Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex

What Christians need to remember about God's design for sex.

Back in 2013, provoked by Elizabeth Smart’s story Christians filled the Internet with discussions about sex—particularly abstinence education—so much that the Atlantic posted a summary of these debates in “Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex.”

Although these conversations are evidence that Christians are forming a more candid, holistic and theologically sound discourse about sex, an area that still needs more attention is the far-reaching effects of abstinence rhetoric on marriage.

While the movement is great at detailing— and exaggerating—the benefits of saving sex for marriage, it is dishonest about the challenges abstinence presents to couples who eventually tie the knot.

Jessica Ciencin Henriquez recently detailed how the abstinence movement affected her sex life and marriage in a revealing article titled, “My Virginity Mistake.” Henriquez relays how she pledged herself to Jesus at a purity ceremony at age 14, remained a virgin until she married six years later, and wound up divorced after she and her husband could not make things work in the bedroom.

Looking back, Henriquez states if she had not insisted on waiting for sex until marriage, she could have prevented her divorce. The provocative subtitle of her article reads, “I took an abstinence pledge hoping it would ensure a strong marriage. Instead, it led to a quick divorce.”

Although sex is indeed God’s gift to us, Christians are not directly commanded by God to have great sex.

Henriquez’s story is important because it highlights an issue the abstinence movement rarely acknowledges: sexual incompatibility within marriage. While this issue may seem irrelevant, it is actually fundamental to traditional Christian beliefs about sex. The fact that sexual compatibility does not matter to Christians when choosing a spouse makes the shocking and countercultural statement that sex is not our God. It indicates that we are willing to make a commitment to someone with whom we may be sexually incompatible, with whom we may never have good sex, because the purpose of marriage is not pleasure, but formation.

Our discourse about sex, however, tends to tell another story, a story that elevates sex to an inordinate degree. The abstinence movement, relying primarily on anecdotes, promises the young unmarrieds that if they save sex for marriage, they will have what Claire and Eli call “reward sex.” In other words, sex will be everything they’ve dreamed it would be—electric, erotic, or, as Elisabeth Elliot, who helped initiate the movement with her book Passion and Purity, writes “unspeakably worth the wait.” Not only are these promises incorrect, but they imply that the purpose of abstinence is good sex, not obedience to God and the cultivation of virtue.

This discourse is not confined to the unmarried, however. Once couples say “I do,” for the rest of their lives, they are expected to have good sex and a lot of it. Christian publications are brimming with instructions on these two contradictory principles: sexual compatibility doesn’t matter when selecting a spouse, but after marriage, couples are treated as if having good sex is part-and-parcel of the call to be a Christian. If you aren’t having good sex, you are expected to go to your local Christian bookstore and choose from a variety of titles—ranging from the classic The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye to the more recent Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman.

In addition to misrepresenting the role of sex in a Christian’s life, this discourse also smacks of an inferiority complex that wants to compete with mainstream culture’s view of sex rather than modeling a rightly ordered sexual ethic to the world. For example, teachings on the Song of Solomon can range from using the book as a modern-day sex manual to a tool of manipulation to get women to acquiesce to inflated views of sex, such as a well-known pastor controversially enjoining women to perform oral sex because "Jesus Christ commands you to do so." These sort of teachings on sex indicate the spurious claim many Christians accept: that the call to be a married Christian includes within it an obligation to become a sex god or goddess.

Although Christians have recently been more honest about the realities of sex, such as Jake and Melissa Kircher, who admit sex is not what it appears in the movies, a celebrity pastor's recent appearance on The View demonstrates that Christians still contend with Hollywood’s version of sex. Barbara Walters opens the segment with an alarming announcement: “It is a gospel you probably thought you would never hear from a man of the church: that the Lord wants married couples to have great sex, to have it often and even experiment in the bedroom.”

While this discourse elevates sex so that it becomes an idol, it also ignores a real problem Henriquez addresses and that is likely to surface in Christian marriages because of our insistence on abstinence. What if, contrary to Elliot’s experience, a couple’s wedding night doesn't seem “worth the wait”?

Bad sex is neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage.

The Kirchers have astutely suggested couples should expect to be sexually incompatible at first, but what should we say to couples who spend years, or even decades, trying to have good sex without success? How should we respond if a woman, like Henriquez, who obediently saved herself for marriage, finds herself feeling betrayed by the very principle she thought would give her a life of good sex and a happy marriage?

Although sex is indeed God’s gift to us, Christians are not directly commanded by God to have great sex. Couples may find themselves incompatible in the bedroom, and they should not be bombarded with pressure from the Christian community to start having good sex and lots of it. Instead, they should find support and comfort—support that sex is not the only thing that makes a good marriage, and comfort that historically all Christians have been called by God to suffer through numerous trials.

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Christians are, and should be, hopeful people. After all, we believe in the resurrection of the dead, heaven and miracles. Some couples may find themselves miraculously gifted with good sex well after their vows, and books such as the LaHayes’ and Leman’s have helped a lot of people in this area. But in this world we will certainly have trouble. The world and all who dwell in it are imperfect. Sex, too, is bound up with the world’s imperfection. Some couples may spend their whole lives struggling with their physical relationship, and it is deceptive to teach that all Christians will, or are somehow biblically required to, have good sex.

Sexual incompatibility, therefore, is a cross that some couples bear, and Christian communities could lighten this burden if we made an effort to put sex in its rightful place. If sex were viewed as a gift that, like everything else in this world, is marred by sin, it may be easier for couples to accept that bad sex is neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage. As with other trials, bad sex is an opportunity to rejoice in suffering (1 Peter 4:13) and to be further conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Ultimately, putting sex in its proper place will encourage us to order God’s gifts in the same way that church tradition teaches the ordering of love. All things, including sex, must be loved to the degree that is proper to the thing in question, with nothing superseding the love of God.

Top Comments

Forgiven Wife


Forgiven Wife commented…

Although it's true that sex isn't the only thing that makes a good marriage, it *is* one thing that is a defining characteristic of the relationship of marriage and therefore needs to be tended if the marriage is to thrive.

I am concerned when I see comments that diminish the importance of sex in marriage. This makes it too easy for a spouse to justify sexual refusal. There is little that will make a person feel more unloved than when a spouse denies the other access to the only legitimate and moral sexual outlet available. For many, sex is the route to the deepest emotional intimacy that can be found in marriage.

Wayne Dye


Wayne Dye commented…

Half right. Waiting for marriage is worth it, and great sex isn't the ultimate goal of marriage. But the author has ignored some important points about Christian marriage. If you make the goal in sex not your own enjoyment but your spouse's, and she does the same, and you are willing to be patient with each other and learn together, you will soon find that sex gets very good indeed. You might also have to get over latent fears of having sex from your single days, and that takes time. The result though is a very long time of enjoying life together, including but not limited to this aspect. At least that has been the experience of my wife and I since we got married 57 years ago.


Amy Cooper


Amy Cooper commented…

There are so many things wrong with this article on so many levels. To the young minds reading this...if you are attracted to your spouse, you will have great sex, it takes practice to get all the nuances right, but it will happen. If you arent attracted to your future hubby, please dont marry him. You cant force attraction. You need that in your marriage, despite what so many in the church will tell you, its not something that grows in time, its there or its not. Dont settle. Please.

Lana Williams


Lana Williams commented…

That is not necessarily true, Amy. Attraction is there, great sex is not. Does this make the rest of the marriage bad? No, quite frankly, we are highly attracted and highly effective partners in life. Outside of what I'd call duty sex, there's not much "want" when there's no satisfaction.

Mnelisi Gasa


Mnelisi Gasa commented…

I'm curious as to how we define "sexual compatibility". By saying that there are people who are not sexually compatible, do we mean that their sex wold be irredeemably bad? In other words, are there people for whom good sex is not a possibility?

Peggy Perry


Peggy Perry commented…

I'm a 58 year old virgin. I never experienced sex merely because I just never met anyone I wanted to be intimate with. My parents had five children, and after the last, never had sex again despite sharing a bed until my father died. They jointly made the decision because the doctors had warned my mom having a fifth child might kill her and all the birth control they tried didn't work. My mom almost did die with her fifth. After that, they agreed to give up sex in order to preserve the family. It was rough on them, they both admitted it, but felt it was more important to be alive and raising their children together. Personally, I think Christians would have more chance of beating back the allure of lust in their children's minds by showing affection when their children were watching, so their children learn the difference between love and lust, no matter when they decide to start having sex. Sex without affection is scratching an itch. I know many girls who decided she'd try sex just to scratch that itch, and regretted it thoroughly. I've even met men who said the same. I've felt the itch many times, but I've always looked for the relationship, and just never found it. God has kept me busy, and in the end, content.

J & G Murphy


J & G Murphy commented…

Married Christian couples are called to develop and enjoy amazing INTIMACY, of which physical intimacy is one part. Each being made with a body, soul and spirit, and called to build a marriage that accurately reflects Christ's passionate love for His Church (Ephesians 5:32), it behooves every Christian couple to work diligently to cultivate amazing intimacy, all under the blessing of God. That's why we refer to this process and outcome as "Perfected Love Making" in our book, Pursuit of Passion (Murphy & Sibert). #DontGetMarriedWithoutIt

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