Sex needs to be a priority in marriage. It should not be the very top priority, but regular sexual intimacy – along with communication, physical affection, prayer, church involvement, and parental unity – is significantly important for a husband and wife seeking a God-glorifying, fulfilling marriage. As I wrote in the post Why Sex is Wonderful, God designed sex with a host of benefits and blessings in marriage.
In general, most Americans are faced with more work, stress, and anxiety; less healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and – yes – less sex. Despite the perception we might get from social media and movies, as the Institute for Family Studies describes, married people typically have more sex than those who are not married. They report that about 40% of married couples have sex 1-3 times a week and about 35% 1-3 times a month (Todays’ Christian Woman reports similar numbers). And because marriage is in decline, this might be one reason why Americans are having less sex than in past decades. So, if you want to have more frequent and better sex – the dating apps and the hook-up circuit is not your answer… just get married!
Do Not Deprive One Another
God’s Word teaches that sexual intimacy needs to be a priority 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.” – 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, NIV
A husband and wife belong to each other. In marriage you entrust yourself to your spouse and give them the rights to your body. Sex is intended to be a selfless act where husbands and wives serve each other. This passage above teaches that sexual intimacy should be a regular part of married life and only be interrupted for a designated, mutually agreed upon time of devoted prayer. I believe this time of abstaining from sex is best understood like fasting from food – a devoted time of undistracted prayer. In Zeal without Burn-Out, Christopher Ash writes on this passage:
“The word ‘devote’ is a strong word meaning ‘to give time and energy to.’ But notice this: if a temporary pause in sexual intimacy allows a couple to give time and energy to prayer that they would not otherwise be able to give, then it must follow that the maintenance of a healthy sexual intimacy in normal married life also needs the investment of time and energy! This ought to be blindingly obvious, and yet many of us married couples neglect it. We slip into assuming that healthy sexual intimacy will just happen anyway. It won’t, or not in the longer term…It is our responsibility under God to do all we can, each to satisfy and love the other in this lovely way. Do not let this beautiful relationship shrivel up and die for lack of nurture.” (pp. 70-71)
Like a great marriage, a great sex life won’t just happen. Healthy sexual intimacy must be cultivated – it requires the investment of time and energy. Of course beyond a husband and wife choosing an intentional time to abstain from sex, there may be other factors that make abstaining from sex necessary – illness, travel, menstruation, recovery from birth – but as the text says, if a husband and wife stay apart too long, they open themselves up to temptation from Satan. As with those who are single, sexual purity in marriage always requires restraint and discipline from the Holy Spirit. When we prioritize the marriage bed and keep it pure, we honor God’s design for marriage (Heb. 13:4).
While sexual purity and intimacy is a discipline and a responsibility in marriage, it is also intended to be an expression of love, a great source of intimacy, satisfaction, unity, and joy. In the Christianity Today article Making Married Sex Mutual, Dorothy Greco writes specifically to wives (but the words apply to husbands too) about pursuing mutual satisfaction in sex that creates oneness through emotional intimacy and physical pleasure:
“Though this kind of transcendent sex certainly will not happen every time we are intimate, it is possible for married couples to experience mutually satisfying, mutually honoring sex more often than not. We certainly can’t create healthy marital sex by abandoning the orthodox Christian view of sexuality, withholding from our husbands, or denying our own needs and desires. In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul essentially charges husbands and wives to figure this out together. This inherently involves vulnerable, sometimes awkward conversations about frequency, preferences, and pace. These conversations require compassion, prayer, and a willingness to grow.”
So, a healthy sex life means walking in love, communicating, being intentional, and selflessly giving yourself to your spouse. Like delicious food, marriage and sex were “created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:3-4).
Frequency in Marriage
There is a scene in the movie Annie Hall, where a couple is talking separately to their therapist about how often they have sex. The woman says, “All the time, like three times a week.” The man says, “Hardly ever, like three times a week.” Can you identify with this disconnect?!
While not always the case, this stereotype is there for a reason: most men have a stronger sex drive than women. But whether or not that is true in your marriage, it is often the case that husbands and wives have different expectations. In The Good Fight, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say that the most common argument related to sex is – no surprise – frequency! Similar to the statistics I referenced earlier, they say about a third of married couples have sex twice a week or more, a third a few times a month, and a third a few times a year or not at all (p. 124).
So, how often is enough? In general, given all the valuable ways that sexual intimacy promotes a healthy life and marriage, I recommend that healthy spouses plan and prioritize having sex a couple times a week (or more!).
Of course there a host of important and sometimes hard factors that affect sexual frequency in marriage – health, age, life phase, hormones, toddlers who won’t go to bed! And so, as Focus on the Family points out, each couple must communicate their own unique needs and expectations and intentionally establish their own “normal” sexual routine. We serve each other in marriage. We put our spouse’s needs above our own, and the two become one. Husbands, this may mean having less sex than if you were only thinking of yourself. Wives, this may mean having more sex than if you were only thinking of yourself.
There are a host of obstacles and excuses for why a husband and wife don’t have regular sex. I have heard many of them in one-on-one meetings with men and counseling with couples. But how many of them are really good excuses? In love, let me be straight forward:
- I’m Too Tired: If you are too tired and have no energy for sex, you need to develop better habits for eating, sleeping, and exercising.
- I’m Too Busy: If you are too busy for sex, you need to cut back your work hours and reprioritize your schedule.
- I Can’t Get Away from the Kids: If you never have quiet, alone time away from your children to make love, you need to consider establishing better boundaries in the home, putting them to bed earlier, and/or having a friend or babysitter take the kids out of the house!
- I’m Not Comfortable with My Body: If you feel uncomfortable being naked with your spouse, you need to talk with a friend or counselor about your body image and consider talking with your doctor about your physical health.
- I Feel Guilty or Ashamed: If sex makes you feel guilty or ashamed, you need to seek God for healing from past sexual sins or abuse. This can be a long, difficult process. Be patient and trust God – his grace can bring healing and freedom.
- I Have No Desire for Intimacy: If you have no interest in being intimate with your spouse, then you don’t have a sex problem – you have a larger marriage problem to work on! Talk to a pastor, trusted advisor, or counselor and get the deeper marriage help you need.
But there is another challenge to regular sex in marriage: it takes both of you to do it. What do you do if one spouse is “in the mood” but the other is not? Is it loving and noble to have sex with your spouse if you are not feeling aroused? Or is it cold and ingenuine to have sex when you are not “turned on”? In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim & Kathy Keller address this issue:
“Many people believe that if you have sex with your spouse just to please him or her though you are not interested in sex yourself, it would be inauthentic or even oppressive. This is the thoroughly subjective understanding of love-as-passionate-feeling. And often this quickly leads into a vicious cycle. If you won’t make love unless you are in a romantic mood at the very same time as your spouse, then sex will not happen very often. This can dampen and quench your partner’s interest in sex, which means there will be even fewer opportunities. Therefore, if you never have sex unless there is great mutual passion, there will be fewer and fewer times of mutual passion. One of the reasons we believe in our culture that sex should always and only be the result of great passion is that so many people today have learned how to have sex outside of marriage, and this is a very different experience than having sex inside it. Outside of marriage, sex is accompanied by a desire to impress or entice someone…sex in a marriage, done to give joy rather than to impress, can change your mood on the spot. The best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy, not bask in the glow of a good performance.” (pp. 79-80)
So, if sex truly was designed by God to bring the wonderful blessings of intimacy and pleasure in marriage, then – like exercise, prayer, and a host of other important disciplines – we need to make it a priority! Don’t wait until sparks are flying and you are both in the right mood – then it might never happen! Commit to being consistent and trust God to bless your sexual union. Both spontaneity and planned sex can facilitate oneness and unity in marriage, so if it’s helpful, you can schedule times in your week for intimacy. I don’t know who started the idea that sex should happen before bed, but if you are too tired at the end of the day – as many people are – then try the morning or another time that works for you.
Husbands, take the lead in talking with your wife about the needs and frequency that you both desire and are comfortable with. Communication is key. With sensitivity and grace, be specific and open about your expectations – talk about positions, orgasms, turn-ons, and how to engage your whole body in sex. Try different things, have fun, and always act in love. Remember, God intended the physical act of sex to be a blessing, a joy, and a delight (Prov. 5:18-19). If you are facing specific or persistent challenges in your sex life, consult a godly book, counselor, mentor, or doctor.
An Expression of Love
While frequency is important, sex is not just about checking off the to-do list. There is a reason we call it “making love”! Your sexual union should be an expression of your marriage covenant – full of love, care, and affection. Foreplay doesn’t start ten minutes before intercourse – affection, love, communication, and intimacy should build all day long. God-glorifying sexual intimacy must be built on a solid friendship and a deep emotional and spiritual intimacy. The sexual climax should be the crescendo of a loving relationship! God designed sex to be the pinnacle of a husband and wife becoming one in marriage.
“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Genesis 2:23-25, ESV