This article was originally posted in on February 13, 2019.
Valentine’s Day is a commercial excuse to try and sell people to do what they should be doing all year. No, I am not trying to be a Valentine’s grinch. In the midst of all the chocolate, candles, and romantic notes there are many people who feel very alone. Some of those people are even in a marriage relationship.
I was speaking at a men’s event with an open Q&A time. One of the questions that caught my attention was:
“1 Corinthians 7 talks about not depriving your spouse of sex, except in the case of a limited time devoted to prayer. How long is it between sexual encounters before a husband/wife is denying their spouse their “conjugal rights”?
According to an article in the New York Times, “sexless marriage” is the most Googled phrase about marriage. People are asking Google about sexless marriage more than 21,000 times a month. While there doesn’t seem to be a common answer in terms of how to define a “sexless” marriage, many experts seem to land on 10 times a year or less. Newsweek says that approximately 15% to 20% of couples are in a sexless marriage.
I am certain there are many reasons a marriage becomes sexless. If you are in a sexless marriage, we would love to hear your comments of how you think a relationship reaches this point.
But let’s go back to the original question I was asked at this men’s event. It is apparent that sexless marriages are a real issue, but are they OK from a Christian perspective and what should we do if we find ourselves in one? Here are some truths to consider from the full context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 7.
1. Sex is Mutual
I would guess the person who asked the original question is likely hurting in their relationship. There are people in a sexless relationship who feel alone when their spouse shows no interest. It is important to understand that 1 Corinthians 7:2, 3 gives a picture of a mutual sexual relationship. Sex is not about you – it is about your care for each other as husband and wife.
2. You are Responsible to Care for Their Body
I know. If you are in a sexless marriage and want more frequency in your sexual intimacy, this can be difficult. You have sexual desires and want your spouse to care for your body. However, the calling of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 7:4 is for you to focus on caring for their needs. Their physical needs may not be sex – it may be helping out with dishes or giving a shoulder massage. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 teaches that your body belongs to God and you are to use your body to glorify Him. He wants you to use your body to serve and honour your spouse.
Let me put it this way. Many men have a higher sex drive than their spouse. Men can demand their spouse meets their sexual needs, but I would suggest the Bible calls for a man to focus on serving his wife’s needs.
3. Sex Bonds Us Together and Fights Temptations
In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul tells us that a couple should have sexual relations because Satan may tempt them due to their lack of self control. This is NOT Paul saying it is a spouse’s fault when their partner looks at pornography or commits adultery. It is Paul acknowledging the power of our sexuality.
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone in the human body that creates a feeling of being bonded with another person. Women naturally have higher levels of oxytocin than men do. In his book, A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage1, Gary Thomas describes how oxytocin impacts a man sexually: “There is one time in human experience, however, when a man’s level of oxytocin – those neurochemicals that make him feel close to his wife and bonded with his wife – approaches that of a woman’s. It’s immediately following sexual climax.”
God created marriage for a husband and wife to be one and sexual intimacy is one of the ways He created to solidify this bond. It is the strategy of the devil to cause us to become bonded with someone other than the person God wants us to be one with. When that happens, the devil is creating a divide in what God has created for the good of both people as well as the good of the family unit and civilization.
4. The Ceasing of Sexual Relations Should Be Mutual… and Temporary… and have Purpose
The original question missed an important part of 1 Corinthians 7:5. Paul tells us the ceasing of sexual relations should be agreed on by both persons, only for a time, and focused on devoting yourselves to prayer.
If you are breaking any of the three parts to this teaching, then you are not fully following Paul’s teaching on the conditions for ceasing sexual intimacy.
It is unfortunate to see so many couples in a sexless marriage. God created sex for our good as individuals, couples, and for humanity.