What is your opinion of married couples using sex toys or other "marital aids" for sexual enjoyment with one another? My husband has suggested it, and while I'm open to the idea, it feels a bit "taboo" to me for some reason. Can you help me sort this out?
As a Christian organization, Focus on the Family draws its beliefs about sexuality from the Bible. Scripture makes it clear that sex is God's special gift to a husband and wife within the bonds of matrimony. It is meant exclusively for marriage.
In addition, the Bible has three important things to say about the meaning and purpose of marital sex: first, it is central to the process by which husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24); second, it is the means whereby they participate in the ongoing work of God's creation through the pleasure and delight of procreation (Genesis 1:28); third, it is intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn't supposed to be "all about me." From first to last, it is designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship. It is a holy mystery, a powerful bonding agent that shapes and affects the relationship between a man and a woman as nothing else can.
These are the theological perspectives and biblical principles that should inform and shape any couple's expression of physical intimacy in marriage. From the Christian standpoint, marriage is a relationship of love in which a man and a woman model for each other the self-sacrificial nature of Christ's love for His church. Where there is love, there is liberty, since God has entrusted solely to husband and wife the prerogative of defining the particulars of their sexual relationship – no one else is authorized to tell them how to behave in the bedroom. But love also implies that each spouse is obligated to treat the needs, feelings, desires, and preferences of his or her mate as matters of the highest priority.
To put it another way, mutual consent is basic to all healthy sexual expression in marriage. Consent implies that both parties know what's proposed and expected; that they are clear as to the ramifications, physically and emotionally, of the suggested activity; that there is room for discussion; and that both partners are always free to say no. Under no circumstances should either spouse be pressured or coerced into engaging in any form of sexual activity with which he or she is uncomfortable. Respect, humility, and forbearance, which are essential to all human relations, are of the utmost importance here. Marital sex is supposed to be part of a healthy relationship. It's not a "thing" to be manipulated for its own sake or for the sake of one partner's personal pleasure.
With regard to your specific inquiry, the Bible never addresses the question of sex toys or "marital aids." For this reason, we would suggest – tentatively – that this issue should be left to a couple's own judgment. But we would hasten to add that the element of mutual consent mentioned above is absolutely critical here. If you have any reservations whatsoever about sex toys, we'd advise you to hold off on making a decision until you and your husband have had a chance to discuss the matter thoroughly and to come to a meeting of the minds. In no way should your spouse force you to do something that feels "taboo" to you. Nor should you yield to such pressure – that would be to violate your own sense of personal integrity. It's important to add that if either one of you has had a history of pornography use, sex addiction, or sexual abuse, you should definitely steer clear of sex toys altogether. In such cases there's a real danger that their use will reinforce a predisposition to depersonalize sexual intimacy, which may encourage involvement in dark, pornographically related sexual practices.
As a final note, it's worth mentioning that sexual intimacy in marriage is a lifelong process. Different forms of expression may be appropriate at different phases in the development of the relationship – in youth and old age, in times of stress and times of joy, during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, during and after menopause – the list could go on and on. At every stage, healthy attitudes toward marital sex should be characterized by candor, prayerfulness, vulnerability, flexibility, and willingness to communicate. This suggests that if you do come to a mutual decision regarding the use of sex toys, you shouldn't necessarily assume that the question has been settled once and for all. On the contrary, we'd recommend that you continue to revisit it at appropriate intervals. Individual tastes, perspectives, values, and feelings can change with time.
For further information about sexual intimacy in marriage, we suggest that you contact Dr. Clifford and Mrs. Joyce Penner. Dr. Penner is a psychologist and his wife is a nurse; they work as a team specializing in various sexual issues couples may face. Given their expertise, they may be able to provide you with a more comprehensive look at the topics you've brought up. Visit their website, Passionate Commitment.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our staff, we invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
Sex and Intimacy