When Abstinence Is Wrong

The Silent Sin Subtly Sabotaging Marriages

by Adam McClendon March 19, 2019

Like many in my generation, I love Seinfeld. One of my favorite episodes is "The Soup Nazi." For the poor souls unfamiliar with this episode, Seinfeld and his friends find a place that serves great soup. The catch at the restaurant was, if you didn’t play your cards just right, the chef would refuse service and yell, “No soup for you!”​

The premise applies to intimacy within many marriages. Too many couples silently shout “No sex for you!” for ungodly seasons in their marriage. The couples muddle through sex-deprived seasons for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, couples just drift apart. Sometimes, one of the spouses is inconsiderate and just doesn’t consider it a big deal. Sometimes, there are addictions involved, which rob intimacy and lead to self-fulfillment. Sometimes, unhealthy bedroom practices have crept in. Sometimes, conflict arises, and the withholding of intimacy is a weapon wielded out of spite. Regardless of the reason, extended periods without sex in a marriage is sinful barring some exceptional circumstance.​

Paul pressed this point in 1 Corinthians 7: “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.”​

The lack of sex in marriage contributes to Satan’s success in some people’s lives. Said another way, sexual deprivation is sabotaging marriages. I have ministered to people with sexual struggles for years and this issue is at the heart of many conflicts. The lack of physical intimacy boosts fleshly desires and opens us up to temptation in significant ways.​

Much more could be said, but I want to offer some tips for husbands and wives on how to promote physical intimacy in marriage. These suggestions are stereotypical and, occasionally, the roles are reversed, but as a general rule, these remain true. These tips are not a cure-all, but serve as a starting place.​​

Husbands consider:

  • Giving your wife 20 non-sexual touches throughout the day.
  • Spending 30 minutes asking questions and listening to your wife when you come home.
  • Cleaning the house for 30 minutes and help do some laundry. 
  • Communicating with your wife before lunch and asking if she would be willing to go to bed early tonight so that you two can be physically intimate. 
  • Playing with, encourage, and compliment your children in front of her.

Wives consider:

  • Telling your husband when you are in the mood. 
  • Initiating a sexual touch in bed.
  • Calendaring reminders at set intervals to remind you.
  • When, as Rachel said, “the way of the woman” is upon you (Gen 31:35), tell your spouse and consider being generous to them in other ways. 
  • Refusing to get on your phone, kindle, tablet, or anything else to shut off your mind for the first few minutes of bedtime. 

Both of you consider:

  • Sending your children to their rooms or another room one hour before you all plan to go to bed.
  • Going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual.
  • Going to bed with your spouse.
  • Talking to your spouse while preparing for bed and after you get into bed.
  • Removing the television from the bedroom.
  • The frequency with which you engage. Most of the men I’ve ministered to over the years begin to struggle with the effects of testosterone building up in their bodies after 4 days. As a general rule, sex twice a week is healthy. Certainly, you can enjoy it more often, but be careful about extending too far. ​​​

A final word of encouragement and caution: these actions must be done out of love for Christ and love for one's spouse whether they result in sex or not. If these actions are implemented out of a desire to manipulate someone into doing what you want, bitterness and anger will tend to set in.​​​