By Elizabeth Prata
Sensitive subject, right? Not just the sex topic, but marriage too. In the 14 years I’ve kept this blog and 6000 or so essays, I have not talked about marriage or sex.
Firstly as a woman with no children, I don’t have anything to say to moms except what the Bible says. I cannot share any experience nor give advice on that topic because I lack practical experience. I share what the Bible says, verses, but not able to commune via experience.
As for the topic of the marital bed, it’s a legitimate topic and so is celibacy, but I am careful about what I discuss online.
But it’s mother’s day coming up, and it’s wedding season, so I thought that I might be share some (hopefully) wisdom on those 2 topics. And resources. My aim is always to consult the Bible first, and then to point to solidly credible resources for women to peruse.
My parents’ marriage was not a good one. My father is passed away now but my mother is coming up on 86 years old. Let’s just say that I was perpetually scared and never felt secure. Love was in short supply. Divorce happened when I was 14.
I grew up in a time of the 1960s and 1970s when things were turning upside down. The sexual revolution was rampant and open marriage was the thing and feminism took hold. I cannot relate to you the extreme turbulence of that time. In the end, I rejected it all, and I decided I wanted to be married and have a traditional life with a man, a college degree, have a house, career, security and love. Who doesn’t want that? Love.
So when I went to college, I fell for the first guy that came along. Fathers, that is what happens when you are unavailable to them in their formative years. A warning. We moved in together when I was a sophomore, and married after we graduated. Sadly, we weren’t really suited to one another, but I wanted to give it a go. He didn’t. Four years after we married, he found another woman, had an affair, and left me pretty quickly. By quickly, I mean there was no long-drawn-out petering away with tears and fights and ‘trying’ . He was there one day. The next he was gone.
Divorce is a violent act. It is two made into one flesh, being ripped apart. People speak of the horror of abortion, tearing the baby limb from limb. Divorce is similar. A violent ripping away of flesh you had cleaved to. Make no mistake.
I had an idol of marriage but no clue about marriage. I was not saved, which made it worse. The fools who think they have wisdom… Ladies, advice: Marriage is HARD. It’s two sinners coming together and mutually submitting. Our flesh does not want to do that, so it’s a battle. Genesis 3’s curse on men and women in marriage makes it even harder. Men will want to dominate their dominating wives. That, or become passive like Adam. Stick to the Bible’s guidelines for marriage, it is the only way to succeed in the longest-term, most pointed sanctification project on earth.
Having been saved now, I understand why the Bible’s many warnings and commands about adultery. Violating the marital bed is one of the worst things any human can do to another. It’s terrible. Porn is a violation of it. Lusting after another is a violation of it. And of course, adultery is a violation of it.
Many churches idolize marriage to the point of insinuation that there is something wrong with a woman who isn’t married. And childless? Oh my, a grieving topic for those who want but can’t.
Marriage is a norm for most of Christ’s people. He did give the command to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28). But marriage is not given to all people. (1 Corinthians 7:7–9). And after all, we are single for major portions of our lives. Being single is not a punishment, even if it a lifetime arrangement.
Elisabeth Elliot married Jim at age 27, which was late for a woman in 1953. She was married only 3 years then Jim was martyred in Ecuador. She remained single for ten years. Then married again. Her 2nd husband died and she was single again for some years before marrying a 3rd time.
God sometimes reserves singles for a particular purpose (John the Baptist, Jeremiah, the 144,000 virgins of the Tribulation…) And in our times He might reserve singleness as a gift, protecting them from something of which they do not know. Or so they can focus totally on a task He has in mind. Whether married or single, we serve the Lord. That is the chief end of man, to glorify the Lord (in obedient service) and enjoy Him forever.
I had made an idol of marriage but deep down I knew, just knew, it was wrong man, wrong time, just wrong. But I wasn’t saved and I wanted what I wanted. Rebels gonna rebel. I wanted a man, marriage, and the marital bed inside a marriage. (I didn’t think it seemly to have promiscuous sex all over the place, that seemed wrong, just one husband, thank you).
But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:9).
I was saved a couple of decades later and then I knew God’s will for my life. I understood things. I am to remain single. I sort of knew that all along. Finally I was content with that, though. I am not really suited for long-term relationships. I have a hard time in relationships anyway. But I did ask the Lord to remove the burning, and He did. I am celibate, single, content. If He wants you to be, He makes it OK in your heart.
Theologian John Stott remained single and celibate his entire life. He said,
“The gift of singleness is more a vocation than an empowerment, although to be sure God is faithful in supporting those he calls.“
As for marrieds, and the marital bed, I found a wonderful resource from Aileen Challies, Tim Challies’ wife. It is called “False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride”. It’s a 21-page booklet online and it’s FREE.
Aileen Challies writes about “Sex”, “Desire”, “Unequal Desire,” “The Heart of Rejection”, and more. She writes graciously, biblically, and plainly.
The purpose of sex, then, is to provide a unique means through which a husband and wife can know one another, serve one another, express vulnerability before one another, give and receive. No other area in marriage offers so much to gain and so much to lose. No other area in marriage so closely grafts the couple together.
I agree. It’s true. And it’s one reason why adultery (and lusting for others and porn etc) are so devastating. Sex is remarkably powerful. It is incredibly intimate. It is why God gave us strict instructions and boundaries about it. Sex is good between a married man and woman, but also good are God’s instructions and limits about it.
As the husband leads, the wife is called by God to submit to her husband’s leadership even in the marriage bed. As in other areas of life, she is called to defy leadership only if her husband demands of her something that would violate her conscience or God’s law. We can see this as a responsibility of the wife but we must also see it as a particular responsibility of the husband. He is to lead in such a way that his wife will have no reason to refuse him. ~Aileen Challies
This is something that newly married couple must find their own way on, mutually. Communication is key. You might be shy at first talking about these things, whether the activity is satisfying to you or if it isn’t. It’s easier sometimes to avoid discussion. But communication in marriage is important and so, it is important on this subject too. Not everything will be perfect right at first, but that is the fun of coalescing as you forge a unified pairing as husband and wife.
He must seek to be sensitive to her needs, to her desires. He must acknowledge the times where, for one reason or another, she might find it exceedingly difficult to give herself to him and must keep from cajoling her into acts that would make her uncomfortable or leave her feeling violated. He needs to exemplify leadership as a servant even here in the bedroom. His first thoughts must be for her. ~Aileen Challies.
Yes, she speaks of the ideal. I pray it is that way for you whether it happens early in your marriage or later.
Marriage, conjugal activity, and singleness and celibacy are sensitive subjects, very sensitive. In my opinion, there is nothing more sacred than the marital bed. But sadly, there is a lot of bad advice out there. Because sex is so powerful, bad advice in this particular area of Christian life can have more harm, much more harm, than one might think. Be careful who you turn to for advice and which resources you absorb.
Please email or message me if you have further questions. I’d be glad to try and help or find a good resource for your question. Meanwhile here are some GOOD resources:
Booklet, Aileen Challies, “False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride”.
Ligonier: The Puritan’s View of Sex in Marriage
Got Questions essay: What does it mean that it is better to marry than to burn in 1 Corinthians 7:9?
Got Questions: Does the Bible teach that there is a gift of celibacy?
Ligonier: Conjugal rights in Marriage
Martyn Lloyd Jones: True Love: A Sermon on True Love from Ephesians 5:25-33
Book: Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak