What Does the Bible Say About Sex?

Excerpts taken from How & When to Tell Your Kids About Sex, by Stan and Brenna Jones.

The truth is that when most Christians think about the Bible and sex, they first think of the “don’ts.” This is understandable; the Bible clearly prohibits certain actions. This is where our churches often focus, and certainly the sexual prohibitions are important. In rough order of their appearance in the Bible, the actions declared immoral include:

Adultery: The sin of a married person having sex with someone other than his or her spouse is condemned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) and in numerous other places. By extension, sexual immorality or “fornication” is condemned in many places such as Acts 15:29, 2 Corinthians 12:21, and Galatians 5:19.

Incest: The sin of sexual contact between close relatives is condemned in Leviticus 18:6-18 and 20:11-22.

Sexual intercourse between husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual cycle: This action is condemned as unclean in Leviticus 18:19. However, most evangelicals see the prohibition as a function of the Jewish ceremonial law, which Christians are not under obligation to obey.

Homosexual intercourse: Sexual relationships between people of the same sex are condemned in such passages as Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:18; Romans 1:26-28; and 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Bestiality: Acts of sexual intercourse with animals by both men and women are condemned in Leviticus 20:15-16.

Cross-dressing: Men and women deliberately mimicking the other gender is condemned in Deuteronomy 22:5.

Rape: Forcing sexual acts upon another person is condemned in Deuteronomy 22:25-28.

Lust: Indulging inordinate desire for and using another person’s body sexually in our imaginations in a way that would be immoral in real life is lust and is condemned in Matthew 5:28.

But the Bible is not just negative about sex, and we would be missing God’s larger vision for sex and sexuality if we focused only on that. Scripture clearly commends or approves other patterns or lifestyles, though many Christians are less familiar with these passages. Specifically, Scripture speaks forcefully and positively about two patterns of sexual behavior:

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  1. Sexual intimacy in marriage. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” The marriage bed, sex between a husband and wife, is pure. It is made impure when the marital relationship is violated by sexual intimacies outside of the marital relationship, but marital sex itself is pure, commended, and blessed by God. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, the apostle Paul gives down-to-earth advice to spouses that they should meet each other’s sexual needs in marriage. Paul is a realist who portrays marriage as a supportive relationship that can help preserve us from temptation and meet our needs. God approves of marital sex.
  2. Celibacy, abstaining from overt sexual expression. Paul commends chastity and urges believers who are content with single life, not torn with temptation, to remain celibate for the sake of the greater focus and energy they can devote to service of the Kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 7). Paul’s words echo those of our Lord himself, who commended the life of celibacy both by his words (see Matthew 19:12) and by his perfect example of living a celibate life.


Sexual intercourse is God’s gift, given for specific purposes.

Scripture mentions at least four basic purposes of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife:

  1. Procreation. In Genesis 1:28, God blesses his beloved children Adam and Eve by urging them to beget children. This truth forms the foundation for a positive Christian view of family as a fundamental unit of God’s blessing. God made families!
  2. Union. Genesis 2:24 points to the uniting power of sexual intercourse through which Adam and Eve would become “one flesh.” Jesus makes this teaching the foundation of his instruction on marriage and divorce in Mark 10 and Matthew 19. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the apostle Paul teaches explicitly that even a casual sexual union such as visiting a prostitute results in the uniting of two strangers in some mysterious way.
  3. Physical gratification and pleasure. Paul speaks in a matter-of-fact way about sexual needs and the obligation of spouses to meet each other’s needs (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). The Old Testament speaks poetically of the beauty of physical love (see Proverbs 5:18‑19; the Song of Solomon). God does not shy away from acknowledging the basic truth that sex can feel great because God made it that way.
  4. Instruction. Through our individual sexual natures and through sexual intercourse in marriage, especially in our capacity to become “one flesh,” God teaches us about Christ’s love for his church (see Ephesians 5:21-33).

When we come to faith in Christ, God calls us to adopt an entirely different mind-set from other views of sexuality in our world. Christian faith invites us into a world where God has given meaning to our humanness and our sexuality and has revealed the core of that meaning to us in the Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. The Christian worldview is one of beauty, purpose, meaning, complexity, and depth. It is compelling. It is the truth, and it leads us toward everything that is ultimately good for us.

Christians believe that the world and our sexuality are not the result of random chance but of divine design. We live in a world that bears the imprint of its Creator across its entire spectrum. The crown of that creation is humanity. No part of the creation is as deliberately and deeply marked with meaning as men and women. Sex and sexuality, rather than being meaningless, are a key aspect of what it means to be created in the image of God.

In being made men and women who inevitably feel the urge for union with another whom we love, we learn experientially that we are incomplete in ourselves and that we need union with another who is “an other” (male to female, female to male) to be truly ourselves. And praise God, because we are made in his image, we believe love is real and can endure. Yet no marriage, no matter how wonderful, ever fully satisfies our need for completion. Through our sexuality, we are directed beyond ourselves to God for that completion.

Christian marriages teach the world about God’s love for his people by serving as earthly models of this heavenly truth (see Ephesians 5:25-33). Similarly, godly singleness models the way in which individual human beings reflect the image of God and serve the world by standing as witnesses of the true meaning of faithfulness to Christ.

These truths together give us the following meaningful answers to the two critical components of the “Why is it wrong?” question:

“What does sex mean?” Sex is not meant for casual pleasure. Sex has intrinsic and powerful meaning: It creates a one-flesh union; it is a major ingredient of the glue that is intended and designed to bond one man and one woman together for life. Sexual union is meant as a unifying agent in a beautiful lifelong marriage. But love itself is deeper and more real than sex, and so we believe in marriages that are real, permanent, and profound unions in which two become one flesh!

“Why does the Bible say that sex outside of marriage is wrong?” Because it is a misuse of one of God’s most precious gifts, one that demeans and insults the intention of the gift (not to mention the Gift-Giver as well) and hurts more than helps us. What we all truly want in our hearts is not just good sex, but real love. Real love is rooted in faithfulness; sex outside of marriage betrays the real love we all really want.




You’ve been reading curated excerpts from How & When to Tell Your Kids about Sex, by Stan and Brenna Jones. This book is the parent’s guide to the God’s Design for Sex series; the best-selling, award winning series helps kids and parents navigate the often difficult topic with age-appropriate context and language, and with Biblical truth.