What Are the Guidelines for Sex in Marriage?
When it comes to sex in marriage, can you provide me with any biblical guidelines for what’s appropriate and what’s not? I’m particularly interested about whether it has anything to say about oral and anal sex. What’s your perspective on these practices?
As a Christian organization, Focus on the Family draws its beliefs about sexuality from the Bible. Scripture makes it clear that sex is God’s special gift to a husband and wife within the bonds of matrimony. It is meant exclusively for marriage.
In addition, the Bible has three important things to say about the meaning and purpose of marital sex. First, it is central to the process by which a husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Second, it is the means whereby they participate in the ongoing work of God’s creation through the pleasure and delight of procreation (Genesis 1:28). Third, it is intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn’t supposed to be “all about me.” Rather, it is designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship. It is a holy mystery, a powerful bonding agent that shapes and affects the relationship between a man and a woman as nothing else can.
These are the theological perspectives and biblical principles that should inform and shape any couple’s expression of physical intimacy in marriage. From the Christian standpoint, marriage is a relationship of love in which a man and a woman model for each other the self-sacrificial nature of Christ’s love for His church. Where there is love, there is liberty, since God has entrusted solely to a husband and wife the prerogative of defining the particulars of their sexual relationship. No one else has the right or authority to tell them how to behave in the bedroom provided it does not violate Scripture. But love also implies that each spouse is obligated to treat the needs, feelings, desires, and preferences of his or her mate as matters of the highest priority.
To put it another way, mutual consent is basic to all healthy sexual expression in marriage. Consent implies that both parties know what’s proposed and expected; that they fully understand the ramifications, physically and emotionally, of the suggested activity; that there is room for discussion; and that both partners are always free to say no. Under no circumstances should either spouse be pressured or coerced into engaging in any form of sexual activity with which he or she is uncomfortable. Respect, humility and forbearance, which are essential to all human relationships, are of the greatest importance here.
With regard to your specific inquiries, the Bible never addresses the question of oral sex in marriage, and for this reason it’s our opinion that this issue must be left to a couple’s own judgment. (We realize, of course, that some Christians have strong reservations about oral sex, and we respect their point of view.) Something similar might be said with regard to anal sex, but it is crucial to add that we have special concerns about this practice. Renowned Christian sex therapists Clifford and Joyce Penner report that the majority of women who engage in anal sex with their husbands admit that they do not enjoy it and feel violated. In such cases, anal sex would appear to breach the biblical concept of mutual respect and enjoyment between partners. There are also serious medical risks associated with anal sex, including the danger of bacterial and viral infections of the vagina, penis, rectum and anus. That’s not to mention that rectal tissue is more delicate and thus more vulnerable to tearing and abrasion than vaginal tissue. With these points in mind, we would strongly caution couples against this practice.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that sexual intimacy in marriage is a lifelong process. Different forms of expression may be appropriate at different phases in the development of the relationship—in youth and old age, in times of stress and times of joy, during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, during and after menopause—the list could go on and on. At every stage, healthy attitudes toward marital sex are characterized by candor, prayerfulness, vulnerability, flexibility and willingness to communicate.