Paul & Lori Byerly
We are often asked questions like "Is oral sex okay?" or "My husband wants to make a video of us in the bedroom. Is this a sin?" The reason we get so many of these questions probably has something to do with the fact that the Bible does not specifically speak to everything that a couple can do sexually. Many couples don’t talk about these things, and it’s not uncommon for both husband and wife to want to try something new, but each is afraid the other will be upset or offended. Our aim here is to provide a way for a couple to discuss these issues.
Where scripture is silent, we must look at Biblical principles to build outlines for what is, and is not, good for our marriage bed.
Anything that does not violate these principles should be okay within the marriage bed. That said, it's important that our sexual activities benefit our sense of intimacy and oneness as a couple. It's also important for a couple to have regular intercourse, if they are able to. While the Bible does not speak to this, science has shown that all sex is not alike, and intercourse has effects on our bodies, minds, and emotions (and we believe our spirits) that no other sex act can match1. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who say it's a sin for a man to ejaculate anywhere other than a woman's vagina. We find nothing in the Bible which says this, and nothing which seems to even hint this is the case; therefore, we see no reason to limit sex or climax to intercourse. However, a couple who frequently avoids intercourse is cheating themselves out of something God intended them to have.
To help us understand the variety of sex acts possible, and the fact that each couple will engage in a different subset of these sex acts, we like the analogy of a playground; the marriage bed playground. There is a fence around the playground – a fence that separates a couple from sex acts that are dangerous, sinful, or otherwise unacceptable. Inside the fence are a great number of pieces of playground equipment (sex acts) that a couple may enjoy if they so desire. What each couple enjoys varies just as preferences in playground equipment vary. If he gets dizzy and sick on things that spin, the merry-go-round is not a good choice. If she is uncomfortable with heights, that very tall slide is a bad idea. If they both enjoy him pushing her in the swing, but neither is big on her pushing him, that’s just fine. Start with a few things and over time test out others. If something is not enjoyable to either of you, leave it. However, do come back around to things you didn’t like the first time – our tastes chance, and some things we didn’t enjoy early on may be a lot of fun years later.
But where is the fence? What is inside the fence, and what is outside? Let's consider some specific bedroom activities and apply the principles above. Please keep in mind that we are not recommending any of these activities, we are only trying to give couples a framework for deciding which sexual activities will build their marriage, and which may damage it. How you feel about these things will be influenced by personal preferences, past experience, and your understanding of the Word. You can use the index below to jump to a particular subject.
Manual sex is using the hands to sexually stimulate your spouse's genitals. It can be done as foreplay, or as a way of causing orgasm. Manual sex does not violate any of the principles we have given, and there are even strong hints of it in the Song of Songs. We can see no reason not to use our hands to arouse each other before intercourse or to have an orgasm before, after, or instead of intercourse.
Manual sex can be a good way to deal with seriously mismatched sex drives. While some people think of manual sex as a "juvenile" act of limited pleasure, it's possible to become very skilled at giving a great deal of pleasure with your hands.
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Oral sex is using the mouth to sexually stimulate your spouse's genitals. Oral can be done as foreplay, or to bring about orgasm. As with manual sex, there are no hints of prohibition in the Bible, and many scholars of the Song of Songs are convinced that several passages describe oral sex being performed on both the man and the woman. (Song of Songs 2:3, the woman performing oral sex on the man, and Song of Songs 4:16 and possibly 8:2 for the man doing it to the woman).
One common concern is cleanliness. In reality the genitals of a healthy man or woman are actually "cleaner" than our mouths. The taste or odor of the genitals may put some off, but often this is more of a mental response than a physical one. In fact, many are aroused by the smell of their partner's clean genitals.
Some folks have a strong aversion to the idea of oral sex. Often this is the result of some teaching that is less than accurate, or a negative feeling about the genitals or sex in general. Pressuring such a person for oral sex will only result in arguments and hard feelings. On the other hand, there are those who think they are missing one of the best things sex has to offer if they don't experience oral sex. This is probably due to the influence, directly or indirectly, of pornography. While oral sex can be very enjoyable, it is not the end-all of sexual acts, and there are other ways of producing similar pleasure. Couples who are at odds over oral sex need to give each other some room, and they should each privately examine their feelings about oral sex.
One word of caution medically - blowing into the vagina can be dangerous, particularly if the woman is pregnant.
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The Old Testament law had many rules about "body fluids," including not having sex during menstruation. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are no longer under the Law, and we do not have to avoid eating pork, avoid clothes made of two materials, or avoid marital relations during menstruation. Some suggest abstaining from sex during menstruation is a part of the Law we are supposed to still keep, but these same people ignore all the other restrictions given for a menstruating woman; among other things menstruating women were not allowed to cook or share a bed with their husband. There is no biblically valid way to separate the Old Testament instructions regarding menstruation into two categories, so we must either follow all of them or be free from all of them. To go deeper into this, we have a great general teaching on the Law of Moses by Bro. Buddy Martin.
From a medical standpoint, sex during menstruation is not a problem for most couples. There is an increased risk with regard to sexually transmitted diseases, but this should not be a concern for married Christian couples. Apart from such diseases, the menstrual flow is not contaminated or dangerous, and intercourse poses no danger to her or her husband.
In fact, sex during menstruation seems to be beneficial to a woman's health. Orgasm releases natural painkillers into the blood stream, and the contractions associated with orgasm can help reduce cramping. Additionally, a study done at Yale suggests that regularly having an orgasm during menstruation may reduce the incidence of endometriosis. The current hypothesis is that the uterine contractions of orgasm helps to expel fluid from the uterus, reducing the chances of fluid going the wrong way up the Fallopian tubes and into the body. Additionally, some women find that sex during menstruation speeds up the flow afterwards, shortening the length of their period.
On the downside, there is some evidence that shows a weak link between orgasm during menstruation and very heavy bleeding in the last few years before menopause. However, heavier periods at this time of life are common, and what is not known is if orgasm causes an actual increase in total fluid for the cycle, or if it just causes the fluid to be released more heavily for a shorter period of time. If a woman approaching menopause is having a problem with heavy periods, abstaining from orgasm during her period might help and might not - but it would certainly be worth trying.
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Anal intercourse involves inserting the penis into the anus. Many believe that the Bible speaks against this, but it does not. Homosexual anal sex is forbidden, but then so is homosexual manual sex or even homosexual kissing - thus we cannot use homosexuality as a way of proving that anal sex is wrong.
On the other hand, there are some very real, and potentially very harmful, medical considerations concerning this activity. First, the anus is not "clean" from a bacterial standpoint, and anything which comes into contact with the anus can spread disease or infections.
Another problem is that the anus is not designed for "two-way traffic," nor is it designed to be stretched open as far and for as long as anal sex causes. Those who practice anal sex repeat the mantra of "go slow and use lots of lubricant;" unfortunately, this is not always enough. We have had discussions with a couple of women who suffered permanent problems from anal sex even though they followed "the mantra." While such damage may be very rare, it can be very serious, and may even require surgery. Possible damage includes rectal prolapse, anal fissures, and aggravation of hemorrhoids.
The issue of anal sex is difficult to study because it is a primary sex act of homosexual men, and as such saying anything against it can be seen as attacking homosexuality. Additionally, most of the research done on anal sex has been done on homosexuals, and focuses on disease transmission. Given that the average male anus is larger than the average female anus, we would think that rates of damage amount women would be higher than among men.
Therefore, while the Bible does not prohibit anal intercourse, there are medical considerations that make it a gamble. For more on this, see our article on anal sex.
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Aside from anal intercourse, the anus can be stimulated with an inanimate object, fingers, and (sorry about this) the mouth. Unless the object used is large, this kind of stimulation is unlikely to cause physical damage. Oral stimulation is clearly a problem, and all other forms of stimulation do pose a cleanliness problem. This form of stimulation is far less dangerous than anal intercourse, but it is not without risks.
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Sex toys cover a broad spectrum of items that are designed to enhance physical pleasure. Because of the variety of items, it's hard to discuss them as a group. Note: we could include things like lingerie and flavored lubricants in this category and the same considerations apply. We see no scriptural prohibition on toys, nor any way in which toys violate any scriptural guidelines. In general, this is something each couple has to decide for themselves, but we will offer a few things to consider.
Some items may not be safe to use. For example, there are devices known as penis rings which are placed around the base of the penis to improve or maintain an erection. Most of these rings are safe, but a fixed ring that has no release could be very dangerous if it's too small. It's also noted by most manufacturers that the rings should not be used for more than 30 minutes at a time. Vacuum devices (used on the penis, the vulva, the clitoris or the breasts/nipples) and anything used to restrain a person also pose potential problems if they are not properly designed and used.
Some items designed to resemble parts of the male or female body are actually "modeled" after a real person, usually an actor or actress from pornographic movies. While it's not clear that this is a sin to use such a product, most Christians are opposed to it for obvious reasons. If an item is not advertised as being modeled after someone, it's just a generic sculpture.
If a sex toy is used, it should be as an enhancement, not the center of attention. If it brings the couple closer, and results in one or both of them enjoying sex more, that is good. If it results in either person feeling badly, that is not good.
The biggest obstacle to sex toys for most Christians may be finding a way to buy them without being exposed to objectionable products and pornography. In Europe, some items are available in respectable shops, but in America many items can only be found in specialises stores that are not “Christian friendly”. Some lingerie shops may have small assortments of toys, but in general, the best choices are mail order and web shopping.
We are not aware of a mail order company we could feel good about recommending. Additionally, many mail order companies sell their mailing lists, so ordering from a company that sells sexually oriented items could result in you receiving mail for other companies which sell things you don't even want to know exist!
Web shopping may be safer, but the chance of having your mailing address sold still exists. Our shopping links page has a list of websites designed for Christians. These sites have no nudity, and we trust the companies to not sell or share your contact information.
For more on sex toys, see our Sex Toys article.
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Phone sex is sharing sexual thoughts and fantasies on the phone, and it is often done while masturbating. As long as this is done privately with one's spouse, we see no reason why it would be wrong, and if a couple must be separated phone sex can be a good way to deal with sexual tensions while remaining somewhat sexually connected. Just be sure you are not being listened in on by co-workers or children on an extension phone!
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Can we use slang terms to refer to sex organs and acts? What about words that have both a sexual and profane meaning? The Bible certainly warns us about the words we use, but is that warning about the word, or the meaning of the word? Many words that we use in everyday communication have alternative meanings that are rude, gross, or profane. If some group starts using the word "baptize" to refer to an orgy in a pool, must we abandon that word because someone has given it a meaning we do not like?
It seems to us that it is the meaning of our words that is important, not the sound the words make and what others may mean by the same sound. Because those around us cannot know what we mean when we use a word, we must be careful not to offend; but in our marriage, we can discuss various words and know what they mean to us. If a couple agrees that a word is simply a reference to a part of the body or a sex act, and if neither person finds the word offensive, then we see no harm in the words, no matter what they are.
Some will ask, “why not just use the ‘proper words’”? Unfortunately, the proper words we have to communicate about sex tend to be cold and clinical. Trying to express the emotion and desire of sex with these words is difficult to impossible. Do phrases like, "Please initiate coitus immediately" or "My sexual climax is imminent," communicate the thoughts and feelings as well as a more "colorful" phrase would?
Ultimately, this is a very personal issue, and one which each couple must work out for their marriage. Please don’t use terms that make either of you feel uncomfortable.
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We have used this term instead of erotica or pornography, because sexually explicit material covers a broad spectrum of material. Some want to reject anything which has any hint of sexuality in it, but in the original Hebrew the Song of Songs is extremely erotic, and very explicit. A truly accurate translation of the Song would be so sexual you could not broadcast it over the radio in the United States!
This makes the issue much less clear than we would like it to be. Any attempt to define a "line" for sexually explicit material could cause some to walk into sin, by encouraging them to do what they do not have the ability to do without sin. A line could also be a source of condemnation for some who are not in sin. Check here for a more complete discussion of the dangers of pornography; in this article we will limit ourselves to giving some parameters each couple should apply when deciding what is and is not acceptable for them as a couple.
Please understand that we are not trying to provide cover here for those who wish to make porn a part of their marriage: we are not. Sexual explicit material is a major cause of sexual problems in marriages, and “better safe than sorry” would be a wise course of action if there is any doubt. On the other hand, we do not want to encourage legalism, or suggest that one couple’s “liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29) Seek God on this, and He will guide you. If you have any doubt, don’t do it, “for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)
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It is our belief that masturbation is not inherently wrong, but there do seem to be some very valid concerns about masturbation by married folks. We are commanded to meet our spouse's sexual needs, and any masturbation which limits our ability to do this is wrong. Additionally, if we feel a need to masturbate, that may well be a sign our spouse is not meeting our needs. However, what if one person has a much stronger sex drive? It seems to us that this does not "relieve" the less-interested person of responsibility for meeting their spouse's sexual needs. If masturbation is needed more than occasionally, it may well be a sign of a problem. It is especially a concern if a person's spouse is unaware of masturbation, or is unaware of how frequent masturbations occurs.
What if one spouse in unable to have sex because of sickness or physical limitations? In this situation, masturbation seems a reasonable option, but we would suggest it is best done in the presence of the spouse. This significantly reduces the chances of wrong thoughts, and allows the partner to be a part of the activity by holding the one masturbating, offering some form of stimulation, or describing what they could be doing if they were both able to have sex.
A different issue is mutual masturbation: a couple watching each other masturbate. Most men, and many women, find this very arousing, and it can be informative as well. As a frequent alternative to more interactive sex, mutual masturbation could be a problem, but we know of no biblical or medical reasons why it would be wrong or unwise to do this from time to time.
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There are those who call themselves "Christian nudists." While this seems obviously wrong to many, there are those who ask "why?" so we will try to address that question.
Some suggest they are just returning to the way Adam and Eve were before the fall. The problem with this theory is that we are still a fallen people - redeemed yes, but not yet perfected. We are still subject to the same temptations and lusts, and how can we justify doing something which could be used by another for sin? If we should avoid eating meat in the presence of those who lack such faith, how much more should we avoid being nude? Even if "I" can see others naked and not lust, how can "I" know that everyone else is also able to do that? I can't, so public nudity is risking being an offense or stumbling block to others.
Some nudists claim that Jewish fishermen worked naked. Their basis for this is the words “stripped down for work” found in the Bible. In reality, these words mean that the outer clothing was removed, while the inner clothing, which still fully covered the body, was left in place. (Besides, no sane man would fish naked – think about it!) This and other twisting of Scriptures are used to try and biblically support nudism, but these are just attempts to make the Bible say what they have already decided to do.
Nudists will also say "it's not about sex." But we see that both the Bible and biology say otherwise:
Scripture: When God give us a list, in Leviticus, of people we are not to have sex with (incest), He does not say "don't have sex." Instead, He tells us not to "uncover" or "discover" their nakedness. Given how explicit God is in other parts of the Bible, we cannot dismiss this as a euphemism designed to avoid talking plainly. God limited nakedness because He knew that nudity is inherently sexual, and fallen people often lack the self-control to avoid falling into lust, and following that lust into sex acts.
Science: has shown that certain parts of the body are inherently sexual. Not because of our culture, but because of the biology God gave us. Pheromones (we call them airborne hormones) can have a major effect on others: they are what cause women who live together to "cycle" together, and they cause a man to have a slight rise and fall in his sex drive that follows his wife's cycle. There are certain parts of the body that emit large amounts of these sexual pheromones: the underarms, the genitals, the aureoles of men and women, and the navel of women are the "biggies." When these parts of the body are covered with clothes, the clothes capture most of the pheromones; when we are naked, the quantity of pheromones reaching others rises significantly. Therefore, being nude means you are sending a lot stronger sexual signals to those around you.
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Obviously it’s wrong to have sex where others can see you – but what about where others might see you? This ranges from sex in the car in a public place to manually stimulating each other in a movie theater to making out on a beach to sex in your own back yard.
Those who do this say the thrill of getting caught makes the sex great. Others are turned on by doing something sexual around others who are unaware of what is happening. The first seems clearly wrong to us – if you “get caught” you have exposed your sexuality in a way that is wrong. The second is more difficult as it depends on how truly unaware others are, and how unlikely it is you will be discovered or suspected. If you are wrapped in a blanket on a secluded part of a beach, you’re sitting up, and you are caressing sexually, you won’t look suspicious if someone walks by. On the other hand, if you do something in a movie theater, it’s very likely that someone will see, hear or smell something that will make them suspect you are doing something sexual. The first seems acceptable, the second does not.
It seems to us that those who are after the thrill won’t be able to find a way that is safe enough to prevent suspicion while still providing the thrill. On the other hand, if you have always felt it would be great to have sex on the beach, or under the stars, or while watching a thunderstorm, because of the awesome backdrop, then you can probably find way to do it without any risk of exposing yourselves or offending others.
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This is another area which is difficult because it covers a very wide array of things. There is certainly a difference between fantasizing you and your spouse are making love on the beach of a deserted island, and imagining having an adulterous affair.
Since God cares about our thoughts, not just our actions, there must be a line in this that we should not cross, but where is that line? A safe way to approach this is to say it's wrong to fantasize or act out anything it would be wrong to actually do. This means you must always play yourselves, not a real movie star or someone you know. It also means you must be married in the fantasy.
However, we do not think this means you must limit yourself to things you might actually be able to do. If you want to pretend it's several hundred years ago and you are a ship captain and a damsel saved from pirates, go for it (you got married at the nearest port). Or maybe you are husband and wife on a spaceship, exploring the bounds of the universe and the bounds of weightless sex.
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Note we are discussing the private use of cameras or video cams. Since there is no prohibition of seeing each other naked, there would seem to be no prohibition of seeing pictures of each other naked. However, there are issues to consider. While there are places which will develop such pictures, this means letting others see them - see public nudity above. Video cameras, Polaroid cameras, and digital cameras on the other hand allow you to take and view pictures without anyone else seeing them. Then the issue is making sure the pictures stay private. If you have anyone in your house that is able to turn a doorknob, you need to secure your pictures to keep them private. Lock up pictures and video tapes, and encrypt digital photos on your computer, or transfer them to a CD that you can lock up.
“Sexting” – sending sexual pictures by phone, would fall into the same category, and would need to follow the same restrictions. If you phone is not password protected, are any sexual images of you and your spouse somehow protected or hidden should someone find your phone?
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An individual with a fetish either can't have sex, or can't enjoy sex, without engaging in the fetish or fantasizing about it. Common fetishes are items like leather or high heels, activities like spanking, a man dressing up as a woman, or an inordinate fascination with body parts like feet or certain sized breasts. It's often hard to draw a clear line, since a preference is not a fetish until it becomes required for normal sexual function. For example, some people have an oral sex fetish, but most who enjoy oral sex do not have a fetish and can have sex without it.
Many folks say "It's harmless, just go along." However, the Bible tells us not to be controlled by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12), and we feel a fetish violates this scriptural principle. Fetishes are far more common in men than in women, and most fetishes seem to be a result of something that happened fairly early in life or early in a person's sexual awareness. Fetishes can be dealt with through therapy, but only if the person wants to change. (The AACC has some people trained to help with this.)
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Adult nursing means the husband nurses the wife. While this would include a man "sampling" breast milk while his wife is nursing a baby, having an "adult nursing relationship" means much more than this. Serious adult nursers continue long after the children have stopped nursing, maybe even after they have grown and left home. Others come to adult nursing after the woman has stopped nursing children, working very diligently to "re-lactate" so the woman has milk for the husband.
Those who have this kind of relationship say it is a real blessing to them, and their marriage. Most freely admit it is at least partly a sexual thing, but many say it is far more than just sexual. Having done some searching we cannot find any evidence that there are health reasons to avoid adult nursing, nor can we find a biblical principle that would preclude it. For some it may be a fetish, but for some it is not. As long as both husband and wife understand the dedication it takes to keep the milk flowing, and both are fine with that, we cannot see a reason to say adult nursing is wrong. That said, we wonder if it is not usually an attempt to fix something broken in the relationship, or provide something missing. There are probably other, easier, ways to deal with broken or missing things!
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BDSM means bondage, discipline (or domination), sadomasochism (or slave-master or submission). This is a wide category with unclear boundaries; at "low levels”, playing at these things is fine provided both husband and wife enjoy them. However, all these things can be, or can become, fetishes, and then are wrong for that reason (see above). BDSM is openly sexual, and is different from so-called "Domestic Discipline".
Bondage: Tying a partner up can be very arousing for both of the one tied and the one who not tied. It can show a sense of trust, and can allow the bound person to feel free to do nothing and just receive. If bondage is mutually enjoyed and not extreme, we see no reason not to make it a part of a couple's sex life. Some people practice bondage in a way that causes pain, making it a form of S&M.
Spanking: There are valid biological reasons why mild pain can be arousing. Spanking, scratching and biting all fit into this category. We can find no scriptural or scientific reason to avoid this so long as both partners agree to it. However, if the pain is more than mild, this moves into S&M.
S&M: A sadist is sexually aroused by causing pain; a masochist is sexually aroused by receiving pain. Aside from the fact that this is virtually always a fetish, we do not see either behavior to be compatible with who God has called us to be. Desires for S&M may be a result of sexual or physical abuse in the past, or may reveal problems with self-image or self-confidence.
Dominance and Discipline: Sexual arousal from dominating or punishing another, or from being dominated or punished. This involves humiliation and degradation, and again we do not see it as compatible with who God calls us to be.
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Using urination (as opposed to female ejaculation) and defecation as a part of sex.
Scat: Because feces is bacterially unclean, defecation as a part of sex is unwise for medical reasons.
Water sports: Urine is normally sterile, so there are no medical issues. On the other hand, there is no good evidence that urine has inherently biological reasons for being sexual or sexually simulating, so it's likely that this is usually, if not always, a fetish. In addition, most people would see this as degrading to the person being urinated on.
This is restricting oxygen flow to the brain by choking, otherwise compressing the carotid arteries, or limiting oxygen intake. Reduced oxygen and a build up of carbon dioxide in the brain results in euphoria, and this can make sex and especially orgasm more powerful.
The massive downside is that this can also cause death. A person who has reached the point of oxygen deprivation that gives the “thrill” has also passed the point of being able to judge when they need to stop. Even if the event is being controlled by the spouse, there is no way to know where damage can occur. Additionally, underlying medical conditions mean that what would be “safe” for one person could be deadly for another.
It seems very clear to us that it is not loving to risk death to give your spouse a sexual thrill.
Surely we have not covered everything in this article, but hopefully we have given you a framework for discussing things and a way of determining whether something will build or harm your marriage. Talk and pray together to find what is right for your marriage bed.
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