[Image description: Photo is of clusters of bright red and purple flowers.]
Content Notice: Abstract discussion of rape culture and sexual coercion. This post is just a start to discussing a very complicated issue. Bear with me.
Beloved, I don’t know about you, but when I try to want something more, I usually end up wanting it less. “How can I learn to like sex more?” is a question that I see all the time on Christian sex and marriage blogs, usually posed by married women whose interest in sex doesn’t seem to match their husbands’. The usual answers have some helpful information. Among Christian sex bloggers easily found on Google (which I won’t name specifically here), answers like “Check with your doctor” or “Get more in touch with your body” or “Reframe sex as good and holy” are common.
They’re not wrong; sexual desire can absolutely be affected by factors like hormonal changes, past trauma, relationship issues, and regular old stress. I want to stress that I respect the work that these bloggers do to make sex a ‘speakable’ topic in heterosexual Christian marriages.
That said, posts for low drive wives tend to make me really uncomfortable. Because these Christian sex bloggers sometimes believe that spouses owe each other sex, pointing to Paul’s epistles for evidence. This notion of ‘owing’ underpins the rest of their advice.
One blogger states that “Biblically, we are not to withhold sex from our spouse.” Another writes, “Let me clear that while I believe that 1 Corinthians 7:5 instructs spouses that they have a sexual duty to one another, God doesn’t want you to approach sex in your marriage as a chore.”
What does this mean, “a sexual duty”? As a Christian, I believe that we do have certain duties in life, to show care for one another and to promote justice (because life isn’t just about us as individuals; we’re supposed to be a team). Sex should be a caring activity, rooted in respect and concern for the well-being of everyone involved. I enjoy sex. I enjoy helping partners feel pleasure. But do I ever have a divinely decreed “duty” to have sex with anyone? Hell no.
I’m troubled by the apparent attitudes of the spouses in these posts who want more sex, especially husbands. Describing a conversation about how much her sex life had improved, another Christian sex blogger recalls that her husband’s “face showed a surprising look of disgust as he said, ‘Yeah, even when we did it back then, it was like you couldn’t wait to get it over with.’” I have to wonder, if he thought his wife wasn’t enjoying the sex, why did he keep going? Did they really have to “get it over with”? Or did they just think that they had to?
These bloggers sometimes use language and concepts reminiscent of the Sex Positive Movement, rhapsodizing about how wonderful and sacred married sex is. They promote pleasure and object to rape. Yet, they treat it as a given that married people should have sex and that low desire, even hatred of sexual activity, is an obstacle to be overcome. Sex is ultimately a duty that we must learn to like, or else we are not following God’s plan for marriage. That’s not sex-positive. That’s rape culture. And it disturbs me.
So how would I respond to a ‘low drive’ wife who asks how she can learn to enjoy sex with a ‘higher drive’ husband?
First, here’s what I’m NOT saying:
- I am Not saying that mismatched sexual desire isn’t a frustrating or even painful issue.
- I am Not saying that sex isn’t a valued part of many relationships.
- I am Not saying that people shouldn’t seek answers if they want to enjoy sex more.
In fact, I encourage people to discuss sexual issues with their partners, medical professionals, therapists, and coaches. Sex is meant to be a mutual activity that you and your partner(s) choose together. You need support and good information to make that choice (here’s where I recommend my Resources page again).
Here’s what I AM saying:
- You aren’t morally obligated to have sex. Ever.
- You are a complete person even if you don’t have sex.
- You are not a failure (as a spouse or as a person) if you don’t like or want sex.
- You don’t have a biological imperative to have sex (nor does your partner). Sex is not a ‘drive.’ Many people want it, but, as marvelous sex and relationship coach Dawn Serra has said, “A drive is a biological need for survival. Your physical body cannot live without food, water, air, and shelter. But your physical body can survive, quite happy and healthy, without sex.”
Christians, we don’t have to apply the Apostle Paul’s marital standards directly to modern relationships. I will say more on dear Paul in future posts (long story short, I read and appreciate him, but I can safely say that his take is oft misinterpreted, irrelevant on some issues, and dead wrong on others).
Wives, if your husbands know that you don’t enjoy sex but keep initiating it anyway, you are not frigid or “withholding.” They are trying to get you to do something you dislike for their pleasure. That is selfish, not patient or kind. If you are trying to get your partner to have sex when they don’t want to, you need to STOP immediately.
People of every gender, if sex feels like a chore or a pain, it’s okay not to have it. I will have more to say about how to have great sex soon, but I can’t say any of that without first saying that you don’t have to.