As Christians, we’re accustomed to hearing that all sex outside of marriage is bad. So much so perhaps, that we’ve just assumed the opposite: all sex within marriage is good. The reality is, married Christians can experience sin in their sex lives too. Here are three ways we can use sex harmfully within marriage:
1. We can withhold sex to punish our spouse.
When someone has upset us, our natural defense mechanism is to build a wall that will keep them from doing it again. This is a way of protecting ourselves. We will often move from self-defense, to damage; seeking ways to make the other person feel the pain we have felt. One way we can try to hurt our spouse in marriage is by withholding ourselves from them. In a sense, this is a way of defending and damaging at the same time. We defend by not being vulnerable, and we hurt by withholding something precious. In situations like this, we need to exercise forgiveness. Forgiveness breaks down walls of defense, and sets aside the malicious intent to hurt. If you have been withholding yourself from your spouse to punish them for something they have done, consider talking to them about how they’ve offended you.
Be honest about your desire to withhold yourself, and hurt them, and pray for forgiveness. It may very well be that your spouse also needs to ask for forgiveness for whatever they did that initially hurt you. Withholding intimacy from each other is serious according to the apostle Paul, who wrote “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Cor. 7:5)
2. We can selfishly demand sex.
Does the fact that we shouldn’t withhold ourselves from our spouse mean they have the right to demand sex from us? The answer is no. In marriage, Christ calls husbands to love their wives like he loved the church (Eph 5:25). Jesus’ love for his bride was utterly selfless in that he gave himself up for her (v.26). This call to love unselfishly extends to our sexual relationship within marriage.
We should, as Paul exhorted, have the mind of Christ, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4) Selfish sex within marriage can be just as sinful as sex outside of the marriage covenant, since it is a way of laying our spouse down for us, instead of laying ourselves down for our spouse!
3. We can use sex to shame our spouse.
Because sex is such an intimate part of the marital bond, it’s extremely sensitive. When we’re frustrated about our sex lives, we can say hurtful things to our spouse related to this area of our marriage. This can further damage intimacy, and create a rift between couples. Solomon wrote, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov. 12:18) Sadly, we can sinfully use our words to make our spouse feel insecure about themselves.
If a couple had a sexual history before marriage, that history can serve as fodder for the fiery tongue (Js 3:6), and in sinful moments we can ignite the past to make our spouse feel bad. Here again we need to take a step back and consider whether we have been using our words as a weapon to strike at one of the most sensitive parts of our relationship. If you’ve used your words in this way, repent of being rash, and consider the kindness of your Savior, Jesus. He knew your darkest secrets, and yet he didn’t use them against you. Rather than shaming the broken, Jesus speaks words of grace to them (Lk. 7:36-50). Likewise, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29)
Sex within marriage can be good, but if we aren’t careful it can be just as selfish as sex outside of marriage. Married couples can weaponize sex leading to intimacy frustrations, but the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. As Christ’s love shapes every aspect of our marriages, even our intimacy can become an example of selfless service; where both are vulnerable, engaged, and in love. Not in the sentimental sense, but the sacrificial sense.