Who Believed the Obligation Sex Message More in Your Marriage?

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Bare Marriage | 32 comments

The Obligation Sex Message in Marriage
Merchandise is Here!

The “Obligation Sex Message” is toxic.

The idea that a woman is obligated to have sex with her husband when he wants it was the most toxic belief that we measured in our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue–and our survey of men.

On Tuesdays I don’t write a full post, but for the last few weeks I’ve shared some data from questions I’ve asked on Instagram. Yesterday in my stories I asked who the obligation sex message affected more, and who believed it more.

So far, 86% of women say it was them. They were the ones who believed it. They were the ones who felt they couldn’t say no, they had to initiate every 3 days, that sex was mostly about his needs.

Just a few of the messages I received:

I believed it more. My husband was surprised when I told him how it was affecting me, because he has never, and I mean never, treated me this way. But the obligation belief affected the way I viewed sex, even if I was the only one who believed it.

My husband has never once thought that this was the way things should be. Things I’d heard across the years – and I have to say, not just in church circles, but all those magazine articles regarding ‘what he wants’ etc – plus various relationships before I met him, things exes had said (for example, one guy who said ‘I’m a guy in the prime of my life – if I’m not getting it from you, you’d better believe I’m going to get it elsewhere’ 😳) made me feel like I absolutely had to have sex as often as possible, whether I wanted it or not, in order to hold my husband’s attention and ‘be a good wife’

And a husband chimed in:

Well, I think it really affected both of us. And we lived in that reality for years. Now we are slowly working our way out of it. I always wanted her to enjoy sex, always took care of her needs, but also thought it was my “right” to have sex even when she didn’t….that God gave our bodies to each other. I was very very confused and wrong. I wasn’t being mean on purpose, I thought I was in Gods will. Thanks to this book and learning more about Gods love for us we are changing the narrative.

 

Here’s the thing that we found in The Great Sex Rescue, that I have reiterated over and over again:

The problem is not men. The problem is teachings that prioritize men and make sex seem ugly and threatening to women, and make it into an entitlement for men.

It’s the teachings that are the problem, the authors that are the problem, the evangelical system that keeps these books best-sellers that is the problem.

I think most men want passionate, mutual sex with their wives. And I have heard from so very many men (like the one who commented above) who, as soon as they heard another way of seeing things, realized how wrong they had been and changed.

Yes, some men are selfish (as are some women). But the problem is not men. The problem is the teachings. And that means we can change it. Reject the teachings. Reject the books. Speak up when others recommend things like Love & Respect or Every Man’s Battle or For Women Only or Married Sex. And then we’ll see this message affecting fewer and fewer people–and more and more couples thriving.

And tell others about The Great Sex Rescue and set more couples free! It makes a great Christmas stocking stuffer. And we just heard it’s in its fifth printing, and sales have been really brisk. It’s making a difference. Let’s keep it going!

Great Sex Rescue

What do you think? Did the obligation sex message affect your marriage? Who believed it more? Who did it affect more? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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

Related Posts

The Math of Love and Respect

Has anyone noticed that the math in Love & Respect for how many people the book applies to...

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

Related Posts

The Math of Love and Respect

Has anyone noticed that the math in Love & Respect for how many people the book applies to doesn't add up? Joanna and her family are on their way down from the Arctic today to stay at my house for a week. They're moving to Edmonton (it's funny to think of Edmonton...

Comments

We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!

32 Comments

  1. A2bbethany

    When we got married, I was the one who felt like an expert. I had read so many books on how to be married, or I thought I did. Within a few days I realized that nothing was looking or sounding like those books. I assumed it was because he didn’t know his role in this. That 1st month, we had a lot of sex(books all implied that a perfect marriage has daily sex)…but we we’re not happy with it. It was too much for both of us! That’s when I decided that, ok our marriage must be a unicorn. It’s never going to look “Normal”…..so I erased all my knowledge.
    I found Sheila in Google searches of my sex questions. I didn’t know that most people were afraid of porn that way! I just had so many practical/physical questions. One of the blogs that I found before Sheila….it was comical. The guy was writing “sex tips/advice” but in a, “I’m such a big stud, I could steal any woman I desired.” Made me feel really bad about myself and I kept looking. I clarified the Google to “christian sex advice” and found here. We finally learned useful things!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I really think the healthier people are, the less their marriages look like the books! I always thought we were the weird ones, too. So in some ways I kept teaching (especially at conferences where the curriculum wasn’t mine) the toxic stuff, because I figured that Keith and I were outliers.

      Now I’m like–Nope. That’s just wrong.

      Reply
  2. CMT

    “The problem is not men. The problem is teachings that prioritize men and make sex seem ugly and threatening to women, and make it into an entitlement for men.”

    Yes. Let’s keep stressing this. There seem to be a number of side conversations bubbling up in the comments lately, with different versions of men saying, “stop blaming us, we are on your side,” or “stop invalidating us, we have needs too.”

    You’ve addressed this pendulum swing idea, but some men commenters still don’t seem to see why women might be so angry. They’re taking umbrage at tone and reading ironic attacks on bad teaching as condemning all men.

    What do we do with that? I wonder if we can have a conversation about why there seem to be such different emotional reactions to the same topic, among people who apparently agree on the content. How do we bridge that gap? Should we even try?

    Reply
    • Codec

      I think part of it comes down to perceptions of one particular word.

      “Patriarchy”

      Some folks hear that word and immediatly what comes to mind are screeching fanatics.

      Others look at that word and think well I am a father or an older brother or a male with some degree of authority what do you have against me?

      Really i do not think patriarchy or matriarchy are the right words to use.

      I think the best word is this.

      Entitlement.

      People think they have a right to something that does not truly exist.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Entitlement is good! I think hieararchy is also good. People who have a hierarchical view of relationships often have a really hard time letting go of these beliefs.

        Reply
        • Codec

          Heirarchy is another one that i am mixed on.

          Heirarchy in and of itself is not a bad thing, but its abuse or heirarchys built on bad or misinformed ideas is definetly destructive.

          Reply
        • CMT

          I take the point. Patriarchy, feminism and related terms are pretty loaded in some circles. I’m not convinced that means we shouldn’t use them, for two reasons.

          1) yes, the problem is hierarchy/entitlement in a general way, but the specific problem we are addressing is a hierarchy that privileges men. Avoiding terms that acknowledge that fact is disingenuous. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie made that point in “We Should All Be Feminists.”

          2) critics are not the only ones who connect complementarianism with patriarchy. Beth Allison Barr talked about this in “The Making of Biblical Womanhood.” I think it was Owen Strachan or another of those CBMW types who argued that his camp should proudly own the term. I know not all comps would agree with that, but do I have to agree to totally separate the two ideas just because they want to?

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, I’d agree. I think patriarchy is an important term. And I don’t actually know anyone who sees it as a good thing other than heavily complementarian people?

          • Mara R

            Just as a side note, I noticed someone used a new word in this conversation that might actually have merit. Maybe.

            They preferred the word caste to hierarchy and their argument went as such:

            In a hierarchy, such as in the military, a person can advance up the ranks, starting as a private and move up to a higher rank.

            However, in a complementarian marriage and/or church, a woman can never move up. Because she was born in the female caste, she can never advance, ever.

            The person who made that comment really left me something to think about.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, that’s actually really interesting! Caste is right.

          • CMT

            Oh, there you go. Should we start using that term instead of hierarchy or patriarchy, and see if folks like it better? 😈

            Joking aside, I see the point and I think it’s valid. But I wouldn’t take it any further than snarkasm. It would be foolish to suggest a parallel between my experience as a relatively affluent white female in 21st century US and the life of a lower caste person in pre 1950 India.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, that’s what I was afraid of too. It does seem like it has racial undertones (or even more explicitly than that! Overtones?)

          • Codec

            I would not call it good. I would also not call matriarchy good.

            I would say that there are matriarchs and patriarchs that have been good.

            I do not think we will ever have a perfect system, but we can certainly try to make a more just more saintly one.

          • CMT

            Well tbh I wasn’t primarily thinking about people disliking certain terms.

            I’m seeing the argument that says essentially, “Hey I agree with you women that x is really really bad. In fact I hate it as much as you do. But if you get angry or snarky about it, I’m going to be offended by your tone. Im going to say you’re disrespecting men and pushing away some who would otherwise listen to you.”

            What do we do with that? Can there be a dialogue there? That’s what had me scratching my head.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I just ignore that now to be honest. I can never be nice enough or polite enough to help them hear.

          • CMT

            Probably fair. I’m just being a 9 over here, don’t mind me haha!

      • CMT

        Codec,

        Yeah I see what you mean “patriarchy” has connotations that can turn people off. See my response to Sheila below.

        This isn’t really what I was thinking of. I’m wondering how to talk to people who say “I agree with you in principle, but your tone offends me.” There was a conversation on a recent post in which a man complained about a woman commenter saying something ironic, which he took to be an example of misandry. I read her remark as mocking a bad idea about men; he read it as derisive towards men in general, and only doubled down (while insisting that he also disagrees with privileging men), when others pointed out what she was really doing. How do we have a dialogue there? Should we even try? That’s what I’m asking.

        Reply
        • Codec

          I do think we sgould try to understand.

          Often, i think we wind up talking past each other.

          Reply
        • Codec

          I do think we should try CMT.

          Do you know what a Codec is?

          It comes from the videogame series Metal Gear Solid.

          It is a communication tool that allows Snake to contact other characters.

          In a sense I feel like i am trying to communicate in an enviroment that can be strange unknown scary and sometimes even beautiful.

          I think that love can bloom even in the worst of places.

          ” I believe that anywhere anytime people can find it within themselves to fall in love, but if you love someone you have to be strong enough to protect them” Solid Snake.

          Reply
          • CMT

            I didn’t get the reference, but if you had called yourself Cortana I’d have picked up on that 😉

  3. Laura

    Over 20 years ago when my ex and I were married, he had the attitude that because we were married, he thought he was entitled to have sex any time he wanted regardless of how I felt. He even used a few Bible verses to back up his entitlement whenever I said no to sex. He told me that as his wife I had to be submissive to him which he believed meant that I should never say no to sex whenever he wanted it and he used the “do not deprive” verse commonly quoted in Corinthians. At the time, we were both baby Christians and did not spend much time in the Word. So, I never knew the verses that came before and after the ones he loved to quote.

    It also did not help that when we took a premarital class through our church the assigned reading was “His Needs, Her Needs” by Willard Harley. According to Harley’s book, a husband’s #1 need that he could not do without was sexual fulfillment. I’m sure that my ex already had that message ingrained into his mind, but knowing this information was in that book probably gave him more of an entitlement attitude. He probably said something along these lines, “See a ‘Christian’ author said this, so it must be true that God made me to ‘need’ sex.”

    As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I had to get divorced due to increasing sexual abuse. So, maybe I came out of that marriage believing the obligation sex message and hesitant about remarrying. This message has been ingrained into the minds of women I’ve known through various Bible study groups. Some of them have even bragged about how they never tell their husbands no, but I’m sure it’s not just about sex that they never say no to.

    Reply
    • CMT

      Oof that sounds so hard. You had the perfect storm scenario-both believing something toxic and one partner using that belief to abuse the other.

      I wonder how many of the Bible study ladies were in the same boat versus how many were doing it to themselves. It is one of the most insidious things about these ideas, imo, that not only do they keep women in abusive relationships, they can wreak havoc even where no abuse actually exists.

      Reply
      • Ladybug

        This. This did a ton of damage to our marriage. He never demanded sex, and I was almost always glad to offer it, to the point of pride. The toxicity was in the belief that I had to keep that up to prevent him from wavering or faltering, that it would be my fault if he strayed.

        This covered and kept hidden so many other toxic dynamics in our relationship (invalidation, passive aggression, belittling, crazymaking)–messages that go along with that are ones like you have to make your man believe he’s a stud (I don’t have any complaints about my husband in this regard, except perhaps he’s too plain and ordinary in some respects, but that’s not a “real” complaint.) To keep that ego stoked, he wanted to be able to “satisfy” me every time. The reality is, this isn’t always possible. I literally cannot fake an orgasm. So the only way for me to keep that stallion supply chain going was to turn to fantasies in my head that would get me there. That might not sound huge on the surface, but sometimes the only kinds of things that would work would be scenarios where I was being badly used–rape, prostitution, being forced by him to have sex with someone else (that’s kind of a mirror to the reality I was living), etc. Over the course of almost 20 years, that has made it nearly impossible for mutuality and relationship to thrive, and made it difficult for me to think of myself as worth anything other than an object to be used. Basically turning a wife into a maid and concubine.

        A few years ago, when he found out about this, he immediately released me from that, but it has still been a very difficult road coming back to center. Made him feel like a schmuck instead of a stallion, especially if something triggers me (I never let it show before, because that’s against the rules too).

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Laura. I think His Needs, Her Needs honestly did do a lot of harm. And I’m sorry that this belief may have made you scared of marriage again. I understand. But it’s still sad how much has been lost because of this terrible teaching.

      Reply
  4. Codec

    You know these ideas do not apply just to sex.

    Look at it this way.

    Gideon Gordon Graves the big bad of Scott Pilgrim. This man keeps women in stasis so that he can have whichever one he wants on a whim. The man regularly uses gaslighting by altering memories. The man treats his own compatriots not as people, but as tools. In his own words ” I have been trapped in my own head since the day I was born”. The guy is a narcissistic entitled sociopath.

    I think the idea that you can demand somebody to like you is not healthy for either person.

    Reply
  5. Anon

    The official answer to your question is that neither my husband nor I believed the obligation message. But here’s the difference.

    That message hadn’t even crossed my husband’s radar. I don’t know whether he genuinely has never heard it or if it is just so foreign to his views on marriage that he blanked it – like he was hearing something in a foreign language that he couldn’t even understand. But either way, it just doesn’t form part of his makeup in any way.

    I’d heard the message and ‘knew’ it was wrong. But deep down, a part of me instinctively believed it was right. And it’s taken months of hard work to ditch that feeling. I’ve found it interesting and not a little scary to see how deeply engrained are some beliefs that I have never consciously accepted as being true!

    Reply
  6. Anon

    My husband was not at all affected by this message, but I definitely was. Five months into marriage I was diagnosed with vaginismus, and I fully believe that it would not have been as bad and taken me as long to heal from (currently still in the therapy process) if I hadn’t believed I had to be able to have sex to be a good wife. My mom’s first response to me sharing about my vaginismus was to ask if I was making sure to keep my husband satisfied. Sheila, thank you so much for all the good work you are doing in dismantling harmful teaching of the church – my experience with vaginismus has tested my faith and made it really hard for me to feel like there is a place for me in the church.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I totally get it, Anon! I know when I had vaginismus I was absolutely petrified of what Keith was going through (and often our counselors were far more concerned about poor Keith than me.) It was really toxic. I firmly believe too that if I had been taught differently I would have recovered more quickly and we would have recovered in a healthier way. That’s why I’m so passionate about this! I hope your healing continues. I’m glad it’s started.

      Reply
  7. Jane Eyre

    I have heard a LOT of men complain about the lack of frequency of sex in marriage. As a woman, I then think this is something all men are bothered by if it happens, and some men express it (usually after divorce, or under the guise of jokes about wedding cake killing sex drive).

    Maybe men hear those comments and think something else? Like, if a man doesn’t believe in obligation sex, hearing another man complain about lack of frequency doesn’t make him think he deserves sex?

    Reply
  8. A2bbethany

    Suddenly had a brilliant thought! Y’all should do a red talk on your research findings. That would get you more exposure.

    Reply
    • Codec

      Ted talk would be a prwtty good venue.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *