Sex is complicated. When experienced as God intended it’s beautiful, bonding, nourishing. But when sex is marred and distorted by the enemy it becomes deeply destructive. Sex cuts very close to the core of who we are as human beings. It’s much more than biology; it impacts and is impacted by everything about you and your relationship. But what really is a healthy sexual relationship for a Christian?
I’m going to begin with the premise that God created sex to be enjoyed and celebrated between one man and one woman within the committed covenant of marriage. The foundation for that premise is for another day. But within that framework many Christians still struggle.
Who “wins” when one spouse wants sex and the other doesn’t? Is anything permissible as long as it’s between husband and wife? What about when one or both partners carry old sexual baggage? Those are just a few of the questions that deserve to be wrestled with.
God has a lot to say about sex and marriage. If the gospel doesn’t have an answer for deep things such as sex, then it’s not much good for anything else. Sex is God’s idea (really?!), so we can know it’s good. And just like anything else that God created as good, the enemy loves to distort it to “steal, kill, and destroy.”
Cultural messages, religious messages, your own sexual story, your spouse’s sexual story, hormones (for men and women) – all those things matter. Jesus came to bring life! So what does that life look like when it comes to sex in marriage?
The Big Biblical Picture
This is not an in-depth Bible study; that’s also for another day. But based on Scriptures such as the entire book Song of Solomon and many others, sex is not an entitlement (more often felt by the husband) or a duty (more often foisted on the wife). God did not create sex as a way for a spouse (usually the husband) to exploit and demean the other (usually the wife), or for a spouse (often the wife) to use as a weapon or punishment. Such a view of sex goes completely against everything in the gospel.
In brief, these questions broadly outline the parameters of healthy sex for a Christian marriage.
- Does the Bible prohibit it? If a sex act is specifically prohibited, then of course Christians cannot participate. This would include “fornication” (sex between unmarried persons), sex between same-sex partners, etc.
- Are there any third parties involved? Three’s a crowd. Sex is for husband and wife only. (And remember, sometimes a third party can be “in the room” even if not physically present. This is a big reason why porn is so hugely destructive.)
- Does the sexual behavior demean or exploit either partner? For followers of Jesus, nothing can be allowed, not even sex, that does not build up the other. It must be good for both of you.
Within those parameters there is great latitude for pleasure and adventure.
That’s a little of what sex is not supposed to be. But what is the goodness God designed? What is a healthy sexual relationship in marriage supposed to be like for Christians?
A Healthy Sexual Relationship IS:
- Unselfish. Healthy sexuality is more about giving than it is about getting. Husband and wife focus most on satisfying each other’s needs rather than on fulfilling their own desires. If both partners are focused on each other, most challenges can be overcome. How, when, where, how often, what to do – most of those questions are answered by moving in the direction of your spouse (as long as the above Biblical principles are followed).
- Honest. Husband and wife may see the “how, when, where, how often” kinds of questions differently, but they both honestly yet kindly express their desires, fears, frustrations, and more. While both generally move toward meeting each other’s needs, neither feels forced to engage in sex that would make them feel resentful toward the other. Your No is respected without you being made to “pay” for it.
- Seasonal. Not in the sense of sometimes on/sometimes off, but in the sense that different seasons of life and of marriage carry different implications for intimacy. Not every sexual encounter will lead to the same level of excitement or satisfaction. Many important aspects of sex will vary during different seasons of marriage.
- A Big Deal. Instead of being “just sex,” intimacy between husband and wife really is a big deal. Both partners treat the sexual relationship as a valuable and precious gift worth guarding, worth working on, worth improving, worth making a priority, worth investing in, worth praying about. It’s not neglected as an after-thought.
- Regularly irregular. Sex may vary from very often to occasional, from exciting to comfortable, from satisfying to frustrating, based on physical health, life stresses, or other factors. In a healthy relationship husband and wife are committed to coming together physically, and reconnect in this way frequently and freely, but not legalistically.
- Exclusive. Husband and wife look to only each other for the fulfillment of their sexual desires and needs. Sexual intimacy with any other person is of course outside the bounds of healthy sexuality, but so is pornography, emotional affairs, and the like.
- Safe and Healing. Not in the sense of boring, but in the sense of being vulnerable without being hurt. Sex or withholding of sex is not used to punish, control, or wound. To be seen and known that completely, and still be loved and accepted, is a wonderfully healing experience – from specific wounds in the past and from our common human weaknesses.
- Imperfectly perfect. Every marriage is the union of two imperfect people, and so is their sexual relationship. As with every other aspect of marriage, you will almost certainly hurt your spouse and be hurt by them. A healthy sexual relationship provides for healthy forgiveness and continual improvement. The wedding night is the beginning, not the end. You keep working on your sexual connection throughout your marriage.
- More than physical. The act of intercourse is simply the physical aspect of what is a well-rounded intimacy. In a sense, it’s never “just sex!” That complete intimacy includes friendship, forgiveness, emotional bonding, mutual understanding, heart-felt communication, and spiritual connection. Complete marital sexuality, at its best, includes all the above.
How’s YOUR Sex Life?
There are plenty of Christian marriages where sex does not meet those ideals, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
If you’re experiencing a great sexual relationship that is mutual and satisfying, celebrate! God is pleased.
If you’re married and not experiencing a great sexual relationship, don’t give up. Sometimes working on the sex is the most important; other times working on other aspects of your marriage will be necessary first. You may need to seek deep healing for your own woundedness. And if your spouse is pushing for sex that is not within the Biblical parameters, you are right to say No.
If you’re not married right now, don’t give up either. Fear, guilt, desperation, or other negative messages may make you want to settle for something less. I encourage you to hold out for the best.
There are no “10 steps to a guaranteed awesome sexual relationship.” A healthy sexual relationship in a Christian marriage takes effort, and it’s worth working for.
Your Turn: What do you think are the characteristics of a healthy sexual relationship for a Christian marriage? Are there any I haven’t listed? Leave a comment below.
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Is Your Sexual “Stuff” Affecting Your Marriage?
Your relationship with your spouse is affected by YOUR attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and history when it comes to sex. That’s why we’ve created the Sexpectations online course – to help you deal with your sexual story, find the transformation Jesus offers, and write the next chapter with hope. You can do this regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do.
Join me in the Sexpectations online course, and take the next step in finding the wholeness Jesus offers.