Talking about when (and if) it’s okay to abstain from sex within a marriage is a touchy subject, I know. But it’s one that I feel like really needs to be talked about a bit more. Because I’ve had ladies approach me about this topic, in particular after reading my Proverbs 31 Woman devotional. And I’d like to explore a bit what the Bible has to say about this topic so we can know for sure how best to handle these types of situations.
I mean, we all have those days where we are just plain exhausted. Or perhaps we are in pain due to a medical condition or after just having a new child. All of these are reasonable times when it seems like it might be okay to say no. But is it? Is it ever okay to deny your husband when he is asking for sex?
What does the Bible say about abstaining from sex in a marriage?
Let’s first look at what the Bible says about abstaining from sex within the confines of a marriage. And there’s really one particular verse that we can look to about this topic:
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.Â The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.Â Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” –Â 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
The one verse in particular that we are focusing on at the moment is the last verse in this block of scripture. Although I’m a big fan of reading from the KJV (for multiple reasons) some verses in particular use words that we don’t really use as frequently in the English language anymore. And this one one of those cases. So let’s look at 1 Corinthians 7:5 in the MEV translation:
“Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan does not tempt you for lack of self-control.” –Â 1 Corinthians 7:5 (MEV)
So essentially God is telling us (through Paul) that it’s vital that you don’t deprive each other of sex in a marriage. And he gives us a reason for that: BECAUSE if we do, we will be weaker and more easily tempted by Satan.
God created sex for a variety of reasons: to bring man and woman together again as one in body and spiritually, to enable us to replenish the earth, and to help us to resist the temptations we will face. Sex (and marriage in general) is a weapon that God has equipped us with. It’s a gift. And even though sometimes it might not seem like that because the enemy has warped and distorted sex, that’s what it was originally intended for.
So, when is it okay to abstain from sex in marriage?
You might be sitting there, scratching your head. Because even though the answer seems so simple, it really isn’t, is it? It’s not that simple because each one of us are facing different circumstances and situations that aren’t necessarily accounted for (at least not word for word) in the Bible. These are things that we need to bring to God in prayer and supplication.
But let’s have a look at four different situations in which it is OKAY to abstain from sex.
Reason #1 to Abstain: When you’re not married.
Okay, maybe this is obvious, but in our world today it needs to be stated. Because there are so many people out there living together as if they are married, when they’re not.
So if you find yourself with a spouse who is really not your spouse in God’s eyes, it is always okay to and in fact commanded to abstain from sex with them.
The Bible makes it clear that sexual immorality is a sin and that this is something we should flee from:
“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:Â That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;Â Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:” –Â 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Jesus even raises the bar when he tells us that committing adultery isn’t only something done in the flesh, but can also happen in the mind, by simply looking upon someone else with lust.
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28
So if you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is not your husband, don’t ever feel likeÂ you are obligated to sex with him. You are not. And in fact, God doesn’t want you to have sex with him or anyone else until you are married.
Reason #2 to Abstain: If it’s mutually agreed upon.
As we discussed above, the Bible makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that it is okay to abstain from sex if both husband and wife have mutually agreed to. This mutual agreement does require you to come together and communicate about what’s going on though, it can’t be assumed that the other person knows what’s happening.
There are a lot of reasons that you might find yourself in a situation that you need to (or are considering) abstaining from sex for a time. Things such as:
- After having a child
- For various other medical reasons
- If there is physical distance between you
All of these are legitamite reasons to abstain. But the key here is that you mutually agree. Pray about how to approach your spouse about the situation. And then talk to your spouse and let them know that you need to abstain for a time for ______ reason. Have a discussion and make it clear what is going on and come to a mutual agreement.
Providing that you take this step, this reason will cover about 95% of situations in marriage where sex needs to be put on pause.
Reason #3 to Abstain:Â When you are asked to do something that dishonors you.
Now, if we head on back to the verse that we are really highlighting in this post, we find some important tidbits that we can’t overlook. Let’s read the first part of the verse again:
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.” – 1 Corinthians 7:3
This is one of several verses we find in the Bible that instructs both husbands and wives to basically treat each other well (in a nutshell). We aren’t to do things to each other that would dishonor the other or hurt the other or disrespect the other. God wants us to show love towards each other in everything that we do.
Unfortunately, there might be those out there reading this who find themselves in a situation where their spouse is asking them to do things that would dishonor or hurt them.
God doesn’t desire you to be hurt. He doesn’t want you to be abused. He doesn’t want you to be shamed. You are part of His precious creation and if your husband is treating you in a way that he himself wouldn’t want to be treated, then that’s not okay.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” – Ephesians 5:25
I am not, by any means a professional counselor though. So please, if you find yourself in a situation that is abusive (physically or mentally) and you have already tried to approach your husband about it, seek outside help. Get to a safe place, pray whole-heartily for your husband, and seek help from a Christian marriage counselor.
Reason #4 to Abstain:Â When you are asked to do something that goes against God’s revealed will.
And the last situation I want to talk about is if your spouse asks you to do something that goes against God’s revealed will.
The Bible commands wives to obey and submit to their husbands.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:22
However, it’s important to realize that God is always above your husband in the hierarchy of your marriage. He needs to always come first, before your husband.
It’s also important to realize that all sex is not biblical sex just because you’re married. It doesn’t work that way. Being married isn’t a free ticket to be sexually immoral, just because you are doing it with your husband/wife.
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4
We should take care to keep the marriage bed honorable and pure in God’s eyes. And this means abstaining from bringing things into the marriage bed that are sexually immoral and would go against other commands. I don’t want to get into some big list here, but an obvious one here would be bringing a third party into the bedroom. This is, of course, just one example. But this is not what God created sex for and it is most certainly not something that God wants you to say yes to in order to submit to your husband.
Because ultimately you are to submit to God. And it would be a tragedy to try to submit to God by submitting to your husband and thereby making the commandments of God to none effect. That would be similar to what the Pharisees did with their added traditions:
“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” – Mark 7:13
So keep God first. And if your husband asks you to do something that blatantly goes against God’s will then take it to God in prayer and approach your husband with the problem. An again, I am not a professional marriage counselor, so if need be you can also approach a Christian marriage counselor about the situation too.
It’s okay to abstain from sex in marriage, but make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Abstaining from sex in marriage can happen from time to time and season to season. But it’s vital to bring these situations to God in prayer and to keep the lines of communication open with your husband so that everyone is on the same page. And remember, this depriving of one another should only be temporary (if possible):
âDo not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan does not tempt you for lack of self-control.â âÂ 1 Corinthians 7:5 (MEV)
I hope this helps to clarify what the Bible says about abstaining from sex within marriage and I hope and pray that you and your spouse will be blessed with open lines of communication and understanding towards one another’s needs.
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