Article written by Monica Cook
Original article featured in Monica’s website
When it comes to the bible and sex there seem to be a handful of verses people quote. There are the verses relating to man and woman ‘becoming one’, references to honouring the marriage bed and fleeing sexual immorality in its many forms, a key verse in Proverbs on finding sexual enjoyment in your spouse and of course the whole book of Song of Songs. One verse that is spoken about, but in hushed tones, is the verses in 1 Corinthians 7:4-5.
Paul says in the first and part last of these verses “The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife and likewise, the wife to her husband…do not deprive one another except by mutual consent for a limited time, so you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you through your lack of self-control.”
This verse was especially pertinent in a cultural context where vows of celibacy were being made (without consent from one’s spouse) as a demonstration of ascetic piety and as a way of resisting the sexual promiscuity that was rife in Corinth as indicated by 1 Corinthians 7:1. Paul indicates that depriving one another sexually (except for a time) may open up the possibility of sexual temptation.
However, the verse that fits between these two verses is where there is much misunderstanding “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.”
Does it mean that we need to say ‘yes’ to any sexual request made by our spouse because our body is theirs? Not at all. This verse is not setting up a space for coercion, exploitation, a power dynamic or the right to demand sex by either of the partners. In fact, the bible presents sex as a gift that we receive from God (Gen 1:18) and not an entitlement or hunger that must be filled.
Therefore, sex can be requested, but the answer needs to be respected. In other words, there is no biblical ground on which to force, threaten or guilt someone into having sex. Instead, the verse refers to mutual authority over each other’s body in a beautiful vision of protective other person-centred love where the focus is not what do ‘I’ need, but in our one-ness what does our relationship need.
It is not one person’s issue, but mutual pursuit of the other’s pleasure which would have been a radical concept in Paul’s day given the cultural status of women. It re-orients the reader to addressing this issue with the other person in mind – and cuts across our innately sinful and selfish tendencies to make sex all about us and our pleasure.
At the time, it would have cut across cultural norms that accepted sexual relations (for pleasure) outside of marriage and reinforced the exclusive nature of sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship – another radical concept at the time.
In our current context, the message is no different – abstinence (except for a time) can open up sexual temptation, having sex with whoever we want is not an option as our partner owns the exclusive rights to sexual intimacy and finally, to ask ‘can we have sex’ or answer ‘no’ are valid options. However, for the sake of the relationship, don’t let ‘no’ always be your first answer and if you’re on the receiving end of ‘no’ it is important to respond with grace and love. In both instances, your spouse’s body is also yours to care for in love. Sure, sex is not a need like food or water, but it’s certainly important to the vitality of a relationship for many couples and that’s something that benefits your ‘coupledom’ and therefore everyone in the family (children included).
Starting to adapt to this model might initially leave you feeling like you’re losing out when it comes to your own preferences, but in taking a step towards your partner’s preferences, your relationship wins.
Many sexologists call this working towards the goal of ‘good enough’ sex. After all, no one is judging (except maybe you). You get to decide what you make of it and it doesn’t always have to look like a 10-course degustation meal over several hours – it can look like a simple vegemite sandwich and that’s just fine so long as you’re both taking the opportunity to mutually care and connect to the other.
Of course, there are also other aspects that can be explored with a sex counsellor that means one or both partners can explore why sex may not be enjoyable or painful or difficult and influences of upbringing/past experiences.
The important thing is that you lean in to your partner and listen to what they have to say, allow their voice and preferences to be equally as valued as yours as you make decisions together like you would any other decision. An other-person centred orientation may bear some unexpectedly wonderful fruits within your relationship.
Want some practical advice on how to ‘get back in the SAK’? Tune in to Part 3…
Monica is a sex and fertility educator and speaker with many years of experience presenting to a range of audiences including couples, parents, students, doctors and church congregations.
Holding a Masters of Sexual and Reproductive Health (Psychosexual Therapy) and with qualifications in medical research [PhB Medical Science] and health education [Grad Dip Sci Comm], Monica is well placed to translate the most current information on these topics into practical concepts that enhance sexual wellness and help couples manage their fertility.
In 2018 Monica was offered a position as a Senior Research Fellow at Anglican Deaconess Ministries. It was here she had the unique opportunity to design a sex and fertility program built on theological principles for the Church.
Visit Monica’s website to learn more about her seminars, workshops, education and counselling services.