Why It’s Okay to Take Sex Off the Table for a Time

by | Feb 9, 2021 | Pornography, Uncategorized | 17 comments

Take a hiatus from sex when recovering from porn
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There are times when not having sex is a good idea. 

That should not be a revolutionary thing to say, but I remember hearing about a big marriage conference on one of those cruises where a panel of experts was answering questions. One question from the audience came from a woman who was asking,

My husband has had a porn addiction and I feel very betrayed. He says he is trying to get better, but I see no evidence of it. Do I have to keep having sex with him anyway, even if he’s not getting any help?

One female panelist said that often a period of abstaining from sex while he resets his brain, gets some help, and rebuilds trust is necessary. Another big name pastor on that panel, though, said that that was out of the question because that would be depriving him.

This week we’re looking at the idea that “women are methadone for a husband’s sex addiction“, as Every Man’s Battle, Sheet Music, Love & Respect, and other popular evangelical resources purport. We dealt with this on last week’s podcast, but it’s also a big chapter in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue. 

I’ve talked before about how it’s okay to say no to sex at times, and that we need to understand that consent is still a thing, even (or especially!) in marriage. Rape in marriage can occur, and it is never okay.

I want to address this pastor’s response, though, about how saying no to sex when a guy is recovering from a porn addiction would be “depriving” him. To do that, I’d like to go back to first principles.

When the Bible says “do not deprive”, it isn’t talking about one-sided ejaculation. 

The “do not deprive” passage in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is not saying that  you aren’t allowed to refuse your husband orgasm on demand. It is not saying that you aren’t allowed to deprive him of one-sided intercourse. The picture painted by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is one of complete mutuality:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

In the Bible, sex is life-giving; it is not soul-sapping.

Sex, according to Genesis 4:1, is a deep “knowing” of one another. And sex, throughout the Bible, is something mutual.

Biblical sex, then, is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable. And the reason that sex is supposed to be within marriage is because sex is relational. It is about two people knowing each other more deeply and becoming vulnerable with one another; it is not only about one person.

That means that sex is something that binds your hearts together and builds you up. For that to happen, then you both need to matter. Sex isn’t only about one person’s needs or desires; sex is about the desire both of you have to be more fully seen and known. If sex is only about one person’s need for orgasm, then it’s almost an erasure of the other person. As soon as it becomes about only one person’s needs, then the other person becomes a placeholder. Sex is not using someone to masturbate using them; sex is to know someone. If you are using them only for your own sexual gratification, with no concern about how this making the other person feel, then sex ceases to be biblical at all.

This pastor made a common mistake: He equated a husband ejaculating with life-giving sex.

No, life-giving sex is about two people. And when porn has distorted sex for both people, then the answer is not to allow him to continue to ejaculate while using her; the answer is to figure out how both of you can find sex to be life-giving in your relationship again.

For most couples where porn has been a problem, this means taking time off of sex. 

The betrayed spouse needs time to heal and needs to have trust rebuilt

Spouses of porn users often suffer from “betrayal trauma”, where they actually have trauma responses to sex because of how the husband’s (or wife’s) porn use has affected them. When sex is supposed to be something that binds you together, but when you instead feel used and erased and rejected, then sex becomes triggering. Sex can’t be intimate and life-giving until you change the association and rebuild trust, and often get some help.

I talked about this more in the 4 stages of porn recovery. 

The porn user needs to take time away from sex to learn how to deal with negative emotions without sex.

Porn users tend to deal with stress, anxiety, frustration, rejection, loneliness, anger–really any negative emotion by turning to porn, or even sex. And at heart this is a running away from intimacy.

While Every Man’s Battle recommends quitting “lust” and porn by simply transferring all your sexual energy onto your wife, this is a terrible approach. It doesn’t get to the root issue, which is that there’s a hunger for intimacy that has been channeled into wrong places. Often porn users use orgasm as a substitute for intimacy with another human being. The hormonal high that orgasm brings allows them to escape having to become vulnerable with another human being.

This connection has to be broken, and that can often only occur when there’s a fast from sex and porn. Even secular sources know this. The famous “nofap” movement on secular websites, which encourage porn users to quit sex, masturbation, and porn for 30 days to reset their brain’s dependence on orgasm for emotional release.

Why would Christians, who should believe that sex should be intimate even more than others do, see abstaining from sex as such a scary thing?

When we reviewed the evangelical best-sellers for The Great Sex Rescue, we saw over and over again the books talking about men’s greatest need as being for sex, and how if women don’t give sex, men will likely watch porn. There’s a big misunderstanding in our literature and our teaching about sex.

So let’s be clear: If our prescription for marriage leaves one spouse crying and desperate and the other emotionally detached, then we are not being Christlike. When we are following Christ, we should look less selfish, not more selfish. Our advice should be life-giving, not soul crushing.

I don’t recommend that you just cut your spouse off from sex willy nilly; I think this is often a necessary step, that should ideally be pursued with a licensed counselor while the porn addict gets help with the addiction. But to say that you can never say no to sex because he has a right to it turns sex from something that is about knowing to something that is only about entitlement. And sex should never be seen as an entitlement; sex should be a way to show love and create intimacy. Entitlement doesn’t create intimacy; it kills it.

One of the first things we do in The Great Sex Rescue is to invite all of us to change the definition of sex.

It should no longer just be intercourse, especially one-sided intercourse; instead, biblical sex is something that is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable. If we understand that, all the rest naturally follows.

God’s concern is not that we should orgasm, but instead that we should be intimate. When orgasm takes precedence over intimacy, then we’ve lost the biblical vision of sex entirely.

The Great Sex Rescue

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What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

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If sex doesn’t bring you together, but instead strengthens the rift between you, then something is wrong.

If you are emotionally disconnected from each other, and sex feels like you are being used by another, that isn’t right. It’s okay to say, “let’s talk about this. I’m feeling used.” 

Sex should never be something where you feel used. So speak up. See a counselor. Read the Great Sex Rescue! But don’t ever feel like you have to consent to being a receptacle. That isn’t of God.

Take a hiatus from sex when recovering from pornography

Do you find that we stress “do not deprive him of orgasm” more than we stress “let sex bind you together?” Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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17 Comments

  1. Katydid

    Once again these pastors/bloggers/authors are shifting everything on the women. If a man is betraying his wife by using pornography, sex chats, affair sites, etc, HE IS THE ONE DEPRIVING HER! He is the one breaking God’s Word!
    Instead, these men (and yes, there are plenty of women bloggers and authors, too) completely ignore the porn-user’s destruction of the marriage covenant and turn around on the wife and waggle fingers at her!
    In any other contractual agreement, if you break the contract through misbehavior and especially betrayal, they don’t owe you a thing! In fact, in some cases, you may have to reimburse them everything!
    And I know people will be all, “oh, that’s harsh. You’re only scaring people battling porn.” Well, sorry not sorry, but this is serious stuff! If you are choosing to use porn, you are choosing the consequences.
    A wife has a right to a porn-free marriage. A wife has a right to mutual intimacy. A husband does NOT have a right to view porn consequence-free and use his wife.

    Reply
    • Recovering from abuse

      Yes Katydid! Thank you for speaking truth! Oh how I wish I had known this truth years ago.
      I believed those pastors, authors, speakers. I lived with such shame because I just couldn’t “work myself up” to our scheduled sex nights. And since I bailed on our agreement, then his porn use was my fault. But now I know why I couldn’t work myself up to sex- there was never emotional intimacy. There was never resolution to conflict. There was emotional neglect and spiritual abuse. Who wants to have sex with that? Turns out there was also deception but I didn’t discover that until later.
      Today I know the truth. I’m not an object. I’m a human with worth and dignity.

      Reply
    • Active Mom

      Bravo!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree, Katydid. Again, the problem comes from our ridiculously shallow view of sex–that it’s simply penile in vagina penetration. That is not a godly view of sex. Sex, the way the Bible portrays it as it should be, is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. If we understood that, then these questions would be no-brainers. But by believing that it’s all about one-sided intercourse, then it’s like, “she can’t deprive him of that!” But that is such an ugly view of sex, and I hope we can get beyond it.

      Reply
  2. Audrey

    Actually the do not deprive verse is about new believes choosing to deprive sex for religious piety reasons. Corinth was a culture that worship the god Aphrodite. Very much known for its sexuality and even temple prostitution. A very sexually perverted culture. Some married couple were choosing to to abstain from sex because of this and to be more “holy”. There view of sex and the marriage relationship was perverted because of the culture. Some were choosing to not get married and not to have sex for this reason. That is why Paul had to give the guidelines that he did. He had to tell them that sex was not bad or perverted, but good and pure beneficial to each spouse in the context of marriage.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Audrey! Rebecca’s been wanting to write a post about that for a while, and one what “virgins” meant in 1 Corinthians 7 (it had a special connotation back then that it doesn’t have now, and we read our own biases into it). Really interesting stuff, actually.

      Reply
      • Kristen

        Would love to read that

        Reply
  3. Nathan

    > > If a man is betraying his wife by using pornography, sex chats,
    > > affair sites, etc, HE IS THE ONE DEPRIVING HER!
    I was going to say this, but you got here first. This is, of course, assuming that sex is more than just physical release and that the pleasure goes in more than just one direction. Sadly, there are some who don’t get these ideas.

    Reply
  4. Harriet Vane

    It’s not just when there’s a porn issue.
    I took sex off the table for three months, though my husband wasn’t viewing porn. But we were still having intercourse with no intimacy, and I was left feeling used, empty, and lonely. As is so often the case, this was just a symptom of deeper issues in our marriage, and I decided I would no longer have sex until we addressed and worked through some of those deeper problems. I also spent time freeing myself of toxic purity culture messages, and reclaiming ownership of my body. I cannot emphasize enough how damaging it was to spend the first 8 years of my marriage believing that my body didn’t belong to me. I don’t claim to know what Paul meant when he wrote those words, but the way they have been used against women for millennia has produced rotten, stinking fruit.
    Thankfully, my husband was willing to listen. I wish that it hadn’t taken such drastic measures to jolt him out of his status-quo complacency, but at the same time I feel like it’s hard to blame him- there is so much cultural conditioning that makes even good men clueless when it comes to intimacy and emotions. But my husband is fundamentally a good man, and so he slowly began to do the work and wake up to the ways that our marriage was hurting me. It has been painful and it took a lot of times when we had to just keep fighting until we could find our way back to each other (instead of walking away in the moment from the conflict), but we are in a healthier, better place now, and learning how to have mutual, intimate, pleasurable sex.
    So my message to other women would be- insist that your husband do the work. Don’t back down. You are worth it. Your mental health and emotional well being are worth it. You are not obligated to give up your body in soulless, empty intercourse- that’s what sex slaves and prostitutes do. If your husband is a fundamentally good man, then he will do the work to grow and change.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful, Harriet! (And I still love your moniker. Dorothy Sayers forever!)
      Yes, I was concentrating mostly on the porn scenario today as an extension of our “you’re not methadone” discussion, but I completely agree. If sex is to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable, then when sex, the way you’re doing it, is ROBBING your marriage of intimacy or mutuality or depriving one of pleasure, it’s time to take a step back and say, “something isn’t right here. This isn’t what God intended. How can we get to what is right?”
      Our new book The Great Sex Rescue addresses so many of the things you’ve brought up in your comments, too. I hope it helps a lot of women! And I’m so glad you’re married to a good guy who is working on this.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      The “authority” lines are unequivocally mutual, so I am inclined to believe that their natural meaning is of mutual respect.
      At a very basic level, it means that adultery is off the table (and not just for women). A husband does not have the right to give his body to another woman, since his wife has authority over it.
      It also, at least to me, reads as “treat your spouse’s body with the same love and tenderness you want for your own.” It can be restated as “I give you the responsibility to care for my body.” I would never, say, deliberately dislocate my own knee, so why would I hurt my husband’s body?

      Reply
  5. Melissa

    How can a pastor, who by nature of their vocation ought to have a detailed understanding of Scripture, pluck a few words out of a passage and use it as a blanket statement while ignoring the rest of the passage which says point blank that it’s okay to “deprive” each other when a circumstance warrants it? Never ceases to blow my mind. Context is important. I demand better from spiritual leaders.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know! That’s the overwhelming feeling we had when writing The Great Sex Rescue–how much sex has gotten messed up. God made sex to be life giving in relationships; that it’s to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. And yet we have used one verse to reduce it to something which is soul-crushing for so many, and which enables selfishness and entitlement. It’s the opposite of the gospel.
      We need to stop seeing sex as just intercourse where he climaxes, and instead see it as a bigger picture of a life-giving relationship. God is not concerned with how often men ejaculate (sorry to be gross, but it’s the books that talk about men’s physical release). God is concerned about emotional health and intimacy. He wants connectedness, community, abundant life. I pray that one day we will understand that in all its fullness. We are missing out on so much beauty right now by accepting something so shallow as a substitute.

      Reply
  6. Anon mom

    In my experience, it wasn’t just a question of whether or not to have sex when my husband was recovering from a porn addiction. It was a question of approach and mindset, and figuring out how to get back to a genuine intimacy and real relationship.
    Without getting into a lot of private details, I knew that his addiction, while affecting me, wasn’t about me or our relationship. I don’t know what it’s about for other men, but for my husband, it was largely about his response to stress and the pressure of always presenting as perfect. He started to develop a split persona – the perfect face shown to the world, which he felt could never have any flaws, and this sort of dark side which reflected the fact that he knew he wasn’t perfect and which would act out. He eventually got counseling to heal that split, be more honest with himself, take full ownership of all aspects of his personality and learn better methods to cope with stress and the pressure to be perfect.
    There was a period where I felt pressure, mostly from myself, to have sex in order to be “methadone” and keep him away from the garbage. I faked a lot of stuff, pretended to be into stuff that I wasn’t, and while I was in that frame of mind, things just felt gross.
    Yes, it was important for him to be able to acknowledge that he was sexual and to be open about what he was thinking, and it was important to build intimacy. The problem was that I was initially making it a one-way thing, and had shoved down my feelings, acting like someone that I wasn’t. It didn’t build intimacy. It just made me feel used and disconnected and dishonest about my own thoughts and feelings. It got better when I focused a bit more on myself and on having genuine reactions.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s amazing insight into what was feeding your husband’s addiction! That’s great. And it sounds like he got some great counseling, too.
      Yes, when you’re able to speak up for your own needs and push for connection, sex can be healing. But when we see ourselves as methadone, it does only make the disconnection worse.

      Reply
  7. Purplecandy

    I’ve been wondering, since I listened to your last couple of podcasts, if the evangelical world is that disconnected with the christian world at large, and even the catholic work on that topic.
    I mean with natural family planning, priests and nuns etc. a lot of (good) stuff has been written by serious theologians. Sex has to be coherent with other christian teachings.
    It seems to me as if evangelical theology is often a “low level” theology, built on assumptions and misunderstandings barely different from what we hear everywhere. As if people were just saying anything to make money. What with bible schools and stuff that is just like pyramidal marketing when serious people have been thinking, reading and writting for hundred of years.
    I don’t know if I am making myself clear but I am really wondering how things got so bad with christianity.

    Reply

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