Wednesday, July 10, 2019

If A Wife Is Required To Have Sex, That's Not "Intimacy"

Two puzzle pieces that fit together. Image source.
Recently I read this post on Libby Anne's blog: Treat Having Sex with Your Husband like it’s Your Job. Libby Anne is writing in response to a post by Mother Dearest on Lori Alexander's blog, where Mother Dearest says a wife should have sex with her husband whenever the husband wants, that's what God wants wives to do, that's what the bible says, blah blah blah. She goes so far as to say that if people are able to go to work and do their jobs even when they don't feel like it, then OF COURSE a wife should be able to have sex with her husband even when she doesn't feel like it- and she should fake like she's enjoying it.

Mother Dearest gives an example of a flight attendant she met once. The flight attendant was covering someone else's shift and was very tired and stressed, but still did her job well and put on a smile for the customers. Mother Dearest concludes by saying, "Do what it takes to honor God and your husband, after all, if you were employed out there, you would do what it takes to get the job done."

I want to add a bit of a disclaimer here: When I was evangelical, I was certainly taught that women don't really like sex but have a "wifely duty" to have sex with their husbands anyway, but it never went as far as the kind of teaching that Lori Alexander posts on her blog (like this post by Mother Dearest). I was taught that the wife has a responsibility to make sex feel good for her husband- her own pleasure was never mentioned- but I was definitely NOT taught that she should never communicate about how she really feels and just fake it all the time. Yes, she should communicate, but she should do so very very delicately, because supposedly it would be THE WORST THING EVER if her husband felt "rejected." I never heard anyone compare sex in marriage to a customer service job. Like, holy shit. Lori Alexander's blog is wayyyy out there. In my experience, it's normal for evangelicals to teach that wives are required to have sex with their husbands even though [supposedly] women don't really like sex, but it's NOT normal to take it this far.

Anyway, here's what struck me about Mother Dearest's post: Isn't it obvious that customer service jobs are often difficult and soul-crushing precisely because you have to pretend to be happy even when you're not? You have to be friendly and polite and respectful to customers all the time, even when they're acting rude and unreasonable. You can't show how you really feel. Why on earth would anyone say that's how marriage is supposed to be?

There's always that emotional wall between the employee and the customer. The employee certainly can't be honest about how they really feel. They just do their job, and that's all. That's the entire employee-customer relationship. There's no emotional connection. Just do their job, provide a service to the customer, and be polite about it. That's it.

And she's saying that's what sex in marriage is supposed to be like?

And that's when I realized that, growing up in the evangelical church, I was taught 2 very contradictory things about sex and intimacy:
  1. Sex is the most intimate thing you can ever do with another person. It's a perfect, beautiful connection where all your emotions and vulnerabilities are there for your spouse to see. It's the deepest level of trust you can ever have with another person. The highest form of communication. You give your self to your partner. Two become one flesh.
  2. You have to say "yes" to sex with your husband even when you don't want to. You can't be honest about how you really feel.
Like, wow, these 2 things were definitely explicitly taught to me in Christian books about marriage. Wow. I never realized how they so blatantly contradict each other.

Let's talk about "intimacy" for a second. This word is often used (both by Christians and by society in general) as a euphemism for sex. And I don't like that. Maybe because I'm asexual- but at the same time, I think even for people who aren't asexual, it's not necessarily true that they feel most intimately connected with another person during sex.

For me personally, there have been a few times when sex with my husband felt extremely intimate, and it made me really happy to feel so emotionally close to him. But usually, sex doesn't really feel intimate to me. It feels the same as any other activity we do together. We're in love, so any time we spend together is enjoyable. Sex isn't really "special" in that sense.

And if you asked me when I have felt the most intimate with my husband, sex isn't anywhere near the top of the list. Instead it's things like taking care of each other when we're sick, or how I can tell him things about my mental health that I haven't told anyone else.

(I would offer that as a thought experiment for other people too: When have you felt the most intimate with another person? During sex, or some other time? If it's some other time, then maybe don't use "intimate" as a euphemism for sex.)

But anyway, back when I was in Christian purity culture and didn't know ANYTHING about sex, I definitely believed it would always, automatically feel like a deep, emotional experience, and of course if I was in love with someone then I would want that. (It took me a long time to realize I'm asexual because I was like "yes! I do want sex! Definitely! ...oh wait what do you mean by 'sex' though, do you mean the deepest, most intimate connection 2 people can possibly have, or are we just talking about messing around with another person's genitals?")

Lololololol, quite a surprise when I found out sex is just the genital thing, and is IN NO WAY a shortcut to emotional intimacy. In fact, in my experience there is A WHOLE LOT of emotional analysis required. Figuring out how I feel and what I want, and communicating that with my partner, and understanding what he wants- there's a whole lot of work to do if you want sex to lead to emotional intimacy.

And as I said, Christian purity culture also teaches that wives often don't feel like having sex when their husband wants to, but the wife is supposed to say yes anyway. Umm... where's the intimacy in that?

I was taught that communication is super super important- which seems to be the OPPOSITE of what Lori Alexander and Mother Dearest believe. They seem to be saying that a wife should just totally fake it during sex and never let her husband know if there's some part she doesn't enjoy. That's not what I believed; I was taught communication is essential in marriage. But I was also taught that sex is really important for a man's self-confidence, and he'll just constantly feel terrible if he feels like his wife is "disrespecting" or "rejecting" him. It's something I do for him, and I have a responsibility to make sure it's good enough for him. Yes, I can communicate about if I don't like something, but only if I can do it in a way that doesn't lessen the experience for him.

Where's the intimacy in that?

So when I started having sex with Hendrix (who is now my husband) it was SO DIFFICULT for me to SAY SOMETHING if I didn't like the way he was touching me. And that's been the case even with non-sexual touch from other boyfriends in the past- I felt so worried about *how* to tell them not to touch in certain ways. Wow, I remember one guy I dated a long time ago, how he sometimes rubbed the ends of my fingers and I didn't like that but I tried to just politely tolerate it ... I spent a long time thinking about how to tell him to stop. And eventually I did tell him, and he stopped, and actually it wasn't anywhere near as big a deal as I had made it in my head.

Certainly if boyfriend-from-the-past had tried to do something against the purity rules, like *gasp* kiss me or something, I would have told him NO. But for something that's not a sin, and the reason I don't want to do it is I just don't want to do it, I had no idea how to say those words. We wouldn't want a boy to "feel rejected." My own preferences don't matter because they're just preferences, not about something that's actually a sin.

... Where's the "intimacy" in that?

So... I work very hard to communicate with Hendrix about sex, but wow it's so difficult. I have all this internalized purity-culture crap about how I *need* to have sex with him frequently or else I'm a bad wife, and how I can't just SAY what feels good or not during the actual having of the sex. My responsibility is to make sure it's a good experience for him; I shouldn't care about my own pleasure. Or pain.

Actually, Hendrix and I always have a discussion afterward about how we felt and what we liked or didn't like. I very much recommend having discussions like that with your partner. But it's still hard. We've been working on this for several years (and I am very proud to say we started having sex BEFORE we got married) and it's still hard.

It's hard because purity culture taught me 2 completely opposite things: That sex is intrinsically, automatically the most intimate you can possibly be with someone, and that I shouldn't just communicate how I feel during sex if it might affect my husband's enjoyment of it. 

Turns out both parts are nonsense. Sex isn't necessarily emotionally intimate. Maybe that's because I'm asexual- but, no, I really don't think that's it; I think people who aren't asexual aren't automatically on some kind of magical deep level of intimacy with any and all sexual partners either. And actually, the only way that kind of intimacy could even potentially be possible is if both of us are able to honestly communicate.


Conservative Christians Teach That Wives Are REQUIRED To Have Sex Even When They Don't Want To. Here Are The Receipts.
What Sex Is Like (According to Purity Culture) 
I Wanna Preach the Good News of Masturbation


One of the topics that readers voted for in the 2019 Reader Survey was "sex", so I wrote this post for y'all. ^_^

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