There are times when not having sex is a good idea.
That should not be a revolutionary thing to say, but I remember hearing about a big marriage conference on one of those cruises where a panel of experts was answering questions. One question from the audience came from a woman who was asking,
My husband has had a porn addiction and I feel very betrayed. He says he is trying to get better, but I see no evidence of it. Do I have to keep having sex with him anyway, even if he’s not getting any help?
One female panelist said that often a period of abstaining from sex while he resets his brain, gets some help, and rebuilds trust is necessary. Another big name pastor on that panel, though, said that that was out of the question because that would be depriving him.
This week we’re looking at the idea that “women are methadone for a husband’s sex addiction“, as Every Man’s Battle, Sheet Music, Love & Respect, and other popular evangelical resources purport. We dealt with this on last week’s podcast, but it’s also a big chapter in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue.
I’ve talked before about how it’s okay to say no to sex at times, and that we need to understand that consent is still a thing, even (or especially!) in marriage. Rape in marriage can occur, and it is never okay.
I want to address this pastor’s response, though, about how saying no to sex when a guy is recovering from a porn addiction would be “depriving” him. To do that, I’d like to go back to first principles.
When the Bible says “do not deprive”, it isn’t talking about one-sided ejaculation.
The “do not deprive” passage in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is not saying that you aren’t allowed to refuse your husband orgasm on demand. It is not saying that you aren’t allowed to deprive him of one-sided intercourse. The picture painted by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is one of complete mutuality:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 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.
In the Bible, sex is life-giving; it is not soul-sapping.
Sex, according to Genesis 4:1, is a deep “knowing” of one another. And sex, throughout the Bible, is something mutual.
Biblical sex, then, is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable. And the reason that sex is supposed to be within marriage is because sex is relational. It is about two people knowing each other more deeply and becoming vulnerable with one another; it is not only about one person.
That means that sex is something that binds your hearts together and builds you up. For that to happen, then you both need to matter. Sex isn’t only about one person’s needs or desires; sex is about the desire both of you have to be more fully seen and known. If sex is only about one person’s need for orgasm, then it’s almost an erasure of the other person. As soon as it becomes about only one person’s needs, then the other person becomes a placeholder. Sex is not using someone to masturbate using them; sex is to know someone. If you are using them only for your own sexual gratification, with no concern about how this making the other person feel, then sex ceases to be biblical at all.
This pastor made a common mistake: He equated a husband ejaculating with life-giving sex.
No, life-giving sex is about two people. And when porn has distorted sex for both people, then the answer is not to allow him to continue to ejaculate while using her; the answer is to figure out how both of you can find sex to be life-giving in your relationship again.
For most couples where porn has been a problem, this means taking time off of sex.
The betrayed spouse needs time to heal and needs to have trust rebuilt
Spouses of porn users often suffer from “betrayal trauma”, where they actually have trauma responses to sex because of how the husband’s (or wife’s) porn use has affected them. When sex is supposed to be something that binds you together, but when you instead feel used and erased and rejected, then sex becomes triggering. Sex can’t be intimate and life-giving until you change the association and rebuild trust, and often get some help.
I talked about this more in the 4 stages of porn recovery.
The porn user needs to take time away from sex to learn how to deal with negative emotions without sex.
Porn users tend to deal with stress, anxiety, frustration, rejection, loneliness, anger–really any negative emotion by turning to porn, or even sex. And at heart this is a running away from intimacy.
While Every Man’s Battle recommends quitting “lust” and porn by simply transferring all your sexual energy onto your wife, this is a terrible approach. It doesn’t get to the root issue, which is that there’s a hunger for intimacy that has been channeled into wrong places. Often porn users use orgasm as a substitute for intimacy with another human being. The hormonal high that orgasm brings allows them to escape having to become vulnerable with another human being.
This connection has to be broken, and that can often only occur when there’s a fast from sex and porn. Even secular sources know this. The famous “nofap” movement on secular websites, which encourage porn users to quit sex, masturbation, and porn for 30 days to reset their brain’s dependence on orgasm for emotional release.
Why would Christians, who should believe that sex should be intimate even more than others do, see abstaining from sex as such a scary thing?
When we reviewed the evangelical best-sellers for The Great Sex Rescue, we saw over and over again the books talking about men’s greatest need as being for sex, and how if women don’t give sex, men will likely watch porn. There’s a big misunderstanding in our literature and our teaching about sex.
So let’s be clear: If our prescription for marriage leaves one spouse crying and desperate and the other emotionally detached, then we are not being Christlike. When we are following Christ, we should look less selfish, not more selfish. Our advice should be life-giving, not soul crushing.
I don’t recommend that you just cut your spouse off from sex willy nilly; I think this is often a necessary step, that should ideally be pursued with a licensed counselor while the porn addict gets help with the addiction. But to say that you can never say no to sex because he has a right to it turns sex from something that is about knowing to something that is only about entitlement. And sex should never be seen as an entitlement; sex should be a way to show love and create intimacy. Entitlement doesn’t create intimacy; it kills it.
One of the first things we do in The Great Sex Rescue is to invite all of us to change the definition of sex.
It should no longer just be intercourse, especially one-sided intercourse; instead, biblical sex is something that is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable. If we understand that, all the rest naturally follows.
God’s concern is not that we should orgasm, but instead that we should be intimate. When orgasm takes precedence over intimacy, then we’ve lost the biblical vision of sex entirely.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
If sex doesn’t bring you together, but instead strengthens the rift between you, then something is wrong.
If you are emotionally disconnected from each other, and sex feels like you are being used by another, that isn’t right. It’s okay to say, “let’s talk about this. I’m feeling used.”
Sex should never be something where you feel used. So speak up. See a counselor. Read the Great Sex Rescue! But don’t ever feel like you have to consent to being a receptacle. That isn’t of God.
Do you find that we stress “do not deprive him of orgasm” more than we stress “let sex bind you together?” Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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