Saturday, October 4, 2014

Is Refusing Sex in Marriage OK?

The young married couple sat across from us, obviously frustrated. The issue: he was refusing her sex – not all the time, but frequently enough that it was turning into a real problem.

“I feel like she is just using me sometimes, you know, to satisfy herself.”

Of course this scenario could have easily been reversed. Women are often the one expressing this kind of complaint. So what do we think?

Yes, sometimes in marriage we are using each other – and it’s quite OK.

The Bible has something to say about this: 
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (NLT) The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
This may not seem like a very popular passage with everyone, but it is very practical and very mutual. I wonder how many couples will refuse each other for the purpose of deeper prayer? Oh, and the scripture says it has to be a joint decision.

There are places where we draw the line – like when sex is an addiction. Statistics show that a couple (over the span of a marriage) will have sex an average of from one to three times a week. Younger couples generally more, older couples generally less. And of course the frequency drops during seasons of pregnancy.

One of the reasons a spouse might refuse sex (particularly wives) is because of a lack of physical resources. She has been tending to the needs of their children and is just plain worn out. Or she may experience discomfort because of her monthly menstrual cycle. Or maybe a husband or wife has a very physical or time-consuming job and is exhausted at the end of a day. What can be done?

Give your partner a heads-up so that they can minimize their work load. I know one wife who tells her husband she has enough energy to either prepare a home cooked meal or have sex, but not both. He will gladly bring home pizza. Or how about a husband who offers to forego overtime hours when his wife is feeling romantic?

It is quite true that sometimes we just plain “don’t feel like it”, when our partner does. This is the perfect occasion for a “quickie.” It’s a loving concession we make because we care about our partner. Many experts consider refusing sex a form of emotional abuse when used as a control mechanism in a relationship.

There are times when parents may have to schedule an appointment for sex – a bit unromantic perhaps, but it reduces the anxiety for the spouse who wonders when it will happen again. We call this “planned spontaneity”.

Some couples have extenuating circumstances – physical or medical issues perhaps. We would encourage those couples to find alternate ways of satisfying each other sexually. The key here is finding agreement. But the bonding that occurs is just too precious to ignore forever.

Finally, if you must refuse sex, give a very kind turn-down, and if possible give a rain-check with a potential time in the future.

How about you? Is this an area you will have to give some deep thought to? 


  1. What do I do when spouse wants sex all the time? He says he's still attracted to my body, but he doesn't love me and reminds me that our relationship will end soon and we could go our separate ways. We are on the verge if separating, but I'm still hoping that our relationship will be saved. What should I do?

    1. Dear Anonymous -- I really feel for you and the tough dilemma it causes. Nan & I both agree that this requires that you both are in counseling together to work this out. We suspect there is much more going on. If your spouse is on his way out you may need to set a boundary and let him know that sex is a benefit of a committed marriage relationship -- and if that doesn't exist, then there should be no expectation of a physical connection without a safe emotional one. That said, it will cause a crisis and you will have to be prepared to deal with that.