A little more on the “selfish wives” that say no.

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I firmly believe in a person’s right to say no to marital sex. 

Marriage is not a contract that binds a person to sex on-demand. I’ve made this clear in posts elsewhere (like here and here), and I’ve discussed this in other settings outside of my blog.

Oddly, some people really don’t seem to like this idea. In fact, almost every time I suggest that a person has a right to say no to sex, even to their spouse, I get similar responses:

  • “Well if a couple NEVER has sex that’s a bad relationship!”
  • “People who never have sex with their partners are selfish!”
  • “You can’t expect someone who isn’t getting sex not to cheat!”

You get the point.

It’s interesting, and kinda creepy, that these are the responses people jump to immediately when you tell them that people should be allowed to choose whether or not to have sex without facing force or coercion.

First up, what’s with the assumption that if people have the right to say no when they don’t want sex a couple will NEVER have sex?

There are situations where sex might be tough for people. Those suffering from trauma, those recovering from an injury or illness, those whose lives are ridiculously busy and stressful, etc. But these cases are not caused by giving people the right to consent. There are obviously other factors contributing to this lack of sex. 

If a relationship is made up of people who are sexual (believe it or not, some people are asexual and are in romantic relationships where they don’t have sex and are okay with that!), telling them “you are allowed say no to sex and have that decision respected!” is probably not going to immediately lead to “Yay, now I never have to have sex again!”

When people jump to the conclusion that me saying “people have the right to consent” is me saying “NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN,” I get a little creeped out and wonder about their view of sex.

It often seems to be based on this assumption that all relationships are made of hetero couples, and that the norm for all women is to not want sex. That women only have sex as a way of selflessly serving their husbands.  I talked about this a bit in one of my You Are Not Your Own posts. Purity culture, and sometimes popular culture promotes this stereotype that good girls don’t want sex, therefore making enthusiastic and non-coerced consent a necessity means the end of sex. In this view of sex, non-consensual or coerced “sex” is normalized, and even seen as ideal.  

And why do we assume that selfishness is the reason someone in a relationship would not have sex?

Again, there are lots of reasons why a people in a relationship might have a less-than-stellar sex life. Trauma, anxiety, busyness, medication that kills a sex drive, poor communication, non-sex related problems in the relationship, etc. Why do we assign motives like “SELFISH!”?

I’m no marital counselor, so I won’t tell you how to fix all those problems, but I will tell you that the solution is NOT “shame people into having sex even when they don’t want to.” 

These are problems that people in a relationship should work out with one another. They can talk about it, get outside help, think of possible solutions together, and if all else fails they can end the relationship. There’s no one right answer since all people and situations are different.

But there’s an answer that is always wrong: coercion and shaming. Telling your partner(s) they are selfish, disobeying God, that you’re going to cheat if they don’t, etc. is wrong and it is abusive. 

  • Abi Bechtel

    Ugh. Who are all these people who think it sounds fun to have sex with someone who’s only having sex with you as a sacrificial act of selflessness??

    • Heather

      Seriously…doesn’t sound fun to me!!!

  • Heather

    Thank you, Sarah, for speaking out on this issue despite backlash because this is definitely truth. Now I need to join you on the soap box for a second…How is it that saying no to having sex for any reason is selfish but shaming your partner into giving you sexual gratification is not?? SERIOUSLY PEOPLE. DO YOU HEAR YOURSELVES? This is NOT truth, and it is definitely not of God. So stop twisting His words to justify YOUR selfishness. It makes me sick…

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Great point!

  • Emily Frugalsworth

    I read a Christian book about how a woman should treat having sex with her husband as a ministry and take it seriously because it is a great way to witness if their husbands are not Christian.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      I’ve heard that too. Really strange.

    • Liz

      What. The. What. ??? That’s a new one to me.

      • sarahoverthemoon

        Mark Driscoll has actually made this argument several times.

    • Kristen Rosser

      There is some historical precedent to this, as it was one of the Reformation arguments for a married clergy. Having a wife was supposed to help the clergyman stop having mistresses and visiting prostitutes.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    Sarah, thank you! Our culture has unfortunately conflated eros and agape. We are bombarded with the message that without eros there is no love. If you take the eros out of a relationship, for a season or for good, there better still be a whole lot of agape left, for that is the foundation on which a healthy relationship is built. God is love. God is agape. And there is freedom and joy in that … as we dance through life together without the pressure to perform, to satisfy, to please on demand.

  • somaticstrength

    I think this might be based this idea I often heard growing up: women don’t want sex. Ever. The only context they want sex in is to have the emotional connection and emotional intimacy. So if you tell women that they have a *right* to say no to sex, clearly they’re *never* going to have sex and they’ll be selfish enough to expect that they still deserve emotional intimacy and connection. Because if they just have sex every time their husband wants to, then they’ll have earned the right to the emotional connection with him.

    The way most of the Christians I was surrounded by talked about marriage make me wonder how much of them really, really fucking hated their marriage.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      I think you’re exactly right about that

    • Eli

      The implications of the idea that women don’t want sex but are expected to have sex anyway to be loved really disturbs me, especially because I’m kind of asexual. How do they not see that that is rape and blackmail, and that by saying all men should expect sex (in narrowly defined marriage only, but still) even though women don’t want it basically requires all men to be rapists? I get that they seem to have trouble understanding the concept on consent, but what I don’t understand is exactly how they actually define rape.

      • somaticstrength

        Considering I’ve also heard arguments that if women were allowed to say no there just would never be any sex and the entire human race would die off, I’m pretty sure they largely avoid the topic of rape. “Rape” I’ve usually seen defined as “sex outside of marriage that happens to a pure virginal Christian girl who really wanted to preserve her purity for her future husband.” That’s when it’s seen as a crime.

        • Eli

          So, what about married women? Do they think rapists only target unmarried women? Or do they just avoid that issue too?

          • Korrine Britton

            They largely hold the view that rape cannot happen within marriage. Since the body of each partner belongs to the other, consent isn’t even considered.

          • Eli

            Right, I know that’s their view. I wasn’t sure how to clearly phrase what I meant; do they think married women aren’t raped by people not their husband?

          • Korrine Britton

            Eli, I don’t think that’s something they consider. I mean, if a wife has properly submitted herself to her husband’s protection (read: never leaves the house without him), how is she even going to come in contact with other men? The idea I got growing up was that rape happened as a consequence of a woman’s actions. Either she was dressed provocatively, or she was someplace she shouldn’t have been. >:(

            So no, in their tidy, insulated little world, married women are not raped – not by their husbands & not by other men.

          • Eli

            Hmm, well that explains a lot. Thanks for taking the time to reply to me!

  • Duane

    Well….in order to not twist what God says concerning this topic, it might be best to strictly hear what God has said about this topic from the Bible. First of all….the Bible doesn’t tell us how often a married couple should have sex, it does tell us that a couple is to abstain only when it is a mutual decision.

    In 1Corinthians 7:5 we are told, “Do not deprive each other except 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.” Okay….so to all who immediately want to get defensive and say “My self control would never be affected…” , be careful. The only reason I can see for God including that statement is because He understands your self control far better than you….and He knows exactly how the enemy works.

    So……..YES…… mutual consent is the “rule” for how often a married couple should have sex. The “rule” is that abstaining from sex must be agreed upon, and that even when it is agreed upon, it should only be for a short time.

    Look….sex should not be withheld or demanded. If one spouse does not want to have sex, the other spouse should agree to abstain. If one spouse wants to have sex, the other spouse should agree. It is all a matter of compromise. We must remember that our bodies belong to our spouses, as 1 Corinthians 7:4 tells us, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.”

    What can we conclude when seeking a truly Biblical direction? That obviously, the “sexual compromise” in marriage must be reasonable. If one spouse desires sex every day, and the other spouse once a month or less, they will have to lovingly and sacrificially agree to a compromise, a middle ground.

    If there is an insistency to want to broaden the argument, whether for or against, beyond what the Bible teaches should give one to pause and examine before God in prayer the real truth behind your stance. And in my humble opinion….then take that conversation to also include your spouse.

    There is no place for “shaming” or “coercion” in any aspect of marriage….and especially not in the “sex” arena.

    Let the conversation of your actions tell your spouse how much you love them….and choose to reflect the love of Christ towards you…..towards them.

    peace :)

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

      If one spouse does not want to have sex, the other spouse should agree
      to abstain. If one spouse wants to have sex, the other spouse should
      agree.

      This really does nothing to navigate the question of what to do when one wishes to have sex and the other does not.

      • Duane

        Actually…..it does….with the word compromise. Remember….my response was from a Biblical footing and could only ever be successfully applied by someone desiring a Biblical approach. Maybe reading it again….without any prejudice…..might make clearer what I was expressing.

        …..peace JarredH

        • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

          That is quite possibly the most condescending and hostile response I have read all day.

          • Duane

            I am sorry that you felt that way Jarred That was certainly not my intent or motive. I was merely clarifying that the solution I presented is merely one perspective, a Biblical one. There could be differing perspectives presented from secularism, witches, atheism, etc. etc. …. .

            You said that my initial post; “This really does nothing to navigate the question of what to do when one wishes to have sex and the other does not.” I believe, if one was seeking a Biblical answer the one I gave hit the mark.

            It takes a loving and caring compromise. I re-read my own post and merely thought that if you did as well then perhaps you would hear what I was saying….that’s it.

          • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

            I am sorry that you felt that way Jarred.

            You cannot apologize for the way I feel. You can only apologize for your actions. Your apology is invalid and therefore rejected.

            The rest of your comment is equally problematic as it assumes that your approach to Biblical interpretation is the only possible such approach.

            As such, I see no point in continuing this conversation with you.

          • Duane

            Splitting hairs a bit there Jarred. I am sorry that I caused you to feel that way. And the Biblical approach is the only possible approach that will answer the original question of this blog post. But of course, by all means, navigate the question any way you see fit. You never intended to have a conversation any way JarredH…..

  • http://www.dirtydiaperchic.com/ laura g

    Gotta love the straw man fallacy.

  • Denika Anderson

    Real men (and women) dig consent. Consent is fucking sexy. There is, genuinely, nothing my husband loves more in the sack than when I genuinely want it and am in to it too. Then again, my husband is the. most. selfless. person on the planet. But still. Marriage (or long-term relationships in general) is not about sex, it’s about mutual love, commitment, and respect. It’s about being closer to one person (or more, I’m not here to judge) than to anyone else. It’s about growing with that person and being twisted and tangled up in one another in places far wider and deeper than the bedroom. Otherwise, it’s just a slightly more culturally acceptable way to get off.

    Actually, I think I might make shirts. “Consent is fucking sexy.”

  • Kristen Rosser

    Yes. This. The concept of consent must include the idea that one can consent for other reasons than “sex is what I want right now.” Sometimes it’s “sex is what he wants right now, and I love him and want to make him happy.” We have to avoid the mindset that giving consent for any other reason than one’s own libido is somehow wrong. This is not the same thing as feeling we can’t say “no.”

  • Angela

    One more thing that baffles me is that often the cultures that permit or even promote marital rape often expressly forbid masturbation. I mean heaven forbid should people deal with pent up sexual frustration through a totally benign and healthy means. The idea that anyone could ever consider rape as a morally superior choice blows my mind.

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    Sigh. No sex for a season is such a normal thing. No sex for an extended season CAN cause issues in a relationship. Or, it can expose and expand on existing issues in a relationship.
    DH and I dont have a lot of sex at the moment. We have a 5 month old, and I had a difficult pregnancy and birth. For a good three plus months I was still in pain, and feeling touched out by the baby and really not in the mood for sex.
    My sex drive is (as is pretty normal I gather) still completely bottomed out. I could skip it entirely for a long time yet it feels, but its still nice to have that connection every now and then. So, I say yes, not very enthusiastically, but its a yes. And my No is completely respected.

    Compare that with our catholic friends, where the Dad has openly bitched to people outside the relationship about his wife not doing her “wifely duty” after the baby. When they are using NFP (successfully, their first baby was very planned, pregnant the second month of trying), and he refuses condoms, and they cant afford another child. (so she had to wait for well over 8 months to be sure of her cycle before they could risk it)

    But, he has “small man” syndrome, and is a very “woe is me” type person who thinks he is the light of the world and everyone is out to get him. According to his wife (my good friend), he is not the Dad he claimed he was (he had a child from a previous relationship that lives with them), and I suspect their religion is the only reason they are still together. Which is sad.

    And how on earth do you have anything even resembling enjoyable sex with someone you no longer respect? At least DH and I have that in our relationship, we can work on the missing sex drive :)


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