[God's Design for Building Your Marriage 5] God's Design for Sexual Intimacy
Note from the Author:
I have written an addendum to lesson 5 of the marriage study in response to a lot of comments and questions via emails from this site. Click to read the Addendum.
Wisdom from the Word
Marriage must be honored among all and the bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers .
Hebrews 13:4 (NET)
Understanding God’s Design
We have seen in previous lessons that marriage is God’s design and institution. Let’s reread the verses that reveal God’s original plan for the husband and wife.
Read Gen. 2:18-25
1. By way of review, what principles for marriage did we pull out of Gen. 2:24? There were three (2 verbs and a phrase) and we already discussed the first two in Lesson 1.
The third principle is that of “one flesh”. This is one aspect of oneness. We are one in God’s sight when we marry, never to be separated. (Remember Matt. 19:3-12?) However, we are also to build oneness into our marriages. The “one flesh” relationship is obviously physical, involving the sexual relationship, but it is more than that. It includes intimacy between husband and wife in every way—physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
We, as women, long for intimacy with our husbands. Some men are not good about spiritual or emotional intimacy but seem to desire only physical intimacy. Perhaps, you need to work on communicating your need for other kinds of intimacy to your spouse. Just remember that we do live in a fallen world and you may never have the kind of intimacy with your husband that you desire. Instead of letting that create dissatisfaction with your mate, let it draw you to Christ, who wants to give you the type of intimacy you desire.
2. Copy Hebrews 13:4 below. This is our Word of Wisdom for the week.
3. Knowing that God invented it and knowing what He has said about it in Heb. 13:4, what kind of attitude should you have toward sex?
Memorize the Word of Wisdom for this week and believe it!
Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-9.
4. What is one purpose for marriage according to vv.2, 9?
5. What commands are given to the husband and the wife (v.3, 5)?
6. There is only one exception given to the command. What is it (v.5)?
Notice that when we marry we are no longer to retain our rights over our own bodies but are to give that authority to our spouses (v.4). Remember that two are one now; your husband is part of you, not separate. When he needs you physically, you are to meet his needs. You have died and are to live for Christ who expects you to take care of one another’s needs. There are many marriages that could have been saved if the wife had understood that her body belonged to her husband, not for abuse but for fulfilling his sexual needs.
Don Meredith explains that God’s design for sex builds unselfishness:11
God steps boldly to the point, finishing any faint-hearted commitment to the sexual relationship once and for all. My body is not mine, but my mate’s. I am here to please. Hereafter, to demand rights over my body is to disagree with God’s instruction. God makes sex a sacrificial act that is redemptive, in that it gets my eyes off my needs and onto the needs of my mate.
This means that there is mutual submission in bed. What is mutually satisfying is acceptable to God as long as it involves a husband and wife alone.
Because the sexual act is a picture and a part of the oneness in marriage, it is highly serious to break that bond. A component of the marriage vows made before God is a pledge to remain faithful to this one person until you die. Let’s consider some verses about adultery.
Read Exodus 20:14, 17.
7. How do these two commands relate to one another?
Read Leviticus 20:10
8. What was the punishment for adultery under the Old Testament Law? Why would God require such a serious punishment in the light of the principles we have considered about covenant and oneness?
We saw in Ephesians 5:25-33 that marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and His church. Oneness in covenant comes with commitment. Oneness with Christ comes with our entry into covenant with Him, and oneness sexually should only come with commitment in a marriage. When sex takes place before marriage, it breaks the picture of the covenant and commitment we have with Christ. Adultery does the same thing. I have often heard it said that sins are all the same before God. While it is true that every sin, big or small, creates a barrier with God and the penalty of death, it is not true in the practical realm. Under the Law sins had different punishments, depending upon their seriousness. Often in the New Testament there are lists of serious sins and adultery is prominent on these lists (See 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21). The consequences of adultery and fornication are enormous and should never be taken lightly, as our culture suggests. You probably have relatives and/or friends who have broken their marriage covenant and borne a terrible cost.
Many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were convinced that they were holy and not sinners. Jesus dealt with them harshly. God is merciful and gracious to us as sinners but He expects us to recognize our sins and take them seriously. The arrogant, self-righteous person does not receive that mercy.
Read Matthew 5:27-32.
9. How does Jesus expand the definition of adultery?
Our thought lives are where we so often sin. Perhaps you have never had a sexual relationship outside of marriage in the physical sense, but you may have enjoyed the thoughts. In God’s eyes you are guilty. Sin begins in our thoughts and in our hearts. We must watch our thought lives so that we do not act upon what we think. As sinful thoughts build up, we may act on them; however, the thoughts themselves are enough to make us guilty.
Read Matthew 15:1-2, 10-11, 15-20.
10. What kinds of things were the Pharisees defining as unclean?
11. What defiles the person, or makes her unclean, according to Christ?
This concept is so important, especially in our day because we look around at others and think we are okay when we compare our outward behavior to theirs. The question is how are we on the inside? Do you spend time thinking of other men, even dreaming of a perfect man, not necessarily a real person? Do you read romance novels that turn your thoughts to imagining a perfect relationship with someone other than your husband? Do you fantasize about what it would be like to have another husband? Perhaps you dream of someone you know at work or at church or someone you watch on television or the movies.
12. According to the principles Jesus laid down in Matt.5 and 15 and the commandments you saw, what is the problem with these thoughts?
13. Here are some Biblical principles to help deal with temptation in this area. Write down the principles you see and exactly what you are to do according to these verses:
a. 2 Tim. 2:22
b. 1 Thess. 4:1-8
c. Phil. 4:8
d. Prov. 4:23
14. What things are you putting in your own mind that should be eliminated? Name at least one way to apply the principles of Phil. 4:8 in your own life today.
Building Your Marriage with God’s Design
Men desire intimacy just as we women do, so if they cannot receive it from their wives, they will often search for it elsewhere. H. Norman Wright gives us some insight concerning this.12
For women, sex is only one means of intimacy out of many and not always the best one. For many men, sex is the only expression of intimacy.
Men tend to compress the meaning of intimacy into the sex act and when they don’t have that outlet, they can become frustrated and upset. Why? Because they’re cut off from the only source of closeness they know. Men are interested in closeness and intimacy but they have different ways of defining and expressing it.
H. Norman Wright
15. Married women: Have you misread your husband’s need for sexual intimacy as simply a need for physical fulfillment? I certainly have made that mistake. Think of a time when you may have hurt your spouse by refusing him when he needed that intimacy with you or when he was trying to support you by showing you intimacy. Write down your thoughts to God.
We women need to better understand that men don’t think like we do; they don’t act like we do. Instead of wanting them to be like us, we need to accept the differences. In “My Fair Lady” the men sing a song asking why women can’t be more like men. Wouldn’t that be boring? God made men and women distinctive so that we can blend our strengths and help one another’s weaknesses. We need each other. What one lacks in sensitivity, the other overcomes. What one lacks in logical thinking, the other helps reveal. Whatever your situation, your husband is designed to balance you out. Be careful, however, about making the mistake of putting people in gender boxes. Although men in general may be less sensitive than women, this is not true of all men. That quality should not be considered feminine. Get to know your husband with all of his individual strengths and weaknesses. You will probably find that you balance him out in many areas. In the past a marriage partner often spoke of a spouse as his/her better half. Try to think of your husband as your other half. Treat him as part of yourself. What he needs is important to you because he is part of you.
Often it is the very differences in our personalities, etc. that we treasure until we marry. Suddenly those are the things that drive us crazy and lead to argument and discontent. See your husband as God’s perfect partner who will balance you out. If he needs sex for intimacy, accept that and respond accordingly.
Realizing that I am not an expert in the area of sex, I have found some excellent advice that I want to pass on to you. If you desire to build intimacy in your marriage, you need to consider your husband’s feelings and needs in the area of sex, as well as every other area. As you read these quotes, consider how you might apply these insights.
Jill Renich discusses some distinctions between men and women that might enable you to better understand your husband.13 Again, these are generalities that are not always true.
One of the differences between husbands and wives is illustrated by their attitudes toward sex when they are physically tired. Sex is usually the last thing a wife wants when she’s tired, but it provides her husband with the relaxation he needs for restoring sleep. Some women prefer sex at night while some men prefer to begin the day with this gratifying experience. Another difference is that after a quarrel a woman looks for words of reconciliation, but a man often looks for sex to heal the breach and restore the oneness with his wife. Someone stated the difference this way: “A man gives love for sex; a woman gives sex for love.”
This validates the idea that men seek intimacy through sex. That is why they want to have sex when there has been an argument. This may be why your husband attempts to console you by suggesting sex when you are hurting for some reason. Renich gives us more insight into the necessity and importance of this aspect of marriage to a man.14
A wife may demonstrate her love in innumerable other ways but it is often negated by her rejection, or lack of enjoyment of sex. To a man, sex is the most meaningful demonstration of love and self-worth. A husband’s gift of sexual pleasure is full of meaning. It’s a part of his own deepest person. How his wife receives him has a much more profound effect on him than most women realize. To receive him with joy and to share sexual pleasure builds into him a sense of being worthy, desirable and acceptable. To reject him, to tolerate him and to put him off as unimportant tears at the very center of his self-esteem.
16. Are you willing to give yourself to your husband sexually without considering your own desires or needs? Are you prepared to give him the authority over your body? If you are not, you are in sin, disobeying God’s direct command and His principle of oneness, and you are putting your marriage at risk. Write down your thoughts about this principle.
If you have been disobedient in this area, take the time to confess this to God and to your husband and ask forgiveness. This is not to be taken lightly because this is God’s design for your marriage. He is the Designer and He knows what will work. Ask God for the grace to die to self in this area and to put the needs of your husband before your own. I believe that marriage and children are ways that God deals with our sinful selfishness, making us more like Jesus, whose unselfishness resulted in our salvation. If we follow God’s marriage principles, we become more Christlike.
Parenting with God’s Design
How can you pass on the importance of sexual fidelity to your children, especially in the present culture where everything screams sex? I know that I do not have all the answers to this, but it is a critical issue.
17. Consider the verses in #13. How do these apply to your training of your children?
Remember that you are responsible for what you allow your children to see and hear. This means that you will have to swim upstream, sometimes even against what other Christian parents allow. You and your husband must before God set the standards for your children. God will hold you responsible.
For several years we received a monthly newsletter that gave a parental, Christian perspective on movies. We found that we could not trust the PG-13 or even PG ratings to help screen the movies our children could see. We wanted to know what values would be taught through the lessons of the story as well as what language, etc. was included. The kids complained when they were not allowed to see something that their friends could watch, but it was our parental responsibility to control what thoughts and images were planted in the minds of our children. There were some movies that we allowed them to see because they gave us opportunities to teach discernment, to think carefully about the messages conveyed. To do this, you must see what they see!
18. Can you think of anything now that you need to control in your child’s life that will pave the way for sexual purity?
Please note that while your children need to see your affection for one another, it should never be sexual in nature. That is for the privacy of your bedroom. Inappropriate sexual expressions can confuse children and send the wrong messages.
Wisdom from a Mentor (Mary Ann)
Early into our marriage I became aware of my husband’s and my differing sexual needs. (It didn’t take too long to realize this!) I love our sexual relationship and was very happy, but soon realized that it was much more important to him than anything else – including sleep!
This occasionally was a source of unhappiness, especially when our children were very young and I was always exhausted. Around that time I started attending a Bible study taught by a very wise woman, and the subject was marriage. Through this study I realized several things…
One, men and women are wired very differently. When women are tired, they want to sleep or “veg out”. When men are tired, exhausted, whatever, they want sex. Sex is their way of unwinding, no matter how tired they are, physically or mentally!
Second, that rejection is taken very personally. Men’s sexuality is part of their identity and extremely important to their masculinity. To be rejected sexually is taken personally!
Third, I was taught that my body was not my own, nor was his body his own – we belong to each other (I Cor).
This Bible study teacher encouraged all of us as young wives to adopt a very important principle: do not refuse sex with your husband unless you really have to, for physical reasons, or other good reasons. If at all possible, say yes! This will result in a much happier man. Personally I will say that I have found if I follow this principle, my husband generally is much more fun and a lot less grouchy!!
Summing It Up
19. Write a prayer confessing, if necessary, and committing before God your body and your mind to marriage partner alone. Ask God for the grace to put away anything that does not serve faithfulness to your husband in your thought life. (You may need to make yourself accountable to a friend as well.)
Because of some great feedback which I have received from a number of bible.org readers, I wanted to add a few comments to this lesson on sexual intimacy.
First, this entire study was written for women, not men. That means that I did not cover a husband’s responsibilities under God. Too often we as wives focus only on what our husbands are failing to do rather than our own need for change. For that reason we aren’t discussing what God expects of husbands. He expects us to be good wives to them whether or not they fulfill their responsibilities. Our actions and attitudes as wives do not depend on our husbands’ obedience. This is true of the sexual aspect of marriage as well.
I know that many of you wives desire more sexual intimacy than your husbands do. You are not strange or unusual in that need. A large percentage of women have a stronger sexual drive than their husbands. Much of what is written and quoted in this lesson assumes that the husband desires sexual intimacy more frequently than his wife because that is the majority of cases. By using those quotes, I do not in any way mean to suggest that those of you whose husbands do not have a strong sex drive have done anything wrong or are responsible for it in any way. It may be that your husband is simply made that way; don’t imagine that he doesn’t love you!
There are cases when the man is involved in pornography, and it has diluted his drive for actual physical intimacy. Never assume that your husband is free of such involvement. The temptation is everywhere in our American culture. But having said that, remember that God has made some men without a strong sex drive, and it is not a reflection on you as his wife or a sign that something is wrong. If you fall into this category, asking him for more sexual intimacy is perfectly legitimate. 1 Cor. 7:3 applies both ways.
If you are struggling sexually, please ask for help. If you and your husband are not freely discussing it, go to him and bring it up. If you are unable to talk honestly, get help from a pastor or counselor. Seek wise counsel as to how to best approach him and what to say.
As far as pornography goes, if you are involved in it, you must realize that it is adultery according to Jesus’ words in Mt. 5:27-28. You must recognize that this is a sin. Confess it and repent of it. You may need outside help in this area from groups like Celebrate Recovery or from a Christian counselor. Call a pastor to find help in your area.
It may be that you are not looking at pornography per se, but you are involved with other men in online chat rooms to meet your emotional need for love; perhaps, you dream of other men through romance novels or even have fantasies of specific men you know. This is emotional unfaithfulness in the same way that viewing pornography is physical unfaithfulness.
It is wise that we women carefully watch our husbands’ habits as well, just in case pornography is involved. Make sure he is not hidden away with his computer. Don’t leave him up at night playing or working on it after you are in bed. Ask for counsel if you discover any involvement with pornography. This is often an addiction which will not go away without outside support.
God has made us with a need for the local church. I hope that you are involved in one where you can ask for counsel and help. May God give you wisdom and guidance as you deal with any sexual issues in your marriage.
11 Don Meredith, Becoming One: Planning a Lasting, Joyful Marriage (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 173.
12 H. Norman Wright, Understanding the Man in your Life (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 196.
13 Jill Renich, To Have and to Hold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), 48.
14 Ibid., 55.