The Duggars and Bill Gothard’s Sex Regulations

The Duggars and Bill Gothard’s Sex Regulations February 14, 2014

It’s Valentine’s Day, the Duggars have offered some tips for keeping the sexy going. Most of the tips are fairly conventional—things like date night and keeping romance alive—but the first two tips are different. What struck me about them is that they cannot be understood outside of the cultural context I write about here so often.

Here’s the first one tip:

1. Say yes to sex, even when you’re tired. Michelle says a friend gave her advice to live by before she and Jim Bob married in 1984: “She said, ‘In your marriage there will be times you’re going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day’s work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you.'”—she’s talking about sex, just so everyone’s clear—”‘Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.'”

At the time, as a young bride-to-be, Michelle says, she couldn’t imagine ever not wanting to “be available” for some quality married nookie. But with kids, she soon realized, exhaustion can easily extinguish romance. So she’s made an effort to follow her friend’s advice — and with no birth control and 19 kids, it would seem she’s succeeded. “That has been such a lifesaver for our marriage,” she tells TODAY Moms.

Seems to be working for Jim Bob, too: “We’re like a newlywed couple every day!” he enthuses.

Michelle is to always be sexually available for her husband. Note that it’s only Michelle who is to be available, not Jim. Sound familiar? It should. It’s straight out of Debi Pearl. It’s this notion that it’s the wife’s role to be sexually available for her husband, always, at all times, whether she wants it or not. If she’s not, after all, he may become discontent and begin to wander.

Of course, the actual solution to exhaustion getting in the way of your sex life is not to grin and bear it, so to speak, but rather to deal with the root of the problem—perhaps going to bed earlier, perhaps setting aside time during the day to have sex rather than waiting for evening, perhaps more sharing of chores so that everything doesn’t fall on one person.

Now on to the second tip, which is even more interesting.

2. But give it a rest sometimes. It’s not all sexytime at the Duggars. They abstain when Michelle has her period, and also after childbirth: 80 days before sex if it’s a girl, 40 days after a boy. (The timeline for abstinence after childbirth is loosely based on Old Testament traditions, but is more about what works for their marriage than about observing religious law, the Duggars say.) A bit of abstinence, they’ve found, does make the heart grow fonder.

“When you’ve missed it for seven days, you look forward to it even more,” Michelle says.

This one demands more explanation for the casual reader. I mean, what is this 80 days and 40 days thing? Why does the gender of a child matter? And what is with the reference to seven days—are Michelle’s periods seven days long? With my background, though, I knew what was going on the moment I read this. It seems that the Duggars adhere to Bill Gothard’s sex regulations, which are loosely based on Leviticus 12 and Leviticus 15—and they think you should too. (Bill Gothard, as you will remember, is fast being engulfed in scandal over accusations that he is a serial child molester.) Just what are these sex regulations exactly?

At his Advanced Seminars in 1983, Gothard introduced sex regulations based upon Old Testament commands. Under the session titled “Six Purposes, Principles, and Keys To Fulfillment In The Marriage Relationship,” he told married couples to abstain from physical relations: 1. During the wife’s menstrual cycle; 2. Seven days after the cycles; 3. 40 days after the birth of a son; 4. 80 days after the birth of a daughter; and 5. The evening prior to worship.

Interestingly, Jewish tradition actually encourages having sex on the Sabbath (thanks to Rachel Lazerus for pointing this out to me!). I suspect Gothard took the prohibition against having sex prior to worship from medieval Catholicism, which prohibited sex on the eve of receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist—this is odd given Gothard’s anti-Catholcism. It’s also worth nothing that Gothard is being very selective here. Leviticus 15 includes rules for male emissions as well, but I don’t see that mentioned. Gothard’s focus is all on rules for female emissions.

I often feel that a working knowledge of the Duggars’ subculture is necessary to fully understand things the Duggars say or write, and that I have that working knowledge but the general public does not. This is one of those times. At least now you know why the Duggars don’t have sex for seven days following Michelle’s period: because Bill Gothard told them not to.

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