Sex, women, and “giving”

When evangelicals and fundamentalists speak of a woman “giving” in the context of sex, what they mean is that even if a wife would rather be doing something else, she should sublimate her own desires and have sex with her husband in order to meet his need for sex. I’ve discussed this a bit before.

I am terribly uncomfortable with this entire idea because I see sex as something that should be about mutual pleasure and intimacy. I don’t see it as something that should be one sided or one-directional, and I don’t see sex as something that is “given” (any more than I see virginity as a “gift” to be “given”). I’m not saying that sex can never involve one party pleasuring the other, or that deciding to have sex even if you’re not completely in the mood is somehow wrong. What I am saying is that sex should be seen as something mutual and equal, not as something one-directional or hierarchical.

Anyway, let me offer an example of this. I was recently pointed to a blog post called 7 Reasons to Prioritize Sex in Marriage. The woman who is the author of the blog, which is called “Loving Life at Home,” also writes “how to be a good wife” books. She starts this particular post with an image:

Note that the title is “Why Wives Need to Give Their Husbands More Sex.” This plays right into that idea that sex is not something both marriage partners need but rather something husbands need and wives give. (You can see how gay marriage does doesn’t make any sense within this paradigm.) Interestingly, the words “to give their husbands” are on a blue banner in slightly smaller font so that it almost looks like the title simply says “Why Wives Need More Sex.” Except that it doesn’t.

The images lists seven reasons why wives need (to give their husbands) more sex. Ironically, every single one of the reasons (better health, more youthful appearance, peace of mind, marital stability, clout and credibility, weight control, and amazing return on investment) are things that are gender neutral, and in fact I agree on every single point (rephrasing the “clout and credibility” reason, of course, to simply say that having a healthy sex life sets a good example for your children). In other words, the image should be titled “Seven Reasons Married Couples Should Have More Sex,” not “Why Wives Need to Give Their Husbands More Sex.” But it’s not. And it’s not for a reason – namely, that many within evangelicalism and fundamentalism see sex as something men need and women give.

Finally, note that “it’s fun” or “it feels good” is nowhere on that list. The list appears to be trying to convince women to have more sex with their husbands, but it does so by emphasizing things like health benefits, weight control, marital stability, etc. Nothing there about enjoyment, although I’m going to assume the author would probably say that women should of course enjoy it.

A couple more comments to make on this image. First, notice that the “if you don’t give your husband sex he might cheat on you” is neatly nestled in with the point linking a healthy sex life to marital stability. Second, notice that it’s a son who has to be assured that waiting for sex is worth the wait, not a daughter. Third, I’m trying to figure out how fifteen minutes a day equals a good sex life. This may be TMI, but if I spend only fifteen minutes being intimate with my husband, I’m almost certainly not going to be having an orgasm myself. That’s listed as an “average,” so perhaps it’s assuming sex won’t be daily.

One more observation. The post’s author follows the image with this text:

It should also be noted that when sex is pursued outside the context of marriage, many of these benefits are negated or even reversed. Promiscuity and infidelity increase your susceptibility to disease, cause premature aging, erode trust and stability in marriage, and promote unhealthy attitudes towards sex and marriage in children, to name just a few.

I’m trying to figure out how marital sex increases your youthful appearance, but extramarital sex causes premature aging. Apparently our bodies can not only tell whether rape is legitimate or not, they can also tell whether sex is marital or extramarital!

When it comes to sex, the “men need it and women give it” trope is huge in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. Yes, there is being more emphasis today on the fact that women are sexual beings as well, and more and more evangelical and fundamentalist sex manuals instruct the husband to pleasure his wife. But that doesn’t mean the trope has disappeared. Evangelicals and fundamentalists still believe that men need sex more than women do, and that they need it in a way women don’t.

Tomorrow we will look at one way evangelicals and fundamentalists use the phrase “give” to refer to the man’s role in the sexual context.

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The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    It’s odd that it would be showing a son instead of a daughter because when I was growing up the “Don’t have sex until marriage” was mainly targeted to girls because we were seen as the ones who had everything to loose if we did not.

  • Saraquill

    As I read this, I kept thinking that the pastel colors and cutesy pictures were a distraction, and I wanted to know the citations for the “facts” being listed.

    • Meghan

      I find that many people assume that if it’s published, it’s fact. Which is really disturbing to me.

  • Kacy

    I was wondering about the 15 minutes thing too. I value the quality of my sex life over frequency, and if the quality is there, I want sex more frequently. Suggesting that women have sex 15 minutes a day to look more youthful and stay physically fit makes it sound too much like an exercise program or a chore you do in order to stay healthy. Basically, this chart took the sexy out of sex.

    • sara maimon

      if sex is not fun and pleasureable, i doubt it would provide those health benefits.

  • smrnda

    I don’t know if there is any hard data that frequent extramarital sex will cause you to age faster, but it might just be that frequent sex with different partners might be tied in with a high risk lifestyle. So I grant there might be data consistent with this, but it’s got to be taking one isolated factor and implying causality when it’s probably not there.

    Also, the chart labeled “A neglected sex life spells trouble” there is NOTHING NOT ONE THING in that whole graph to imply that there’s any intersection between couples who are not having sex and any of the other negative things. I mean, a husband can have sex frequently, still complain he’s not getting enough and then cheat and a marriage can end in divorce, and he’s not even actually in the first bar in the graph to begin with. This graph is useless since it’s just giving straight quantities and not saying at all how they overlap – whoever made it has no idea what statistics are for.

    The thing that creeped me out was the idea that your sex life should give your kids the idea that it’s worth the wait. I mean, I’d be creeped out to know that much about my parents sex life. “Hey class, for show and tell I wanted to tell you that my parents have an amazing sex life. It’s worth the wait.” Ugh, just major creepy.

    • Attackfish

      Also, there was some study done, I forgot where, (yeah, great source) that said that almost all “death-by-sex” incidents, where someone has a heart attack in the middle of sex, involves one or both parties cheating with the other party on their significant others. They theorized it had something to do with the anxiety the affair caused. But that’s as close as I can get to the “extramarital sex makes you (look) old!” thing.

      Does this mean my parents modeling a healthy sex life for me will teach me that purity cultre is bull?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    The idea of sex as something that men need and women give is definitely not limited to evangelical and fundamentalist culture, even if they are more explicit about it. In fact, I think that that whole idea is one of the most important pillars of rape culture. It feeds right into the idea that sex is something that men are entitled to, it relieves them of responsibility when they treat women like sexual objects (after all, they can’t help it, we women can’t POSSIBLY understand how sex-driven the male mind is with our comparatively sexless ladybrains), it naturally supports the idea that rape results from poor impulse control, and it casts women who are highly sexual as deviants from an imagined norm–and therefore sluts, unworthy of respect.

    All of these ideas are very present in popular culture. I grew up in a liberal, sex-positive household but, while my parents let me know that they were always there for questions, they didn’t initiate a lot of talks about sex with me because they didn’t want to embarrass me. And I certainly wasn’t going to ask! I identified as a feminist from an early age but still I bought the idea that men were more sexual than women for years, all through my early adolescence when everyone was discovering sexuality. I questioned a lot of things but that was just so taken for granted by nearly everyone around me, my friends, my peers, popular culture, that it didn’t cross my mind to question it. And I also felt “abnormal” and somewhat ashamed for years when I realized that I had a high sex drive. It wasn’t until my mid-to-late teens that I started to question where this idea really came from, what sex-negative and misogynist attitudes contributed to it and what agenda it might serve, and begin to suspect that it was BS. My later experiences, as well as the experiences of those close to me bore that suspicion out. Now I don’t think that the belief that the male sex drive is inherently stronger than the female one is an idea compatible with feminism but it took me a while to get there and I don’t have conservative Christian culture to blame. Honestly, I would guess that MOST people still believe that, including people who are liberal in a lot of ways.

    As for “15 minutes a day.” LOL, maybe it takes more than that for YOU to have an orgasm, Libby, as it does for many women, but it doesn’t take longer than that for most men. (I say most, because I know there are men who naturally take a while, and there’s nothing wrong with that.) And, as this post makes pretty clear, its’ really all about pleasing the man here. Any pleasure we ladies get from it is just a bonus, but not required!

    • Sarah-Sophia

      I think parents who give in to the “Boys will be Boys” belief also support rape culture. The boy will grow up believing that he should be excused for misbehaving because he can’t help himself.

    • Louise Broadbent

      I agree with most of this and I do think it’s wrong to think a woman with a high sex drive is immoral but when a man has a high sex drive, he’s natural (suggesting that a low sex drive in a male is unnatural.) However, there is scientific evidence to suggest that, in general, men do have a higher sex drive than women. Here’s a link: I was surprised when I found this because I always thought the myth was completely unfounded but there does appear to be some truth to it. It could be that society has conditioned us into this (and that wouldn’t surprise me – there’s still an awful lot of ‘slut-shaming’ going around and you said yourself you used to feel ashamed of your high libido. In fact, I remember when I started masturbating and I definitely felt ashamed and like I was doing something wrong but I’d never have thought of male masturbation as wrong – that’s natural.) I’m sick and tired of hearing people talking about teaching their daughters that it’s OK to say ‘no’ as though it wouldn’t be OK to say ‘yes’. Teach them to make a decision and act on what they want.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Sorry, not convinced, any more than I am by any of the gajillions of studies seen just like this which rely on the self-reporting of data. It’s not surprising to me that men would report masturbation more than women would. You yourself said that you used to feel ashamed of masturbating but felt that it was “natural” for a boy. I used to feel exactly the same way! If I had been surveyed for this study as a teenager and asked about masturbation and how frequently I did it, I would have lied, no question. I got liberated, eventually. Lots of women didn’t. Shocker.

        Same goes for many other things. Men are going to self-report thinking about sex more often than women are because a big part of the popular view of masculinity is “horny all the time.” It seems likely that plenty of men are going a need to live up to that idea of Xtreme virility–I know, I’ve certainly known some. Likewise, women are going to be less likely to report sexual thoughts etc. for similar reasons as they’d be less likely to report masturbation. These issues are so sensitive and so tied up with gender roles and people’s insecurities about the extent to which they live up to them. So self-reported data doesn’t do much to convince me. The only way you could really rely on it, in my view, is if you surveyed a group of people who were utterly unaffected by any cultural norms and, of course, such people do not exist because people don’t exist in a social vacuum. The hypothesis that men are more sexual than women is, at the very least, untestable because it’s impossible to control for everything.

        I’m totally with you on this though: “I’m sick and tired of hearing people talking about teaching their daughters that it’s OK to say ‘no’ as though it wouldn’t be OK to say ‘yes’.”

        YES!!! I think a lot of well-meaning people do this because they are trying to teach girls that it is a good thing to set their own boundaries and demand respect for them and that they shouldn’t give in to sexual pressure. This is a good thing but, all too often, the same people neglect the possibility that sex is actually DESIRED. It’s like it never crosses their mind that a woman would ever actually reciprocate sexual interest without being pushed. That sure doesn’t help anyone.

    • stardreamer

      There’s an underlying assumption here that’s even nastier than “men are entitled to sex”, and it’s that “men NEED sex, the same way they need food or water or air”. And that therefore a woman who refuses sex (in a socially-approved context, of course!) is doing something really horrible, while a man who goes out and obtains sex in whatever way he can (up to and including rape, as long as he can say that she “led him on”) is behaving perfectly naturally and acceptably.

  • jose

    What I get from that poster: “Hey woman, if you don’t feel like having sex, just lay there, close your eyes and think about all these great benefits while he fucks you anyway! It may help :D”

    All those reasons are crap. The only reason ever to have sex is because you feel like it.

  • Rosa

    I’ll just note that #3 is plain wrong. Having FUN sex has all those benefits (I bet masturbation has a better balance of positives/negatives than coupled sex, too). Having sex as a chore has none of those benefits.

  • Eamon Knight

    Evangelical attempts to look sex-positive, while better than the old “sex is dirty” trope, gang aft agley due to underlying attitudes about gender roles and authority.

  • perfectnumber628

    I also noticed the disconnect between “why women need to give their husbands more sex” and the gender-neutral benefits.

  • Plunderb

    Those graphs . . . yikes. Hopefully her kids will have access to a teacher who understands how to interpret and display data at some point.

  • chris buchholz

    This poster attacks the symptoms while ignoring the cures.

    This completely fails to get at the reason women don’t want to have sex with their husbands, which is the exact same reason someone of any gender doesn’t want to have sex with their partner, or when they do they shut themselves off emotionally, etc: because of a fundamental lack of trust or connection underlying the relationship. i.e. there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    More sex is better? Sure I bet it is. But the answer to that is not to have more sex, the answer is for husbands to treat their wives better.

    It also makes the assumption that women have low sex drives and men have high ones, and that is the explanation for everything, which I am sick to death of.

    Because as a man, I can tell you there are plenty of times I don’t want to have sex with my wife because I’m angry or hurt, or if I give and do it, I am not really “engaged” emotionally or mentally. Advice like this minimize people’s pain and reasons for doing what they do, and don’t contribute at all to long term happiness. If I’m upset, or not feeling a lot of trust, more sex won’t make me feel better or trust more.

    • Rosie

      This is very often true, and very often ignored especially by purity-minded types. There are also other potential issues, such as a natural difference in libido between the two partners, or outside stressors (overwork, etc.). But honesty and trust and communication are essential for solving any of these problems; simply lying back and thinking of England–or perceived health benefits–isn’t going to do anything for either you or the relationship.

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    Been said a few times. Fifteen minutes is enough time to get a man off. That is the only thing that matters, pleasure of men. Women be damned.

  • Noelle

    Meaningless pie charts and bar graphs hurt my eyes and head and all sense of rightness in the world.

    Just because I have 2 X chromosomes, does not mean I have ever used or want to use Pinterest.

    This looks a lot like an infomercial for an exercise machine or video that promises to change your life if you only used it 15 minutes a day. Those usually have a small print disclaimer of results not typical or claims not backed up by the FDA.

  • Amethyst

    Assuming for the sake of argument that all the statistics in the graphic are accurate, correlation is not causation. Maybe happy, healthy people in happy, healthy marriages want to have sex with each other more often than people who are sick, depressed, and/or in a bad relationship.

  • Red

    This is all so strange.

    I will be the first to agree that, in a marriage, it is important for BOTH spouses to be aware of how high their partner’s sex drive is. If either partner, the man or the woman (and I’ve seen it happen both ways) has a higher sex drive, and wishes they could have sex more frequently, then that is something both people should sit down and talk about. It is something to be taken seriously, and you should consider how to reasonably meet your partner’s needs, but why is that gender-specific? Why does it have to be a function of guilt, rather than a function of both people being adults and being committed to each other’s happiness?

    And where’s the discussion about how the higher-drive partner can be considerate of her/his spouse’s feelings?


    • Makoto

      In any relationship where sex is a factor, the people involved will often have at least slightly different sex drives. Maybe it’s a long day at work and (the generic) you don’t feel like it, maybe it’s you’d prefer amazing sex every now and again over multiple daily sessions that just aren’t satisfying, whatever.

      It’s another one of those cases where I firmly believe that honesty is the best policy, and must be talked through as you say. If I’m just not interested, I try to say so, and say why, if I can articulate it, which is sometimes difficult, I admit. Finding alternatives is also a possible idea – other sex-ish behaviors, or maybe something like cuddling could work (it does for me), it varies from couple to couple.

      Sometimes the sex drive is just too different to work out comfortably, it seems, though I know a few couples who introduce a third party in that case (consented to by both original partners) because they don’t want the sex drive problem to drive them apart. It seems to work for those I know of, but I don’t think it would for me, personally.

      Of course, the sex drive difference is a good argument for pre-marital sex, so these kinds of issues can be figured out before one pledges to spend one’s life with another, just in case it can’t be resolved in a good way…

  • Lori

    What is it about Big Macs anyway? That is a crazy stupid comparison!

    • Noelle

      Americans measure everything in Big Macs, football fields, and how many times the size of Texas.

  • Awakingsleep

    I’d wager that #2 has the causation backwards – for any person, the healthiest, happiest version of themself is more likely to be up for frequent, mutually-satisfying sex. Not that you don’t derive benefits from being sexually satisfied, but seriously, good nutrition, not good sex, gives you glossy hair.

  • Sarah

    There’s a Christian Canadian housewife blog (I don’t want to link to it) that talks a lot about sex and women’s orgasms and clitorises (clitorii?) and it’s every bit as bizarre and creepy. Especially the advice about how to find out what turns you on – Don’t explore your own body, that would be sinful! Set an egg timer for 15 minutes and let your husband touch you wherever he wants. You may offer encouragement when he hits a good spot and hope he gets the message. Then change places and do the same for him.

    • Bix

      What’s with the 15 minutes? Is this the accepted amount of time for sex in fundamentalist circles? And why do they need to set a timer? Do they go back to doing chores when they’ve used up their allotted time?

      This also basically removes female agency. You can’t explore yourself, and evidently you can’t even direct your husband to what feels good–you have to let him touch you where he wants to touch you. When they switch roles, does the husband get to tell the wife what he likes?

      • smrnda

        Pleasuring yourself can help you pleasure your partner. First, you don’t have to keep asking someone else if something feels good and then you can come to sex with someone else prepared with this information.

        Also, don’t men practice through masturbation to avoid things like premature ejaculation?

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        If you’ve never explored yourself, how would you even KNOW how to direct your husband to do what feels good? I think the ideal here is that both partners enter marriage with complete ignorance about their own bodies and then have the other person figure it out for them. It’s just…so ass-backwards. How is a man supposed to know what to do with female genitals when NEITHER of you has ever touched them before? If I’d followed this advice, I’d definitely have an orgasm-free sex life. (Although I’m not and have never been married so I guess technically I’d have no sex life at all.)

      • Bix

        Yeah, exactly. The point I was trying to make is that this is the most passive way possible of approaching pleasure. The emphasis seems to be on the man touching the woman the way HE wants, and the woman (I guess) gets to either be docilely encouraging if she likes something or silent if she doesn’t. It’s very one-sided. (This might be an extrapolation because I haven’t actually read the article, but that’s the feeling I’m getting from all this.) The woman doesn’t get to be a real agent in her own sex life. And it’s weirdly regimented, with the timer and all.

    • Petticoat Philosopher


  • Christine

    Ah, as an asexual female, I now understand why i’m putting on weight! I’m not getting any sex!

    • smrnda

      As another asexual female, I should ask my doctor why I’m not on death’s door from a lifetime of no sex. The whole ‘sex will make you healthy’ is like saying ‘swimming will make you healthy’ – it will, but only if you actually like to swim, otherwise, find another hobby.

  • smrnda

    I’ve met a few evangelicals who were happy to have entered marriage with absolutely no sexual experience or knowledge. They had been taught that it was icky, and that it is super gross and icky to masturbate, so when they finally got married, whatever they did worked for them since it was finally a release and they wouldn’t feel icky or guilty over it.

    So, if you’re sexually repressed, the messages might work since you’ve been conditioned to care more about the Ick Factor than anything else.

  • mary

    “Apparently our bodies can not only tell whether rape is legitimate or not, they can also tell whether sex is marital or extramarital!” Awesome. Love it. =)
    I think I’d fall into the “any difference in sex drives along gender lines is socially ingrained, not biologically normative” camp. I love my husband, and we do well in this area, but my drive far exceeds his. This was a shock to me, having been taught all my life that men need/want sex way more than women. Also- um, I’ve never met a woman who had toe-curling orgasms and just loved sex whose husband complained about not getting enough. =) How about- if you need to think of health benefits to get through sex, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT. =) Having sex as a duty just sucks the life out of it- I prefer to have sex because I’m horny, bored, tense, or whatever because it feels good. And it’s fun.