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Each week, Joe Beam is answering questions submitted by Heartlight.org subscribers based on his counseling experience, academic research, and heart for people as a minister. You can submit your questions to ask@joebeam.com.


According to the Word of God, what are the "can and cannot do's" when it comes to a sexual relationship in a marriage? (In other words, is foreplay and intimately touching other parts of your spouse's body allowed) — J.P.

Twice on NBC's Today Show, I've been asked similar questions. It seems that a great number of people, Christian or not, want to know what the Bible says is okay in sexual practice. Before I summarize the "can," let's quickly examine the "cannot."

The Bible forbids:

  • Incest — sexual contact with certain relatives (Leviticus 18:7-17;  Leviticus 20:11-19)
  • Homosexuality — sexual contact with your same gender (Leviticus 18:22;  Leviticus 20:1;  Romans 1:24-28)
  • Rape — forcing sexual contact on another (Deuteronomy 22:23-29)
  • Consensual sex outside of marriage(Exodus 22:16-17)
  • Adultery — breaking of the marital contract, especially by having sex with someone other than mate (Leviticus 20:10;  Deuteronomy 22:22;  Hebrews 13:4)
  • Lust — craving sexual contact with someone other than spouse (Exodus 20:17;  Matthew 5:27-28)
  • Prostitution — selling or trading sexual activities (Deuteronomy 23:17-18;  1 Corinthians 6:15)
  • Bestiality — sexual contact with an animal (Leviticus 20:15-16)
  • Menstrual sex — sexual intercourse while the women is in menses (Leviticus 15:24,  Leviticus 18:19,  Leviticus 20:18) [Many believe this may be specific to Old Testament and not applicable today.]
  • Harm — anything that does harm to the body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

My summary of the above pulls everything into three categories for people of God:

  • We may not have sex — in reality or fantasy — with any person other than our spouses.
  • Bestiality must never occur.
  • Nothing should be done that causes harm to either person.

Other than that, I see no Biblical prohibitions. In my understanding of the Bible, anything that does not violate any of the above three principles is quite okay for a married couple. Additionally, there are passages in the Song of Solomon that demonstrate that loving union between husband and wife can involve various activities addressing various parts of the body. As to one of the specifics you mention in your question, in Song of Solomon 4:16, it appears that Solomon's wife requested this. If you wish to know more, or have a deeper explanation, please write me at ask@JoeBeam.com.

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If you have a question about love and relationships, send them to me at ask@JoeBeam.com. I'll answer 1 or 2 questions each week, using my counseling experience, academic research, and a deep respect for God's Word.

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