Summary: The subject of marital intimacy in marriage is very rarely discussed in public but it is one of the main reasons for discord and conflict between a husband and wife. Many couples wonder what is the proper role of intimacy in a marriage and this article provides a scriptural answer to that question.
On the sixth day of creation “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:27,28).
In the second chapter of Genesis we are given a little more information of how God created man. There we learn that man was made from the dust of the ground “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:21-24).
There is a Jewish saying that God did not create Eve from a bone in Adam’s head so she wouldn’t rule over him, nor did he take a bone from Adam’s foot so she wouldn’t be his servant, but he took a bone from Adam’s rib so she could be beside him and close to his heart.
But after Eve was created, the Lord refers to her as Adam’s wife and commands the two of them to cleave unto one another and to become one flesh. This then became the first recorded marriage and it was performed by God himself. For this reason, Christians believe that marriage is ordained by God. But after commanding this couple to cleave unto one another, the very next commandment God gave them was to multiply and replenish the earth, and this is widely understood to mean that Adam and Eve were to have children.
Of course, there is only one way for that to happen and that is for a man and a woman to literally become one flesh. There are many names used to describe this process including physical intimacy, love-making, intercourse, or sex, but whatever it is called it is a very personal and private act between a husband and wife.
For this reason the subject of sex in marriage is very rarely discussed in public, but it is one of the main reasons for discord and conflict between a husband and wife. More than this, many couples have questions about what is proper sexual behavior within their marriage but are too reluctant to ask, therefore they go through life never fully understanding if what they are thinking about this subject is correct or not. Since men and women often see things from different perspectives, this can lead to arguments between husbands and wives over the proper role of sex in their marriage.
The Bible only mentions having sex in relationship to having children, but since all men and women have a natural desire for physical intimacy there are some who feel that when they engage in this activity they are being “dirty” or “naughty” and therefore feel they are doing something indecent. There are some women who feel that having intercourse with their husband is a necessary evil and feel guilty if they enjoy it or think their husband is being immoral if he enjoys it, but the act of a husband and wife becoming one flesh in this most unique manner is one of the holiest acts they can engage in. To understand why we only need to look at our relationship to God.
We refer to God as “our Father in heaven” but if he is our father then that makes us his children. One of the unique beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we also have a mother in heaven. What we then have is a situation where there is a father, a mother, and children, and we call that relationship a family.
The LDS Church teaches that we once existed as spirit children of God in heaven and that we came here to earth to learn how to become more like him. This includes gaining a physical body, learning good from evil, experiencing pain and sorrow, and having and raising children. Since we are children of God and he is helping teach us how to become like him, then having children is participating in the same kind of activity that God did when he created us as spirit beings. In the LDS Church we many times refer to this as becoming co-creators with God.
Still yet another unique teaching of the LDS Church is that husbands and wives can be sealed to each other for all eternity. Furthermore, we believe that we can become exalted beings, possessing all the power, glory, and dominion that God has. Therefore, if we have a Father and Mother in heaven who beget spirit children, then as exalted beings, sealed as husband and wife for all eternity, we too will have the same power to beget spirit children.
But this power is reserved only for exalted beings and for someone to achieve that condition they must become as holy and as perfect as our Father in heaven is (see Lev. 19:2; Matthew 5:48). Thus, in the eternities, the ability to engage in an activity that will produce children is reserved for only the most righteous.
In this life we are permitted to do what God is able to do but only as part of our training for the eternities. If we misuse that power here and prove ourselves unworthy of possessing it in a righteous manner, then after the resurrection we will be denied access to that power. This is why the scriptures repeatedly tell us of the negative consequences of committing acts of adultery and fornication.
If husbands and wives are striving to learn how to become more righteous and holy, and if their desire is to someday become exalted beings, then physical intimacy in the bedroom has to be part of that process. And if that is so, then it becomes crucial to understand what the proper role of sex is in marriage.
Sex has often been referred to as “love-making” and this is the more accurate term for what should happen between a husband and wife. The most precious and most important object that anyone possesses is their own bodyand we wear clothing, not just for show or to protect our bodies from the elements, but to cover them and shield certain parts from public view. This is especially true of women, even at the beach or swimming pool.
Therefore, when a woman shares her most precious possession with her husband she is giving him a gift that no other man is (or should be) entitled to. And the same is true of the man, and that offering is made out of a deep, genuine feeling of love.
We give gifts to each other at Christmas time or at birthdays, and if we truly love someone we give them gifts we think they will be delighted to receive, and this is the same attitude husbands and wives should have when making love to each other in the bedroom.
However, since the word “love” is so misused, it is necessary to properly define its meaning. The simplest definition of love is: To care for someone else more than we care for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about ourselves, but that we care about others even more. Parents show this kind of love to their children when they sacrifice their own time, effort, and money to provide for their children’s needs and wants.
The scriptures tell us that love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10), and the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about caring for the needs of others. In addition to this, followers of Christ are told to treat people with kindness, gentleness, meekness, showing patience, and being longsuffering. The gospel of Chris is about building people up, strengthening them, and being willing to give a helping hand to those in need, and there is no place where these qualities are more important than in a relationship that supposed to last forever.
The greatest act of love was when Christ suffered for our sins and willingly sacrificed his life to save ours. The scriptures refer to this as “the pure love of Christ.” This is the kind of love that people who profess to be followers of Christ should be striving to emulate in their life, and this is especially true when it comes to love-making between a husband and wife.
In the bedroom the desire of the husband should be to show his wife how much he truly cares about her needs, both physical and emotional, while it should be the desire of the wife to do the same for her husband. Thus, in that one act they should be demonstrating their great love, caring, and compassion for one another whereby they both find mutual happiness and afterwards are pleased to have spent intimate time together.
But when one partner doesn’t care about the happiness of the other then, instead of showing love, they are showing their selfishness, and when this happens, instead of their union becoming an act of holiness, it becomes an act of haughtiness and arrogance.
However, for there to be physical intimacy in the bedroom there first has be to physical intimacy outside of the bedroom. This means that husbands and wives don’t show their love for one another just when they are having sex. Love has to be shown to one another in countless other ways before they go to bed. A hug, a warm smile, a genuine compliment, a gentle touch, holding hands, sincerely saying, “I love you” each and every day; are acts of love. In these ways, as well as in many other small but important gestures, spouses convey their feeling of love to one another.
But if there is arguing, hurt feelings, bitterness, resentment or other sentiments of discontent outside of the bedroom, it then becomes impossible for both partners to show love to one another in the bedroom. And when that is the case, then having sex become nothing more than a self-gratifying or unwanted act.
We can think of sex like being the cherry on top of a banana split sundae. You first need to have the banana which is the main substance of the sundae, filled with delicious ice cream, covered in whip cream with a few extra toppings sprinkled all around to give the sundae some added appeal before the cherry can be placed on top.
And the same is true of sex. It must be built on a solid substance that nourishes the soul, then added to this is a lot of sweetness and soft fluffy feelings. But if the substance, sweetness, and fluff isn’t there to begin with then there won’t be anything to give our love-making the sweet experience it should be.
Those sealed together as husband and wife in the temples of God have to learn to love each other in a Christ-like way if they ever hope to be together as exalted beings forever. The Lord has explained that every blessing we receive comes from obedience to the law on which that blessing is based (D&C 130:20,21), and our exaltation is dependent on our faithfulness to living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nowhere is that faithfulness more important than in the way we demonstrate it to our spouse.
Although this is the ideal that each husband and wife should be striving to achieve, unfortunately there are too many couples where sex has become a source of frustration and unhappiness that drives them apart rather than brings them closer together. For too many couples, sex has long since ceased to be the blissful intimacy it once was and instead has become something to be dreaded or avoided all together. Then how do we bridge the gap between this kind of reality and the ideal?
The first thing that has to happen is that couples must want their marriage to be successful. If a marriage is to last forever it is going to take both the husband and the wife working together, which means there has to be a commitment on the part of both partners to do what is necessary to build the kind of relationship that will not only last through this time in mortality but throughout all of eternity. And even with such a commitment it will still take an effort for them to achieve this goal, but without it the chances for having a lasting marriage becomes almost impossible.
However, even though marriage is a team effort, both the husband and wife have to resolve within themselves to do all they can to make their marriage work. All of us have our own particular character flaws and weaknesses that tend to help create friction between us and our marriage partner, but the solution to this problem isn’t to do what we can to change our spouse but to do what we can to change our self.
When we stand before the bar of Christ on the last day, he isn’t going to ask us what someone else did that was right or wrong. Instead, he’s going to ask us what we did that was right or wrong. Jesus was mocked, spit upon, had people trying to entrap him, had one of his closest friends betray him, and was falsely put to death, yet through all of this he didn’t let those things prevent him from living his life as he knew he should. No matter what someone else does or doesn’t do, we are going to be judged on how we lived our life, not by how someone else lived their life.
God is not going to hold a wife accountable for the way her husband behaved, and neither is he going to hold the husband accountable for how his wife treated him. If there are problems in a marriage it’s coming from the character flaws of both the husband and the wife, therefore both of them have to work on overcoming their own personal weaknesses if they want to have a happy marriage.
The best way to do this is for each partner to ask themselves, “What can I do to make my marriage better? How can I become a better husband or a better wife? What principles of the gospel am I not living that is preventing my marriage from being better than it is? What do I need to improve upon?” If each partner were to ask themselves these kinds of questions with all sincerity, their relationship with each other would dramatically improve.
However, to do that requires that we take an honest look at our own behavior and be willing to see our own faults and weaknesses. But to do that we have to be willing to set aside our pride and our I’m-always-right attitude. It means having the courage to admit to ourselves that we are part of the problem, and then having the determination to change our attitude for the better.
Yet, even when we do this we may still have problems because, for one reason, men and women don’t think alike. What is important to a woman may not be important to a man and vice versa. So, even when we are trying to improve our own behavior, hurt feelings can still easily occur because we don’t always understand what our partner is thinking or feeling, nor do we see things as they do. Therefore, a critical step in becoming one flesh is for husbands and wives to effectively communicate with each other.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate. Too often husbands and wives share their feelings in a way that is accusatory, demeaning, and sometimes sarcastic or insulting, but this only makes matters worse rather than better. As such it is destructive to the relationship. The purpose of communicating our feelings isn’t to tear down the other person and make them feel guilty for what they’ve said or done but to help them understand what it is that is bothering us, with the intent of finding a solution to the problem. The goal of communication is to resolve differences, not make them worse.
The leaders of the LDS Church have advised husbands and wives to set aside time to regularly counsel with one another. In a counsel partners share with each other their concerns and then calmly and lovingly discuss how those concerns can be resolved. And if these discussions begin with prayer, seeking the Lord’s Spirit of inspiration and guidance, husbands and wives will have greater success in patching up any rifts in their marriage. In this way their relationship with each other will become stronger and more loving, and the natural result will be that their marital intimacy will become better both in and out of the bedroom.
But what if one partner doesn’t want to participate in this process? Since we are all at different levels of spiritual growth, it is not uncommon for one partner to be more diligent in living the gospel than another, and there are many marriages where just one partner is a member of the LDS Church. Then how do we go about strengthening our relationship with our spouse under this kind of condition?
The answer is the same as before. There first has to be a desire to want the marriage to be strengthened, even if it is just by one of the two partners. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for all the ills of the world and it is also the cure for troubled marriages. The best thing that someone can do to help improve their marital relationship is to live the teachings of Christ, even if it is done by just one of the two partners.
This doesn’t mean that an unhappy marriage will suddenly become a blissful, romantic partnership, but with consistent effort, a change in the attitude of one partner will gradually help improve the attitude of the other partner which, over time, will help make their relationship better than what it once was.
Some may wonder what specific steps they can take to help bring about this change in their marriage. Since every situation is different, there is no one size fits all answer, however if someone sincerely wants to improve their marriage there are three things they can do to find the answers they need.
The first is prayer. James wrote, “If any man (or woman) lacks wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given to him, but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5,6). Moroni wrote, “I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ… and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10-:4,5).
When we are in a situation where we don’t know what to do, if we are sincerely seeking God’s wisdom and direction in our life, he will give us the answers we need if we ask in faith and with a sincere desire to know what the right thing is to do. If we are striving to live Christ’s gospel, the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion and he will show us the truth of what we need to do to resolve our problems.
The second thing we can do is read the scriptures. It has often been said that God speaks to us through the scriptures and there are countless stories of people who have found the answer to their problems within the pages of God’s word. Especially on the subject of marriage, the scriptures are filled with marital advice, but very often when we are needing a specific answer to a specific problem, the scriptures have the uncanny ability of having the very verse we need jump out at us with a power that penetrates our heart and enlightens our mind.
The third thing we can do is go to the temple as often as we can. Within the sacred walls of the House of the Lord we can draw closer to God than any other place on earth. It is there that the veil between us and our Father in heaven is the thinnest and the fervent pleas of our heart are not only answered more readily but we can also find comfort and assurance that God hears our prayers and is there to help us.
At times there may be a fourth thing we can do and that is to counsel with our Bishop, but if we have first done the three things just mentioned, most often than not we will have already found the answer to the question of what we can do to improve our marriage.
But if the reluctant spouse doesn’t change or doesn’t change significantly, what do we do then? The answer is still the same – live the gospel the best you can and try to continually become a better husband or wife. Even if this has no effect on your partner, it will have an effect upon you and, in the end, that is what will bring us the greatest happiness.
As has already been stated, we will all stand before the bar of Christ on the last day and be judged for what we, as an individual, have done or not done. Alma taught his son Corianton saying “The meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil… good for that which is good; righteousness for that which is righteous” (Alma 41:13). The Lord put it more plainly when he said, “And inasmuch as men (or women) do good, they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28).
In the resurrection a righteous wife will not be forced to be eternally married to an unrighteous husband, and neither will a righteous husband be stuck living eternally with an unrighteous wife, even if they’ve been sealed together in the temple. Each of us will receive what we justly deserve, both good and bad, and no one will be denied any blessings they are entitled to. Whether or not a man or a woman come to realize the blessing of receiving their exaltation depends on how faithfully each of them worked to make their marriage worthy of lasting through eternity.
This means that if a woman has done all she can to make her marriage the best it can be, even if her husband hasn’t, she has become worthy of having the opportunity to become a celestial wife. And the same is true of a man who has, through his diligence, become a celestial worthy husband.
There are no doubt millions of men who are worthy of becoming exalted but who don’t have a worthy partner, and there are millions of women who find themselves in the same situation. It is unjust to think that these people will be denied the blessings of exaltation simply because their spouse is not worthy. But we know that our Father in heaven is just and he is fair, therefore we know with certainty that everyone who has lived a life worthy of being together with a husband or wife forever shall in nowise lose their reward.
But it is better for both a man and a woman who have been sealed to each other in a temple of the Lord in this life, along with all their children, if they learn how to grow their love so that throughout all of eternity they may continue to be worthy of enjoying their marital intimacy.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Marriage