We see a lot of people in Christianity saying that men have to earn the right to have sex with their wife. While I believe the advice is well-intentioned, and may even be practical, it is not biblical and it leads to some serious issues.
This week someone commented on my blog pointing to two specific sources where they suggested this. One was Focus on the Family.
Note: I just want to say that this is really a gender neutral topic, however, I’m going to stick with the “earn sex with their wife” perspective, because that’s what was first mentioned and because this is a difficult topic to write in a gender-neutral voice. Please adjust for your own marriage.
Bad advice can look good
The problem with many of Satan’s deceptions is that they often work for some cases, or work in the short term. Often the practical applications of false theology can mirror exactly the applications of truth. However, the reasons for doing so change the outcome dramatically in the long run.
For example, we know as Christians that we are to do good because God loves us and we want to return that love. So, we try to act in accordance with His desires, rather than our own sinful desires. That’s a good theology that in practice leads to good work.
However, there are many Christians who are trying to do the same good works in order to get into heaven. A bad theology that leads to good work. However, the long-term outcome is disastrous. Some Christians get burnt out because they never feel good enough. Others become self-righteous, looking down on those who aren’t producing as many good works. All of them completely miss the point of Christ having died for our sins and so we don’t need to buy our way into heaven, and so miss out on a personal relationship with Him, because they don’t really know who He is.
Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still wrong.
Husbands, love your wives
In the Bible, we have this advice, that husbands should love their wives, that they should act like Christ towards the church. To be a sacrificial leader. Why?
Well, the why is where we have the problem. Focus on the Family and others would have you believe that you should do it in order to get sex. To earn your right into their bed. The deviousness of this false truth is that it works for many, at least in the short term. As you work to make your wife happy, to earn your right to her body, she will feel happier and be more likely to want to have sex. Or she may feel she owes it to you because you’ve done all these things for her.
Now, the practical application of the advice is good: do good things for your wife. Be sacrificial. Love them. Be caring. Show compassion. Nurture the relationship.
However, if you do it for the reason of earning sex, there are two potential disastrous outcomes.
Sex doesn’t happen, and you feel cheated
If you have the mindset of earning sex and sex doesn’t occur, you feel like they’ve cheated you. You put in this investment of time and effort, and you did not get the promised product. The deal has gone bad. The contract has been broken. Your wife didn’t “put out”.
As my children like to complain when things don’t go the way they expected: “It’s not fair!”
But marriage isn’t about being “fair”. Marriage isn’t an equitable contract, or at least it shouldn’t be. If the best comparison to Christ and the church in the Bible is the relationship between a husband and wife, then fair doesn’t enter into it. Let’s face it, God is getting the short end of the stick in our deal. And no, I’m not saying that all men are getting short-changed in marriage.
What I am saying is that neither spouse should look at the marriage in terms of who is getting what. There should be no score-keeping. You do what you do for your spouse because you love them, not so that they will love you. Anything else and at least one spouse, more likely both, will feel they aren’t getting what they deserve.
Your wife will feel like a prostitute in her own marriage
The second problem that men face when trying to “earn” sex is when they are successful. At some point down the road, the wife usually finds out that their husband is only doing nice things for them in exchange for sex. Even if that’s not the case, but they suspect it, this can have terrible consequences. They end up feeling like their husband is paying for sex in some way, be it through time, attention, or whatever. When this occurs, the marriage gets stuck in a difficult spot. The husband can’t do anything nice or helpful without it being met with suspicion and the wife, of course, feels like there’s no emotional connection anymore. Marriage begins to feel like a series of transactions.
And because there’s nothing sexy about feeling like you owe your spouse sex, it’s hard to get out of this cycle. And that’s the trap. Once you start down this pathway, it’s incredibly difficult to get out again. Even if the wife decides to have sex because that’s what she’s supposed to do, women don’t want to feel like they’re beholden to sex, and men don’t want to feel like they’re getting sex out of obligation.
How do you change the pattern?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. It requires a massive mindset change though that is difficult for most.
For the husband in this scenario, the answer is to do things because you love your wife. Cherish her, talk to her, do the dishes, help with the children, do the things she would appreciate. Not so that you’ll earn sex, but so that she will know you love her. Actually, scratch that, do it because you love her, whether she knows and accepts it or not.
This is a difficult calling for the husbands or wives on this side of the dynamic because it means doing the right thing with a content and positive attitude, regardless of whether or not you’re having sex. For some, that means changing some behaviours and attitudes. For others, it means staying the course. However, if this is you, err on the side of caution and see how you can be doing better. I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m saying take responsibility for your actions.
For the wife in this scenario, the answer is to make the decision to show love to your spouse (including physically), even when you aren’t feeling it. The truth is that willingness to have sex is far more important that an initial desire to have sex. For women, in particular, their arousal patterns tend to be more responsive than spontaneous. But, that willingness is critical. A wife who is having sex because she feels it’s her duty, out of pity or just to stop the whining, begging or pleading of her husband, will have a far more difficult time getting aroused than a wife who has decided to be receptive out of love.
This is why it’s critical for the husbands to continue to show love without the expectation of a return and for wives to accept that love as it is, and not feeling like it’s merely a down-payment for sex. If either spouse feels like the other is earning the right to sex, this dynamic will stay locked in the cycle it’s in.
Like I said, it’s not easy, but it is possible, however difficult. This is what I see as being the suggested dynamic in scripture:
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. – 1 Corinthians 7:5
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – Ephesians 5:25
These verses only work together if you are both giving without expectation or obligation. If you are only doing it out a sense of “Christian duty” or because you feel compelled, then it doesn’t work for either spouse. Our marriages instead need to be fueled by a desire to show love to our spouse, in whatever form that takes.
So, if this is your marriage, maybe share this with your spouse. Then have a conversation that ends with a promise to work towards changing that dynamic. For both of you to decide daily to love your spouse regardless of the reward. It can work. I’ve seen it happen. It takes time, and it takes the willpower to stick with your decision while you make the change, knowing it will take time and that there will be slip ups. If you need help, check out our marriage coaching for that added accountability.
27 thoughts on “Making your spouse earn sex can make you feel like a prostitute”
“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.”
1 Corinthians 7:4
If we already have authority over our spouses bodies, why should we have to “work” for it?
Short answer, you don’t.
WOW! Fortunately we have never had that dynamic in our marriage. There was refusal, but not bargaining or feeling I had to earn sex. Since our dramatic attitude change a few months ago, I am surprised that even when I am mean, stupid or offensive during the day she will still have sex with me that night. I am truly blessed!!
I think this is bad advice – earning sex. It’s equivalent to the wife wanting to be told ‘i love you’ more frequently but then saying she hasn’t earned it yet.
That said, we are dealing with emotional abuse in my marriage that comes in the form of yelling/screaming or hypercritism. Yesterday I set a boundary that if my spouse is rude to me such as cutting me off mid sentence, hanging up the phone after being really short with me or questioning me in a way that makes me feel like an idiot/inferior then there will be no sex or touching that night.
This is so hard for me because I am the high drive spouse but what was happening is he would be rude to me in the day we would have sex at night and I would feel so emotionally drained because it was like I was selling out that he could treat me however and then nothing would happen as a result.
Still I am really not sure I am making the right choice. Based on this though, I would say that I DO NOT THINK a man should ever have to earn sex but that there might be some rules of common decency that might apply instead such as not being rude to the wife, taking a shower stuff like that but having the expectation that he would give her an hour full body message and clean the house top to bottom before sex would be ridiculous.
If anyone has any feedback on the boundary I have chosen to set I open that to feedback – its really difficult to be in this situation
I think it depends on the motivation.
If you are punishing or disciplining your spouse and using sex as a tool for those purposes, I think that’s an unhealthy practice.
However, I think there’s nothing wrong with saying “If you treat me like this during the day, I am unwilling to have sex, because the emotional fallout is damaging to our relationship”, that’s radically different. Then you are doing it out of love, saying that acquiescing to sex would actually be harmful to your marriage.
The trick is to not say “oh, yeah, I’ll say that” and use it as a rationalization. Real intent is everything here.
That’s my view anyways.
I’d say I fall under “If you treat me like this during the day, I am unwilling to have sex, because the emotional fallout is damaging to our relationship”,
Because I am not really getting anything out of setting a boundary like this – I mean I would prefer sex to no sex, honestly
So when there is a car crash there is the initial collision which is the initial impact then there is the secondary impact where you hit yourself on the steering wheel, the window, the side of the door, etc. It’s the secondary impact that is more injurious. Unfortunately, this is what was happening – emotionally I was feeling the effects of the secondary impact by minimizing the fact that a collision ever happened in the first place. A big step in the right direction has been acknowledging something is horribly wrong and to stop denying it – I don’t honestly believe that in heathly relationships one spouse critcislzes, is rude to, short with or yells at the other spouse on a nearly daily basis. I am just hoping we can break the cycle before our marriage is destroyed.
You just took on focus on the family. Brace yourself for the storm that follows LOL!
I’m used to weathering storms here 🙂 I think we’ll be okay.
very good and valid points
@kaye: you missed the point completely. He never said you had to “work”. He suggested doing things for your spouse out of love. “…both giving without expectation or obligation.”
Oh, I thought Kaye was agreeing with the post and adding more support.
I can see that perspective Jay Dee. Maybe Kaye can clarify.
I’ll admit, I had not yet read the FOTF article before I commented here. I just finished the article and I’m not sure Jay Dee interpreted the article correctly. To me, the article speaks to being a man worth wanting. Poor choice of words with the use of ‘earn’, absolutely. I believe the article can speak to both the husband and the wife in that a person can only control their actions. I believe it speaks to a person being responsible to present the best ‘you’ to your spouse. It also suggests to “chase” you spouse. Everyone wants to feel desired by their spouse. A person cannot control their spouses reaction however, but that in no way absolves you from your responsibility of presenting the best you yup your spouse. I believe that if you truly desire your spouse with a pure heart, chasing them and serving them will be a piece of cake. And if that is shown to your spouse, they will eventually return that love in kind.
Agreed. I went to read it too after posting my initial comment and i definitely think it’s been misinterpreted. Both points are still valid though
I have not read the Focus on the Family article either, but two things come to mind. First, I’m very careful about what I read and who I listen to, for the very reason Jay points out: so much sounds biblical but isn’t. Second, it’s possible to glean truth even from suspect teachings or statements: my wife calls it picking the meat from the bones.
As for “fallout” from criticizing FOTF, well Jay, I got your back – I say that light heartedly but still somewhat seriously. However, if an organization or ministry can’t take some honest questioning, that just raises more questions for me. Good post, as usual. Thanks.
Since I was the one that shared the links, let me encourage everyone to read the original Al Mohler article that FOTF’s Greg Smalley was referencing:
Mohler expands on the notion of “earning” to include a husband “presenting himself as worthy of [his wife’s] attention and desire.” Mohler has really gone off the deep end much more than Smalley on the concept of “earning” sex.
That said, I don’t for a second let Smalley off the hook. As a professional communicator, he should know the word “earn” is toxic. Husbands already have an unhealthy predisposition to want to earn sex (Jay has already written about it). Furthermore, complementarians often try to appease rebellious Christian wives by telling them that their submission will be a result of their husbands’ being worthy (see Mohler). Implicit in this is that a woman with a husband who hasn’t done the proper “earning” is therefore not entitled to her respect and submission. This provides a powerful rationalization for women to refuse sex or threaten divorce until the husband gets his act together. This further exacerbates the destructive cycle of earning and the viewing of sex as an exchange of goods and services rather than an expression of erotic agape.
Jay has helped me realize that loving my wife as Christ loved the church is not only an unconditional mandate (not contingent on her submission) but that it is also misunderstood to mean passive acquiescence to a sexless marriage as a sometimes necessary act of “sacrificial love”. Instead, sacrificial love actually demands that I make my sex refusing wife as uncomfortable as possible in her sin. I must confront. I must break through the barrier she has put up in our marriage. I must speak the truth in love, but sometimes it has to be tough love. I should never back down. I should never stop pursuing her. I should be kind and giving, but I should make it clear to her that her refusal is a sin, that her obligation TO GOD is to submit to me, and her obligation TO GOD is to engage in regular sex with her husband. She is sinning AGAINST GOD in her refusal and I, as her husband, must call her to great obedience TO GOD.
This is tough. Confrontation is difficult, especially about sex. Smalley is right that we can’t change our wives. But he is wrong that we can only influence her by fixing ourselves and making ourselves more attractive and interesting to our wives. We must confront Satanic strongholds that are in our own hearts. But all the seduction and self-improvement in the world will not get us more sex if we don’t address the Satanic strongholds that may exist in the hearts of our wives, as well. But FOTF tends to soft-pedal the sins of women in the sexual arena.
Thanks, Jay. That said, Curmudgeonly Librarian has an interesting post about Jewish law regarding the “mored”, a sexually refusing husband, and the “moredet”, a sexually refusing wife:
While evangelicals tend to (appropriately) emphasize grace over law, it is vital that we understand the Jewish law as the foundation of biblical truth. The fact that Jewish law would be very specific about conjugal obligations suggests that this issue was of critical concern to the success of marriages in the Jewish community. Jesus taught within the context of being a devout Jew. I don’t know if it is wise to ask our churches to use church discipline against sex refusing spouses, but I guess I have to ask the question: Would that be any worse than allowing a Christian marriage to collapse into divorce? Is a refused spouse suppose to have to fight this battle alone? The Jews don’t think so.
Thanks for the link, that had some new information in there. I appreciate it.
I don’t think the emphasis on grace over law is appropriate though. Grace and the law and two sides of the same equation. If you emphasize one over the other, our relationship with God becomes unbalanced and twisted. Unfortunately, much of Christianity has taken the approach of “well, Christ paid for our sins, therefore we can ignore God’s law” in direct violation of Romans 6:1.
But, to the point of should churches uphold the duty of sex. Yes, I think churches need to be far more involved. This is something we’ve discussed frequently in our Uncovering Intimacy Champions group as one of our members is currently going through a separation/divorce partially to neglect, but also from other things. She did go to her church, and they basically told her it wasn’t their job.
How can it not be the job of the church to hold it’s members accountable? Churches these days tend to drop the role of accountability in our communities, unfortunately. I know in our church when you become a member, you are agreeing to be held accountable to the life you claim to be trying to lead. Does that mean you’re perfect? No. And no one will hold you accountable to sinning. But they will hold you accountable for intentional sin.
So, no, I don’t think spouses should have to handle this alone, and I think it’s shameful that churches don’t offer their help in mediating these discussions. Unfortunately, the vast majority of pastors are not equipped to deal with this either. As my pastor says, seminary taught him 90% theology and 10% dealing with people, however, his job is 90% dealing with people and only 10% sermon writing. He regularly says he wishes they would have prepared him better for dealing with relationships.
As well, pastors statistically have worse marriage than their congregants. So, they probably shouldn’t be in a position of leadership in that area.
Ultimately, we have a systemic problem that probably needs to be addressed from the ground up rather than the top down. We need stable, healthy marriages to step in and help those who aren’t. People who have experience with turning their own marriages around and then helping others do the same. This isn’t going to be fixed by pastors and elders, because the risk is too high to the church “business”, and their training is lacking (or completely missing) anyways.
I have read a lot of postings at the Curmudgeonly Librarian on this issue of covenant/contract views of marriage. You have remarked that it is a covenant NOT a contract, which I agree with. The problem, however, is that while some covenants God makes unilaterally there are also covenants which are agreements between parties. They involve specific features similar to contracts: Negotiation, witnesses, public oath and attestation:
The marriage covenant is obviously an agreement that includes conjugal relations. But as long as I can remember, churches I have attended and lectures from my parents always viewed regular conjugal relations as a marriage bonus (“icing on the cake”), not a marriage right much less a non-negotiable marriage responsibility. My passive nature translated this in my marriage to mean that I was not really entitled to sex and I should not push the issue too hard on my very busy wife lest I be guilty of selfishness. Obviously, my perspective has completely changed but the result of that change has yet to be manifest in my marriage. I have many difficult prayer-filled days to come.
Yeah, sex is not the icing on the cake of marriage. It’s the eggs if anything…without it, the cake falls apart.
Romans 6:1 is talking about sin and grace, not the Law vs. Grace. And it continues on the reasoning that began in chapter 5 – Christ loved us, and died for us, even while we were still sinners. To come into salvation, we did not need to stop sinning (because we couldn’t). So in chapter 6 the question arises: does the same principle that applied to receiving salvation, continue in living the “Christian life”? Paul’s answer is, no, it doesn’t. You can be saved without stopping sinning, but once saved, you are required to stop sinning. This leads to the experience of the new convert in Romans 7 (I try, but I can’t stop sinning), which leads to chapter 8 (you can stop sinning by walking in the Spirit, not in the flesh).
Romans 7 tells us that the law makes us aware of our sin. We cannot separate them.
Yes, it’s purpose was not to make us sinless, but to bring us to the realization that one cannot get to salvation by being good enough. It was a yardstick that we could measure ourselves by, and finding ourselves wanting, we knew we must look outside of ourselves for a Saviour. (Note: it was ever only given to the Jewish people, never Gentiles.)
Of course, those who never had or knew the law were also sinning apart from the Law, and at the death of Christ a way of salvation was offered to us apart from the Law. (Rom. 3:21)
Yes, but just because it’s a yardstick to show us we need God doesn’t mean we can ignore the rules! Having a saviour doesn’t displace sin. It gives us grace for when we fail to follow the law.
As for it only being for the Jewish people, I don’t believe that’s scripturally sound.
Paul is saying the law isn’t made void by faith, or anything else. To Jews and Gentiles, the law is established. It’s still important and valid!
I am astounded that Focus on the Family got it so wrong. There will never be any “earning” of sex in my household. I would leave, rather than play that game. Girls and women can be very manipulative, using sex to punish or reward; but its an ugly behavior that has no place in a Christian marriage. It’s easy: love each other. Love isn’t a feeling, its a choice to treat someone a certain way. That involves serving them, and giving what you have to meet their needs. And we should do it with an “agape” type of love – giving without expecting anything back. When both parties do this, a great marriage results.
When a woman gives her husband sex, even when she might be tired, he will appreciate the gift she is giving him. And over time, his bond to her grows. When I look back and think of the way my wife has always, willingly and happily, met my physical needs with a loving attitude, over a 38+ year marriage, I hold her in much love and respect and value her so highly for the wonderful wife she has been to me, even during hard times.
Do you make it easier for her to ‘give you sex’ though? Do you help her with her load to ensure that she can enjoy sex with you without the distraction of what might be on her ‘to do’ list? Do you try your best to make sure she rests and doesn’t have to do it when she is tired and all she wants is her pillow and sleep? Meeting her needs means she will be more willing to meet yours.