Questions From Readers
● We have received quite a number of inquiries from married persons asking about sexual matters, as a result of views that have been widely publicized by worldly sources. These questions have dealt with conjugal acts, birth control, sterilization and abortion. We herein comment on such matters to the extent that we feel authorized to do so.
Marriage stems from a divine source, Jehovah God. It was man’s Creator who provided a wife as a complement for Adam. Was this just for platonic companionship, devoid of sexual acts between husband and wife? Not according to the Bible. It says that God instructed the first pair: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth.”—Gen. 1:28.
This helps us to see how Jehovah himself looks at marriage. It has as a primary purpose reproduction or childbearing. (Gen. 1:28; 2:18) This was not to be accomplished by parthenogenesis, the development of an egg without fertilization. Rather, obeying God’s instructions necessitated sexual relations or conjugal acts between the man and his wife. Thus, such chaste and pleasurable intimacy ought not be viewed as wrong or ignoble. It is honorable and sacred, a means to transmit human life. The Bible plainly shows, though, that among Christians intercourse must be restricted to between a husband and his wife. The Creator condemns sexual relations outside of this sphere: “God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”—Heb. 13:4.
Nonetheless, knowing that marital relations also serve to satisfy passionate desires, some persons have asked about certain sexual practices. We have been obliged to respond that it is not the place of outsiders to dictate to a married couple as to what they will do in this intimate aspect of their marriage.
The male and female sex organs were provided by God to be used in fulfilling the noble assignment to be “fruitful and become many.” We need not describe how these organs cooperate to that end. Their design is quite apparent. Married persons recognize the obvious way in which the husband’s organ fits into his wife’s birth canal to serve the serious purpose of reproduction.
Some have contended, however, that absolutely anything done between husband and wife is permissible. However, that view is not supported in the Bible. In Romans 1:24-32, where it speaks of both men and women who participated in immoral sex practices, including lesbian and sodomite acts, the Bible mentions a “natural use of the female.” Thus it shows that to indulge in such perverted use of the reproductive organs so as to satisfy a covetous desire for sexual excitement is not approved by God. This would also be true in connection with married couples; they should not pervert this “natural use of the female.” In many places even the law of the land backs this up, making certain acts between husband and wife illegal. For example, speaking about the United States, Time of August 8, 1969, observed: “Sodomy is illegal in nearly every state, even between spouses.” (Those who have not learned how such perversions are practiced ought to be grateful for that, for Jehovah God urges Christians to “be babes as to badness.”—1 Cor. 14:20.)
In view of their mutual needs marital relations are a way for husband and wife to express tender love and deep affection for each other. Would it be consistent with that selfishly to ask one’s mate to share in a degradation of the reproductive organs, acting in a way that the mate found to be repulsive, just so as to gratify one’s own senses? Would that be the tender, loving course? No sane person would abuse his or her own human body, or force upon it a practice that was revolting. The Scriptures speak of husband and wife as one flesh. (Eph. 5:28-31) So would a sane and loving husband or wife request sex acts that the other mate rightly regarded as unnatural and disgusting? Obviously authority over the body of one’s mate is not unlimited or unaffected by Bible principles.—1 Cor. 7:1-5; Prov. 5:15-19.
Sometimes individuals feel that self-control as to sex is necessary for a single person but that once one is married it is not needed. This view, however, is not correct. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit and it should be manifested in all of one’s dealings. (Gal. 5:22, 23) The fact that usually the male has the greater sexual desire suggests that he display a greater measure of self-control, even though his wife lovingly wants to satisfy him. He should assign her “honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Pet. 3:7) And in part he can do this by recognizing that her sexual nature is different from his. Dwelling with her “according to knowledge,” he ought not think only of quickly satisfying himself however and whenever he wants, but he should be considerate of her both physically and emotionally.
However, beyond the above observations about conjugal acts we cannot go. With love, respect and unselfishness, marriage mates themselves must decide what they will do. They can keep in mind the importance of self-control and that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Related to this matter is the question of birth control. As we mentioned at the outset, reproduction is a prime purpose of marriage, according to the Bible. We firmly believe that children are a blessing, or as Psalm 127:3 puts it: “The fruitage of the belly is a reward.” Does this mean, though, that all Christians are obliged to marry and produce children? Are God’s servants today responsible to apply personally the instruction God gave Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth”?—Gen. 9:1.
No, the Bible does not say that this is an obligation today. Jesus himself pointed out that certain disciples would avoid marrying “on account of the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 19:10-12) And under inspiration the apostle Paul specifically explained that singleness affords greater freedom for serving the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:32-34, 38) Some married Christians, too, in order to enjoy greater freedom to serve God, or for health or economic reasons, have decided to limit the size of their families by practicing birth control. The Bible does not directly discuss birth control, and so each couple can consider the above points and reach their own conclusion. Those who seek to avoid having children now are not violating any command of God to Christians, but neither are those who do have offspring now acting improperly in doing so.—Gal. 6:5.
There are numerous birth-control methods. It is not our place as a Bible society to recommend or endorse any of these. If a married couple want to practice birth control—and let us emphasize that this is entirely a personal decision—they have to conclude how to do that. There might be physical side effects from certain contraceptive methods. Hence, that should be considered. Another aspect to evaluate is whether a particular method might violate Christian principles in some way.
For instance, scientists themselves are not sure of the mode of operation of the intrauterine device (IUD), sometimes called the “loop” or “coil.” A 1968 report from the United Nations World Health Organization stated: “Whether or not the presence of an IUD affects fertilization in the human female has not been conclusively demonstrated. . . . The findings in other species suggest that the prevention of egg-sperm union [conception] in the [fallopian] tube is not the explanation of the antifertility action of IUD’s in mammals.” (Technical Report Series No. 397, page 11) IF this device allows conception but interrupts the development of the fertilized ovum at some later state, it would amount to abortion from a Biblical standpoint. (Abortion will be considered later.) We as a Society have not performed experiments with IUD’s and so cannot say one way or the other. The individual couple must weigh the factors and be willing to shoulder before God the responsibility for their decision.
One contraceptive measure that has many supporters in the world is voluntary sterilization. Surgical operations have been devised by which a male or a female can be rendered sterile for birth-control purposes. Sometimes these operations are termed “temporary” in that it is claimed that they can be reversed. But the fact remains that among the reported 4 percent who seek such a reversal, less than half are successful and even then there are for women extraordinary risks with subsequent pregnancies. With good reason, then, one writer observed that “sterilization must be considered a permanent, irreversible procedure.” (We are, of course, referring to an operation with sterilization as its objective, not an operation to remove diseased tissue such as cancer of the womb. In this latter situation, the loss of one’s reproductive ability might be a sad and possibly unavoidable result, and not the purpose of the operation.)
Whether called “temporary” or not, just what is the Bible view of sterilization? God did not allow sterilization among the Israelites. To the contrary, he forbade his nation to make eunuchs, saying: “No man castrated by crushing the testicles or having his male member cut off may come into the congregation of Jehovah.” (Deut 23:1) Further, he gave laws that protected the reproductive powers. If a married woman endangered the reproductive powers of a man in a fight, she was severely punished for her act.—Deut. 25:11, 12.
It is true that Christians are not under the requirements of the Mosaic law. (Rom. 6:14) But does one really want to know God’s thinking on the matter of sterilization? The above information is the only indication we have in the Bible. Those who are spiritually mature deeply appreciate having insight into God’s view so they can guide their steps accordingly. True, to some persons sterilization might seem to be a course that would require less in the way of self-control or would avoid the dangers associated with pregnancy for a woman in poor health, but note the attitude reflected in Psalm 143:10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your spirit is good; may it lead me in the land of uprightness.” Mature Christians today manifest that same attitude in making their decisions.
One final matter appropriate to this discussion is abortion. There is an increasing clamor in the world for reform of laws on abortion. Proponents often state that abortions should be legalized when a licensed physician “believes there is substantial risk that continuation of the pregnancy would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother or that the child would be born with grave physical or mental defects,” or some variation of this. We do not take sides one way or the other in this legal matter, but we can comment on what the Bible says that relates to the question of whether abortion is licit for a Christian.
Fundamental to this question is the Biblical view that life is a gift from God and is sacred. Both to Noah as the progenitor of the post-Flood human race and to the nation of Israel Jehovah forbade murder or the taking of the life of another human. (Gen. 9:5, 6; Ex. 20:13) But when does a human life begin? Theologians and scientists have argued this point back and forth. However, what is of concern to Christians is Jehovah’s view.
According to God’s law given through Moses the developing human fetus or embryo was considered a life or soul. God declared: “In case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him . . . But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul.” (Ex. 21:22, 23) Note that God did not say that this applied only after a certain number of weeks of the pregnancy had elapsed. If the woman had conceived and was pregnant, action that resulted in killing the developing child in her—that which would in time under normal circumstances live as a separate soul—would be murder.
Consequently, abortion simply to get rid of an unwanted child is the same as willfully taking a human life. (1 John 3:15) The same is true when it comes to getting an abortion just because a doctor theorizes that allowing the pregnancy to go full term will be harmful to the health or life of the mother.* It is good to remember that medical opinions, no matter how sincerely motivated, are still opinions. According to a UPI report, one woman in Hull, England, had such a serious heart problem that she had to rely on an electric device to stimulate her heart. After she became pregnant doctors said “the strains of labor would be too much.” They advised her to have an abortion. Yet she refused to have an abortion. She sought medical aid to stay alive. Finally she gave birth to a healthy daughter and, holding the newborn child in her arms, said: “She’s worth the risk.”
Because of the effects of imperfection there are dangers associated with every human pregnancy. How grateful we can be that God has promised to change things in the future, restoring human perfection and health, even resurrecting those who have been faithful to him. So surely it is the wise course today to do what one can to preserve the degree of life and health one has, but to avoid doing anything that would result in forfeiting one’s hope for eternal life in perfection.—Matt. 16:25-27; Rev. 21:8.
In conclusion, let us mention that we realize that when it comes to birth control and marital relations there are many personal views. We have not tried to discuss all such nor will we. This consideration is to set forth what we find in the Bible. Some persons might desire us to give them more detailed advice on these topics or make decisions for them. This we cannot do. It is our hope, though, that this discussion will prove helpful.
If at childbirth a choice must be made between the life of the mother and that of the child, it is up to the individuals concerned to make that choice. Some in this situation have decided to save the life of the mother because of her importance to her husband and her other children, if any. However, advances in medical procedures in many nations have made this situation very rare.