I’ve been hearing more and more from spouses refused sex for a long time in their marriage. They are understandably disheartened and frustrated, but some are also angry.
Not just angry with their spouses, but angry with me and other Christians for letting their spouse off the hook. What they seem to want is the full force of Christendom, or at least a fair number of Christian marriage bloggers, to insist their spouse owes them sex.
First, let me say that if you are in a marriage that is abusive or emotionally destructive, lack of sex is not the problem. The good and godly thing to do is to address the abuse! Please go read Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage? instead.
For the rest of us, let’s consider: Do marriage vows infer an obligation to have sex? Does your spouse have a duty to say yes to your sexual advances? Are you owed sex in marriage?
Here’s the “marital duty” passage.
Most proof-texters open up their Bibles and turn to 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 to demonstrate that yes, we have a duty in marriage to have sex.
Just in case you haven’t read this passage nearly enough on my blog (I sure have!), here it is:
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, NIV
But that passage wasn’t written in the context of one spouse withholding sex from another and Paul intervening with marriage counseling.
Rather, it was a theological question for the Corinthian Church, where some had begun to believe that sex itself was unspiritual and should be avoided even in marriage.
The apostle Paul answers that sex is good and should be a regular part of marriage; in fact, if you feel you must avoid it focus for a period of time solely on spiritual things, make sure your abstinence is agreed to by your spouse and short-lived.
Paul is not addressing in this passage specific obstacles to lovemaking tonight or tomorrow or even next week, but the way marriage is supposed to function generally.
Sex should be part of marriage.
Even without 1 Corinthians, however, we’d know that marriage is supposed to include sex. It’s in a whole lot of other places in the Bible. Here’s just a sampling!
- Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” How are you united? Not only in partnership to live life—which you could do with a friend—but physically.
- Genesis 29:21: “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.'” Get married –> make love. Not only that, when Laban deceived Jacob and gave him Leah instead, what did Jacob do? We may think this is awful in our non-polygamous culture, but he made love to Leah. Why? Because it was understood that taking a marriage covenant involved physical intimacy.
- Proverbs 5:15, 18-19: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” A father is giving his son advice here, saying, “Have sex with your wife, and your wife only, for the rest of your life.”
- 1 Samuel 1:19: “Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.” Despite Hannah being unable to conceive, they’re still getting busy. Why? Married.
- Luke 1:18: “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.'” When told by an angel that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son (John the Baptist), Zechariah doesn’t say, “But we don’t have sex anymore.” Despite infertility and age, it seems they were still sexually active.
- Song of Songs. The whole book. The fact the book is even in the Bible.
Basically, every time you have a married couple in Scripture, they are expected to have sex, and not just for procreation. Marriage is a covenant relationship that God designed to include lovemaking.Marriage is a covenant relationship that God designed to include lovemaking. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
So you’re owed. Now what?
Or maybe instead of “now what?” I should have said, “So what?” Because I’ve witnessed many spouses camp out on this concept that they are owed sex in marriage. They get upset that I won’t just tell their spouse to have sex with them already. Instead, I address reasons why a spouse doesn’t want sex and suggest tips for getting your lower drive spouse to say yes to sex.
Why? Because I believe it’s not only the ends that matter, but the means. And so does God. Even with a covenant debt as important as sex in marriage.
Let’s imagine the sex you’re owed is an invoice to your spouse.
Now, how are you going to get your spouse to pay up?
I can say with 100% certainty that your spouse owing you sex will not get you sex. Just shoving an invoice in someone’s face is no guarantee they’ll pay.
How you try to collect this debt matters not only in whether you reach your goal of more sexual intimacy, but also in whether you make your marriage worse or better and whether you become a worse or better person.
What kind of debt collector are you?
Have you ever had to deal with debt collectors? I have.
Some debt collectors are wholly intent on the amount you owe and getting paid any way possible. Others are willing to negotiate to collect what’s possible for you to pay. Still others take the approach of “let me see how I can help you with this issue.” Which collector would you like to encounter?
I can tell you that the harassers’ calls are the ones most likely to be ignored or actively avoided.
You won’t get paid in the way you want if you take a Guido’s Goons approach to your spouse’s debt of sex to you. Plus, in the process, you turn into a bully. And believe me, even if you haven’t said it aloud, when you’ve soaked in resentment, it seeps out in interactions with your spouse.
With that in mind, ask how your spouse views your attempts to collect the sex debt. Are you a harasser or a helper?
What if your spouse really could pay?
We’ve all seen those news stories where someone is knee-deep in debt while living in a mansion and vacationing on a yacht. Such people could pay what they owe; they just don’t. Their priorities are way wrong.
Plenty of you view your spouse’s withholding the same way.
Some of you are correct.
Many more of you are incorrect.
Most of the time, a spouse withholds sex for what seems like a good reason to them. They aren’t “yachting” with their sex life elsewhere. They really, truly feel they have little or nothing to give in the sexual arena.
Yes, I know you’re hurting, but so are they. And that is why I have become ultra-focused on helping spouses figure out why a spouse is refusing sex and showing them how to address the baggage and the barriers.
Consider it the difference between taking someone’s last dollar and setting them up to make enough money. When someone is flush with cash and they care about you a great deal, then you can say, “Hey, can I have a dollar?” and they’ll say, “Sure” and hand it right over. It’s easier to pay a debt and even be generous when you have more than enough to give.
Debts in a healthy marriage get paid.
Imagine this scenario: Husband and wife are both aware and appreciative of how God created them as sexual beings. They enjoy their physical intimacy, but also the companionship, the flirting, the sensuality, and the generosity that all lead up to those special moments in bed.
One night, as they’re cleaning up the kitchen together, she leans back against his chest and says, “According to our marital contract, you owe me some sex, handsome.” He pulls her close and whispers, “Ready to fulfill my marital duty, gorgeous.”
Despite the words “owe” and “duty,” would you find that banter troublesome? I wouldn’t. These spouses understand the marriage covenant includes sex, but their exchange is surrounded with respect, honor, and love.
Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.Romans 13:7-8
Although this passage is about how to treat governing authorities, there’s a principle here: The debt we most owe one another is love.
When we focus in on being owed sex to the exclusion of other callings about how we should treat one another, then we’re missing what matters to God.When we focus in on being owed sex to the exclusion of other callings about how we are to treat one another, then we're missing what matters to God. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Yes, marriage should include sex. If it’s not happening, it should be a priority to figure out why and address those issues. But while working on our frustrating lack of sex, we also owe our spouses respect, honor, and love.
From a practical standpoint, that approach is far more likely to work anyway.
What’s the upshot?
The upshot is that marriage involves a debt of sexual intimacy. But you are not the one who should demand payment. God is the ultimate creditor.
The more you can come alongside your spouse, figure out the issues, and help your beloved fill their coffers, the better a person you will be, the better your marriage is likely to become, and the better chance you’ll have that your sex life will turn around.
Also see my post Does Your Wife Owe You Sex? on KHS Ministry.