Since I speak and write books on sex, I get asked questions—a lot of questions. The most common questions relate to "what's okay in the bedroom?" Questions like: Is oral sex okay? What about anal sex? Is it wrong to role play with my husband? Is it okay that my husband likes to spank me? Do you think sex toys are wrong? What's wrong with a married couple watching porn together? Is masturbation okay?
Before we even get into discussing whether something is right or wrong in the bedroom, I want to emphasize that God's desire is for you and your husband to experience great pleasure! His standards are not to limit your enjoyment, but to heighten it. I think many Christian couples have no idea what freedom they have in the bedroom. They settle for "vanilla" sex (aka, the missionary position), placing self-imposed restrictions on themselves that have nothing to do with God's perspective. God made the marriage relationship a safe place for a husband and wife to explore, experiment, laugh, and get lost in sensational sex.
There is nothing spiritual or moral about limiting sexual pleasure in marriage. God is the greatest proponent of your pleasure—not the pleasure that is sweet for a season, but the deep, profound satisfaction that only grows sweeter with time. Once you understand what God has said "no" to, you are free to have a great time exploring all he has given you to enjoy.
As with all areas of life, God's instructions on sex can be found in the Bible. The Bible talks about sex a lot, but often the answers to sexual questions aren't found in a chapter or verse—for example, you won't find any references to vibrators. But using the Bible as a reference guide for decisions will make you wise in discerning good from evil (Hebrews 5:14) even when something seems like a gray area. Here are three questions that can help you discern whether certain sexual acts are right or wrong:
Question #1 – What does God clearly say "no" to?
There are some things the Bible is very clear about, particularly related to sex. Some women get confused about whether what God said "no" to in the Old Testament still applies in our day. For example, women wonder if it's okay to have sex during their period since the Old Testament law said not to. The Old Testament emphasized being ceremonially pure as a physical way of distinguishing God's people from the rest of the world, but since Jesus paid the sacrifice for our sin, being ceremonially clean isn't an issue anymore. However, all of God's people are still called to be morally pure, and sexuality is a big piece of moral purity.
Moral purity means that sexual expression is reserved for the covenant of marriage between a husband and wife. God says "no" to certain violations and perversions of this. Here is a summary of what God prohibits sexually:
- Adultery: having sex with someone who is not your spouse. Jesus expanded adultery to mean not just physical acts, but emotional acts in the mind and heart (Matthew 5:28)
- Homosexuality: The Bible is very clear that for a man to have sex with a man or a woman to have sex with a woman is wrong in God's eyes (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9)
- Lustful Passions: First, let me tell you what this does NOT mean. Lustful passion does not refer to the powerful, God-given sexual desire for each other enjoyed by a married man and woman. Instead, it refers to an unrestrained, indiscriminate sexual desire for men or women other than the person's marriage partner (Mark 7:21 – 22, Ephesians 4:19)
- Coarse Joking: In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths." We have all been around people who can see a sexual connotation in some innocent phrase, then begin to snicker or laugh. This is wrong. However, this does not rule out sexual humor in the privacy of marriage, but rather inappropriate sexual comments in a public setting.
What God says "no" to probably didn't surprise you, but his standards are also not very "PC." If you believe that God, the creator of your sexuality, has your best interest in mind, you will understand that these boundaries are to protect you.
Question #2 – How do you keep sex just between you and your husband?
God said "no" to having sex outside of marriage and having sex with someone you're not married to, so why do we even ask this question? Because many people fudge on it.
Reserving sex, sexual fantasies, and sexual expression only for your husband means more than just what you do physically, but what you look at and what you think about. This is what Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28
This includes fantasy, pornography, online relationships, and erotica. This seems like a pretty strict standard. Jesus goes on to advise us on how to deal with temptation:
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5:29
His message is clear: get rid of whatever causes you to sin in your heart! If it is a portal for temptation, get rid of the iPhone, satellite TV, or your Facebook account. Cut off the relationship that is tempting you. If you really want to know what God says, take his warning seriously. Throw out the mommy porn. Stop flirting with anything that causes you to think, lust, or fantasize about someone other than your spouse.
Question #3 – Will this sexual activity be good for both of us?
This is where things get fuzzy. We don't see anywhere in the Bible where God clearly says "no" to things like sex toys, masturbation, or oral sex. In fact, you'll find very different opinions from Christian leaders on all these topics. The Corinthian church had questions about gray areas too. Instead of telling them exactly what to do, Paul gave them guidelines of how to use good judgment when the Bible doesn't clearly state something as right or wrong.
Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12
A few chapters later, Paul seems to repeat himself:
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Here's what you can take from these passages. There are many things in life that you are free to do and enjoy. When you are not sure whether something is okay, put it through Paul's filter:
- Is this beneficial? Is it good for me? For my husband? Is it good for our marriage?
- Does it master me? Can it be habit-forming or addictive?
- Is it constructive? Does it help me grow and mature? Does it build our marriage?
- Is it loving? Does this action show love towards my husband or is it selfish?
This may mean that for some couples, a sexual act will be fine, and for another couple, the same act isn't right for them. An example of this is oral sex. Some couples feel great freedom to include this in their lovemaking. For other couples, oral sex is a trigger for memories of sexual abuse or pornographic images. The same act can be loving for one couple and harmful for another.
Do you wish God had given you a list of sexual acts with a clear "yes" or "no" by each one? It sure would make things a lot easier. But God, in his wisdom, has left some things open for a husband and wife to talk and pray through. Ultimately, you have to seek his wisdom for your own marriage. If you and your husband disagree on a "gray area," you will have to listen and learn to love each other through the decision.
After all, sex is a lot more than just sharing your body—it's a journey of intimacy. Figuring out boundaries together gives you great opportunities to seek the Lord's wisdom, and to learn how to love each other more deeply.
Download TCW's "Guide to Sexual Satisfaction" at this link, and subscribe to our free Marriage Partnership e-newsletter at this link for weekly tips, advice, and encouragement in the joys, successes, trials, and tribulations of marriage.Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy (www.authenticintimacy.com) and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?