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Your Marriage Vows Imply The Right To Divorce A Sexless Spouse

by Patsy Rae Dawson ~

"I didn't take a vow of chastity," wrote one of the respondents to my Sexless Marriages Self-Assessment Survey.

It turns out that nearly everyone's marriage vows included a pledge to engage in frequent, quality sex.

You don't remember saying that? More importantly, you don't remember your spouse pledging to love you sexually?

Then tune in to the podcast of Bonnie Kaye interviewing me about marriage vows and divorce in the case of sexless marriages:

Here's quotes and links I gave during the podcast plus additional material:

Marriage Vows

"I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part" (

Examples of modern wedding vows:

The Jews Divorced Sexless Spouses

The Jews granted a divorce if the husband was not providing food and clothing or reduced the number of times he gave his wife sexual love (Exodus 21:7-11).

While women couldn’t divorce their husbands directly, they took their dead-bedroom complaints to the Jewish elders who pressured their husband into granting them a divorce.

To help settle these cases, the priests regulated how much food, clothing, and lovemaking had to be provided before they granted a divorce. Here’s their guidelines for how many times a husband had to make love based on his occupation:

  • Unemployed—every day
  • Workers—2xweek
  • Ass drivers—1xweek
  • Camel drivers—1x30 days
  • Sailors—1x6 months
  • Scribes—1x30 days

The Jews recognized frequent, quality sex as part of their marriage vows and thus a duty of marriage. (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, The Social and Literary Context 55, 106.)

The Jews Issued Daily Fines for Avoiding Sex

I didn't talk about this on the podcast: A man or a woman who refused "conjugal rights" was considered "rebellious" and issued a fine for every day they abstained from lovemaking. The woman paid from her dowry with coins she had sown into her garments to take with her if she were divorced. The man’s fine was an increase in his wife’s dowry paid directly to her.

The Jews didn’t force conjugal rights—no marital rape. The couple was expected to give themselves lovingly and cheerfully in obedience to their marriage vows (Instone-Brewer 107).

The New Testament Law of Compatibility Was Written in This Jewish Context

1 Corinthians 7:2-5: “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

“Have” means “1. have, hold; 2. own, possess” (Thayer 268).

“Own” means “pertaining to one’s self, one’s own, what is one’s own as opposed to belonging to another, a person who may be said to belong to one, above all others” (Thayer 296-297).

“Duty” means “1. to deliver, relinquish what is one’s own; to give away for one’s own profit what is one’s own. 2. to pay off, discharge, what is due, a debt, things promised under oath; conjugal duty, 1 Co. vii.3” (Thayer 60-61).

Notice that “to have his own wife” and “to have her own husband” sound similar to our marriage vows “to have and to hold.”

Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 is remarkably similar to the Jewish views regarding marital duties. Historical documents show that fines and divorce for sexless marriages continued at least through the first century A.D. The Apostle Paul, "a Pharisee of Pharisees" before becoming a Christian, would have known these Jewish views of sexless marriages (Acts 23:6).

Additionally, David Instone-Brewer and “a few others have also pointed out the affirmation of the grounds for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11 by the use of that text in 1 Corinthians 7:3 [The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband]” (292).

Paul addressed 1 Corinthians 7 to Gentile Christians who weren’t familiar with the Jewish right to divorce in cases of sexless marriages. Before becoming Christians, the Gentiles worshiped both prostitutes and virgins. They couldn’t fall back on generations of healthy sexual conduct modeled for them by their parents, who may have frequented these idolatrous temples.

Bonnie asked why Christians have such a problem with sex and divorce in cases of sexless marriages. I referred to the free chapter "Victims of Victorian Morals" from my book God's People Make the Best Lovers

Most Christians today also come from a Gentile background where we still don't have generations of loving mothers and fathers to teach us proper attitudes toward lovemaking. I recommended my article "3 Reasons God Wants You to Love and Enjoy Passionate Sex."

Frequent, Quality Lovemaking Is a Duty of Marriage

I discussed on the podcast what the test is to determine if we're enjoying enough lovemaking in our marriage.

Below is additional material from my book God's People Make the Best Lovers:

Neither Person Can Satisfy Self

I Cor. 7:4: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 

“Authority over” means “to have power or authority, use power; to be master of any one, exercise authority over one, to be brought under the power of any one” (Thayer 225).

Often husbands and wives selfishly use this passage on each other by saying, “Your body belongs to me and I have the right to say what happens sexually. I have authority over your body.” This attitude conveys the opposite of what Paul said.

This verse contains two ellipses—two “not-but” constructions with a common verb. An ellipsis, a common Greek word combination, shows a relationship between two things that are both true, but it places the emphasis on the second over the first. In other words, the wife has authority over her own body, but the husband exercises greater authority over her body.

Yet the husband’s authority is not to tell the wife what to do with her body. Rather, the husband exercises his authority by giving his wife’s body sexual satisfaction in keeping with the context of the passage “because of immoralities.” Thus, the wife possesses some authority or ability to satisfy her own sexual desires through masturbation.

However, the passage emphasizes her husband’s power to satisfy her in comparison to her own ability—he exerts much more power to satisfy her by making a vaginal orgasm possible. In fact, once a woman tastes of a vaginal orgasm, masturbation seems empty and worthless. It takes a husband to satisfy a wife’s deepest feminine needs.

The husband, likewise, exercises limited power to relieve his sexual urges in comparison to his wife’s power to satisfy his masculine desires. The Redbook survey of 40,000 men found that the most happily married men didn’t enjoy masturbation nearly as much as making love with their wives. Consequently, a husband does not possess the necessary body parts to fully satisfy himself— only his wife can give him the very best sexual thrills.

While both the husband and the wife depend on the other for sexual ecstasy, both find their greatest pleasure in the other’s satisfaction. The wife delights in seeing her husband’s enjoyment of her charms. Likewise, the husband finds great pleasure in giving supreme happiness to his wife. Many of the men in the Redbook survey said the best lovemaking occurred when their wife obviously experienced her best times (Carol Tavris, “The Sex Lives of Happy Men,” Part II, Redbook [March 1978], 195, 7).

Thus, when we understand the Old Testament context of marital sexual duty and divorce of 1 Corinthians 7, we can see that our vows “to have and to hold” carry with them an understood duty of frequent, quality sex.

God doesn’t trap anyone in a loveless, sexless marriage, but provides many ways of escape including divorce. The Jews used the right to divorce a sexless spouse and daily fines to try to prod a couple into loving each other sexually. When that didn’t work, divorce was another remedy.

Patsy Rae Dawson is a Christian marriage, sex, and divorce coach. Learn the secret of the vaginal orgasm in her book The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God’s Soulmating and Lovemaking Guide for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex. Are you in a sexless marriage? Take Patsy’s free Sexless Marriages Self-Assessment Survey. Six checklists of intensely personal simple questions help you analyze the true state of your relationship so you can start solving your problems.

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