The Duty Sex Isn’t Sexy Podcast

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Uncategorized | 34 comments

Duty Sex Isn't Sexy Podcast

Do you have to have sex with your husband whenever he wants it?

In our survey of 20,000 women, the results of which are out in our new book The Great Sex Rescue, which launches March 2, a full 43% of Christian women report being taught this as they were growing up–and almost all of those women believed that before they were married.

What does this “obligation sex” message do to women’s sex lives? And is this an accurate picture of how God made sex–that one person owes sex to the other on demand? 

Listen in!

Or, of course, you can watch on YouTube!

 

Timeline of the Podcast

1:00 What does research say about the ‘Obligation Sex’ message?
7:35 The difference between biblical sex and duty sex
11:05 Why frequency isn’t the problem, and why we have authority of OUR OWN bodies
18:35 RQ: “Do I owe my husband Valentine’s Day sex?”, with guest Andrew Bauman
27:37 RQ: “My husband wants it TOO much!”, + a discussion on consent
35:50 Benjamin Young joins us for a grea discussion on consent and marriage
51:10 Join ‘The Great Sex Rescue’ launch team!
52:30 Sheila shares her personal story of how the obligation message hurt her

Main Segment: Obligation Sex Isn’t Sexy

The idea that “a woman is obligated to give her husband sex whenever he wants it” has hurt sex and marriage. It causes orgasm rates to drop, but perhaps most importantly, it causes sexual pain rates to skyrocket (I talked about this before in my post on how The Body Keeps the Score). Our bodies actually interpret the obligation sex message as trauma.

In today’s podcast we explore why talking about sex as if it’s something that women owe men sets us up for terrible sex lives, and destroys intimacy.

If she can’t freely say no, she’ll never be able to freely say yes. And passion requires that she’s freely saying yes!

Our Guests: Andrew Bauman and Benjamin Young

We talked with counselor Andrew Bauman, who has been on the podcast before, about why we shouldn’t talk about Valentine’s Day sex as something that she “owes” him just because he bought her flowers or took him to dinner (despite what some other blogs may say). And then I invited Benjamin Young on to talk about an epic Twitter thread where he was talking about consent!

My Story: The Act of Marriage & the Obligation Sex Message

At the end of the podcast I shared how reading The Act of Marriage before my wedding really wrecked my honeymoon–and the first few years of my marriage. I never realized exactly how or why until we did the survey and we found so many women with almost identical stories. I had been so excited about sex until the obligation sex message changed everything for me. And that made the chances of vaginismus that much greater (so my own issues were hardly surprising).

Obviously I got to the other side, but I hope we can stop framing sex in this way, so that no other women have to go through what I did.

God made sex to be an intimate knowing between two people, which means that both people matter.

Sex can never be something that one person owes another; sex should be an intimate, life-giving thing. In The Great Sex Rescue, we show how far too often sex has been depicted as something really ugly for women–and it shouldn’t be that way! We can do better.

(And we’re loving the reviews that are coming in from Goodreads from our launch team, who sent in their receipts so they could read it early!)

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

The Obligation Sex Debunking Posts

Some posts that have also dealt with obligation sex and coercion

And check out The Great Sex Rescue–with two chapters looking at where the obligation sex message has been taught, what our survey of 20,000 women told us about how it affected us, and what we should teach instead.

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

The Obligation Sex Message: Why duty sex isn't sexy

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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34 Comments

  1. Stephanie

    This is beautiful. I feel so much relief listening to this. Wow. Probably one of my favorite podcasts so far. I appreciate the two men who had so many good things to say. And I continue to appreciate you and Rebecca fighting against all of these toxic teachings. I cannot thank you enough for this!!! <3

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So glad you found it healing! That’s what we were hoping for for The Great Sex Rescue, too. I know it sounds like we’re being really negative by criticizing these things, but I think what we’re doing is helping women find real freedom, sometimes for the first time. It’s okay to reject that which is not of God, which is soul crushing. It really is!

      Reply
  2. Anon

    My wife and I just had a conversation about this yesterday. She told me about what she learned growing up. Sadly she grew up in a culture where practically every man she knows has cheated on their spouse. And the message she grew up with was that as a wife you should do everything the man wants. As a wife you are a “housewife and a prostitute”!
    Seriously it’s horrible what she has learned! She grew up learning that men want a woman that are ready to do everything the man wants in bed or else he is going to find someone else he can do that with. Which sadly is very common in her culture.
    I felt sad and disgusted by this. And I told her and I have always told her that for me , if I can’t give her pleasure when we have sex, if it’s not about her pleasure then it’s not something I want. And my wife thankfully says no when she doesn’t want to have sex and she doesn’t say yes to everything I want.
    I remember when I told my wife about a special fantasy I have. It’s rather taboo in Christian circles but I wanted to be honest about it. And one day we were talking about it and she asked why I never just did it to her. And I told her something like: “I would never want to hurt you or force you”! And she looked so moved by my words which I thought was odd until I remembers that she had a fiancé before meeting Christ who pushed her to do things she didn’t want to. Who probably used the same words that are sadly often used in church, that the man will find another “outlet”. It’s so sad. I am not a good husband IMO but I understand that my wife’s bar is pretty low with all she has seen when it comes to men; it’s really sad.
    My wife is strong and after our conversation I realize that she feels free to say no so she hasn’t let this affect her too much although I know that the old way of thinking does pop up.
    I can’t imagine all the women who have had to suffer through teaching like this. It’s really really sad.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Anon. It is truly sad. I’m glad your wife is able to give voice to her “no”, and that you totally honor it. That’s really beautiful. I can’t believe that “Christian” books would ever want any less–and yet they have.

      Reply
  3. Anon please

    So many men, good men, have written in comments on various posts over the last few months that they hate it when their wives are clearly only having sex out of duty or obligation. They say, “I want my wife to be excited about sex. I want her to enjoy it. I want her to want to do it because she wants it, not because she feels like she has to.” But then they turn right around and say, “Yes, I may orgasm, but it’s very empty, it doesn’t mean very much, because I know she doesn’t want to be having sex.” They add, “Every time we have sex like this, it just makes me feel bad.”
    Hey, guys, what do you mean by “EVERY TIME”???? If you sensed this reaction from your wife, and since so many of you noticed it pretty early on in your marriage, why did it happen more than the first time? Or even just twice? Did you not think that maybe there was some problem that needed addressing? You claim orgasm in this situation leaves you feeling empty, yet you did not explore what you could do to try to improve whatever it was that needed improving. Nor did YOU stop having sex—by which I of course mean your ejaculation. You say it felt empty, yet you kept doing it. So how bad did it REALLY feel? Not bad enough to make you stop until you got things sorted out.
    On a subject that may appear tangential, I’d be curious to know how many husbands have witnessed their wives having their annual pelvic examination. I don’t mean they just go with their wives to the appointment, then sit in the waiting room. I mean, how many husbands have gone in the examining room and seen exactly what their wives are going through, with feet in stirrups, the bright light, the speculum, the digital exam?
    Here’s why it’s not tangential: When you have sex with your wife, how similar is it to her receiving her pelvic exam? “OK, just take off your clothes, then I’m going to stick something inside you.” If that’s your idea of sex, well, that might just be why your wife isn’t interested.

    Reply
    • Whitney

      Anon, what’s worse is when they take that as a personal affront and assume basically that the wife is making sex bad on purpose. Yet they keep accepting the duty sex but turn around and complain about it. There was a comedy sketch about that:
      The food here is terrible, and the portions are so small!

      Reply
      • Anon please

        And that’s exactly the same as the difference in what “bad sex” means to men and to women.
        Men think “bad sex” is so-so orgasms, or she didn’t give him oral sex or try some new position or some other lack of a particular titillating detail.
        Women think “bad sex” is pain now, UTIs later, no orgasm at all, and the realization that they’re simply being used. And for way too many women, “bad sex” like this goes on for decades.

        Reply
      • A different anon

        (Replying to “anon please”) who wrote on February 11, 2021 at 1:48 pm “”– Men think “bad sex” is so-so orgasms, or she didn’t give him oral sex or try some new position or some other lack of a particular titillating detail. Women think “bad sex” is pain now, UTIs later, no orgasm at all, and the realization that they’re simply being used. And for way too many women, “bad sex” like this goes on for decades. –“”
        This is sadly and horrendously true as a generalization and I’m not disputing that… I would just say there are exceptions, occasionally, at least on the physical side.
        I’m a man. Before our marriage, my wife had complementarian and dutiful expectations, but I insisted we’d be egalitarian and that her needs were the top priority. On the night, when (after non-pen things) we tried penetration, she had mild discomfort passing after the first minute or so, and then could orgasm quite easily (to my delight)… but I had sharp pain. And my pain got worse as we went on, and I kept having that pain for our first few months of marriage. Also, I couldn’t orgasm from penetration until several months in. (Then later I had some UTIs and she didn’t). Both did eventually get better.
        So, sometimes men get the short straw at least on the physical side. (Although my problems were totally worth it to be able to pleasure her – even when it was physically bad for me it was still good in every other way and I wouldn’t change it for the world as it was so good for her and so intimate for us together).
        If things could be that physically poor for me as a man in a healthy mutuality marriage, I can’t imagine how terrible things are for women in unhealthy non-mutual marriages. I’m not saying it’s an equal comparison, I wasn’t being used or abused! I don’t bring up my exception to minimize or discount their suffering at all. Just wanted to say sometimes men can have genuine “bad sex” physically too.

        Reply
  4. Nathan

    > > I know it sounds like we’re being really negative by criticizing these things,
    Trust me, Sheila, you’re aren’t being negative. If you ONLY criticized, then it would be. But you go beyond that. You explain WHY those ideas are wrong, present a valid alternative, and explain why that’s better.
    If only more people did that on the other web sites I visit…

    Reply
  5. lady lavender

    Question (this question isn’t specific to today’s podcast but in general to the obligation sex message): In Biblical (Old Testament) Jewish tradition, was it not forbidden to have sexual relations with a woman while she was having her period? Did she not have to go through a cleansing ritual to purify herself before marital relations could happen again? Likewise for post-partum. If so, did that tradition continue into New Testament times? If this is true, why has this obligation sex message been perpetuated by “modern” people when it would seem that it is in direct conflict with God’s intent? (I realize that this is only a tiny portion of the obligation sex message….)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, in the Old Testament it was assumed that men would abstain for those days–and after the birth of a child. I’ve got more about that in this post on Old Testament Laws!

      Reply
  6. Dara

    I loved how Rebecca kept mentioned that her body still belongs to her 1 Cor 7. Can I ask what translation you recited that passage in?
    Also the deep knowing vs owning what a mind shift. Maybe we also need to tackle the twisted idea that lusting in marriage is okay, that having the craving to use your spouse is perfectly normal. This idea probably stems from what you’ve talked about earlier that we confuse desire and lust and say they are the same. So we say that since in marriage desire is acceptable so is lust.
    BIG NOPE!!!
    Using is still using be it in marriage or not.
    Also why don’t we ever look at those passages in a different way. If I now “own” or “have authority” over someone else’s body and I love them. Wouldn’t I take care of that body. If it is an extension of my body, I would never push that part to do something it doesn’t want to do.
    Say you have the desire to run a marathon and thats on your bucketlist. You’ve been training for it for sometime now and the day is approaching. But last minute you hurt your leg on a training day. If that was me I would opt out of the marathon. Because even though its something I’ve always wanted to do I know that I wouldn’t enjoy it if my leg is in excruciating pain. Like not at all!! I wouldn’t force my leg to go through that just so that I have some pride about running a marathon. I would wait! Wait till my leg was up to it and excited to run the marathon with the rest of my body.
    The verses were not meant for taking but as a giving, right? As a giving thing to please the other body. So much of it has been twisted as a taking from women that they basically become that ignored leg. If it was seen as a giving thing the leg wouldn’t be forced to run. The pleasing of the women in pain and her body is completely ignored.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      It was just the regular old NIV!
      “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” (1 Cor 7:3-4 NIV)

      Reply
      • Anon please

        Sorry to bomb the thread…
        The newest edition of the NIV (from 2011) now renders verse 4 as “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”
        Isn’t that fascinating???
        It’s also fascinating that even though the wife has as much authority over her husband’s body as he has over hers, she can’t use her authority over his body to ever say no. Heads you win, tails I lose.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’ll get Keith (my husband) to look up the Greek and then I’ll comment back!

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Okay, he just looked it up in Greek, and the word “alone” really isn’t there, unfortunately. Too bad! Wish it were.

      • Dara

        Okay, I tried to find it written that way and only saw that the very moderns translations(AMP & TPT) just add “explicitly” and was confused as the new NIV does not. Thank you for clarifying that.

        Reply
      • Keith Gregoire

        Although the Greek doesn’t use the word, “alone” it is clearly parallel – that is, the authority that each has over the other is the same.
        So if he has the authority to say “Your body is going to have sex tonight”, she has the right to say, “Well, yours is not!”

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Can I just say I love how I can just get you to look up the Greek for me? 🙂 You’re so smart.

          Reply
  7. Anon please

    Thanks, Sheila, for the private email response! I have to admit it was my husband who made the connection to that kind of sex being impersonal and clinical, exactly like getting a Pap smear.
    One other thing that’s been going through my mind for a couple of months on this whole topic of how sex is presented and MIStaught is, how is this not spiritual abuse? The podcast a couple of weeks ago about the hina clause in Ephesians 5:33 indicating that a wife’s respect is a result of the husband’s love rather than a command to the wife has GOT to be considered a gross mistranslation. Any seminary-trained pastor who studied koine Greek and looks to the original language to prepare a sermon ought to realize that major error. So why haven’t all these generations of men been pointing out this major problem with English translations?
    In the same way, how do all these preachers and teachers justify completely skipping over the first half of 1 Corinthians 7:3? Is the full extent of a wife’s conjugal rights solely that she gets to be the receptacle for a masturbatory sperm deposit? That’s it? She just gets to act as an orifice? As you and/or a commenter once pointed out, the half of the marriage (and the general population!) with the clitoris is the LESS sexually capable and responsive???
    Also, what is the meaning of Deuteronomy 24:5? If you look at all the English translations (here they are: https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Deuteronomy%2024:5) , some say that the man gets the year off “so he can be happy with his wife” and the others say “so he can bring her happiness.” From my point of view as a woman, shoot, as a human being, those are diametrically opposed statements. I’m not at all saying that only one of the spouses can be happy or that her happiness does not accentuate his own, but who is the focus of the two possible translations? In the first option, it’s all about him; in the second, she is the focus. I can’t remember where or when I heard this, but someone suggested that what this verse means is that a man is supposed to spend that first year of marriage learning to bring his wife to orgasm. Another commenter on another post talked about the Jewish marriage vow of Onah, which says sex is the WIFE’S right, so maybe that’s the source and rationale for this suggestion?

    Reply
  8. G.S.

    “Sex is a knowing, not an owing” This statement sums it up very well. So many wrong things taught about sex and marriage. My marriage and sex life has greatly improved since finding your blog! (Long story-but I never had an orgasm for the first 18 years of our marriage.) Thank you for tackling the hard topics!

    Reply
  9. Sarah

    The Act of Marriage…. I think that’s the book I was given in our pre-marital pastoral counseling. Good on you for drowning it! I should have done that, but it was a loaned copy, so probably best I didn’t. I do wish I had drowned those ideas though!

    Reply
    • Denise

      Help me understand. Obligation sex is not sexy. It is not what sex is about. But I’m reading, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and you write, “Our husbands have the right to be themselves and when we accept that, our marriages tend to be stronger.” I should accept that he isn’t interested in sharing a room, he isn’t loving, affectionate, giving, rarely pays attention to me at all, I should just accept how he is even though I feel used and dirty afterwards, like I just had sex with a stranger? I’m getting mixed messages.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        No, Denise, we need to accept our husbands’ personalities and preferences and the fact that they’re different from us. But as I said in Thoughts 4, 5, 6, and 7, your needs matter, too, and you have the right to draw boundaries; to speak up for yourself; to talk about your needs (and to tell him when what he’s asking for is illegitimate and crosses your boundaries), etc. Everything has to be read with that context in mind, too. If he isn’t loving, affectionate, or giving, then please go back to thought 4 and look at how you may need to draw some firm boundaries. It also sounds like you could really use some licensed counseling, because those are very serious issues, and I’m sorry that you’re going through that. Really sorry.

        Reply
  10. April

    I so appreciate this podcast. I was in tears near the end. I am so grateful for men who speak about and to men being good husbands. It’s great to hear it from a woman, but there is a certain amount of healing and correction that comes when I hear it from a man.

    Reply
  11. V

    I have recently heard that “sometimes you will have sex even when you don’t want to, because you know it will bless the other person”.
    Is that true?
    It sounds sick to me..,

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think there’s a difference between actively having sex when you really don’t want to, and having sex when you don’t mind, you know you likely won’t orgasm tonight, but you want to bless the other person. Giving a gift isn’t a problem, as long as it’s not the majority of your encounters. But when you truly don’t want to and you’re experiencing it as something very unpleasant? No, that can be very detrimental to your view of sex and your relationship.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        Kinda like the difference between going out for dinner and your spouse wants Italian and you’d prefer Greek, but you still like Italian so you figure, “Sure, why not?”
        Versus your spouse wanting Italian and you actively not wanting Italian food and him saying, “Well I want Italian food and I deserve Italian food” and then only wanting to go to the restaurant you got severe food poisoning at and you deciding to “go along with it” as a “blessing” to your spouse.
        First, perfectly fine and normal and healthy. Part of the normal back-and-forth of a relationship. Second one, very bad news, very concerning for the pressured spouse’s well-being.

        Reply
      • Michelle

        Hi Shiela! Is there a difference between obligation sex and the obligation to try? I feel guilty not trying most of the time (if I am especially tired or don’t feel well physically or emotionally, I will sometimes say no to trying). So I make it a point to always be willing to try. I am the lower spouse drive (except for the week after my period ends, my hormones make me much higher drive) so I have to make it a point to be willing to try or it would rarely happen. My husband is not a selfish lover, he wants me to have pleasure, so that isn’t the issue. I just don’t know if my headache is right to feel the pressure to try. (If I don’t try everyday I can, and a few days go by, then he starts to get really frustrated, which in turn makes me feel really guilty. I have told him this and he acknowledges it and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, but says it is hard to look forward to something and be so turned on with me and then nothing happen.) On another note of all this TMI (lol), i stopped having what I consider “obligation sex” for a while now, and if I do not get turned on during our intentional “trying” time then I don’t force it. We will stop, and I usually end up mad at my body for not cooperating and he ends up frustrated.
        Advice from anyone?

        Reply
  12. Mary Poppins

    Wow!!! Thank you so so much!!!!!!! I’m so glad my God is a good God. I wish I had this 30 years ago but I’m sharing it with everyone I know now. The church needs an overhaul and I will be a part of it by sharing your info and others.

    Reply
  13. Jacqueline

    I had my husband listen to the duty sex podcase bc i feel this was a way i could FINALLY help my husband understand my side of things. Ive come to the conclusion he either didnt really “listen” to it, or is truly hopeless. His takeaway was that BOTH husbands and wives have needs and he NEEDS sex to show me how much he loves me. When I set a boundary that I no longer want to have sex unless I want to , he lost his s***. calling me cold, unloving, punishing and saying “i guess we are never having sex”. he just doesnt get it and it makes me so sad. I have said for years that we arent connected emotionally and I need it to want sex, but he said he gets too burnt out from his job being emotionally draining. I have pointed out that he give more of himself to his job than his family but that falls on deaf ears bc “somebody has to make the money”. My next boundary is going to be no sex until we figure this out, I am expecting things to get much worse. Please pray for us.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Honey, if you’re expecting it to get worse and he is refusing to listen (and pushing the “entitlement mindset”), you might want to consider seeing a licensed counselor. What he’s doing to you is far from loving and not healthy at all.

      Reply

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