What scriptures teach that fasting and/or refraining from sex during a fast, and/or denying oneself lovemaking to your spouse? I am a newlywed and my husband told me that when a person fasts he/she cannot have sexual relationships. You must deny your flesh of all pleasures. Is it true? What scriptures back this up?
There are two previous questions dealing with fasting that may be of interest. The first one is entitled, “When fasting, how often do you pray?” and the second one is, “What does fasting include?” It is important to remember that fasting involved denying oneself only food and sometimes water.
God’s Commands About Sexual Relations
In both the Old and New Testaments, God rarely commands couples to avoid sexual relations. It is amazing that God has warned us to not do many things, but He rarely warns or commands married couples to stop having sex. One of the few occasions in which God commanded men to abstain from sexual relations is found in Exodus 19:15. It was for the purpose of worshiping God. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 couples could abstain for the purpose of prayer, but only if both agree! In Leviticus 15:19; 18:19, 24; 20:18 and Ezekiel 22:10 husbands were told to not have sexual relations with their wives when their wives are in their menstrual period. These are the times when God prohibits sexual intercourse or states that it is okay for couples to not have sex.
God Encourages Husbands and Wives To Have Sex
Otherwise, the apostle Paul warns couples to do just the opposite. God wants couples to have sex. A great example of this truth is found in the book the Song of Solomon which describes courtship, marriage, the wedding night and marriage between a man and a woman. In chapter 4, which is the wedding night, the entire chapter is devoted to a graphic, yet figurative description of sexual intercourse. God wants couples to have sexual relations.
Apparently, some Christians in the city of Corinth thought there was virtue in avoiding sexual relations with one’s spouse. One of the spouses or maybe both thought it was good to regularly avoid sexual relations. God did not see this as being a good thing. Listen to what Paul had to say.
But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (NASB) 1 Corinthians 7:2-5
Notice that Paul says there is only one reason to not have sexual relations. It is for the purpose of prayer – for a short period of time. God does not want wives or husbands to regularly refuse to have sexual relations, and Paul says stop it! That is sin! The Greek word for “duty” is opheile and it literally refers to a debt or something that one person owes another person. This means that God has a different view of the sexual relationship between husband and wife than our culture or world. God’s message through Paul does not sit well with many today. The message is simple. Your body belongs to your spouse! You do not have control of it when it comes to sex. If one spouse wants to have sex, then the other spouse should willingly choose to enjoy the time together.
Today many people declare that they have the right to control their bodies, but God does not agree when it comes to sexual relations within marriage. A spouse does not have “authority” over his/her body. It belongs to his/her spouse. Now Paul does not mean that a husband or a wife can demand that the spouse “make love” from morning until evening or at any time he or she wants. This does not mean one spouse can sexually abuse their spouse. It is important to understand that Paul is establishing a principle – an attitude of cooperation when it comes to sex. There is no place for sexual abuse, nor is there any room for excuses between spouses to avoid sexual relations. If one spouse is “not up to having sex” then that spouse needs to say when he/she will be ready for “love making.” Both need to be understanding and cooperative with one another.
Sexual Desire of Husbands and Wives
Many believe that only men have a strong desire for sexual relations, but that is not true. Generally, men do have the greater desire, but both men and women crave sex – some more than others and to greater degrees at different times in life. Most counselors know that women crave sex, but less than men.
When a man does not want sexual relationships, there is usually something medically wrong with him or there is an emotional situation with his wife. If a medical reason is suspected, your husband may want to see a doctor for a check-up, consultation, and help. Sometimes the issue is an emotional problem between the man and his wife. He may not enjoy sexual relations with his wife for one or more reasons. An open and frank discussion or a written letter between the spouses may help to bring understanding as to why he is struggling. This is a difficult subject for many couples to talk about and so it should be done with love, kindness, compassion, and tenderness. The goal needs to be, “Is there a reason you do not want to make love with me?” The answer can be difficult to accept. But both spouses need to be ready to change. Married couples need to remember that it is a sin to avoid sexual relations.
God wants married couples to have healthy, enjoyable, and satisfying sexual relations on a regular basis. Most husbands and wives engage in sexual foreplay and intercourse an average of two to three times per week when they are younger and once a week when they are older. These numbers can be higher when they are younger and when they are past seventy the numbers may drop to once per month. God has told us in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 that couples may avoid having sexual relations for the purpose of prayer but only for a brief period of time. Any spouse who frequently wants to “fast” to avoid sexual relations is disobeying God. Does God mean that a couple should ignore medical advice about having sexual relations or should avoid sexual relations when one of them is sick or recovering from a medical procedure? The answer is no. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 is not promoting abuse in marriage. However, to deny your spouse sexual relations without a biblical reason is another form of sexual abuse. God has said that a spouse does not own his/her body; it belongs to your partner! God designed marital sex!
1. Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House. 1982. p. 37
2. Sir Lancelot Brenton. The Septuagint With Apocrypha, Henrickson Publishers. 1851. p. 710
3. Danker and Bauer. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago press. 1957. p. 725
Reference Links:What does fasting include?
When fasting, how often do you pray?
Willing To Humble Yourself?
Is fasting going without food?
Alms, Prayer, and Fasting