I was reading an article by J over at Hot, Holy, Humorous yesterday and it sparked an idea. While talking about respect, she referenced the following passage:
Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another. (1 Corinthians 7:4-5)
Apparently, this passage gets some traction around the comment section of marriage blogs. Usually, not in a positive way. It’s one of those bludgeon verses that some people club their spouse over the head with when there’s a lack of intimacy. It can easily be interpreted as “you can’t deny me intimacy, your body is mine!”
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I don’t think this is the intention of this passage. Note that the language always points to the one giving, not receiving. There is no command to the husband that he owns the wife’s body. There is no command to the wife to demand the husband’s body. Rather, the verses remind the giving spouse that their body is under the authority of the receiving spouse. The giving spouse is to yield their body to that authority.
This yielding is an act of love, a gift of grace to your spouse. It should not be seen as a begrudging surrender of rights or bodily autonomy. Rather, it is a sign of trust and an act of kindness. The receiving spouse does not take the other’s body by force or through undue persuasion. Instead, the giving spouse reaches out in love to serve the other through physical touch and intimacy.
Do what you do cuz that’s what you do
In our family, we are firm believers that I am to treat others the way I’m supposed to, because I’m supposed to. We don’t treat others based on how they treat us or how they act. This can easily apply here. The giving spouse yields their body to the authority of the other out of love and commitment, not because the other demands it.
I will sometimes joke with Keelie about this passage. Maybe I’ll grab her backside and in my cheesiest movie voice say “Your butt belongs to me!” But truly, it’s only mine because she has given it to me. I would never take her body without her willingly giving it to me.
Honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Her freely giving her body over to my authority is a beautiful act of kindness, grace, and love. How much mutual submission, respect, and love could there be if I had to demand her physical affection? How much trust would I feel if she took me without my consent? What kind of affection would I be able to offer her if she insisted it was her right to take from me?
Can it even be called affection then?
No. It is only through the mutual giving of each other’s bodies to one another that we truly live out this passage. We both give, and we both receive. No one takes, and nothing is taken.
So back to the question
Does my spouse’s body belong to me? I’ll answer with a question the way Jesus often did – have you given your body to your spouse?
What about you? Have you yielded your body over to your spouse? Do you have any nuance to add to my take on this passage? Keep an eye out for an article I’ll be writing soon about how this ties into respect in marriage.