Mutuality in Marriage (7:5-6)Now we come to one of the most revealing passages on marriage rights and marital sex in ancient literature. Most secular documents of this era are written from the man's perspective -- his rights, his pleasure, his domain, his authority. But Paul goes out of his way here to teach a true mutuality and sharing of sex within marriage.
"3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." (7:3-4)
The implication is clear. The woman is not just there to meet her husband's sexual needs, but he is there to meet hers as well. The wife is not chattel to be bought and sold. Just the opposite! The husband's body "belongs to," literally, is "under the authority of" the wife just as much as the wife's body belongs to the husband.
"5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command." (7:5-6)
The implication of this mutual sexual authority is that neither the husband nor wife is to "deprive" (NIV, NRSV) or "defraud" (KJV) the other except if they both agree. The verb is apostereō, "rob." Here it has the connotation "to prevent someone from having the benefit of something, deprive." We see the same idea expressed back in the Pentateuch to protect wives from being deprived of their husbands' sexual attention (Exodus 21:10).
The implications of this are rather clear. Sex is not to be used as a bargaining chip in a marriage. "If you do this, then I'll have sex with you." To do so is to defraud the spouse of what is already his or hers by right.
The spouse might relent: "Oh, I'll have sex with you, then, but I don't have to like it!" But that isn't the spirit of this passage at all! Sex should be much more than a duty, it is a joy, a celebration of being one-flesh, an expression of love, the means of bringing forth new life. The best sex is found in the mutual, self-giving love outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5:21-33.