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Published Date: December 5, 2011

Published Date: December 5, 2011

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Cover of "Created to Thrive".

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Can Sex be Egalitarian?

Most people do not think of the Bible as a love manual, but, unsurprisingly, the Scriptures support the idea of egalitarian sex—both wife and husband exist for each other spiritually and physically when they make love. From Genesis where God creates one-flesh union and the couple is naked and unashamed; to Song of Songs where both the beloved and the lover speak to each other in rousing and tender words; to the letter of Paul to the Corinthians where he declares that the husband and the wife have a conjugal duty to each other, the Bible provides a model of what a healthy, biblical sexuality looks like. Taking a closer look at the Scriptures provides a framework for romantic love that is not based on one-sided control and power, but on the freedom of sexual love within Christian marriage. 

Genesis 2 describes the creation of the first humans. We notice that Adam is so overjoyed to see Eve that he sings to her! The couple are naked before each other, and united as one. From this passage we can understand nudity to be more than just physical nakedness—it is also an emotional and spiritual vulnerability that allows physical intimacy to flourish. Indeed, this metaphorical nakedness comes before physical nudity, as the couple builds their sexual marital relationship on the foundation of a spiritual enmeshing. This emotional and spiritual union is developed in dating, and continues to unfurl throughout the relationship. 

From the metaphorical nudity established in dating, Song of Songs describes the longing of engagement. This book of the Bible is not often the subject of sermons, but it is important to bridge the spiritual and emotional aspects of a God-based relationship to the anticipation of a sexual relationship. From this book we can see that both the woman and the man speak to each other about their love. It is likely this longing comes because the couple is not yet married.Yet, in their time together, they share passionate words, romantic food and drink (7:13, cf Gen. 30:16; 7:9), and a desire for each other expressed in anticipation of physical intimacy. Portions of this book could be read at weddings in celebration of sensual love (eros) in addition to the more typical passages about transcendental (agape) love, such as 1 Corinthians 13.

If Song of Songs is a theme for engagement, then 1 Corinthians 7 is the theme for marriage, as it gives perhaps the strongest advice for married couples in their sex life. Paul says that neither spouse should withhold intimacy, unless both decide it is appropriate for something essential, like prayer (7:5). But even in this, Paul says both partners have a right to the other’s body, and a duty to give to each other sexually (7:3-4). This thinking was radical at a time when women were considered property and were used by their husbands without concern for their pleasure or feelings. Paul breaks down the gender lines of the first century and, considering the partners equal to each other, encourages both the wife and the husband to give to each other freely, and only have periods of celibacy if it is mutually agreeable (7:5). This passage is the basis for an equal say in marital relations. Moreover, it credits women with the same needs for intimacy as men. 

In God’s perfect plan for romantic union, he has provided a wonderful guide in the Bible. We can take themes like metaphorical nudity, romantic words, and regular intimacy and say confidently that both men and women are responsible for being emotionally and spiritually available, initiating romance, and deciding the frequency and nature of their romantic endeavors. These components make a relationship glorifying to God, and are based on the power of love, not the love of power.