I have noticed a very disturbing trend among Christians when it comes to the topic of sex in marriage. Christian literature has inundated women with the idea that it is their primary duty to selflessly submit to their husband’s sexual demands without any reservations. I’ve spoken with dear ladies who have a very confusing and heartbreaking sex life with their husbands due to this poor, unbiblical instruction. As a result, a wife’s sexual life is motivated by paralyzing fear that if she refuses in any way, God will be displeased and her husband will commit adultery. The solution currently being presented?
Have more, better sex. Always improve your performance.
How did this belief become so prevalent among Christian women? Does the Bible really teach that a wife must do everything her husband requests sexually, and with joy?
I believe there are two major problems that have led us so far from what God intended sex to be in marriage. 1) One major problem in the church today is that of “eisegesis”- interpreting the text by reading your own ideas into it. We are tempted to read Scripture through the lens of the 2020’s and immediately apply it to modern problems, rather than studying the history and context of the author and it’s recipients. Studying the Bible this way will certainly always lead to poor theology and a lack of wisdom. We need to ask ourselves, “what did the author intend for his readers to understand?” 2) Another problem is that married couples are led to the same 3-4 passages anytime they are having sexual problems. (Usually, sexual problems in marriage are an indication of other, more serious issues in the marriage, but this is completely disregarded.) When we do not interpret Scripture with other Scripture, we end up building an entire false theology by isolating one passage. Let’s look at one of these very popular passages.
“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 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 doesn’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:1-7
I’ve got to be honest. I wrestled with this passage a lot. Hearing what some wives were going through and placing it next to this passage caused me to cringe. I was even angry at God, refusing to read it at one point. (I’m not excusing that.) However, I know that if I have a distaste for the Word of God that the issue is not with God or His Word; it is with me. Knowing that this situation will come up time and again in counseling, I begged God to grant me wisdom from the totality of His Word. I questioned the Lord. “God, are you really saying that a wife’s job is to do whatever, whenever in order to please her husband? Are you saying that she should never say “no” since her husband has authority over her body?”
As I said earlier, we must always read things in context and then interpret Scripture with Scripture. In this passage, Paul was clearly responding to questions that the Corinthian church had asked about sex. Because of their wicked culture, these new Christians didn’t know what God desired for the marriage relationship. In the Roman culture at the time, marriages were very confusing because there were no actual marital laws (MacArthur). Slaves would live in a tent together and be considered married, but then often be sold. If you lived with someone for a year, then you were considered married. Fathers were selling their daughters into marriage. People practiced polygamy, homosexuality, and even had concubines. On top of this, divorce was rampant. Men and women were being redeemed by God out of this lifestyle but had no idea how to honor Him in the area of sex and marriage. They ended up swinging the pendulum to the other side, wondering if God would prefer them to be celibate to avoid any sexual sin and achieve a higher form of spirituality (MacArthur). Paul is responding to their questions by affirming that sex is good and honorable when it is between one husband and one wife. He explains what that should look like. God’s perfect design is for sex to be regular and mutually pleasurable between one man and one woman who have made a covenant before God in marriage.
Ok, but what about the issue of authority? Is the Bible saying here that a wife must obey everything her husband asks her to do? Let me begin by pointing out how your modern worldview may have poorly influenced your understanding of this text. Porn and sin have completely distorted and destroyed God’s intention for sex. Even if you haven’t gone looking for porn intentionally, no doubt you have crossed it’s path to some degree in our sex-saturated culture. Our culture teaches us that dominance equals love, that one who powers over another is somehow sexy. Sex has become violent. With that experience and sinful worldview of “authority”, there’s no doubt that this text might raise concerns and many marital problems in the church today.
When Paul tells the Corinthians that wives do not have authority over their own body, he is NOT saying that a husband has a God-given right to demand, power over, or seek first his own fulfillment. A husband has authority over his wife’s body in order to please her, not primarily to please himself. Simultaneously, a wife has authority over her husband’s body in order to please him (MacArthur). It is not self-seeking. Am I crossing the line into asceticism, saying that it’s wrong for a husband to receive pleasure from his wife? Obviously not. I think the Bible is pretty clear that sex, as God intended, is good and satisfying. When warning young men about adultery, the Bible says, “let her (your wife’s) breasts satisfy you always, be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:19). Song of Solomon paints the picture of a rather exhilarating sexual experience between the bride and groom. What I am saying is that the joy will come in giving, not in seeking to primarily satisfy yourself. Based on Scripture as a whole, that was never God’s intention. Scripture never tells us to use other people to serve ourselves, especially in marriage. It consistently tells us to look to the interests of others first. Satisfaction comes in dying to ourselves. Why would it be any different when it comes to sex in marriage? Pleasure comes when we love others first.
Well, if a wife is to die to herself, shouldn’t she seek to please her husband even if she doesn’t want to or it’s uncomfortable? There needs to be much wisdom and discretion here. Obviously, there are women in healthy marriages who simply just don’t want to have sex for no reason other than they are selfish. More often than not though, there are other marital problems or many sexual demands as I mentioned before. Christ tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). If you are in a healthy marriage and simply struggling to deny selfishness, then yes, you should repent and love your husband with regular sexual relations as he should do for you. If your husband is making unreasonable demands and focused only on himself, then you are to deny yourself by lovingly confronting your spouse (Galatians 6:1). Biblical love looks first to the spiritual welfare of others. Allowing your husband to continue in habitual sin and helping him to do so by complying to harm, is hateful.
As I mentioned earlier, we must interpret Scripture with Scripture. What else does the Bible say about the marriage relationship or even our everyday relationships? In Philippians, we are told to do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but to esteem others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). In Ephesians, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Christ is the perfect picture of servant leadership. The famous “love chapter” tells us that love is not rude. It does not demand it’s own way (1 Corinthians 13:5). Jesus tells us that “he who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). God-glorifying sex is selfless, not demanding.
I know many of you reading this are not experiencing sex the way God intended, so you are wondering what all of this means for you. Maybe your husband is viewing porn. Maybe he is asking you or telling you to do things that are uncomfortable or even painful. Maybe he is demanding sex multiple times a day. Does God require that you submit to these painful acts and endure? No.
First of all, if what your husband is asking you to do is clearly sin, then you must not submit. Some husbands ask their wives to watch porn or live in an open marriage. Just as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Maybe you don’t know if his requests are sinful but you do know that it makes you very uncomfortable. Submission cannot be demanded; it is something that the wife lovingly gives. As I mentioned earlier, if your husband is demanding, or manipulating you into these things, you can and should honor God by respectfully confronting your husband. Honor God by reminding your husband, especially if he is a Christian, that he is to live with you in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). Acknowledge that you desire to please him, but this particular sexual act is harmful or degrading to you. If the problem is severe and you are fearful to bring these concerns to your husband, I encourage you to reach out to a biblical counselor who is knowledgeable in abuse. It may even be necessary to get the church (Matthew 18) and/or the governing authorities (Romans 13) involved for the sake of your husband’s soul and your protection. Sexual demands are not God’s design for marriage.
*I realize this article barely touches the topic of sexual problems in marriage. This was not intended to be a comprehensive list of potential sexual issues, rather a correct exposition of what it means to have authority over your spouse’s body.
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2019.
MacArthur, John. “To Marry or Not to Marry.” Grace to You, 30 Nov. 1975, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1828/to-marry-or-not-to-marry.