Lori Alexander is at it again. This time, she’s more directly addressing criticism from individuals like me, who have argued that her advice to women comes dangerously close to an endorsement of marital rape—the idea that a husband has the right to have intercourse with his wife whether she wants it or not, because she’s his wife.
Her response? There is no such thing as marital rape.
On her blog, Lori posted an exchange between several different commenters on her facebook page, in response to a video she recorded. Lori calls Christiana’s responses, in this facebook discussion, “a breath of fresh air, and writes that it’s “wonderful to read the words of a wise woman who isn’t influenced by the feminist thought that pervades even the churches today.” In other words, Lori agrees with Christiana’s comments.
And just what does Christiana say?
“According to our current culture, at least, whether or not sex is rape is determined solely by whether or not there was consent. What is consent in marriage (or out of it, for that matter)?
“Clearly, it cannot be a specific, ‘Yes, I will have sex with you’– are you going to tell me that you expect married couples to give explicit ‘consent’ in that way every time they have sex? Hah! Of course not. That would be stiff, weird, and ruins the moment entirely. And by that definition, every married couple who has ever had spontaneous sex without stated agreement has engaged in rape.
This is confusing to me, because I have been married for ten years, and yes, consent is still very much a part of our sexual relationship. And no, it does not ruin the moment. Most of the time, sexual encounters are initiated by one of us saying “hey, want to have sex?” That’s pretty darn clear. Yes, sometimes things start more spontaneously, but it is never difficult to tell whether the other person is into it. Even then, there is communication.
The idea that it would be difficult to tell, within marriage, whether your partner is consenting to sex or not is bewildering to me. Anyone who thinks it’s hard to tell whether sex they have in marriage is consensual or not needs to take some time and do some serious thinking, because frankly, that sounds like indication of a problem.
Anyway, back to Christiana:
“Are you going with some strange and vague notion of ‘implied’ consent? Because we all know how that goes down in court. Basing ‘consent’ on the man sensing that the woman was ‘into it’ because of her body language, expressions, etc. has gotten men thrown behind bars because she didn’t expressly STATE consent. Clearly, we cannot expect men to be mind-readers and somehow intuit whether or not a woman agrees to have sex with him, as she can easily say later that it was not consensual.
I’m honestly not sure what cases Christiana is talking about. I don’t know of any court that requires a specific statement—and I know a million reasons why basing consent or lack thereof on whether specific words are said would be a problem (for instance, this would suggest a person cannot change their mind and exit—consent has to be ongoing, and clearly, no one expects that to consist of a constant stream of verbiage).
Also, you don’t have to be a mind reader to tell whether your partner is into it. And if you’re at all unsure, you can ask! You can talk! Yes, within marriage! And no, that’s not a buzzkill!
So much of this boils down to treating those around us with respect, and yet the Right acts like this is just baffling and confusing and so hard to understand. Instead, they want a set of hard and fast rules.
Christiana goes on:
“What, then? Especially in marriage?
“There is no such thing as marital rape because marriage IS consent. Why haven’t we all burned our Bibles if we don’t believe them when they say that neither the husband nor wife own their own body? Do we believe that, or don’t we?
And there it is. When you marry someone, you give permanent consent. If your husband so much as snaps his fingers, you spread your legs. Sure, that’s a bit crude, but that is what we’re talking about.
Women who get married today are not consenting to that. I know I didn’t. I certainly didn’t see it in the marriage license I signed, and I got married knowing that marital rape is both recognized and criminalized. In other words, I signed a legal contract in a legal system that recognizes marital rape as a crime. Ergo, Christiana is wrong.
Of course, Christiana is talking about the Bible, not about our legal system. She is arguing that Christian women who marry should understand themselves as giving up their ability to say “no” to sex, whatever the legal system says about their rights. In other words, she argues that Christian women should voluntarily give up their legally recognized rights, because the Bible says so.
Let’s return to Christiana:
“I am far more inclined to agree with the wise commenter somewhere above who made the point that rape involves stealing sex that does not belong to you. In marriage, the other person’s body DOES belong to you– at least, if we believe Scripture.
There are two arguments being made here.
First, notice that according to Christiana and the other commenter she cites, rape is “stealing sex that does not belong to you.” Remember my “tale of two boxes“?
Progressives base their sexual ethics on consent—rape is wrong because it’s a violation of consent. Conservatives—or, at least, religious conservatives—base their sexual ethics on what God forbids or what God allows.
With that background, let’s return to Christiana’s comments:
“rape involves stealing sex that does not belong to you”
Rape isn’t a violation of consent, for Christiana. It’s a violation of property laws. And indeed, there are passages in the Old Testament where if a man lays with a young woman who is unmarried, he must pay damages to her father. Rape is not about consent at all, for Christiana. Instead, it’s all about who taking sex you’re not entitled to, per the Bible. And in marriage, she says, “the other person’s body DOES belong to you.”One last thing from Christiana:
“Furthermore, it is definitely impossible to rape someone (wife or otherwise) who offers their body willing. So, why should wives not offer their bodies willingly? This is precisely what Lori is teaching.”
Which way does Christiana want to have it? Either marital rape isn’t possible, or it is. Christiana earlier said it’s not possible, because a husband owns his wife’s body—that it’s impossible for him to commit rape, since her body is his. But now Christiana says that a man can’t rape someone “who offers their body willing,” so women should always, always, always offer themselves, and that way their husbands won’t have to rape them. So which is it?
Let me just pause to say that I have never in my entire life read anything that made marriage seem more distasteful. I know Lori wants women all to get married and stay home and raise children—she claims this is the only way to experience true joy—but she is absolute crap at selling it.
Lori finishes her post (as usual) with a Bible verse:
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
Lori never seems to acknowledge that this verse—as unhealthy as I still think it is—goes both ways. Christiana, for her part, kept her wording gender neutral when she referenced this verse—“In marriage, the other person’s body DOES belong to you– at least, if we believe Scripture.” But Lori never treats this like an actual proposition. She does not seem to think that women, too, have sexual needs or—well—sex drives.
In her video—the one Christiana and the commenters she tangled with were responding to—Lori says this:
And if you want to have a miserable life — lazy life — then you live your life by your feelings. You don’t feel like giving your husband sex for a year? Then go, fine, don’t give your husband sex for a year. But see how great your marriage is after a year.
Lori describes sex as a chore. She compares it to cleaning toilets. She speaks of sex as something you “give” your husband—as something a woman wouldn’t do at all, if she was lazy and just did what she felt like. Has Lori never enjoyed sex? Has she ever orgasmed? Does her husband care about her sexual pleasure? Does he try to please her in bed? Does he realize she has sexual needs? Does she realize?
There is something so profoundly broken in the way Lori views sex—and relationships. If a woman doesn’t feel like having sex with her husband for a year, something is already wrong.* Maybe her husband is a completely selfish lover, who has no idea that women have needs too. Maybe she has a physical problem like vaginismus, which she needs to have addressed. If she doesn’t feel like having sex with her husband for a full year—if she never feels like having sex with her husband—that is something that needs to be addressed—for her, not for him.
Maybe the problem is high stress, or overwork. Maybe the problem is that she married someone she wasn’t attracted to because Christian culture told her it would all work out. Whatever the problem is, there is a problem, and “shut up and put out” is not a solution. Not if the goal is a happy, healthy relationship, that is. And maybe that’s the problem. Lori is trafficking in unhealthy marriage patterns because she thinks that’s what the Bible prescribes. Rule following is what matters. Not personal fulfillment. Rule following.
And if the rules are whack—or toxic? Too bad!
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother responding to what Lori writes. There was a time when I didn’t. I figured she was too fringe to matter much. But then I realized that that’s probably what most people thought about Michael and Debi Pearl, whose teachings are in many ways very similar to Lori’s—and being fringe didn’t stop the Pearls from amassing a large following and having a profound impact on my parents, and through them, on me.
As I sit here considering all of this, what I’m most struck by, again, is that the sort of marriages Lori describes aren’t just toxic or unhealthy, they’re also profoundly unattractive. Why in the world would I ever want what Lori advertises, when I know what a healthy, mutually fulfilling, consensual relationship looks like? I know what it’s like to have a partner that respects me and cares about my needs too.
Also? Most men don’t want to have sex with women who aren’t into it. I’m not sure that Lori realizes this. Most men don’t want to have sex with a woman who is counting the minutes until it is over. That’s not fun. And yes, some men are fine treating women like sexual objects that exist to give them pleasure. But those aren’t the kind of men any woman should want to be in a relationship with. If those are the only men Lori knows, that’s sad.
* I feel the need to note that there is nothing wrong with people who are asexual. They may go for a year without ever feeling like having sex, but this is where communication comes in. You know what? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lori advise a woman to communicate with her partner. Imagine that.
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