Sexual “Lust” in Marriage

young husband and wife holding hands across the table
Is lust within marriage possible?

Is it possible for me to act lustfully toward my wife? What’s the difference between natural sexual desire for my spouse and lusting after her? I don’t know what “lustful” behavior looks like in the context of marriage.


Before we can answer the question —“Is lust in marriage possible?”—we have to understand that lust is not the same thing as sexual desire.

What is sexual desire within marriage?

Sexual desire was created by God. From a Christian perspective, sex is the ultimate expression of physical, emotional, and spiritual unity between a husband and wife. It’s a wondrous, beautiful, holy, self-transcendent, and sacramental experience. It’s a picture of the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

So, within the context of marriage, a husband’s “desire” for his wife and a wife’s “desire” for her husband is good, natural, and normal. In fact, a healthy desire for sex is central to any stable marriage. The apostle Paul reflects that point of view when he encourages Christian couples not to “deprive one another” of normal marital relations in 1 Corinthians 7:5.

What is lust?

Lust, however, is a misplaced or illegitimate desire. Where sex is concerned, it’s a desire for someone other than a person’s lawfully wedded spouse. Lust is an active, willful desire that moves beyond simple sexual attraction (a divinely designed feature of the human psyche) to a conscious decision to pursue the forbidden object.

That’s what happened after David saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop: He went the next step and sent messengers to bring her to his palace (2 Samuel 11:3-4).

Can sinful lust in marriage exist between husband and wife?

Now that we’ve defined the difference between lust and sexual desire in marriage, let’s reframe the issue. Instead of asking if lust can exist in the context of marriage, think in terms of insensitivity or disregard for the needs, preferences, and desires of your spouse.

If you’re married, you know exactly what we’re talking about. It often happens that the erotic urge doesn’t hit both spouses with the same intensity at the same time. Sometimes a wife isn’t in the mood just when the husband feels that he can’t restrain himself any longer.

At such times, love requires that the husband put his wife’s desires ahead of his own. To insist on having his own way would be selfish and inconsiderate. As pastor John Piper explains in his article Can a Husband Lust After His Wife?, “What would be sin is if a husband imagined sin or desired sin or took on attitudes to his wife in his heart that would be wrong in the bedroom.”

We’re here to help

Would you like to talk more about it? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation at 1-855-771-HELP (4357). Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be happy to help in any way they can. The team can also give you referrals to reputable Christian therapists in your area. And you can take a look at the resources below.

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