From the first year of this podcast, we decided to address mature topics and awkward questions. No apologies. If you’re comfortable asking it, we will address it. Needless to say, today’s question is a mature one for married couples. The question arrives from men and from women. Here are three representative emails I’ve picked out.
First, from an anonymous wife: “Pastor John, I have a question. It’s embarrassing. But here it is. My husband likes to use role-playing in the bedroom, and various levels of bondage and dominance. He wants me to say things like ‘I am your slave.’ He wants me to wear certain collars around my neck. To the far extreme, he likes to fantasize that he is raping me. But he’s a very nice person outside of the bedroom. He only asks if he can play out the fantasy in bed. What should I do?”
Second, another anonymous wife writes in: “Dear Pastor John, thank you for the podcast. I have been married for twenty years. Before we got married, my husband told me he had struggled with porn. After we were married, he asked me to try some of the things he saw in the porn he had watched. I consented. Our premarital counselor told us that anything was okay in the marriage bed with mutual consent, and I wanted to please my husband. But this has had a detrimental effect on our marriage. I am now to the point where I don’t want any physical intimacy, and he doesn’t feel loved. Was it okay for us to do those things since we agreed at the time? I think dominance in the bedroom is completely anti-biblical. My husband continues to think it’s fine with mutual consent.”
Third, and finally, the question also arrives from a husband: “Pastor John, my wife recently told me she was unfaithful to me and hasn’t had an emotional connection to me in sex or in general since we got married three years ago. She wants to engage in domineering sexual acts that I see as sinful. She thinks I’m too boring in bed. She now wishes to leave me so I can find a new wife, and so she can engage in sexual experiences with other men. How do I respond?” Pastor John, how would you respond?
Here are five perspectives on sexuality that I hope will help couples get their bearings if they are willing to seriously seek God’s will for their sexual lives. And I do promise that God’s will for your sexual lives is the most satisfying way of life.
First, fantasizing sin is sin. Playing out a situation or behavior in your mind because of its pleasure that is sinful — a sinful situation or a sinful behavior if you did it outwardly — is sin in your mind. And if this is true for fantasies, then it is all the more true that playacting sin is sin. Pretending to do something that, if you did it when not pretending, is sin — that pretending is sin. I say this because of Matthew 5:27–29.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
“To the degree that you pursue some act as more pleasurable because it is illicit, you are in a fool’s bondage.”
In other words, Jesus’s standard of holiness is not merely a standard of bodily deeds, but also of mental delights. If you pursue a pleasure in your mind that is unlawful for your body, you are sinning. What is sin? Think of it. Sin is the heart’s preference for anything above God and his ways. Sin is not primarily the movement of the muscles or the body. It is primarily and fundamentally the movement of the soul, the movement in pursuit of pleasure in a way that God has forbidden. It’s the failure to pursue pleasure in God himself above all else.
So, it was an overstatement or a misstatement (I’m not sure which the counselor would admit to) when the premarital counselor said that anything you mutually agree on in the marriage bed is permitted.
- If you mutually agree to playact a rape, it is sin.
- If you mutually agree to pretend you are having sex in Times Square with a thousand people watching, it is sin.
- If you mutually agree to pretend that you are two strangers who happened upon each other in the woods and have sex, you are sinning.
Fantasized sin is sin, no matter how many people agree on it. Playacted sin is sin.
Second, demanding or coercing unnatural and bizarre sexual acts when they displease the partner is sin.
- Romans 12:10 says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
- Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others [like your wife] more significant than yourselves.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
All of that leads to the conclusion that in the marriage bed, the other person’s desires and delights and disapprovals and displeasures are as important as our own — indeed, more so. To press for your own private bodily satisfaction at the cost of the spouse’s displeasure is
- a failure to honor,
- a failure to count the other more significant,
- a failure to glorify God with your body, and
- a failure to show you are not your own but bought with a price, belonging to Jesus.
If you need ever more kinky sex — ever more bizarre, unconventional sexual acts at the expense of your spouse’s enjoyment — you are elevating your appetite above his or her delights. That’s not the way of Christ.
Folly of the Forbidden
Third, if you pursue a sexual act or an imagined sexual situation because it is more stimulating, scintillating, pleasurable because it is forbidden, then you are living out the way of the fool, and you are embodying the principle of bondage. Proverbs 9:16–17 says, “To him who lacks sense [folly] says, ‘Stolen water is sweet.’” If you pursue forbidden water because its prohibition makes it sweeter, you’re a fool.
Paul got at the principal like this. He said in Romans 7:7–8,
If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment [through the prohibition], produced in me all kinds of covetousness.
“Fantasized sin is sin, no matter how many people agree on it.”
In other words, when you see a child have no interest in a toy until it is forbidden, you are watching bondage to a sinful nature.
So, in the marriage bed, to the degree that you pursue some act as more pleasurable because it is illicit, you are in a fool’s bondage to a sinful impulse.
Fourth, if sexual desire has become so prominent in the way you pursue satisfaction in life that you must push the limits of sexual conventions in order to be a joyful and contented person, your God and your purpose for living have become too small. Bodily appetites become gods when God diminishes. Sexual urges become too big when we lose big purposes for our lives.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “Beholding the glory” — now, that’s an infinitely beautiful thing he’s just mentioned. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being changed into [his] image from one degree of glory to another.” In other words, we need a big, beautiful, glorious, transcendent, majestic vision of God and his purpose for our lives if sex is to stay in its pleasurable, small place.
Love Where It Matters
Finally, I would say to men especially, if you hope to have a thrilling, joyful, mutually satisfying sexual relationship with your wife for the next fifty years, you absolutely will not have it by demanding or expecting ever more bizarre exploits. Rather, you will have it by devoting 99 percent of your effort to loving your wife well outside the bedroom, so that she finds you somebody she really desires.
I don’t promise paradise. There’s too much brokenness in the world. But I do promise you, you will not find fifty years of mutual pleasure on the path of playacted perversion.