How can I tell the difference between what's appropriate and what's not appropriate in my sexual relationship with my spouse? In particular, is there any place for sexual fantasy in a marital relationship? What's your perspective on this subject?
We'd like to begin by pointing out that 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." Rather, 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 a husband and wife the prerogative of defining the particulars of their sexual relationship. No one else has the right or authority to tell them how to behave in the bedroom provided it does not violate Scripture. 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.
In regard to this concept, our counselors have asked us to stress that mutual consent is the basic principle underlying all healthy expression in marriage. Consent implies that both parties know what's proposed and expected; that they fully understand 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 should any aspect of expression progress beyond intercourse into areas that cause anxiety or concern. In seeking to fulfill the needs of ones mate, 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 relationships, are of the greatest importance here.
With reference to your specific concerns about sexual fantasy, we will tell you straight out that we have serious issues with the idea that sexual fantasy involving someone other than your spouse is morally neutral and harmless. While we understand the arguments that have been advanced in support of this view, we can't get around the fact that fantasy of this nature when considered in light of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:28, is adulterous by definition and presents a real difficulty for Christians. It's also problematic in that it objectifies the sexual experience and involves the intrusion of external influences into the intimate relationship between husband and wife.
We realize, of course, that many married people (including Christians) do fantasize during sex. There are a number of reasons for this. In some cases, it appears to be a way of dealing with the baggage of past abuse or premarital sexual activity. In others, it's a problem rooted in relational dysfunction or profound attachment disorders. Whatever the cause, we are aware that some husbands and wives believe that mental fantasy is the only way to achieve sexual excitement and fulfillment. They claim that, in their case, it's either "fantasy or failure." We don't mean to be dismissive of their feelings, but we'd like to suggest that this is, at best, like putting a Band-Aid over a deep wound. We're convinced that in almost every circumstance imaginable, the ultimate answer is not fantasy, but in-depth marital counseling with a therapist who specializes in sexual issues.
If you feel you may have a problem in this area, and if you think it would be helpful to discuss your situation more thoroughly, call and speak with one of our counselors. Each is a committed Christian and a licensed therapist whose views and approach are compatible with our ministry's psychological perspective.