Why do I say “marital intimacy” when counselling couples, or teaching on God’s gift to husbands and wives? Perhaps I sound old-fashioned. Actually, I AM old-fashioned. 🙂 But that isn’t the reason I prefer “marital intimacy” or “physical intimacy in marriage” rather than the expression commonly used in society today.
Most people recognise that our thinking affects our words, but we are slow to recognise that our words affect our thinking. The words we use to describe things come with a wide range of associated thoughts, some conscious, some subconscious. The words we choose either reinforce or challenge thought patterns. Thought patterns affect our attitudes, and attitudes impact behaviour.
We live in a society that has perverted God’s gift of intimacy in many ways. The world’s terminology brings with it a mindset, a way of thinking, which the world has loaded onto that terminology. When we use the world’s language, we run the risk, even subliminally, of adopting fragments of the world’s perverse thinking.
The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically what language to use in this area, so this is not a question of obedience, but of wisdom. We don’t want to reinforce, in ourselves or others, thought patterns and attitudes which are contrary to Scripture. I’ll give a few reasons why I believe “marital intimacy” is a wiser choice.
The First Reason — Marriage
The world calls physical intimacy “having sex,” but they are just describing an isolated physical action. There is no distinction made, in the world’s terminology, between married and unmarried. They want to isolate the physical act from the marital realm for which God intended it.
The world won’t tell you that part of you dies when you do this outside of marriage, a part that gets killed deader (with apologies to the grammar police) every time you repeat it. They won’t tell you that you are killing:
Part of the close relationship that your Creator wants to have with you
Part of your own innocence (and that of the other person)
- Part of your dreams of being really loved for who you are, rather than for what the other person gets from you
Part of your idealism about marriage and love
Part of the joy of your eventual wedding night
Part of your ability to trust and to be trusted by your eventual spouse
Part of your ability to really understand how marriage is a picture of God’s love for you
They won’t tell you that even those who have transgressed, if they stop and wait for marriage, can begin to have at least partial restoration of these things they’ve been killing.
Within a healthy marriage, none of those things die. In fact, such a marriage can help to restore many things damaged in the past. Physical intimacy within marriage deserves a different name than the label the world uses for immorality. The name “marital intimacy” reflects the God-honouring and God-blessed marriage covenant.
The Second Reason — Intimacy
You don’t even have to care about a person to do what the world describes. You can act for pleasure, and move on. It doesn’t really matter, according to the world. “If it feels good, do it.”
God speaks differently. In Proverbs 5:19, perhaps the most direct Biblical teaching on this aspect of marriage, God used the word “love,” just as He did over and over again in the Song of Solomon. Elsewhere in Scripture, He uses the word “know,” denoting a close, intimate knowledge, a connection with a person that is much more than physical.
God intended love and deep affection to underlie and pervade the husband / wife relationship. We become one flesh, bound together in ways far beyond our understanding. This bonding deserves a better name than the world gives for a mere physical act, a name reflecting close love and affection. The word “intimacy” serves to describe this aspect of a God-pleasing relationship.
The Third Reason — Giving and Sharing
When you talk about “having” something, your words shift your focus to thinking of taking or possessing it. That largely misses the point of what God intended. The primary focus of I Corinthians 7:3-5 is not about possessing your spouse, but about yielding possession of yourself.
You have to get something to “have” it, but marital intimacy as God intended is not about getting, but about giving. It is a mutual giving and sharing of the joys God gave us together. If your mindset in your marriage is on “having” something, you’ve shifted the focus from God’s plan for you and your wife. You are drifting towards selfishness.
The word “have” (or “having”) is not best for something God intended as “giving” or “sharing.” The world likes that terminology, because the world likes selfishness. We can do better.
The Fourth Reason — Respect
Never underestimate the ability of crass people to find crassness everywhere, of immature people to behave immaturely. Any terminology we use will be mocked by people of perverse minds. As Paul told Titus, “Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure” (Titus 1:15).
We won’t stop disrespect, no matter what term we use. But those who want to be disrespectful will not choose terminology like “marital intimacy.” Those who speak casually of (or mock) holy things prefer to use language that does not honour the things they dishonour. They might mock us for different terminology, but it is better to use different language than the preferred language of those who want to live in the gutter.
I’ll Stick with “Marital Intimacy”
God gave spouses great freedom to enjoy marriage blessings, and they can use whatever language they choose. But what we habitually say can affect our thinking, and the attitudes of our hearers, our children, and others. I prefer terminology reflecting the precious value God placed on this gift, rather than terminology that could as well be applied (and usually is) to all kinds of horrible immorality. I don’t want God’s gift of marriage to be equated with every kind of perversion that the world concocts.
So, in our church or on my blog, if you wonder why I use “old-fashioned” language, I’m seeking to use words that honour what God honours. I’m not afraid of the world’s words, but I hate the attitude they too often convey.
If you want to mentally translate my words into different terms when you hear or read them, it is really none of my business. If you come to me for counsel and use the other words, I’m not going to correct you or think you are wrong. But in general, in speaking or writing, I’ll be talking about ”marital intimacy” (within marriage) and “immorality” (outside of marriage), especially in a public forum.
Note to Parents
The Purposes of Marital Intimacy
Psalm 45, “Greatly Desire Thy Beauty,” and Marital Intimacy
Proverbs 5:19, “Ravished Always,” and Marital Intimacy
Homosexuality and the Purposes of Marital Intimacy