Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Every Friday night, it seems, my husband wants to have sexual relations. He says it’s the end of a long work week, he’s relaxing, and sex is part of his Sabbath rest. I remind him of the fourth commandment, and that the Bible says not to “do your own pleasure” on Sabbath. At times it’s been a point of contention. What do you think?

Reluctant Sabbath Lover

Dear Reluctant,

The Bible makes no clear pronouncement about this matter one way or the other. The fourth commandment only says “you shall not do any work.” Is sex merely a chore, like polishing shoes or cleaning the litter box, or a joyful act that brings husband and wife into closer emotional and spiritual harmony? 

As for Isaiah 58:13, almost no passage of scripture has been more misunderstood by Seventh-day Adventists. It has been used to justify lists of Sabbath dos and don’ts, when in fact the whole chapter is about true religion as expressed in kindness instead of rules. The phrase “doing your own pleasure” is better translated “pursuing your own interests,” and according to verse 3 the hearers’ interests seem to be exploiting their workers while they sit around acting pious and religious. It has nothing to do with pleasurable activities on Sabbath. Verse 13 explicitly says the Sabbath should be a “delight.”

According to Genesis, it was on a Friday when God created two perfect, and perfectly naked, human beings, ideally suited for one another, and then immediately told them to relax and enjoy themselves. What do you think they might have done that night and the next day? 

The Jews were the first Sabbath-keepers, and their rabbis regard Sabbath sex as a mitzvah, a blessing or good act. The Mishnah Torah, a collection of Jewish laws compiled by Maimonides centuries ago, says that “Sexual relations are considered a dimension of Sabbath pleasure” (Shabbat 30:14). 

That said, no one should ever be pressured to have sexual relations against their will. Ever. Even if you’re married to one another. One partner’s wish to refrain takes precedence over the other’s wish to partake. (Of course, if your reluctance is part of a larger problem of never enjoying sexual relations, that’s another matter—one to talk over with a specialist.) 

Aunt Sevvy recommends that you and your husband communicate clearly, and try to come to a solution that pleases both of you. But saying that the Bible prohibits it isn’t accurate.

Wishing you a Sabbath mitzvah,
Aunt Sevvy

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