Do I Have A Biblical Right To Say No To Sex?

Morning friends,

Thanks for your participation on the blog. That’s what makes the community. Can you believe I’ve been doing a weekly blog for over 10 years? We’ve made some progress in educating Christians and the church regarding the reality of abuse in marriage. But even on this blog, we still hear from people who believe that it’s more important to God to stay married no matter what. Even if that marriage is toxic and dangerous, some believe it’s better to silently suffer than, to be honest, speak up and invite the abuser to repentance and change. 

Many of you here have been with me since the beginning and are quite wise. Don’t be dismayed by those who continue to think differently than we do. This is our opportunity to ask questions, to respectfully dialogue, and to help them consider that there might be more important things to God than just staying married at all costs.  

Question: Do I have a Biblical right to say no to sexual practices I don’t want to do? My husband uses the Bible to make me feel guilty when I don’t want to have sex every day or do certain things that I find painful or disgusting. What is my wifely role here?

Answer: This is a very common question that I receive from women who have been told or taught that when you get married, “Your body is not your own but your husband’s” which comes from 1 Corinthians 7. However, despite what he and others may tell you, the Bible never says or even implies that marriage is all for your husband and his needs, sexual, or otherwise.

A healthy marriage requires safety and trust on both sides in order to flourish. When one person in the marriage is not allowed to voice what she likes or doesn’t like, what she wants or doesn’t want, or the freedom to say no to things, the relationship is not safe. Click To Tweet

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 7 and other places such as Ephesians and Colossians were meant to clarify misunderstandings about marriage, not make women slaves or object to be used. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul was writing to clear up an error that was circulating among the new Christians that abstinence was the best practice for a believer, even if you were married. Paul is refuting this and reinforcing that a good sex life is a part of a good marriage. But Paul was careful to insert a little word that made a huge impact on his patriarchal culture. The word is likewise. Paul said to wives, your body is not yours, and likewise husbands, the same applies. Speaking into that culture, that instruction was radical. It wasn’t about a husband having power over his wife, because Paul emphasized, the same rules apply to husbands as to wives. In Paul’s other writings regarding submission and headship, he never gives husbands Biblical permission to order their wives around or to ignore their input or feelings. Husbands are told to love their wives and treat them as they would care for their own selves (Ephesians 5:28,29).  

Therefore, understand that you have every right to your own feelings and convictions about your sexual likes and dislikes. Your sexual relationship with your husband is one part of your marriage. If you have no choice or voice in that area of marriage, I suspect you don’t have much voice or choice in other areas as well. You’re being treated like an object whose sole purpose is to do what your husband wants with no consideration or respect for what you want or don’t want or what you find appealing or disgusting.  

It is NOT a healthy or safe relationship, sexually or otherwise. You are being disrespected and not cared about. This is painful when you are married to such a person and presents quite a dilemma for a Christian wife who wants to honor God. You asked, what is your wifely role here?

First, you’ve said you already have told him you don’t like certain things, yet he still pressures you. You’ve told him having sex every day is too much for your body, but he ignores you and guilt trips you, treating you as a person who doesn’t matter, your body being available to him for sexual pleasure is all that matters.   

It’s time for you to execute your wifely role. For you to be a biblical helpmate to him. That doesn’t mean complying with his selfish demands but rather to stand up against his abuse of you in your sexual relationship. Yes, a married person can be sexually abused. Biblically, it is not a spouse’s right to force you to do things that you don’t want to do just because he is your husband. Disrespecting your right to say no to certain practices that you find hurtful, sinful, or unappealing is unloving and disrespectful. It’s time to stop protesting, caving in, and resenting him, and to start confronting his disrespectful and unloving behavior and implementing consequences if he refuses.

Here is a sample of what you might say and do. Prepare it ahead of time and say it in a firm but neutral voice tone. Don’t wait until you’re having sexual relations to say this first part, but you may need to say it again if he continues his disrespect, followed by a specific consequence.

Here is an example of what you might say:  

“I need to talk about something important, when is a good time?” When he agrees to have a conversation, start with this:

“I want to have a good marriage. I desire to have a healthy sexual relationship with you but I feel hurt and angry that you continue to disrespect me in the bedroom, pressuring me to say and do things that I do not want to do. Our sexual relationship is not just about your feelings and needs but it’s about a loving and safe interaction. I don’t feel that way. I feel used and abused.”   

Then stop talking and wait for him to respond. If he minimizes you or makes fun of you, say “you’re doing it again right now. You’re disrespecting me and I won’t continue to let myself be treated that way.”

Then stop and wait for him to respond. If he gets mad and walks away, let him. But next time he pressures you to do any of the sexual things you don’t want to do, get up out of the bed and tell him firmly, “I told you I don’t want to do those things and I feel disrespected when you pressure me. I’m sleeping on the couch tonight.”

If and when he apologizes, thank him for showing concern for your feelings but if he reverts to the pressure tactics during sex, reinforce your boundaries by getting up and leaving the bedroom. Hopefully, he will soon learn that pressuring you doesn’t work anymore and it only makes things worse. As you respect yourself and refused to be treated that way, he might grow to do so too.

But if your sexual relationship mirrors the other areas of your relationship where selfish demands rule and you have no voice or choice, a much bigger conversation is in order.

As I’ve said repeatedly, you can’t change your spouse, but you can change how you respond and what you do. You do not have to allow yourself to be treated like this just because you are married to someone. God does not care more about your husband’s sexual needs or the sanctity of your marriage than he does about your needs for safety and sanity. And if the marriage is abusive and cruel, there is no sanctity; it dishonors you, it dishonors him, and it dishonors God.

Friends, share how you began to stand up against abuse in your marriage. What was your first step?  What changed as you changed?


  1. John on May 14, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    “Your body is not your own” does not suspend 1 Corinthians 16:14 “let everything be done in love”. Or, Phil2:3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; “

    • Free on May 16, 2020 at 12:04 am

      Yes, and I wonder, when we read “your body is not your own” why do we only think sexually? My husband felt he owned my body and determined when I could wake and sleep. He determined when I could and should sit or stand. He demanded I work with him side by side, hauling roofing shingles, hanging kitchen cabinets, black topping the driveway or carrying bricks, because my body was his body. If he was working, I was to be working. Interesting that the body sharing didn’t apply to cooking, cleaning or doing the laundry. I was to share my body when he demanded and of course I could have his body any time I wanted. If I wanted it to get up out of the chair and help ME, it wasn’t available.

      • Aly on May 16, 2020 at 12:04 pm

        This is well described! Sadly -Ughh.
        You are an employee, a possession – not a person to be loved by him.

  2. Leslie on May 14, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Very well said Leslie! Learning to set boundaries was life changing in my own abusive relationship. The first time I set a boundary, it was scary, but the next time, and the next time, it got a bit easier, until it was a normal response. He did not change and the marriage ended, but I changed into a better version of myself, and gained my peace back!

  3. Deborah on May 15, 2020 at 12:06 am

    My husband of 35 yrs uses scripture and sermons he has heard on Christian radio programs to throw at me becaue I have refused to be intimate with him for almost 3 yrs. He is like a big sngry bully and now all his anger is according to him due to my refusal to have sex with him. Mind you he has had ED for several years and that became my fault also. If I even tried to approach him with the conversation that was suggested above he would turn it around so quickly and cut me off completely and not let me speak. I am 71 and not sure if I can keep doing this. He hurls insults at me but is not a name caller. Never hits me but did head butt me 3 years ago. That is when I decided enough is enough of his bullying about sex. He absolutely refuses Christian counseling. And of course I would never do it with him. He is a deacon in our church. I believe he is a wolf in sheeps clothing. 😥

    • Karin on May 15, 2020 at 10:25 am

      Hello, Deb I’m so glad that you have found your way to this community, and hope that along with the weekly teachings here you are already reading Leslie’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. In your short posting, you’ve shared with us so many vile and destructive things that your husband does (or has done) to you: physical abuse (head butt), verbal and emotional abuse (insults, false blaming, blame shifting, etc.) and spiritual abuse (hurling scriptures and sermons to manipulate for his own ends; being an angry bully with you and refusing to see a counsellor, while pretending to the church to be worthy as a deacon and a Christian leader). And yet he refuses to hear truth or be accountable for his intentional, selfish, wrong behaviour. This is faithlessness of the worst sort. You describe a man who is deeply entrenched in his own attitude of entitlement, no matter what it may cost you. You say it truly, you cannot keep doing this. Something needs to change. Praying that the Lord will draw you to strength to be able to make the changes you need to make, (perhaps that is speaking the truth to someone who can help you, or making arrangements to separate yourself from this). Whatever it is that you need to do to be safe, to be well, and to remain your best, healthy, faithful self as God intends you to be.

    • Aly on May 17, 2020 at 11:32 am

      Did you read Karin’s post? I am also praying for your courage. You are describing a very UNSAFE person (this is not a husband of any description).
      Can you stay with a trusted friend? An adult Child of yours? The behaviors and things you have been the recipient of ….sound like a man with long term sex addiction -porn, anger, abuse of all kinds toward you, and then has the blatant abuse to blame ‘his behavior’ on you!
      His refusal of Christian counseling is his refusal of accountability at every level. He doesn’t want to be exposed! And as long as you have any presence in the home (even if you are in another room) he won’t change and most likely will get worse. The good news is you can change and you can get help for you! You can be healthy and choose to live in a safe environment apart from his destructive behaviors and attitudes.
      What are your biggest fears with making steps to get safe?

  4. Joyce on May 15, 2020 at 9:01 am

    Hello Leslie. I read your book, the emotionally destructive relationship several years ago after I got a divorce after 20 years (he had an affair) and I was dating again and found myself in an emotionally destructive relationship. The book helped me so much. I dated about 3 guys in the next 13 years until I found a nice man and we have been married 2.5 years. I was very open with my expectations for what i desired in a marriage and he seemed to be on board and I had no red flags and felt peace about it and still do. We are both Christians. I am more progressive and he is more traditional but when we talked about things and visited each other’s churches, it seemed that we believed the same way and it wasn’t going to be a problem and it pretty much isn’t. The only parts of our talking before marriage that changed were now he says marriage has to evolve and things get better on there own. Counselors and marriage books are now maybe crap.talking about this kind of stuff doesn’t make us closer but farther apart now. He says he isn’t going to change. This is who he is and five love languages, counseling type discussions with each other he doesn’t like. He is pretty independent, does all the finances, sometimes makes, bigger to me, financial decisions without talking to me about them , which then I feel left out of the marriage mutuality. There is no abuse. He kind of does what he wants but in a very nice way. He is a much more quality of a person than my previous husband and the ones I dated. He puts a lot of importance on succeeding in everything he does and has good work ethics and believes in providing well which my first husband was a dreamer, pie in the sky person, get rich quick, a lot of talk and not much results so I very much have it good in that way. But because he loves to keep busy with job, side projects and the church business side I feel I get the leftovers if he feels like giving me any but refusing or not giving to meet my needs but in a super nice way. If this makes any sense. Sometimes I don’t feel loved because he doesn’t say a whole lot or seem to make us a priority. I have it good, he’s a good guy, but I’m trying to take care of myself and deal with his lack of connectedness to me. Again, he is not abusive just maybe a little more old fashioned in his ideas of marriage and selfish with his emotions. Would reading tour book the emotionally destructive marriage help me in this or what would you advise? Thank you for your response. Joyce

    • Autumn on May 16, 2020 at 12:06 am

      Have you watched the movie “He’s Not that Into You?” Sounds like he just isn’t that interested in you. I wonder why.

      • Joyce on June 7, 2020 at 8:58 am

        😱ughh haha I have but maybe I’ll watch again

    • Aly on May 16, 2020 at 11:54 am

      I would definitely read Leslie’s books and consider her Conquer group. Here is why:
      You describe what is (common) among many marriages. By common, I don’t mean healthy and growing. Often common issues you brought up above can grow into very unmanageable and destructive dynamics that are very hard to unravel. Give yourself and your husband the best chance at getting healthier and both of you having a voice or say in this marriage with bringing God to the center of this relationship- by getting interventions earlier you will have a better chance (Of real hope) at not reinforcing the current attitude your husband has toward you and the marital ideals!

      Your husband seems to have little tools in emotional places and that why you may seem his priority be of ‘less intimate areas’- like work, church, hobbies, chores, projects – just about anything under the sun than having to connect on a deeper emotional place where you might be looking for healthy connection and safety. The comments you made of how he responds are typical ‘male attitude about change or growth’ this attitude is death on a spiritual level in my opinion. So his essential beliefs in Christ and being a Christian need to be evaluated.

      My husband got help and was a good guy (like you said above)even prior but often put me last and dismissed many of my complaints and would escalate from there. But I had to ponder them good guy thing. He wasn’t a good guy based on how he was treating me and the effects to our marriage. He was quite immature overall and had some other areas of hindrances to be addressed.
      Regardless of Age, anyone can still be extremely emotionally immature and unwilling to nurture a marriage relationship.
      His attitude can create a lot of holes and non protected areas for there to be threats on your marriage to be one that is healthy and giving glory to God.
      Get involved with Conquer, read, educate yourself and create a priority of your own self discovery with God, you will see your precious heart and you won’t be willing to settle with certain things that down the road can and mostly do become bigger things.
      Prayers for your journey and your willingness to seek understanding💜

      • Joyce on June 7, 2020 at 9:02 am

        thank you! I will check out conquer! Would you be able to remove my last name lol I didn’t mean to have that posted! 🤦🏻‍♀️ Thank you!

      • Joyce on June 9, 2020 at 12:33 am

        How do I deal with his indifference? I can’t change him so what do I do so I’m not so disappointed in our relationship? It almost seems like he on purpose doesn’t compliment or say nice things. Seems very selfish (but nice about it)

    • JoAnn on May 20, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Joyce, It seems to me that his attitude flies in the face of God’s intention to have us conformed to the image of Christ. Transformation is the goal of God’s salvation. It’s a shame to us if we stay the same and never experience His life in us making us different.

      • Joyce on June 7, 2020 at 9:03 am

        Thank you. I appreciate your perspective!

  5. Linda Hutchinson on May 20, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Good. I see my email went through. I am having difficulty in my marriage. I love my husband. However, I am tired of being the one who makes all the decisions in the marriage. If I ask him to talk he sometimes leaves the room or watches tv while i am talking . I really just feel like going away for a while. cant, unfortunately. It is so hard to be married to someone that simply cannot handle any conversation about anything. He will do anything to avoid a decision or a conversation. I think he is rude to me so i will not bring anything up. I feel like I am a ‘married single.’ I am doing a budget. He cant talk about that. you name it, it is rare he will talk. I lost my job. It was not a whole lot of money anyway but it is hard times. We had problems before this virus thing.
    I try to talk to him about we will handle social distancing ect.. He cannot talk about ANYTHING

    • Free on May 20, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      That sounds difficult. Is it a new behavior? Does he talk to anyone? Is he depressed? One perspective is to just accept that he doesn’t participate and make your own decisions without him. Another solution is to do nothing and hand all the responsibility back to him. Seems you both need counseling. Who does he listen to?

      • Linda Hutchinson on May 20, 2020 at 5:26 pm

        It is difficult. It is not a new behavior. My husband finds it hard to say no to anyone- particularly his adult children. I know I am skipping around but it feels good to vent. thank you. He also has diabetes and some mood swings. I distance myself when he is irritable. frankly, our marriage can be very lonely. especially now with cov19 going on. I know he is worried about catching the virus- especially with diabetes. I really try to talk to him softly about that. He simply does not like anything ‘negative’. He watches Hallmark movies alot. Or the other extreme. He will go to sleep to loud movies. He talks to people he works with and works for. He is a rule keeper. He really does not seek friends out. He works too hard- but probably really smart. He has ADHD, and just wants to sleep when he gets home. It is time for him to start taking social security. He could still work and get the sssi. for some reason he thinks that taking social security is a weakness. He will be 69 soon. Pride is an issue alot and he has trouble apologizing. We do have good times. I ordered a Gary Chapman CD set. It will arrive tomorrow. We have been to counseling. It works for a short time. It is too expensive right now. I do make the decisions myself. If I don’t, nothing will get done. Please pray for us as we start a marriage group online, plus we will do the Gary Chapman CDs Thanks.

        • Linda on June 8, 2020 at 3:02 am

          Linda Hutchinson, please read above from Linda. My last name also starts with an H, so I can just stay Linda and you can be Linda H, if that’s okay with you. I know exactly what you are saying; we could be married to clones! Have you found that when you try to explain your husband’s behavior that no one else sees John that way, only you see him that way? That really puts us into a club of our own. Is your husband an only child by any chance? Mine is. I hope I hear back from you, our situation is so much alike! I hope things get better for you, I’m sorry for what you have had to put up with. Is is like being a single married person, I really understand. I will be thinking of you. Wishing you the best.

  6. Linda on June 8, 2020 at 2:47 am

    Wow! That sounds a lot like my husband and I and our relationship. We have been married for 47 years this July. We, or I should say, I resolved our issues, both communication and sex by not sleeping with him and not trying to communicate on an intimate level anymore. I can relate to being in a marriage and being alone. The older I get, the better I handle it, but I went through having my heart broken so many times over the years at not communicating about “us” and working on our marriage “together,” that I have finally given up on the idea of ever having a marriage the way God intended. We are best friends who should have probably passed on marriage. Kind of late now to do anything different. 😁😁😁

  7. Brittney Thompson on November 28, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Does a married couple have to still try to have sex Even if it may hurt really bad? There are Christian’s 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 never been married? Are they sinning if they Choose to not have sex bc 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 a “bad Christian”. I want to enjoy it and have sex bc I want to have it. Also are 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 lol.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 12, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      Brittney, I will answer your question for this Wednesday’s blog post. STay tuned.

  8. Nikki on January 1, 2023 at 10:49 am

    My husband forced me to have sex on several occasions held me down. He refused to get me pregnant even though we were married. When I opened up about it I was not I was not sexually abused by my husband. Because you can’t be raped in marriage by a church counselor. I went to a different counselor my dad didn’t approve of so he guilt tripped me into not going to that Counsler. That counselor actually heard me and helped me. My husband told my in laws I lied to get him into trouble. My in-laws came after me accusing me of trying to ruin his life. I’m still with my husband and we’ve basically pretended the whole things never happened .I feel like a stuck idiot and I’m at a loss here.
    How do I love myself again for allowing myself to be treated so terribly? How do I stay until I can leave? How do I prepare my heart for this?

    • Caren on September 5, 2023 at 8:23 am

      Nikki…I’m wondering why no one has replied here. It definitely sounds like an abusive relationship you have on your hands, my dear. Unfortunately, my husband will often force me to have sex but never HOLD ME DOWN…that’s marriage rape at its worst. You should seriously and prayerfully consider if God is calling you to leave the marriage. It’s difficult to say but if a relationship is not honoring either one of you, then its not honoring God.

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