I remember a while back reading some Ethics column in the Merc (back when it still had a weekly Religion and Ethics section – kind of hard to believe now), and the question was about some person whose spouse was physically disabled and unable to engage in sexual activity. The person asked if they were ethically bound to be faithful to their spouse.

The column (coming from a secular, probably humanistic perspective) argued that sex is fundamental to marriage, so that if one’s spouse is unable to fulfill sexual duties, one is no longer bound to that marriage.

I remember at the time being enraged by that, because the answer struck me as the opposite of moral, in fact resolutely immoral, and worse because it masqueraded itself as ethical. But I read something recently and now I’ve been rethinking my outrage.

I’ve heard and read a number of sermons / writings about the Christian view of marriage, and I feel like they always dance around one of the most direct Scriptural discussions of why you should get married. They always talk about being partners in ministry, and about mirroring Christ and the church, other stuff like that, which are indeed all valid. But the Scripture passage that most directly addresses whether to get married or not is 1 Corinthians 7, and in it, Paul straight up says, if you can handle your passion, it’s better not to get married; if you can’t, then do it. It’s obviously not the only purpose for marriage, but marriage is clearly supposed to be the proper outlet for sex. If you can’t handle your desire, get married.

If that’s Scripturally true, and I don’t know how else you can read 1 Cor. 7, what then of the married believer whose spouse can’t perform sexually? If marriage is supposed to be the proper outlet for sex, if indeed Paul says it’s a reason to get married, what happens when that’s no longer possible in the marriage? The believer, in getting married, has implicitly acknowledged that they don’t have the gift of celibacy. So what is the proper outlet for them? Are they supposed to control themselves? But doesn’t Scripture state marriage is for those who basically can’t control themselves?

I just don’t know the right answer. I still lean towards them being faithful, because that seems right, especially since marriage is a covenant until death. But I do think it’s complicated. In particular, I don’t know what the proper outlet for the weak individual is supposed to be anymore.

The older I get, the more I realize that things are more complicated than I previously thought. It’s not that there aren’t right answers, it’s just that things are complex.

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