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Some marriages go decades without sex, so the question of "can" doesn't really get at the heart of the matter.
A better question is, "What happens when a marriage goes a long time without sex… for no justifiable reason?"
I always have to add that disclaimer in there, because there are some marriages plagued by chronic illnesses and injuries that make any kind of sexual intimacy impossible.
But most marriages? Yeah, in most marriages, sex IS an option.
My guess is if you are reading this right now, sex IS an option in your marriage -- yet it never or rarely occurs.
What does happen when a marriage goes a long time -- maybe even years or decades -- without sex?
Here are 10 things I think can happen (in no particular order).
Sex is never just about sex. It's about soul mingling, which is a vital aspect of marriage that is found in no other human relationship. When I wrote the post "I like him better after we have sex," I meant it.
Consistent and mutually-enjoyable sexual intimacy in a marriage equips us to extend grace, to be kinder toward one another, to do life together.
So it's no wonder, that when you take sex out, resentment is eager to arrive on the scene.
I think we intuitively recognize when there is distance between us and our spouse. Distance is different than resentment, but still equally damaging.
Sex is a vivid reminder in a marriage that we are "in this together." It's not surprising that when couples report going long stretches without making love, they feel "distant" from one another.
And that distance begins to chip away at all the things that give marriage richness and strength -- vulnerability, friendship, shared joys, common ground.
Sure, the two of you pay the bills and run the house. You share the chores. You raise the kids. You mow the lawn. You decorate the Christmas tree. And you run the carpool.
BUT... without physical and emotional intimacy… all of that roommatish stuff barely qualifies as a high and holy definition of marriage.
I would be a wealthy woman if I had a dollar every time I heard someone express to me that their marriage exists, but it never thrives -- in large part because of the lack of sex.
Roommate status in a marriage sucks. It just does.
God designed marriage and sex -- and He designed them to go together.
He implores husbands and wives to make love often. He places a fundamental command on sex being exclusive to marriage. He created women and men both to be able to experience orgasm.
Sex is God's deal -- His arena -- in a very big way.
So, suffice to say, when we marry, we are saying "yes" to sex being part of that covenant. We are saying "yes" to God. Take sex out of the covenant? How can we think that doesn't dishonor Him?
If we tried to count the number of Christian men and women who want to step out on their sexually unavailable spouse, we would be counting for awhile.
And that's just counting the ones who want to, but don't.
Let's not even start counting the ones who actually do give into that temptation.
I've never been a fan of the phrase "affair proof" your marriage, because a spouse could go above and beyond their responsibility in the marriage, including being sexually available -- and their spouse could still choose to cheat.
But I do think there are ways we can guard our marriages. Making love is one of those ways. When sex is non-existent, the spouse who hungers for it may be more tempted to loosen the reins on their marriage vows.
To not see some cause and effect in that whole scenario is careless.
Yes, adultery is a sin and there is no way to rationalize it.
But listen to the raw feelings of refused spouses, and it's not too hard to see how they convince themselves that sexual indiscretion doesn't matter at this point.
Don't kid yourself on this one (no pun intended). Your kids are learning about marriage from watching you. You may say, "Well, they don't know anything about our sexual intimacy."
You're right that they aren't privy to the details of what happens behind your closed bedroom door, but I guarantee you this. If nothing is happening behind that bedroom door, the collateral damage from that spills out into the rest of your life -- you know, the life where your kids are present and paying attention.
See points 1, 2 and 3 for further insight.
Satan is all about division, and he doesn't really care how he goes about doing it. He is crafty and clever and will work with what we hand him.
When you willingly decide to take sex out of the marriage, the enemy is delighted. Why? Because he knows that anything designed by God -- in this case, sex -- is powerful. And holy. And worthy.
When a married couple stops having sex, Satan has gained a huge foothold. Division is so much easier when unity is no longer mutually valued.
BUT… if it is happening often and only because someone's spouse has arbitrarily removed sex from the marriage, then the negative impact starts to add up quickly.
When a husband and wife could be having sex, but aren't -- and one or both of them resort to masturbation -- are we really that surprised?
If anything, it just confirms the power of sexual desire.
Even more heartbreaking is when the refusing spouse gives "permission" or "encouragement" to their spouse to "just take care of things themselves."
How can we possibly think that's God vision (or even your vision) for sex in a marriage?
No, I am not justifying any sin, including the sin of pornography.
But we are a naive people if we believe for one moment that pornography doesn't look more alluring to some people who are consistently sexually rejected within their marriage.
I know that pornography addiction is complex. I also know that I hear from many people who struggle greatly with pornography and are trying to stop looking at it. To feel as if there is no other option but pornography only compounds the problem.
Many couples, usually through the assistance of counselors and ministries, have overcome the betrayal of pornography. Without a doubt, a husband and wife eventually resuming healthy and active sexual intimacy is a part of that healing.
Again. A lot of this goes back to, "What are we doing to guard our marriage and our hearts?"
If you are gung ho about serving in countless ways at your church -- yet you know you are blatantly refusing your spouse sexually -- then your Christian witness is hampered. I have no doubt about that.
There's nothing wrong with using your talents and heart to serve the Lord outside your home, but if you are doing it at the expense of priorities in your home and in your marriage, then I encourage you to step back.
Take a good hard look. Be humble. And admit that this may be a blind spot for you.
The Lord is willing to meet you in that place of struggle -- and in all the others I've listed to this point.
How long can a marriage go without sex?
Well. Like I already said… I don't think that question really gets at the heart of the matter.
For more reading on this, check out one of my favorite posts: Extraordinary Sex in Your Ordinary Life.
Copyright 2015, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog.