Here’s something fun: some Friday night, search Twitter for “Smoking hot wife.” You’ll likely find a multitude of tweets from pastors and church leaders who are going out on dates with their sexual attractive wives and announcing it to the world via twitter. Mary DeMuth’s powerful article at the Her.menutics blog at Christianity Today, “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife,” looks at the way this phrase has been harmfully used in evangelical circles.
Her specific concern is that it creates a false image of married sex life, an image that could be particularly hurtful to those who have been sexual abused. She laments the effects such language can have upon “Women with so many ‘godly’ expectations thrown at them that they’ll either break under the weight or bootstrap themselves, try-try-trying harder, experiencing burnout, and never quite living up to anyone’s expectations.” But DeMuth’s piece is not entirely or even primarily critical; she offers some thoughtful suggestions on how married couples can cultivate healthy, loving sexual union.
In response to DeMuth’s wonderful article, I asked the CaPC writers to offer their perspective on the use of this phrase among evangelicals. As always, the writers offered a diverse range of views that I think will help us think critically about our words.
My eyes began to well with tears and my face flushed in pain. They were probably on three different forms of birth control and still got pregnant, I thought. It was Sunday night at our small church, which focused on prayer requests and announcements, the most popular being the “we’re pregnant” announcement. It seemed to mostly come from young couples who coyly admitted that it was “unexpected,” which felt like a punch in the (barren) gut to me.
I was hurting, to say the least. After the months turned into years of wanting to have a baby, I couldn’t rejoice. I could only mourn. And how dare they giddily announce their accidental pregnancy! Couldn’t they see the broken heart inside my chest?
There were those who were insensitive and unaware that infertility was even a concept. Those who joked about getting pregnant from their husband’s sideways glance or who badgered me about when I was going to have a baby.
But mostly, my problem was I wanted my sorrow to be universally recognized. I wanted everyone to cater to my experiences and preferences while I catered to no one else’s. I wanted others to mourn with me and I wanted to mourn while others rejoiced.
Mary DeMuth is right to criticize the “smokin’ hot wife” trope – it’s obnoxious, no doubt. It tries too hard; as if marriage is one moment of sexual ecstasy and fulfillment after another. In reality, the sexual ecstasy and fulfillment is coupled with moments of sexual boredom, sometimes even dysfunction.
But to bristle at any kind of celebratory notion of sex is misguided. To ask that everyone only speak about sex in hushed tones and to dampen their enthusiasm so they don’t offend is akin to only weeping with those who weep. Graciously, Jesus also tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice.
I confess that when I saw Demuth’s article I thought, “Yeah, me too.” The only time I ever hear this phrase, or something akin to it, I generally hear it from a pastor talking to an audience. There are several reasons why this angers me, not only as a pastor, but also as a man who loves his wife.
First, it aggravates me because, frankly, I would expect that most men think that their wives are attractive. That’s part of the motivation for marrying in the first place. Not all the motivation, but at least part of it. So telling us that you think your wife is “smokin’ hawt” is not really sharing anything with the audience. It’s just dumb, and more than likely, we probably don’t think your wife is smoking hot. If she really is, we don’t need you to tell us that.
But that’s a minor quibble compared to why it is bothersome. It’s bothersome because it is a dumb way to show affection for one’s wife. Our wives are our partners, our friends. They are not simply objects of our sexual desire. I am certain that wives probably find it hurtful to think that their husbands joy in them revolves around their ability to stay “smoking hot.” It devalues the friendship and the covenant. And it sets her up for instability in the relationship. Why? Because we cannot stay “smokin’ hawt” forever. No one can. We all go from “smoking hot” to “old and wrinkly” if God gives us long life. What will they say about their wives then?
My husband was the one who pointed me to the post and told me that it made him “think a lot.” I appreciate DeMuth’s approach in this article, and I have long been a fan of how she talks about sexuality and abuse, and this post brought to light some of the darker aspects of celebrity Christians talking on and on about the relative “hotness” of their wives.
With conservative estimates putting 1 in 4 women being abuse victims, it is a no-brainer to realize that conferences, speakers, and sermons geared towards espousing a wild! exciting! smoking hawt all the time! version of married sexuality might not be the most appropriate thing. Sex is weird. Sex is hard. Sex is, a lot of the time, pretty amazing.
The problem with talking about it in such a general, encultured way (often pandering towards outdated stereotypes or infatuations with machismo) is that you never know where individuals are at in the spectrum. They could be suffering, cowed down by expectations being put on them. They could be having the time of their life, experiencing sex for all it was intended to be. We just have no way to know. I have grown up hearing this language, and usually shrug it off as a weird cultural tic, an example of compensation, over-sharing, or even just a general appreciation for their significant others. But the value of reading perspectives like DeMuths, as well as this excellent post by Zach Hoag, is that it has the power to identify what beliefs lie underneath our languages and postures, and asks us to think carefully before we use them.
I, to my knowledge, have never been referred to as “smoking hot” in public. I don’t feel too bad about this at all—in fact, it makes me rather cheerful. It doesn’t play a “critical” role in my life. The more I thought about the points made in this article, the more I realized that I would be deeply hurt if my husband addressed my physicality when talking about me to others. But he never has. And yet when he talks about me, it is entirely loving—but focused on aspects of my personality, character, and passions. When he talks about me, it makes me feel empowered: seeing myself through his eyes, I feel whole, complete, and encouraged to continue on my path of trying to be obedient to Jesus. How I look, my sexuality, or my husband’s prowess have nothing to do with what really matters. Beyond being glib and rather bro-y, this type of hyper-sexualized language only makes a handful of people in the room feel good.
Let’s stop pandering to them, shall we?
“Yes, but…” is, in essence, my thoughts on the whole “smoking hawt” brouhaha. First, I’m grateful that DeMuth called out the awkward trope of pastors bragging about their “smoking hot” spouses from the pulpit. For one, the phrase itself is tired and weird. I think we’ve all agreed on that. Second, it falls into the category of clumsy sex-talk that I’ve registered my complaints about before.
Still, while pastors need to be aware of those women struggling with sexual trauma in their congregation, the reality is that they have to pastor the rest of the congregation too. For a lot of them that includes men who already look at them side-ways when it comes to the topic of sex because they work at church, read books, and talk to people about Jesus and their emotions. Not a very “manly” job according our culture. They have to tell these men that sexual holiness, chastity, and self-restraint are good, in a pornified world that tells them these things are bad. And, they have to convince them they’re not just saying that because they’re prudes or inhumanly asexual.
Trying to gain credibility, sometimes they say things to put themselves in the normal guy category so people might think, “Hey, that guy thinks his wife is attractive naked and wants to have sex with her, just like I feel about my wife. Who knew? He’s a person and stuff.” After years of hearing that pastors need to talk more openly about sex, be more personal and human, they do, and it just so happens that it comes out clumsy.
I’m not really defending the trope at all. Although my students know I find my wife attractive both physically, and more importantly character-wise, I’ve never thought it wise to sexualize her in front of my majority male college group. I suppose I’m simply trying to say that not every pastor who’s used the trope is trying to heap shame on the battered, demean his wife, or cover for some personal sexual inadequacy or lecherous nature.
They might be just an average pastor, trying to seem human to their congregations.