Psalm 139:11-12

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (PSALM 139:11-12)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sexual Abstinence in Marriage

It's been the right choice for us. After years of struggling to put sex in its "proper" place within our marriage we decided, he decided to try it.

"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. I say this as a concession, not as a command." (1 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Bruce N. Fisk writes in his book, "Interpretation Bible Studies: 1 Corinthians":
Through the years thoughtful Christians have recognized the value of periods of abstinence within marriage. In “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, Dallas Willard observes how “absolutely vital to the health of any marriage” it is “that sexual gratification not be placed at the center. Voluntary abstention helps us appreciate and love our mates as whole persons, of which their sexuality is but one part" (Willard, 170).
To some of you, sexual abstinence or moratorium as it's more commonly referred, may sound like a crazy idea. I believe for us, the concept of actually doing this was a long, God process. I can say with complete assurance that God was preparing the way for this moratorium and the success we find within it is the fruit of our obedience to His leading.

Although my husband is in recovery from his sexual addiction and he has not "acted out" since he divulged his secret sin many years ago, sex and intimacy within our marriage has continued to be a source of frustration for both of us. In some ways, it has been difficult to tell which intimacy issues are because of our baggage (my abuse, his addiction) and which are because I'm a woman, he's a man, or even our individual personality traits.

Of all the beautiful benefits to being committed and married to one person for the rest of your life, I have come to feel like sexual intimacy has always had an unhealthy, central position in our marriage. I would like to preface this by saying that I believe sexual intimacy is a very important part of a healthy marriage, but I do not believe it is the most important piece. I believe even though my husband has triumphed over many of his issues regarding his addiction, sex seems to be an easy idol for him. Sex had become like a parasite, sucking the life out of every area of our marriage and lives. Everything, yes everything, became tied to sex to the extent that he felt chained again. It seemed at times like it was okay because it was appropriately focused on me and not someone else, but he was still objectifying me. He felt a sense of entitlement and would often act bitter and angry towards me if things didn't work out for us in the bedroom. I wound up feeling overwhelmed and pressured, which led me to feel unsafe, shameful, and guilty.

This brings me back to sexual moratorium. After much prayer and the seeking of wise counsel, my husband (with my support) decided he wanted to try a sexual moratorium for a short time. It's almost been like a sexual reset. In the beginning we sat down and talked about other ways that we could love and enjoy each other. We made a list of some of the areas that felt lacking, like our friendship with each other. My husband and I have been amazed by the outcome of doing this. I emphasize that he went into this willing and open to the process. He felt led and ready to put the effort in. In his words, "I want this to be a permanent change" and I believe this perspective has helped him to fully embrace the experience.

So what's different? He is actively seeking to love me in other ways. It is reawakening our friendship relationship with each other, helping us to more deeply appreciate the things we always enjoyed about each other, and reestablishing the friendship attraction that ultimately led to us getting married in the first place. Moratorium takes sexual intimacy out of the equation for a time and by removing that "expectation" we can both enjoy more freely our time together without fear of rejection or the pressure for intimacy.

Honestly, my spouse seems happier and more contented then he has in a long, long, time. By removing the idol it has allowed the other areas of our marriage to increase. Hopefully when sexual intimacy returns, we can maintain a healthy balance in our marriage that had been missing in the past.

Sexual moratorium is not for everyone. There are some safe guards that you need to take before you decide to do it. I believe it should not be entered into impulsively or without prayer and wise counsel. Both husband and wife need to be on the same page, not only about doing it, but what you will do instead. It is not just about giving up sex. Like fasting, you should be actively praying and working together during the process. You should have a goal for the moratorium. It is something you are both doing together for your mutual benefit. When your spouse removes sexual intimacy from the equation, they should prepare for battle, especially in their thought life. It is a time to be on guard, but also to lean on God, the Holy Spirit within, your spouse, and a close friend or accountability partner for strength and support.

Sexual moratorium should be a mutual decision. It should be for a time, not indefinitely. I encourage you to pray about what benefits, if any, a sexual moratorium might provide you & your spouse recovering from sexual sins. It may be something God is leading you to consider in your marriage. It should not be undertaken lightly.

For more reading on this topic might I suggest a blog post from Purifying Grace, "Biblical Marital Abstinence: Abstaining from Sex in Marriage" or Porn to Purity, "Abstaining From Sex Will Help Your Marriage".
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