I Corinthians 7 and Paul’s admonitions about sex in marriage

If you have read many articles on this blog, you will notice I allude to I Corinthians 7 a lot so I decided to dedicate a post just to looking at this very important passage of scripture verse by verse.

I Corinthians 7:1-7(KJV)

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I am not a KJV only person by any means and you will see me quote from many translations of the Scriptures.  But I chose the KJV as our starting point.  I will give what is my understanding of each verse (based on other translations and commentaries as well as my own opinion).

7:1

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

When Paul says “to touch a woman”, he is actually talking about marriage – a reading of this passage will confirm that to be the case.  He is not saying that man is forbidden from holding a woman’s hand or hugging her (as I have heard many times growing up in conservative churches). He is talking about it is good for a man not to get married.  But before we jump on the celibacy band wagon let’s see what he has to say in its entirety.

7:2

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

Fornication Biblically speaking refers to sex outside of marriage. So Paul is saying to avoid having sex outside of marriage, people should get married.  Now here we go from him saying in verse 1 it is good for man not to marry, and then he seems to be saying everybody should get married to avoid fornication, but again we need to let him finish to get the full understanding of the passage.

7:3

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

“benevolence” literally comes from the Greek meaning of “kindness” or “good will”.  So it’s literally saying the husband should render due “kindness” to his wife, and she should do the same for him.  At this point all the ladies are saying – yeah! I just need to be kind to my husband and all is well.  Sorry to disappoint, but “benevolence” in this context is a loaded term, just as “touch” was a loaded term in verse 1.  I believe though that “kindness” does reflect the attitude with which we should follow Paul’s commands in the coming verses, God’s Word given through his prophets and Apostles is never by accident, every word matters.

7:4

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

Verse 4 really smacks modern feminism right in the face. The key word of “power” means just that, power or authority. The wife has authority over her husband’s body and the husband has authority over the wife’s body.  Paul acknowledges that men and women may have strong sex drives at any given point with his equal reference to husbands and wives authority over each other’s bodies.

The idea that “it’s my body and I can do what I want with it” has no place before marriage or within marriage for a Christian. Before marriage as Christians our bodies are the temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19), he owns them.  And Ladies yes this refers to all the parts of the your body, not just your southern region. I am not advocating that a man should ever use force when it comes to sex with his wife, but a wife should in love offer her husband her whole body, including her breasts and even her mouth(oral sex).

After marriage, while God still maintains primary ownership of our bodies, he sublets them to our Spouses to have their needs met.

Verse 4 is also the reason that husbands should listen to their wives in how they dress and how they keep their appearance.  For instance I keep my hair cut and my beard trimmed the way my wife likes it. If she wanted me to shave my goatee I would, but she likes it that way.  I wear the clothes my wife likes to see me in and I lovingly call her my fashion adviser.

This concept equally applies to wives. Ladies you should dress to please your husband, and apart from wearing something that you believe would be immoral, you should do as your husband asks.  Ladies that includes in the bedroom wearing lingerie your husband would like, and in the privacy of your own bedroom I can’t think of anything that would be immoral to wear.

7:5

Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

Now the rubber meets the road. Up to this point Paul has spoken of “due benevolence” and then about power over one another’s bodies in marriage.  Now he speaks in terms of fraud. To deny one another of the things he has previously stated (power over the body and sex) is to defraud your spouse.

Fraud is when a person goes into an agreement, says they will do a list of things and then does not do as they stated.  An example of fraud in the business world are these fly-by night construction companies that give people construction estimates, then take their money and run. Paul is saying that a spouse commits fraud when they deny the sexual rights of their spouse. While there are some men who deny their wives, the reality is more often than not it is the wife denying her husband.

Maybe as Christian wife you consider yourself to be pretty honest.  You would not steal from a store and you would never knowingly make a dishonest agreement with anyone.  But do you know ladies that as honest as you think you are, if you consistently deny your husband of his sexual rights to your body you are committing fraud? It is just as if you went to a gas station, pumped your gas, and then drove off without paying. In fact its even worse, if we make the analogy correct, imagine that someone you are supposed to love(a relative or friend) owned that gas station, and you just drove off without paying.   Paul is clear, when you get you married, you are giving your body to your spouse for the rest of your life.

Paul also answers the age old question – who determines how often a married couple should have sex?  “except it be with consent for a time”, so only with the consent of both parties can sex be denied. Many people (and by people I think mostly women) believe that sex should only happen by consent, when in reality denial of sex should only happen by consent.

Now should a man be considerate of his wife? Absolutely! There may be times for medical reasons or other reasons that a wife cannot perform her duty (and yes it’s her duty!). But sex should not be denied for things like “I am not in the mood”, “I just don’t need it now and you should only want to when we both want to”, “You have not earned it” or “You have not been romantic enough for it”.

The last part of verse 5 refers to the temptation of Satan. I believe every spouse needs to evaluate their performance with their spouse from time to time to see that they are not leaving their spouse open to temptation.  Obviously you cannot account for every way your spouse could be tempted, but you need to put in a good effort in this area.

For men – ask yourselves these kinds of questions in regards to temptations your wife might face:

  1. Do you compliment your wife on how beautiful she looks?  Or is the only time she hears that from a guy at the Super Market or at the place she works?
  2. Do you tell your wife that you love her on a regular basis?
  3. Do you talk with your wife, do you share an emotional connection with her?
  4. Do you try to make sure she is fulfilled in the bedroom, that she is sexually satisfied?
  5. Do you deny her sex when she initiates it?

For women – ask yourselves these kind of questions in regards to temptations your husband might face:

  1. Does your husband only see you in sweat pants and tee shirts? Do you still put make up on and nice clothes? Or is the only women he sees with makeup and nice clothes the ladies he works with or the lady at the store?
  2. Do you put on sexy lingerie for your husband? Or is the only women he sees in lingerie the ladies in the Victoria Secret commercials?
  3. Do you let him see you naked? Or do you scold him like he some kind of pervert for wanting to watch you undress?
  4. Do you give him loving sex, do you give yourself completely to him when you have sex or are you just phoning it in?
  5. Are there things you refuse to do in bedroom? If so is it because you believe they are Biblically wrong or is just because you are uncomfortable with it? Realize that anything you refuse to do in the bedroom opens an automatic line of temptation with your husband.
  6. Do you flat out refuse your husband sex for reasons other than medical?
  7. Can you say that you put in a 100% effort to fulfill your husband’s sexual needs and fantasies (as long as they don’t violate Scripture)?

7:6

But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

What Paul is giving permission to do is to marry.  He is not commanding to marry, only giving permission to marry. Thus qualifying what he said early about letting “every” man and woman have their own spouse.

7:7

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

In verse 7 we see Paul explain what meant in verse one when he said it is good for man not to touch a woman.  He rightly says though, it is a gift and certainly not a command from God not to marry.

Summary of I Corinthians 7:1-7:

The Apostle Paul is stating these truths and commands given to him directly by God:

  1. Guys and gals, it’s good to be celibate if and ONLY if you have the gift of celibacy from God.
  2. If you happen to find yourself desiring the opposite sex, then by all means get married or else you might end up having sex outside of marriage.
  3. If you do get married, realize that your body has now been given by God to your spouse – to meet their sexual needs.
  4. Also if you do get married – you are forbidden from denying your spouse their sexual rights to your body unless they give you consent.  Even when consent is given it must only be for a short time and you need to come together soon to avoid temptation.

Why are men and womens sex drives so different?

This is probably a question that men and women have been asking since the beginning of creation.

It’s not that men and women don’t both want sex(at least people who have normal upbringings). It’s just the desire is radically different.

For most women, if they had sex once or twice a month that would be fine.  When do want it most likely it would be near their ovulation cycle(most women do not realize their hormones kick in around that time).  It might also be when they feel really good toward their man, like he has done something super romantic and kind towards them.

Most young men would love to have sex every day.  For us old dudes, we could probably do with sex every other day.

But suffice to say, most men want sex a lot more than most women do.

So why would God wire us this way? Is this God’s idea of a bad joke?

I believe this is not some oversight, or design flaw by our creator, but our nature is this way by design. There are two ways to look at this that will illustrate why I don’t believe this is a mistake.

A Woman’s nature

What if women had the same high sex drive men did? I believe if this was the case we would have a lot more infidelity in this world.  God purposefully made women’s sex drive wired to their emotions rather than being driven by physical desire alone.  This creates a balance, and also a protection against infidelity.  Most men would not be able to turn down a beautiful woman’s sexual advances. Most women however have no problem turning down men(even good looking ones) and do it all the time.

A woman’s desire for emotional connection and commitment forces a man to have a deeper relationship and commitment before physical intimacy can take place. Since God only wanted sex to occur within the bounds of marriage, this makes perfect sense that he designed women this way.

So basically before marriage occurs, a woman’s nature is God’s stop gap against premarital sex.

A Man’s nature

For men and women, under the right circumstances in a loving and committed relationship, sex can be an emotional and physical experience.  In fact most men and women would agree that this is the best kind of sex.  But for most men, this is NOT the only kind of sex.  For a man sex can be 100% physical with no emotional attachment whatsoever, but for most women this concept(of physical only sex) is impossible for them to understand.

The reason from a biological standpoint is that man’s semen is replenished every 24 to 72 hours.  This releases hormones throughout his body telling him he needs to release his seed.  His attraction to eligible females around him grows more intense as each day passes.  For most women this hormonal need for sex only occurs once a month around the time if her ovulation, but even then emotional connection is still needed.

We all agree that there are some traits we possess because of our fallen nature, because of sin.  The Bible says that sin has corrupted us.  But is a man’s high sex drive, and the fact that he can have sex completely apart from any emotional attachment a part of the sinful nature?

I would argue that the answer is NO.  A man’s nature, his higher sex drive, and his need for sexuality apart from emotional attachment is a part of God’s design as well.

A man’s high sex drive is what drives him to have an emotional relationship with a woman.  He knows she will only give him what he needs if he firsts meets her needs for emotional connection and commitment.   A man’s sex drive is also what helps keep many marriages going because often times a relationship can grow cold.

Many people have argued that sex should come only after a woman has been properly romanced.  I completely disagree with that.  While a man should try to romance his wife as often as he can, this should not and cannot be a per-requisite to sex every time it occurs.  In fact, the Bible places no per-requisites on sex(except for marriage of course):

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 CEB

The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Don’t refuse to meet each other’s needs unless you both agree for a short period of time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come back together again so that Satan might not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

But why would sex without romance ever be good for a relationship?

Often times a relationship can grow stale or cold because of a variety of factors including stress.  There are many times a woman might even care about an emotional connection because she is stressed.  The man initiating sex, because of his physical need, forces the connection, or least gives it a chance.  There are many women that will admit that at first they were not in the mood, but as foreplay continued and sexual connection took place they grew closer to their husbands, and they forgot about what was stressing them.

This also could be the same in reverse.  A man might be stressed out with work or other things to the point that his sex drive is crushed.  A wife initiating sex can often snap him out of his stressful state and rekindle the relationship.

So while it is true that romance often leads to sex, sometimes sex can lead to romance.

Why would God not make man and woman both emotional creatures, both with the same per-requisite of emotional connection and commitment before sex?

This is an excellent question.  The reason is that God needed one person to be the leader, the fighter, the hunter and the provider while the other person  needed to be a caretaker. A caretaker must be emotional and must be able to empathize easily with those for home she is caring.  This design makes women perfectly suited to caring for children as well as the sick. It should come as no surprise that the vast  majority of caretaker professions are heavily populated by women.

The man needed to be able to disconnect himself from his emotions, to compartmentalize them.  That is why men make much better fighters and hunters.  A man sometimes needs to make a decision based on pure logic alone, apart from emotion.

It is just as difficult for a woman to disconnect from her emotions  as it is for a man to connect to his – and this is all by design.

Should a man try to connect more with his wife emotionally and should a wife try to be more sexy with her husband?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding YES!

I am not arguing that a man should ever try to become exactly like a woman, or that a woman should every try to become exactly like a man – because that would be going against our creator’s design.  But can we sometimes meet each other somewhere in the middle? I think we can.

Basically I think as a men we need to try to meet our wives emotional needs.  However this is a VERY tall order as women often don’t know what they want.  But on a very basic level, women want their husbands to talk to them, and actually listen.  Buying flowers doesn’t hurt either, but without the talking the flowers will have little value.  It might be something around the house she has been bugging her man to fix forever and it just bugging her to death.  The point is it could be anything, but we have to make an effort guys(I am preaching to myself as I can often times get busy with work and be neglectful of my wife).

For women they need to try to look at sex from their husbands perspective(very very physical perspective).  She needs to invest in lingerie or other things to entice her husband, and remember that God has given her body as gift to her husband.  She needs to present that gift to him often and make him feel that he pleases her sexually and that she desires him in that way.

Conclusion

Men and women both need to respect the others nature and stop shaking their fists at God asking him why he designed their spouse the way they are. If we respect God’s design, and try to work within the design he has made as opposed to fighting against it we will be much happier for it.  That means as guys we can’t get mad at our wives for being emotional, or actually expecting us to talk to them.  That means that women can’t get mad at men for wanting sex all the time, or for being such sexual creatures.