Biblical prescriptions with no Bible

I previously wrote about a review of Danny Silk’s Defining the Relationship marriage book, and gave it a pretty bad review. Namely, because it did not discuss one time in the Scriptures of the roles and relationships in marriage such as Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, Titus 2, 1 Peter 3, and so on.

Likewise, there are articles like this on sex — which admittedly I’ve read before but never wrote a post about — which have tons of references to pop culture and famous people, but no references to the Bible on the particular topic.

Back in 2013, provoked by Elizabeth Smart’s story Christians filled the Internet with discussions about sex—particularly abstinence education—so much that the Atlantic posted a summary of these debates in “Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex.”

Although these conversations are evidence that Christians are forming a more candid, holistic and theologically sound discourse about sex, an area that still needs more attention is the far-reaching effects of abstinence rhetoric on marriage.

While the movement is great at detailing— and exaggerating—the benefits of saving sex for marriage, it is dishonest about the challenges abstinence presents to couples who eventually tie the knot.

Jessica Ciencin Henriquez recently detailed how the abstinence movement affected her sex life and marriage in a revealing article titled, “My Virginity Mistake.” Henriquez relays how she pledged herself to Jesus at a purity ceremony at age 14, remained a virgin until she married six years later, and wound up divorced after she and her husband could not make things work in the bedroom.

Looking back, Henriquez states if she had not insisted on waiting for sex until marriage, she could have prevented her divorce. The provocative subtitle of her article reads, “I took an abstinence pledge hoping it would ensure a strong marriage. Instead, it led to a quick divorce.”

Henriquez’s story is important because it highlights an issue the abstinence movement rarely acknowledges: sexual incompatibility within marriage. While this issue may seem irrelevant, it is actually fundamental to traditional Christian beliefs about sex. The fact that sexual compatibility does not matter to Christians when choosing a spouse makes the shocking and countercultural statement that sex is not our God. It indicates that we are willing to make a commitment to someone with whom we may be sexually incompatible, with whom we may never have good sex, because the purpose of marriage is not pleasure, but formation.

Our discourse about sex, however, tends to tell another story, a story that elevates sex to an inordinate degree. The abstinence movement, relying primarily on anecdotes, promises the young unmarrieds that if they save sex for marriage, they will have what Claire and Eli call “reward sex.” In other words, sex will be everything they’ve dreamed it would be—electric, erotic, or, as Elisabeth Elliot, who helped initiate the movement with her book Passion and Purity, writes “unspeakably worth the wait.” Not only are these promises incorrect, but they imply that the purpose of abstinence is good sex, not obedience to God and the cultivation of virtue.

This discourse is not confined to the unmarried, however. Once couples say “I do,” for the rest of their lives, they are expected to have good sex and a lot of it. Christian publications are brimming with instructions on these two contradictory principles: sexual compatibility doesn’t matter when selecting a spouse, but after marriage, couples are treated as if having good sex is part-and-parcel of the call to be a Christian. If you aren’t having good sex, you are expected to go to your local Christian bookstore and choose from a variety of titles—ranging from the classic The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye to the more recent Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman.

In addition to misrepresenting the role of sex in a Christian’s life, this discourse also smacks of an inferiority complex that wants to compete with mainstream culture’s view of sex rather than modeling a rightly ordered sexual ethic to the world. For example, teachings on the Song of Solomon can range from using the book as a modern-day sex manual to a tool of manipulation to get women to acquiesce to inflated views of sex, such as a well-known pastor controversially enjoining women to perform oral sex because “Jesus Christ commands you to do so.” These sort of teachings on sex indicate the spurious claim many Christians accept: that the call to be a married Christian includes within it an obligation to become a sex god or goddess.

Although Christians have recently been more honest about the realities of sex, such as Jake and Melissa Kircher, who admit sex is not what it appears in the movies, a celebrity pastor’s recent appearance on The Viewdemonstrates that Christians still contend with Hollywood’s version of sex. Barbara Walters opens the segment with an alarming announcement: “It is a gospel you probably thought you would never hear from a man of the church: that the Lord wants married couples to have great sex, to have it often and even experiment in the bedroom.”

While this discourse elevates sex so that it becomes an idol, it also ignores a real problem Henriquez addresses and that is likely to surface in Christian marriages because of our insistence on abstinence. What if, contrary to Elliot’s experience, a couple’s wedding night doesn’t seem “worth the wait”?

The Kirchers have astutely suggested couples should expect to be sexually incompatible at first, but what should we say to couples who spend years, or even decades, trying to have good sex without success? How should we respond if a woman, like Henriquez, who obediently saved herself for marriage, finds herself feeling betrayed by the very principle she thought would give her a life of good sex and a happy marriage?

Although sex is indeed God’s gift to us, Christians are not directly commanded by God to have great sex. Couples may find themselves incompatible in the bedroom, and they should not be bombarded with pressure from the Christian community to start having good sex and lots of it. Instead, they should find support and comfort—support that sex is not the only thing that makes a good marriage, and comfort that historically all Christians have been called by God to suffer through numerous trials.

Christians are, and should be, hopeful people. After all, we believe in the resurrection of the dead, heaven and miracles. Some couples may find themselves miraculously gifted with good sex well after their vows, and books such as the LaHayes’ and Leman’s have helped a lot of people in this area. But in this world we will certainly have trouble. The world and all who dwell in it are imperfect. Sex, too, is bound up with the world’s imperfection. Some couples may spend their whole lives struggling with their physical relationship, and it is deceptive to teach that all Christians will, or are somehow biblically required to, have good sex.

Sexual incompatibility, therefore, is a cross that some couples bear, and Christian communities could lighten this burden if we made an effort to put sex in its rightful place. If sex were viewed as a gift that, like everything else in this world, is marred by sin, it may be easier for couples to accept that bad sex is neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage. As with other trials, bad sex is an opportunity to rejoice in suffering (1 Peter 4:13) and to be further conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Ultimately, putting sex in its proper place will encourage us to order God’s gifts in the same way that church tradition teaches the ordering of love. All things, including sex, must be loved to the degree that is proper to the thing in question, with nothing superseding the love of God.

16 paragraphs and no reference to 1 Corinthians 7. Just some vague references to 1 Peter 4 and Romans 8 taken out of context.

Of course, had the author actually read 1 Corinthians 7, she would have found out some common themes that I’ve discussed here before.

1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must [a]fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and [b]come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 [c]Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

Sex is not just for the ‘self’ but indeed the role and responsibility is to fulfill the other’s need to sex so as not to deprive the other through temptation. Basically, one of the responsibilities of marriage is to fulfill the other spouse’s need for sex, whether the husband or the wife wants sex more.

This can only be ‘stopped’ for short periods to pray MUTUALLY by both parties, and then sex is back on the table again. One spouse cannot say to ‘stop’ if they don’t want to because the goal is not selfishness but to love the other person.

1 Corinthians 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Indeed, the only reason given in the NT to marry is to those who burn with passion.

One would think that those who burn with passion and get married would have “great sex,” especially with lots of practice. If they’re burning with passion, they’re going to have lots of sex. Of course, it’s not guaranteed there will be “great sex,” but if the each spouse is focusing on the needs of the other, then it will definitely improve significantly over the course of time.

Then you have garbage like “sexual incompatibility” which is just a “lack of practice” and “lack of focusing on the other’s needs” and/or “lack of attraction.” In other words, selfishness.

Of course, all of this is nothing really new. The problem is that Christian organizations allow this type of stuff be run when they only take a synthesis of popular culture as a Biblical fact rather than what the actual Bible says. This is, by an large, a trend of cherry picking irrelevant verses to support a cultural facade and ignoring the verses that actually speak wisdom and Truth to the actual situation.

This is the first thing I look for when I read “Christian” articles and books to see if they actually conform to what the Bible states is the Truth. Not surprisingly, most don’t pass the grade.

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19 Responses to Biblical prescriptions with no Bible

  1. donalgraeme says:

    Then you have garbage like “sexual incompatibility” which is just a “lack of practice” and “lack of focusing on the other’s needs.” In other words, selfishness.

    It probably also includes a lack of sexual attraction by one or both spouses. IIRC that article referenced about bad sex leading to divorce involved a woman who clearly was not sexually attracted to her husband (or had some serious psychological issues at the time).

  2. @ donalgraeme

    Ah, yeah, I knew I was forgetting to add something when I wrote that. I’ll add that in.

  3. Yeah, I remember when I read that article a while ago, the term “sexual incompatibility” stood out to me, because it is not a biblical term or concept!

  4. RICanuck says:

    Sexual incompatibility?

    Assuming each possesses a set of genitals with the usual configuration, there cannot be sexual incompatibility. What there is, is a lack of attraction, a lack of respect, or some other relationship issue. If it’s the wedding night for two newbies, there may be some confused fumblings, but not sexual incompatibility.

    I remember on Sunshine Mary’s old blog, one female commenter complained that it was her husband who did not want sex. After some months, she gave an update, that sex with her husband was great! She started saying things like, please, and thank you to her husband. She may have felt that she was not being disrespectful, but her husband responded positively to the change.

  5. Robyn says:

    Thanks for calling out this drivel in “relevant magazine” (which isn’t so ‘relevant’ after all). I couldn’t believe it, maybe super-duper-religious-legalistic-Christians aren’t supposed to have over the top, sweaty magnificently fun sex … on-fire grace-filled grateful believers do though.

  6. Chris says:

    “Assuming each possesses a set of genitals with the usual configuration, there cannot be sexual incompatibility.”

    I have to respectfully disagree. Sexual incompatibility is a very real thing that, like other marital “issues,” is one of the genophobic pitfalls so common in modern Evangelicalism. I’ve read testimonies from Christians who intentionally date people they’re not attracted to because they were convinced that physical attraction is the equivalent of sinful lust. I also recall a video on YouTube by an attractive young woman who said something to the effect of, “As long as you marry as virgins, everything will fall into place.”

    I hate Joshua Harris. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

  7. Robyn says:

    Hi Chris, the fact that 1 is male and 1 is female, makes it so there’s compatibility, it’s by design I believe that DS meant: part A into part B (sorry if you find that crass) but the mechanics pretty basic.

  8. donalgraeme says:

    @ Chris, Robyn

    I think you are arguing about semantics at this point. Perhaps a clarification of “Sexual compatibility” would be appropriate. Or at least, would produce less headaches among some of us.

  9. Pingback: Compatibility And Failure | Donal Graeme

  10. RICanuck says:

    @Chris and Robyn,

    Chris, the situation you describe where a Christian will only date someone they don’t find attractive is not sexual incompatibility, it is crass holiness signalling, similar to the SJW virtue signalling. It is not sexual incompatibility, it is just not being attracted to the other (opposite sex, too bad we have to specify nowadays) person.

    Donal, fellow Papist that he is, asked for a definition of ‘sexual incompatibility’. I think in Jessica Ciencin Henriquez’s definition it is; ‘He didn’t give me the toe curling, shriek out loud, orgasms every that I deserve, he’s not a REAL man!’

    In a Christian marriage, sometimes sex is just reassurance, closeness, and love for the other. It is not always crotch shattering fantastic. Jessica Ciencin Henriquez seems to believe that she should have sampled enough men to find one who would always give the BIG O, every time, and that would be the man God intended for her. If that is sexual compatibility, then no married Christian couple is sexually compatible.

    Robyn, you were explicit, but not crass. Sometimes a simple declarative sentence is needed.

  11. @ Chris

    I agree with you, BUT two people who marry without sexual attraction for each other are definitely not “burning with passion [for each other].”

    It can be argued that said participants of the marriage, if not burning with passion [for each other], are not following 1 Corinthians 7 prescriptions.

  12. Rachael says:

    “Then you have garbage like “sexual incompatibility” which is just a “lack of practice” and “lack of focusing on the other’s needs” and/or “lack of attraction.” In other words, selfishness.”

    This is not always the case.

    My husband and I are not sexually compatible. I don’t enjoy sex. I was a virgin until my wedding night and never kisseds man who wasn’t my husband. We don’t suffer from lack of practice (we’ve been married almost 2 years and have committed to having intamacy at least once a week). I find my husband to be quite handsome and sexually attractive. We have read many books, tried every position we could do comfortably and seen several doctors and a therapist. I love my husband and know that sex is the main way he feels love and I never say no to him when he wants intamacy and I even initiate it myself sometimes because I know he likes that. But I still don’t find sex or even organisms enjoyable. There are married couples who are not sexually incompatible and who are incapable of mutually good sex but that does not mean they are selfish.

  13. Robyn says:

    Hi Rachael, have you talked to your mom or dad about it?

  14. Hi Rachael,
    I’m so sorry, that must be frustrating for you guys! You sound like you’re trying to be a generous wife in what is not an ideal situation.

    Two years of marriage would feel like a long time to be struggling with this issue, but it’s quite a short amount of time in the scheme of a whole marriage. You don’t have to accept that this will always be the case for you guys!
    The rest of my post assumes that you want some help with this, so if that’s not the case, please ignore…

    Does your husband know you don’t enjoy sex that much? Have you talked about this?
    When you say you find him sexually attractive, do you mean “intellectually” you think he is attractive or do you feel attracted to him “from between your legs”? (Sorry if that is vulgar! :/ )
    When you say you don’t find orgasms enjoyable… are you sure it is an orgasm? What does it feel like?

    If you’d like to discuss this privately, you are welcome to email me at
    Sex was not instantly good for my husband and I either, so I do have some ideas how to help 🙂

    Also, you might like to check out the book The Unveiled Wife – she talks about how they actually weren’t able to even complete intercourse for (I think?) 2 years in their marriage, and she particularly explores the spiritual aspect that can be involved in these struggles. If you live in Australia, I will gladly post you my copy for free. 🙂

  15. Elspeth says:

    Good morning Rachel.

    Firstly, I assume your comment wasn’t a solicitation for advice as much as it was offer of a different perspective to the often repeated refrain that lack of sexual compatibility equals selfishness. I believe your comment that you were both chaste before marriage and still unable to find sexual compatibility with your husband. I also agree with seriously serving that two years is a long time not to have found a rhythm. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for you.

    Couple of thoughts that might help you. First, (sorry Robyn!), do NOT, I repeat, do NOT talk to your parents about this. Given that you’ve talked to certified sexual experts, LOL, I don’t know what good it would do assault your parent with sexual information about your marriage that they would live much happier without.

    Next, I strongly suggest that you drink a relaxing tea such as peppermint tea in the evenings. At this point, there must be a fair amount of anxiety (even latent anxiety) built up in you as thoughts or times of intimacy approach. Another relaxing supplement is magnesium in powder form. I know for a fact that Calm Zone made by Vitamin Shoppe works well as I have taken it to address another issue.

    Also, I know Sheila Gregoire gets a bad rap in trad/MRA circles, and I *get* why, but she offers a lot of good practical, physical advice for wives struggling in this area. You can start with this post and there should be a lot of stuff there that you can try if you haven’t yet.

    Lastly, you said that you don’t “enjoy orgasms”, which made me wonder if there isn’t something going on beyond the physical that you need to address. If it is at ALL possible, find an older woman who is candid and discreet (contrary to popular opinion these are not mutually exclusive) and do a serious inventory of the things in your past that have created an aversion to the part of sex that God offered as a gift to married couples to help insure that we do it for the continuation of the species. You can have things in your past that have nothing to do with sexual sin on your part yet which might interfere with your ability to appreciate sexual intimacy.

    Hope all of this helps and best of luck to you!

    @ DS: can you remove the duplicate of this comment from the other thread? Apologies for the mix up, and thank you.

  16. Robyn Gibson says:

    No worries Els, I was hoping to get a historical background from Rachael before offering a suggestion. In my experience, it’s difficult to offer helpful advice without ascertaining a little bit of background from the person that’s struggling.

    Your “DO NOT” warning about talking to parents doesn’t bode well for all couples. Only those that have marriages and backgrounds similar to both yours and your husband – that wouldn’t talk to their own parents about these types of problems. Not all people are at the same spot, nor have the same background.

    All three of my kids (and a daughter-in-law) have a tasteful yet open dialogue about sexuality with us.

    SWG is a feminist and should be read with caution. She has a few good ideas but confused me on some others.

  17. Els says:

    True, I didn’t have this kind of open dialog with my parents. My dad was of the mind that this is not rocket science and people have been making babies for thousands of years without the exchange of graphic details.

    My husband’s father was actually a little more open with his sons, but in their house, there were no daughters either.

    We have more of an open dialog with our girls about the beauty of sex within marriage (and only within marriage) but when their weddings approach, any conversation or specific questions they may have will no doubt be answered by me and not their father, for what I would think are obvious reasons.

  18. Rachael says:

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond but I found out that we had to move into a new apartment the day after I posted and I’ve been focused on that. Thanks to all who replied.

    My husband does know that I don’t enjoy sex much and it bothers him but as he says “I still love you”. He’s a sweetheart lol. I do feel physically attracted to him especially when he hasn’t shaved in a few days or is all dressed up for church. I was sexually abused as a child which I do think has some contribution (my husband was also abused and I think that has caused some hang ups for him) but most of the problem we have is physical. My pelvic muscles are hypertonic and much be massaged weekly with a dilator or the terrible pain returns. I was able to achieve organism after six months of marriage (after purchasing some “toys”) I knew what it was because it fit the description of what I had read in several books (organisms cause contractions of the pubic muscles) but they don’t feel much better than eating or drinking when you are hungry or thirsty. And neither of us enjoy our genitals being touched so any foreplay is difficult. I have talked to every married women I trust about our problems and have gotten much sympathy but little help as they have never struggled with this sort of problem. Thank you and God bless.

  19. @ Rachael

    Stretching and/or deep breathing and other relaxing exercises may help.

    It’s an option to go to a physical therapist to help you with the highly tight pelvic floor issues.

    Here are some exercises off hand that can be effective.

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