[content note: marital rape]
A few days ago, a reader sent me a link to the piece “Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal” (DoNotLink) written by a woman who goes by “Chris” or “The Forgiven Wife.” I’ve poked around her website a bit, and it seems as though it’s dedicated to the concept.
I went back and forth over whether or not I should say something about her post, but I’ve read it a few times over the last few days, and I think responding to what she’s written is a good opportunity to address the reality that Christian culture frequently endorses marital rape, since the post does exactly that.
While not every Christian would be as direct as Phyllis Schlafly (“By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”), I believe that is a common attitude among Christians– that signing your marriage license is giving cart blanche consent to sex for the entirety of your marriage. Christians are certainly not alone in this, as American culture has long confused prior consent with current consent, and simply being in a relationship with your rapist can make investigating officers dubious about your claims, since, after all, you wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone if you weren’t at least interested in having sex with them, right?
The reason why I’ve chosen to respond to Chris’ article in particular is that the reasons that she lays out are very common ones when Christians are defending marital rape, and she’s organized them into six points.
Her first point is that “sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self,” which I think is a true statement as long as it’s coupled with the understanding that sexuality is inherent to a woman’s sense of self, as well. My orientation, my desire, my sexual needs are integral to my understanding of myself as a person. My sexuality is only one part of “me,” but it is a significant part. However, that statement isn’t even the focus of this point:
A man who has to accomplish tasks (whether those are household chores or giving his wife a foot rub in order to get her relaxed enough to even think about sex) in order to have sex is being told he isn’t good enough.
This comes from the “how can he expect me to do laundry/cooking/dishes/diapers all day, without any attention or help, and then expect me to leap into bed with him?!” sentiment, which I understand. I’ve only been married for a year and nine months now, but on the days when my partner has spent the evening not exactly ignoring me but has been wrapped up in his own thing (which is fine in our relationship, we are adults with separate interests), I’m not exactly in the mood to jump him. However, if he gives me a foot rub and helps with the dishes (both very common things in our house), then yeah. I’m way more interested in sex.
What Chris is implying here is that it is more important for the woman to have sex with her husband when she’s not all that interested because oh noes the REJECTION it’s AWFUL than it is for a woman to pay attention to her own needs and her desire to be treated with respect and care.
Her second point sort of made me laugh, and then I was sad.
Men are designed to want sex frequently, and they are designed to seek adventure … God made your husband this way. It is not wrong. It is not perverted. Your husband’s sexuality is godly.
Translation: men are kinkier than women. If your husband is kinkier than you are, you need to be willing to perform sexual acts you are uncomfortable with (or, possibly, might even find “perverted”) because “God made him that way.” This is an idea that people like Mark Driscoll have popularized, and I can attest to the harm its done in my own marriage– because I’m way more kinky than my partner is. We’ve had to have very serious, very long conversations about this because what I think of as “a little more edge” and what my partner thinks of as “edgy” are not the same thing. We’ve agreed to compromise, because it is extremely important to me that he not feel uncomfortable during sex. I want him to be enjoying it, and not having to push himself to do things that make him nervous.
However, what Chris is saying is that women, you do not deserve to feel comfortable during sex. Whatever your husband wants, no matter how uncomfortable you are with it, you do it. Period. Because God said so. Personally, I can’t imagine asking my partner to do something like that– it would make me feel awful. Hopefully the vast majority of husbands are taking their wives’ comfort levels into account, but articles like this (plus the “smoking hot wife” narrative that’s becoming more common in Christian circles) are encouraging men to ignore their wives’ feelings.
Her third point is where the trouble really starts:
Men best receive love through sex … NOTHING matches sex. You can love your husband in every other way possible … You can do everything else he wants or needs … Sexual love trumps everything else combined.
Just … no.
Honestly, this just defies common sense. If all I ever did have sex with my partner, but I never talked to him, never wanted to spend time with him that wasn’t sex, never shared my interests with him, never listened to him about his frustrations or accomplishments, never helped him with anything, never wanted to go anywhere with him, I’m pretty damn sure he’d start feeling pretty damn unloved pretty damn fast.
And this is where rape culture becomes obvious in this post, because the premise of this point is that men are simplistic, men only want one thing, men are pigs, men are animals. That belief is why “she was asking for it” works– because our culture has accepted that sexual violence by men is the only crime where the “overwhelming” temptation to commit it makes committing it excusable, perhaps even justifiable.
This is also the point where Chris begins dismissing the reality of marital rape, because what she is telling women is that the only possible way you can have intimacy and a loving relationship with your husband is if you have sex whenever he wants it. This argument is a Christian-culture-wide form of coercion: you cannot say no, saying no means you do not love your husband. When you remove the ability for consent to be meaningful– for “no” to be a possible answer, it’s sexual coercion.
Point number four is where I got angry:
Depriving him of your sexual pleasure can be as damaging as depriving him of sex altogether.
Just … sputter. No. All the no.
Pleasure during sex is a mutual thing. And, honestly, what women is consciously staving off an orgasm in order to “deprive” her husband of pleasure? If she’s not having an orgasm, there’s a reason– probably a lot of reasons all at once, and it’s impossible for a woman to resolve a lot of those reasons on her own. If her partner is not listening to her about her sexual needs and comforts — like requiring her to engage in sex acts she finds degrading — not having an orgasm is not her fault. There have been moments when my head hasn’t been fully engaged in having sex with my partner and that’s made arousal and orgasm more difficult, but there have also been plenty of times where my partner is experimenting and it just doesn’t work for me. When that happens, I tell him, and he moves on to something else.
Points five and six are essentially the same thing:
The pattern of rejection is there, all the time. Each specific instance of rejection is a reminder of his lack of worth to you.
Whether your pattern tends toward refusing (outright “no” or other ways of avoiding sex) or gate-keeping (restricting the time, location, and nature of sexual activity), it is likely the worst thing in your husband’s life. It is the worst thing in his life.
This is specifically addressed to women who say “no” more often than not, and it made me want to cry, because I know a lot of women who say no frequently, and this argument has done more damage to them, personally, than anything else. I know women who can be easily triggered by sex because of PTSD caused by sexual violence (which Chris makes it clear in the comments is an audience she is addressing), or who have vaginisimus, or endometriosis, or a plethora of other reasons why having sex might be extremely difficult. But what a woman might be experiencing, why sex might be difficult for her is not important because of her husband’s fee fees. I’m sorry, if your husband isn’t willing to work with you because you’re having a panic attack during sex or you are in so much pain you have to stop, your husband is an asshole.
And Chris, by arguing for women to ignore their own bodies, hearts, souls, and minds, is telling women you do not matter. What you want does not matter. Your pain and suffering do not matter.
Unfortunately, Chris is far from alone in American Christian culture.