Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions and Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and take a look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ. And our question this week comes from a pastor who says to me, “Dr. Moore, I pastor a small congregation made up mostly of younger people, college students and young couples. And we have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with. There’s a couple, married, they’ve been married for eight months, and they have yet to consummate the marriage. At issue is the husband. The young man is unwilling to consummate the marriage. There is no medical problem. I have investigated asking him if maybe there is a sexual orientation issue. He says, no. He is not attracted to men at all. He loves his wife, but he finds sex to be “gross,” in his words. So they haven’t consummated the marriage yet. I don’t know what to do or how to help them. Is this something that is a church discipline issue, or is this just something I ought to pray for them about and move on?”
Well, pastor, that is a difficult one, and it is something that—you know, I find myself getting this question more and more these days. It seems that I am finding more and more young couples having sexual difficulties. And a lot of times what people tend to think about are older couples, whether medical problems, or they’ve been married a long time and kind of the romantic energy is lagging in the marriage. But I am finding this situation with young couples.
The situation that you are talking about here is a crisis. Eight months without any intimacy within this marriage for a newlywed couple, that is a really significant thing. And it is significant biblically since marriage, biblically, is made up of a vow—a commitment that is being made before God and before the rest of the community—and also consummation, that one-flesh union. “Therefore,” the scripture says, “they shall be joined together,” Genesis 2, “and they shall become one flesh.” So, an unconsummated marriage is something that throughout the history of the church has been recognized as no marriage at all, especially where there is a refusal to consummate the marriage. So this is a serious matter.
What I would say to you is that there are several things I would keep in mind. You said there is no medical issue; that has already been looked at. I would make sure that that’s actually been examined. Make sure that as you are counseling that he has a doctor weighing in on this, not that he’s just assuming that there is nothing wrong. You’ve already investigated the sexual orientation issue. It might be worth talking that through one-on-one with him, without her there, to see whether or not that is an issue.
There are a couple of other possibilities that might be happening. One of them is pornography. And by that I don’t mean that pornography generally leads to this, but it can if you have someone who has been exposed to pornography for a long time, especially prior to that person being shaped and formed sexually during puberty. So you may have somebody who has been exposed to porn since he was nine, ten years old, so he is unable to think of a real-life woman in a way that causes the sort of response to her that God initiated and that God wired within us. And it also may be that somehow he has been involved in porn for so long, or something, that there is a sense of shame that he is attaching to sex. Maybe there is a sort of guilt that he is attaching, and being in the presence of her, there is that sense that the Bible says is the result of the fall, that the man and the woman were naked and they were ashamed before each other. It’s creating a rift between her and him. I would take him one-on-one and say tell me about what’s happening in your past with porn.
Another possibility is that there is some sort of trauma that has happened in his life. It could be that this is someone who was sexually abused. It could be that there was some type of psychological wound that he experienced. Spend some time talking to him. And I think in this case, after eight months, it’s worth bringing in professional help with a professional counselor who can come in and help work him through this, maybe even before you put the two of them together in the conversation. Work him through this to say is there some sort of trauma that is going on.
Now, if this is simply just someone who says I don’t want to have sex with my wife. I refuse to carry out my responsibilities to love and to care for me wife including in the area of sexual intimacy, well, yeah, I think that would constitute an abandonment of her, and that would mean that the leaders of the church should come in and deal with it. My suspicion here, just based on the general stuff that you are giving to me, though, isn’t that. My suspicion is that there is some sort of trauma going on in his life, and you need to help him with that and to provide whatever help that you can give to him.
For her, it sounds to me, based again on the very little that you have said to me, that she is wanting to fight this through; she is wanting to be there with her husband and work through this. She has stayed with him for eight months. So, give her the resources that she is going to need. That includes keeping her from thinking somehow that she is to blame. I mean, of course she is going to think that this is very unusual, and it is an unusual situation to be married eight months and have no sexual relationship with one another. She is going to feel as though she is somehow unwanted or unattractive, or maybe even freakish. That’s not the case. This is not her problem, I am willing to say right here. This is something that is going on in his life. So help her to see that, and give the ministry to her that she is going to need as you work through this situation.
And just find out what the problem is. If it’s a medical, hormonal issue, well, that can be fixed. If it’s a psychological, trauma issue, well then you need to have people who are able to help him work through this. If it’s a sense of attaching shame and guilt to sex, then you need—and that can happen. Sometimes you have Christians who have been diligent watching their hearts when it comes to sexuality in an unbiblical form. They are avoiding, as the scripture says, “flee fornication,” but they don’t cultivate that sense of the goodness of sexuality and the healthiness of sexuality, so they have some difficulties. It doesn’t cause eight months of not being able to consummate a marriage. So there is probably something else going on here. But help him to work through, as you are moving forward, that sexuality is a good thing, a good gift that God has given to us. And just help them to fight through this. But you are right to be concerned about it; this is a crisis in the marriage, because sexuality isn’t something incidental to the marriage. That one-flesh union, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically is really important in a marriage.
Thanks for listening to Questions and Ethics. For more resources on living the Christian life check out our website at erlc.com, and send me your question. Maybe you have been reading your Bible, and you notice something there that you have a question about. Or maybe you are having a conversation with somebody in your neighborhood, and a question came up. Or maybe it’s something you are wrestling through in your family or in your church or in your workplace. Just send me your questions at [email protected] or Twitter at the hashtag #askrdm. Until next time, seek the kingdom and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.