Once again I would like to take an opportunity to answer a question from a reader, and in this case, a question that deals with the frequency with which a husband and wife ought to engage in sexual relations with one another. Here’s the question, followed by my response.
In a recent book review you said that it’s not wise for a husband and wife to tell anyone else how often they have sex together. Can you explain this a bit more and maybe explain how a husband and wife can figure out how often they should have sex?
I believe it is generally unwise and unhelpful for a husband and wife to share details of their sexual intimacy or to read the details of another couple’s sexual intimacy. Of course there may be times and contexts in which a certain level of detail is genuinely helpful, such as when an older couple provides counsel to a younger couple who is struggling in an area. But to share details publicly and to share very intimate details, is usually unwise and unhelpful. I am not saying that it is necessarily sinful, just that there is a better way to achieve the end result.
One of the details that is best kept between a husband and wife is the frequency with which they have sex. There are many places you can go to find statistics on this, and there are even many Christian authors who include such numbers in their books about sexuality. I have several concerns with the appeal to statistics.
In the first place, statistics necessarily provoke comparison. In this case, comparison may well generate either pride or discontentment, either a sense of superiority that you and your spouse have sex more often than the average couple, or discontentment that everyone else is enjoying sex more often than you.
Second, statistics of this kind do very little to take into account context and life stage and even the natural variances in desire between individuals and couples. What is clear about the sexual relationship is that it is always in flux, it is always changing, and every couple needs to give it regular attention if it is to keep from slipping into dysfunction or disregard.
Third, and most significantly, appealing to statistics short circuits the difficult but important process through which a couple can work out just the right frequency in their own relationship. An appeal to statistics may allow a couple to bypass the important matters of heart and character.
With that being said, let me share my thinking on one way a couple may go about finding the frequency that is best for them.
The general rule according to 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 seems to be that the person with the lesser desire should express love to the one with the greater desire by participating in the sexual relationship more often. The reasoning is simple: more sexual desire with less sexual fulfillment can lead to temptation. However, there is more to the equation than simply determining which spouse has the greater desire and encouraging the other to have sex that often.
Let’s consider a couple named Rob and Kelly (randomly-chosen names, I assure you). As with most couples, there is a significant variance in sexual desire between the two. As is typical, but certainly not universal, Rob, the husband, is the one who tends to initiate sexual intimacy and who does so significantly more often than Kelly. However you want to measure relative sexual desires, Rob’s is the greater of the two. Kelly is generally willing to respond to Rob when he initiates, though she needs more time to prepare, more time to warm up to the idea. She finds it easier to participate and to enjoy herself when a longer period of time has elapsed between their lovemaking. The two could easily find themselves at an impasse–an impasse most married couples have encountered at one time or another.
However, both Rob and Kelly are Christians and both are growing in their understanding of how the good news of the gospel continually transforms their lives. They are growing in evidences of God’s grace, ways in which the Holy Spirit is growing them in holiness. This makes them able to have transparent, patient, kind communication about these things. Both express their desires and difficulties and both are able to communicate the level of their own natural sexual desire at this age and at this stage in life. They are able to discuss what sexual intimacy means to each of them, how important it is, and even to seek forgiveness for wrongs done in the past. This is not a conversation they have just once in their marriage, but one they have on a regular basis. They are wise enough not to begin this discussion at 10:30 PM after one spouse has already refused the other!
An evidence of the Spirit’s work in Rob’s life is his growth in love and self-control. He displays growing self-control in his life and displays growing love to his wife by lengthening the time between his attempts to enjoy sexual intimacy. Where he may find that he naturally desires to have sex every x days, he knows that this pace can be difficult for his wife, so he determines to seek to maintain x + 1 or x + 2 days. He trusts in the Holy Spirit to give him the self-control to do this, finding that there is no temptation that is too strong for him to overcome through the power of the Spirit.
Kelly, too, is growing in holiness and she genuinely desires to love and please her husband. She knows that her natural sexual desire is significantly less than her husband’s and also understands the solemn responsibility that is hers through 1 Corinthians 7. She is growing in love, peace and patience, and displays such character by seeking to grow in her eagerness and availability. If her natural desires would be to have sex every x days, she understands that her husband has greater desire, and determines to maintain x – 1 or x -2, or perhaps even x – 10.
In this scenario, both Rob and Kelly are expressing love for the other. This is not about both husband and wife compromising half way, or about just one of them compromising all the way, but about both husband and wife growing in sacrificial love for one another. Both are dying to self, dying to their own desires, in order to bless and serve the other.
What is not relevant to this discussion is how often other couples are having sexual relations. The moment Rob and Kelly turn to statistics, they begin to compare themselves with other people in other life stages and other circumstances. They are no longer looking primarily to one another, no longer seeking to serve one another in love, no longer appealing to the Holy Spirit to sanctify them and to increase his fruit in their lives.