We spent many years trying to understand our responsibilities and “rights” regarding sex. Eventually, we arrived at the idea that we call sexual stewardship. This grew out of our attempts to understand a passage in 1 Corinthians.
Let the husband fulfill [lit., render] 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. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 NAS (emphasis ours)
We used to joke with each other. I would point to Lori and say, “That’s my body, and it wants sex!” Then she would point to my body and say, “But my body does not want to have sex.” Obviously, the seemingly literal translation of having power over our spouse’s body creates this kind of a paradox, so there must be some other meaning.
A quick detour into Greek is needed here:
The word “duty” in verse 3 comes from two Greek words that might better be translated as “the good or kindness which is owed.” It is very clear that sex is something our spouses are supposed to receive from us. It is their due and our duty.
The Greek word translated as “authority” in verse 4 means “to have power or authority” or “to be master of anyone, exercise authority over one.” It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 6:12 which says all things are lawful, but we are not be under the power of anything.
The Greek word translated as “depriving” in verse 5 means to defraud, rob, or despoil. It is stealing from someone that which belongs to them.
Interestingly, there is a symmetry here; she owes him the same thing he owes her. This symmetry isn’t found in other areas of the marriage, so God obviously felt it important to tell men they owed their wives sex.
This is where we see the idea of stewardship. A steward is put in charge of something which does not belong to him. The steward is given both authority and responsibility for the thing (or person) he’s made a steward of, and he is accountable to the one who made him steward. In the case of sex, God has given the husband stewardship of the wife’s sexuality and the wife has been given stewardship of the husband’s sexuality. A steward never puts his own desires above the care of what has been entrusted to him. We must do the same with sex: put the good of our spouse above our own sexual desires.
What exactly is required? What do we have to do?
Since God made us stewards, it is God who sets the requirements. We are not required to give our spouse what he or she wants sexually. We are required to give them what is right in God’s eyes. Certainly, their desires are important and they need (i.e. are required) to let us know what they want, what feels good, etc., but this is not the final word on the issue. If a spouse’s desires are not in line with God’s, then we must choose God’s desires over theirs.
If a woman says she has no need for sex, the husband should know this is not right with God. He would be required by God to do everything possible to bring her to an understanding that allowed her to receive sexually from him.
On the other hand, if a husband said, “I need sex six times a day,” the wife would know this was out of line with God’s intent. She would be required by God to give him less than he “desires.” What if he said, “I ‘need’ to experience sex with two women” or she “needs” to send sexual photos to her friends? If it isn’t right with God, we must refuse!
Maybe a few examples of how this plays out will help.
There have been times when Lori suggested we should not have sex because she sensed that I needed to deal with something that was bothering me. She believed (correctly) that I would use sex to hide from the thing I needed to deal with. This was wise and right – annoying and frustrating, but wise and right.
Then there have been times when I was so exhausted from work that I was unaware of my body, much less its needs. Lori, however, knows that I have a hard time falling asleep when I get like that. She also knows that doing something for me sexually will greatly help me get to sleep. At times like this, she has given me something for which I felt no desire because she knew I would benefit. (We know a man who has learned to treat his wife’s occasional insomnia in a similar way.)
On the other side, there have been times I knew Lori needed sex but was too busy-minded to be aware of that fact. I know that taking care of her sexually does her a world in many other ways as well. It is very much the right and loving thing to gently get her attention and share with her the need I think she has.
My thinking changed significantly when I realized that God had given me Lori’s body so I could bless her, not so I could get my needs met. What’s more, it goes beyond the bedroom. If my actions, or lack of actions, in some other area interfere with the intimacy needed for me to please her sexually, then those actions, or lack of actions, result in me defrauding her of sex!
As I looked at blessing her instead of “getting mine,” I began to see her sexuality as something I was supposed to care for and nurture so that it might grow and become all that God intended it to be. It is a potential that can be fulfilled only if I put time and energy into all areas of our relationship.
Sexual stewardship took the fear of being abused out of our sexuality for me. It’s really easy for someone who has been abused (childhood sexual abuse, acquaintance rape, and a difficult first marriage) to feel overwhelmed and run over by your spouse’s sexuality. You wonder if you will ever be able to adequately and safely take care of their sexual needs, and you are always expecting to see manipulation and wrong desires.
With sexual stewardship in mind, I could go to our safe and consistent God and talk to Him about what He said about my husband’s sexual needs and wants.
I spent time reading and talking to Paul about what a normal male sexual drive is about. Then I spent time praying about Paul and what he specifically needed (physically and emotionally) to feel sexually and relationally fulfilled. Now, of course, in the beginning, I wasn’t really in a place to do everything well, but I at least gained a direction and some attainable goals. Over time, and with some emotional healing, I’ve come to really appreciate that I am a steward over his sexual needs and wants. Conversely, I have also learned to trust him with my own needs and wants.
When we become stewards of each other’s sexuality the only “argument” we can have about sex is over what God intends. We are still going to have to deal with our own human nature (selfishness, making what we want more important than what others want, etc.) but when our focus is on God’s plan, it is a bit easier to see clearly and to give ground.
None of this should be seen as taking the passion or pleasure out of sex. Passion and pleasure are an integral part of what God intended sex in marriage to be. Just read Song of Songs! Being a good steward of your spouse’s sexuality means blowing their mind as you give them what is their due.
One odd result of sexual stewardship is that you will occasionally have sex even though neither of you really wants to. You do it because you know you should, because you know it is right, and because you know it will benefit you as individuals and as a couple. Ironically, those occasions can be some of the sweetest times of lovemaking.