Can I divorce my wife because she sees sex, even in marriage, as sinful?




I have been married 33 years. My wife has a sexual dysfunction and is not willing to have sex out of free will. We have not had sex in a year. However, she masturbates alone regularly. It is a chore to her to have marital sex and it is something she does rarely, and when she does it is out of guilt. I have been faithful, but at 58 I feel as if life is passing me by. We have been counseled for hundreds of hours ( and thousands of dollars) over the years. This counseling has come from Christian laymen, Christian counselors, pastors, MSW social workers, psychologist, and psychiatrists. In the end it has been determined she will never change; the dysfunction is too deep and it is religiously based. At her age of 59 years old, no one gives us any hope. My wife is bitter, states she feels no love for me, and now blames me for her situation. The therapist have told her over and over again the condition was developed in her childhood via her experiences and religious teaching of how bad sex was to engage in. No one preached to her about the good part of sex in marriage, but they did a good job on the bad and Satan related parts of sex. I desire a normal relationship. I am ready to seek it elsewhere. I don't think she will change. I want to divorce her. I want to be happy for the years I have left. I also want to be right with God and I always have been. This is more than I elect to suffer for the rest of my life.

What I'm curious about is why has she changed. Oh, I know the "experts" that you have seen blames childhood and religious teachings, but I'm not buying the line. She married you, and you seem to indicate that up to about a year ago you had sexual relations. You indicate that when she was having sex with you, it was reluctantly, but I must assume that it hasn't been this way for all 33 years of your marriage. Therefore, childhood experience might hold a contribution to her behavior, but it is not a cause. Many people accomplish things despite their upbringing and childhood. Humans are not robots who are preprogrammed to behave in only certain ways. We think, we decide, and there is a reason behind your wife's decision to forego sex with you. All I can conclude from your past consultations is that the others weren't able to discover why your wife made the choice that she has made, nor have they been able to persuade her out of her decision, therefore they conclude it is not fixable.

I'm not saying that I could fix it either, but I just want you to see that the answers you are getting is not a real conclusion, but a group of people throwing up their hands in disgust and saying it is beyond them (but in fancier and more forgiving terms toward themselves).

I'm also curious as to the claim that it is religious based. I only know of a few religions that elevate chastity as a special form of religious expression -- Roman Catholicism and the old Shaker religion are the most notable. You didn't mention of what religion you are members, so I don't know how she arrived at this conclusion, nor how you can say no one spoke about sexual relations between a husband and wife even though you talked to religious people about this very problem. My greatest difficulty is that she has the false notion, I can show you the Scriptures which show that sex is blessed and expected in marriage, but you are already convinced of this. If she want to discuss with me why she thinks God is happy with her because she is making her husband miserable, I am willing to discuss it with her.

What I also see is a gross inconsistency. You state that she masturbates regularly, but people who normally see sex as an evil see masturbation as a worse evil. The two facts presented do not match up. Nor does it match with your wife's statement that her problem with sexual intimacy is your fault.

You are looking for permission to leave your wife, but such not a God given option. "And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."" (Malachi 2:13-16). Your own note states that you plan to deal treacherously with your wife. Your motivation is that you want an outlet for your sexual desires before you die.

I wish I could talk you out of it, but it appears you have already made up your mind. Sex is more important to you than remaining faithful to God or your marriage. Now don't get me wrong. Your wife is sinning. She is doing you grievous injury. But one sin is no justification for another sin. As Paul said, "And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). Read back through your note, especially toward the end and see how all your thoughts are centered around you and what you have decided you want. There is no mention of doing what is right or just.

While sex is expected in marriage, marriage is not solely about sex. There are far more things that make up a good marriage than romps in bed. My suspicion is that you need to work on those aspects of your marriage. For most women, sex is an expression of the relationship. If your overall relationship with your wife is miserable, I'm not at all surprised that she doesn't feel like cuddling up with you.

If your relationship was good and she is frustrated by her lack of desire (i.e. she wants to have sex with you, but her body is not responding), then I would send you to see a doctor. At her age, she is probably dealing with menopause which temporarily interferes with sexual desire. A doctor can prescribe a few things which will ease the symptoms of menopause, such as estrogen, and even give her something to restore libido, such as very low doses of testosterone.

I would also ask if she is on any antidepressant medication. Most of these interfere with the body's sexual response. Often when complaints about sex are given, the first reaction by many is to increase the dosage because a lack of sexual desire is often an early warning sign of depression setting in. As a result, you end up in a unending cycle. The better response would be to try decreasing the dosage, not enough to allow the depression to come back, but enough to allow the sexual response to return.

Thank you for your reply. I really need to talk to someone. 

First, I do not want to divorce my wife. I love her, but the stress of an abnormal sexual relationship with her is overwhelming. It bring sadness to other parts of our relationship. I am not able to cheat due to my guilt and my Christian beliefs. I am boxed in, no relief. 

Second,  your assumptions are wrong. My wife never changed. When we married my wife was a virgin. The first night of our marriage the thought of sex filled her with crying and turmoil and it did not even take place. It has been a variation of this ever since for 33 years. Therapy has helped her accept her sexual needs and she masturbates to fulfill them. Therapy has not been successful at make husband-wife sex a functional means of fulfillment. Her medications help the daily situation, mood swings, and depression. There has NEVER been normal sex in our 33 year marriage, but there has been the building of coping skills for toleration via therapy.

The experts, about 10 -12 of them over years, have not helped. They ranged from ministers and faith healer (Benny Hinn) to psychologist and psychiatrist and all in between. For years I worked two jobs, one part-time just to pay the cost of therapy over and above payments from our insurance. I do believe it is a mental condition. Also, I don't believe it will change, for she is not open to it anymore, the conditioning was to great at the early formative age, and she wants a platonic marriage.  

Third, about the childhood situation, it was not her physical up-bringing for the family was middle class. It was the intense psychological conditioning and teaching that sex was bad from an early age. This may sound strange, but these are the teachings my wife reveals in counseling as being a part of her childhood from as early as she can remember; "good little girls don't touch themselves", "the devil will influence you to sexual feelings", " you must resist the devil and his counterfeit pleasures at all cost", "it is better to pluck out your eye (any body part) than let it lead you to sin", "adultery and all sex sins can be committed in your mind for the Lord says if you think about it you have sinned", and "do not be a Jezebel, for the Lord hates whores".  This doesn't include spanking for touching herself, normal masturbating behavior as a child, or not following a strict code of conduct around boys and men. She even revealed in counseling that she was ashamed to wash her private parts as a child, would never talk about bodily functions which may be related to her sex organs, and would never be naked in front of anyone. She was always "rewarded" with praise or favor for following the teachings. She did not believe good Christians had sex until she was in her teens and learned the birth process. Even then sex was viewed as a duty needed only to get pregnant.  All of this was from very conservative nondenominational church teachings (called Spirit Filled, Holy Ghost, or Word churches) and her parents who were hard core believers. 

Outwardly, she appears to be a healthy person, but inside or in any type of physical intimacy she has been broken by the teachings. Please, remember the "perception" a child has is everything and of great impact whether it is what the adult meant to pass on or not. I know all her teachers were having sex, for they had children. However, they never told her or other children about "marriage and good sex". Their goal may have been to prevent pregnancy or STD's, but the lasting impression from the child's perception was sex is BAD. Our therapist states this is common among females of various religious sects (Christian and others). 

Finally, I don't want to dwell on the past. I want a better future. I want a normal marital relationship. I don't think I was meant to serve out my years on earth in this condition. If I would have had one opportunity of premarital sex with my wife, all or enough of the problems would have come to the surface to be recognized. I am not proud to say, but I would have never married any woman knowing I would spend a life time in this situation. Further, if I ever got married again I would very definitely have sex before marriage to avoid a repeat of this situation. Marrying someone with this whole area of marriage left as a "gamble" is completely crazy. Maybe it would work in a world where all men and women are sexually normal, but that is not reality in this world. 

I need a change. I don't need to undo my wife's past, but she must have a new future if we are going to go forward in this marriage. We are born again, baptized in the spirit, tithes, and church workers. However, there is no relief. If things don't change I will divorce her rather than cheat, and I will still offer her friendship. We are both miserable. I will seek happiness with another mate in the years I have left on earth. My wife can be less stressed as an asexual or find an impotent partner. I do not believe God made marriage to be lived out in this manner.

While your wife might be sincerely turned off by the thoughts of sexual intercourse, I do not believe that the cause was her upbringing. She has latched on to it as a convenient excuse and it is likely that the line of thinking was accidentally planted in her mind by one of her earlier counselors. The reason is that I am quite sure that I could go back and interview her fellow classmates and discover that most, if not all, do not have a reluctance toward sexual intercourse. Your wife, for reasons only known to herself, panicked at the thoughts of sex, found a suitable excuse as to why she had every reason not to have sex, and has repeated the lie to herself so often that she firmly accepts it as "truth." Worse, she has had a series of "experts" who for a fee were quite happy to reinforce those ideas. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4).

If she actually believed the Bible and studied it, I would ask her to prove her position from its pages -- something she would not be able to do. She would eventually come to one of two conclusions. She would admit that her ideas were wrong and her excuses were unfounded, or she would decide that she is justified regardless of what the Bible says. No matter the response, the choice is what she making of her own free-will. She is not locked into a certain pattern of behavior. She might find comfort in a particular pattern of behavior, she might prefer a pattern of behavior, but she is not forced into it. This also can be shown from your own statements. She states "good little girls don't touch themselves," but you state that she does so despite her upbringing. If she was able to go against one idea, there is no reason she can't choose to discard bad ideas about sex if she was inclined to do so.

I also perceive that you had a poor therapist. The idea that a belief that sex in marriage is bad is "common among females of various religious sects (Christian and others)" is laughably false.

You too have concluded to go against sound teaching. God said, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10). However, you have decided that God is wrong. You have listened to the great liar, Satan, and decided that if only you had committed fornication you wouldn't be in your current situation. What utter nonsense! What arrogance of a mere mortal to sit in judgment of the eternal God's words! Whoever, "speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" (James 4:11-12). There is a reason God said that sex before marriage is wrong. As Moses told Israel, God's law are for our benefit. "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). Yet, you claim the Lord has caused you harm. You called it "crazy" and in so doing you lost my respect.

How could you have known of her problems beforehand? During those days you were dating and the months of engagement, you had many opportunities to talk. Discussions of the number of children you wanted to raise, or discussions of your honeymoon plans would have likely led to small warnings that her thinking was not sound. I suspect that her behavior was fridged and standoffish toward you, but you found reasons to excuse it, instead of deciding that perhaps the marriage should be delayed or even called off. I suspect that if we talked for a while, you would remember numerous small clues in regards to her odd behavior that could have given you a heads up if only you knew then what you know now.

As I mentioned before, it is sad that you have made up your mind to leave your wife. Oh, I saw your protest that you don't want to divorce her, but you still say that you are leaving because "I need a change." The fact remains that you made a poor choice in a companion. You made a good choice and decided to stay in the marriage for thirty-three years. But, you have decided to abandon the proper course in the twilight of your life. "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight -- if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister" (Colossians 1:21-23). If you believed it was right and proper to have stayed with your wife all these years, why would you think that you have the right to abandon the course just because you are getting old?

Thank you once again for your counsel and advise. I have gleamed some wisdom from it. I would like to make a few statements and then ask a question. 

Statement: My wish is to have a happy marriage with my wife. I don't want a divorce, but it is a real alternative on the table. I am just being honest. I would be lying to tell you different. Another alternative is to not divorce, continue to support her, move away, and live alone, which would be better than this misery.

Statement: When I said I did not know of my wife's sexual problems before marriage that was the truth. We were virgins.We talked of children, but we never talked of the sex act or acted on sexual feelings. I never touched her private areas, not even while dressed. I had no idea what my wife's mental condition was at the time. I sincerely do not think she knew of the extent of or if she had a sex problem. After all she had been the perfect child and teen in the eyes of the church. She believed sex would all work out naturally in marriage. Her reactions on our wedding night were a surprise to both of us. Please, don't discount she mental or emotional problem or the fact that the teachings and conditioning she received from a very young age created this mental state. 

Statement: I don't know about other girls my wife grew up with, but her older sister and a female cousin had similar problems. Sex is a taboo subject in her family, and it is not spoken of ever. We hide our problem from everyone, except our pastor(s), doctor(s), and therapist(s). Once her older sister and cousin found out about our problem, about 11 years ago, they shared their efforts towards recovery with my wife. They both gained significant help from marriage counseling and therapy. Neither have orgasms in sex. They also masturbate, but after years of therapy both of them now enjoy their husbands sexually. We attempted the therapy, but it has not worked for us. 

Question: I have heard your counsel, and I have heard your opinion. Now, I would like you to tell me some real life solutions to my problems. I don't need the law of God repeated to me. I need to know step by step what I should do to save this marriage and to have a normal marriage (which includes normal sex).

I have always found it interesting that when you show someone what the Bible says concerning a matter, if it doesn't meet that person's expectation, then the gut reaction is that nothing useful has been said. You tell me that "I don't need the law of God repeated to me," but you asked a preacher who follows Peter's instruction: "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11).

Again you blame her upbringing, but you stated that her reaction on your wedding night was a surprise to her. The two ideas are incompatible. You seem set on blaming her choice on the church in which she was raised, yet you also state that sex was a taboo subject in her family. Again, two incompatible ideas and one that disagrees with your earlier statements. As I mentioned before, the excuses just don't fly with me. You aren't going to find a solution if you keep blinding yourself with excuses.

You state that divorce or separation are options that you are considering. I pointed out to you that under God's law neither are options. You don't have a situation that justifies consideration of divorce or separation. Thus while you keep these sinful actions open as an option, you will not find a solution to your problem. For example, your complaint all along has been that there is a lack of sex in your marriage, but your option of separation doesn't do a single thing to fix this problem. As is often the case, there is much more involved in this marital problem than merely a lack of sex.

You state you want to save this marriage and want to know what to do. I've pointed out that you are currently approaching your marriage with a selfish attitude. It is that attitude that is keeping you from being content with what you have. I agree that based on your description your wife has problems, but I am only conversing with you. Neither you nor I can make your wife behave in a way different from the path she has chosen. You could reason with her, and I gave some points of discussion for that conversation; you could encourage her to behave properly, but 33 years of marriage shows she isn't likely to listen; but in the end any change must come from her. What can you do? "Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

Like your wife, you have a choice. You can agree that God is right, change your attitude toward your wife, and find what joy is available to you in her companionship while fulfilling your role as her husband; or, you can ignore God, stomp your feet like a small child yelling, "I want, I want, ...," and live eternally with the consequences. I can't make you do what is right, I can just tell you what is right.

Maybe, I did not make it clear. I am agreeing with you. Now tell me how to turn what I have now into a happy marriage in the area of sexuality. We are Christians, we go to church, we are good community members, we give a tenth of our income to the church for the work of God, and I have told you we have been under the counsel of many different pastors and faith healers concerning this condition. The other areas of our lives are in good shape.The only help we have received has been from psychiatrist, for unlike many people they believe in mental illness or conditioned behavior.

I've been coming across hard because I need you to see that you are actively involved in the problems in your marriage. When one problem is identified, it is very easy to dump every problem into the same bucket, whether it is justified or not.

I do accept the premise of conditioned behavior, but I prefer the simpler term, "habit." What is generally called "conditioned behavior" in psychology is a concept that habits are created without personal choice, it is that which I do not find in the Scriptures. People make choices and then establish habits to maintain those choices. See the lesson: "Establishing Good Habits" for more on this matter. Your wife made a poor choice and has developed it into a long standing habit. The habit can be broken, as any other, but it first requires that she change her choice. Only then can a new, healthy habit be established.

I will give one point for now that I would like you to discuss with your wife: The Bible states that God is unable to tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13-16). "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). We know that God created sex because He told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth" (Genesis 1:26). This command was given to them before the fall, as was the command about marriage, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). "One flesh" refers to, among other things, the act of sexual intercourse. In reasoning why a man should not commit fornication or adultery, God said, "Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, And be embraced in the arms of a seductress?" (Proverbs 5:18-20). In the New Testament we read, "Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 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. 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" (I Corinthians 7:2-5). Finally, we also find, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). The word "bed" here is particularly interesting because in the Greek it literally means the act of sexual intercourse. Thus, my question for your wife is: "Is sex within a marriage holy or unholy?" If you would, please write back with her answer and the reason she reached this conclusion.

As I mentioned, I am unable to help at this point because I am unable to talk to her and help her reason from the Scriptures regarding her past choices. You indicated earlier that she is content with the way things are and this won't lead to a desire to re-examine her position. If she is able to agree with you that she needs to change, then there are things to do to establish better habits.

For your own part, there are a number of things to do that all revolve around changing your attitude about your relationship with your wife. What is endangering your marriage is not the fact that your wife is reluctant to have sex with you. It has survived 33 years in this state. What has changed lately is your attitude. In the past you held on because you hoped a solution would be found that would change your wife. You've lost hope and now want out. So long as you continue in this mind set, very little can be done because you won't put full effort into it.

However, I will take you at your word that you want to make this marriage work. However, what I ask of you is a desire to make the marriage work, even if you never have sex again. Let me be clear that this is not my aim or intention for your marriage, but it is the level of commitment that I'm looking for from you. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25). The word for "love" in the Greek is agapao. It means a dedicated love, a love that is given even if it is not returned. That is the love shown by the Lord. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). It is the type of love God says husbands must give to their wives. It is a tall order at this point in your life, but will you give your wife that much love?

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Marriage
Questions and Answers regarding Divorce
Questions and Answers regarding Sexual Relations