The self-proclaimed egalitarian lifestyle blog, Ezer, recently published a post titled "On Demand Sex Won't Meet Your Husband's Needs," by freelance writer and kindergarten teacher, Bailey, concerning the expectation of "on demand sex" within Christian marriage. Here are my thoughts on this topic, as a natural fertility educator and happy wife of almost twenty years.
In a genuine, loving marriage, one's spouse must be more than a convenient means to one's own pleasure--a perverse state which is in fact, self-love. In contrast, married persons are called to "love, honor and cherish" their spouses--as so beautifully stated in the traditional marriage vows. Elsewhere, Paul encourages Christian husbands to "love their wives as they do their own bodies" and to "nourish and tenderly care" for their wives as they do their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28). The proposed 'selfish' interpretation of this passage from I Corinthians seems strangely at odds with the entire Christian faith, which is one of self-sacrifice, not indulgence. And certainly, a Christian marriage, where husband is called to symbolize Christ, and the wife, His Bride, (cf. Ephesians 5:22-23) must not be self-seeking, but one of mutual love, tenderness, and care. Indeed, Paul tells husbands to imitate Christ who "gave himself up" for His bride (Ephesians 5:25). It is completely incongruous to imagine the same Paul who calls Ephesian husbands to give themselves up, even to the point of death, would here be giving Corinthian husbands carte blanche to indulge themselves in sexual intercourse at whim without concern for the desires of their wives.
But what of the end of this passage, where Paul seems to criticize, or at least strongly caution against, the abstinence from sexual intercourse upon which natural family planning methods are based? While I haven't conducted a survey, there is no doubt a wide range of frequency of intercourse between individual marriages. And certainly, depending on the stage of life one is in, within the same marriage over time there will be seasons of frequent intercourse--and seasons of infrequent intercourse. Nonetheless, a loving marriage normally includes the good of intercourse as often as the spouses decide, as a beautiful means of uniting them, and delighting each other, as well as helping to bring children into the world, when they are so blessed. I do not believe that this passage is so much a condemnation or discouragement of natural family planning, so much as an encouragement that spouses not hurt the other by stubbornly refusing sex. My interpretation is based on the inclusion in 1 Corinthians 7:5 of that one important concept: mutual agreement. Any mature marriage will necessarily go through some periods in which sex cannot be a daily (or hourly!) habit, depending on busy-ness, illness, care of small children, work trips or responsibilities, etc. So surely Paul is not saying here that it is inherently dangerous for the couple to refrain from sexual relations from time to time.
The concept of "on demand sex" is at odds with the practice of natural family planning, because on demand sex falsely elevates one spouse above the other, who is treated as an object. In contrast, the marriage enriched by the practice of mutual self-restraint calls the spouses to view each other as partners who are at least symbolically co-laboring on the work of building their family, by cooperating with their natures--whether the goal is to conceive a new child, or to avoid pregnancy, or even to accept whatever will come, but with 'eyes open' due to the awareness of the possibility of pregnancy (the vast majority of the time).
A word of encouragement: for those with spouses who are at the beginning of this journey of self-mastery--the practice of natural family planning, with its inherent encouragement to cooperate together with the natural rhythms of fertility and infertility (depending on your pregnancy intention) is quite beneficial in encouraging growth in self-control, if freely chosen by both parties. I repeat: it must be undertaken with mutual agreement (as Paul so wisely encourages). Properly understood, I believe that this passage from 1 Corinthians must not to be taken as a license for one spouse to demand sex from the other, but for both spouses to humble themselves to each other, as they grow together in learning to more perfectly express the language of physical intimacy.
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