Sexual Healing in the Song of Songs

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.

When I originally envisioned starting a blog, sex was not high on the list of things on which I planned on writing. But here I am. Currently, I am working on a much longer article about a pivotal moment I experienced while studying the Song of Songs—I discovered that the word “desire” in Song of Songs 7:10 is the same Hebrew word used in the curse of Genesis 3:16 and also Genesis 4:7. Remarkably, these three verses are the only times this Hebrew word occurs in the Bible. In the process of working on that piece (which will deal with sex more indirectly), I realized I wanted to share how I experienced sexual healing in my marriage studying Scripture. It’s a key part of the journey I perplexing left out (and have since updated) when I originally penned my article Viagra, Vibrators, and Vulvas, Oh My! about being the higher-drive spouse. (Ironically, exploring Song of Songs with an ESV study guide also freed me from the chains of complementarianism, aka, “Christian” patriarchy, which I hope to write more about in my next post.)

So here’s a list of a few ways I benefited from studying the biblical Song using Jay Harvey’s ESV Knowing the Bible Song of Solomon study guide.

1. The female singer of the song initiated sex. The poem opens with her desire:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.

Song of Songs 1:2-4

Harvey writes, “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).

2. 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” (1 Cor. 7:3). (16)

3. God loves women (and a godly man loves his wife):

Even though women are often mistreated, neglected, and devalued, God lovingly affirms and sees the beauty of women. We are God’s beloved!

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

I liken you, my darling, to a mare
among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.

Song of Songs 1:9-10

4. The woman loves the man’s body:

“His member [male part] is like an ivory tusk ornamented with sapphires.”

SS 5:14 EXB

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 is more specific than most of the popular versions imply.

5. The bible acknowledges both male and female sexual frustration:

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. 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 unmet by her spouse and leaves her vulnerable. Scripture teaches us that a spouse will never perfectly be able to meet this need. Thanks be to God that he sees us fully, and through His sacrificial love, we are clothed in his righteousness. Both spouses are able, in Jesus’ power, to selflessly give to, receive from, and forgive one another sexually, even when they experience sexual hurt. Harvey writes, “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).

6. The husband loves not just her body, but the strength, complexity, and depth of his wife’s character. (She too finds his character desirable):

The woman first sings, “Your name is oil poured out [his reputation]; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers” (SS 1:3-4). The man echoes her sentiment when he exclaims, “You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me—” and spends the next five verses describing her face alone (SS 6:4-9), he’s celebrating the strength, complexity, and depth of his wife’s character. He compares her to Jerusalem, to Zion! (Harvey 14, 56).

There’s much treasure to be found in Song of Songs, and I hope to expound on other lessons learned in the future, but 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.

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