Is there any biblical defensible position for arguing that sex is for pleasure? Obviously this was not so to the early church fathers, but I also think it would be naive to miss that they were coming from a historical period where pleasure was rather downplayed, especially in looking at early christianity's relations with platonism and gnosticism. Is it defensible from a biblical standpoint those that do not want to bear children within a relationship (for whatever reason), but instead want to exist and experience relation and pleasure within a marital relationship?
Sex (within Marriage) has Multiple Purposes
Outside of the Song of Songs, the Bible does not go into a lot of detail about sex. Some knowledge of it is assumed for any adult reader. Bounds are placed on its use (strictly within marriage). The particulars and mechanics of it are never really described or prescribed.
Some Christians might argue that sex’s only ordained purpose is procreation (though even the Roman Catholic church has backed off that stance somewhat, since it even promotes a form of deliberate abstainance, presumably to avoid unwanted pregnancy). If the question about “for pleasure” were made more general, “Does sex have a purpose beyond procreation?” the answer is certainly “Yes.” If the question is “Is it permissible to have sex only for pleasure (and absolutely nothing more)?” the answer is the same (though one’s motivation might be open to self-scrutiny), though I doubt that it can be experienced within marriage and pleasure be the only result.
These relevant passages are taken from an articly by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:
- Gen. 1:28, "And God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
- Song 1:13, "My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh which lies all night between my breasts."
- Song 2:3, "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. In his shade I took great delight and sat down, and his fruit was sweet to my taste."
- Song 2:6, "Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me."
- Song 4:5, "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies."
- Song 3:1, "On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves..."
- Song 1:2, "May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine."
I don’t know precisely what you mean by “Biblically defensible,” so I’ll include some reasoning that is at least in harmony with the testimony of scripture.
Most will also point out the sheer necessity of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife in a healthy marriage. One of the first questions that marriage counselors will ask a couple seeking help is: When is the last time you were sexually intimate? This is because intimacy is essential to marriage. Two people will simply not stay happily married to each other if they don’t share intimacy. It doesn’t have to be sexual intercourse, but for a vast majority of married people, sexual intercourse is one important way of maintaining intimacy.
There’s no Biblical prohibition placed on sex for (married) people who are too old to bear children. I think it a fair assumption that even the people we read about in the Bible continued to be sexually intimate with their spouses beyond their child bearing years with no intention of becoming pregnant.
Sexual intercourse between a husband and wife is not strictly for pleasure. It is undeniably pleasurable, but sex has more purposes than just pleasure. Is it OK to have sex with your spouse without some higher purpose in mind? Sure, but know that other purposes will be accomplished whether you assent to them or not.