CTBHHM: Don’t Talk To Me About Pain!

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love, Joy, Feminism

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 168—170

We’re still in Debi’s chapter on love sex, remember. In case you’re wondering, there will be two more weeks of devoted to this chapter. Next week will cover a few more letters from fans, and the week after will cover “sexual perversions.” So, let’s get started on this week’s section! Trigger warning for abuse and marital rape. In this section, Debi explains sex and men’s need for it—and women’s “duty” to provide it—and it’s not pretty.

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. I Corinthians 11:9 states, “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”

Ah, so there it is! Women weren’t created to need sex. Men were. Women? Pfft. They don’t have built up sperm that needs release!

And you know what? I’m not a Christian, and yet I am again and again horrified by what Debi does with scripture. She suggests that since Corinthians states the woman was created for the man, and not the other way around, the woman is designed to meet men’s need for sex, and not the other way around. This ignores completely ignores the fact that Corinthians says that men and women are to meet each other’s sexual needs.

I Corinthians 7: 2—5. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but this treats the sex relationship as mutual and not at all one-sided. In other words, and as we shall see as we move through this passage, very different from the way Debi treats the sex relationship. And to be honest, there is precious little else about sexual relationships in the New Testament, so I’m really not picking and choosing here—Debi is.

And now back to Debi.

Men are all somewhat different in their sexual needs. If they are sick, tired, stressed, scared, feel rejected, or are even distracted by a big project, their sexual need may be diminished or even put on hold for a week or two. Healthy food makes a positive difference. Vitamins, herbs, and exercise all play a vital part. Men have enhanced sexual drive after excitement or physical exercise. If he is keyed up with success, he may have a stronger than usual need. Even the weather affects a man’s drives.

Okay. This seems fairly straightforward to me.

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. It is like eating a tiny snack, a little bit here and there, yet never sitting down to eat a big, juicy stake and salad. A good wife knows that the greater her response, the more pleasurable her man’s orgasm can be, and the more complete and long-lasting will be his satisfaction. When you respond halfheartedly, it says to him, “You have only half of my heart.” A halfhearted response from a wife can turn a sweet, teddy-bear of a man into a mean, old dog. It can make a man who is high-strung morph into an emotional jerk at work, home, and even at church.

If you’re not enthusiastic enough in responding to your husbands sexual advances, he’ll treat you terribly, and it’ll be all your fault, you hear that? Because really, that is what Debi is saying here. Notice that Debi says a woman’s halfhearted response turns her husband into a mean old dog and a jerk. The woman’s actions cause it. In what world this could possibly not be a bad lesson to teach, I do not know. Its message is “you better be totally into sex and not ever limp in your response . . . or else.

God created man with a regular need for a 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.

Fifteen minutes every few days . . . from the way Michael talks in his book, I guess I thought it was a bit more often than that. And what if a husband wants it more often than that? Debi’s made it pretty clear sex should always be enthusiastic on a woman’s part, so I’m not entirely sure why she’s now putting a time limit on it.

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. And remember, his entire ego is tied up in this sexual experience.

Oh no, no threats here at all! It’s just that . . . if you don’t respond to your husband’s every advance, and enthusiastically, you should be trembling in fear of God’s wrath and realize that your husband’s ego will be completely shot. Right.

To him it is the ultimate expression of his deepest love for you, the fullest measure of intimacy with you he can imagine. His entire body, soul, and spirit are caught up into earth’s “heavenlies” in this one act of sharing that love with you, the very measure of his person.

If sex is the deepest measure of intimacy a man can imagine, you’d think he’d care a bit more about making sure it’s genuinely mutual, and about not taking advantage of his partner. If love is to be “shared” here, again, you’d think it would go both ways and involve things like communication. Instead, Debi has painted a picture where men have sexual needs, and women are to fulfill those needs, full stop.

We ladies all have basically the same hormones. Over the last 50-plus years, my hormones have fluctuated some, but I have still been fully a female during all that time. Amazing, isn’t it? Through adolescence, marriage, pregnancies, births, periods, menopause, you name it, our hormones are always there, maintaining us as a female. For the most part, all ladies have the same sexual drives.

This bit is just a teensy bit confusing. When Debi says ladies all have the same hormones, and the same sexual drives she means that women are a universal as compared to mens’ more varied sex drives (back up a couple paragraphs). She’s not saying that women are sexual just like men.

Do you love your husband the way he needs loving, the way you were created to love him? If you don’t score high points here, you are providing an opening for your husband to be tempted by other women. 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 that test him to the max, is a fool. It is your duty to fill 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.

Yes, Debi flat out says that if women don’t meet all of their husbands’ sexual needs, in whatever form those may take, she’s “providing an opening” for her husband to cheat on her. Note again that Debi says the woman does this, by her actions. Yes, she says a man is supposed to still not cheat, but she makes it pretty clear that there’s a whole lot of burden on the woman to help make sure her husband won’t be overly tempted by an unmet sex drive.

There was a lot of talk in the comments on last week’s post about what should happen if one partner isn’t meeting another partner’s sexual needs. Everyone generally agreed that the couple should communicate about the disconnect, and that if one partner continually has needs the other does not meet, some options include an open marriage or even divorce. Obviously, this should be up to the individual couple, and obviously, some form of counseling may be called for in some cases, but I do think it’s worth noting that being sexually fulfilled is important and that marriage as currently set up is generally supposed to be the avenue for a married person’s sexual fulfillment. But what Debi is doing here is different. It’s completely one-sided and leaves no room for communication, counseling, or options outside of marriage. Instead, Debi’s sole piece of advice is you’d better have sex with your man and you’d better act like you want it. 

Anyway, moving on.

I call it “ministering” to my husband. He says I am a mighty fine minister. 

In case it wasn’t always clear, Debi views sex primarily as a way of serving her husband. It’s not that sex is never about serving, but Debi makes it completely one sided. It’s not about a couple serving each other, it’s about the wife serving the husband. And to be honest, I generally just see sex as a mutually pleasurable experience is often very intimate, not something centered on service—even mutual service.

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.

The reason Debi is saying sexual expression for women starts in the mind and heart is that she wants to insist that if women just act like they’re into sex, the feelings will follow. There’s a little bit of truth to that, of course. If Sean initiates and I brush him off, he will often ask “is that actually a no, or are you open to being persuaded?” Sometimes even if I don’t feel like having sex at a given moment, a back rub or some cuddling will change that and put me in the mood. Of course, in this case it’s not me faking it till I make it, it’s Sean helping create the mood. And of course, sometimes the answer really really is no and that’s that. And I should add, sometimes when I initiate he brushes me off because he’s too tired or in the middle of something or whatnot, and sometimes in those cases too he is open to persuasion—to my helping put him in the mood—but then, I’m pretty sure Debi doesn’t actually recognize that as a possibility.

But there’s something about these sentences that really bugs me, and it’s not the fake it till you make it bit. Loving someone does not mean giving up your center. In fact, that’s generally called codependency and it’s not considered a good thing. And more than that, I would argue that it’s hard to really love someone if you’re not firmly grounded in yourself as a person, or at least that the most mature love is that which occurs when both partners are also grounded in themselves. That said, love does include sacrifice, and being willing to put another’s needs above your own. Of course, this has to go both ways or it becomes a serous problem—and there’s really very little in this sex section that suggests anything about going two ways. Wait, did I say very little? I should have said nothing. Even in Michael’s book, it’s all about what you can do to get your little wife to put out, not about putting her needs above your own.

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.

Again, this makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s because of Debi’s dichotomy—that you either care primarily about your own feelings and are therefore selfish and carnal, or you care primarily about your partner’s feelings, and are therefore selfless and benevolent. Is it not possible to care about both your own needs and pleasure and those of your partner? Is there no way for sex to truly be mutual, rather than being either cut off from each other or one-sided?

She need not wait until she is stimulated to desire eroticism; she need only seek to fulfill her husband’s needs. I have a tip for you: when you make your husband’s needs central, you will get turned on to the experience and enjoy it yourself. That is the way God meant it to be.

In some sense, this is the only time Debi actually directly addresses female pleasure, and even then she dances around it, using only the promise that a woman will “enjoy it.” There’s nothing in here about orgasm, nothing about the importance of lube or foreplay to get a woman warmed up, no actual tips on how to enjoy it. There’s only the insistence that if a woman only seeks to fulfill her husband’s needs, she will have the side effect of actually enjoying it.

I should point out, too, that there are some forms of BDSM that play on this idea, the idea that one partner should utterly dedicate themselves to serving the other and that they will find doing so pleasurable or arousing. While their form varies, I’m especially talking about dom/sub relationships. It’s almost like Debi’s taking these BDSM principles and turning them into proscriptions for the “heavenly marriage” she says all Christians can achieve. And that’s just weird.

The principle is universal. Compare our Christian duties. We don’t minister to others because we are blessed—we minister to others because we want to bless them. It is completely incidental that the by-product of selflessly blessing others should result in our being blessed also. Eve was created to be Adam’s helper. It is not in seeking personal fulfillment that she is fulfilled, rather, it is in doing her duty to bless him, that a blessing is returned to her.

This idea that Eve was created to help Adam, and that therefore any personal fulfillment separate from her serving role is wrong, is a central one for Debi.

Hormones respond to stimuli. You remember the story of Ruth. She gave her baby to old Naomi to nurse. It is a fact that an old woman who has not had a baby in twenty years or more can produce milk in her breasts and be able to nurse a baby. It just takes the physical stimulation of the baby attempting to nurse to provoke her glands into producing milk. Even a woman who has never been pregnant can nurse a baby if a baby stimulates her breast by nursing. It might take a few days, or even a few weeks, but if she sticks with the stimulus, it will work.

I’m really not completely sure what the point of this is, except that it once again demonstrates Debi’s extremely literal approach to the King James Version of the Bible. And indeed, she creates a problem for herself—Ruth, elsewhere held up as an example of godly womanhood, gives up her baby to be nursed and raised by her mother rather than by herself? Just how exactly does Debi fit that into her view of proper womanhood and proper motherhood?

I will repeat a known medical fact: Hormones respond to stimuli. A woman whose heart and mind are focused on pleasing her man has hormones ready to be awakened to answer her husband’s desires. Before those hormones kick in and get active, a good woman should respond with great enjoyment toward her husband, simply because she finds joy in his pleasure.

This is really just more of the same. Note, though, that Debi says women’s hormones are waiting to be awakened . . . “to answer her husband’s desires.” Not to answer her desires, not even to give her desires. To answer her husband’s desires. And once again, even when she isn’t feeling it a woman should “respond with great enjoyment” to her husband, and “find joy in his pleasure.” Look, there are times I’ve had sex not so much for me as because I wanted give some loving—and sexual pleasure—to the man I love. I get it! There’s nothing wrong with having sex as a sort of gift to one’s partner every so often, but it should be done freely and not as a result of the sort of threats Debi throws up around women—and it ideally it should be met by one’s partner reciprocating in kind at other times.

And now we’re in for the last shebang of this section. It’s a doozy.

Don’t talk to me about menopause; I know all about menopause, and it is a lame excuse. 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!

Remember Micah’s wife? Micah complained that “she is exhausted, or has a backache or not healed right down there or whatever she comes up with.” Debi never addressed the pain Micah’s wife seems to have been experiencing during sex except to deride women for making “excuses” for not having sex with their husbands and to say that “her disinterest in him sexually is a reflection of her heart, and he knows it.” Well, here we see why Debi never directly addressed Micah’s wife’s statement that she was “not healed right down there.” It’s because she doesn’t think it matters if sex is painful. Saying no to sex because it hurts is just an “excuse.”

And then Debi invokes God—if God made your body and also made you to meet your husband’s sexual needs, she says, then he knows sex is painful for you and wants you to have sex with your husband anyway and doesn’t give a damn about your pain. This is where you really start wondering if Debi is okay with modern medicine in general. Why is it that she can’t tell women that if it hurts to have sex, something is wrong and they should see a doctor? This is also where you gain more understanding of just what a terrible, hard God Debi worships. 

Determine to find a way past your “Excuses,” and provide the pleasure your husband wants only from you. Your creator knows your heart. When you truly love and reverence your husband, the very thought of him loving the likes of you should thrill your soul and make you long to give him pleasure. If your heart is in the right place with God, you will focus on his needs and lay aside your own selfish, prudish attitude. The hormones are there, ready to be unleashed. Go to your husband with the intention of having a good time with him. A sober woman PLANS ahead.

Oh dear. So, if you aren’t thrilled by the idea of pleasuring your husband through sex . . . you don’t truly love or reverence your husband. Way to heap all the blame, ever and always, on the woman, there, Debi! It couldn’t possibly be that the woman has some physical problem that is preventing her from enjoying sex and that she should see the doctor for, or that her husband is a brute who only uses her body to gain release and doesn’t care about her pleasure or her feelings. No! It must be that she just doesn’t love her husband enough. Because if she really loved him, she would want to drop her skirts and have enthusiastic sex and thrilling sex with him at any and all times.

Oh, Debi. Debi Debi Debi.

You know, I actually feel like Debi has struck out perhaps most colossally in this section on sex than in any section of her book so far, with perhaps an exception for the Command Man section and the section on what to do if your husband tries to kill you with a butcher knife (stay with him, of course, and love him). This section makes it extremely clear how ill equipped Debi is to be giving any sort of marriage advice. Most marriage manuals written by evangelicals or fundamentalists today embrace the concept of female pleasure, and offer advice to both men and women on creating and experiencing female pleasure. Debi barely even gives it a nod. Indeed, for Debi, female sexual pleasure seems to come solely from creating male pleasure.

And Debi’s threats to women about the dire consequences of failing to have frequent and enthusiastic sex with their husbands . . . it’s like she sees a problem and then takes the exact worst path to solving it. Yes, it’s generally a problem if a wife has absolutely no interest in sex, but it’s not a problem for the reasons Debi thinks it’s a problem. Rather than actually getting at the reasons a woman might not enjoy sex—perhaps it is painful, or her husband is a brute who doesn’t give a thought to her pleasure, or perhaps her husband is zero help with the house and the children, and she is constantly exhausted—Debi instead simply commands women to commence having enthusiastic sex with their husbands, and to enjoy it.

This section has made me really curious about Michael’s book, Holy Sex. As I see it, the only good in this section has been Debi’s insistence that there is nothing dirty or wrong about marital sex. Evangelicalism teaches girls to say no, no, no to sex before marriage so adamantly that it can sometimes be hard for evangelical women to switch gears on marriage, and especially for those raised in the most conservative homes. Sex suddenly goes from being dirty and wrong . . . to being holy and right. This can create a lot of hangups for women who never manage to make that transition, and respond to sex after marriage with revulsion. Of course, Debi never really dissects this problem or offers tips for dealing with it, but she does address it and assure women that there’s nothing at all wrong with marital sex, and that’s at least something. My understanding is that Holy Sex does a lot of this, focusing on removing any stigma or hangup and assuring couples that hot and heavy sex is indeed a part of God’s plan, and is in fact holy. What I want to know is how it handles female sexual pleasure. It either doesn’t, reflecting the thrust of this chapter, or it does, reflecting a bizarre disconnect between that book and this.

I was given my copy of Created To Be His Help Meet at my wedding. The young woman who gave it to me was a friend from growing up, and is now married. She told me when she gave it to me that it was the best book on marriage she had ever read, and that it set the pattern for her own future marriage. I think of her often as I read through this book page by page, and this section makes me worry for her.

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