Whose body is it, anyway? Yours of course….until you pledge it to somebody else. Then everything changes.
The Old English vows say that on our wedding day we “enter into a new estate”. That’s why I always spend extra time with couples in pre-marriage counseling to make sure they fully understand what they are signing up for. Think about it. When we are choosing our marriage partner, we are evaluating how trustworthy they will be to fulfill their role as our – one and only – husband or wife. One very important role in marriage is that of lover. When we stand at the altar and pledge our self to our spouse, we are entrusting one person in the whole world to fulfill that role. For those who are married, consider this: You are the only person in the whole world who is authorized to fulfill your spouse’s sexual needs. And not only that; but you are commanded to do so. I know that sounds a little silly. About half of us are thinking: “God commanded us to have sex, so I’m suddenly really into obeying God.” The other half of us…not so much.
Typical pre-marriage couples are eager to get married, and blissfully optimistic. They envision marriage as having sex every day, multiple times, for as long as they both shall live. But life and our sin nature has a way of throwing a monkey wrench into those plans (Read Take Out the Trash).
So let’s look at what the bible says about sex in marriage:
I Corinthians 7: 3-5 says: Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Wow! There’s a lot here, but let’s look at the main points. When we pledged our self to our spouse, we not only pledged our life, but our body as well. This is a sacred trust that husbands and wives must guard with the utmost care. But practically, it also means the when our spouse is “in the mood” for sexual relations, we should respond willingly and reciprocate. If we are unavailable for sexual intercourse due to illness or some other reason, we should communicate with our spouse, affirm our love for them, and make a date in the near future to take them up on the offer.
It is a rare exception when the bible says it is OK to “deprive” our spouse of sexual relations. But God gives very specific instructions because He wants it to be rare, and He wants it to resolve quickly. God knows that whenever sin interrupts our sexual relationship, the enemy tries to exploit it, and tempt us towards the greater sin of infidelity. That’s why God says only “with consent” and only “for a [specific agreed upon] time” and with action steps: that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.
So let me ask you a question: How long can you fast? That’s about how long is healthy to abstain from sexual relations with your spouse. God’s ideal is speedy resolution of any problem that comes between husband and wife, and full and complete restoration of the relationship.
Before anyone panics, this is not carte blanche for selfish spouses to abuse. There are a few exceptions, but they are few and they are exceptions. We need to let God be the referee in those cases. Because our spouse is not the only one we have pledged our life to. When we pledge our life to Christ, we surrender lordship of our life to Him. The bible says: your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own. 1 Cor 6:19
All of life is better when we give God the final word.
To maintain a satisfying sexual relationship, husbands and wives will pay particular attention and make it their goal to “render affection” that is meaningful and fulfilling to their spouse. Your spouse’s idea of affection will often be different than yours. If both husband and wife make their first priority to serve each other, rather than serving themselves, they will do well. Make it your goal to always be an eager participant in sexual relations with your spouse. Learn to communicate with each other about your sexual relationship in order to keep it healthy. Don’t expect your spouse to automatically be an expert. Be patient with one another and help each other become a great lover (read The Chapter on Sex). As we learn and grow together, we will discover the joys and blessings of true oneness with our spouse.