I want to talk about the idea of total abstinence as a form of married birth control.
In some Christian circles, this is the recommended method. If you are married, and you don't want any more kids, you stop having sex. Sometimes forever. And, after all, Christianity recommends abstinence before marriage, so why not use it during marriage?
I have several problems with this idea, though. I think sex is an important part of marriage. It isn't the only part, marriage is about more than sex, but physical intimacy is such a precious part of two people becoming interwoven. I think that intentionally stopping your marriage's sex life for long periods of time will eventually hurt your marriage.
I'm going to dig up some Bible verses and pick them apart, which may be boring or irrelevant for my nonChristian readers, so I apologize in advance. 'Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.'The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.'Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another...'
1 Corinthians 7:1-7 (ESV)
This is going to take some picking apart. See, because Paul was celibate for life, he encouraged other people to be celibate for life, to stay single and to never have sex. At the same time, though, he recognized that not everyone would be able to handle such a life--for them, he recommended marriage. Later in the same passage he says that it is better to marry than to "burn with passion," since Christianity considers sex with someone you're not married to to be a wrong thing.
But once you've made that choice, once you've crossed over into the state of marriage, sex becomes a prescription. Sex is a part of a healthy marriage that you can't just intentionally leave out, not without hurting the marriage. We have a responsibility to give our spouses their "conjugal rights," which is such a bland way of putting it. And we are told not to "deprive" each other, except for a temporary time that we must agree with our spouse about. Depriving each other opens the marriage to the danger of adultery--a sexually frustrated spouse is more likely to be tempted to find satisfaction outside the marriage. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this passage, put it like this: "Persons expose themselves to great danger by attempting to perform what is above their strength, and at the same time not bound upon them by any law of God. If they abstain from lawful enjoyments, they may be ensnared into unlawful ones. The remedies God hath provided against sinful inclinations are certainly best."
What is this passage saying? It is
--one of the purposes of marriage (not the whole purpose, but one of the purposes) IS sex
--that we should make efforts to satisfy our marriage partners sexually
--that the decision to withhold sex should be a mutual decision, not used as a weapon in the marriage
--that the decision to withhold sex should be a temporary decision
--marriage is not for everyone, and lifelong celibacy is not for everyone
It is not
--marital rape is okay. The idea of having "authority" over your spouse's body is not a sense of ownership, but rather this entire passage describes this idea of decisions in the marriage being mutual, together, as a unit.
--that one spouse can never be too tired for sex if the other wants it. Again, the passage's context says that decisions should be mutual.
--everyone should stay celibate. In fact, Paul specifically contradicts that.
--that you should marry just anyone so you can have sex with them, as (sadly) many young Christians do at first opportunity. It's still important to choose well when you choose your spouse.
Now, some may take exception to the ESV's translation here. I know the KJV translates "conjugal rights" as "due benevolence," and other translations call it "marital duty," "her due," or "the affection owed." That last one is the most literal translation. But the context of the passage is clear that this is referring to sex: in the previous verses, we were just talking about marriage as the (to Christians) proper vehicle for sex (as opposed to "sexual immorality"). Also, the term "Do not deprive one another" has been instead translated "refuse" or "defraud" (the literal meaning). But, once again, we were talking about sex in this passage, so when it says "Don't defraud each other...and then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt your lack of self-control," what else would it be referring to?
That's the main Bible verse I wanted to look at, but let's see one more.'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.'
Genesis 2:24 (ESV)
This is the original (for Christians) description of marriage. Jesus quotes this passage when talking about divorce, and Paul quotes it twice. But what's interesting is that the "two becoming one flesh" apparently refers (at least partly) to sex. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, when Paul is talking about avoiding sexual sins, he basically says that this "one flesh" relationship is also set up when someone sleeps with a hooker. So this archetypal description of marriage is describing, in essence, sex.
this passage saying?
--that sex is part of the definition of marriage, and part of the purpose of marriage
What is it not
--that sex is the only part of marriage, or that marriage revolves around sex
Look, if my wife was in a horrible car accident tomorrow, and survived but was paralyzed, and we were never able to have sex again, we'd still be married. We'd still love each other. Our marriage is about more than just the sex. I'm just saying that there's a difference between that sadly happening to someone, and someone intentionally cutting themselves and their spouses off forever from one of the purposes and functions (and perks!) of marriage.
No matter what you've heard, God doesn't think sex is dirty
. Christianity teaches that in a God-fearing marriage, sex is a beautiful and sacred thing. Ray Stedman said that "...sex is designed to be an exquisite pleasure which a married couple experiences frequently, as frequently as they mutually desire, and to whatever degree it may be desired." I don't think I can put it better than that.What are your thoughts on abstinence in marriage? Have you or someone you known practiced this? Do you believe it is a good form of birth control?