So What Does the Bible Say About Marital Sex?


Don't do it until you're married.

Sexual sin will send you to hell.

If your spouse wants it, you better do it, or they will struggle with sexual temptation and go find it somewhere else.

That is about the sum total of what most people think the bible says about sex. God, in His word, addresses sexuality in a much deeper and finer way, so this entry is devoted to a beginning discussion on that. Many of you reading this text may have experienced reading books on sex or gone to marriage retreats where sex was one of the topics. For many, books and retreats discussing sex are discouraging and to be avoided. Lessons about how sex should be great, that everyone should be having great sex, and that you need to make your sex life great, can lead to hopelessness when things are not going well. It is nor our wish that this next chapter fall into that category. You may have some serious areas you are working on in order to develop a mutually fulfilling sex life. In order to get there, it is important to understand what the genuine, biblical expectations and views are of the marital sexual relationship. That is the goal of this entry: gaining a clearer understanding of some of the most used scriptures in the bible on sex and sexuality in order to align those views with how we live out our sexual relationship.

One of our favorite texts for helping people understand the biblical and spiritual view of sex is Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by Piper and Taylor. We have obtained the permission of Piper and Taylor to briefly review 3 major points from their book here. God has used the language and imagery of sexuality to both communicate with us and help us know him. It is often difficult for Christians to grasp this idea because for many, views and thoughts about sexuality have no connection to their views and thoughts about God. Sex is over here on the far right and God is over here on the far left and they never interact. Even the two words, God and Sex, in the same sentence seems inappropriate. This is even more true of the words Sex and Christ. When you think about it, really, he never had sex, so that seems so inappropriate to put sex and Christ in the same sentence, right?. What do the two have to do with each other? Yet that is not what we find in the bible. Jesus is to be Lord over every area of our life and God speaks to us in every area of our life, as we will see. We do not have to divorce ourselves from God and Jesus in the middle of sex in order to allow ourselves to experience the full, sensual enjoyment possible during sex.

"The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people - both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not)." Piper and Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

"God has Designed Sexuality as a Way to Know Him More Fully"

This is found in the first chapter of Piper and Taylor's book. Read Ezekiel 16 and then Ezekiel 23. When he is speaking about the nation of Israel and their worship of other idols, he uses words such as prostitute, lavished your favors, degraded your beauty, "offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by", breasts being fondled, genitals like those of donkeys, emission like that of horses. Why? Why would God use such graphic sexual language? He is describing the spiritual choices Israel has made in idol worship and he is using sexual language to depict what they had done.

For many couples, the biggest fear they have or the greatest emotional pain they have experienced is about their spouse being unfaithful. We have sat with couples who have expressed the devastating pain of sexual betrayal in their marriage, of finding out that their spouse has intimately touched another man and woman in a way they should only touch them. When God talks here about the incredible pain of Israel's betrayal with idols, He uses the language of sexual betrayal and adultery, and He talks about it by using the physical, sexual body; words such as breasts, genitals, and emission. Why? Because He wants us to understand the level of pain He feels when we choose to worship something other than Him, when we choose to turn our backs on Him and His love for us ("you became mine" Ez 16:8). God uses sexual language to communicate who He is and how He feels so that we can understand and come close to Him.

This is similar to how God communicates to us overall. He uses the creation to tell us who He is (Romans 1:2, Ps 19:1-3). He shows us who He is through making us in His image (Gen 1:27) and He ultimately wanted us to know Him so well that He incarnated Himself into the physical body of Jesus to show us (John 1:14, Is 9:6, John 14:9, Col 1:15). God uses the physical to express the spiritual. He also uses the physical language of sexuality to tell us about Himself and to communicate to us.

Knowing God

"I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." (John 10:14). God knows us. Jesus knows us. Jesus knows God and God the Father knows Jesus. The word knows here is gnosko in the Greek. The definition of gnosko is: to know first hand through personal experience; to learn, to recognize, to perceive. It is the word used here to describe the depth to which God and Jesus know each other. This is an intimate understanding of the other at an indescribably deep level. What is interesting is that it is the same word to describe the sexual interaction between Jesus and Mary. "He (Joseph) did not know (gnosko) her (Mary) until she gave birth to a son" (Matt 1:25).

We see something very similar in the Hebrew. "No longer will a man teach his neighbor... 'Know the lord,' because they will all know me" (Jer 31:34). The Hebrew word here for know is yada, meaning: to know, acknowledge, understand through all the senses. And guess what? We find it also in Gen 4:1. "Adam knew his wife Eve." So in both the Greek and Hebrew, this word that describes how God knows us, how we know Jesus the shepherd, how Jesus knows God, how God wants us to know Him, is also used to describe the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve and between Joseph and Mary. In many translations the word know is no longer used and has been variously translated to say "lay with her", and "had relations with her". The latest translation of the NIV says "made love to." This is not to say in any weird way that our relationship with God or the relationship between God and Jesus is about sex. That would be like the pagans and temple worship with temple prostitutes. But this does help to convey how God understands the sexual relationship. The depth of intimate knowing between Jesus and God, the depth to which He knows us, the depth to which God wants us to know Him is the depth of intimacy God intends for us and wants us to have in our marital sexual relationship.

This puts the importance of sexuality on a whole different level. John 17:3 says, "This is eternal life, that they know (gnosko) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ." The definition here biblically of eternal life is the word know. We will spend eternity in an intimate knowledge and understanding and closeness with God and Jesus. Wow! And we believe that God gives us a taste of that in our sexual relationship. The level of intimate knowing that we can attain when we are ecstatically, intimately and erotically bonded with our spouse during sexual intimacy and at orgasm is a taste of the depths and levels of the wonderful, intimate connection we will have with God for eternity. God uses the physical to express the spiritual and so that we may KNOW him.

"Knowing God Guides and Guards our Spirituality"

Piper and Taylor do such an amazing job describing this in their book. I will again include their point here. The knowing we wrote about above is the foundation God uses to guard our sexual choices and to guide our sexual lives. When we have that deep, intimate connection with our Father, he directs us in how we should live our lives overall and in the sexual arena. When we do not retain our knowledge for God, this disorders our sexual lives. "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie... Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:24-25, 28). When we do not retain, when we do not nurture, our knowledge, our knowing of God, it messes us up sexually.

What else does the bible say about sex?

Do it. In fact, if you're struggling with wanting to have sex, get married and have it a lot. Well, that's basically what God is saying in 1 Cor 7:9: "If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." OKaaaay!

What else does the bible say about having sex? It says a lot actually, and this book would be quite a bit bigger if we included all of it. However, we will cover some of the important basics.

Song of Solomon

Most of the scriptures about sex are about what NOT to do. Don't do it with your father's wife, with an animal, with an unmarried person, or with anyone other than your husband or wife. This is all very clear from the scriptures. So, when you do do it, what kind of direction does God give? Well, the bible is the only world religion scriptural text that devotes an entire book to sensuality and sexuality. The Song of Solomon is full of much that is helpful. We will cover some of that in different chapters, but it is important to notice here that God, even in how He handed His word to us, prioritizes the marital sexual relationship by writing an entire book about it. We need to take note of that. Sensual touch and sensual talk is all over the Song of Solomon. Both the Lover and the Beloved describe each other in sensual, poetic terms. They also use poetic language to describe the delights of the sexual relationship. Note the scriptures below.

Lover: "How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights? Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, 'I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of it's fruit.'" The Lover here speaks of climbing the palm tree (her body) to grasp the fruit (her breasts).

The Lover says: "You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water, streaming down from Lebanon." And the Beloved responds: "Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits." The Lover here describes the flowing streams of her garden and the Beloved calls him to blow on the garden and taste it's fruit. This is considered by many to be a clear allusion to their enjoyment of the act of oral sex and the flowing waters of her orgasm.

God has intended for us to thoroughly enjoy sexuality and the erotic sexual bond we can have with our husband or wife.

Pleasing Your Spouse: Stewards of Each Other's Bodies

"But a married man is concerned with... how he can please his wife... A married woman is concerned about... how she can please her husband" (1 Cor 7:33-34).

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband... Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent 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 Cor 7:3, 5).

"The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" (1 Cor 7:4).

These scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7 are some of the most specific, helpful, and misunderstood scriptures of the bible on sex. So let's go over a few important points.

God wants us to live our sexual lives focused on the pleasure we can bring to our spouse. That doesn't mean you don't have likes and dislikes, preferences and turnoffs, and that you should just shut those down and only think about your spouse. In fact, it is crucial to communicate openly and honestly about what you prefer. We're going to devote quite a bit of space in these entries to that exact issue. However, God does call us to consider one another better than ourselves, and prioritize the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4). If both the husband and wife kept that as their focus, many of the difficulties in the sexual relationship would go much more smoothly. God makes it clear that a husband should be focused on pleasing his wife; it is actually a reason why Paul says it is better not to get married. And the wife is to please her husband.

In a similar way, Paul points out that the wife and husband have the authority over each other's bodies. What does that mean? This has often been taught in the churches to mean that a wife should never deny her husband sex. Though that question is an important one to answer, it misses the fact that 1 Cor 7:4 is not even addressing that. The wording in the Greek here is quite helpful. The term that is important is exousiazo, which means: to exercise authority over. This is a term describing a delegated or conferred power or authority.

This is much like the idea of stewardship taught about throughout the bible where you are to use something that God has given you for the good of others. We understand this when it comes to money. God give us money and we are but stewards of that money while in this life. We are to use that money as God sees fit. This is financial stewardship (Matt 25:20-21, 23). It is also a common understanding that when you borrow something, you should return it in as good or better shape than when you received it. We know that God calls husbands to imitate Jesus and present their wives radiant (Eph 5:27). These are the concepts reflected in 1 Cor 7:4. A wife is given her husbands body from God. God has conferred power over that body to her and she is to be a good steward of that body and present his body back to God in as good or better condition than when it was given to her. The husband in the same way is given delegated authority from God over his wife's body, and he is to care for it as for his own body (Eph 5:28). When he seeks first to please his wife, he is then able to present her as radiant to God.

1 Cor 7 is also often used to demand or command sex. This is in opposition to these very scriptures and to the overall use of authority in the bible. If God has delegated to the wife authority over her husband's body, how is she supposed to use or wield that authority? If God has delegated to the husband authority over his wife's body, how is he supposed to use or wield that authority? Jesus taught that the disciples where not to Lord it over others the way the Pharisees did (Matt 20:25-26). Instead, a leader is to be a servant. So when we are given authority over each others bodies, we are to use that authority as Jesus taught; as a servant, not making demands or being selfish.

For many couples, when they examine these scriptures, it puts the command not to deprive one another into a different perspective. If a husband or wife ends up using this scripture to say "you are depriving me," they may be using the scriptures as a club or a weapon, much like a Pharisee would. If a wife or husband continues to "deprive" their spouse of sex out of selfishness, they are not being a good steward of their spouses body. If both the husband and wife were focused on pleasing one another, holy sex can be the outcome, where the focus is mutual pleasure through giving, fun exploration that results in a "delightful convergence of duty and desire" (Piper & Taylor).

Intoxication and Fire

"May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love." (Prov 5:18-19)

So what does the bible say about sex? The above scripture says it so eloquently. We are to rejoice in our spouse and be intoxicated by our love for one another. And we are to feel this intoxicated satisfaction about each other sexually. The word satisfy in the Hebrew here is ravah, which means to drink one's fill, to be saturated. The word intoxicated in the Hebrew here is shagah, which means to reel, as in reeling when drunk. It also means ravished, intoxicated, enraptured, captivated; or to stray, reel, or swerve while intoxicated. That is how God portrays the effect the wife, and her love, and her breasts, have on the husband. That he drinks so thoroughly of her that he is completely intoxicated and cannot walk straight.

This is such a clear statement of God's intention for sexuality in the bible. The passage right before this details how a man of God should drink only from his own cistern and not share his strength and wealth, the springs of water from his well, clearly his sexuality, with anyone else other than the wife of his youth. And when they do share it, it should make him reel.

This may be a passage directly written to the husband, perhaps because sexual temptation is such a challenge for men. However, it is a great illustration of the incredible, emotional, physical, and ecstatic way that God describes the marital sexual relationship. In 1 Cor 7:9, Paul admonishes the unmarried to get married because they were burning with passion for another (puroo in the Greek, meaning set on fire). Sex sets us on fire so God says the place for it is in the marital bed. In other words, our sexual life should set us on fire. It should make us reel like a drunkard. It should saturate us and captivate us. This should be true for BOTH the husband and wife.

Many commentaries on the bible talk about the duties of the marital relationship when they are describing sex in the marriage. Duty is such an awful word to describe the wonder of marital sex. When our giving is out of duty, out of compulsion, that is not God's desire. "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). Yes, this passage in 2 Cor 9 is about giving money, but it lays out clearly the heart God desires from us when we give. So much more in the marital sexual relationship. God does not want duty. He desires for us to enjoy, to be intoxicated by, to be set on fire by, each other's love and our sexual relationship.

The Enjoyment of Her Body

One of the biggest cultural stereotypes is of men who ogle women. Well, it is a stereotype that has quite a bit of foundation behind it. It is commonly seen and portrayed, from what happens on the street to what it shown in movies and TV. And it is not in God's plan. Jesus clearly taught that looking at a woman in lust was the same as adultery (Matthew 5). However, put into biblical perspective, the male enjoyment of the female body can be both godly and enriching. Unfortunately, because of sin and sinful behaviors, it can be challenging to appreciate the rightness of a husband loving the view of his wife's body. We have often heard wives express that it really bothers them how their husband likes to touch them sensually and sexually ("all he touches is my butt and my boobs"). It may really bother them how easily their husbands become aroused when they see their wife naked or when they get in bed with their naked or lightly clothed wife. It has caused some women to stop dressing in front of their husbands. For others, they wear their pajamas like protective armor.

Their can be many different things influencing the challenge women have with their husband's fascination with their wife's body. It may be that the only time the husband touches his wife is when he is sexually interested. It may be that the wife has a lower body image. The husband may have made derogatory comments about her body or about her weight. The wife may have a background of being objectified by men or may have seen many poor examples of men who objectified women. If any of these things are true, it would be important to get help with them and to talk openly about them.

It is important to put the male interest in the female body into biblical perspective, for when it is right, it is very right. After God created Eve, "God saw all he had made, and it was very good." Not just good. Very Good. We see the Lover, in Song of Songs, speak about how he wants to hear his Beloved's voice and how he wants to see her form, her shape, her countenance, her appearance (according to different translations). Prov 5:19, as mentioned earlier, tells how captivating, intoxicating, and satisfying the wife's love and breasts are to her husband. God has created in men a love for the view of the female body and form. He even puts it in His holy word. It is good, and right, and godly for a husband to be drawn to looking at and touching his wife's body, both naked and clothed. Sam Laing, author of Five Senses of Romantic Love, says it so well:

"His [the Lover's] poetic, rhapsodic language expresses his fascination and arousal and gives honor to the entirety of her divinely given beauty without a hint of demeaning vulgarity... The husband asks... his beloved to let him see her "form"... Most men will readily identify with this statement, and with this sentiment. They long to see their wife unclothed. Wives, have you noticed that your husband will stop whatever he is doing to get a glimpse of your body? If you are having an argument and in the middle of it you happen to change your clothes, he will completely lose his train of thought. He will wander into the bathroom while you are bathing just to get a look at you. Rather than resenting this as juvenile and boorish, come to appreciate that the sight of your unclothed form is one of the greatest pleasures and joys your husband has in his life." (p. 60-61, Laing).

For women, it is important to make the distinction between the objectification in the world of the female body and the genuine, godly appreciation of her body as seen in the scriptures. A husband's enjoyment of his wife's body is from God. However, husbands, if the only time you touch her is to squeeze her breasts and butt, this will not feel like godly enjoyment. I, Jennifer, had a female client explain to me that when she was dressing, she would love it if her husband would come up to her from behind while she was naked, wrap his arms around her, and tell her what a good mom she was. Not that she was beautiful. Not that he loved her body. But that as he wrapped his arms around the body he so loved to see and touch, he told her how much he loved and appreciated the woman she was and what she gave to their family. This is such a delicate balance. Women loved to feel admired by the men God has given to love them. They do love to feel beautiful. But if that beauty is not admired in the context of the whole beauty of the woman, it can lead to a unintended confirmation of that message she's been hearing from Satan that she is just another body; that she is only wanted for sex; that she, the woman, is not known and valued.

So husbands, imitate the Lover. Look at what he says about his Beloved. When he describes the body of his beloved, he talks about her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, mouth, temple, navel, waist, neck, and breasts (Prov 4:1-15, 7:1-9). He even tells her that her breath smells good, that her legs are graceful, that her voice is sweet, that her feet are beautifully sandaled (yes, compliment her shoes), and that her face is lovely. If all you focus on is her breasts and her butt, you have not followed this incredible example found in God's word. You may be obeying God's word in reading it daily, in reaching out to the lost, in being a loving, giving father, and a good provider. But if you wish to touch the heart and soul of your wife, your words to her must be full of Proverbs 31 (how faithful and hard working she is, what a great hostess she is, what a great mother and wife) AND Song of Solomon (her physical beauty in it's entirety).

He is Altogether Lovely!

In an amazingly similar way, in the book Song of Songs, the Beloved describes her Lover in intimate, bold, and admiring language (Song of Songs 1:16, 2:3-4, 5:10-16). She talks about his head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, and legs. She calls him handsome, radiant, ruddy, and outstanding. She compliments his arms of gold and his body of polished ivory. She talks about the kisses of his mouth. She delights to be with him and talks in detail about his affection and care for her. She shares a very revealing phrase at the end of the book. "I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment" (8:10). How does he come to view her in that way?

Hopefully, at this point in your reading of this book, you have already been at work as a couple on your verbal and relational intimacy. Hopefully as well you have had some victories in working through conflict. It is important as well that you have gotten help with any long term injuries. There may be some rather difficult things that have happened between you that make imitating the way the Beloved talks about her Lover seem impossible. It is incredibly important, however, that as you are working at improving and repairing your intimate relationship, you examine the heart of God and his heart for you and have the same heart for your husband.

God is rich in mercy. While we were still his enemies, while we were still in sin, he looked at us with longing and affection (Romans 5:8; Is 30:18). One of the greatest needs of the human condition is to feel loved and accepted. God does both of those things. We strive to do those things for our children, to love them and accept them even though they do things that are not OK, choose paths we do not support or that are sinful. It is sometimes much harder to show that same kind of mercy, compassion, patience, and vision for someone who is not our child, but who is an adult who should know better. And yet God does call us to make sure our husband is "respected at the city gates" (Prov 31:23) and that his wife is one who brings contentment. The longer you are married, the more you see your spouse's faults and the weaknesses in their character. It is an opportunity for either mercy or for resentment. If we decide to imitate the heart of God, what we will offer is a love and admiration for an imperfect sinner.

As wives, we are called to imitate the example of the Beloved. She is so eloquent in her admiration of her lover. Your husband needs you to admire his beauty for "he is altogether lovely" (Prov 5:13). Tell him what you like about how he looks. At the same time, he needs to know that you admire and appreciate what he does for you. It is not uncommon for husbands to share about how angry and frustrated they feel because they do not sense that their wife appreciates them. There may be a lot behind that. He may work longer hours than you feel good about. Or the opposite. He may not be the kind of hard worker you feel he should be. You may have had many arguments about how he uses his time. You may strongly disagree about what to prioritize. It is important, however, to keep our eyes on the cross. Our sins put Jesus on the cross and God calls us to have the same kind of compassion toward others that He shows to us (2 Cor 1:3-4). Wives need to view their husband's weaknesses with honesty, wisdom, humility, compassion, and vision. When you reach that point, you will be able to genuinely speak of your husband with the heart of the Beloved.

In Song of Songs, God shows how the Lover needs to be appreciated for how his arms that are rods of gold (his strength, SS 5:14), his arms that embrace you (his love of touching you and holding you, SS 2:6), and his legs that are pillars of marble (again, his strength, beauty, and power, SS 5:15). Tell him about the beauty of his body, tell him what you admire about his love making, and tell him what you appreciate about what he does for you. Tell him. Tell him.

The level of intimacy and closeness in marriage is hugely influenced by the amount and type of words like those that the Beloved and the Lover share with each other. So check how much you admire your spouse. Check how much you tell them about their beauty and their strengths. See what happens to your overall intimacy when you decide to imitate the Lover's and Beloved's vivid, sensual, enriching, life giving language.