The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk - Is Sexual Fantasy the same as Adultery?, part 2

My wife is quite overweight. I do love her. To participate in conjugal union, I have to visualize women other than her. However, I do this to be a good husband. Can’t a guy get a break for making the effort to please his wife?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Eric writes, “My wife and I have been married for over 30 years. We have a wonderful relationship. The challenge is that all this time I’ve made it a point to keep physically fit. But my wife really has let herself go. She’s quite overweight and not really very attractive anymore. I do love her and am in this marriage for the long haul. As you can expect, she enjoys conjugal union from time to time. Out of love for her I participate vigorously. But to do this I have to visualize women other than her. I know that Jesus encouraged men not to fantasize, claiming that it’s virtually the same as adultery. I get that. However, I do this to be a good husband. Can’t a guy get a break for making the effort to please his wife? For the record, I never demean her for her looks or weight, and I do not use porn.”

[Note: We are sharing four responses to this question this week, in addition to the three responses published two weeks ago.]

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Christ’s teaching regarding the man who commits adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:27, 28) is intended to show that the roots of sin lie not in the external situation, but in the corruption of the inner man. Those whose conformity to God’s law is only external and superficial are deceiving themselves. Our ‘striving against sin’ (Hebrews 12:4) must begin with searching our own hearts in the light of God’s Word (Psalm 139:23, 24). Christ was far ahead of His time in acknowledging that sex is as much mental as physical.

“For the record, women also commit adultery in their hearts. So let’s apply the ‘Golden Rule’ (‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,’ Matthew 7:12). Would you be pleased to learn that your wife is thinking of another man when you have sex with her? And does your wife enjoy the sex as much as you do? Or is she aware that you aren’t all there for her and her alone? It may help you to get out of your own head and into hers.

“That said, sex is a human activity, engaged in by flawed human beings. We cannot achieve perfection in this or any other part of life. You and your wife have much to be thankful for. Only you can decide whether to be content with things as they stand or work for needed change in yourself. Ask God for wisdom and grace to change what needs to change, ask His forgiveness where you fall short, and go on loving and serving your wife as best you can.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“As a Unitarian Universalist minister I am not concerned with the use of fantasy in a person's sex life. According to experts about 50% of adults commonly use fantasy during sex. We would all be better off if religions would stop making us feel guilty about our sexual desires, which is a natural part of a being human.

“I did find this question troubling however for a few reasons. Mainly the resentment towards and blaming of your wife for your actions. Regardless of the circumstances we are each ultimately responsible for our own actions. What if the question were, ‘I love my wife and I use fantasy, is that okay?’ Taking full ownership for our actions is the ethical response.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“If you are particularly concerned with what Jesus would have to say about your particular situation, when we look at Scripture, Jesus rarely deals in absolutes. The humanity of his rules of life invites us to live in the grey of our own humanity. To paraphrase Barack Obama in his assessment of constitutional interpretation, sometimes our holy texts can only take us so far when the trickiness of life circumstances seems to betray our beliefs. On the truly big arguments, we have to take context, history, and the practical implications of a decision into account. The authors of our holy texts have taught us how to think but are no longer around to tell us what. Although we are on our own, we are gifted reason and judgment—a divine spirit on which we can rely.

“May you find freedom from shame and relief in servitude of your wife, whom you very clearly love; may sex be a freeing and unifying act for both of you; and may you continue to find safe spaces to be honest and find wisdom.”

My response:

I can’t speak for Jesus, but I can speak from a Jewish perspective. Fantasy is not the same as adultery. I do wish, however, that you could see you wife as beautiful, regardless of her weight or any  physical manifestations of an aging body.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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