Did God make sex primarily for husbands? Are wives supposed to be quasi-sexual slaves?
I’d say, “absolutely not, that’s absurd!” But this week that view crept up again.
I wrote a post on Monday about what to do if there’s one part of your body that your husband likes sexually that you just can’t stand him touching. Perhaps you have pain, or flashbacks from abuse, or something else that makes it creepy. I talked about finding compromise while working on the root issue. If anything, I thought I’d get some grief from people saying, “If there’s something she doesn’t like, he has to live with it.” And I did get a bit of that.
But the commenters who said, “the husband has authority over her body, so she has no right to deny him that” really surprised me. I let a few of those comments through; several men left incredibly disgusting ones, while still claiming to be Christian, and I deleted those ones.
It’s similar to the comments I got in this series of posts about how it’s okay for a woman to say, “I need to wait 6 weeks after childbirth”, or “not during my period.” I had several men saying the waiting six weeks wasn’t justified because it wasn’t “by mutual consent”.
This astounds me. I thought that we were beyond that. But because we obviously aren’t, I want to address this view today. I know that this is a fringe view, and that 95% of you reading this would find it abhorrent. But the underlying philosophy behind it–that women were created primarily to serve men–is still prevalent, and it needs to be debunked.
So let’s jump in.
My critique here is from both Thought #5–I’m not in competition with my husband; we’re aiming for oneness instead–and Thought #8–Making love is not the same thing as having sex–from my new book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.
No passage is as absolutely clear about the mutuality aspect of sex than 1 Corinthians 7.
My commenters used it to say, “she has to do everything he wants, regardless of her feelings,” but a clear reading of the passage shows that this is not what Paul meant.
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Look how many times “mutual” is mentioned or implied. Every privilege given to men is also given to women. Sex is about “us”, not him or her.
In fact, it is the WIFE’S sexual concerns that are mentioned first. “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife” is the starting point of this passage.
And if the wife has authority over the husband’s body, that means that she can also ask him not to use it in a way that denigrates her.
Nevertheless, some people insist on reading this to mean that women can never say no to anything a husband wants. I even read a post written by a man recently arguing that there is no such thing as marital rape, because of the husband’s authority over the wife’s body.
So what does this idea do–this idea that sex is primarily for him? Let’s look at it together.
It Denigrates Women
If you believe that a wife should give a husband sexually whatever he wants whenever he wants, even if it causes the wife trauma of some sort, then you are saying:
His momentary pleasure is more important than her psychological, sexual, or emotional pain.
Do you know what that reminds me of? The ethos behind pornography. Porn says: a man’s sexual release is the only important thing, and he can use whoever he wants however he wants to get that. Porn celebrates men using women as they want for their own pleasure, without regard for the woman’s well-being.
We have a serious problem if we are using Scripture to encourage people to view women the way that the porn industry sees women.
It Denigrates Marriage
What I was arguing in the article was this:
Both spouses have legitimate needs. So let’s see how she can find ways to meet his needs as much as she can, while she also maintains some boundaries for her own emotional health and works on her issues.
Let’s have the wife giving to the husband, and the husband giving to the wife, and let’s have them working towards real intimacy and health.
And then the commenters said, “no, she has to give to the husband, period.”
I was arguing for mutuality; they were saying that only she has to give.
One of the basic misunderstandings we have here, I believe, is mistaking the means for the ends.
What is it that Jesus prayed for for his followers? “That they may be one.” (John 17:21). Or what about 1 Corinthians 1:10, that we be “perfectly united in mind and thought”, or 2 Corinthians 3:11, that we be of “one mind”? And when we marry, we become “one flesh”. Oneness is God’s plan for us.
And how do we get there? We serve each other. We submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)–women to their husbands, while husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church.
The goal is oneness; the means are serving, submitting, and loving.
Some people read these “means” as very hierarchical. The woman is to do what the man says. Oneness is no longer the goal; having the husband calling the shots while the wife obeys becomes the goal. And this makes marriage into a hierarchical relationship, rather than an intimate, loving partnership where both support each other.
I deal with this line of thinking quite a bit on this blog, but especially in Thought #5 of 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. You can also read more about what submission means and what submission doesn’t mean.
It Denigrates Sex
One of the big critiques I make of our culture is that it makes sex into something which is only physical. Sex was supposed to unite us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It is not only a physical experience, and in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex I show how sex is really a spiritual experience, too.
However, if you believe that women should give men what they want sexually, with no regards to themselves, then you make the same mistake the world does. You cheapen sex, making it only physical.
And if you are of the mindset that women were created to serve men (as Debi Pearl argues in Created to Be His Helpmeet, for instance), then it’s easy to make this leap that sexually women were created to serve men, too.
For emotional and spiritual intimacy during sex there has to be mutuality. Sure, sometimes we can have sex just for him–there’s nothing wrong with a quickie, of course! But on the whole, sex should reflect a deeply loving relationship. If sex for you, though, means doing something that you hate, then sex can’t be loving. Sex is only one-way giving. That’s not mutual. That’s servicing someone. And now sex is only physical once again. You’ve wrecked the whole point of sex, which is a deep “knowing” of each other. You can’t get to that level if she’s in pain, if she’s scared, if she’s having flashbacks–and then add to all that, if he doesn’t care.
It Diminishes the Reality of Emotional and Psychological Pain
I sometimes think that these commenters don’t understand that people honestly can experience trauma and pain. People who believe as these commenters do see Christianity as harsh rules: you have to do this or else. Emotional trauma is irrelevant. It’s not important what you feel. What’s important is that you do what God tells you!
But that’s not the picture the Bible gives us. Read the book of Psalms sometime; David was in complete emotional anguish writing most of it. Jeremiah went through bouts of depression; so did Jonah and Elijah. And God never once said, “stop your complaining and just do what I said!” Instead, he gently talked to these prophets and comforted them and showed them who He was and that He cared.
God cares about your emotional and psychological pain.
And He doesn’t want you to go through that pain. He wants to heal it. And healing can’t be done by forcing it. I shared this quotation from the Eldredges on Facebook this week which sums this up perfectly:
Sexual trauma works like this: we are at our most vulnerable sexually, because during sex we completely bare ourselves, physically and emotionally. When there’s trauma, then, it sears us. And if you pressure her to do things that are difficult, you cement in her mind that sex is a negative, horrible experience. If a woman has vaginismus pain during sex), for instance, and you tell her she has no right to refuse, and she has to “let him” have intercourse several times a week (or everyday), and the whole time she is crying, then she is associating pain, degradation, and fear with sex. Not only is it just physical pain; it’s also a ton of emotional pain as well. That makes healing so that she can enjoy sex and live life abundantly even harder.
Sex is Supposed to Be For Both of You!
Let’s do a thought experiment. Picture a little girl growing up in a family where she’s often dismissed and forgotten. She has an uncle who is drunk a lot who likes to feel up under her shirt. She squirms and tries to get away but she can’t.
When she’s 15, and he’s totally drunk one night, he forces her to perform oral sex on him.
She leaves home shortly thereafter, pulls her life together, and gets married.
Now, when her husband touches her breasts, she’s taken back to that drunken uncle. She feels panicky. She squirms. What she wants, more than anything, is to bolt from the room.
Now picture Jesus standing there.
I don’t like asking the question What Would Jesus Do very often because I think it’s become trite. But sometimes we need to, because we debate theology and interpretation of Scripture so much that we forget about the person of Jesus Christ with whom we actually have a relationship.
So picture that Jesus. Would He say to that panicky woman, “Your husband has authority over your body. You need to repent of withholding, and you need to gladly let him delight in your breasts from now on, whenever your husband wants.”
Or would He say, “I am so heartbroken that someone stole the beauty of sex from you. But I created marriage so that you can heal as you love one another unconditionally. Right now, love each other and comfort each other the best you can, but let’s really work on healing from this trauma, because I promise you: healing is in Me. And what I want for you, my child, is an abundant life and freedom. I died for that. Let’s find it together.”
Quite frankly, anyone who thinks Jesus would say the first simply does not serve the same Jesus that I do.