When it comes to sexual pleasure in the Bible, it is often spoken of in the context of marriage. There are some Christians that feel that the only reason for sex is reproduction and there are others that believe that there are higher reasons for sex, including the ultimate joining together of a married man and woman – joining their two spirits, joining their two minds, and joining their two bodies. The Bible is not explicit on sex practices between married people. In Hebrews 13:4 we are told that the marriage bed is to be undefiled, it does not say what it means. There are a number of practices of love and sexuality in which the Bible is silent. Because of this, it is difficult to determine what is right and this is wrong. Are there specific guidelines for Christian sex?
The general rule here is if it’s not from faith, it is sin. Sexual immorality is denounced in about 25 passages in the New Testament. The word translated as “sexual immorality” or “fornication” in English versions of the Bible is the Greek word porneia, which means “illicit sexual intercourse.” Jesus said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). The apostle Paul also said to flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies.
Some forms of sexual activity between married couples is not deemed traditional. In fact, some would consider some of these things unconventional. You and your spouse may have a sexual fantasy or desire that is different. You may wonder if it’s ok for you and your spouse to bring toys into the bedroom. Given sex is often demonized, many Christians wonder if it’s ok to include these sorts of things in their marriage. Are certain fantasies and activities sinful? There is a fine line between what is forbidden by God and what is non-traditional.
We can turn to the Bible for answers. We know that marriage is a covenant relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians) and that marriage leaves all others and cleaves together (Genesis 1) so any behavior that steals from this covenant is off-limits. Going outside of marriage for sexual gratification is a major violation of the marriage covenant. Including others in your relationship (yes, this includes pornography) is also a violation of the marriage covenant. Anything that becomes a point of obsession or necessity in the bedroom is also problematic as it takes away from the true intimacy we are called to share with our spouse. These things previously mentioned are used by the enemy to distract us and separate us not only from our spouses but also God.
Rather than prohibit sexual pleasure, the Bible shows that it is a gift from God. In the Old Testament, the term for sexual intercourse was “to know” a husband or a wife. The most intimate knowledge of a partner comes through this joining. Contrary to the belief of many Christians, God allows much freedom for sexual experimentation and play. We are just called to be wise about the decisions we make, even within the realm of marriage.
There are a number of sexual activities that may not be explicitly forbidden in the Bible, but they are still unwise to practice for physical, health or practical reasons. Even if it’s not explicitly forbidden by God, we should use wise judgment when introducing certain things in the bedroom. You should shy away from sexual activities that put you or your spouse at risk of injury or illness. Sending explicit photos between each other puts you and your spouse at risk of those images falling into the wrong hands. Any activities that will put you at risk of infection and damaging tissues can put your body at risk.
The Bible reminds us that sex should be done in such a way that there is no shame. Proverbs 5:18-23 calls to question a man’s lust of another man’s wife: “Why, my son, bed intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and He examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly” (Proverbs 5:20-23). Many people experience shame in regard to sex. While shame can be a gift from God in response to our sexual sin, sometimes it is the devastating feeling we bear because we have been sexually sinned against. Other times, we have not sinned or been sinned against but feel shame because we have wrong thinking and feelings about sex in general, or a sex act in particular.
The way we think about pleasure and about sin has an impact on our understanding of what falls in the guidelines for Christian sex. Many Christians have long thought of temptation to pleasure as the work of the Tempter when pleasure is really a gift from God. However, sexual pleasure is a nearly universal experience. It is important how we interpret that pursuit of pleasure. Sexual pleasure does not always mean turning away from God. Sexual pleasure does not always incite lust or incline us toward sin. As Christians, we don’t have to interpret that pursuit as sinful and worthy of shame. Pleasure is itself a good – not the good, but a good. Sex within marriage shouldn’t make you feel shameful. Moral discernment can often lead us to better sexual lives.