Are sexual desires inherently sinful?

Sexual desires are not inherently sinful. In the paradise of the garden of Eden before sin entered the world, God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18). In a perfect and sinless world, God created Adam with a need for connection with a fellow human. God then provided for this need by fashioning a woman whom Adam recognized as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). Upon seeing the woman, Adam had a visceral reaction, recognizing a fellow human with whom he could fellowship in a unique way. Genesis 2:25 records, "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." Being together and desiring human connection was nothing to be ashamed of and constituted no sin.

In Song of Solomon, God provides an intimate illustration of the love and sexual desire between a husband and wife. In Song of Solomon 5:16 the wife proclaims about her husband, "he is altogether desirable." Later in Song of Solomon 7:10 she states, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me." Both the husband and wife feel sexual desire for the other. In the middle of this poetic ode to love, God pronounces a blessing over their sexual relationship. In Song of Solomon 5:1, the "Others" declare, "Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!" This pronouncement echoes what God said in the garden of Eden in Genesis 1:28, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.'" God is the creator of sex and He has blessed the sexual desires and sexual union of married couples.

Unfortunately, sin has entered our world and corrupted the good and holy desires God created, twisting them in ways God did not intend. The situations in both Genesis and Song of Solomon speak of desire within committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. Those desires are to be encouraged and indulged. Problems arise, however, when our sexual desires are indulged outside those parameters.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he explained that "if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9). Here Paul explained that self-control is necessary when it comes to sexual desire. The desire itself is not sinful, rather the way in which we handle the desire determines whether or not we sin. In fact, Paul reiterates, "if his passions are strong… let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart… having his desire under control,… keep her as his betrothed, he will do well" (1 Corinthians 7:36–37). The passionate desire itself is not sinful. The options then are to marry and indulge that desire in the way God intended or to keep that desire under control, refraining from marriage, and exercising self-control over one's thoughts and actions.

Proverbs 5 contrasts the goodness of sexual desire within marriage against the wickedness of indulging those desires outside of marriage. When speaking of the wife, Proverbs 5:19 says, "Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." However, it continues with a warning, "Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?… He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray" (Proverbs 5:20, 23). Sexual desire for his wife was encouraged, but desire for another woman was not to be indulged. Instead the son was called to exercise self-discipline. This same principle can be applied for any sexual desire we may feel. Misdirected desires can lead us into sin if we indulge them by continually thinking on them, lusting in our thoughts, or engaging in sexual activity outside of God's parameters. But sexual desire within God's parameters for sex is nothing to be ashamed about; in fact, it is encouraged.

Our sexual desires are ultimately meant to help us understand God more fully. God often refers to Himself as a husband and to His people as a wife (Hosea 2:16; Isaiah 54:6). Paul writes, "'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31–32). God passionately desires to be united with His people and for His people to passionately desire Him. Jesus prayed for this kind of unity in John 17 when He said, "I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:23).

The physical desire for sexual intimacy with a fellow human is meant to be an illustration of the spiritual zeal for unity with God that we're to hope for. Our sexual desires are meant to draw us closer in relationship to God, whether that is through relying on His Spirit to develop in us self-control, or through enjoying the passionate intimacy of a monogamous marriage that reflects God's passion for His people and their returned passion for Him. In this way, sexual desire is a great gift from the Lord for which we can give Him thanks and praise.

Related Truth:

What does the Bible say about sexual purity?

How important is physical attraction when looking for a spouse?

What is a biblical level of intimacy before marriage?

Does sex equal marriage? Are unmarried couples who have sex married in the eyes of God?

What does the Bible teach about marriage?

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