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.
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.
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