“You Are Not Your Own:” Only Selfish Wives Say No

“You Are Not Your Own:” Only Selfish Wives Say No September 10, 2013

This post is part of a series called“You Are Not Your Own,” focusing on rape and sexual assault in Christian relationship/dating books

Trigger Warning for rape, sexual assault, coercion 

Note 1: Some of you have noticed that I always link adorable bunnies to Mark Driscoll’s name in my blogs. Thought I would remind people that credit for that idea goes to this tumblr conversation! Enjoy the bunnies! 

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Moving right along on my series on rape and sexual assault in Christian dating books. Regular readers, you’ll remember that I came across four significant findings in these books:

  1. These books create an environment ripe for rape myth acceptance
  2. They create a context in which no one truly has ownership over his/her own body
  3. They ignore the importance of consent, or create an illusion that consent exists where it does not
  4. They blur the lines between rape/sexual assault and consensual sex

We’re still working through finding number three…

3. The Illusion of Consent

Last week, I talked about how  the “freedom of choice” presented in these books was an illusion to mask the fact that these books actually only give women the freedom to choose from one option.

Though these books talked of choices and of empowerment, we saw how the language of choice was a fraud for women who were not married. The only choice that the books really gave unmarried women was the choice to say no to sex.

Surely even these books give married women the option to choose whether or not to have sex, though, right?

Well. No.

Only Selfish Wives Say No.

Again, the lack of consent in these books isn’t outrightly stated. It’s subtle and mixed in with language that gives the illusion that a full range of options is available to people. The book Real Marriage shocked me by including (what? no way!) some relatively healthy discussion of the issue of marital rape. The Driscolls condemn marital rape strongly (pg. 202), state that any intercourse forced on someone without consent is rape (pg. 121), and tell husbands that they should never coerce their wives into having sex (pg. 163). 

There’s a catch, though.

Husbands, maybe you can’t coerce your wives into sex, but Mark Driscoll, Cage Fighting Jesus, and the Bible sure can! Women can say no to marital sex, sure. You can. But according to Real Marriage, that doesn’t mean you should or that it’s really okay for you to do so.

In one chapter, Mark Driscoll  tells the story of a heterosexual married couple he met who did not have intercourse because the woman did not enjoy it because of anxiety and found it too painful. Instead, the woman would give her husband what Driscoll calls a “helping hand.”

Voldemark’s response to this woman’s admission that intercourse was anxiety-inducing and stressful for her, so she participated in other forms of sexual activity instead?

“She seemed surprised to hear that she was selfish.” (pg. 156)

In fact, Real Marriage has an entire chapter that details the difference between “Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers.” (pg. 156) Though some of this chapter is about loving and caring for your spouse, most of it is just about sex. And how you should always be having it whether you want to or not.

Grace Driscoll tells a heartbreaking story of how she was sexually assaulted when she was younger, and her fear of sex that came with that, stating that she still

needed to obey God and be sensitive to my husband’s physical needs.” (pg. 164)

The book equates not-having-sex-with-your-husband, even while healing from trauma, with disobeying God. To say no to your husband is to be selfish and sinful.

In fact, the book lists “Ways We Are Selfish Lovers.” One of these ways is to “Only have sex when we both feel like it at the same time:

Servant lovers are willing to serve their spouses even when they are not in the mood, and know that on another occasion their servant lovers will do the same for them. (pg. 165)

The Driscolls make it clear that “a spouse who is evil, distant, cruel, unloving, or abusive should not use this information to demand more sex from his wife without first dealing with his sin.” But they hardly promote an ethic of consent here. Even that sentence implies that a spouse who is kind and benevolent, and who has dealt with his own sin has a right to coerce his wife into more sex.

Regardless, Real Marriage definitely uses coercive measures to talk women into having sex with their husbands. There is no real room for consent here. The options are have sex (and have the kind of sex your husband wants…your “helping hand” isn’t good enough!) or be a selfish sinner who’s not right with God. 

When marital sex is talked about in this way, the fourth significant finding–that these books blur the lines between consensual sex and rape–is not surprising. We’ll talk more on that next time.

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  • I’ve been told that, despite PTSD, I still owe my husband sex to “take care of him” and “make sure he doesn’t wander.” That notion is alive and well and sickening.

    • sabrina peters

      i don’t have PTSD, but still feel extremely guilty for not giving my husband as much as he wants; sometimes because it’s just painful. it’s because of “i’m responsible” mindset. 🙁

  • Alena@TheHomemadeCreative

    There are days when the stars align (ie: our toddler is asleep at the same time we’re not either also asleep, or too busy with something we can’t put off) and we have time to have sex…except, I’m not always in the mood. Usually, my sweet husband just sucks it up, and we hope for better timing in future. But sometimes, I do choose to have sex with him, even if I don’t want to for whatever reason, because I know that it means something to him (NOT that he needs it), and I choose to indulge him. I consider this consent, even though I’d rather do something else (like sleep, ha). And he has always been sensitive to my moods, so that sometimes I will say “okay” and he knows I’m only doing it because of the timing (and not my own desire), and he’ll say “it’s okay, another time” and we’ll just snuggle. I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t have to be in the mood to have sex because we love our spouse and want to please them, and this isn’t about control or coercion. Like Dani Kelley, below, I’ve had people tell me I “owe” my husband sex, and that’s a load of crap, friends. NOBODY owes anyone else sex. We OWE each other love and respect, and sometimes that means polite and caring (vs hostile and mopey) restraint.

  • You know, I find it interesting that sex is a physical need when the issue is whether or not husbands are entitled to it whenever they want, but when the issue is whether women should have access to birth control to avoid unintended pregnancy, sex isn’t a physical need and we should just keep our legs closed.

    • PREACH.

    • Eli

      It’s because to them, it’s only a physical need for men, not women, and because they can’t comprehend a (married) woman not wanting to be pregnant.

  • Andrea_Videographer

    Sounds like his references to marital rape were just CYA chapters to try and make people believe that even though it’s not ok to force your spouse to have sex with you, it’s also not ok to say ‘no’ in his world. Sick.

  • [content note: abuse apologism]

    Part of the issue with Driscoll’s “a spouse who is evil, distant, cruel, unloving or abusive…” is that abusers rarely see themselves as such. They justify themselves as “out of control,” or “provoked,” or whatever. So the abuser will read that sentence and think, “Well that’s not ME!” and continue to coerce and abuse.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Yup, exactly.

    • Claire

      And his complementarian “pastor” will likely agree with him. Also, if “no” is never a legitimate choice, consent is meaningless.

    • Elisabeth M

      In any case, part of the basic definition of abuse is entitlement. Whether or not an abuser recognizes himself in those words, he will be sure to disregard the directions.

  • disqus_0lZXkBrl0I

    I don’t think it is fair to ask someone to remain sexually faithful to you and then to deny them sex on a regular basis. I had a boyfriend who would go for months without sleeping with me and it made me feel that there was something wrong with me. I started losing confidence in myself, stopped dressing nice and wearing makeup. I felt miserable. After about 6 years of him only having sex with me when he wanted it, I started finding myself attracted to other men. When other men flirted with me, it made me feel desirable again. Eventually I got my groove back and left him. I am now married to someone else and I try very hard never to turn him down. Most of the time I don’t want to turn him down anyway. He’s a wonderful lover, but sometimes I am tired or not feeling well. If it’s really bad, I give myself permission to postpone the sex to after I’ve had a nap or later in the very near future, but I try never to deny him outright. When you love someone, you think about their feelings too, and not just your own. Also, if one partner is consistently denying the other, it makes me wonder how attracted they are to them. Perhaps they shouldn’t have married/partnered up with them in the first place.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      “if one partner is consistently denying the other, it makes me wonder how attracted they are to them. Perhaps they shouldn’t have married/partnered up with them in the first place.”

      Sure, but “should people who have a terrible sex life together stay together” and “should husbands invoke the name of God to force their wives to sleep with them” are totally different conversations.

      • disqus_0lZXkBrl0I

        I agree that using the old “God’s gonna send you to hell if you don’t do what I want” is spiritual abuse, and in this case, I would think would just make the problem even worse. However, it doesn’t surprise me that religious people would couch this in religious terms since they tend to couch everything in religious terms. I do agree with them in that it IS selfish to constantly deny your partner/spouse sex. Furthermore, I have never seen a relationship last, or at the very least stay monogamous, when one partner’s physical needs and emotional needs are not being met.

        • disqus_0lZXkBrl0I

          Obviously, the more proactive solution if one finds themselves no longer wanting sex with their partner is to ask oneself why. Perhaps the problem has a simple answer, like too exhausted after working all day and then being expected to cook and clean. A solution would be to split up the housework more evenly, hire a maid (if it’s affordable), carve out date nights, etc. Sometimes the problem is more complex, like maybe one person isn’t that good in bed but too sensitive to take any criticism. But ultimately, discussing what’s wrong and then working to fix it is the only solution. Just expecting your partner to suck it up and reach for a bottle of lotion and a tube sock is effed up. And yes, extremely selfish.

  • Duane

    Oh boy…..I realize that this is predominately woman in this conversation….so I would like to say first that I humbly request an opportunity to speak from a male perspective if I may?

    Okay…so if you have continued to read, I thank you for at least hearing my perspective which is being delivered from a Christian posture, if you will. I am not familiar with any books written by Driscoll…though his name is familiar….so I can not comment on any specifics he may have talked about. I would say, however, that caution should be taken when ascribing one “commentary” of belief as a categorically adhered to thought by all.

    I think we sometimes forget that the root of ALL marital problems goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When the first man and the first woman….the first marriage….began there was a total and complete interdependency upon one another equally. In fact, prior to the fall….God referred to THEM as Adam….or man….or more literally, mankind. Understanding that establishes that it was THEM that sinned with no distinction at all of guilt. The woman was given her name, Eve, after the fall. Sin caused the division and that division created individual identities. It was after sin entered in that “all hell broke loose” in the marriage.

    Between then and today it has only gotten worse. Now…to speak directly to this topic…..sex. Sex has been hijacked by sin and the corrupted faux “sex” has been embraced by mankind which is under the control of a sinful nature. Lust is the driving motivation….and a lot of men, and women to some degree, have given it the self serving title: “my physical need”. Furthermore…..what was originally meant to be a mutually shared pleasure and expression of love…a love that guards and treasures our vulnerability…..has become almost entirely for most….self serving gratification.

    This is way to big of a subject to just take “pop-shots” at and believe anything can be concluded. So I will simply target a few things, and then respond further only upon request.

    Men…..if you are forcing yourself on your wife….if you are abusing your wife in any way….if you are manipulating your wife in any way…..if you are using “God” as a form of control over your wife in any way…..you are only a man because you have a penis. You need help, sincerely. And you can email me if you want to talk.

    Women….not that this excuses the undeniable fact that men have the freedom of choice when it comes to how they treat you….please keep this in mind. Men in particular ….their minds…..have been absolutely poisoned by porn. It has distorted what a woman is…it has defined endless boundaries as to what is right or wrong in the context of sex….it has absolutely conquered so very many men. And they absolutely need the strength and diligence of a woman’s prayer.

    Women…if you live in an abusive environment….get out. Not tomorrow….not when its convenient….but please get out now. God would not want you….His precious child….to stay. And He will keep you and protect you. If your husband truly repents…and is made new in Christ….and you love him….then and only then should you entertain returning to him.

    For unmarried women…yeah….your right….there really aren’t a lot of choices.

    Now…I will step back…but only after sincerely…. to each an every one of you who have been wounded and hurt and abused….apologizing on behalf of men. They were wrong, and I am so genuinely sorry for all you have had to endure.

    ….peace 🙂

  • [excellent series, Sarah; I’m sorry I’m late to the party]

    All of these “instructions” completely ignore women’s needs and desires. What if hubby’s a selfish, inconsiderate lover? She’s to just … what? Close her eyes and think of England (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/close-your-eyes-and-think-of-england.html).

    What if traditional penetration sex can’t happen for some reason (medical, physical)…. they’re only allowed to have missionary sex or no intimacy at all?

    The mind boggles.