Journey into the Looking Glass, Part 2: To Have and to Withhold, from This Day Forward


Is it sinful to refuse to have a sexual relationship with your husband?

I would lie awake after sex, or after another fight about sex, wondering what the big deal was. Why did sex matter so much to my husband? In my head, I usually understood why I didn’t want sex—so why did I feel so guilty in my heart? What led to these rotten feelings and vague wonderings about what was wrong with me?

It was sin. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my heart knew .

Of the Flesh or of the Spirit?

Like many other women, I simply didn’t understand the importance of sex to my husband—or to a Godly marriage.

We look at Galatians 5’s instructions against the deeds of the flesh. Sex is obviously of the flesh, so we decide that it is less than, say, self-control, which is also mentioned in that chapter. While it’s true  that becoming “one flesh” requires our flesh, we often make the erroneous assumption that because sex is of the flesh, it is only of the flesh; we ignore that it is an emotional and spiritual connection as well as a physical one.

Refused husbands have been taught–by their wives, society, and even by their churches–that their sexual desire is something to be suppressed. They are taught that it is too much and that they should be happy with whatever sex they are getting. If they desire something outside a wife’s comfort zone, they are told they are perverts. They may have sought support from a pastor or counselor, only to be told they should learn to be content. When my husband went to our pastor for help, he got a sympathetic pat on the back and a referral card for me to see a counselor.

When we want to avoid being sexual with our husbands, we may accuse our husbands of having no self-control. This sets us up in self-righteousness as we point out that unlike them, we do have self-control. As a result, our husbands not only feel the deep pain of being rejected by the one they love, they also have to deal with being told that they’re perverts or wrong—simply for yearning for a one-flesh connection with their wives.

Of the World

It is no secret that the world has co-opted sex. It is everywhere, after all. Women may look at that and say that because sex is of the world, it is not holy enough to nurture in a Godly marriage. 1 John 2:16 tells us, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

We may decide that it’s already bad enough that sex is of the flesh, so we tell ourselves that anything sexual that seems “of the world” is therefore much worse. Does your husband want oral sex? He only knows about that because of what he’s seen or heard in the world (we ignore its presence in Song of Solomon). Does he want you to wear sexy lingerie? It’s only because he walked past the Victoria’s Secret store in the mall. Any new idea (or, more likely, any idea at all that you aren’t comfortable with) must be from the world and therefore should be shunned.

When our husbands give us reading material to help us understand sexuality within Christian marriage or tips on how to do certain things, we dismiss that material because it was found outside our own marriage beds. We say that if God wants us to do certain things, we’ll find it in the Bible or we’ll think of it on our own—so anything from anyone else is of the world and therefore to be ignored—even from other Christians. And then when our husbands point out the variety of sexual pleasure found in Song of Solomon, we dismiss it as allegory—conveniently forgetting that an allegory works as allegory only because it also means something in our earthly lives.

God created men with sexual desire, and it is how many men most easily bond emotionally with their wives. Sex is a God-designed mechanism for becoming one flesh in all ways.

What I am about to say here does not apply in all marriages. If you are a woman whose husband is abusive or is otherwise in unrepentant sin against you, this does not apply to you. If you have survived significant sexual trauma in the past, this is not about you, either.

What I am about to say here does not about the occasional “no,” either. I am talking about an on-going pattern of refusal, where a husband initiates sex at a reasonable frequency and he has come to expect that he will be told “no.” 

We often accuse our husbands of being the sinners regarding sex—yet if we are refusing, we are sinning. (Julie Sibert has a wonderful piece at Intimacy in Marriage about refusal as sin and another about the church not doing a good job of addressing this sin.)

Refusal is sin.

This isn’t to say that a spouse should be guaranteed sex on demand or that health problems and pain should be disregarded all the time for a spouse’s sexual release.  However, when we vow to our husbands that we take them, to have and to hold, we are promising that we will be holding them. This means that if we do have problems fulfilling this promise, we need to take the steps necessary in addressing those problems.

If you brought baggage into the marriage, get counseling. If you have medical problems or are in pain, see a doctor for treatment. If you have relationship problems, actively work to address them.

According to 1 Corinthians 7, the only reason for abstaining from sex is for a time for prayer, and only by mutual consent. You may think, “We’re already having sex every week, so we aren’t abstaining. Yet my husband still keeps after me.” Many men have a physiological need for release every two to three days. Are you helping with this need, or are you diminishing it in some way? Or are you wishing he would just take care of it himself?

Is Your Refusal Justified?

I spent all of my refusing years focusing on my own feelings. I brought difficult baggage into our marriage. My husband did and said things that unintentionally hurt me. I let my feelings dictate my actions and my words.

Whenever my husband would share his pain with me, I responded with my own feelings. When I would read an article or blog post telling me that withholding sex was sin, I would immediately think about my husband’s sin and thereby feel justified in my own behavior.

Are you a woman who does this?

  • “My husband is always grouchy, so I can’t bring myself to have sex with him.”
  • “My husband has watched pornography, so anything new he thinks of is pornographic so I won’t do it.”
  • “The last time I wore something sexy to bed, my husband didn’t comment on it and just took it off me–so why bother?”
  • “He never lets me just talk with him, yet I’m supposed to let him have sex with me?”
  • And so on and so on and so on.

My husband complained about a lack of sex—and I heaped all the responsibility for that on his shoulders. Even though the lack of sex was my decision, I blamed it on him.

I was wrong. Even though my refusal developed partly in response to my husband’s sin (and, too often, in response to his hurt), I needed to own what I did and the fact that my sin hurt my husband.

For me, an important part of owning my sin was understanding it. I can explain so many of the things that are part of the roots of refusal—premarital baggage (sexual and otherwise), wrong teaching about sex, problems in the relationship. I understand—but that doesn’t make refusal not sin.

As you learn to understand your own refusal, bear in mind that there is a difference between explaining and justifying.

If I said, “I refused because my husband withdrew emotional support,” I would be justifying and saying that he caused my sin. If I said, “I didn’t know how to share my body when I felt my husband disconnect emotionally,” I would be explaining but also taking responsibility for the fact that it was on me to figure out how to be able to be sexual anyway.

Explanations help us understand and learn why so we can be better equipped to avoid the sin in the future. Justifications say that what we did was okay. Explaining gives us insight into why we’re in sin and can illuminate a pathway of repentance. Even when we understand, we are still accountable for making the necessary changes.

There is no Biblical justification for refusal.

Your feelings don’t justify your sin. Your husband’s sin doesn’t justify your sin.

NOTHING justifies your sin.

Confronting Your Sin

Whether you come to realize that your refusal is sin on your own, by reading about it, or by being confronted by your husband or pastor, you need to figure out how to move forward.

Even after I realized how deeply I’d hurt my husband, it took me over a year to fully recognize that my refusal was sin and to repent.

You may dismiss much of what I’ve written in this post—and I get that. I did the same thing with posts and articles I read.

I am holding up a looking glass and asking you to see your reflection honestly. If you don’t like what you’re seeing right now in the mirror I am holding, why not? And what are you going to do about it?

Even if you don’t think your refusal is sin, the fact is that if you are withholding sex and your husband has indicated unhappiness about that, you are hurting your husband. Even if you don’t change because you are convicted of your sin, consider changing because it’s a loving thing to do. My initial reason for ending refusal was very selfish—I didn’t like living with a man who was getting more depressed and apathetic by the week. And even when I experienced a realization of how much I’d hurt him, I wasn’t seeing it as sin.

Even if you aren’t ready to confront the sin of refusal in your heart, you still should confront the behavior. You are hurting your husband and your marriage.,

Work on changing your behavior. Read the Bible. Read books, blogs and articles on intimacy written by Christian women. Talk to other Christian wives. Talk to your husband. Talk to God. Be open to learning. Be open to the thought that you have been in sin.

We are all sisters in Christ. We have all sinned. We have all hurt people we’ve loved. We’ve all been invited to lay our sins at the foot of the cross and thank Jesus for picking them up.

I would lie awake so many nights with a guilty and uneasy feeling in my heart. I now know that this was the Holy Spirit working to convict me of my sin.

Gazing into my own looking glass, I finally saw who I was. I withheld sex from my husband. I was a refuser. I was in sin.

As you look deeply into the looking glass, who do you see reflected there?

This is the second of three posts about refusing to have a sexual relationship with your husband. (You can find the first one here.) 

Is it sinful to refuse to have a sexual relationship with your husband?


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13 Comments on “Journey into the Looking Glass, Part 2: To Have and to Withhold, from This Day Forward”

  1. Our sex life is much better now than it was for over twenty plus years of refusal. How does a wife truly MAKE UP for refusing her husband? How do you make it go away as if it never happened?

    1. I don’t know that she ever can truly make up for it. She can’t ever make it go away as if it never happened. It did happen, and now it is part of you, part of her, and part of your marriage.

      Just like anything difficult in life, you can choose to be bitter about it or to find lessons in it. You pay attention to what you learned–about yourself, about your spouse, about marriage, and about life–and use that to be better and do better going forward.

      I can’t tell you how much I regret the years I wasted for us–years when we could have been growing in intimacy, exploring the fun of sex, and enjoying our much younger bodies. I am fortunate to have a husband who does not hold grudges and who forgives easily. No amount of regret on my part will give either of us those years back.

  2. You make a great point about how we separate sex as a flesh thing, rather than recognizing its spiritual and emotional tone. I sometimes liken it to how feeding people and visiting them in prison and clothing the poor all require the use of our bodies, but they are obviously from a place of internal care and love. Just because something involves our bodies doesn’t mean it’s all fleshly desire. Sex in marriage is, or at least should be, the physical expression and nurturing of something deeply meaningful within our hearts and our marriages.

    1. True. I’ve found that not that our marriage is so much stronger in other ways, even sexual encounters that are just about the orgasm on the surface are so much more, simply because they’re happening on top of a much deeper foundation.

  3. Its so bizarre how closely the thoughts and words you describe mirror the very things that have happened/said in our own marriage. Its as if you were there listening the last time my wife and I fought about this. You’ve hit so close to home. Thank you for sharing. This is important stuff.

    1. We had enough fights about sex ourselves that I could probably recite everyone’s sex arguments in my sleep. I honestly don’t remember the last time we had one, though, and I don’t miss them at all.

  4. I want to thank you for your honesty and for sharing your journey. You are saying what needs said, and what few Christians are saying. The world has, as you said, co-opted sex, and made it into something other than what God intended. I read your blog as a sometimes frustrated husband of an otherwise amazing wife, in an effort to see things from her perspective (although, I must admit, a part of me would love to point her to this blog and say “you see, this lady on the Internet says refusal is sin!”). But in our marriage I can already see progress just based on what I have learned here, and I hope our progress continues. So thank you!

    1. I am so glad you are seeing progress in your marriage! And while I understand the desire to say, “See? It’s sin,” it may not yet be the time when your wife can see that.

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