to this — treating others the way you want them to treat you.

What would that look like in your marriage today? What if you really listened to your spouse the way you want to be listened to? What if you valued his opinions the way you want him to value yours? What if you tried to meet his intimacy needs the way you want him to meet yours? What if you prayed for him the way you want him to pray for you? What if you sought the very best for your beloved the way you want him to seek your best?

I give all kinds of advice on this blog, trying to break down what the loving response looks like in a particular situation. And I find inspiration and practical help from others who do the same. But the foundational principle for everything I say comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat your husband or wife with the same loving care you’d like him/her to give you.

Today, let’s all ask ourselves how we’re doing with that. I bet every one of us could do better.

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Some Days You Just Don’t Wanna (Have Sex)

It’s Thursday, and I should be writing a Q&A with J post, answering a reader question. I should be, but today I really don’t wanna.

It’s not that I don’t care about y’all — I definitely do. It’s not that I’ve lost my will to write on the subject of sex in marriage — I definitely have not. It’s not that I’m unable to put up a post — I definitely can (obviously).

But yesterday, the day I’d planned to actually write the post, was a particularly grueling day. Without too many details, a family member of mine unexpectedly ended up in the hospital and I spend my day there juggling medical issues, family dynamics, and a ball of worry. Things had greatly improved by the time I left last night, and I felt certain I’d wake up today ready to delve into a reader’s question.

However, my body and brain are tired, and I don’t know how helpful and insightful I can be today. I’d rather skip a week than toss something out that cheats the question and my readers.

Which brings me back around to my subject of sex in marriage — because yeah, I can still draw parallels to sex with all kinds of things in my environment. I’m not among those who believe that wives should be at the beck-and-call of their husband’s sexual urges. I completely understand the well-meaning behind those who advise women to always be available for sexual intimacy with their husbands. But you know, some days you just don’t wanna. And I get that too.

Some Days You Just Don't Wanna (Have Sex)Certainly, there are times when you cannot engage, due to illness, family obligations, etc. But there can be times when you’re simply not up for it, because you’ve been strung out to exhaustion by other things in your life. And I think that’s fine — if it’s not a pattern.

Ongoing refusal and gate-keeping are not merely unwise, but can rise to the level of sin. After all, we are commanded not to deprive one another and to become one flesh with our husbands. If making love in your marriage is the exception rather than the routine, then you need to take a good, hard look at what’s amiss in your lives. Are you too busy? Struggling with relationship issues? Ignoring physiological obstacles? Just being selfish? Whatever it is, you need to address it.

But in a healthy marriage, you’ve established that sexual intimacy is a given. Your husband knows you find him desirable, sees you prioritize physical intimacy, and understands that if you say not now, you have a good reason. You’ve also experienced for yourself the delight of sexual pleasure, the importance of this physical connection, and the satisfaction that comes from the one-flesh experience. So if you really don’t feel like it this one time, you also figure you have a good reason.

Maybe you can’t pinpoint exactly why, but you know it’s not disinterest or an unwillingness to engage sexually with your husband. You can explain that gently and lovingly to your husband. AND you should probably suggest a make-up session — a rain check on the not now.

You see, not now isn’t the same as no. Not now says this moment isn’t ideal, but you’ve got it high on your priority list for as soon as possible. But no leaves your husband hanging and wondering if and when your libido might come back around.

The hubbies I hear from who are upset about the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriage are almost always those who get rejected regularly and feel up-in-the-air about when the next encounter might happen. Or whether his wife will ever understand why he desires this kind of intimacy so much. The men who get a not now from time to time can deal with that. Especially when they know that they won’t have to wait long before she’s jumping back into his arms, preferably naked.*

I just wanted to let you know, wives, that I believe it’s okay to pass on sex now and again. You’re not there to be his booty call; rather, you are equal partners in creating and maintaining regular and satisfying sexual intimacy in your marriage. Make that your priority, your pattern, and your passion.

And you have my rain check on answering a reader question next week.

*Of course, a substantial percent of marriages have higher-drive wives who experience the opposite of this description. If you’re in that category, remember that you’re completely normal and I want your husband to understand these principles about prioritizing sex in your marriage. You have my compassion and my prayers.

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The Freedom to Make Your Marriage Better

Today it’s Independence Day in the United States, a remembrance of the day in 1776 when Americans declared their independence — although a took a few more years to secure it. Liberty is highly prized in our nation overall and referred to as a blessing in the preamble to our Constitution.

But it’s not like we invented freedom. Not by any means.

The Freedom to Make Your Marriage Better

From the moment that God put the first husband and wife, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, He gave them free will. That meant they could choose to follow His instructions or — as happened — stray off that path. One way or another, it was their choice.

Throughout Scripture, there are numerous other references to our free will. For example:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says. Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people’ ” (Ezekiel 3:27).

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Yes, God carries out His sovereign will, but within those parameters, He allows His children a great deal of freedom to choose for themselves.

That means that each and every day, moment by moment, we are faced with choices. We have the God-given freedom to follow His path for our lives or to reject it for our own selfish purposes. We can make mistakes, of course — because of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus and God’s grace — but we’re always moving toward His will or away from it. Using our own free will.

Oh, how true this is in marriage!

No, I can’t control my spouse. Our mates have their own free will. However, I can choose how I approach my husband, our marriage, and even the sexual intimacy within. I can select attitudes, behaviors, and reactions that either comport with God’s calling for my life or stray from what He wants for my marriage.

I have the free will to make my marriage better, inasmuch as it depends on me.

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Ask anyone who had a bad marriage and ended up with a better one, and I bet they’d tell you things began to improve when they took responsibility for their own actions. Whether that was expressing their desires or explaining their concerns; becoming more vulnerable or setting boundaries; seeking outside help for depression or anxiety or simply learning to be happy.

Rather than waiting for your husband to fix everything on His end, or for God to swoop down like a genie and magically answer all your prayers, start with you. How can you use the freedom God gave you to make different choices today that will benefit your marriage and/or your marriage bed?

You don’t have to go from zero to sixty overnight. Just start moving in the right direction. Step by step, choice by choice, you can walk the path of freedom toward greater marital health. At the very least, your own heart and soul will benefit.

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