I wanted to share specific ways I found sexual healing in Scripture as a woman raised in a Christian culture that overwhelming focuses on male sexual desire.
God works in mysterious ways. All references in this post come from Knowing the Bible: Song of Solomon, by Jay Harvey. I don’t overall recommend the study guide because of its patriarchal framework, but God met me where I was at on my journey. I was freed from some of the trappings of patriarchal teaching and found sexual healing during a deep study of Song of Songs.
1. The female singer initiates sex. The poem opens with her desire:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…Song of Songs 1:2-4
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
The Song commences with the woman’s voice. Jay Harvey observes, “The voice of the woman is given the place of greatest prominence… Song of Solomon begins with strong statements of the women’s desire for her…. spouse. The woman expresses her longing for the physical affection of her beloved” (13). The Bible gives “full place to a woman’s physical expression of her physical desires for her beloved. Although there are aspects of traditional cultures (both Western and non-Western) that downplay or diminish the appropriateness of female sexual desire, the Song of Solomon stands against such biases…. It is important that we do not downplay the goodness of sex as created by God nor adopt stereotypes of one kind or another regarding the sexual desire of men and women” (16-17). The woman’s voice begins the Song, and her sexual desire remains prominent throughout the Song. In the New Testament, the often abused 1 Corinthians 7 passage is as much about the wife’s sexual longing as the husband’s. Harvey writes, “Like the Song of Solomon, the apostle Paul also affirms the goodness of female sexual desire when he says that “the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights (7:3)”(16). The Bible celebrates female desire!
2. God loves women. (Good men will mirror God’s love):
Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect…
Song of Songs 1:6
You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.
Yes, the poem is a song between human lovers, but also, it is the Song between God and his people. In this world, women are often mistreated, neglected, and devalued, but God lovingly affirms the beauty, value, and dignity of women. Over and over, God’s Song of Songs celebrates women. Women are God’s beloved!
3. The woman loves the man’s body:
“His member [male part] is like an ivory tusk ornamented with sapphires.”SS 5:14 EXB
We’ve built our culture around the male gaze, and christians are often the first to declare women are not sexual. I highly encourage reading the whole passage, 5:10-16, but I think it’s worth pointing out here that in Song of Songs, the wife praises her husband’s body with a root word that may be more specific than most of the popular versions imply. This does not mean we should begin objectifying male bodies as we do female bodies, but we can recognize the husband’s body arouses the wife too.
4. The bible acknowledges both male and female sexual frustration:
I opened for my beloved,Song of Songs 5:6
but my beloved had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure.
Song of Songs chapter 5:2-8 acknowledges desire and frequency discrepancies in marriage. In this dream sequence, Harvey explains, “When the man desires intimacy, the woman cannot be bothered. When she is finally captivated, she rises to find him gone” (52). According to Scripture, both the husband and the wife experience unmet sexual desire, and it is a nightmare. Song of Songs does not ignore or diminish the painfulness of sexual rejection, nor does it teach that unmet sexual desire is a phenomenon exclusive to men. Harvey adds, “Marriage does not afford couples an uninterrupted stream of physical intimacy. Married couples live together as fallen people in a fallen world. Desires do not always align perfectly, and circumstances do not always provide opportunities for intimacy when desires are present. In Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works the fruit of patience in us. For married couples, this will include patience when one’s own desires are not matched by the spouse’s or the right opportunity. It is also of note that the man does not force himself on his bride. Sexual union in marriage should be entered into with the joyful consent of both spouses” (52). In her nightmare, the female symbolically experiences traumatic exposure of her nakedness because she, like all people, longs to be fully seen, fully known, and fully loved; her need is not fully met by her spouse and leaves her vulnerable. Thanks be to God that he sees us fully and knows the longings of our hearts. Through God’s sacrificial love, men and women are clothed in righteousness.
5. The husband loves not just her body, but the strength, complexity, and depth of his wife’s character. (She too finds his character desirable):
You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,Song of Songs 6:4-5
as lovely as Jerusalem,
as majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
they overwhelm me.
When the woman first sings, “Your name is oil poured out,” she is likely referencing his reputation, and she concludes, ”therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers” (SS 1:3-4). When the man compares the woman to Jerusalem and spends the next five verses describing her face alone (SS 6:4-9), he’s celebrating the strength, complexity, and depth of the woman’s character. (Harvey 14, 56).
6. Foreplay is an integral part of the sexual experience:
Until the day breaksSong of Songs 4:6
and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.
Because of our culture’s tendency to define “sex” by male ejaculation with female consent, many women have been sexually traumatized, even when they are consenting participants. Sex is intended to be a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual knowing of one another. Foreplay is an integral part of female arousal. A majority of the Song’s stanzas are dedicated to the Lover “browsing, gathering and tasting” his Beloved’s “every delicacy.” Like Christ who came to serve, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). If a husband loves receiving an orgasm, he needs to ensure his wife receives one as well. Generally speaking, for women, foreplay is sex, and the wife’s arousal/pleasure should come first.
7. The Song alludes to cunnilingus more than fellatio:
Let my beloved come into his gardenSong of Songs 4:16
and taste its choice fruits.
Since most conservative scholars like to interpret the poem in a linear, chronological time frame (I disagree), I find it ironic that they often like to refer to SS 2:3-6 among “the most sensual verses” in the Song (Harvey 27). Since the wedding doesn’t take place until Chapter 4, I don’t think those who argue for a chronological reading should use Ch. 2 to make their case for fellatio. However, the wife of the poem frequently invites the husband to feast (SS 4:13-5:1, 6:2-3, 7:2). Intimacy is the goal of love-making in marriage, and this will look different from couple to couple, but the church often tragically centers “oral sex” around male pleasure. Maybe it’s time to change the conversation.1
8. There’s much treasure to be found in Song of Songs!
I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.Song of Songs 7:10
The word desire in Song of Songs 7:10 is the same Hebrew word used in the curse of Genesis 3:16 and warning of Genesis 4:7. This word only occurs a total of three times in the Bible. I explore the significance of the man’s desire in Song of Songs echoing the woman’s desire in Genesis in depth in Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man. Studying Song of Songs helped free me from the chains of patriarchy!
1For more information on oral sex, I recommend this Bare Marriage article:
Can We Have a More Balanced Conversation about Oral Sex?
Patriarchy: Porn & Purity Culture – a reflection on my complex history with Christian purity culture
The Prude or Slut Conundrum in Evangelical Spaces – Did God design women to be less sexual than men? Or do we live in a culture that shames women to behave like prudes?
The Christian Couple’s Guide When He’s Not Up To It – The sexually higher-drive woman/lower-drive man dynamic in marriage is often painfully overlooked, especially in evangelical resources
Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man – I explore the significance of the man’s desire in Song of Songs 7:10 echoing the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16
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Thank you for this post. There is so much I could say to this conversation from personal experience. How freeing!
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