Skip to content

Protected: Miniblog #321: Yes, Basic Sexual Compatibility Is Essential Even for Evangelical Marriages

by Carson T. Clark on March 1, 2014

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

  • Kristin

    While I think you make great points, and having such a discussion is probably as important as you say, what should a couple do if they have: dated, prayed about marriage, gotten engaged, then have premarital counseling and discover they arent on the same page sexually? If that is the only big difference, after all of that, I can’t see that a couple would actually call off a marriage when they aren’t sure they will be sexually incompatible. Now, maybe they should, but I can’t see it actually happening. Plus, not having had sex, a person is really unsure about drive and whats acceptable. Before I had sex, I thought I had a high sex drive, but it turned out to be more moderate. I thought there were sexual things I would never, never do, and it turned out I was totally okay with them and enjoyed them. I just think it’s hard to know without actually having sex. But like you’ve said in your other postings about evangelicals and sex, I think talking about it more openly (especially moving beyond the basics) is important.

    • carsontclark

      “what should a couple do if they have: dated, prayed about marriage, gotten engaged, then have premarital counseling and discover they arent on the same page sexually?”

      It grieves my heart to say this, but at that point I think it’s important to call off the engagement. Very, very important.

      “I just think it’s hard to know without actually having sex.”

      I wholeheartedly agree. That’s why I think it’s important to have as many open, honest, and deep conversations about this as possible before marriage.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Any premarital counselor who allows that couple to believe that they have conclusively determined their (in)compatibility should be slapped with a malpractice censure. And what if the counsel and discussions appear to point to compatibility, but after the marriage it turns out they were wrong? Should the marriage be annulled? Should the counselor be liable for mis-diagnosis? Aren’t you seeing how fraught this is?

    • carsontclark

      I strongly disagree with you on a number of these issues.

  • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

    Honest conversation, yes. But you’re wrong here, on two basic counts. First, the certainty you seek cannot be known without tangible experience you have (rightly) ruled out. Second, you have made sexual function a lynchpin upon which a marriage stands or falls. You have not said this but I will ask: do you also suggest that sexual incompatibility of the sort you describe, if discovered after a couple is married, is grounds for divorce? Your sidenote 1 almost implies it.

    If so, I think you’re wrong. It comes dangerously close to idolozing sex. It definitely casts sex as “what I get” rather than “how I give and love.”

    • carsontclark

      If a spouse fails to fulfill his or her covenant vow (i.e. “to have and to hold”) and a virtually sexless marriage exists, I do believe that’s biblical grounds for divorce.

    • carsontclark

      http://site.themarriagebed.com/bible/scriptural-applications/divorce

      “There is another covenant breaker which is seldom mentioned, and rather controversial. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul tells us that it is sin to refuse our spouse sexually. In the Old Testament men are specifically commanded to meet their wives’ sexual needs (as well as provide her with clothes and food), and in Jewish civil law sexual refusal was a valid reason for divorce and remarriage even if the couple had children. It seems to us that the word porneia includes sexual refusal, and as such forced abstinence could be a valid reason for divorce according to Jesus. What we are talking about here is not a difference of sex drive which results in one spouse saying “no” on occasion, but to an ongoing rejection of sex which results in little or no sex.

      In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul makes it clear that many do not have the ability to resist sexual sin without a spouse to meet their sexual needs. In 1 Timothy 5:11 Paul says that widows under the age of 60 should not make a pledge of celibacy because they will become so sexually desirous that they will set aside their commitment. Based on these things, we begin to understand why divorce for forced sexual abstinence would be allowed.

      Of course there needs to be a real effort to work on sexual issues, and the person who is being refused needs to make sure that s/he is not doing things that make it difficult or impossible for their spouse to be sexual with them. Demanding the inclusion of porn or fetishes in the marriage bed would rightly bring sexual refusal. Emotional rejection, extreme manipulation, and open disrespect will also lead to a situation where it’s impossible to want or enjoy sex.”

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Not convinced. Yes, Paul does command spouses not to deprive each other. But to take failing that command as grounds for divorce seems to me WAY beyond the pale. I think rather, like many commands Paul issues, the wrong party is appealing to the command.

      Just as I believe that Ephesians 5:21-14 is directed to the submitters, not the “submittees,” I believe the same probably applies in 1 Cor. 7. What I mean by this is that Paul makes very clear commands to all of us to do certain humble and giving things, and we ought to obey those things. But that does not mean, in Christian calculus, that those to whom the gift or the humility is due, have therefore got a right to demand them. In fact the Christ-following paradigm (in this and many other areas) is quite the opposite.

      What, also, about the covenant (not from the Bible, I grant, but the promise most of us made) to stick with our spouses “for better or worse … in sickness and health?” If one partner, through physical injury, becomes impotent, does that release the other to divorce in your view? If yes, we just have to agree that we disagree vehemently. If so, then what about emotional wounds, mental health, etc.? Where, precisely, do you suggest the line is drawn?

      I realize this is easy for me to say from the context of a truly happy and fulfilled marriage. But the implications of what you suggest are, I believe, pretty far off the mark from godly marriage (and here, I really do wish you’d engage with the pragmatic question of how one can/should have the necessary data for premarital negotiation).

    • carsontclark

      I do not wish to engage you further at this time. Too much on my plate.

    • carsontclark

      “…The third case for divorce is that in which one of the parties deprives and avoids the other, refusing to fulfill the conjugal duty or to live with the other person. For example, one finds many a stubborn wife like that who will not give in, and who cares not a whit whether her husband falls into the sin of unchastity ten times over. Here it is time for the husband to say, ‘If you will not, another will; the maid will come if the wife will not.’ Only first the husband should admonish and warn his wife two or three times, and let the situation be known to others so that her stubbornness becomes a matter of common knowledge and is rebuked before the congregation…

      Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, I Corinthians 7 [:4-5], ‘The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,’ etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage…” – Martin Luther

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Are you asking me to respond? ‘Cause I promised in my private message to you to let it go unless you asked … short answer, Luther’s discussion may be logical, but I believe it’s wrong. I’ll tell you why if you want.

  • Adam Cirone

    I am not (nor have ever been) married, so I offer my opinion from within that limited context.

    I agree with you, and I think that basic (emphasis on basic) sexual compatibility is important. If I expect to have sex twice a week, and my wife expects to have sex a half-dozen times a year, then there is not basic sexual compatibility. I believe that would create problems.

    What about other activities in marriage? I would like to cook meals regularly with my future wife, perhaps twice a week. Am I even going to continue to dating a woman who doesn’t even like to cook? Who would be bothered by me being in the kitchen with her? This isn’t a major issue in marriage (probably), but I don’t know if our dating relationship will even make it that far if we don’t have some compatibility on a few activities such as this.

    And isn’t sex one of the most important activities within a marriage… otherwise, why are there so many passages of scriptures that address the issues surrounding sex? So shouldn’t there be some basic compatibility there, on an important activity that is part of every marriage?

    Of course, I can invite a woman over to my apartment, and we can cook a meal together, before getting married, learning about our compatibility on this sort of thing before even getting close to being engaged. That is not a luxury that dating Christians have in regard to sex.

    But I that is why open, honest, and frequent conversation leading up to and through engagement is important. Too damn bad if you feel uncomfortable doing that. And it won’t be perfect, and you are bound to learn all sorts of unexpected things once you actually get married. But to not try to sort out the compatibility issues beforehand is irresponsible.

    • carsontclark

      “… it won’t be perfect, and you are bound to learn all sorts of unexpected things once you actually get married. But to not try to sort out the compatibility issues beforehand is irresponsible.”

      Agreed.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Except before marriage you Just. Don’t. Have. Sufficient. Data. Even if you think you do.

      Doesn’t mean communication beforehand is unimportant — it does matter. DOES mean that commitment to a level of interest is AT BEST based upon thoughts and instincts whose predictive value is about that of a tossed coin.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      You asked “And isn’t sex one of the most important activities within a marriage… otherwise, why are there so many passages of scriptures that address the issues surrounding sex?”

      No. Sex I a wonderful gift to be enjoyed within marriage, but it’s not remotely the be-all and end-all of what is supposed to be a committed life together. If marriage were primarily about sex, all that stuff about Christ as bride of the church becomes either nonsensical or downright icky.

      And al those passages in Scripture? Maybe because obsession with sex is one of the most common foci of human sin???

    • Adam Cirone

      “If marriage were primarily about sex, all that stuff about Christ as bride of the church becomes either nonsensical or downright icky.”

      I think that Christ being the bride of the church is meant to be metaphorical.

      “Sex I a wonderful gift to be enjoyed within marriage, but it’s not remotely the be-all and end-all of what is supposed to be a committed life together.”

      I agree with this statement, and but I don’t think that it really refutes that idea that sex is an important part of marriage. Perhaps my statement that sex is “one of the most important activities within a marriage” is incorrect, but I think you swing too far the other direction with the language “not remotely the be-all and end-all.”

    • carsontclark

      “Perhaps my statement that sex is ‘one of the most important activities within a marriage’ is incorrect, but I think you swing too far the other direction with the language ‘not remotely the be-all and end-all.’ ”

      It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that what you’re getting at is whether the sexual relationship between the husband and wife is seen as a primary or secondary issue in the marriage. That is, is sex central or peripheral? All of which gets back to the idea I addressed in previous blog post about couples having different Marital Visions.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Of course it’s metaphorical. But if marriage is mostly or primarily about sex, the metaphor sucks.

      Perhaps by nuancing my statement we’ll have a meeting (or approaching) of the minds. I don’t for a moment suggest that a sexless marriage is a healthy one. But I also believe that a marriage whose primary purpose (in the mind of either or both partners) is to have a legitimate place for sex, is even more unhealthy, probably doomed, and most categorically not what God intended.

      Maybe this will help: If the focus is “I want (need, deserve) sex. I am married so I can get sex legitimately,” then the focus is on me and on receiving. Marriage, especially the kind of Christian marriage that is related to the metaphor of the church, is about what I can give to someone else because of my love for her, not about what I get in return. Now, it so happens that in giving I receive; it also happens that as a fallen human I still think about receiving not only about giving. But though that’s true, it doesn’t change the foundation of what is right.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      “And it won’t be perfect, and you are bound to learn all sorts of unexpected things once you actually get married.”

      Yes. And the beauty of it is, some of those unexpected things can be flat-out awesome. I’d hate to see people robbed of the joy that comes of truly learning to love each other for better or for worse.

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 24 years of marriage, it’s that a good physical relationship (note, “physical relationship” is a whole lot more than just intercourse) is the result of love and trust in the rest of the relationship, not a foundation for it. If a couple are having incompatibilities in the bedroom, the place to start working on it isn’t the bedroom, it’s the rest of their lives together. If there isn’t enough of the rest of their lives that’s together, to work on, then there’s the first (I did not say only) problem. Great sex grows from a great relationship, not the other way around.

  • Adriana McCarthy

    This is what this blog post sounds like to someone unmarried. Should these two call off their engagement?

    Chris: So, have you been salsa dancing before?

    Morgan: No, I’ve been looking forward to salsa-ing with only you after we get married. Have you been salsa dancing?

    C: Of course not, but I did hear the music once…it was amazing! When
    we’re married I want to go salsa dancing with you three times a week.

    M: Salsa dancing sounds really fun, but I’ve never tried it before. I
    don’t really know how much I’ll like it. I’ll definitely go with you,
    even if I don’t like it that much. But for something I’ve never done, I
    can’t really say if it’d be 3 times a week or 3 times a year. I need to
    try it first.

    C: Will you want to dance crazy and passionately or just boring salsa?

    M: I’ll try both, but how am I supposed to know that?

    C: You just know.

    M: No I don’t.

    C: Well, if you won’t go salsa dancing often than it’ll be biblical for us to get a divorce.

    M: Do you love salsa dancing more than me? You’ve never even tried it before!

    C: …

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      Yes, I think you’ve pretty much nailed it…

    • Adam Cirone

      No, I think you’ve missed the mark.

      To someone unmarried (me), it sounds like I need to have open and honest conversations about sex expectations before marriage (likely before engagement). If some major differences exist, then I need to think about whether the relationship would work long-term.

      I expect to do the same thing regarding issues such as finances, children (number and raising), careers, church (type, attendance, etc.), and spending time with relatives. If there are significant incompatibilities on some of these issues, then I need to think about whether the relationship would work long-term.

      So why not talk about sex too? And why not take is just as seriously as these other issues?

      Replace salsa dancing in your example with having/raising children and the conversation between those two people makes much more sense.

    • carsontclark

      Agreed.

    • carsontclark

      But, actually, I think this conversation works on a kind of meta-level. If one person compares conversations about sexual expectations before marriage to salsa dancing and the other person compares such conversations to having/raising children, that’s not likely to be a relationship that will work out. The metaphors themselves speak volumes about the perceived centrality or lack thereof of the sexual relationship in marriage. Likewise… and I say this with complete respect for my friend… I don’t think any Christian with my perspective on this stuff should ever marry any Christian with Dan Martin’s perspective on this stuff.

    • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

      “I don’t think any Christian with my perspective on this stuff should
      ever marry any Christian with Dan Martin’s perspective on this stuff. We
      have different Marital Visions.”

      On that, at least, we completely agree.

    • Adriana McCarthy

      Funny, you compared sex to sports. Remind me how salsa dancing and sports are that different?

    • Adriana McCarthy

      But the thing about children is that you can borrow some for a couple hours/days/weeks and have a pretty good idea about whether you want them. I used salsa dancing because it is something I’ve never done, while I have taken care of kids for significant portions of time. I feel entirely out of my depth to talk about how much I’ll want something for the next 50 years that I’ve never tried. Maybe guys don’t have this problem, but I sure as hell will be surprised if my sex drive turns out to be low, and will be equally surprised if it turns out to be high.

      I don’t find knowing things or talking about things uncomfortable, but if you’re going to ask me to commit to a frequency of an activity I have no knowledge of, that’s unreasonable.

    • Adam Cirone

      I have only briefly interacted with younger children (friends’ kids), and I have worked off and on as a substitute teacher in middle and high schools for the past several years. However, I don’t think any of those interactions reveal in a more significant way how I would interact with and raise my own children, because I think there is a fundamental difference between working with children and being a parent.

      I want to have open and honest conversations with my potential future wife about raising children, with the expectation that both of our attitudes and opinions might change when we actually start a family.

      I think what is important to realize here is that I am not asking anyone to commit to something specific. Compatibility does not mean “exactly the same” but instead (from Wiktionary) means “two or more things are able to exist or perform together in combination without problems or conflict.” To me, that means two people honestly discussing expectations and differences, realizing those might even change over time, and humbly building compromises and trust that prevents conflicts from taking control of the relationship.