What should you do if you are in a sexless marriage? You may be one of the growing number of both men and women who report having sex far less frequently than you wish. Does God have anything to say about marriages where the frequency of sex is significantly less than desired?
The answer is yes--but given that this is an issue that carries with it considerable baggage, a few words of clarification are in order first. First of all, the bible doesn’t prescribe the optimal frequency for sex. Some couples are satisfied making love twice a month, while others don’t feel sexually fulfilled unless they’ve had sex four or five times a week. When we are talking about a “sexless marriage," we are talking about a marriage where one spouse consistently feels as though they are not having sex as often as they wish.
It’s also important to note that seasons of life change, and with those changes come times where sexual intimacy will ebb and flow. Having a new baby at home, caring for an elderly parent, high-stress episodes in a job, or a prolonged illness are just a few reasons that sex may be put on the back burner for a time. If your spouse is going through one of these times, one of the most loving things you can do is set aside your desire for sex in order to support him or her during that season.
However, if the lack of sex in your marriage is an ongoing issue that is causing tension between you and your spouse, it’s time for an honest and non-threatening conversation. Your aim is to listen well, rather than pointing the finger. You may also need to pay attention to non-verbal cues that may indicate something else going on. Low sex-drive can be traced to a variety of sources, including medical problems, fatigue, stress, unresolved conflict, a history of abuse, or use of pornography. If these are present in the marriage, they may be the factors, and addressing them (with a doctor, counselor, or pastor if necessary) may open the door for intimacy again.
But what if you’ve tried this, and still, sex is a rare occurrence? You initiate frequently, but your husband turns you down every time, leaving you feeling unattractive and unloved. Or perhaps your wife views sex negatively, treating sex as a chore, so that you feel rejected and disconnected from her. If you are in this situation, you likely know the feelings of loneliness, disconnect, resentment, and low self-esteem that can permeate a sexless marriage.
It is here that the Apostle Paul’s words are worth listening to:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 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.
Of course, these verses must never be used to demand or coerce sex from your spouse. That said, Paul is cautioning us against treating marital intimacy as an optional add-on instead of an integral part of the one-fleshness that exists between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Why?
The covenant of marriage creates a relationship binding two people together at the deepest and most personal level. While I remain an individual person, I also willingly give myself to my spouse, granting her authority over my body--and vice versa. When the two become one, I may no longer think only of my wants and needs; I must think also honor what my spouse desires. Clearly Paul isn’t sanctioning abuse but he is stating that when it comes to sex, we are obligated to meet the needs of our spouse.
Many have been raised to view sex as wrong, or dirty, or only for procreation. If you have been taught a negative view of sex, you will treat it as such in marriage – perhaps thinking you are God-honoring. However the biblical view of sexuality is positive – in fact there is a whole book of the bible (the Song of Solomon) devoted to exulting in the goodness of sex. Sex between a husband and wife is meant as an outlet for creativity and playfulness, as well as a means of cultivating intimacy. To treat sex with disdain is to dishonor one of the gifts God has given to us for our enjoyment.
So what steps can you take if your marriage consistently lacks sexual intimacy?
Chances are, you are frustrated, and perhaps even resentful towards your spouse. You may even badger your spouse about the lack of intimacy. He or she may be at the point where they are tired of hearing you voice your frustrations, so that every time the issue comes up, it explodes into a massive fight. It may be time for you to change tactics. Paul instructs us to “devote ourselves to prayer” when our marriage bed lacks the intimacy we desire. Even though Paul is describing what to do when the lack of sex is voluntary, his words also make sense when the lack of sex is involuntary. Pray for patience and tenderness towards your spouse. Ask God to help you forgive any lingering bitterness in your heart. Ask God to reveal ways in which you may be contributing to the problem. Have you genuinely listened to the needs of your spouse--and are you making every effort to meet those needs? And finally, if this season persists, and there appears to be no end in sight, ask God to help you love your spouse anyways, and do so as an act of service to Christ.
Chances are, this isn’t the place you want to be stuck either. You may wish for a greater sexual desire or enjoyment. You may be carrying a load of guilt or shame that interferes with your ability to be vulnerable. Or, you may be angry that your spouse ignores your desire for intimacy in other ways but still demands sex. And, you may be tired and frustrated because your spouse continues to pressure you or guilt you into sex.
Paul reminds us of the importance of “coming together again.” Have you explored the underlying issues behind your lack of willingness to pursue a healthy sex life? Whether you view sex as a means of control, as something dirty, or as something optional, you owe it to yourself and to your spouse to take the necessary steps so that you can enjoy the benefits of God’s gift of sex. You might also ask yourself if you have clearly and completely communicated your needs to your spouse. If you avoid sex because your spouse lacks good hygiene, or because they don’t know how to make it enjoyable, have you had an honest conversation with your spouse? Finally, you might put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Do you recognize their feelings of rejection? Do you see how their need for sex is really a need to feel connected to you?
A marriage with mismatched sexual desire presents challenges--but they are not impossible to overcome. God’s word encourages us to see the important role that sex plays in our marriage. The effort necessary to work towards a sexually fulfilling marriage may be challenging--but it is worth it!
Rev. Deb Koster
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra