The Purposes of Marital Intimacy

The Bible teaches that God had multiple purposes in creating marital intimacy.  One of the best safeguards against the many perversions of marital intimacy in the world is to understand and appreciate the Bible’s teaching on God’s gift of marriage.

For those who missed it:
Note to Parents
Why I Say “Marital Intimacy”


Genesis 1:27-28

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Malachi 2:15

And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

In the first mention of man and woman together in creation, God mentions “multiplying,” the bringing forth of children.  This is one of the primary purposes of marital intimacy.

Commentators struggle with the Malachi passage because the Hebrew is difficult.  The context fits our translation, giving the sense that God united husband and wife for the purpose of giving and raising godly children.  I believe that interpretation is correct, and that the Malachi passage fits with Genesis in teaching that one purpose of marital intimacy is to be the means by which God gives children.

God’s love is expansive.  He did not need fellowship with us — He had perfect internal fellowship within the Trinity.  But true love wants to share love with others.  Just as He created His own children to share in a loving family with Him, so He made us to have children who share in a loving family.

It is a mistake to say, however, that this is the only purpose of intimacy.  That teaching has caused confusion, hurt, and multiple errors.  In a sin-damaged world, not every couple can have children, nor did God intend marital intimacy to end once a couple is past child-bearing age.  This is a purpose for intimacy, but not the only one.

Companionship / Bonding / Unity

Genesis 2:18

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Genesis 2:23-24

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

God did not want the man to be alone.  He intended a companionship, a unity, between husband and wife.  This unity is sealed and enhanced by physical intimacy.

I Corinthians 6:16

What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

This makes clear beyond any doubt that the “one flesh” statement of Genesis was referring to the physical intimacy in marriage.  Physical intimacy, whether within marriage or even in an immoral relationship with a prostitute, has a unifying effect.

Occasionally, scientific discoveries “catch up” with God’s Word.  Scientists have learned that the human body produces chemicals during physical intimacy which increase emotional bonding, whether married or not.  These affect our memory, our judgment and objectivity, the ways we think about relationships.  (Note:  Parts of this linked article may stir temptation for those who are struggling, so perhaps not everyone should read it, but it explains how these chemicals “Rewire the Brain” in intimacy.)  God said one purpose of marital intimacy is to unify husband and wife, and scientists have begun to discover how He designed our bodies to make that work.

Protection Against Temptation

I Corinthians 7:2-5

2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

God intended intimacy to be a protection against temptation.  He made us with a desire for intimacy, but that creates potential for temptation.  His purpose for husbands and wives is that intimacy helps against that danger.  It has a protective purpose as an extra line of defence against the destruction which immorality brings.

These last two (bonding/unity and protection against temptation), in combination, show the great danger of all the world’s counterfeits.  Any immorality, whether premarital, adultery, prostitution, pornography, etc, creates a bond to the immorality.  It strengthens the temptation to sin again by emotionally uniting us to that sin.  By contrast, marital intimacy strengthens resistance to temptation by emotionally uniting us to our spouse.  It fights temptation on both physical and emotional levels, an important aid in winning the battle ultimately in the spiritual realm.

Illustrating God’s Love

Psalm 45:10-11

10 Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house;
11 So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.

I’ll say more about this Psalm in a later post.  Briefly, Psalm 45 portrays a royal wedding as an illustration of God’s love for His people.  The two concepts, human love in marriage and God’s divine love, blend throughout the Psalm, giving a poetic picture of the close link between the human institution and the spiritual truth it shows.  Verse eleven tells us the husband’s desire for his wife’s beauty is a part of this picture or illustration of God’s love.

Ephesians 5:28-32

28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5 begins with verse 22.  Throughout, he uses human marriage as an illustration of the love relationship between Christ and His church.  In this part of the passage he refers to the physical unity which results from marital intimacy, and says this is part of the illustration.

The sense of “mystery” here is not something that cannot be understood, but rather something previously hinted at but really known only when God reveals it.  We see hints of this illustration in the Old Testament, but this wonderful (that is the sense of “great” in this verse) illustration is not completely revealed until we see the church as Christ’s Bride described in the New Testament.  A picture is always less than the reality of the thing it illustrates.  As wonderful as a blessed and God-honouring marriage is, it is only a shadow, and the love of Christ for His church is far greater and far more blessed.

Coming Posts

When we understand the purposes for which God has given marital intimacy, we see that the world’s counterfeits fall short in multiple ways.  Lord willing, I’ll address that later, but I wanted this post to be more about what God has given than about what He forbids.

I also plan to deal more with God’s purpose for pleasure in marital intimacy.  Pleasure has a very important role in marriage, but it is not so much a purpose of intimacy as it is a means to an end.  My next two posts will look at what Psalm 45 and Proverbs 5 tell us about the purposes of pleasure in intimacy.

Next: Psalm 45, “Greatly Desire Thy Beauty,” and Marital Intimacy
Proverbs 5:19, “Ravished Always,” and Marital Intimacy
Homosexuality and the Purposes of Marital Intimacy


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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