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.