Yesterday we talked about what it means when evangelicals and fundamentalists speak of a woman “giving” in the context of sex – namely, that it involves a woman “giving” sex to her husband in order to fulfill his sexual needs. Well, I was recently pointed to an article called Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex which speaks of the man “giving.” It made me realize that this is something I’ve seen before. Let’s take a look, shall we?
First, note that the title of the article – “Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex” – suggests that sex should glorify God. In fact, I’ve heard it said before that sex should be an act of worship – not worship of each other or of hedonistic pleasure, but worship of God. (Personally, I always found that idea unsettling.)
Anyway, I want to focus on the article’s second point (the first is that sex should only occur within marriage, because that is the only time when sex is glorifying to God – outside of marriage sex makes a lie, because it is taking something that is a sign of the marriage covenant and performing it where no such covenant exists), “the necessity of complementarity.”
2. The necessity of complementarity:
God’s story is about the union of two complementary entities who fit together like pieces of a puzzle. God-glorifying sex requires the coming together of one male body and one female body. Physical complementarity is a necessity. The parallel images I sketched out in my last post demonstrate why.
Which brings up a critical point: Complementarians believe that the physical differences between male and female speak to who God created us to BE. They address our core ontological identities. Complementarity is more about who you ARE than it is about what you DO. If you try to reduce complementarity to a “he-does-this-and-she-does-that” list, you will get it wrong.
Parenthetically, if you’ve been hearing the word “complementarianism” and wondering what it means, the above is a decent explanation. Complementarianism holds that men and women are fundamentally different and that those differences both affect one’s role in life and should be celebrated rather than minimized. They often use the puzzle analogy. Note that the author of this article is trying to distance herself from straight-up patriarchy (and honestly, the difference is only a slight rhetorical one) by saying she’s not talking about a list of who does what, but rather about who you are. As we’ll see in a moment, this distinction is pointless.
Both man and woman bring the totality of who they are into the marriage bed. In the act of sex they connect as counterparts on every possible level—physical, emotional, and spiritual. God designed the two pieces to fit. It’s the complementarity that facilitates a perfect union.
Though I hesitate to state the obvious, all heterosexual sex is fundamentally “complementary” in nature.
You can see how gay sex makes no sense in this paradigm.
So, is authority and submission an erotic necessity for God-honoring sex? No. Absolutely not, if you’re defining those terms as something a husband and wife “do” (for example, he’s on top/she’s on the bottom)—but in a way, yes, if you’re alluding to the essence of who they “are” as male and female.
Sex is the union of two complementary beings—a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give, and a female, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to actively and joyfully welcome and receive. “Authority” and “submission” are flat-lettered, black-and-white words that hint at, but are woefully inadequate to express the color, depth, wonder, and mystery of who God has created us to be as male and female.
A man is at no time more “manly” and woman is at no time more “womanly” than in the act of sex. (Sex as God intended it, that is.) His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t. Sex is where complementarity reaches its apex and is eclipsed by the “oneness” that ensues at the joining of the counterparts. It is the place where complementarity and mutuality kiss.
Remember how I said that emphasizing that complementarianism is about who you are rather than what you do is a sort of pointless distinction? Well, here we see why: because they believe who you are dictates what you do. Saying that men and women are to perform different roles in sex isn’t a check list, they insist; rather, men and women perform these different roles in sex as a reflextion of who men and women are.
Anyway, what you see here is a nod to Doug Wilson’s writing on dominance and submission in the marriage bed. Not merely a nod, really; it’s more of an endorsement. It’s a welcome embrace of the words “authority” and “submission,” and an attempt to explain any negative connections with this away by suggesting that these words are simply “flat-lettered, black-and-white words” that are “woefully inadequate to express the color, depth, wonder, and mystery of who God has created us to be as male and female.” You see all those words. Those are all just fancy words that say “I know evoking words like authority and submission in marriage and in life in general sounds bad, but it really really really isn’t we promise!”
Let’s look back at how this passage uses the word “give”:
Sex is the union of two complementary beings—a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give, and a female, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to actively and joyfully welcome and receive.
In other words, this passage suggests that in the act of sex it is men who give and women who receive. This is interesting because it seems on face value to be opposite to all of the other voices saying that men need sex and that wives have an obligation and duty to provide it. I mean, it’s saying that men are the ones who give! But just what does “give” mean here?
His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t.
Oh. I see. “Give” means “penetrate.” I suppose you could take it a step further and say that the man is giving the woman his seed, and that she receives it. This reminds me of the (fake) Bible verse Saffron quotes in Firefly:
On the night of their betrothal, the wife shall open to the man as the furrow to the plow, and he shall work in her, in and again, till she bring him to his fall, and rest him then upon the sweat of her breast.
I’m not completely sure what to make of this. When evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about women “giving” in the context of sex, it generally means a woman choosing to sublimate her own desires and have sex with her husband (out of a desire to meet his needs) even if she’s not especially in the mood. And yet when they talk about men “giving” in the context of sex, they mean penetrating. When men “receive” that means they’re being given the pleasure of sex by their wives. When women “receive” in the context of sex that means they’re being penetrated.
I want to be clear here that I know I am talking in generalizations. It’s much more common to hear evangelicals and fundamentalists talking about a woman “giving” her husband sex than to hear them use the terms “give” and “receive” to refer to penetration. And it’s also true that there is being more emphasis on female pleasure in evangelical and fundamentalist circles than in the past. Hopefully in the future evangelicals and fundamentalists will move towards seeing sex as being about egalitarian mutual pleasure.
But that doesn’t negate the reality of this talk of penetrating as giving and being penetrated as receiving. It’s not just this one blog, it’s the same sort of language that Doug Wilson and his supporters used. Interestingly, they seem to see it as very natural. The man penetrates and the woman is penetrated, the man bestows and the woman welcomes, the man leads and the woman submits, all flowing into each other.
What I don’t understand is, why can’t we speak of the woman enveloping the male? The language need not be one way, but I don’t think these particular individuals realize that.