Do I Have To?

Morning friend,

I’m so grateful for my team of amazing coaches who are now helping me answer our blog questions. We get so many questions and it’s wonderful to have other women on my team to share their wisdom. We are in the middle of registering for our 6 month Empowered to Change Group Coaching Program. We are almost sold out so if that’s something you’ve wanted to do, the time is now to register. 

Today’s Question: Does a married couple have to still try to have sex even if it may hurt really bad? There are Christians that say you “have to” have sex because you chose to be married. But what if it’s not possible for all people? What if a couple is 70 and 65 years old and just tying the knot and has never been married? Are they sinning if they choose not to have sex because of their age? And yes, I would love to have sex when I marry someday, but I don’t want to do it because I feel like I “have to” or else I’m not a “good wife” or I’m a “bad Christian”. I want to enjoy it and have sex because I want to have it. Also is having children a requirement for marriage? A lot of Christians love to use 1 Corinthians 7 3-5 and beat people up with those verses and use it to guilt someone into sex, and I don’t want to deal with that. But I believe verses 1-2 and 6 matter too. I believe Verse 6 goes with the first 5 verses but it’s open to interpretation.

Answer: I’ve thought a lot about your question since you posted it on the blog. Here’s what I hear throughout your question. “Do I have to have sex even if it hurts? Even if I’m old? Even if I don’t want to or don’t enjoy it? Do I have to have children just because I’m married. Even if I don’t want them? Etc.”

The biggest phrase that repeats itself throughout your question is, “Do I have to?” And my answer is No, you don’t “have to” do anything you don’t want to. That response may surprise you. But God created human beings with free will, and that includes your no. If God didn’t want you to have a choice, he would have created robots. Instead, he made you with a brain and a chooser. There are over 200 Bible verses that talk about you deciding which way you want to go. Here are three:

Proverbs 3:5,6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart (you chose to). Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Joshua 24:15 “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. …”

Deuteronomy 30: 18. “Now listen! Today I’m giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.”….

Christian teaching has often missed the mark in helping individuals grow into full maturity by continuing to treat them as children, especially women. Strong personalities and Christian leaders often tell women what to do rather than teaching them how to make good decisions on their own. Decisions that come from one’s highest self and Biblical truth, not temporary emotions.

God promises to give you wisdom so that you will learn to know good from bad, right from wrong, and wise from foolish (James 1:5; Hebrews 5:14). At the end of the day, after all is said and done, you get to decide. The Bible also warns you that with each decision there are consequences (Galatians 6:7,8). 

When you make wise choices, that does not automatically guarantee everything will turn out right. However, it is more likely. For example, if you choose to eat healthily, it’s more likely you will be at a good weight, have better test results and live longer than if you eat a steady diet of processed fast food and drink a lot of alcohol or sugar drinks. But you get to decide every day what you put into your mouth.

The Bible also warns you not to blame God when you make poor choices or don’t listen to his wisdom, especially when we experience the negative outcome of our own choices (Proverbs 5:11-14).

When someone is thinking about getting married, most people don’t ask themselves “Do I have to have sex”. Or “Do I have to have kids?” They usually think, “Wow, now I get to have sex and I can’t wait to have children.” It’s part of the perks and benefits of marriage. That does not mean if you’re married you lose your right to say no to sex or children. There are times within a marriage when having sex or having children may not be wise, helpful, or nourishing for both. And the operative word here is for “both” husband and wife. 

For example, the sexual relationship is designed by God to be an intimate and enjoyable act done within the safety and trust of a loving and committed relationship. When the marriage is destructive, abusive, or experiencing repeated breaks in trust, then a mutually enjoyable and/or safe sex life may not be possible. When one is ill or old, or disabled, a limited sex life may be the outcome. If there are health or mental health issues, having children may not be wise, even if you are married.

If marriage or having children is not appealing to you, then you should consider the reality that marriage and family life may not be what you want for your life. That’s fine. It is your choice. The apostle Paul was single and encouraged singleness because then one is unencumbered and undistracted from serving God. (Read the latter part of 1 Corinthians 7). 

I’d encourage you to take a bit of time to differentiate between what you want (or don’t want), and what you feel like doing (or not doing). They are not always the same. For example, you want to be an honest person, but when you do something stupid, you feel like blaming others or telling a lie. Or you want to eat healthily, but you feel like eating that whole bag of chips right now. Or, you want to have children, but you feel lazy or selfish, or scared. Or you want to be intimate, but you feel shame, or fear, or have experienced physical pain or bad memories in the past so you’re reluctant to try again.

When you deeply desire something but feel resistance coming up, pay attention to that resistance. I remember when I wanted to serve God in a bigger way, I felt scared of rejection and failure. If I let my feelings decide my next steps forward, I would have never started this blog or my ministry. Feelings are great informants, but terrible decision-makers.

So, friend, I’d encourage you to drop the sentence or thought from your mindset, “Do I have to”?

Instead, play around with these words. “I get to…” or “I want to”…or “I don’t want to.” You are allowed to make personal choices in your own life. Remember, all choices have some sort of consequence – big or little, good or harmful so you pick. You get to choose what’s most important now and what you want most. 

Friend, have you found yourself stuck in the mindset of “I have to” instead of taking ownership of your own decisions? How did you break free?

4 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on December 15, 2022 at 10:25 am

    I often ask my clients, “what do you WANT to do?” They often don’t know, because they’ve been stuck in the “have to ” mindset forever. I believe our God doesn’t want us to suffer just to follow the rule of the law. That is one of the biggest things Jesus fought against. The Pharisees were stuck in “have to” mode. Jesus came to set us free.

  2. Gina on December 15, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    That might be a good question to discuss with the person you marry before you marry them, since you’re not the only one that will be effected by your choice. Finding someone who wants similar things is part of choosing a mate.

    • Joann on December 16, 2022 at 10:43 am

      Gina, I think your answer is more on point and God honoring than that of Leslies above… Yes, God does give everyone the freedom to choose, but that choice is to either follow his instructions or to not follow his instructions which equals sin.

      The verses listed above ( Proverbs, Joshua, and Deuteronomy) are all commands – the choice is living within the commands, or living in sin by choosing to disobey the instructions God provides us through his word. I don’t think its right of Leslie to say ” you don’t “have to” do anything you don’t want to” without following with the disclaimer that following your own desires outside of Gods will result in the consequences of sin.

      So the original question is if you have to have sex if you are married we can look to Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 7 NIV (Concerning Married Life)

      7 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 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. 5 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. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

      The passage has one big choice on to marry or to not marry, but once you are married, you are to be one with your spouse and the choice to have sex or not have sex is to be a mutual decision as we are not to deprive the other spouse of the act of sex. So as Gina said, you need to be in total agreement of this topic prior to marriage to ensure a God honoring marriage where one spouse is not hurt by the other persons preferences. (And your sex life is only between you, your spouse and God – no one outside of that relationship has any right to “beat you up” on this matter. It may be helpful to seek wise council from others but ultimately it should come down to prayerful consideration with you and your spouse (or future spouse)… It may be possible you learn that this is not the person to marry. (But my understanding of the original question is that you both may not desire sex)

      Understandably, circumstances can change throughout the course of time where different obstacles may impact the enjoyment of the physical act of sex, but that is where the beauty of unconditional love comes into play that both spouses live in a place of understanding of the limitations ,and do their best to love and serve the other to the best of their ability The other spouse also needs to be appreciative of what their spouse has to offer within those circumstances.

      Please be in prayer with your soon to be, and make sure your relationship is God honoring in all aspects

      • Leslie Vernick on December 16, 2022 at 1:16 pm

        Joann, I believe Gina’s answer was spot on. And my answer was in line with God’s word as he tells us that there are consequences for choosing NOT to follow God’s plan. For me, it’s always been clearer to understand consequences of foolishness than to simply say that’s a sin. But you’re right, we sin when we disobey God, but God does give us that choice. For a person to believe they don’t have a choice or for another person to rob someone of their choice is not God’s way of teaching us about life. For example, Jesus gave Judas the choice – follow me or don’t follow me, listen to me or don’t listen to me. Judas went his own way and Jesus didn’t go running after him saying, “wait, wait….” He let him go. Same with the RIch Young Ruler. …and the Pharisees. I think Christians sometimes believe it is their responsibility to make sure people always make the choice they think is God’s will for them. Some people learn life lessons through the wisdom of others and God’s word, and some people learn life’s lessons through the painful consequences of their own sinful choices, and some people will never learn life lessons or turn towards God or the truth. For the woman who asked the question, “Do I have to….this caused me to focus on choice. She was feeling coerced in an area where God clearly gives her a choice – she does not have to get married or have children. But yes as Gina points out, people who choose marriage are also looking forward to the perks of that relationship including sexual intimacy. So if someone is clear that she doesn’t want to do that, then make sure you make that clear to your potential spouse BEFORE you marry so that he has a choice on what he wants to do. My overall point I was trying to make in my response was that we have often abdicated our chooser to circumstances or feelings and not taken our God given responsibility to think deeply on what we want, what God wants, and whether or not we are willing to do it, whether we “feel” like it or not. That is what Jesus modeled for us by going to the cross. He didn’t “feel” like it at all and he was very honest about that in the Garden scene. Yet, he said for all to hear, “I choose God’s will not mine.” He didn’t go forward like a victim, “Do I HAVE To do this?” No he didn’t HAVE to do this. He CHOSE to do this for a higher purpose and recognized his own feelings were real, but he didn’t let them make his final decision. Those are the decisions that honor God, not ones in which we are simply compliant because we believe we don’t have a choice. We do. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough in the blog, but happy for this discussion to clarify.

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