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90-day Sex Fast

A number of married students who are pursuing purity have told us that a time of abstinence from sexual intimacy has been recommended to them "for emotional healing" or to "kill through starvation" the passions of the flesh. This "sex fast" is often recommended for a period of 90 days. But, as with all counsel, we need to examine it, to see if it is biblical and godly.

If Bible verses are used to support this recommendation, the ones cited are found in 1 Corinthians 7:

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. 1 Corinthians 7:5-6 (NIV)

When examining the real intent of this passage, it is important to note that the original language has the word "fasting" and then "prayer" as reasons to abstain from sexual intimacy for a time.

Here is the text in the KJV, along with the Strong’s Concordance numbers:

5 Defraud ye <G650> not <G3361> one the other <G240>, except <G1509> <G302> it be <G5100> with <G1537> consent <G4859> for <G4314> a time <G2540>, that <G2443> ye may give yourselves <G4980> to fasting <G3521> and <G2532> prayer <G4335>; and <G2532> come <G4905> together <G1909> <G846> again <G3825>, that <G3363> <G0> Satan <G4567> tempt <G3985> you <G5209> not <G3363> for <G1223> your <G5216> incontinency <G192>.

The couple who abstains from sexual intimacy should do so only to fast and pray, and this should only be by mutual consent, and only as a temporary measure. Obviously, we are not referring to those who must separate for reasons such as job function, illness or disability (hospitalization), deployment in the military, incarceration, etc. Rather, we are referring to those who separate by choice.

The command here is "do not deprive each other;" the exception clause is "except by mutual agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to fasting and prayer." When helping those in bondage to impurity to find freedom, we would do well to not teach the "exception" as a rule, or even as a good idea.

Paul is issuing a warning about separating physically, stating that temptations may come into the marriage when couples do so; and, he states that the only way to separate is by mutual consent for the purpose of fasting and praying. Then he adds that the couple must get back together to prevent the work of the devil in the marriage. In other words, sexual intimacy in marriage fends off the temptations of the evil one, and must only be broken by mutual consent for the purpose of seeking the Lord through giving up all food and praying to the Lord. The overall view of Paul here is not that a 90-day sex fast would be a good idea, but that a married couple should make sexual intimacy a priority in their marriage, as a preventative to the work of the devil. This is the intent of the passage.

Placed in a diagram, the passage would look like this:

  1. Do not deprive each other (do not separate physically) except

    1. by mutual consent

    2. for a time

    3. for fasting and praying only

  2. Come together again (restore sexual intimacy)

    1. so that Satan will not tempt you

    2. because of your lack of self-control

It is also important to take 1 Corinthians 7:5 in context with the four verses which precede it.

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 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. 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. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (NIV)

In the above passage, Paul makes it clear that sex in marriage is the God-ordained means of thwarting temptation and avoiding immorality. Because sex is a help in these areas, it is important that the married couple does not deprive each other but should instead maintain regular, ongoing, consistent sexual intimacy in the marriage. The only legitimate reason given in Scripture for separating is "for fasting and prayer." Therefore, if abstaining from sexual intimacy in marriage, the couple must also abstain from food (fasting) and seek the Lord earnestly (praying). Obviously, this cannot be done for a very long period of time, and certainly not for 90 days.

It is also helpful to examine the previous chapter, where we see the Scriptures say to "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). The message is "You are no longer free to give in to the lusts of your flesh, or to have sex with whomever you want. Instead, glorify God with your bodies!" How does a married man flee sexual immorality? How does he glorify God? He glorifies God by fleeing immorality (1 Corinthians 6) and by running to his wife, instead (1 Corinthians 7). Marital intimacy is given to the couple as a protection against the temptations of the devil and, when Christian counselors recommend a "90-day sex fast," they are unwittingly removing the God-given protection from the marriage that Paul states is so very important.

Another passage of importance on this topic is in Proverbs 5:15-20.

15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer-- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? Proverbs 5:15-20 (NIV)

We note from verse 19 that a wife’s breasts are to fill her husband with delight "at all times," and the husband is to be intoxicated with her love "always." This is good and godly sexual intimacy in marriage, where a man has turned from all forms of impurity (pornography, homosexuality, adultery, etc.) and is learning to delight in his wife’s body at all times and to be intoxicated with her love always.

My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. Song of Songs 1:13 (ESV)
I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. Song of Songs 7:10-12 (ESV)

Christian counselors may mistakenly focus on the exception clause of 1 Corinthians 7, "except by agreement for a limited time" but, in so doing, they divorce this exception clause from the requirement which follows, "come together lest you be tempted."

On the other hand, we do not want to discount the benefits that may come from a time apart, sexually, that is devoted to prayer and fasting, when mutually agreed upon by the couple. Isaiah 58 states many benefits of fasting. In addition, the gospels of Matthew and Mark both tell the story of a demon-possessed child which the disciples were unable to heal. After Jesus cast out the demon and healed the child, the disciples asked Him, "Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?" Jesus responded, "However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21 MKJV).

Prayer and fasting may be a powerful weapon against the evil one and, when a couple wields this weapon together, it may bring unity to their marriage in amazing ways. Prayer and fasting unites the couple in suffering, since going without food isn’t easy. Prayer and fasting also demonstrates a serious willingness to be free from sexual impurity. If a man is willing to give up his food for the sake of being pure in heart and mind, it may be a great encouragement to those who have been sinned against. Praying and fasting together unites a couple in their love of Christ and in their pursuit of Him and His power.

So, if a married couple agrees to enter into a time of sexual abstinence for the purpose of prayer and fasting, they should do it quietly and devote what would have been meal times to prayer for healing from sexual impurity and the defilement of it. If they will do this whole-heartedly, they will likely find what they are seeking and, in the process, their hearts can be united together, spiritually. This will likely result in a desire to express their oneness, and they will end their fast and come together intimately, with great joy. This "coming together again" is important, lest one be unduly tempted to turn to past sinful ways to quench the God-given desires of the heart for intimacy.

Summary: there is nothing scriptural about stating there should be "three months of abstinence" or "a hundred days of abstinence" as the benchmark to be attained when abstaining from sex within marriage. Quite the contrary, there are warnings about staying apart too long. It is presumptive and audacious for anyone to attempt to box God in by stating that a man or woman must fast for "x" number of days in order to be free. Jesus doesn’t give a time period for prayer and fasting, nor should anyone else. God may heal a person in a moment with one touch or one word or He may delay healing for His own glory. If He chooses to use brief abstinence, prayer, and fasting as a means of grace in one person’s life, it does not mean we should attempt to make it the rule for all. God is sovereign, and does as He pleases (Psalm 135:6).

Conclusion: because of the warnings in Scripture to not deprive one another, because of the requirements of fasting and prayer if the couple does mutually agree to abstain from sexual intimacy for a time, and because of the requirement to immediately come together again if tempted, we at Setting Captives Free do not recommend or agree with any counsel that sets any specific time period for the couple to abstain from sex within marriage. Further, because of the spiritually-dangerous condition of prolonged separation, we at Setting Captives Free, as a rule, do not work with students who are acting on the unbiblical advice to separate for an extended period of time. We are here to help men and women find freedom from impurity of all types, and part of the equation for finding freedom from impurity is for married couples to learn how to become captivated and intoxicated with each other. This is the God-given model for a healthy sexuality within marriage.

SCF Staff

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