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The sex-crazed Luther

Luther had some pretty crazy views about sex and marriage. For him, marriage is basically a medicine for the animal lust that is the human sex drive. The desire for sex is simply always sinful and marriage is given as a way to satiate that sinful desire in a somehow not sinful way.

This had some rather wild implications. On at least one occasion, Luther castigated a man who married a woman without revealing beforehand his impotence. Luther viewed the man’s deception as completely and utterly outrageous. Since he wasn’t able to fulfill his husbandly duty, in Luther’s mind he was not a real husband at all. Thus, Luther advised the woman to simply start a sexual relationship with someone else (though he did think she should ask her legal husband’s permission first). But he also said that if her husband wouldn’t allow it, then she should simply bolt in the night and find a new husband somewhere else (See WA 6, 558–59).

However, Luther was equally hard on the women who didn’t want to give out as much sex as their husband’s felt like (Luther advised sex at least 2-3 times per week in marriage, by the way). If a wife isn’t open to fulfilling her husbands needs, then according to Luther, “. . . it is time to say: ‘If you don’t want, then another one will. If the wife does not want sex, then let the maid come.’ However, this should only be said when the husband has warned her wife two or three times, and thereafter he has informed other about her stubbornness . . . if even then the wife is unwilling, then let her go and let an Esther be given to you, and let the Vasthi go, just as King Ahasuerus did” (WA 10/II, 290, 8–14).

There’s some marital advice for you!

I encountered this material through a book I recently copyedited, Engaging Luther: New Perspectives, edited by Olli-Pekka Vainio, forthcoming from Cascade Books. It is a very important collection of essays for those interested in Luther and particularly the direction of the “Finnish School” of Luther interpretation. It constitutes the first volume put out by Finnish scholars that examines the breadth of Martin Luther’s theology.


  1. I’m becoming a Lutheran.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink
  2. Paul wrote:

    Sounds like Driscoll to me. He regularly mocks the single guys in his congregation, and regularly extols the joys of all the freaky things married Christians can do.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, we better hope he doesn’t get his hands on this material.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  4. Aric Clark wrote:

    You beat me to it. I was gonna make the same observation. If your wife is frigid get a mistress? Disgusting.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, my thought was “And this is better than clerical concubinage how?”

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  6. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    Last I heard him speak on the subject from the pulpit a few years ago Driscoll thought Luther’s view of sex was not very positive for the reasons you outlined at the start of your post. Driscoll has already read at least a bit of Luther and about the Puritans on sex. He once said that a Puritan church subjected a fellow to church discipline for not having sex often enough with his wife. No particular citation of the case but he’s mentioned it from time to time. Still, it reminds me of a joke a Catholic once told me about Presbyterians and Lutherans on sex. So the joke goes the founders of both churches got together to discuss the prescribed frequency of conjugal relations. Luther, so the joke goes, said he had sex at least three times a week. The Presbyterians replied, “We’ll solve that. We’re making it a requirement.”

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  7. kim fabricius wrote:

    And then there is Lutheran group sex:

    “The tendency to make him [Luther] ‘respectable’ … explains why one of Luther’s most revealing and engaging letters letters has all but been suppressed. In December 1525 he wrote to his friend Spalatin to say that he would unfortunately not be able to attend his friend’s wedding. But Spalatin should not let himself be misled by the hidebound priests of the old faith in Altenburg because marriage was a gift of God. This was followed by an erotic passage, the second part of which was stricken from editions of Luther’s letters very early on: ‘When you sleep with your Catherine and embrace her, you should think: “This child of mine, this wonderful creature of God has been given to me by my Christ. May He be praised and glorified.” On the evening of the day on which, according to my calculations, you will receive this, I shall make love to my Catherine while you make love to yours, and thus we will be united in love.’”

    – Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil, p. 276.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:


    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    I knew he was a closet Lutheran.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  10. roger flyer wrote:

    Where’d you get the secret erotic edition?

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  11. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Too funny. I am currently writing a short paper on Luther’s view of Eve and I’m laughing at his views of marriage. Perfect timing, Halden!

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  12. Marvin wrote:

    Didn’t this have something to do with the “best man’s” obligation to witness the sex act which consummated the marriage? Only then was the marriage valid. I know they did this in Holland in the 16th century, and for some reason I’m remembering that it was that way in Germany as well.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

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