Physical intimacy is part of God’s normal plan for marriage, and a husband and wife have a responsibility to meet each other’s needs in this area (1 Corinthians 7:2–4). Assuming there is no physical or medical condition that would prevent sexual activity, a lack of sex in marriage should come by mutual consent for spiritual pursuits for short periods of time (1 Corinthians 7:5).
A sexless marriage is a cause for concern. Again ruling out physical difficulties, the root is most likely a spiritual one. The first order of business is to pray for wisdom, mercy, and grace to help in the time of need (James 1:5; Hebrews 4:16). It is always good to put one’s own house in order before seeking to correct someone else; therefore, if a spouse feels wronged in this area, he/she should ask the Lord to reveal anything he/she may be doing to contribute to the problem (Psalm 139:23). God will answer such a prayer, provided we are willing to listen.
Should the deprived spouse discover that he or she has contributed to the cause of the lack of sex in the marriage, the sin should be confessed to God and the spouse and steps taken to correct the behavior (Proverbs 28:13). If this has been done and sexual intimacy is still withheld, the wronged spouse should continue praying daily for grace to love unconditionally and trusting God to work in His time. This is now a test of faith (James 1:2–4). All the while, the deprived spouse should take care to keep the lines of communication open with his or her partner and never neglect God’s commands concerning the marital relationship (Ephesians 5:22–33). It takes time and patience to wait on the Lord and to keep one’s eyes on Him to rise above the circumstances.
If the lack of sex in marriage is due to the wife refusing intimacy, the husband should consider if he is being obedient to God’s command to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25–33) or if he is living with her in “an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7, ESV). This is especially important if she has feelings of inferiority or rejection. Often, a husband may not recognize his part in his wife’s problems, and she is merely acting out of frustration or suppressed anger. Honest communication and forgiveness are the best ways to address this issue; be careful to avoid playing “the blame game.” First Corinthians 13 can be the checklist—does that chapter’s description of love match the husband’s treatment of his wife? Godly love will keep him from bitterness against his wife and harshness toward her (Colossians 3:19).
If the lack of sex in marriage is due to the husband refusing intimacy, the wife may be neglecting her responsibility before God to love, respect, and submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22–24). If he feels neglected, inferior, or dominated, he may refuse intimacy to get even or to regain control, or he may lose interest altogether. Either way, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
If a spouse is withholding sex seemingly without cause, there may be a deeper, suppressed problem stemming from the past. In this case, counseling could help the problem come to the surface and hopefully be dealt with. In any case, both parties should take some time off and sit down with the intent to talk it out without shifting the blame. A pastor or biblical counselor can be a wonderful help during these conversations. The goal should be to understand the perspective of one’s spouse, so the couple can then move together in the right direction and allow change to begin.
Healing cannot be forced and may take some time. In the meantime, forgiveness is an immediate command (Matthew 6:14–15). If both parties want God’s best and if the process is done in humility and sincerity, full intimacy is possible once again. A hurting couple should commit themselves to time in the Word daily, to prayer, to obedience to God, and to each other. Then they can patiently trust the Lord to work in both their hearts and heal whatever is causing the lack of sex in the marriage.