Why “Is it Biblical” May Miss the Big Issues in the Bedroom

by | Jun 17, 2024 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 28 comments

Couple asking whether a sex act is biblical and wondering if that's the right approach

What if we’re asking the wrong questions about what to do in the bedroom?

Does God have a spreadsheet of all the possible sex acts that two people could do together, with checkmarks or X’s beside each one?

Sometimes it seems like that’s what we think. When I give my Girl Talk event at churches, we always do an anonymous Q&A, and inevitably a lot of the questions are like:

  • Is it okay to use sex toys?
  • Is oral sex biblical?
  • Is it against the Bible to watch porn together?

Now, only one of those is even in the Bible (a lot would argue that oral sex is alluded to in Song of Solomon), but many of these are issues that the ancients wouldn’t even have faced. We have to be interpreting principles from Scripture anyway to answer those question.

What if we took a step back and realized that the principles are the important thing here?

And the primary principle is not about whether a certain sex act is okay or not, because God doesn’t just arbitrarily say “this is okay” and “this isn’t.”

God’s not like that.

So we’re asking “is this biblical” when we really should be asking, “what is it that God wants for us?”

That’s slightly different. It’s not looking for a rule, but a principle, and the heart of God for us.

When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex/Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, I tried to figure out the principles.

(And Keith helped me with The Good Guy’s Guide!)

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The principle is not about whether body parts lining up a certain way is biblical, or what sex acts you’re allowed to think about, or what your body is allowed to do.

It requires backing up, and asking: what is God’s best for us?

And in marriage, God wants real intimacy for us. He wants mutuality. He wants us to honor each other in everything. 

So when we’re asking about sex acts, we need to approach things like this (as we did in our books!

  1. You’re married. You’re allowed to do stuff! Freedom and lib- erty are themes of the Christian life (Galatians 5:1).
  2. Sex should not be something that makes one person feel degraded or uncomfortable (Philippians 2:3–4).
  3. If you or your husband don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Both parties must always be 100 percent willing, or you shouldn’t do it (1 Corinthians 7:3–5).
  4. Sex should always involve only the two of you. If you’re fantasizing about someone else, or if he’s fantasizing about someone else, it’s wrong, even if you’re physically acting it out with your husband (see Matthew 5:28).

And finally, the one that sums up the whole thing:

  1. Sex should be something that enhances intimacy, not detracts from it. What you do in the bedroom should make you feel closer, more known, more loved—not less known, less loved, or used.
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex

We’re so rules-based that we often miss the bigger picture.

It’s about intimacy, not rules! 

I’ve heard people argue that “the marriage bed is pure, so anything goes!” But that’s not what Scripture says. It says to keep the marriage bed pure, not that everything you do it is pure.

But please hear me on this: The issue of whether or not it’s pure depends a lot on the context, and not just the act. 

Yes, I believe anything that involves a third person is wrong, and porn especially is wrong because it victimizes and dehumanizes real people. 

But beyond that, the questions really are about are you enhancing intimacy or are you detracting from it? 

Something that may be perfectly honoring and loving in one marriage may not be in another. Some of us have triggers from past abuse, making some sex acts inherently threatening to us. That should be honored.

Some of us have pain or physical issues. Some of us just are more uncomfortable with some things than others are. 

And telling someone, “you should do it anyway because otherwise you’re withholding” is not in line with God’s heart at all. Coercion is never a part of love. 

I once wrote about how marriage was made for us, not us for marriage.

That post asking if Jesus valued marriage more than the people in it  as part of my initial submission series. I was explaining that God creates things for our benefit, but when we start treating that benefit as if it is the main point, we often create rules that hurt people.

That’s what Jesus was getting at when He told us that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. The Pharisees were getting upset that Jesus was bringing life by healing people on the Sabbath, and Jesus put them in their place.

They were demanding that good NOT be done in the name of God, and Jesus was saying: doing good is how we honor God!

Well, it’s the same here. Let’s stop looking at the rule and look at God’s heart. He wants intimacy, dignity, love, mutuality, play, fun. He doesn’t want coercion, dehumanization, distance, or objectification.

The same act can have different connotations depending on the relationship.

This is why I got so upset when Gary Thomas in his book Married Sex demolished the arguments a woman might have against giving her husband nude photos. He kept stressing that there wasn’t a rule against it, but he was missing the bigger picture: love and intimacy.

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So next time you’re tempted to ask, “is this biblical?”, remember that God’s main concern is intimacy and life, not law. And that should change how we see things!

What do you think? What are the bigger principles we should look at here? Do I have them right? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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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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28 Comments

  1. Marina

    I imagine that many people prefer dealing with well defined rules, rather than variables. A “we can/can’t do this” is simpler than having to ask your spouse how they feel about something and honoring that opinion. It might even mean having to compromise in the bedroom! Many “marriage” books don’t prepare men for these scenarios, like dreaming about oral with their wife, only to find out that their fiance/new bride can’t stand giving or receiving it. Actually, most “christian” marriage books don’t prepare either spouse for an open conversation like that.
    I also wonder if some people don’t like the ambiguity because they have never really thought through what they don’t like and why themselves. Maybe it is simpler for some to just service a spouse, rather than having to ponder what my feelings are about _____ and why (not in a justification sense, but in a “how do I explain this” sense)? I could never understand the people who are capable of just “servicing” their spouse (either gender). Like, I could see short term “just not really in the mood”, but long term? It’s one of the reason’s why I’ll probably never marry. I’m not putting someone through my moods (not extremes, but many would probably call me cold in the intimacy area).

    Reply
  2. EOF

    For so many years I had questions like these. Looking back, I really think I was looking for someone to say that the things I was asking about WERE WRONG. This is because I had no ability to say no in the bedroom — thanks to church leaders telling me as much. I did not want to do the perverted things my H wanted me to do. But he kept trying to convince me that they were fine, that I was just too sensitive or rigid or frigid or whatever.

    But the fact of the matter was, I was not comfortable with that stuff (and eventually some of it gave me bad PTSD) and that alone should have been enough for my H to put on the breaks. But it was not. To him “no” is a challenge, and my boundaries are selfish and unreasonable. (Thank God I’m getting a life saving divorce and don’t have to worry about having sex again.) I’m glad you’re talking about this. Those were some of the questions that originally led me to this blog, which has helped to change my life.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you have found peace!

      Reply
  3. Laura

    According to Mark Driscoll, oral sex is biblical and in one sermon, he told women that it was a “command from God to give oral sex to your husband.” I’d like to know what Bible he was reading from.

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Sounds like 2 Peter 2:1-4.

      Reply
      • Erica Tate

        I just looked up that Scripture thinking, ‘Surely not?!’ Now I see what you did there. Nice! 🙂

        Reply
        • Lisa Johns

          Very nice! 😀

          Reply
  4. Andrea

    I think it was on this blog that I first read how women will often ask each other if various things are sinful, hoping they are, because they don’t want to do them but their husbands are insisting. I think men use that line about how everything is permitted in the marriage bed to pressure women into gross things. Secular men weaponize sex-positivity that way, insinuating that women who don’t want to be degraded are prudes. The crowd around that Keller Center pornographic sex book “Beautiful Union” tried to do that to Christian women who protested. Several years ago my sister asked me if I thought various things her husband was pressuring her into were sinful, which broke my heart. I told her there was nothing in and of itself in a sex act that made it sinful, but her husband pressuring her to do things that made her uncomfortable –THAT was the sin! I don’t know how much it helped, she seemed so beat down. And you’d never suspect based on outside appearances, he seems like the nicest guy.

    I heard something about 1 Thessalonians 4:4-6 the other day, about how every man should live with his wife in an honorable way and not in lust like the Gentiles, that no one should take advantage of a brother or sister (paraphrase). I think this pertains to marital relations, that husbands and wives should treat each other like brothers and sisters in Christ in the bedroom and not lustfully like the Gentiles. This is the opposite of transferring your pornographic lusts onto your wife and treating her like methadone, that’s what the Gentiles do. If we had women pastors we’d be hearing sermons about that instead of the porno Driscoll crap.

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      It doesn’t make sense that Christianity would command people to treat each other with radical love and see all of humanity as the creation of God… except for how husbands treat their wives. There, in the relationship that should reflect Jesus’ love for His church, people are tools to be used.

      Makes no senses

      To your point about Thessalonians, I’ve often thought that a good part of Christian living is to be a witness for God. Good hearted people should look at how we conduct ourselves and think, “I want to be Christian, too” or “Those Christians are incredible.”

      Good hearted, secular people look at Mark Driscoll and hope that every woman leaves his church and goes through a deprogramming session.

      Reply
      • EOF

        I never understood how Christianity could teach that man weren’t to objectify women, but that they’re given the green light to objectify the humanity out of their wives. Somehow that’s good and right??

        Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Very true! If our love stops at the bedroom door, we’re doing something so terribly wrong.

        And, yes, so many of these pastors are just making Christianity look terrible. And yet people still keep filling up those pews. If people left, the influence would stop. It’s really not about Mark Driscoll; it’s about the fact that there are so many who will follow him.

        Reply
    • Sandra Smith

      Thank you for saying that about “sex positivity”! It’s sooooo true! They weaponize it and use the idea of consent getting someone to do something, and the idea that being sex positive means having lots of sex with lots of people and being open and willing to try anything. They’ve completely lost sight of respect and mutuality and that consent also includes being free to say no to anything that doesn’t feel good.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Absolutely!

        Reply
  5. Lisa Johns

    My X never used scripture against me, but after we had established that he had a very “low” sex drive (due to his porn/m addiction), he would pressure me to do things that I didn’t want to do because “it excites [him] so much.” The longer I process some of the memories I have, the more angry I get. Vile.

    Reply
  6. Emmy

    Hi, this is Emmy from the Reversed Universe who tries to make sense of all this and wonders, how to apply Sheila’s most excellent post in her marriage. Yes, I agree, one can not pressure one’s spouse to do anything (s)he feels uncomfortable with. I agree, and I won’t pressure him. I still wonder if there is anything I can do about it. My dear husband is all about having everything as “biblical” as possible, including sex, and avoiding everything that’s “unbiblical”. As far as sex goes, only the very basics qualify as “biblical” enough for him. We have been married more than 40 years now, and believe me, I have tried so many approaches and pulled so many strings, but without much success. He really believes in his heart that foreplay or trying out some other positions is “not really biblical” and even though he consents to some of my requests I can feel he does not like it, so it’s no fun for me either. I am sad and disappointed, but I also know I can’t pressure him. That would be a violation and it would break something in him I don’t want to break. I guess, sometimes we just don’t get what we are longing for, and that’s it.

    Reply
    • Learning to be beloved

      Am I understanding correctly? He gets the sex (orgasms) he wants on his terms (calling his desires “biblical”) while you do not get equal pleasure.

      What if you found it unbiblical for the man to have the pleasure he wants while the woman does not have the pleasure she wants?

      What if you continued not pressuring him, but also not allowing him to use your body for his pleasure in only the ways he finds pleasurable – er, uh…biblical? Then he would not have to do anything he doesn’t want to AND neither do you! This doesn’t get you what you want, but maybe it can help you shed what you are accepting that you don’t want.

      Honestly, he sounds terribly controlling while using a veneer of religion to get you to comply with his preferences.

      Grain of salt: I am in the process of dissolving a 20+ year marriage with an abusive spouse who pressured me into many sexual encounters I did not want. This certainly colors the way I hear your situation. And I’m so sorry you’re in that situation; it’s heartbreaking.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yeah, that sounds like a bigger issue where sexuality is based in shame. That’s actually NOT a biblical view (just read Song of Solomon!).

      My big concern is that if he isn’t doing foreplay, are you experiencing pleasure or reaching orgasm? If you’re not, it’s okay to say, “I don’t want to do this.” Like if he’s deliberately NOT doing the things that would bring you pleasure, but he is doing the things that would bring him pleasure, then that really isn’t okay.

      If you’re both still reaching orgasm, but you’d rather have more variety, that may be something where you have to honor his preferences. But it’s that you don’t feel pleasure, that’s not okay. Would he read The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex or The Great Sex Rescue? Does he realize that the way God created the clitoris means that women get most pleasure NOT from intercourse?

      Reply
      • Emmy

        Yes, he was doing foreplay – a kind of – because I had asked it and he understood in his head that I may need it. It was obvious, however, that he did not enjoy it, so that was the end if fun for me too.
        I can’t blame him of not consenting to my request, because he did, but how can I ask him to like something he does not, or to enjoy something he feels uncomfortable with? One simply cannot enjoy something on demand. There is no way to make it happen. I believe sex should be mutual and pleasurable for both, I really do, and that is exactly the problem.

        And whether he does orgasm, or whether I do…nope, not any more. He rather goes without, so it seems, than seeks ways to make sex fun for us both. I could blame him for depriving me or withholding sex, but I can’t blame him for using me or pressuring me or demanding sex, because he doesn’t. A few years ago we stopped initiating sex, first me, then him. He seems to think it’s because we are both over 60’s so it has just died out of natural causes.

        I begin to feel more and more that there are some very deep shame and fear issues involved, perhaps from his childhood. I know he has had terrible sex education, I mean almost nothing at all, and if any, it was terribly old fashioned and out-dated.

        Reply
        • Jo R

          “how can I ask him to like something he does not, or to enjoy something he feels uncomfortable with?”

          The same darn way he’s been asking you to like something you do not, and to enjoy things you feel uncomfortable with.

          Why do his feelings matter completely while yours don’t matter at all?

          Reply
          • Emmy

            He has hardly asked me much of anything of the kind, at least not anything sex-related. And if I come up with something new I think he might like, he doesn’t.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          “How can I ask him to enjoy something he does not?”

          Here’s the thing–sex is supposed to be mutual, which means that both of your pleasure matters. It isn’t sex if it’s only about him. So if he doesn’t enjoy the parts that make you feel good, he’s actually not really having sex. He’s only using your body. And that’s terribly selfish and dehumanizing.

          He may be doing this out of shame, but it doesn’t stop the dynamic. And, yes, it’s totally appropriate for him to enthusiastically do the things that make you feel good. If he won’t, then he’s showing how he feels about you, and that’s terrible. I’m so sorry.

          Reply
          • Willow

            I think we need to be careful here. What if we swap the genders? “She should enthusiastically do the things that make him feel good.” Some men really, really love oral sex. Some women are totally grossed out by it. Should those women have to give their partners oral sex, because it’s what really gives the men pleasure? Some men need oral or manual stimulation to reach orgasm.

            If we are saying women shouldn’t have to engage in sexual activity they do not enjoy/consent to, then the same should apply to men. If men are grossed out by oral sex, they shouldn’t have to give it to their partners. If a man decides to do it anyway, because he knows it brings his partner pleasure, then there shouldn’t be an expectation he needs to be overjoyed about something he finds unpleasant but is willing to get through for his partner’s pleasure.

            In this case, it seems the husband has a low sex drive, or at least a very “vanilla” sex appetite. If he’s content with that, and unwilling to compromise with his wife’s higher/more varied sex drive, then I’m not sure there’s much more she can do within their sexual relationship, that she hasn’t already tried.

            It’s been said here that men who are in a similar spot should feel ok using masturbation to meet their higher sex drive desires. Why not offer the same advice to women?

      • Emmy

        He definitely would not read any book about sex, and certainly mot, if I’ll ask it. I have asked a few times if we could read something together, or given him a hint. His reaction I don’t want to see again. He was clearly upset, and I would also call him fearful. I’d say he was almost panicking.

        It really is a riddle to me. What on earth is he so scared for?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It’s likely that he’s carrying a lot of shame. I’m just so sorry for what you both have missed out on in your life. That’s so much to grieve.

          Reply
          • Emmy

            He sure is carrying a lot of shame. And a lot of fear too. I wish I could locate the source of it.

  7. Willow

    An increasing amount of porn, both hard-core and soft-core (suggestive pictures, e.g. on Instagram) is wholly AI-generated. No real humans are harmed in the making of these images, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still harmful effects in their consumption. Desiring images of “beings” that are not human is damaging in its own way and can interfere with one’s ability to enjoy and desire real humans; and it can be difficult to feel desirable if others’ perceptions are tainted by immersion in unreal expectations.

    Reply
  8. Headless Unicorn Guy

    “A lot of the questions are like…”

    A lawyer searching for loopholes.

    Reply
  9. Perfect Number

    Yes, this is such an important point! Consent! If *you* don’t want to do something, then that by itself is a GOOD ENOUGH REASON to say no. You don’t have to make an argument that it’s “biblical”, you don’t have to convince anyone that you have legitimate reasons for saying no- it’s your body, and “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason!

    Reply

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