What does consent mean in marriage? And is there marital rape?

On today’s podcast we’re going to tackle a touchy topic. Two weeks ago, in our podcast about the book The Act of Marriage, we read the story of “Aunt Matilda”, who was raped on her wedding night, and then repeatedly throughout her marriage. But Tim LaHaye didn’t see this as a bad thing. He instead chided Aunt Matilda for not enjoying sex and for seeing sex in such negative terms.

In response, a commenter wrote this interesting thought:

The rape part is incredibly disturbing. I find it so bizarre that the church so rarely talks about consent – in fact outside of this blog I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon or Sunday School lesson or *anything* church related that mentioned it. I grew up with the “sex before marriage = bad!” talks in church, and I’m assuming that youth leaders just assumed that teenagers would know that pressuring others into sex or sexual acts was wrong because those were wrong outside of marriage anyway? I think that the importance of sexual purity and sexual consent should be treated almost like two separate issues and that the church should begin education around consent as young as they do sexual purity.

As I think about this it saddens and baffles me that that even has to be addressed. My husband loses interest in having sex with me if I don’t seem very into it, let alone if I was crying or screaming! How exactly do the “Christian” men who do this to their wives view themselves as loving or caring for them? How do they see that as laying down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church?

So in today’s podcast, and then tomorrow on the blog, we’d like to talk more about consent, marital rape, and the problem with “obligation sex”. Rebecca joins me for this one (and believe me, she got rather hot under the collar. If her shirt has collars. Which it probably doesn’t. But she got passionate, anyway!)

Listen in:

Let’s talk marital rape

We tackled three topics in the podcast: What marital rape looks like; what consent means; and why the obligation sex message hurts marriages.

In our segment on marital rape, we gave examples of things that constitute marital rape. We found in our Bare Marriage survey of 22,000 women, and in our subsequent focus groups, that far too many women experienced rape in marriage, especially on their wedding night. And yet they also didn’t have words for it, because we don’t talk about it as if it’s a thing.

Rebecca and I go into a lot of detail here, but you can read more in this post on marital rape.

Let’s talk consent

Sometimes the issue isn’t sexual assault, but it’s just simply consent. And here’s the point that Rebecca was making over and over:

You can’t truly say yes if you can’t also say no.

If you aren’t allowed to say no to sex, then you can’t freely say yes. And God set up intimacy so that free will is at the foundation. You can’t have real love, or real intimacy, without free will, which means the right to say no. 

You may also enjoy:

Let’s talk obligation sex

Now here’s the tricky one. When women grow up hearing that they aren’t allowed to say no to sex, or else their husbands will lust, have affairs, or else they won’t be good wives and they’ll be in sin, then that can really warp a woman’s view of sex.

We believe that sex is a passionate, mutual “knowing” of each other that encompasses physical intimacy, but also spiritual and emotional intimacy. That’s why God used the Hebrew word for “deep knowing” to describe sex, instead of just talking about it in physical terms. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, then, cannot be understood without a biblical view of sex. Those verses are not saying that you’re not allowed to refuse a husband’s desire for ejaculation (because ejaculation alone isn’t biblical sex). Those verses are saying that life-giving intimacy should be a regular part of your marriage. And that should be entirely mutual. 

We’ll be talking about this at length in The Great Sex Rescue (our upcoming book), but what we found in our surveys and focus groups is that believing that you have an obligation to give your husband sexual release is one of the most damaging beliefs to a woman’s sex drive and sexual response. It’s correlated with much higher rates of sexual pain, and much lower rates of orgasm.

And yet far too many books teach that women cannot say no (and we read a variety of quotes from them in the podcast).

There is a much better way of talking about the need for sexual intimacy in marriage–a way that does not make women feel invisible or used. And if we want to have healthy sex, we need to get back to speaking about sex in a healthy, holistic way, rather than simply an entitlement way.

Believe me–I am a huge proponent of wonderful, passionate, frequent sex in marriage! I’ve written The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. 31 Days to Great Sex is coming out again in August with Zondervan. I’ve created 24 Sexy Dares to spice up your marriage. I have a Boost Your Libido course for women who want to feel alive again.

But you can’t get to healthy sex through unhealthy teaching. And teaching that erases women’s experience and women’s needs is not healthy, and is not biblical.


God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

I also mentioned these posts in the podcast:

UPDATE: I just listened to the podcast this morning, and I wish I had said more that it’s also okay to say no if you just don’t want to right now. We mentioned it at one point, but I wish we had said it more. I talked about saying no if you’re in pain, grieving, etc. etc. because I was trying to be hyperbolic–“they don’t even give caveats for pain!” But I really should have mentioned that it’s okay to say no if you just don’t want to right now. So sorry about that!

Yes, sex should be a vital part of your marriage. But that does not mean you have to say yes every single time your spouse wants it, because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. What God wants is for HEALTHY sexuality to be a vital part of your marriage, which means a mutual, passionate, “knowing” of each other. It doesn’t mean that your desires don’t matter. So I wanted to reiterate that here!

What do you think? How can we talk about consent in a healthier way? Why do we not talk about it in church? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Obligation Sex Debunking Posts

Some posts that have also dealt with obligation sex and coercion

And check out The Great Sex Rescue--with two chapters looking at where the obligation sex message has been taught, what our survey of 20,000 women told us about how it affected us, and what we should teach instead.

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