“Can we *BLANK*?” is one of the site’s most popular and frequently referenced posts. You can go read the details, but the short version is that just about any sexual activity is acceptable within marriage! But it may not surprise you to learn that people in the middle ages had a different view on sex.
If it’s not procreative, it’s fornication. If it’s done on a holy day, it’s fornication. You see above what happens if it’s oral: you get a life sentence of penance.
The penitential writers saw marital sex as a concession, not as a right or even a gift from God. The pleasure it brought was inherently sinful, a gateway to lust, so sex within marriage should be carefully contained and scheduled to ensure the most possible procreation and the least possible pleasure. Married couples had to abstain regularly or the very state of their marriage would degenerate into an illegitimate and sinful union. Even the children born of sex during a period where the couple should have abstained — mainly based on the Church’s liturgical calendar and on the wife’s reproductive cycle — were to be considered bastards.
There’s even a handy flowchart!
It’s no surprise that Christians often bring so much baggage into their marriages! These man-made rules and fears can steal away the joy of sex with our spouse.
Of course, people then weren’t much different than people now — it’s one thing to write a bunch of rules, and it’s another thing to follow them. Fortunately God hasn’t created nearly as many rules as people have.
Are there any sexual limits or boundaries in a Christian marriage? Long-time readers of our blog may not be surprised at the short answer: no! But, of course, there are a few caveats worth discussing. In general, God has given us a wide field of freedom that is fenced with a few rules for our protection. Some rules are precise and explicit (example: “do not commit adultery”) while others require discretion (example: “love your neighbor as yourself”), but we think the principles are pretty easy to apply to sex in marriage.
- Sex in marriage must involve only the married couple. The only holy sex is sex between a married husband and wife. Spouses cannot agree between themselves to bring other people into their sexual relationship. Any sexual practices that involve anyone other than the husband and the wife are sinful. There are numerous passages in the Bible that command strict monogamy; consider this post about Proverbs 5, “be intoxicated always in her love”, Hebrews 13:4, and Proverbs 7.
- Sex in marriage must be consensual. The Bible is pretty heavy on love and humility, and there’s no place for non-consensual sexual activity in a loving relationship between humble spouses. You’re free to play at non-consensual sex if both spouses desire it, as long as it’s play that is founded on real consent. Power exchanges, like bondage play, can be quite fun, as long as it’s play. Consider Philippians 2:3 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
- Sex in marriage must be satisfying for both spouses. Sex in your marriage must satisfy your sexual needs and your spouse’s. One aspect of satisfaction is frequency — sex needs to be as frequent as is required for each spouse to avoid temptation into sexual immorality. When one spouse is feeling angsty, the other spouse must satisfy that need (to the extent possible, given health, distance, etc.). Each spouse must also make a good-faith effort to satisfy the other’s specific sexual desires, as long as those desires don’t violate one of the other bullet points in this post. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 says:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- Sex in marriage must be done in faith. It’s beyond the scope of this post to explore the topic exhaustively, but consider Paul’s teaching about eating food offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. Some of the Corinthians believed it was a sin to eat such food, while others knew that the idols had no spiritual power and that therefore the food offered to the idols was no different from any other food. Paul instructs each person to follow his conscience with regards to such food, but to be careful that the strong do not cause the weak to stumble. Applying this principle to sex: as long as you don’t violate an explicit command as described in the points above, you can have sex however you want in your marriage — but don’t push your freedom on others and thereby cause them to stumble. See also 1 John 3:18-21 and Titus 1:15.
1 Corinthians 8:8-9 — However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
We get a lot of emails asking, “can we do X, Y, and Z?” The purpose of this post is to give couples a framework they can use to decide that for themselves. As long as the activity is only between spouses, is consensual, meets both spouses’ needs, and is done in faith, then the answer is yes, you can do it! In fact, my prayer is that as your marriage matures spiritually you will agree with each other to push back your boundaries and enjoy the full breadth of sexual freedom that God has given you in your marriage.
Finally, Sexy Corte and I want to give you our personal recommendation: don’t forget to prioritize traditional intercourse — penis-in-vagina.