“Do Not Be Depriving Each Other of It”
OF WHAT? Of the sexual due, of a married person’s right to enjoy sexual intercourse with his or her lawful mate. The command is directed to the Christian husband and to the wife.—1 Cor. 7:5.
Why did the apostle Paul, in writing to Christians, find it necessary to raise such an intimate matter? And why, indeed, should it be of such concern to Christians today?
The Corinthian Christians to whom Paul wrote, about the year 55 C.E., lived in a city that was morally corrupt, so much so that the expression “to corinthianize” came into use as meaning “to practice whoredom.”
As for us, we can agree that the world today is likewise morally corrupt. For many, sexual promiscuity is an accepted norm. Everyone is bombarded with sex through the medium of TV, the cinema, books and advertising. This produces tremendous pressure to go along with the world’s immoral standards.
Christians live in this system of things and so they, too, are under this same pressure. The fact that some Christians, even after many years of walking in the way of the truth, succumb to immorality is evidence that this pressure is very real and dangerous. Though the pressure comes against both married and single Christians, let us here focus our attention particularly on those who have marriage mates, those to whom Paul directed the words of 1 Corinthians 7:5.
If you are married, how can you protect yourself—and your mate whom you love—from falling prey to sexual immorality? You might feel that your love for each other is so strong that this could never happen to either of you. But in the 10th chapter of the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:8-12.
In the seventh chapter of his letter, Paul offers this fine counsel of a practical kind: “Because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not be depriving each other of it, except by mutual consent for an appointed time.”—1 Cor. 7:2-5.
Paul was aware, as most of us are, of what a powerful force sexual desire can be. That is why he realized that a course of singleness was not possible for all persons. Concerning unmarried persons he wrote: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.”—1 Cor. 7:9, 37.
Even with married couples, a morally dangerous situation can arise if one of the partners arbitrarily deprives his or her mate of the marriage due for a time, especially if this extends into weeks or months. Because of “prevalence of fornication” and the sexual danger that could arise Paul counseled married couples not to be “depriving each other” of sexual intercourse.
A LIMITED “DUE”?
‘But wait!’ many a woman might say. ‘Does that mean I am obligated to respond to my husband’s sexual advances whenever he feels inclined? What if I do not feel the same? Maybe I am tired after a hard day, perhaps doing the family wash. Or my cycle may be affecting my mood or strength.’
Such reactions are understandably more common from women than from men. On the whole, males seem to have a more pronounced sexual drive. They are more easily aroused. And it is less likely that some upset or distraction would disincline them from seeking sexual relief. On the other hand, women are often more sensitive, their emotions being more finely tuned. Hence, a wife’s interest in sex might be diminished by some concern, a dispute among the children, a sick child or a harsh word from her husband. Additionally, overwork or the effect of her monthly cycle might make sharing in marital relations an effort rather than a pleasure.—Gen. 31:35; 1 Pet. 3:7.
Paul’s words do not mean that a wife (or, husband) must share in intercourse at any and every time the other mate might feel the impulse toward that.
There is other Bible advice that loving husbands and wives should apply in this. “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person,” is appropriate counsel.—1 Cor. 10:24.
Surely, a loving Christian man will not impatiently demand his “due” when it is evident that his wife is overtired or indisposed. He should try to keep in mind the counsel of the apostle Peter to husbands to “continue dwelling in like manner with [their wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Pet. 3:7) Such a fine attitude will help the husband to limit or regulate his sexual desire in an honorable and loving way.
A woman blessed with such a considerate husband will certainly respect him more and may often feel moved to respond more willingly, knowing she can fully trust her husband to be tender and considerate.
The wise and loving wife recognizes that her husband has a need sexually and the right for that need to be satisfied, just as the husband must likewise care for the need of his wife. Paul seriously reminds married persons: “Do not be depriving each other of it, except by mutual consent for an appointed time.” (1 Cor. 7:5) There may be occasions when a couple, because of some matter of deep spiritual or emotional concern, decide that sexual intercourse would be inappropriate for a time. But this would be by “mutual consent” and not for a prolonged period, so as not to place undue strain on each other in the matter of “self-regulation” of their sexual desires.
NEED FOR COMMUNICATION
“Mutual consent” implies good communication. Some couples enjoy good communication in other things but lack it regarding intimate sexual matters. Childhood training, experiences or inhibitions may have produced a reticence to discuss such matters with one’s mate. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration and considerable emotional distress. Silence on the part of a wife as to a problem affecting her sexual responsiveness might be misunderstood as an evidence of rejection, with unfortunate consequences. Or the husband, after a prolonged illness, may find his desire for sexual relations lessened. He may feel ashamed to discuss this with his wife. But if he does not do so, what is she to conclude? Christian love will move marriage partners to overcome any reticence about frank, private discussion of such matters, with a view to opening the way for mutual loving help toward resuming normal relations. A key to such communication is selecting the best time. Usually, it is wise to bring the matter up for discussion when both parties are basically relaxed and rested, rather than when tension or tiredness might interfere.—Prov. 25:11.
What if there is a necessity for a prolonged period of avoiding sexual intercourse? Perhaps a doctor has explained that sex relations would pose a serious danger to the health of one of the partners. Here, too, good communication is vital. When both mates understand the situation and are facing it together, it is much easier than if one mate is ‘suffering in silence.’ Also, the ‘deprived’ one can confidently look for Jehovah’s help to remain chaste and keep the marriage bed undefiled. (Heb. 13:4) Naturally, in the meantime it would be foolish to be exposed to influences or situations that could undermine a chaste resolution.
Sadly, some mates have been deprived of the marital due for other reasons. In some cases the sexual due has been used as a weapon in settling disputes, as a means to ‘get one’s own way’ or as an expression of displeasure or dissatisfaction over some mistake or failing. But that runs counter to the wise Bible counsel: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another.” (Eph. 4:26, 32) Love “does not keep account of the injury”; nor does it “return evil for evil.”—1 Cor. 13:4, 5; Rom. 12:17.
The possibility of pregnancy also can affect the feeling toward sharing in sex relations. In many countries, knowledge of birth-control procedures and access to contraceptives are taken for granted. A Christian husband, according to his conscience and in consultation with his mate, can make a personal decision on what to do in this regard.
However, in some lands such knowledge is still limited and access to contraceptives is difficult. This can especially be a cause for concern if it is the custom for the husband to be the sole arbiter of when or when not to have sexual intercourse with his wife. The wife may be expected to respond. But even if a man had been brought up with those ideas, likely he would change once he comes to appreciate Bible principles. (Eph. 2:3; 4:20-24) Consideration for his wife would move him to understand her needs, and, if necessary, to seek the kind of knowledge that would best help him to regulate his relationship with her and work out mutual goals for the family.
Never before has there been such a time when Christians were called on to stand firm in the faith in “all chasteness.” (1 Tim. 5:2) More than ever, married couples need the loving support of each other in ‘working out their salvation.’ (Phil. 2:12) If you are a married Christian, be loving, patient, tender and compassionate with your mate in all things, including your sexual relations. Remember, you have an obligation to each other, a “due” to render. “Do not be depriving each other of it,” but act with loving concern and consideration for your mate. Thus help to protect yourself and your mate from immoral pressures. Such loving concern for each other is sure to have Jehovah’s blessing and to enrich your life together.