Is sex really that critical to a healthy marriage? Here's why I ask. I'm having a disagreement with my spouse. He tells me that sex is a "sacrament" and "a holy mystery," and that it needs to be central to our relationship. He even uses Ephesians 5:30-32 to support these claims. I don't agree. After all, there's a lot more to marriage than just sex. Besides, the Bible itself (in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) seems to suggest that sex is basically a sort of functional "chore," not a deeply meaningful "spiritual" experience. I get the feeling that some believers think sex is more important than the Bible says it is. Do you agree?
Here's how we see it. The Bible says, "From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female." It goes on to declare, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Mark 10:6-8, quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24). It seems only natural to assume that sexual union is central to the process being described.
There is much more to marriage than sex, as you rightly suggest. Nevertheless, the sexual act is the focal point, the symbol, and the physical expression of the leaving, the cleaving, and the becoming one flesh that define the very essence of marriage. To put it another way, there's a vital sense in which sex is the glue that uniquely bonds a husband and wife together. Sexual union places their relationship in a category apart from any other human relationship. We take it for granted that this bond is always in view in passages like Ephesians 5:31 and Revelation 21:2, whether it's expressly stated or not.
We should add that the apostle Paul never describes marital sex as a "chore." What he does say is that married people need to learn how to put their spouses' needs and interests ahead of their own (compare Philippians 2:3, 4). Here's the complete text of his statement as it appears in 1 Corinthians 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. Do not deprive each other except 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.
The point is that Christian spouses have an obligation to explore ways of giving sexually to their "other half" even when they don't particularly feel like it. This is far from implying that sex is a "chore" or an animalistic act.
One last thought. If the disagreement you're having with your spouse is something more than a purely biblical or theological difference of opinion - if in fact you are experiencing serious conflict in the area of marital sex - then we'd urge you to seek professional counseling together. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in sexual issues. You can contact our Counseling Department at this number.
Healing the Hurt (booklet)InYourMarriage
Marriage Alive - The Web site of Dave and Claudia Arp, a husband and wife team who strive to help couples build better marriages and families.
Love and Respect - This ministry offers materials, articles, and conferences designed to help those already married to enrich their relationship and for those considering marriage to prepare for the journey together.