TRIGGER WARNING: Content in this blog at moments addresses sexual violence in context of marriage. While I try not to be overly graphic, softening the truth gets us no where. Therefore, if you find such content triggering or traumatizing, I urge you to not read this blog.
What is with the notion that men are sex maniacs with no self-control, and for women sex is some obligatory duty to which she must subject herself to for his sake? Nonsense. Women are intensely sexual creatures, who enjoy intimacy.* And men are not sex-crazed morons.
I’m not here to make bold statements about percentages of which gender has the higher libido — especially since that isn’t the point of my blog. I’ve not done a broad study on the matter. What I have observed over the years of working with victims of sexual abuse, and therefore having the topic of sex (not related to abuse) also come up frequently, is that when it comes to sex and sexuality, we’ve got it wrong. Long before I started working with sex abuse victims, after people knew my story, they would talk about sex with me and ask questions that I don’t think are normal conversation in conservative Christianity.
Are sex toys okay? Is oral sex sin? What about anal sex in marriage? Is it wrong for married couples to masturbate? (For that matter, is it wrong for singles?) When is desire healthy, and and when is it lust? How often is it okay for Christian couples to have sex? (One single woman, God bless her, went so far as to inform me that it is wrong for a married couple to have sex every day. Okay… ! Most of us couldn’t keep up with that pace if we wanted to anyway, so there’s that. But if both have the energy and want to? Have fun!)
Some of those questions were launched my direction before I was even married. (Albeit by friends who knew I had lived common law and had since embraced Christian values and were curious what I thought). They have been asked over the years by single friends, married friends, those who were young, and even little old grandmas. Sex is a matter of interest to most people, but with few places to discuss it without being judged for asking. The questions are legitimate. We have this notion that everyone will automatically know everything about sex — and embrace our opinions and values — without ever talking about it beyond a superficial purity culture teaching. “Don’t do it until you’re married. And then, wives, it’s your duty; do it.” Some were fortunate to get a bit more teaching than that. But for most of us, that’s kind of the sum total, besides the learning we glean from a heavy focus on modesty and not tempting men.
A big chunk of the takeaway from those teachings is this idea that men are so sexually driven that they have no self control. Among emasculated men that is probably a fairly accurate statement. And among sexually abused men. Which is tragic. But outside of those two factors, it’s nonsense. I have the … dare I say ‘advantage’ – because the promiscuity of my teen years has never felt like an advantage – of speaking from two vastly different places. One as a wounded teen with no boundaries searching for a place to belong and willing to pay whatever the selling price to get that belonging. And then as a Jesus follower, and now the wife of a godly man who treats me with highest honour.
In both ‘worlds’ the men in my life – those with whom I had relationships – did not demand sex from me constantly, nor did they rape, force or treat me in sexually abusive ways. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “All sex outside of marriage is abusive”, the fact remains, I was never treated in sexually abusive ways by men with whom I had relationships, which is more than many Christian women can say who ‘saved themselves for marriage. Sadly. That said, yes, I was raped. But that is not a relational act, nor was it ever committed against me by anyone with whom I had an established relationship.
My frame of reference, therefore, is from personal experience and countless conversations. If I said a dozen women had complained to me over the years of their husbands wanting sexual intimacy too often, I think I would be exaggerating. I can think of only a few. If I gave a number for those who, through tears, shared of sexual neglect while their husbands bury themselves in work, games, movies, technology, the number of women who have spoken out would be exponentially higher.
However, what I have heard, more than complaints of wanting sex too often, are complaints of abusive sex. Being raped in the night while asleep is especially common. Being forced to cooperate with sex, and being anally raped or otherwise ‘punished’ for noncompliance, ranks up there. Being told they are too ugly and no one else would want them happens too often. Demanding cooperation with the use of objects… And so on. These are abusive sexual behaviours that many women have shared, internationally, having suffered at the hands of their husbands[i].
These actions are not those of sexually driven men. They are the actions of emasculated men. They are also not the actions of men emasculated by women. They are the actions of men emasculated by systems and religions. (That’s another blog, but suffice it to say that men who are ’emasculated by women’ — unless it is at the hands of their mothers — are first emasculated by some other influence). Empowered men — those not emasculated — are not going to be emasculated by women. They lead like gentlemen, honour women and are a delight to partner with. They invite their wives into sweet sexual intimacy, and are safe to be invited by their wives. They are not insecure. They do not abuse, manipulate, degrade and humiliate. They bless and empower women to be all God created them to be, and that includes in their sexuality.
The words of a buggy-Mennonite friend of ours, many years ago, have stayed forever in my mind. Speaking of the scars his wife carried, and her struggle to enter into sexual intimacy, he shared that his deepest desire in intimacy was for her to experience arousal and climax, which was what she struggled with. She was willing to ‘be available’, but not able to ‘enter in’, in part due to past experience and in part due to the teaching of sex as bad, and lack of teaching regarding healthy sexuality. This devastated her husband, and he shared how guilty he felt even attempting intimacy for fear of using her.
That is the single most touching story of intimacy I’ve heard from a personal friend. There are others, stories of men who tenderly cared for their wives who had been abused. Stories of women empowering their husbands, speaking life and wonder over their sexuality when they came from broken histories. Stories of marriages restoring in each partner what life tried to rob and destroy.
But one thing men are not is sex-crazed morons who can’t control themselves. Nor are they sexually-driven saints whose wives’ duty is to meet those needs. Men are sexual creatures. That they are. But so are women*. And many women are neglected sexually because of the horrible things we’ve taught — formally and informally — in religious context, and beyond. This has robbed marriages. Men who believe that women have no interest in healthy sexual relationship, and who view sexual intimacy as a duty for their spouse, are in that very act emasculated. And they are robbed of the true wonder of relational and sexual intimacy. It is not fair to either party to be led to believe such things. For one, a woman who views it as a duty and a curse will find it much more difficult to enter in in a healthy way.
I propose that if we would do away with these nonsensical teachings and replace religious ‘systems’ with empowering men to lead the Jesus way — like our buggy Mennonite friend — we’d see a powerful shift in sexual struggles among men. Empowered men walk gently beside their partners. It’s a hand-holding love relationship. They invite. The step in to protect. (And protectors don’t play the victim the way religious culture has conditioned men).
This would spill into the way women are treated and viewed by too much of Christian culture, and they would become valued partners in marriages, in churches… in God’s kingdom. And, in turn, it would spill right back into how men are viewed.
Women who are led by such men also empowered. They are safe. They bless and empower their husbands. (The same is true more broadly, not only in marriage, even though my focus here is marriage). I have watched this in Christian relationships, and I have watched it in marriages of those who are not Christians. There is a synergy. A grace. A working together. There is fulfillment and relational intimacy. There is a sparkle in the eyes and a light that is unmistakable.
I live in such a relationship. In 25 years never have I been forced or coerced sexually. We’ve both made sacrifices in various ways over the years, and Tim has done so with tenderness. There have been health crises for both of us when intimacy was completely impossible. He had H1N1 and scared the life out of me, back in fall of 2009. I had the first heart attack 2006 and the one last week. I’ve haemorrhaged twice, had two miscarriages and five childbirths to recover from. These are times of no energy, and nothing to give. Times of survival. And never, not even once, has Tim pushed for intimacy before I was ready.
This is as it should be. Sure, we’ve had our bumps and scrapes in our marriage. Some pretty serious ones that felt (to me) like we’d never survive. But we did survive. And I attribute that most to Tim’s faith and rock solid commitment, come hell or high water, to never give up on us or on God. And never have I been sexually disrespected or violated by my husband.
And there’s the good news. In spite of the aforementioned complaints shared by some — which are legitimate and deserve acknowledgement, there are many marriages where both partners invest deeply, make sacrifices and honour each other. Marriages where men are compassionate and kind as their wives struggle through past trauma that makes intimacy difficult. I’ve had the honour of helping survivors of abuse work through the barriers it creates, preventing healthy sexual relations, while husbands patiently supported their wives. I believe, and certainly hope, that this is still the greater percentage, by far, of marriages. While spousal abuse is rampant and needs to be addressed, I honour those men who are neither the stereotyped sex-maniacs, nor those who neglect their wives’ needs.
Now if we can just do away with those warped teachings, learn to talk about sex in a healthy way, and scrap religious abuse, we just might disempower the stereotype. Rather than each of us who have good husbands believe we have one of the rare ones, we will begin to see that there are a great many good men. And maybe we’ll even do better at raising more of them.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2019
[i] I do not discount here the relevance and prevalence of females being sexually abusive toward their husbands. I have not received many such complaints, possibly due to the fact that males rarely speak out as a result of the incredible accompanying shame, or possibly because I am female and it would be too frightening, but that does not mean it is as rare as it seems. I am aware it happens, and acknowledge that is very wrong.
* Not all women enjoy sex. Many would like to, but can’t for various reasons. Past sexual abuse is a common barrier, and a runner up, based on my conversations, is how the teachings on sexual purity are presented. (I’m working on another blog to address the topic of female sexuality in conservative Christian context. If you have thoughts you want to share anonymously — I will not use names, identities or location — I welcome emails at: trudy @ generationsunleashed .com)
Thank you Trudy Metzger for this post. I will definitely be sharing this. This is so much my heart. Men have been so emasculated that they no longer carry themselves with honour so why would they treat women with honour if they have none themselves. What ends up happening is that other people don’t understand the problem so they resort to shame to control men I to obedience which compounds the problem because it was shame that cause the problem in the first place. My heart and my driving passion is to empower men to stand up with honour and integrity and learn how to carry themselves with confidence so that we can finally start treating women with the honour and integrity that they deserve. This really struck a chord in my heart. Thanks again for sharing this.
I can totally relate to your buggy mennonite friend. I to struggle with what she struggles with.
I’m sorry to hear that. From my work with survivors of abuse, as well as some women who never went through abuse, this is a very difficult struggle for couples to work through. My prayer for you is healing and restoration.