Question: "Is it wrong for a married couple to have sex just for pleasure?"
Answer: The Bible is straightforward about the origin of sex: it was God’s idea. God created the two genders, and human sexuality, including all its physical, emotional, and spiritual intricacies, is God’s invention. Of course, sexual intercourse serves to perpetuate the human race, but sex has more than a utilitarian purpose. Sex is pleasurable by God’s design, and it is an intimate act—it helps create a bond between a husband and wife. Some people struggle with the issue of the pleasurableness of sex, thinking that it is sinful to seek physical enjoyment. Is it wrong for a married couple to have sex for pleasure, or should sex be reserved only for those times when the couple is trying to have a baby?
Because of the pervasiveness of pornography and the widespread perversion of sex in our culture, some people, including some sincere Christians, have the idea that sex for pleasure is wrong. They feel guilty about enjoying sex and would rather reserve the sex act for procreation; sex becomes something to be tolerated as the only way to make babies. Such a perspective is not biblical. Sex does not equal sin—not even sex for pleasure. Immorality (sex outside of marriage as defined by God) is wrong, but not sex within marriage. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).
A married couple having sex for pleasure is no more sinful than that same couple enjoying a chocolate dessert together. There’s not much practicality about eating a dessert—it is not eaten to sustain life or to provide nutrition; it is eaten for pleasure. As long as the couple keeps their dessert-eating within appropriate bounds, their enjoyment of chocolate desserts is fine. If they start lusting for chocolate, gluttonously eating nothing but chocolate, or stealing chocolate, then there is a problem. But the enjoyment of the dessert is fine in itself.
One Old Testament book deals at length with the subject of passion and sex for pleasure within marriage. The Song of Solomon is detailed in its description of the wedding night—although its use of metaphor tones it down somewhat—and, traditionally, Hebrew boys couldn’t read it until they were 12 years old, when they became men. The beautiful imagery of chapter 4 evokes scenes of serenity and delight. This is not a couple doing what they must in order to conceive; this is a couple surrendering to one another and simply enjoying each other. They are having sex for pleasure.
The biology of the human body argues for the acceptability of sex for pleasure. God designed the body to respond pleasurably to touch in certain areas. He could have made us with no desire for sex and no gratifying sensations during sex, but He didn’t. He gave us sex not merely as the means to propagate but, as a bonus, a gift to be enjoyed. God intended sex to be pleasurable.
Biblically, a married couple is expected to have sexual relations: “Since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:3–5). According to this passage, the normal, natural state of marriage is for a husband and wife to have sex regularly. The deprivation spoken of is not the denial of having children but the withholding of sexual relations. If a husband and wife are not having sex for pleasure, then something is wrong.
Sex, whether it’s sex for procreation or sex for pleasure, is a gift from God to the marital union. The feelings of sexual longings and pleasure during sex were created by God, and God designed marriage to fulfill those longings and experience that pleasure. God fashioned us for sex and created the emotions to go with it; pleasure was intended. We shouldn’t let Satan and his lies keep us from providing pleasure to our spouses and enjoying ourselves. Neither should we fall victim to the counterfeit sexual pleasures the world offers outside of marriage. God’s pleasure is real and satisfying; Satan’s counterfeit is empty and destructive.