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Must married couples have sex all their lives, or is there a point when they should stop?
Thank you for your honest and interesting question. I will discuss some basic biblical evidence about this, but please note that in the culture of the Bible men alone had legal powers, so that you need to apply this information to women equally with men for our society.
Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman in which a man leaves his parental home to create his own household in marriage, the couple agree the marriage contract, and then become a sexual partnership. As we read: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:24).
The three elements of the marriage covenant therefore are
- to set up a home independent of parental authority;
- to commit to the marriage agreement ('hold fast' - which in ancient times took place at betrothal, or engagement as we would call it); and
- to begin a sexual relationship - in practice after holding a marriage celebration with the families of each partner.
The sexual relationship is essential to the marriage. In Exodus 21:10-11 it is made clear that a wife whose husband refused sex had grounds for honourable divorce. In other words, he had broken the covenant promises he made in marriage and the wife was the victim of marital betrayal. In Proverbs 5:18 we are advised, Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.
In Malachi 2:13 the prophet warns Israel against divorcing wives in favour of finding someone younger: And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
The apostle Paul discusses whether or not partners may withdraw the sexual relationship of marriage and is clearly opposed to it. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)
Paul frankly describes the power of sex in human nature, especially perhaps for men. However, the fundamental fact of sexual partnership in marriage is that it is a union in which there are not separate rights for men and women, but a claim each can make on the other. This may be restricted under temporary circumstances but not abrogated.
This principle is central to marriage and there must be no mistaking that. The rule means that sex should neither be denied nor forced on each other psychologically or physically. It is a mutual commitment and trust that the sexual union should be freely given and received as a celebration and sign of the covenant of marriage.
You may be asking this question because you are feeling the pressure to have sex or because you desire it, but it is being withheld, perhaps due to age. There should be no forcing of sex on either party and this is a discussion that you need to have with your spouse. It may be that you can be romantic through other gestures, not just sexual ones.
It may also be however that you require discussing this further with your pastor or a counsellor. While this may be difficult or seem embarrassing, the conversation and help offered may help you both greatly and strengthen your marriage.
In summary, the biblical and Christian answer to your question is that a sexual relationship should be maintained in marriage and the decision not to do so must be mutual rather than individual.
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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