What’s the minimum I can get away with?

That was my brother-in-law’s question in university. He was taking courses he needed to pass, but he knew that in the long run it didn’t matter if he passed with a 65 or a 99, as long as  he passed. So he figured, why put it in the effort to get a 99 if a 65 will do? And he spent his weekends with his fiancee and working at a part-time job. Today he’s got a great job and no one looks at his university transcripts. He made the right decision.

But this question–“what’s the minimum I can get away with“?–only works in certain circumstances. It may have been fine in a school setting; it is not fine in a marriage setting.

Yesterday we began our look at 1 Corinthians 7:5, which says:

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.

And I said that often in Christianity the answer isn’t clear cut. What does “do not deprive each other” mean? I argued that it does not mean that a spouse is  obligated to have sex each and every time the other wants. It does not mean do not refuse. It means do not deprive, and they are different things.

So yesterday I was arguing for self-control. Today I want to argue the other side: for loving wholeheartedly. And perhaps it’s easiest to define what something is by showing what it is not:

Do Not Deprive Part 2: What does 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 mean?

1. “Do Not Deprive” Means Sex Can’t be a Weapon

The phrase “do not deprive” implies that there should be a healthy level of sexual activity–and that this is a legitimate need. I can’t deprive someone of the latest iPhone, for instance, but I can deprive them of oxygen. The iPhone isn’t a need, so it’s silly to say “do not deprive” in that context. But oxygen is a need.

If I were to say, “don’t deprive your child of affection”, you would think that this means “don’t withhold affection from your child”, because you know your child needs affection. So it’s not right to keep affection from them in the hopes that this may inspire them to do what you want. Affection isn’t something that can be used as a weapon. You can’t withhold it to teach your child a lesson, or to get something that you want, because it’s something that they need.

Similarly, you shouldn’t deprive a child of food, because that is a legitimate need. To use food as a weapon, then, is wrong.

I would argue the same thing applies when it comes to our sex life. This isn’t something that is optional in marriage. And it isn’t something that should be minimized or used as a weapon, either. This is something that is part of an “abundant life”. With your children, for instance, you want to shower affection on them, and make sure you have great meals together. We should be thinking along the same lines with sex: we should be showering our spouses with sexual attention, and we should be making sure we have great times together.

And those great times should be regular, not doled out infrequently, like crumbs. You don’t give your child crumbs off your table; you give them the best. And so your spouse should get your best, too: your best energy, your best time, your best attention. Sex isn’t like the icing on the cake–something that you add at the last minute which is fun, but not necessary. It’s the oil that keeps the engine going. You can’t ignore it or minimize it.

2. “Do Not Deprive” Means the Goal is Not Compromise

Here’s one that may be difficult for some to hear.

Often when there is a low libido spouse and a high libido spouse, people get into fights about how often we should make love. And we try to compromise. But does that really work? Let’s say that one spouse wants sex once a day and one spouse wants it once a month. Do you compromise and say once every two weeks?

Compromise can only work if both parties agree that sex is an important part of your relationship, and that both agree that it should be regular and frequent. Then compromise can happen. But if one would rather not have sex at all, and one wants it all the time, then compromise won’t result in a healthy relationship. A healthy relationship is only possible when both spouses believe that sex is important.

3. “Do Not Deprive” Means the Goal is the Maximum, not the Minimum

If we believe that there is a healthy level of sexual activity, then, the correct response is to focus on “how can I best embrace sex in my marriage?” It’s not, “how can I keep my spouse from bugging me.” It’s “how can I agree with God about how important this is?”

In order to fulfill the “Do Not Deprive” admonition, you’ve got to first agree with God that sex is important and good and intimate. It’s not just about saying, “Okay, I’ll never turn you down. We can do it whenever you want to,” even if you mean “I’ll just lie there and you can use me.” It’s about saying, “I want us to experience this together and feel close.” It’s about being an active participant.

All of which brings us to our last point–

4. “Do Not Deprive” Means that the Goal is Intimacy, not Just Release

If sexual release were the only need, and if sex had nothing to do with anything else, God could have designed a different way for us to get that release. After all, our other physical needs can be met on our own: we breathe on our own; we can eat on our own. And it is possible to obtain sexual release on our own! That, however, is not what God designed us for. That’s what God designed marriage for. Sex is about more than release. God created something that is truly intimate. The danger with depriving is not just that people will become sexually frustrated–though this definitely plays a part; it’s also that we’ll lose out on important intimacy.

Good Girl's Guide to Great SexNow, for many people that’s difficult. Maybe sex is painful, or you have other problems with sexual function. That’s okay! Take some time and deal with these things, with the goal of developing a healthy sex life. Maybe sex just doesn’t feel that good yet, or maybe you have trust issues or anger issues in your relationship. Work through whatever roadblocks you have to a healthy sex life–because this is something that is important in your marriage. And if you don’t know where to start, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex can help you overcome some of these roadblocks and find true freedom and intimacy.

Sex is a beautiful thing that should be a major part of our marriage. Don’t deprive your spouse, but don’t deprive yourself, either.

Yesterday I argued that do not deprive was not the equivalent of do not refuse. Today I argued that do not deprive implies that we embrace sex wholeheartedly. Tomorrow I’ll try to put them both together and come up with a healthy balance!

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

[adrotate group=”1″]