Spousal or marital rape is a form of domestic violence and sexual abuse. In spousal rape, sex is forced on one spouse by the other. While the Bible does not specifically deal with spousal rape, it has plenty to say about the husband-wife relationship and its representation of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).
First of all, rape is not about sex. Sex has little to do with it, in fact. Sex becomes the weapon, the vehicle to accomplish the desired result, which is to overwhelm, overpower, embarrass, and humiliate another person. All nonconsensual sex is rape, whether it takes place within a marriage or any other relationship. Most of the time, spousal rape occurs within a physically abusive relationship. In the U.S., marital rape is illegal in all 50 states.
Some people believe that a wife must be agreeable to sexual relations with her husband at any time and that she has no say in the matter. They often misuse 1 Corinthians 7:3–5 to support the erroneous view that a wife can never tell her husband that she would like to defer having sex for a time. Some men believe that the husband has a God-given right to just “take it,” in spite of his wife’s objections. Of course, “taking it” without her consent is spousal rape, and God never condones rape. The truth is that sexual expression was designed by God to be an act of love within a marriage, and violence or coercion should never be a part of it. Forced sex is not love; it is the opposite. The Bible is clear: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).
Unfortunately, marital rape victims are sometimes advised to “put up with it.” Too often, these women hear that they should be grateful that the rapist is a good father or a good provider or the like, and that it is their duty to “submit” in the bedroom. However, such thinking can inadvertently promote rape and an unbiblical concept of sex. Sex should be more than a “duty,” and “submission” in the bedroom cannot be seen as the complement of compulsion.
It is clear from the Bible that mutuality reigns in the bedroom. According to 1 Corinthians 7:1–5, a husband should provide sexual satisfaction to his wife, and a wife should provide sexual satisfaction to her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, and a husband does not have authority over his own body. They belong to each other. Does this mean that a husband can force himself on his wife anytime he so desires? Definitely not. What the passage teaches is that each spouse is to willingly, freely, lovingly submit to the other. The passage is about giving satisfaction, not demanding it. The focus is on pleasing one’s spouse. There is no selfishness involved. Forcibly taking what has not been offered is wrong and plainly against the Bible’s commands on love and marriage.
If someone has ever made sexual contact with you without your consent, please seek help. If you are presently in danger of being forced to have sex, or if nonconsensual sex is an established pattern between you and another person, call the police and get out of the situation as soon as it is safe to do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling the police against a spouse or partner—rape is illegal as well as immoral, and it should be dealt with by law enforcement. If you need help knowing what to do in your particular situation, RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, is always available online (they have a private chat option) or by phone at 1-800-656-4673.
If you are not in the United States, you can access a listing of international resources for assault and rape victims here.
To the victims of spousal rape, God’s Word offers care and compassion. The Bible often speaks about God’s helping the needy and vulnerable. Jesus invites victims of crime and other burden-bearers to approach Him and find support: “Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).
To those who have committed spousal rape, first, repent of your sin before God. Second, seek the forgiveness of your spouse for the great wrong you have done. Third, seek out a godly counselor who can guide you into a biblical view of marriage and sex. You need God’s grace, and, thankfully, God is willing to extend it (1 John 1:9).