When you read the Song of Solomon and when you read our Scripture passage today, 1 Corinthians 7, God makes it very plain, and he doesn't apologize for it, that a married couple should have an X-rated sex life. The problem is that too many married couples have a G-rated sex life. That's the way the culture thinks it ought to be. Think about the movies that you've seen and the TV shows you've watched. How do they portray sexuality? It's always spontaneous; it's always extremely passionate. Both people feel this powerful desire, this animal magnetism, and they're turned on before they even touch each other. The sex is short, it's intense, and it's enjoyed to the fullest. But then if you look more closely, almost 99% of the time it is either between two people who are not married, or it's between two people who are not married to each other. The underlying message in the movies and the media is that married couples are not supposed to be hot. They're not supposed to enjoy sexuality. They're not supposed to be passionate.
What is the scientific and clinical reality about married sex? Here's what I learned: Healthy, married couples have both more sex and more satisfying sex, according to sociologists. There's a reason for that. When you read what God's Word has to say about sex—a subject that we should not be ashamed to talk about since God talks about it—you learn that God gave sexuality to the man and the woman, the husband and the wife, so that they could share pleasure and enhance intimacy. Doctors even tell us sex is a wonderful tension reducer for all the hassle that life and marriage produces. It energizes the marital bond, it enhances feelings of desire and desirability, and yet we have statements like this one from Dr. Andrew Atwood, an expert of marital relationships in America: "There are 17 million married couples in the United States who never have sex at all."
Now believe it or not, this is exactly the problem that Paul was dealing with when he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7:1, you'll find out that this letter was actually a response to some questions that some people in Corinth had written to Paul and asked him. Here's what we read in the very first part of this verse: "Now for the matters that you wrote about…." Have any of you heard of Dear Abby? Paul was the spiritual Dear Abby in the New Testament. When anybody had a spiritual question, they'd write to Paul.
Evidently there were a lot of questions that the Corinthian church had, which, by the way, was a wild and crazy church, but we won't get into that today, so they had written Paul and said, "Hey, we've got a question. You're our spiritual father; you founded the church and led many of us to Christ; you've read your Bible," and believe it or not, the first question they asked was about sex in marriage. Here's what they said to Paul: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." The word "touch" in this verse literally means to have sexual relations with. Evidently, the church had gotten together, and they were saying one of two things. Some people in the church were saying, "You know, maybe sex is just dirty. Maybe it's good that men just don't touch women and women just don't touch men. Maybe it's good that we just don't have sex at all." And then there were others saying, "Even if you are married, maybe the only time you ought to have sex is when you want to try to have a child; otherwise, it really is good for a man not to touch a woman."
So Paul has got to set the record straight about sex in the married life. And as you're going to see, Paul makes it very plain: sex is not something that is to be endured; sex is something that is to be enjoyed. It really is God's gift that he gave to the husband and wife, so that they might experience one of the most intensely intimate, physical, spiritual, and emotional pleasures known to man. God has a plan for everything, including sex. And God's plan for the normal, natural sexual drive and desire that he put within every one of us is that the sexual drive and desire be fulfilled. That divine plan for sex can be summed up in one word, and that word is marriage.
I will agree that over time, the quantity of sex in marriage will decrease, but what should not decrease is the quality of sex in marriage. Sex is best when sex is right. Sex is right when it's within the boundary of blessing, and that boundary is found in the marriage bed. That's where sex is safe; that's where sex is sound; that's where sex is super. Paul gives us three reasons for this in this passage.
Marriage is where the sexual act is to be consummated.
The first thing Paul says about sex in 1 Corinthians 7 is that marriage is where the sexual act is to be consummated. Listen to verse 2: "Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." Now don't miss something that Paul said there. This was written over 2,000 years ago. They were having problems with sexual immorality 2,000 years ago. Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest—all kinds of sexual perversion. They had those problems then; we have those problems now. Sometimes we get the idea that Hollywood invented sex in the 20th century, but the Bible is very clear: sex has been both a burden and a blessing since the beginning of time.
Paul has great concern over sexual immorality. There's a reason for that. There is no sin—no sin—that you can commit that has more built-in negative consequences than sexual sin has. It has broken more marriages, it has broken more homes, it has caused more hurt, it has shed more tears, it has spread more disease, it has caused more lies than all the drugs and all the alcohol put together. God knew what he was doing, and what I want all of you to understand, especially if you're a teenager or a single person, is that God is not trying to keep sex from you. God is trying to give good sex to you. He designed the perfect place for sex: marriage. And he designed the perfect people for sex: a husband and a wife.
God never intended for sex to be between a man and a man. God never intended for sex to be between a woman and a woman. You're thinking, Okay, I got it. God intended for sex to be between a man and a woman, but no, God didn't even intend that. God intended for sex to be between a husband and a wife. God said it is when a couple comes together and is willing to make that life commitment in the institution known as marriage, that sex takes place where and when it needs to. The Bible says in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." I want to say this again: sex was God's idea. Every time I realize and think about it—that God created sex—that's how I know that God is good, all the time.
But when God created sex, he put boundaries around it. Sex is just like a train. A train is a great thing as long as it stays between the tracks. But if a train ever jumps the tracks, it can cause destruction and hurt; it can even cause death. The train of sex is just like that. God says that whenever sex runs between the track of a husband and a wife, sex is a wonderful thing. But if sex ever jumps the tracks, that's when it becomes a very destructive thing.
Some of us are old enough to remember how in the 60's, this country experienced a "sexual revolution," but I beg to differ. It wasn't a revolution; it was a meltdown. I'll tell you when the real sexual revolution took place: it took place in the Garden of Eden when God took a man and then out of him created a woman and then looked at them and said: I've created you, Adam, anatomically, physiologically, and emotionally to enjoy her, and I've done the same thing for you , Eve, to enjoy him, and I want the two of you to come together, be fruitful, multiply, and take part in the pleasure of sexuality.
If you want to solve the problem of AIDS, and you want to solve the problem of venereal disease, and you want to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancy, and you want to solve the problem of sexual guilt, it's really easy. Just do what Paul says in verse 2: "Let every husband have a wife, and let every wife have a husband." We have complicated the simple, while God has simplified the complicated. God's given us a very simple formula. It's foolproof and it's failsafe against every problem you can encounter with doing sex the wrong way. God says it's really easy: You are born a virgin. Women are born virgins. Men are born virgins. Virginity before marriage. Monogamy after marriage. No sex before marriage; all sex within marriage; no sex without marriage. I'll say it again: God's not trying to keep sex from you; he's trying to keep sex for you.
Sociologists, psychologists, and scholars will tell you that people enjoy sex more and enjoy more sex when it's done within the confines of a monogamous marriage. But Paul was addressing an additional situation here. Evidently there were married couples in Corinth, who were feeling guilty for having sex. There were married couples saying, "We understand that you've got to have sex in order to have babies, but we're not sure we ought to enjoy the pleasures of sex. We're committed to each other, we love each other, we're not going to run around on each other, we're not going to have an affair with anybody, but we're just not sure that we really ought to do this." Paul was dealing with the fact that when it came to the important area of sex and intimacy in marriage, the Corinthians were failing badly. Paul says that this is not the way marriage ought to be.
Marriage is where sexual passion is to be celebrated.
Paul says that marriage is where sexual passion is to be celebrated. It's not just where the sexual act is to be consummated, but where it's to be celebrated. Listen to what he says in verses 3 and 4: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise, the wife to her husband. 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."
In verses 1 and 2, Paul was dealing with the pre-marital part of life; now he's dealing with the post-marital part of life. Paul is saying that love and affection is not something that you just give to each other if you're married. He's saying that it is something you owe to each other. You owe it. You don't have a choice.
Now, I want to say a word to the husband. Paul is saying that you should render to your wife the same physical affection and the same emotional attention after marriage that you gave to her before you got married. You need to show her that you love her. You need to tell her that you love her. You need to affirm to her that you love her, and you need to do it in ways that she can see and feel and experience and know. I know what some of you guys are saying right now: Why are you talking to us first? It's really easy: because Paul did. And I know why Paul did this; it was not accidental.
Guys, you're not going to like this, but it's true: It is not your wife's job to set the romantic tone in your marriage. That's your job. That's what you're supposed to be doing. As I've thought back over all the years I've talked to couples who have had marital difficulties in this area, I would say that 95% of the time, the reason why the sizzle has gone out of the marriage is because the husband has let the fire go out. Not the wife; the husband. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to husbands and they've said, "Well, she's just not romantic." Well, you know why she's not romantic? You don't have a romantic wife because you're not a romantic husband. Where did you get this idea that when the marriage begins, the courtship ends. Can I give you a little clue, fellas? The courtship never ends. You never quit dating. What you did to get your wife, you ought to do to keep your wife.
Now, I realize that there are some men here who maybe have physical disabilities or illnesses, and maybe you can't be at your best physically. I understand that. But guys, I'm going to be really personal here: You ought to keep yourself in shape. Some of you think that round is a shape, but I'm telling you, you ought to keep yourself in shape. You need to keep dating your wife. As a matter of fact, the best dates don't happen until after you get married. I'm going to prove that to you. How many of you guys have had this experience? How many of you guys were dating the woman you were going to marry, and you walked her to the door, and you gave her a passionate kiss goodnight, and you really wanted to go in and have some fun, but you couldn't. Well, here's the good news: now you can. And guess what? Not only do you get to; you need to. You need to date her and court her and constantly remind her that you love her.
Paul also addresses the wives. He says, "Wives, you've got a marital duty to your husbands. Just as his body does not belong to him, your body does not belong to you." I had a man who told me the other day that his wife admitted to him that she had used sex as a weapon against him: You do what I want you to do, I'll give you sex. You don't do what I want to do, I'll withhold sex. I want to be very frank: For a woman to withhold sex from her husband because he doesn't do what she wants, or for her to give sex to her husband because he does what she wants, like you give a bone to a dog, she has just reduced sex to a price that is reserved for someone other than who you would call a wife. That is not the way God intended for sex to be used, and it's not the gift that God gave to a married couple.
Now I want to ask the wives this question: If you needed a job, and there was a great opportunity out there, and you were going to interview for that job, how would you get ready to go for that interview? You'd put on makeup, you'd take a bath, you'd put on perfume, you'd dress to kill; you'd go in there, and you'd look your very best. My question is, why is it that a woman's more concerned about her appearance when she's going to a stranger interviewing for a job than she is when she's going to be seeing the man she says she loves more than anybody else? Let's be honest: It's really difficult for a man who goes to the office and works with women all day who have their makeup on and are clean and smell nice and look great, to go home and there you are with Coca-Cola cans in your hair, a different color slipper on each foot, and you're wearing a bathrobe that looks stolen from the Smithsonian Institute. And you wonder why you don't have passion in your marriage.
Wives, you have a biblical responsibility to meet the sexual needs of your husbands, and husbands, you have the spiritual responsibility to meet the sexual needs of your wives. And when your partner requests intimacy, unless there's a strong physical or spiritual reason why you shouldn't do that (which we'll get into in a minute), Paul says that sexual love and affection ought to be given. And that leads to the last thing that Paul says—the thing that kind of closes the deal.
Marriage is where sexual desire is to be demonstrated.
Paul says that marriage is where sexual desire is to be demonstrated. Listen to what Paul says in verses 5-7: "Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent"—that means both of you have to agree on it—"and for a time"—not indefinitely—"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. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am, but each man has his own gift from God; one has this, another has that."
Paul says that there may be times when you get together and you're burdened about something. Maybe you're burdened about your kids, or you're burdened about your finances, or you're burdened about a physical problem, and the two of you say, "Why don't we fast from sex?" You can fast from sex like you can fast from food or TV or anything else. So the two of you come together and agree to abstain from sex for a period of time. The implication from Paul is this: don't do it very long. Make it brief, so you can come back together in physical union and intimacy to keep those fires burning.
When Teresa and I got married 33 years ago, we both gained something, and we both lost something. When I married Teresa, I gained a wife, but I lost a body. Paul said, "Your body no longer belongs to you. Now your body belongs to her." And when Teresa married me, she gained a husband, but she lost a body, too. Paul said the same thing to her. Having said all that, let me make something very plain: That does not give a husband the right to forcibly take sex from his wife. Let me tell you why this is so important. Sex is not just for procreation, to have babies. Sex is not just for recreation, just for the sheer pleasure of it. Sex is for communication. When women tell me about problems in their marriage, the number one thing they say is that their husbands have a problem communicating with them. Men, do you understand that one of the best ways God gave you to communicate your love and affection and desire and devotion to your wife is in your sexual relationship? If you don't believe that, go back to the Old Testament. You'll see that when it talks about a man and a woman who have relations, it will say "So-and-so knew his wife." Why would they put it that way? Because he didn't just have sex with his wife; he knew his wife. To know someone, you've got to communicate with them. And what God was trying to tell us all the way from the beginning was that there is a form of communication that a husband and a wife can experience in the sexual intimacy of marriage that goes far beyond and above any other type of communication you can have. There are ways you can say things to your wife or husband with physical affection and attention that don't even need a word said. That is why this part of marriage should be enjoyed and expressed and experienced as regularly as both partners desire.
Let me say a closing word here, first to the husbands. You have to be sensitive. There are times when, for whatever reason, your wife's just not into it. That doesn't mean she's not that into you; she's just not that into it. It can be a certain time of the month; it can be from stress with the kids; it can be from post-partum depression; it can be from a chemical imbalance—there are all kinds of reasons why. On the other hand, ladies, you want to make sure you have a good reason that you can defend before God as to why at certain times you cannot meet the sexual needs of your husband. Ladies, you just can't claim a headache five days a week.
I read about a husband who came home from work, and he was in a really romantic mood. He did all he could to be a good husband: he cooked dinner, washed the dishes, turned the bed down, and took a shower. His wife was already in the bed, so he came out of the bathroom and he had a glass of water and two aspirin. He gave it to her and she said, "I don't have a headache." He looked at her and said, "Gotcha."
There's a book called His Needs, Her Needs, written by Dr. Willard Harley. Dr. Harley took 20 years to do the research for this book. He didn't study good marriages; he studied bad ones. He studied marriages where either the man or the woman or both had an affair. They could not hold it together sexually. Dr. Harley spent 20 years talking to these couples, and after 20 years he gathered what he determined were the five major needs of women and the five major needs of men. Let me share with you what he said was the number one need of both. The number one need of women: Affection. Now guys, "affection" is not a Hebrew word for "sex." Affection means a touch, a hug, a love note, flowers, running her a bath, taking her to dinner, just listening to her when she talks, a kiss on the cheek, and affirmation verbally: "I love you; I'll always love you;" "I'm faithful to you; I'll always be faithful to you." That's the number one need a woman has. She needs affection.
Ladies, the number one need of men is sexual fulfillment. Let me stop right there and tell you something. A lot of you ladies are misunderstood. You're thinking, So the number one need of a man is just the physical release that comes from a sexual act? No, that's not what I'm saying. Do you know why sexual fulfillment is the number one need of a man? Because, contrary to the macho image that we kind of give out to you, our egos really are kind of fragile, and we never outgrow the need for the woman that we love to let us know by her physical attraction to us, "You are the only one for me. I don't have an eye out there for anybody else, no matter how good looking he is or how much money he has. I love you. My desire is for you. I want to give myself to you and give myself to you only."
So, men, after you say, "I do," you better continue to show your wife the affection and attention to begin with, and women, after you say, "I do," you better be the one person your husband can always come to in an encouraging, loving, and positive way that will meet his sexual need.
As Mr. Holmes used to say, "It really is elementary, dear Watson, it really is." Here's what God says about sex; it's really simple. He says sexual purity before marriage; sexual practice after marriage; and sexual passion within marriage. God created sex; he's the expert, not Hollywood. He knows it better than anybody in this room. God said that if you will practice those principles, you will experience the best sex that will be safe, it will be sound, it will be super.
James Merritt is the Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church. His media teaching ministry, Touchinglives, is broadcast around the country and throughout the world. Dr. Merritt is also the author of numerous books, including How to Impact and Influence Others.