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Do Wives Always Have to Say Yes to Sex?

Why healthy interdependence in marriage is the key to mutual sexual satisfaction

There’s been some buzz about comments Michelle Duggar recently made when asked her advice to her newlywed daughter. Michelle essentially talked about the importance to make yourself available to meet the sexual needs of your husband and to do so joyfully. Michelle isn’t the first to give this advice. Some Christian teachers and leaders have told women never to say no to their husband’s sexual advances, no matter how tired you may be or how strained your relationship is.

I understand why women think this is biblical advice, but I also have some concerns about such broad sweeping recommendations. In order to unpack this issue, let’s take a look at verses people most often point to when teaching the “never say no” philosophy:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3–5)

This verse is essentially teaching two important concepts about sexuality in marriage: unselfishness in the bedroom and fighting temptation as a team.

Sexual Intimacy Should Never Be About Selfishness

God’s intention for sex in marriage is for both the husband and wife to commit to bringing pleasure and fulfillment to each other. My primary concern about Michelle’s statement is that it fosters the belief that sexual fulfillment is only or primarily about a husband’s pleasure. Take another look at 1 Corinthians 7:4. Do you see that Paul tells men to meet their wife’s sexual needs? A husband has a marital duty to be sensitive to his wife’s feelings, sexual desires, and emotional state, just as she has a duty to be sensitive to his needs.

For too long, the church has emphasized a husband’s sexual fulfillment without validating that God designed sex to be a blessing for women as well. For a wife to be sexually engaged and fulfilled, she can’t simply respond to every sexual advance with a determined “joyfulness.” A great long-term sex life must include the husband learning to be sensitive to his wife. Perhaps she’s exhausted tonight and tomorrow morning would be better. Or maybe he puts the kids to bed so that she can have some energy to focus on being engaged sexually.

While Michelle’s advice reminds a wife not to be withholding or selfish, there is more to a sexual relationship than making your husband happy. It involves self-sacrifice and sensitivity from both the husband and wife.

For many years in my own marriage, I believed that a godly attitude toward sex was to make my husband happy. Ironically, my husband is most happy when I’m fulfilled too. It took me a long time to recognize that the Bible teaches mutual sexual fulfillment. Yes, some days will be more about my husband and other days will be more about me. But in the balance, we are both called to serve and love each other within our sexual relationship.

Fighting as a Team Means Healthy Interdependence

I love the message of 1 Corinthians 7 that tells us to fight temptation as a team. Saying no to emotional entanglements, affairs, porn, and other temptations can begin by saying yes to building a great sex life in marriage.

I remember as a young wife hearing an older woman say, “I want to keep my husband so happy that he doesn’t have a chance to look at other women!” I was inspired by this woman’s comment. I want Mike to think about me, look at me, and be satisfied with me. However, I can never be responsible for my husband’s sexual choices.

There is danger in making a wife bear the responsibility to meet every sexual desire her husband expresses. For example, a man with sexual addiction may want sex several times a day. He may ask his wife to participate in things she is very uncomfortable doing. The implicit (or explicit message) is, “If you don’t meet my sexual needs, I’m free to seek fulfillment elsewhere.” This pressure takes the joy out of sexual union and creates a manipulative environment.

Healthy dependency means we help each other focus on the Lord and stay pure. Unhealthy dependence implies that someone else is responsible for my moral and spiritual choices, or I am responsible for theirs.

A man’s sexual fulfillment in marriage is not a “need” but a great blessing. If, for any reason, his wife is unwilling or unable to meet his sexual expectations, he is still called to be pure and committed to faithfulness.

What You Should Always Say Yes To

There are legitimate reasons why a woman might say no or “not now” to her husband’s sexual advances. Illnesses, serious unresolved conflict, or abusive patterns are good examples. While I don’t think we should automatically say yes to every invitation to have sex, I do believe we should say yes to every invitation to work on sexual intimacy.

If there is a conflict in the way of you feeling sexually safe with your husband, don’t just stonewall him. Invite him to talk through the issue. Express how important it is for you to feel emotionally and sexually close. If you’re exhausted, plan another time to be intimate within the next 24 hours. If you struggle with sexual pain or anxiety during sex, work together to restore healthy intimacy.

Michelle Duggar was right. Sex is very important to marriage. To put it on a back shelf because you are busy or have too much between you is a mistake. Building a life-long love takes commitment to never give up and to work together to overcome whatever barriers are in the way.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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