Christian Marriage: Mutual and Celebrative Self-Donation

Christian Marriage: Mutual and Celebrative Self-Donation January 25, 2021

In New Testament scriptures, a healthy view of the marital bedroom begins by taking the concept of loving one’s neighbor as oneself a step further. Spouses are to love their partners as themselves (Ephesians 5:33). This final instalment of Christian sexual ethics focuses on marital sex.[1]

According to Paul the apostle, sexual love making involves mutual pleasure. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 he affirms that both the husband and wife are to give sexual satisfaction to one another. Nowhere does this text in 1 Corinthians discuss procreation; here sex is intended for pleasure rather than producing offspring (though of course nothing deters believers from having children).

Mutual Self-Donation

As a well-learned Jew, Paul probably read in the Song of Solomon something similar about reciprocating benefits in love making (e.g., Canticles 2:16). Elsewhere mutual benefit in marriage is encouraged (Ephesians 5:21-22).[2] Moreover, if love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:3-5), both the husband and wife are to seek the benefit of the other. The type of sexual love 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 promotes might be captured by what John Grabowski calls “mutual self-donation.”[3]

This perspective provides a biblical basis for suggesting that Christian couples are free to engage in creative sexual pleasures as long as their goal is to love one another and seek mutual rather than selfish ends. The erotic marital bed should promote faithfulness, oneness, and human dignity as male and female created in God’s image.

Mutual self-donation strives for pleasuring the other partner and trusts the other partner will reciprocate. It also allows for shared voluntary submission when sexual disagreements arise. Both partners are willing givers to the other’s sexual desires.

Celebrative Self-Donation

Marital sex in Christian context should also be celebrative self-donation. God-given sex offers a dimension of recreation – it embraces celebration. Since a significant facet of marital sex involves pleasure, there is nothing wrong with improving one’s sexual techniques in bedroom. Marital sex does not need to pit the notions of sobriety/sex for love’s sake against the concepts of sexual technique/sex for recreational sake. As long as love and total commitment is the ground for sexual activity, Christian couples can have sex for the sheer enjoyment of it.

If the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians prioritizes love, its second virtue is joy. A voluntary sex partner that shows reluctance does not seem to be operating in this virtue in a proper manner. Being full of joy and God’s Spirit helps enable the couple to long for sexual union, be passionate when making love, and enthusiastic about pleasing the other person.

Mutual love-making transcends an attitude that only affirms, “I must try to please my spouse sexually because I have to love him/her as myself.” Instead, it eagerly asks the other partner, “How can I best please you when it comes to sex?” If the wife communicates that she wants her husband to cuddle with her in a very long afterglow, this means the husband will not roll over and sleep but will learn to fulfill his wife’s desire completely. If the husband craves a sane and healthy sexual fetish, this means the wife will try her best to satisfy her husband. Celebrative self-donation continually seeks to augment sexual pleasure.

Sex is more than coitus, and sexual vice is more than fornication. We are called to glorify God with our bodies, and Christian sexual ethics should nurture this belief. Loving God in this sense means loving our bodies, which includes spiritual and social communion as well as mutual-celebrative characteristics.


[1] For a more thorough study on Christian sexual ethics, see my previous instalments on this “In Christ” blog: part 1 (single Christians and erotic boundaries); part 2 (fornication); part 3 (glory God with your body); and part 4 (sex, love, and walking in the Spirit), and my article “What is Sex?” in Religion and Sexuality: Passionate Debates. C. K. Robertson, ed. (New York: Peter Lang). A draft version of the article is available via academia.

[2] Too often churches have stressed the wife’s submission to the husband and have overlooked the husband’s implicit submission to the wife (Eph. 5:21). The Pauline writer points to the example of Christ as the head in Ephesians 5:22-23. In the gospels, however, Christ teaches that Christian leadership must take on the role of servanthood, unlike Greco-Roman hierarchical structures of the time (Mark 10:42-45; John 13). In light of this perspective if the husband insists on being the head, he is to act like the servant!

[3] John S. Grabowski, Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 46-47.

Image: Heart Wedding Marriage via pixabay.com

About B. J. Oropeza
Dr. B. J. Oropeza is a well-recognized scholar, professor, and author of numerous books and articles on theology and biblical studies. You can read more about the author here.

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