Within Christian marriages, intimacy between a husband and wife is viewed as a sacred gift from God. Sex within marriage is encouraged and celebrated. However, some Christians wonder if sexual thoughts about one’s spouse are also permitted, or if lustful thinking is sinful even in marriage. In this post, we will explore what the Bible teaches about sexual thoughts within marriage, examine principles from Scripture, and consider perspectives from Christian leaders.
- Sexual intimacy between spouses is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed.
- Lustful thoughts are condemned in Scripture, but sexual desire for one’s spouse is not the same as lust.
- Thoughts that objectify a spouse or fail to honor them as a person made in God’s image are sinful.
- Spouses have a responsibility to satisfy each other sexually and not deprive each other.
- Praying together and focusing thoughts on Christ can help transform disordered desires.
- With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians can take all thoughts captive and redirect inappropriate desires.
What Does the Bible Say About Sex Within Marriage?
The Bible clearly celebrates physical intimacy within marriage. God created sex and ordained marriage as the appropriate place for sexual activity (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 5:18-19). Several verses depict physical intimacy between husband and wife as a blessing to be enjoyed:
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:15-18 NKJV)
Song of Solomon gives an extended poetic depiction of the joys of physical love between spouses. This Song, included as Scripture, shows that God designed marital intimacy as a wonderful gift without shame:
“Awake, O north wind, and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out.
Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its pleasant fruits.” (Song of Solomon 4:16 NKJV)
Several New Testament passages also point to the importance of sexual intimacy in marriage:
“Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5 NKJV)
“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4 NKJV)
This passage indicates that both spouses have a duty to provide sexual intimacy for each other within marriage. They belong to each other and should make an effort to satisfy each other’s desires.
Overall, Scripture consistently affirms sexual love between a husband and wife as holy and encourages married couples to freely enjoy each other.
Does Thinking Sexually About My Spouse Count as Lust?
Lustful thoughts are strongly condemned in the Bible. Jesus taught that lustful looking is equivalent to adultery:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28 NKJV)
Thinking of someone sexually who is not your spouse is clearly sinful. But within marriage, does sexual desire for your spouse qualify as sinful lust?
Many Christians distinguish between sexual desire and lust. Theologian John Piper defines lust as “sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God.” He contends that sexual longing for one’s spouse is not the same as lust, since it honors them within the covenant of marriage.
Renowned author C.S. Lewis wrote about lust as “an indulgence of the flesh that uses another person to satisfy corrupt desires.” But appreciating your spouse’s body and longing to share intimacy is not the same as using them or dishonoring them.
The difference lies in how you view them. Lust objectifies another person, while healthy sexual desire seeks their good. So thoughtfully longing for physical intimacy with your spouse, even imagining it, is not the same as lusting after someone to whom you’re not married.
What Makes Sexual Thoughts About My Spouse Sinful?
While sexual desire for your spouse is generally permitted, some ways of thinking about intimacy can be sinful. Here are some signs that sexual thoughts about your husband have crossed over into lust:
- Objectification – Viewing your spouse as merely a source of physical pleasure, rather than a complete human made in God’s image. Reducing them to just their body parts.
- Dehumanization – Thinking of your husband in degrading or demeaning ways during fantasies of intimacy.
- Selfishness – Sexual thoughts focused just on fulfilling your own desires, without care for also meeting your spouse’s needs.
- Obsession – Being unable to think of anything else, constantly distracted by sexual fantasies about your husband.
- Ungratefulness – Taking your spouse for granted. Never being satisfied, always wishing for something more.
The key difference between sexual desire and lust is honor. Healthy thoughts honor your spouse as a person made imago Dei while lustful thoughts use fantasies to gratify selfish cravings. Ask yourself during intimate moments: “Am I only thinking about what I want or am I also thinking about what would bless my husband?” Pray about your thoughts and ask God if any need to be confessed and repented from.
Does the Bible Say I Should Try Not to Think Sexually About My Spouse?
Scripture does not directly forbid spouses from enjoying sexual thoughts about each other. In fact, several verses seem to imply it is expected and healthy:
“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18 NKJV)
This indicates there is a place for enjoying thoughts about intimacy with your spouse. The passage goes on to warn against impurity but never tells husbands not to think about their wives sexually.
Song of Solomon is packed full of erotic poetry that certainly indicates the lovers were thinking intimately about each other often. Those thoughts are portrayed as beautiful, not sinful.
1 Corinthians 7:5 gives permission for married couples to cease sexual activity for a time of prayer and fasting. This implies they would normally be active sexually, which requires anticipation and planning. Spouses are encouraged to come back together again so neither is tempted in lack of self-control. This permission and planning necessitates sexual thoughts.
So overall the Bible does not forbid spouses from enjoying thoughts about intimacy together. As long as those thoughts honor each other and focus on blessing each other, they can be holy and good. Any thoughts that dishonor a spouse or treat them as an object should be avoided.
How Can We Keep Our Thoughts Pure?
Since our hearts are sinful, Christians will sometimes struggle with lustful thoughts even within marriage. Here are some tips to take such thoughts captive and refocus on Christ:
- Pray together – Couples should pray for each other and for their intimacy to honor God. Ask God to purify your hearts and help you see each other as His beloved children.
- Set your minds on Christ – Fill your thoughts with Scripture and worship. When disordered desires creep in, direct your mind heavenward. (Colossians 3:1-2)
- Confess struggles – Be open with your spouse about any inappropriate thoughts so they can pray for you and hold you accountable. Don’t keep lust a secret. (James 5:16)
- Focus on your spouse’s needs – Make intimacy about serving them, not using them for your own pleasure. Fulfill 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 by studying how to please your husband.
- Bounce your eyes – If you find yourself staring lustfully, immediately shift your eyes away. Bouncing your eyes can help break the temptation. (Matthew 5:28-29)
With the Spirit’s help, Christian husbands and wives can learn to take every thought captive and transform lust into holy intimacy. We have power through Christ to renew our minds! (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Perspectives From Christian Leaders
Many respected Christian authors and teachers agree that there is an appropriate place for sexual thoughts within marriage. Here are a few perspectives:
John Piper: “God means for a man to be sexually aroused by his wife. He means for the woman to desire her husband. He means for them to think about each other with some measure of sexual imagination.”
Kevin DeYoung: “As a husband, it is not only lawful but commendable to visualize sexual intimacy with your wife.”
J.D. Greear: “Enjoying a vision of sex with your spouse is not lust. Lust takes, love gives.”
These leaders contend that honoring sexual thoughts can strengthen intimacy between spouses. While lust should always be rejected, appropriate desire for your husband is beneficial.
Scripture celebrates sex within marriage as a gift from God. While lust is clearly condemned, desiring physical intimacy with your spouse is not the same as lust. As long as you avoid objectification and focus on your husband’s needs too, sexual thoughts can be holy and helpful for your marriage. With God’s help, Christians can learn to distinguish between lust and passion – rejecting the former while embracing the latter for His glory.