“Sexless marriage” is defined as married couples who, for one reason or another, do not have frequent or even any sexual activity in their marriage. As Mark Gungor pointed out in a recent blog, a married couple that have sex ten times a year or less (or less than once a month), falls under the definition of a sexless marriage.[i]
Such a situation is actually estimated to happen often. Elena Donovan Mauer claims that as many as 20% of all marriages become “sexless” – as many as one in five.[ii]
I’ve heard some argue that it’s really no big deal. They tell me it’s a lifestyle choice, and if it works for a couple, then there’s certainly nothing that anyone can say about it. Some couples tell me “It’s harmless and it’s natural, and it happens to a lot of people.”
Our youth are able to go without sex and stay chaste. At an age when many young adults are sexually active outside of marriage, our missionaries manage to stay abstinent for two years. The apostle Paul in the New Testament seemed to prefer celibacy to marriage. [iii]
So it’s okay for married couples to remain celibate if that’s what they choose…right?
What the Scriptures and Apostles Say about Sexless Marriage
When we turn to the scriptures for an answer to this subject, there are no headings I have found in the Topical Guide about “sexless marriage” that we can refer to, so I had to dig a little deeper. We must instead look at what marriage actually is. What is marriage in the Lord’s eyes?
Modern day scripture tells us that God wants us, not only to be married, but to be sealed together forever and not just ‘til death us do part.’[iv]
Charles Didier, a member of the Seventy, said, “This union [of marriage] is solemnized by the authority of the everlasting priesthood into a holy and sacred ordinance, the temple sealing. It is also called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, and its purpose is to bind couples together on earth and bring them to a fullness of exaltation in the kingdom of God in the hereafter.” [v]
From an LDS perspective, we learn from these scriptures and apostolic references that marriage is much more than a legal social contract between two people. It is an ordinance and a covenant; a promise that we enter into with God and our spouses in His holy temples.
The Lord promises to bless us if we keep up our end of the covenant the best we are able, and repent when we make mistakes. The blessings of the marriage covenant are conditional upon our obedience to the Lord and in keeping our part of the agreement.
When a couple knows that they can and will be married forever, it gives a strong incentive to be sexually faithful to one another and find peaceful loving solutions to their differences and problems.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are a covenant-making people. From baptism to the marriage sealing, covenants are a part of our lives and what shapes us spiritually to be more like God.
The Renewal of a Covenant
“The covenant of baptism, with its ordinance of confirmation, opens the gate for eternal life.” [vi]
We are taught that baptism is also an ordinance and a covenant. It’s a promise between us and the Lord that we will continually repent of our sins and keep His commandments. This covenant creates a special bond with the Savior and allows us to always have his spirit with us as we promise to keep his commandments and be more like him.
Covenants require periodic renewal and reminders in order to keep them strong in our minds and hearts. This is necessary simply because we are human, and prone to quickly forget the promises we make. How do we renew the covenant we make at baptism?
“The cleansing power of our Savior’s Atonement is renewed for us as we partake of the sacrament.” [vii]
So our baptismal covenant is renewed when we take the sacrament at Sacrament Meeting every week.
Ideally, we create a habit of scheduling a time to go to church each and every week and take the sacrament.
So, what then do we do to renew our most sacred ordinance and covenant of marriage?
Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I wish to stress with you this morning…that sexual union is also, in its own profound way, a very real sacrament of the highest order…” [viii]
Likewise, when a couple marries in the house of the Lord, and makes that sacred covenant to Him, they renew their covenant by participating in regular physical intimacy with their spouse – the “sacrament” of sex.
Be Not Deceived; God is Not Mocked…(Gal. 6:7)
It may be hard for some to understand this – cultural misunderstandings around sex are very strong – but there are further parallels that can be explored which reinforce this idea. What happens to those who take the sacrament unworthily – who have not made or have broken their covenants?
“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself…” [ix]
So those who pretend they have made the covenant or don’t take it seriously, or only take it seriously when it’s convenient or they’re in the mood, become damned by taking the sacrament of that covenant unworthily.
This is not “burning in a lake of fire” or eternal misery and suffering damnation as many think of when they hear the word…While damnation is certainly suffering and misery, I’d like to suggest another meaning of damned like a river is dammed. When a dam is placed on a river, the progression of the water is stopped, and cannot continue until the dam is removed.
Personal progression works in a manner similar to this. Those who engage in premarital or extramarital sex are pretending they have made the marriage covenant, and thus “dam” their spiritual, emotional and psychological progression until they repent and remove that dam.
Lighting the Fire of the Covenant
But what about those who are married, and in a sexless marriage situation? These couples have made the covenant, but do not renew it, or do so very infrequently. What do the scriptures and modern-day prophets teach us about the non-renewal of a covenant?
In the sacramental prayers, the promise given for the renewal of the covenant is, “…that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” [x]
The promise that we receive from the Lord for partaking of the sacrament of baptism each week is that we will have the Lord’s Spirit to be with us and guide us. The sacrament is a sacred moment of our worship that unites
“our will with God’s will, our spirit with his spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge his divinity, but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves...” [xi]
If we do not take the sacrament each week as we are encouraged to do, we have the freedom to make that choice, but we cannot choose the consequences. By making this choice, we lose that opportunity to renew the Lord’s spirit to be with us. Just like a fire that needs to be constantly fed and stoked, like clockwork, those members who neglect to come to church and take the sacrament regularly allow the fire of their beliefs to slowly become extinguished and fall away from the church as a result.
Likewise, if we refuse to partake in the “sacrament” of marital intimacy – that “symbolic union between a man and a woman – the uniting of their very souls” we lose the blessings of the covenant, and the fire of our devotion to each other begins to die.
A spouse who finds him or herself in a sexless marriage becomes frustrated, since their only acceptable outlet of sexual expression has closed off and rejected them. Self-esteem deteriorates. Confusion and frustration develop. Romantic feelings flicker out, and the couple may relate to each other as roommates or siblings instead of lovers in order to keep the peace. Intimacy starvation (which manifests itself as sexual temptation) can become very intense and unrelenting.
“Everything else is fine, but my spouse won’t have sex with me…”
I have yet to hear of a couple that gets married with the planned intention to be celibate. Most couples get married because they love each other and want frequent and gratifying sex all their lives. Even though each spouse’s sexual drive may be at different levels, if one spouse refuses to have sex, the other spouse can’t go to the neighbors down the street to help them gratify their sexual need. Not without negative consequences anyway.
Let me re-emphasize that the constant refusal of sex from either partner may lead to the negation of the covenant promises of marriage, especially a marriage where a couple is married for eternity. A marriage is not a covenant in full until both partners have held up their end of the agreement to the best of their ability.
"I know that what is sealed on earth is literally sealed in heaven - never to be broken if those being sealed remain faithful and endure to the end...I have observed over the years many couples who have been able to maintain strong and vital marriages as they remain true to the covenants they take upon themselves..."[xii]
“But my spouse wants to have sex too much…”
A difference of levels of desire is one of the most common issues included with the marriage package. It requires honest communication and loving reassurances to come to an agreement on what amount and kinds of sexual activity are acceptable to both spouses.
The idea that sex in marriage is a sacrament should be in our minds when we consider how often to engage in sex with our spouses.
“[Psychologist Tina] Tessina's best advice is [that sex should be engaged in] at least once a week, saying that "intimacy keeps you glued together. It's what you need in order to nurture your connection to your spouse. You'll be a lot happier with each other and feel more cared about if you're regularly having sex.”“…when a couple has had a long period — say, several months — without sex, it's important to address the problem, so months don't become years, Tessina says. "Some couples won't have sex for two years and then come in to my practice and ask for help. We can get to the bottom of the problem at that point, but it's more challenging. If they haven't had sex for a couple of months, that's when they really should be asking questions. That's a good time to come in and have therapy. Otherwise, anger and frustration builds, and it takes longer to fix it that way." [xiii]
There will also be times when a sexless marriage is inevitable for a period of time. Situations such as military deployment, or the first few weeks after giving birth, or illness may make sexual activity difficult to impossible. However, these situations are not an excuse for shutting off all forms of sexual intimacy. There are many different ways of maintaining intimacy that will stave off a sexless marriage situation, even when spouses have to refrain for a time. [xiv]
Is Sexless Marriage a Lifestyle Choice, or Something Else?
It’s interesting to see how the devil works. Have you noticed?
Before we marry, he works very hard to get single people to have sex; and/or pretend to live a type of marriage covenant they haven’t actually made. This stops (dams) social, emotional, and spiritual progression that can only be obtained through marriage.
After a couple is married, Satan and his followers work very hard to keep couples apart and from being intimate - physically, mentally and emotionally. His intent is to destroy everything that brings happiness.
Where can we gain our greatest happiness from but through a productive and cooperative marriage relationship?
When a couple is emotionally healthy and physically able, sexless marriage is sabotage that blocks that married couple from progressing and being united. However, I have found that, even in the most physically or emotionally extreme circumstances, love does find a way. There are many ways to be sexually intimate, with or without vaginal intercourse.
“Once the marriage covenant is made, it is conceivable that a man might never be guilty of violence or of infidelity and yet could fail the greatest blessings possible because of his failure in his covenant marriage. He should strive to be the perfect husband…and positively do all things to make his family relationships as the Lord would have them be. Similar requirements are made of the wife.” [xv]
Ultimately, how any particular sexual relationship works has to be decided by the couple involved, with help from the Spirit and professional assistance if needed. It must be a matter of frank, loving discussion and prayer. It’s not enough to say that one person is satisfied with a sexless marriage and the other is “able to cope” with the situation. If one person is unhappy, then the couple must come together to find common ground - so that we can be one in body, one in mind, and one in spirit and united with the Lord and his purposes.
[i] Diane Brierley, “Sexless Marriage: The Desire Myth”, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage blog for Mark Gungor, 9 Mar 2010, http://www.laughyourway.com/blog/desire-myth/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+laughyourway+%28Laugh+Your+Way+to+a+Better+Marriage%29
[ii] Mauer, Elena Donovan. “The Big No: The Truth About Sexless Marriage”, The Today Show blog on NBC, 8 Sep 2009, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/32735936
[iii] 1Cor. 1: 1-9
[iv] D&C 131:2
[v] Charles Didier, Ensign, May 1994, italics added
[vi] James E. Faust, Ensign, Jan 2003
[vii] Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, May 1999, italics added
[viii] Jeffrey R. Holland,
“Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” in Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches (1988), 78–79., italics added
[ix] 1 Cor 11:29
[x] D&C 20:77. This is the promise related to the blessing of the bread. A similar promise is in D&C 20:79 in the prayer said over the water.
[xi] Jeffry R. Holland, Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments
[xii] Robert D. Hales, "Blessings of the Temple", Ensign, Oct. 2009, 46–49, www.lds.org, bolding and italics added
[xiii] Mauer, Elena Donovan. “The Big No: The Truth About Sexless Marriage”, The Today Show blog on NBC, 8 Sep 2009, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/32735936
[xiv] See 1Cor. 7:5
[xv] Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 97, italics and bolding added