Your Body Is Not Your Own
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 7:3-5
If ever there were a controversial passage in Scripture this is one of the top ten. I can not begin to recount the number of times I have heard spouses, typically women, rail against this command. Sex has become a chore, a perfunctory task, drudgery, and sometimes even an act of violence used to demonstrate a man’s control and power over his wife.
Notice I said typically, because there have been many times when I have seen men lament what they classify as their wives “demands.” I have also encountered men who grieve over the fact that their wives have justified withholding sex as a way to maintain control over their bodies or to execute punishment upon a husband they consider to be wayward in some manner.
Over and over again, I have seen this passage be the source of pain, sacrifice, or a sharp reminder of what is missing and broken within a marriage. I have seen abused and twisted, and I have seen it become the weapon of mass destruction, devastating and destroying marriages and individuals in that twisting of Scripture. And I believe this all stems from the same problem that plagues every passage was ever utilized to serve a selfish motive - we have read it with the sole purpose figuring out how it serves me with no thought to how it is really call to serve another.
“Oh but, Emily, I do want to serve my wife!” one man positively wailed at me one time. “There is nothing in this world I want to give her more than an orgasm! She just won’t let me!”
Well, now that is just great. I am fan of men who want to please their wives this way, and if you are one, allow me to congratulate you. But let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? How many times is the purpose giving her an orgasm is so that you get to have one too?
Look, there is nothing wrong with that desire, and making sure your wife is also happy with the outcome is how it should work. So I am not bashing anyone for wanting this for yourself and for your spouse. If ever there was an area in the marriage to be generous, this is it.
The problem is very few people take the time to separate this passage from their selfish hopes for pleasure. And when we read Paul’s words with such singular focus, we fail to take into account a reoccurring theme that runs throughout the Bible - when you have been blessed with something, no matter what it might be, you have also been entrusted with ensuring that item, person, or event receives the proper care and attention.
We can start with Genesis and the garden. Adam and Eve were not just placed there so that they could party all the time. They had jobs. They had responsibilities. They had God given expectations placed upon their shoulders. Were the blessing of Eden their’s to enjoy? Absolutely, but the enjoyment was increased in the invitation to join with God in his endeavors. Why? Because God knows that we will never fully appreciate what we have been given until we are also given the chance to invest, to know the cost, and witness the how our efforts yield a tangible return.
The Promise Land was not just laid at the feet of Hebrew Nation, God demanded that the people engage in the battle for their new home. Wars were not won without armies, even small and ill prepared armies that only won with God’s direct intervention and help. Goliath was not struck down by lightening, but with a stone cast from a sling swung by a boy. In exile, gardens were to be planted, businesses were to be built, and lives were still lived under the express command to do so with excellence and expectation of returns on investments. Jesus speaks of the talents that were to invested and not buried for this is the proper use of money and done so in the service of the master.
All of these acts were acts of study, care, planning, and obedience - or to put it another way, they were acts of attention with understanding being a necessity for their completion. And this is where it all falls apart when we try to apply 1 Corinthians 7 to our marriage, and our sex lives in particular. We are not studying, caring, planning, or operating in obedience when it comes to our spouse.
Instead, we are so focused on the fun stuff that we are not doing any of the work. We are not studying our spouse’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. Case in point, how many men can properly name all the parts of their wive’s anatomy? Or for that matter, if you are a woman do you know the proper names for the part of your body? Do you know how your body works? Do you know how your spouse’s body works? Why certain touches elicit certain sensations and responses? Or have you just been winging it hoping that everything works out okay?
Often, we are not caring for our spouse, and again proper care requires study. Do they need more sleep? When are they most receptive to sexual overtures? What about their diet? If you are mom are you eating properly or are you just trying to make sure everyone else is fed and then eating what is left? Dads, are you helping mom get the kids to the table and making sure she joins you for dinner or are you letting her rush around after toddlers while you eat your fill? Are you meeting her emotional needs? When is the last time you told her she is beautiful or that she still turns you on without expectation of sex? Wives, when is that last time you thanked him for being a provider for your family or expressed how much you enjoy his touch?
Is sex just something you do when you get the chance? Or are you deliberately planning ways to celebrate your marriage? Are you anticipating needs and meeting them before they have a chance to zap your strength and energy? Are you setting aside times that the two of you can share in the anticipation of what is to happen? That only occurs when we plan.
Are you being obedient? To each other? To God? Or are you locked in a cycle of disrespect and selfishness? If you are then this needs to be addressed because how do you care for someone under such circumstances? How do plan for good things with such an attitude? And studying their needs will only result in criticism and frustration.
I do believe that in marriage our bodies are not our own. I do not think Paul could have been much clearer, but I can’t find a single instance in Scripture where we were entrusted with a blessing that without being charged with its care. And there are far too many of us who want the privilege without the responsibility, and are cannot seem to understand why we are only met with frustration when that privilege falls to rack and ruin. So if you want a better sex life, start by following the examples given in Scripture, love your spouse enough to care for their body as if it were your own. You might be surprised how they respond to being cared for as a person instead being used for an orgasm.