Is sexual fantasy outside a relational context sinful?

Is it wrong for a man to have sexual fantasies about a woman he has no intention of pursuing as potential wife in marriage? Does God condemn sexual imagination that does not have as it’s focus either a real potential spouse or one’s current spouse if they are already married?

Many Christians believe the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “YES”. AnnaMS, a regular commenter here on BiblicalGenderRoles.com, recently represented this popular position in response to some comments on my post “Are some wives tempting their husbands to lust?”.

AnnaMS’s Statement on Sexual Fantasy

“Yes men are going to desire sex with a woman they are not currently married to. Both genders should have a healthy desire for sex although of course a man’s will normally be stronger. This desire needs to be channeled.

If the woman he is thinking about is a girlfriend or a fiance, he should channel that into excitement about a future marital sexual relationship. That is desiring sex in marriage.

If the woman is not someone he is in a relationship with but wants to be, he should channel that into trying to start a relationship which will hopefully lead to marriage (assuming other requirements like her being a Christian, both of them being single, etc. are all worked out). That is also desiring sex in marriage.

If the woman is someone he is extremely unlikely to ever be married to (like the guy at the supermarket who is married already and will likely be married for quite some time still), he should channel that desire into something that he can put sexual focus on (a wife), or if that is not possible, something that will distract him (like sports, or whatever). That desire is not sex in marriage because any sex that might happen between them will not be in marriage cuz they are extremely unlikely to ever be married.

So redirecting his attention to sex in marriage or something else entirely if that is not an option, is his best bet. Imagining being married to someone we are never in a million years going to be married to is hardly the same thing as actually pursuing a woman as a future wife.”

Sex is reserved for marriage

First let me state where I and most Christians like AnnaMS would agree. Sexual acts whether they be intercourse, oral sex or manual sex are strictly reserved for marriage. The Bible makes this clear in the book of Hebrews:

“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)

God is clear that the only sexual relations between a man and woman that he honors is that which occurs in the covenant of marriage.

If the physical acts of sex itself are reserved for marriage, then aren’t thoughts of sex reserved for marriage as well?

This is the logical question and conclusion that many Christians have come to and one that AnnaMS holds. Now there are some divisions within this group. Some Christians believe it is ok to have sexual fantasies about a potential spouse (someone you are dating or engaged to) while others believe all sexual fantasies before marriage are sinful. I believe taking the statement above as well as others I read from AnnaMS that she believes it is ok to have sexual fantasies about someone you are pursing for marriage, but sexual fantasies and thoughts without this context are sinful in her view and the view of many Christians.

This leads us into the key area of this discussion of sexual fantasy – and that is the thought life of a believer.

Does God care about our thoughts?

One of the things that distinguishes the Christian faith from others is that it shows us that God cares not only about our actions – but also our thoughts and intentions.

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)

So Biblically speaking our thought life is VERY important to God.

Most people think that Jesus was the first one to speak on the fact that God judges not only our actions – but out thoughts as well. But they would be wrong. Moses actually elaborated on how important our thoughts are to God when he wrote the 10th commandment:

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” – Exodus 20:17 (KJV)

Covetousness is a thought sin. It is thinking something God does not want us to think. Envy is also a thought sin along with hatred. Lust is synonymous with covetousness as we see here from the Apostle Paul:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” – Romans 7:7 (KJV)

Coveting something is not the same as finding it desirable. You can find someone’s home, their car or even their wife to be desirable and there is no sin that. Coveting is when you desire to take possession of something God did not intend you to possess. So in the case of your neighbor it is when you desire to take possession of his wife sexually that you are lusting (coveting) after her.

Christ spoke again on this matter of coveting a man’s wife and he even classified it as a new form “mental” adultery when he stated:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)

So yes as we can see from Moses first mention of coveting, God very much cares about our thoughts.

So how does God judge our sexual fantasies?

Up to this point we have proven two things that are clear from the Scriptures – the physical acts of sex are reserved for marriage and God does indeed care about our thought life.

But where the gulf begins between believers on this issue of sexual fantasy is what thoughts God judges as sinful, and what thoughts God honors?

God definitely does not want us thinking about how we can get another man’s wife to have sex with us or how we can get some single girl into bed with us without being married to her first. That is something we can all agree on from Scripture. But what about our imagination?

How men and women imagine differently

Just like in many other areas, men and women tend to exercise their imaginations in different ways. Now this is not to say that some men don’t have imaginations similar to that of women and that some women don’t have imaginations similar to men but there are some distinct differences between the genders in this area.

Let me frame this outside the sexual arena first.

I have loved science fiction from the time I was little. I grew up on Star Wars and all the Star Trek TV Shows and movies. I was a big fan of the Lord of the Rings books and was thrilled to go and watch each one at the movie theaters. I loved and still love the Marvel and DC comic super heroes and there is are few super hero movies that I have not seen.

Is it a coincidence that the majority of Science fiction and fantasy fans are men? I don’t think so. I am not saying there are not women who are into these things as well because I know of them. But they are the minority.

Now some men may not be like me and they may hate sci-fi. But often they have some other area that they spend a great deal of time imagining about like sports, hunting, combat or architecture.

Women have been brought more into the fantasy worlds with series like the Twilight saga and other books but the way they are brought in is because of the romance and relational aspects.

So as we can see while both men and women do engage in various forms of imagination – men’s imaginations tend to be “action” based while for most women their imaginations tend to be “relation” based.

Let me say this another way – we as men imagine ourselves doing things like fighting the bad guy in a superhero or war movie or flying that star fighter while women typically imagine relational things like a man kissing them, or their wedding, or how they will decorate their house or holding their child for the first time.

Now let me bring this back to the sexual arena. A man imagines having sex with a woman much in the same way he might imagine himself scoring that touch down in the super bowl, firing that sniper shot that killed the bad guy or flying the millennium falcon in Star Wars. These are all actions to him.

A man can imagine having sex with a woman completely outside the context of any kind of relationship.

I am going to make a statement here that will make a lot of women upset but it is the truth about how a man’s mind works by the design of God.

A man can imagine having sex with an attractive woman in the same way he can imagine driving that speed boat he sees in the dock of some harbor.

Yes men see women as sexual objects to be used for their pleasure.

But we also see women as people too. These two things are NOT contradictory and every woman needs to realize this truth.  Every man needs to be honest with himself about this as well.

The fact that we as men see women as people too is the reason why men don’t just grab and have sex with every woman they see. It is why husbands don’t try to have sex with their wives when they are sick or after they have had a baby. It is why Christian men do their very best to not engage in sex before marriage. But make no mistake, we as men see women as objects of sexual pleasure – it is built into our DNA by God himself.

This is where men and women’s imaginations sharply differ. For most women – they cannot imagine sex with someone without a relational context and this is something that women cannot grasp about men how they can do this.

So in the same way that a man would NEVER be Iron Man but can imagine himself flying through the sky in that suit he can also imagine having sex with an actress in that same film that he will probably never meet and he has no intentions of pursuing for marriage.

So is sexual imagination outside a relational context sinful?

This brings us to the answer to our question. Are Christians like AnnaMs and many others right that God intended for our sexual imagination to always have a relational aspect to it(it must be about a person who we could actually marry or are currently married to) or can a man imagine sex with a woman totally outside of any relational context?

God created, understands and honors our ability to imagine things and he only dislikes wicked imaginations:

“And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.” – I Chronicles 28:9 (KJV)

“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” – Proverbs 6:16-19 (KJV)

So as long as we are not imagining doing something evil – then we are free to imagine whatever we like. Whether that be with flying a space ship, scoring a touchdown or having sex with a woman outside of any relational context.

Sex is a good thing to imagine about. God designed us to imagine sexual situations – especially as men even more than he did women. We are hardwired to imagine every physical aspect of sex.

It is only when we add the relational context to a sexual thought that it becomes sinful or not sinful. If you imagine having sex with a woman by itself there is no sin.

But when you imagine having sex with her in the relational context of actually getting her to have sex with you outside of marriage then you have just had a covetous and wicked imagination. But if the relational context you add is that of marriage and you possibly could marry this woman there is no sin that either.

The answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post is this.

Relational contexts are NOT required for sexual imaginations any more than contexts are required for us imagining ourselves to be Iron Man or superman.

The scriptures never constrain sexual imagination to be limited to potential or current spouses in marriage.

Our ability to imagine things whether it be being a super hero or having sex with that beautiful blonde on the cover of that magazine is not something to be suppressed or something we need to distract ourselves from – no my friends it is a gift of almighty God.

To Christian young men and old men alike reading this. You have a choice. You can continue walking around the rest of your life condemning yourself for any sexual thoughts you have outside a relational context or you can embrace the fact that you have the ability to have sexual imaginations outside a relational context and this is a gift from God.

The enemy is not your sexual imagination, rather the enemy is lust which is covetousness.

Do not let other Christians, even well-meaning Christians steal your freedom to imagine or put constraints on your imagination that God has not placed, but rather do as the Apostle Paul admonished the Galatians:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage… For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:1 & 13

Freely imagine my brothers, but do not allow your imagination to turn into covetous or evil thoughts. Your desire and ability to imagine the female form in all its splendor is a gift from God, just don’t allow your sin nature to corrupt this gift into thoughts of premarital sex or adultery.