"But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control"This text is so straight-forward that it seems unnecessary to struggle with it. However, the premises set forth in this text are radically contrary to those our culture has been indoctrinated with. How so? For starters, the ground of Paul's argument doesn't lie in our therapeutic, psychologized views of person-hood. Paul's overarching concern in writing this text is redemptive. He begins the text with the temptation to sexual immorality. He ends with temptation to sexual immorality. Why is this important? Because Paul just said in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that "you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." He said in 6:9 that sexually immoral people will not enter heaven. When Christians fall into sexual sin, they steal glory from the One who bought them with his own blood. So sex is to be brought to bear in the battle against Satan. Intimacy isn't just about the needs of the individual. It's about the glory of Christ, and the race of faith.
The culture at large uses sex as a means to personal fulfillment, whether it's just the sensation they're looking for, or they're using the sensation to achieve something else (money, power, fame, approval). Children are raised to believe that sexuality is determined by the autonomy of the individual. They are encouraged to explore their own autonomous sexuality and come up with a sexual identity. They may be heterosexual, homosexual or trans-gendered. They have to figure this out in order to be fulfilled. In other words, whatever each individual does with his own body is right. Each person is a law unto himself. Anything goes in the arena of intimacy as long as one places no demands on anyone else.
Any demand placed on the individual concerning sexuality is considered an assault on his person-hood. So if a man believes he is best fulfilled through relations with another man, then it is an assault on his person to constrain him to heterosexuality. Who can tell a man how he should use his own body? He's not hurting anyone. By the same token, if a woman thinks her person-hood would be better expressed as a man, she can go through any number of artificial means to bring that about - and judgment of her would be cruel. These are examples of sexual autonomy taken to the extreme in our culture. I bring them up only to set the stage for my real point.
When we enter into marriage, we take our world-views into the marriage with us. If we've been raised with the belief that personal, sexual autonomy is a virtue, then we will find Paul's words in 1 Corinthians foreign, if not downright offensive. "Who are you, Paul, to tell me that I don't have authority over my own body? Am I just a piece of meat for someone else's consumption? My sexuality it mine, to use however I want, whenever I want, and with whomever I want. You can't assault my person-hood with sexual demands. No wonder our culture has finally exposed you as the male chauvinist bigot you really are. Everyone knows your words are going to set women's rights back to the stone age!"
That is the mindset that Christians must overcome in order to think Christ-centered thoughts. Perhaps you (rightly) have a problem with homosexuality and the rampant sexual freedom championed by our culture. Maybe you've never come out and said all that extreme stuff about Paul. But have you, somewhere in the back of your mind entertained such notions on a gentler scale? Do you hold the same presuppositions about sexuality that lead to more extreme views? Have you ever faulted your spouse for claiming his or her right to your sexuality? Do you have trouble thinking of intimacy as a right? It is very difficult to read a text like 1 Corinthians 7 and not filter it through the prevailing cultural wisdom. Have you fallen prey to a view of intimacy that shifts the focus from Christ-centered purposes to personal autonomy?