Is Withholding Sex in Marriage Wrong?

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What does it mean that spouses are not to deprive each other or withhold sex? Is withholding sex in marriage something that hurts our spouse?

Is the Bible saying spouses should force themselves on each other against the other person’s will? That’s what a lot of people on my YouTube channel seem to think it means.

What Bible passage talks about not withholding sex in marriage?

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.

I Cor. 7:3-5

When the Bible speaks of authority, it is in the context of voluntary love and a desire to bless the other person. It is about honoring God never about being selfish.

Having authority over each other’s bodies means we should be willing to be freely available to our spouse when possible.

Often, if this is an issue, it is the wife withholding sex. But there are husbands who do this, too.

God’s wisdom about sex in marriage

When God gives Christians or spouses instructions, it is always given to the person to do for himself/herself. It is never something we try to force our spouse to obey.

It’s the same with Eph. 5:22-33, God says things like:

  • Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church.
  • Wives respect your husbands.

It’s never:

  • Husbands force your wives to respect you.
  • Wives force your husbands to love you.

We are each responsible for ourselves – our motives, our attitudes, our words, and our actions. Our spouse has free will and is accountable to God for what they do.

What does it mean not to withhold sex from your spouse?

When the Bible talks about not withholding sex or not depriving one another, what does that mean?

My understanding is this.

As those who know and love Christ and yield our lives to His Lordships, we don’t:

  • Purposely reject our spouse when we could say, “yes.” (I just don’t want to… so too bad for you!)
  • Use sex as a weapon to manipulate our spouse. (I’ll only have sex with you if you do X for me.)
  • Decide for our spouse that we no longer ever want sex so they just have to deal with being celibate as long as we live. (I know I vowed you could “have and hold” me but I change my mind and you just have to deal with it, so sad for you.)

It really comes down to living in our new nature in Christ not in our old sinful nature. We seek to give freely, generously, and selflessly to our spouse.

How Are Christians to Treat All People? Including Our Spouses?

Let’s remember the context of the New Testament and how believers are to treat all people.

We are to love all people with agape love, including our spouses. We treat others with honor and dignity. We are not selfish or abusive.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Cor. 13:4-6

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Rom. 12:10

We are to be controlled and filled by the Holy Spirit, not acting in our flesh.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal. 5:22-23

We are to use our freedom to bless others, not for self-seeking motives.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Gal. 5:13-15

A loving husband or wife will have compassion, empathy, and understanding if the other spouse is sick, in pain, exhausted, or suffering in some way.

They will be patient and long-suffering when needed, putting the needs of their spouse first.

A loving husband or wife who is not sick or hurt will seek to be considerate, thoughtful, and generous by trying to selflessly be available to their spouse when possible.

This honors God, it honors the marriage covenant, and it honors our spouse.

Those who are close to the Lord will never want to use force on their spouse or abuse them. That goes against everything the Bible teaches us to do.

If there is adultery or abuse:

If a spouse is breaking the marriage covenant by having an affair/cheating, the offended spouse is not required to continue to be sexually available. The holy marriage covenant has been violated.

There would have to be repentance on the part of the cheating spouse and a rebuilding of trust over a period of time before the other spouse may be able to even consider coming back together.

The spouse who was cheated on doesn’t have to take back the offending spouse. But, they may decide to try to reconcile IF the other spouse truly repents and shows much fruit of repentance and rebuilds the broken trust over a significant period of time.

If you are being abused by your spouse (or you are abusing your spouse) or if your spouse is cheating on you, please reach out for experienced, trustworthy help.

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Have you learned some helpful wisdom about this topic or do you have questions about it? You’re welcome to share!

Related

All of my posts about sex are listed here.

3 comments

  1. It is my experience after 30+ years of marriage, that bringing up sex as a subject or activity (between a high sex drive spouse and a low one) tends to manipulate the entire discussion. My opinion is that some low sex drive spouses simply feel no effect from the withholding of sex and that a discussion on the matter only makes the low drive spouse feel a bit shamed. The low drive spouse also thinks that since they can go for weeks without sex, the other spouse can too. Most Christians don’t like shame and will somehow justify unbiblical behavior or blame the other spouse or both. In the end, the low sex drive spouse runs the relationship.

    1. Olaf you describe my situation. My husband is the High and I am the Low, for many reasons, including those of ill health. However, I would disagree with you that the Low runs the relationship IF the marriage is one where both partners are selflessly loving one another. That can happen I agree, if each partner is not open to honest and gentle talking about the issue.
      It’s all about finding a balance where both recognise the others need and find a mid way point where the high may receive less than desired and the low more than desired BUT I would hasten to add, that in a loving Godly couple, the “loving one another deeply” and “serving one another” principles, remove any ill feeling or resentment. Sex isn’t who we are, it’s what we do. It is a blessing and not a right. After 43 years of marriage to one man I have seen us grow more deeply into one another with much greater respect and less of the “i” in our relationship.
      Resembling the Trinity, where each is submitted to the other in deep and loving unity, sex is meant for far more than physical fulfilment. When studying the reasons for sex we need to look to Godly, not worldly, resources as, in my opinion, the world has completely missed the point!

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