marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sexless Marriage and the Sacrament


“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

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought that was an interesting thought, that Satan tries to get us to have sex before marriage, and not have it after.

Anonymous said...

Good post! Although I agree with your overall points, I don't know if I totally buy in to the whole idea of sex in marriage being a sacrament. I know that Elder Holland made that distinction, but it is not doctrinal. It is very important that a couple use physical intimacy frequently, to stay connected, but is it equal to a sacrament such that if one does not partake it damages one spiritually? In the case of one spouse withholding intimacy from a desiring spouse, yes. But what if neither of them have the desire?

It may be possible for a couple, who both have a very low sex drive, to stay very much in love without having sex. Neither of them would be drawn toward the temptation of infidelity, because they are content in their relationship and don't have the physical desire for sex. In this case (although probably very rare), there is no harm in living a celibate life; after all, many elderly couples live this way.

I know that I wouldn't survive in a sexless marriage, but I do believe there are some that may prefer it and can do so without damaging their relationship.

CoachSam said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
You raise an interesting point about desire and the lack thereof. In my view, the whole desire thing is somewhat irrelevant. To use the same "sacrament" metaphor, we don't wait for the desire to take the sacrament...we take it because it's a responsibility that comes with the covenant. Likewise, physical intimacy in some form or another is a responsibility of marriage.
I did mention in the blog that there are extenuating circumstances, such as illness or disability in all its forms. There may be some few people out there who have trouble swallowing due to medical conditions, but who can still put the bread of the sacrament in their mouth to show their obedience, and at least attempt to make the effort to to show their willingness to the Lord.
In the case of an elderly couple with a low sex drive on both counts, they could still kiss or hold hands or cuddle or have pillow talk. There are many forms of physical intimacy, and not all involve intercourse. They would still have the responsibility to bond with each other sexually, however they can. To ignore each other because of a low sex drive in one or both spouses causes division in the relationship.
It is doctrinally sound that the Lord wants us to grow together eternally, not to be divided in our relationship or try to live like roommates with separate lives.
For those who are able to have sex, to continually deny sex to their spouses is a sin of omission, according to President Kimball in the Miracle of Forgiveness (esp. pg 250 - The Importance of Observing Marriage Vows, and pg. 73 - Love in Marriage).
I feel certain that, in the majority of cases where couples are avoiding each other sexually, relationship damage can and will occur, and that does affect our spirits.

Unknown said...

Sexless marriage is real and spiritually damaging. In the early days of the Church, the pioneers suffered physical death caused by abuse, torture and illness at the hands of persecuting enemies. The persecution continues today primarily on the spiritual level and our beliefs on sexuality are at the center of the conflict. In the church culture, we become so afraid of sex because the devastation of promiscuity is all around us. So,we may justify shying away from sexual intimacy entirely. It has been skewed to be so ugly. On the other hand, the worldly culture of seeking selfish sexual pleasure seeps into our minds through media, music and the internet. Both of these cultural influences along with a general increase in domestic abuse and conflict overall, can create volatile marital challenges involving sexual intimacy that our pioneer ancestors would be shocked to witness. While I do not agree that desire is irrelevant in marital intimacy, "desire" levels as a leading indicator to justify intimacy is that worldly culture mindset creeping in. It is our obligation to have sexual relations with our spouse even if we don't feel the "desire". This is similar to keeping certain commandments regardless of how we might feel about them. With these cultural pressures from the Church and the world, it is extremely rare that we come across couples who are both happy living a celibate lifestyle. Agreeing with Coach Sam in this regard (physical intimacy does not always involve intercourse)bonding sexually is crucial. Couples living "celibate" lifestyles suffer spiritually, emotionally and ignoring each other is damaging. When I hear people making excuses for such an intimate free lifestyle or heralding it as a wonderful possibility, I am inclined to think they are in denial about their own marriage. Perhaps a conversation with their spouse about intimacy levels would be appropriate.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments...first, is not this very point the distinguishing factor between the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and any other result? The fact that we can live eternally with our beloved companion, continuing throughout eternity with an intimate relationship with our spouse, able to continue to procreate! It sounds like sexual intimacy to me, and given the perfect state, I imagine it is even more amazing. But that's really what separates us at that level from any other end point in the plan of salvation. Hence, the importance of the new and everlasting covenant.

Second...I agree about the importance of the need for sexual intimacy, despite desire. Sometimes when we're sick we don't feel like eating, but we still need to eat. Sometimes we don't feel like going to church or reading our scriptures, we still do. However, although we should do something despite desire, isn't it even better to stoke up desire?! You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink...but you can make the water look a whole lot more appealing!

What I mean is that the body is biologically formulated to help us fall in love with the release of certain "love chemicals" like oxytocin. After a few years, particularly in females, these start to decline dramatically. Many of you may have noticed that after about 4-5 years the initial sex drives that we used to have start to decline quite a bit. This is really what turns into these sexless marriages. Unfortunately, us men are so bad at really understanding how to help encourage this sexual drive in our spouses. The key is through pyschology over biology. As we meet our wife's needs (of which sex is not near the top), we win her heart and help her feel full and satisfied, as well as safe in the relationship and then has more desire. Although kids should read their scriptures for seminary, how much cooler is it when parents teach their kids about scripture power! And help them DESIRE to open up and glean from the power within them. Same deal with sexual intimacy, let's help our spouses have that drive by meeting their needs.

Anonymous said...

This is the reason I am strongly considering leaving the church. I was not raised LDS and married a woman who was very normal before becoming LDS herself. The church completely ruined her as a person. We were friends for years as non-members and began dating after we both became active LDS. Two years after starting to date we married in the temple. I consider becoming active and marrying in the temple as the turning point in my life. I went from being happy, ambitious, and optimistic about life. I now find most of life horribly disappointing, and the definitive turning point is my association with the church. She went from being normal to being a disfunctional wreck. Sexuality went from being normal and fun to being something to loath and feel guilty about. I find it very hard to attend a church I deeply resent and often hate. Church leadership has a lot of answering to do for the mind job they put on people. Shame on them.

CoachSam said...

Dear Anon June 26th:

I'm very sorry to hear of you and your wife's disappointing experiences as a member of the Church.

You've shared some very personal and heavy issues here. If you like, I would invite you to email me if you'd like to discuss things further. Perhaps I can be of some help to you, if you're interested. Feel free to email me at samzaragoza@sbcglobal.net.

One thing I would like to suggest to you (or anyone else who is in a similar situation) is to take a look around at the other members in your ward or stake.

Some of them are sad and miserable. Yet, some of them are happy and able to find peace. Why is that?

They're all getting the same message, same gospel, same scriptures...but I would suggest that the personal interpretation and application is different.

Sometimes the beliefs we carry with us into the church, or the interpretations we make of what what we hear or see, make all the difference in the world. These beliefs and expectations we carry color our view of things, and can make it impossible to feel happy.

It's worthwhile to examine such expectations more closely, to find out if they serve us well, or if we would do better to modify them.

I know that, for some members, looking at the gospel can be like looking at one of those magic eye posters...have you ever tried to look at those, and gotten frustrated because it just didn't make sense? Sometimes, if someone comes along, and shows us HOW to look at the poster, then suddenly the image becomes clear, and we can see all the marvelous things that are available in the picture.

Just because the picture was a blurry mess initially doesn't mean the beautiful images weren't there...it just means we didn't know how to look at it and understand it. Hope that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Can you elaborate on tk smoothies?

CoachSam said...

Thank you for your question Anon March 22,2017,

So I can best help you, in what part of this article are you finding "tk smoothies"?