The most damaging belief we found on our survey of 20,000 women was the obligation sex message.
Getting married believing that a wife was obligated to give her husband sex when he wanted it resulted in much higher rates of sexual pain, lower orgasm rates, and lower marital and sexual satisfaction.
On our survey for our book The Great Sex Rescue, we found that 39% of women believed this when they were married, and 21% believe it now.
But we still wanted to know: what happens when men believe it?
Well, we now have the answer. And this month on the blog I’m sharing some of our new stats, or having a “number of the day” to lift up the curtains on what’s happening in evangelical bedrooms!
So how many men believe the obligation sex message today?
So not too big a discrepancy with how many women believe it today!
Interestingly, the belief that “lust is every man’s battle” and “a woman should have frequent sex to keep her husband from watching porn” had a bigger discrepancy between men and women. You can find out more on our Evangelical Sex Report Card, available when you pre-order The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, or The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, or both!
As Joanna dug down deeper into the obligation sex message and its effects, we found two big things I’d like to share with you today.
1. The obligation sex message heightens and augments the negative effects of porn.
In fact, as Andrew Bauman says, the obligation sex message is heavily related to the pornified style of relating. When men believe the obligation sex message and that women should have sex to keep them from watching porn, then watching porn has far more of a negative effect on your marriage than if a guy watches porn but does not believe these things. It’s the pornified style of relating that is actually at the root of the harm that porn does.
2. The obligation sex message, when believed by men, does not have quite the negative effects as it does if believed by women.
In a way, this makes sense. The obligation sex message erases a woman’s needs, and even erases her. If he has the right to use her whenever he wants, then she no longer matters. She is just a body. It’s understandable how traumatic that would be for a woman.
What we’d expect, then, is that the negative effects from this message, if believed by men, would show up more on the questions relating to the quality of his relationship. So she would orgasm less; they would feel less marital satisfaction; he wouldn’t feel as close to her.
And that certainly is true (and you can see more about this in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and in our Evangelical Sex Report Card!).
However, the effect is not as dramatic as it is when she’s the one who believes it.
I’d love to dive into why sometime later in a matched pair survey, where we can get a more accurate picture of individual couples.
But for now, can I just give you my theory about why him believing the obligation sex message doesn’t have as bad effects?
I think it’s because fewer men than women judge the quality of their marriage based on emotional connection, and more judge it based on the frequency of sex.
So if sex is happening, it’s assumed that the marriage is fine.
So many men have written me saying, “out of the blue she told me that she was leaving!”, or “out of the blue she cut me off from sex!”, but then they proceed to tell stories of how their wives were unhappy for years, but he didn’t realize that this was serious.
We included one such anecdote in The Great Sex Rescue (and I’m going to include a big excerpt here because it’s especially relevant):
But then there are cases when sexlessness is the natural conse- quence of an emotionally unhealthy marriage. For instance, one man wrote in to our blog with this question:
As a husband, I got more wrong than right. Mismanaged finances, anger outbursts, failure to listen to her. Ugly arguments in spades, overwhelmingly caused by me. She warned me for years this was all taking a toll on her. Several years ago she stopped having sex with me. In hindsight, I view it as the day our marriage ended.
For several years there was 100% zero sexual contact. That period was marked by vicious arguments instigated by me wanting sex. Although she had warned for some time she may do this, it still seemed to me as if she just woke up one day and declared no more sex. She has since told me it was either withdraw physically and emotionally or divorce. My moods/temperament since then have been bad. She told me how she felt like she had to walk on eggshells around me.
Two years ago, after several years of no sex, I began making a concerted effort to improve my disposition. She began allowing me to touch her again. No intercourse, but she would give me an orgasm.
At her request our sex life currently consists of me asking her for sex, and her deciding over the next few days whether she will. Believing our marriage needed something drastic, a few months ago I confessed in vivid detail my failings as her husband. I surrendered my life to her and promised to serve her for the rest of my days. I clean the kitchen after dinner, I give her massages, I bring her her favourite drinks the way she likes them. Serving her makes me feel closer to her.
Things were going well until Saturday when I randomly asked her for sex. It was awkward, and nothing happened. The next day she offered but her body language made it clear it was “let’s get it over with so you leave me alone.” I said I do not want it like that. I asked her if she got any mental or emotional joy out of giving me an orgasm. Her response: “No.” I want to feel intimate and close with my wife again, which, for me, does include an active sex life. When I try to talk to her about it, though, she gets defensive.
Let’s think about this scenario. He admits that he scared her repeatedly throughout their marriage, so much so that she felt she had to protect herself. Even though he’s trying to “serve” her now, the ways he is serving are all things he should have been doing in the first place, yet he’s still upset that she isn’t jumping at the chance to give him a hand job.
Many sexless marriages have, at their root, not a selfish refusal on the part of one spouse but rather an attempt at emotional protection. The way sexless marriages have often been framed, though, is that she is withholding sex because she wants to. By not having sex, then, we would assume that she’s getting what she wants. Logically, we would thus expect sexless marriages to be filled with unhappy husbands and more-or-less contented wives.
That is not what we found. While only 14.3% of women in sexually active marriages rated their marriages as neutral or unhappy, 63.1% of women in sexless marriages did. When you divide our survey respondents up into quintiles (five approximately equal-sized groups) based on happiness, women in sexless marriages are sixty-two times more likely to be in the unhappiest group than the happiest group.
For many men, sex is their way of checking in on the health of the relationship. If everything is not okay, and a wife still has regular sex, she could be reinforcing that she is fine with the marriage, even if she continually tells him that she is not. No matter how much she says she’s desperate for things to get better, he isn’t believing it because she’s still having sex with him. What our stats show, though, is that in the long run, she may not be able to sustain a regular sex life if things do not improve. So men, if you do not listen when your wife says there are serious issues in your marriage, you may find yourself, like our earlier letter writer said, with a wife who “just wakes up one day and declares no more sex.”
I think a lot of men have worse marriages than they realize, and may be in for a rude awakening.
Our survey of men for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, then, shows that these messages are harmful. But the survey also shows that many men may not understand just how troubled their marriages are.
For instance, we found that men overestimated how emotionally close women felt to their husbands during sex. And men overestimated how comfortable women were sharing their opinions, or asking for what they wanted in the bedroom. Men thought women were happier and more comfortable than they actually are.
So what’s the solution?
All of us need to understand real intimacy–that sex is supposed to be MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH. And when these elements aren’t present, we need to take that as a warning sign that there could be some underlying issues with the marriage, and correct it.
Many of us have grown up with the wrong messages about sex. We’ve been told that the main thing is frequency–as long as intercourse is frequent in marriage, then sex is healthy and the marriage is healthy. But that is simply not true.
We hope in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex to help men see God’s vision for a passionate, holistic sex life that is focused on true intimacy rather than entitlement. And we show how to build a healthy sex life not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.
We can do this, everybody.
We can change the conversation about sex so the next generation isn’t stuck in this way. And we can bridge the gulf that many couples feel by simply correcting these false teachings.
I hope you’re with me! So pre-order The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, and we’ll send you our Evangelical Sex Report Card, with even more findings from our guy’s survey.
The All New Guides to Great Sex!
Imagine building a great sex life--from the ground up!
What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH--with no harmful messages?
Welcome to the The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex.
Get them NOW!
And let's make these the go-to wedding shower gifts!
What do you think? Do men often miss the signs that their wives may be unhappy? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Number of the Day Series
- How Many Men Think They Do Enough Foreplay Even if She Doesn't Orgasm?
- How Many Elements are in the Sexual Response Cycle?
- What Percentage of Women Orgasm--but Don't Have Close Marriages? (coming soon)
- How Many Men Believe the Obligation Sex Message? (and what effect does this have on other areas of their marriage?)
- Can the Way We Do the Honeymoon Increase the Rate of Vaginismus?
- The Orgasm Gap and the Real Reason Women Don't Want Sex (The "Let's go to dinner" saga)
- Is Lust REALLY Every Man's Battle?
- How Many Christian Men Meet the 4 Criteria for a Sexually Safe Husband
- How Many Men Watch Porn? (And what are the effects?) (podcast)
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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