The teachings of the purity culture led me to believe that I owed my husband sex, that it was his due, and that if I didn’t give him sex, well, he would look elsewhere and I would be at least partially to blame. I was taught that men (unlike women) needed sex about three times a week in order to be fulfilled, and that it was my job – my duty – as his wife to do this for my husband. Or else he might, you know, cheat.
To give you an example of the messages I got about this growing up, let me offer some quotes from Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Helpmeet:
No woman really loves her husband if she does not seek to please him in this most important area. If you are not interested in sex, then at least be interested in him enough to give him good sex. (p. 164)
A wise woman gauges her husband’s needs. She seeks to fulfill his desires before even he is aware of them. She never leaves him daydreaming outside the home. She supplies his every desire. (p. 167)
God grants the marriage partner full access to his spouse’s body for sexual gratification. And remember, indifference is unwillingness. (p. 167)
God made man to need sex. He must be relieved of his built-up sexual desire, even if it means spilling his seed in his sleep. (p. 168)
A man is negatively affected by a halfhearted response from his wife. The poor guy is never fully relieved and therefore never feels totally satisfied, making him think he is a sexual pervert or something, because he needs sex so often. (p. 168)
God created man with a regular need fora woman, and God commanded the man’s wife to see to it that his need is met. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, and devote at least 15 minutes every few days to totally pleasing your man. (p. 168)
For a wife to defraud her husband of this vital need that God has instilled in him should cause her to tremble in fear of the consequences. (p. 168)
It is a man’s duty to walk in truth and have high integrity, but a woman who trusts in a man’s ability to endure all things, while providing circumstances to test him to the max, is a fool. It is your duty to fulfill his sexual needs. His faithful responsibility to you, and yours to him are both equally important, and we wives must give an account before God for our faithfulness in this area. I call it “ministering” to my husband. He says I am a mighty fine minister. (p. 169)
For a woman, sexual expression starts in her mind and heart. Love is giving up your center, your self-interest. It is choosing another’s needs above your own. A woman chooses to be interested or not interested in her husband’s needs. So when a woman’s first commitment is to her own needs and feelings, she is necessarily going to view sex as strictly a carnal experience, for then she does indeed have an entirely hedonistic outlook – her self-gratification. But if a woman views sex as a ministry to her husband, then it is a selfless act of benevolence. (p. 169)
Don’t talk to me about how uncomfortable or painful it is for you. Do you think your body is special and has special needs? Do you know who created you, and do you know he is the same God who expects you to freely give sex to your husband? Stop the excuses! (p. 170)
You got that? Men need sex, and it’s the wife’s duty to “freely give sex” to her husband. If she doesn’t, she is “a fool” and should “tremble in fear at the consequences.” And of course, if you’re not interested in sex, you have to “give” it to him anyway, and you can’t let him know you’re not interested. you can’t let him know that you’re not actually interested in sex – that would be a “halfhearted response,” and would leave him unfulfilled! And these messages weren’t just in that one book. They were all over. And often, they were sort of under the radar – rarely directly stated but constantly implied.
And so, when my husband said “do you want to have sex tonight?” I heard not “shall we hop between the sheets for some mutual fun and pleasure?” but rather “it’s been three days and I need sex, would you do that for me?” And given that I love my husband, there were many, many times when I said “yes,” not because I wanted to have sex but because I wanted to fulfill his need. As I’d been taught I was supposed to. Even if I had to fake it.
Thing is, as with so many things about the purity culture, this wasn’t what my husband wanted. My husband hadn’t given a fig that I was a virgin – it just didn’t matter to him as I’d been taught it would. And likewise, he didn’t want to have sex with me if I didn’t want to have sex for myself, and he didn’t want me to fake enjoying sex or to say I was up for sex if I wasn’t interested. And he meant that. He would rather not have sex on a given day than have me agree to have sex with him simply out of a sense of duty. And so, I added another note to my “Debi Pearl really doesn’t know anything about men” file.
Growing up, I ended up with the impression that sex was something men need and women have to offer, something women “give” to men. This idea wasn’t just there in the purity culture of purity books and purity rings, either. You see it in the cultural idea that men must pursue women, persuade, and finally bed them. The one is taking, the other giving. The one advancing, the other yielding. And perhaps because the basic idea is still present in our culture, the more extreme notions I was given growing up seemed natural and without need of questioning. My husband needed sex. I could give it to him. And that was my role as his wife. You can see how these ideas, whether in mainstream culture or in the culture of purity balls and purity vows, get all tangled up together.
Sex shouldn’t about someone “giving” and someone else “taking.” Sex shouldn’t be about one person “fulfilling” another person’s “needs.” This is the problem when people set everything up hierarchically and treat men and women as though they are so different neither can ever really see eye to eye with the other. We saw this loud and clear when Doug Wilson wrote the following:
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
You know what? Regardless of what Doug Wilson or Debi Pearl might say, my husband never wanted to “conquer” me or to have me offer myself as a tool to fulfill his needs. That “egalitarian pleasuring party” Doug Wilson so derides? That’s what my husband wanted. And you know what else? I know now that that’s what I want too. I wasted way too much time listening to the flawed messages of the purity culture that I was fed as a girl, a teen, and a young woman.
Seriously, don’t listen to Christian marriage advise manuals. They offer to tell women how to have perfect marriages by explaining just what men want. And in my experience, they get it wrong. Very wrong.
Once my husband and I began actually communicating about this, I began to work on changing how I viewed sex. I stopped saying “yes” just because I thought I was supposed to. Now, when I say “yes” my husband knows it’s because I honestly want him, not because I think I’m supposed to “fulfill his needs.” Old thought patterns, though, are hard to kill. I still feel guilty when I say “no” to sex. But I’m working on it.
The longer I work at tuning out the messages the purity culture gave me about men, marriage, and sex, the better my marriage gets.