What does “Do Not Deprive” really mean when it comes to sex?

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage post in the linky below, or comment on what I’ve written.

For the last two days I’ve been writing about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:5:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps 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.

On Monday I argued that “do not deprive” is not the same as “do not refuse”, and shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that a spouse is under obligation to make love each and every time their spouse wants to. “Do not deprive” should not be used as a weapon.

Then yesterday I argued the other side: “do not deprive” means we should be aiming for the maximum of sexual activity and fulfillment, not the minimum.

Today I want to try to reconcile those two.

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

I don’t think it’s wishy washy to say that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Isn’t that so with most of Christianity? The Bible presents us with plenty of dichotomies: grace vs. works; free will vs. predestination; justice vs. mercy. These dichotomies give us pause to wrestle with them and wrestle with God and come to know Him better in the process.

And so we come to today’s dichotomy: self-control and passion.

Both are of God. Neither is better than the other. And in most marriages, one spouse leans more towards self-control, and one spouse leans more towards passion.

Why didn’t God make us both the same?

Well, let’s pretend for a minute that He gave both of us super high sex drives. What would happen? We’d have sex all the time, but we wouldn’t necessarily work on communication, or intimacy, or vulnerability, or trust. We wouldn’t need to! We’d both have such high drives that we could get our needs met without any of that other stuff getting in the way. So we’d have rather shallow lives.

And if he made us both with tremendous self-control, so that we really didn’t desire very much ever, then we’d live rather solitary lives, and again we wouldn’t work on communication, and selflessness, and intimacy, and trust.

Personally, I think that communication and selflessness and intimacy and vulnerability are all pretty good things in a marriage. And here’s how the whole thing works:

The higher libido spouse feels as if they aren’t getting their needs met, and so they feel deprived. They may emotionally pull back a little. The lower libido spouse then feels that emotional distance and doesn’t like it, causing them to pull back. Both spouses have now pulled back.

Many marriages get stuck there. Both spouses hunker down, sure that they’re right, and nothing ever improves.

But that’s an awfully uncomfortable place to be. Not only are you not getting your needs met; you know that you’re losing your emotional connection. You get lonely. So what do you do?

In an ideal world, you decide to put your own needs on hold for a minute and reach out to your spouse. You start connecting emotionally. You even start connecting more sexually. You reach out where you can in order to bridge the gap.

But reaching out means that we’re going against our natural instincts. If we’re naturally more self-controlled, we’re trying to develop more passion. If we’re naturally more passionate, we’re trying to develop more self-control. And at the same time we’re developing selflessness, because we’re focused on how to meet our spouse’s need, not on how to meet ours.

That’s how God designed marriage! He didn’t design it to be easy, or we wouldn’t become selfless.

He didn’t design a joining of two identical people, or we wouldn’t need to grow.

But God’s whole purpose for us is to grow and become more selfless and more Christlike. And marriage is one of His vehicles for making us holier, not just happier. I do believe that marriage can make us extremely happy, but I think the point of marriage is that it first makes us holy.

So if you’re in a marriage where you have a major libido difference, don’t look at your spouse and say, “if only he would grow up and stop being so shallow!”, or “if only she would reach out and stop being so frigid.” Don’t look at your spouse at all. Instead, look at God. And ask Him to help you become more Christlike.

Our response to this problem must always be to look at God, not to try to change our spouse. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that we should demand our rights if we’re not getting what we deserve. That’s why “Do not deprive” should never be used as a weapon; it goes against everything Scripture is for. Scripture focuses on servanthood, not on tyranny.

But nowhere in Scripture does it also say that we can use God’s word to justify ourselves so that we don’t need to change, either. It doesn’t say, “if you’re in the right, you can just sit there and not do anything and act all righteous.” No, it says, “in as much as it is up to you, live at peace with all.” We are to do what is up to us. So if you feel your spouse is unreasonable, you don’t have an excuse to act justified about withholding love or affection.

Look to God instead of justifying yourself. Try this:

God, I know you’re a God of passion. You made incredible beauty. You created us with the capacity for such deep emotion and such deep intimacy. I want to live life abundantly, and I’m scared I’m missing out. Please give me a taste of your passion. Help make me more passionate in my marriage.

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God, I know that you created us to be more than our passions. You created us to love you first and foremost. Help me to learn to lean on you when I feel as if I’m not getting my sexual needs met. Help me to grow in passion for you even if I feel a lack of passion in my marriage.

Use your differences to drive you to God, not to point out all the flaws in your spouse!

Maybe God actually wants to change YOU. Maybe God actually wants you to grow and lean on Him more and live a more abundant, trusting life.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas that your spouse needs to grow, too, and you certainly need to talk to your spouse about this. But I still believe that the reason that God made us differently is so that we would be drawn to Him.

Look, people, I have seen this verse used as a weapon against spouses. And I have seen other spouses simply withdraw and withhold affection and sex from their spouses. Neither extreme is right.

So today, can you take this challenge: whichever area you need to grow in, whether it’s passion or self-control, can you commit to God to praying about it and practising it? Trying to “put on” passion when you’re not used to it may feel fake, but don’t shy away from it! God is a passionate God; He wants to help you. And trying to exercise self-control when you feel rejected is hard; but God is also a God who is used to being rejected. We all have areas to grow in; instead of seeing all the things that your spouse is doing wrong, can you commit to growing in this area? That’s what God really wants from you (even if He also wants the same of your spouse).

Note: If your spouse is completely withholding sex, I have written about this here.

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