The most damaging belief we found on our survey of 20,000 women was the obligation sex message.
Getting married believing that a wife was obligated to give her husband sex when he wanted it resulted in much higher rates of sexual pain, lower orgasm rates, and lower marital and sexual satisfaction.
On our survey for our book The Great Sex Rescue, we found that 39% of women believed this when they were married, and 21% believe it now.
But we still wanted to know: what happens when men believe it?
Well, we now have the answer. And this month on the blog I’m sharing some of our new stats, or having a “number of the day” to lift up the curtains on what’s happening in evangelical bedrooms!
So how many men believe the obligation sex message today?
So not too big a discrepancy with how many women believe it today!
Interestingly, the belief that “lust is every man’s battle” and “a woman should have frequent sex to keep her husband from watching porn” had a bigger discrepancy between men and women. You can find out more on our Evangelical Sex Report Card, available when you pre-order The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, or The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, or both!
As Joanna dug down deeper into the obligation sex message and its effects, we found two big things I’d like to share with you today.
1. The obligation sex message heightens and augments the negative effects of porn.
In fact, as Andrew Bauman says, the obligation sex message is heavily related to the pornified style of relating. When men believe the obligation sex message and that women should have sex to keep them from watching porn, then watching porn has far more of a negative effect on your marriage than if a guy watches porn but does not believe these things. It’s the pornified style of relating that is actually at the root of the harm that porn does.
2. The obligation sex message, when believed by men, does not have quite the negative effects as it does if believed by women.
In a way, this makes sense. The obligation sex message erases a woman’s needs, and even erases her. If he has the right to use her whenever he wants, then she no longer matters. She is just a body. It’s understandable how traumatic that would be for a woman.
What we’d expect, then, is that the negative effects from this message, if believed by men, would show up more on the questions relating to the quality of his relationship. So she would orgasm less; they would feel less marital satisfaction; he wouldn’t feel as close to her.
And that certainly is true (and you can see more about this in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and in our Evangelical Sex Report Card!).
However, the effect is not as dramatic as it is when she’s the one who believes it.
I’d love to dive into why sometime later in a matched pair survey, where we can get a more accurate picture of individual couples.
But for now, can I just give you my theory about why him believing the obligation sex message doesn’t have as bad effects?
I think it’s because fewer men than women judge the quality of their marriage based on emotional connection, and more judge it based on the frequency of sex.
So if sex is happening, it’s assumed that the marriage is fine.
So many men have written me saying, “out of the blue she told me that she was leaving!”, or “out of the blue she cut me off from sex!”, but then they proceed to tell stories of how their wives were unhappy for years, but he didn’t realize that this was serious.
We included one such anecdote in The Great Sex Rescue (and I’m going to include a big excerpt here because it’s especially relevant):
From The Great Sex Rescue
But then there are cases when sexlessness is the natural conse- quence of an emotionally unhealthy marriage. For instance, one man wrote in to our blog with this question:
As a husband, I got more wrong than right. Mismanaged finances, anger outbursts, failure to listen to her. Ugly arguments in spades, overwhelmingly caused by me. She warned me for years this was all taking a toll on her. Several years ago she stopped having sex with me. In hindsight, I view it as the day our marriage ended.
For several years there was 100% zero sexual contact. That period was marked by vicious arguments instigated by me wanting sex. Although she had warned for some time she may do this, it still seemed to me as if she just woke up one day and declared no more sex. She has since told me it was either withdraw physically and emotionally or divorce. My moods/temperament since then have been bad. She told me how she felt like she had to walk on eggshells around me.
Two years ago, after several years of no sex, I began making a concerted effort to improve my disposition. She began allowing me to touch her again. No intercourse, but she would give me an orgasm.
At her request our sex life currently consists of me asking her for sex, and her deciding over the next few days whether she will. Believing our marriage needed something drastic, a few months ago I confessed in vivid detail my failings as her husband. I surrendered my life to her and promised to serve her for the rest of my days. I clean the kitchen after dinner, I give her massages, I bring her her favourite drinks the way she likes them. Serving her makes me feel closer to her.
Things were going well until Saturday when I randomly asked her for sex. It was awkward, and nothing happened. The next day she offered but her body language made it clear it was “let’s get it over with so you leave me alone.” I said I do not want it like that. I asked her if she got any mental or emotional joy out of giving me an orgasm. Her response: “No.” I want to feel intimate and close with my wife again, which, for me, does include an active sex life. When I try to talk to her about it, though, she gets defensive.
Let’s think about this scenario. He admits that he scared her repeatedly throughout their marriage, so much so that she felt she had to protect herself. Even though he’s trying to “serve” her now, the ways he is serving are all things he should have been doing in the first place, yet he’s still upset that she isn’t jumping at the chance to give him a hand job.
Many sexless marriages have, at their root, not a selfish refusal on the part of one spouse but rather an attempt at emotional protection. The way sexless marriages have often been framed, though, is that she is withholding sex because she wants to. By not having sex, then, we would assume that she’s getting what she wants. Logically, we would thus expect sexless marriages to be filled with unhappy husbands and more-or-less contented wives.
That is not what we found. While only 14.3% of women in sexually active marriages rated their marriages as neutral or unhappy, 63.1% of women in sexless marriages did. When you divide our survey respondents up into quintiles (five approximately equal-sized groups) based on happiness, women in sexless marriages are sixty-two times more likely to be in the unhappiest group than the happiest group.
For many men, sex is their way of checking in on the health of the relationship. If everything is not okay, and a wife still has regular sex, she could be reinforcing that she is fine with the marriage, even if she continually tells him that she is not. No matter how much she says she’s desperate for things to get better, he isn’t believing it because she’s still having sex with him. What our stats show, though, is that in the long run, she may not be able to sustain a regular sex life if things do not improve. So men, if you do not listen when your wife says there are serious issues in your marriage, you may find yourself, like our earlier letter writer said, with a wife who “just wakes up one day and declares no more sex.”
I think a lot of men have worse marriages than they realize, and may be in for a rude awakening.
Our survey of men for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, then, shows that these messages are harmful. But the survey also shows that many men may not understand just how troubled their marriages are.
For instance, we found that men overestimated how emotionally close women felt to their husbands during sex. And men overestimated how comfortable women were sharing their opinions, or asking for what they wanted in the bedroom. Men thought women were happier and more comfortable than they actually are.
So what’s the solution?
All of us need to understand real intimacy–that sex is supposed to be MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH. And when these elements aren’t present, we need to take that as a warning sign that there could be some underlying issues with the marriage, and correct it.
Many of us have grown up with the wrong messages about sex. We’ve been told that the main thing is frequency–as long as intercourse is frequent in marriage, then sex is healthy and the marriage is healthy. But that is simply not true.
We hope in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex to help men see God’s vision for a passionate, holistic sex life that is focused on true intimacy rather than entitlement. And we show how to build a healthy sex life not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.
We can do this, everybody.
We can change the conversation about sex so the next generation isn’t stuck in this way. And we can bridge the gulf that many couples feel by simply correcting these false teachings.
I hope you’re with me! So pre-order The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, and we’ll send you our Evangelical Sex Report Card, with even more findings from our guy’s survey.
The All New Guides to Great Sex!
Launch March 15!
Imagine building a great sex life–from the ground up!
What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH–with no harmful messages?
Welcome to the The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.
Pre-Order Now! (Helps us out a ton)
And if you email your receipt, we’ll send you a special pre-order BONUS
What do you think? Do men often miss the signs that their wives may be unhappy? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Number of the Day Series
- How Many Men Think They Do Enough Foreplay Even if She Doesn’t Orgasm?
- How Many Elements are in the Sexual Response Cycle?
- What Percentage of Women Orgasm–but Don’t Have Close Marriages? (coming soon)
- How Many Men Believe the Obligation Sex Message? (and what effect does this have on other areas of their marriage?) (coming soon)
- How Many Men Are Upset about their Wives’ Lack of Adventure? (and what does that mean?) (coming soon)
- How Many Men Watch Porn? (And what are the effects?) (coming soon)
- Is Lust REALLY Every Man’s Battle? (coming soon)
- Can the Way We Do the Honeymoon Increase the Rate of Vaginismus? (coming soon)
Plus Pre-Order The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (they launch March 15!)
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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Growing up we had a family that my dad had built their house. In retrospect, they had a dying marriage the entire time we’ve known them. At some point the father let it be known that the wife only allowed sex, if she wanted another child(7 or 8). After their last child was born, the marriage ended by his affair. (The youngest was 3-4 yrs old) but my parents never mentioned his affair, only that she was refusing to have sex and how sad he must’ve been. My parents never hid that they believed she was in the wrong and that he was a martyr! (I wasn’t told about the affair until very recently!)
As to how this developed, I feel like I have a big clue! My dad’s house that he built included a special closet. It was a concrete walled storm room, but she also asked for a steel door that has multiple locks. So she had a refuge when scared. I now consider 2 possibilities…. though I don’t know which is most likely. 1. She had an abusive past that she was still running from.(but I don’t know…she was pentecostal and I don’t know what they believe about abuse and healing) or 2. She was afraid of her own husband and his issues. To this day, he’s the oddest man I know! He owned a lot of motorcycles (that she “tolerated”) and ate a cinnamon roll slow….2hrs slow!(we had a barn raising and he sat down and took at least that long to eat 1) I seriously wonder if he was abusive in some way, Because I know my parents are incapable of recognizing one.
That is truly bizarre! But good for her for wanting a safety room if she needed one, and speaking up about it!
I have found the more and more men mature in Christ the more they feel grossed out by Obligation Sex. When they can tell she isnt “into it” or is making the grocery list in her head.
I know a few men who have begun to have conversations like this with their wife, “Can we have sex tonight?” “Sure” “Are you able to be in the room mentally?” “Probably not.” “Okay, I will wait till you are, let me know when you feel like that can happen.”
I have not ever heard that their wife wasnt mentally desiring that same intimacy within a week or so. So its not like they then go years without.
Scarcity mindset is a heck of a thing though. The thought, “If I wait till she really wants to it will never happen.” Is real and motiving. I think it plays into a lot of self worth beliefs a lot of men bottle up deep and dont have the emotional maturity to really unpack, they are heavy.
“Scarcity mindset is a heck of a thing though. The thought, “If I wait till she really wants to it will never happen.” Is real and motiving. I think it plays into a lot of self worth beliefs a lot of men bottle up deep and dont have the emotional maturity to really unpack, they are heavy.” I think that’s very important to remember. There is a need for real vulnerability on both sides to get to the bottom of this stuff and it takes maturity and a safe relationship to be able to do that. In that vein, I wonder if the men you know have ever asked their wives, “Can we talk about why you have a hard time being in the room mentally?” I think that is a hard thing to approach, especially if you are afraid of the answer.
Ya, the guy in your example just needs to leave. They will both be happier in the long run.
“Wherever you go, there you are.” This relationship does sound like its odds of survival are low, but leaving wouldn’t automatically equal healing for either party.
That’s kind of what I thought too! He is just treating her horribly, even though he doesn’t understand that he is.
Question… When you speak of men believing the obligation sex message, is it that they believe it as THEY are obligated to have sex, or that their WIFE is obligated to have sex with them? (Or believing it either way?)
I’m just trying to get a full understanding. My own (prior) experiences may be causing me to filter this in such a way that I cannot understand that the husband believing this mindset wouldn’t be as damaging. But maybe that’s because I’m my own marriage, we both believed it. And his belief that I was obligated to have sex with him for his “release”, and my belief that I had to every few days (“or else!”) just created the perfect storm.
Thankfully, we have both repented of those mindsets, are healing and getting free of the false teachings and expectations that have no right whatsoever to be in our marriage. There is genuine selfless love now, and I am SO thankful for where our marriage is and where it will continue to go in growth!
A–we worded it as a wife being obligated.
I think that one reason it isn’t as damaging is that it doesn’t erase his personhood in the same way as it erases hers, and so it will obviously have worse effects for her.
But I also think that guys are missing how unhappy many of their wives are. That’s a huge factor. So I think it is affecting their marriages, but they actually can’t see it because they’re in an entitlement mindset, where one’s own needs are paramount.
Yes, thank you! I just needed that in order to articulate it well within my brain.
An entitlement mindset instead of a selfless mindset will always blind one to the hurt and suffering of others!
That finding that the effects of porn are worse when paired with the obligation sex message is really interesting. It might be addressed in your upcoming posts, but that seems worth diving into. What are the objective effects of porn (eg. ones that aren’t just about breaking religious rules, or having a spouse become upset because they see it as doing something forbidden)? Is there such thing as a harm reduction model (with substance abuse, this means allowing people to use in a controlled environment where risks are reduced)? To what extent does an approach of making everything forbidden fruit or other religious approaches make it worse?
It actually is really interesting! We pulled out a number of things that we didn’t get a chance to share in the book (just wasn’t enough room), but it does look like the mitigating effects of the pornified mindset is the worst root.
As for harm reduction model, I don’t think so simply because, unlike with alcohol, for instance, porn contributes to sex trafficking. It is wrong because it is abuse. Even consensual porn has been found to be largely abusive when they do studies, and sites like Onlyfans often have women who are sexual abuse survivors on them. If they’re trauma survivors, how can we say that’s honestly consensual? I just think there are so many ethical issues with porn that it isn’t okay. Even what happened to women on the set of Game of Thrones, and how that led to change in the industry so that anyone doing a sex scene needed an advocate on site, shows that this really can’t be done well.
What I do think we need to realize, though, is that having porn in one’s past does not mean that one’s sex life is doomed. Many guys used porn without ever developing a pornographic style of relating. And so when they quit porn, they honestly were okay. It’s when we learn to objectify women, use porn for emotional regulation, or see sex as being about one’s own gratification that things get really ugly. And I think that’s why studies show the results of porn aren’t uniform or as stark as we may expect–because it’s not the porn alone, but everything that goes with it.
I have some concerns about it facilitating exploitation and coercion as well. To carry the substance abuse example a bit further: when we legalized marijuana here, the government also had to figure out how to make sure people could access a (relatively) safe and legal supply, because there were real problems with organized crime, harmful additives, etc. with the illegal supply. What happens if there is erotica that doesn’t use real models at all (I remember some discussion of people lumping explicit romance novels into the “porn” category, plus I know some anime stuff is explicit), or that comes from trusted producers that do everything possible protect performers’ rights and ensure full consent, zero coercion, etc.?
Well, it’s nice that men don’t like getting obligation sex, but it still doesn’t seem like men understand what obligation sex is like ***for their wives.*** At worst, obligation sex leads to her feeling like a prostitute. At best, it’s like her annual trip to the gynecologist. (And fellas, if you want to know what that really, truly means, go with your wife and watch everything that happens as she gets a pelvic exam. Yes, you have to go into the room, watch as the speculum is inserted, the whole smash. It’s as unsexy a thing as there is, so sex needs to be as different as possible.)
It’s interesting that men can tell when their wives aren’t into sex, and yet they don’t seem to understand that their wives can tell that their husbands are doing things like washing dishes, bathing kids, and non-sexual snuggling on the couch, all with the end result of getting sex. Do men really think women can’t tell the difference between a genuine attempt at building an emotional connection versus just going through the motions with ulterior motives?
As far as men needing sex to feel emotional connection to their wives, um, well, were they having sex before the wedding? Because if not, then men got married with either no emotional connection to their fiancees, or they were completely faking an emotional connection because they know they need to display it if there’s any hope of getting married. And frankly, that is bait and switch.
While you were dating and engaged, were you talking till three in the morning? Snuggling on the couch? Sharing adulting responsibilities like cooking and cleaning? Planning and executing ***all by yourself*** an outing like a picnic? Leaving little notes for her to find? All those little activities that show your love, care, and concern. And did those activities continue after the wedding? Or did the attitude of “We’re married now, so I don’t have to do all that stuff” creep in? Because again, “all that stuff” is a pretty big part of what builds the relationship and the emotional connection. Sex doesn’t take the place of “all that stuff” that made the relationship in the first place.
“All that stuff” is not the price men have to pay for a mere six months or a year to get a lifetime of sex.
I remember reading this scenario in the Great Sex Rescue. My wife and I talked about it and it sounds like it is unhealthy for a few reasons.
1. The past mistakes of the relationship. It sounds like the husband took all of the blame entirely on himself. Was there anything that the wife did that could have exasperated the problems in the relationship? I find it hard to believe that all of the troubles in their marriage was entirely his fault.
2. Once the husband realized how he hurt his wife, he ‘surrendered his life to her and vowed to serve her for the rest of his life’. That sounds like he is deifying her. As a Christian, that sounds like he is making an idol out of his wife and he has become a slave to her in the hope that he will get sex, which she has full control over. It seems like this is becoming an abusive relationship where the wife is using sex as means to control her husband. The multiple threats of withdrawing sexually seem to indicate this.
3. It sounds like the wife is checked out of the relationship.
He says, ‘I want to feel intimate and close with my wife again, which, for me, does include an active sex life. When I try to talk to her about it, though, she gets defensive.’
If the wife is not willing to talk without a fight starting, divorce might have been a better choice for both of them. If one or both parties do not want to work on improving the relationship, it is time to part ways.
Does the length of time that’s elapsed make any difference?
If they’ve been married two or three years, yeah, she probably needs to do some changing herself.
But what if she endured his indifference for two or three ***decades***? Now he’s seen the error of his ways, and all of a sudden, she’s supposed to be healed overnight and act as though she was never hurt deeply by the one person who promised to love her?
As far as his statement that he “vowed to serve her for the rest of his life,” it seems like that’s a pretty good summary of what Ephesians 5 says to husbands. 🤔🤔🤔
Yes. Also, the things that he is doing to “serve her” just sound like normal, everyday things that decent people do for each other. It’s not above and beyond. And he is still upset that she doesn’t enjoy giving him a hand job, showing that he has absolutely no idea how she works or what she thinks.
I wonder how sex must have been for her, if she consents to give him a hand job so now and then even she does not enjoy it. I suppose intercourse was worse than not just enjoying it.
I would think so. It likely makes her feel even more used and erased.
Length of time could definitely be a factor. However, we can’t tell from what information is given.
From the information that was given, it appears that the wife is using sex as a means of control and compliance.
Could it be that this developed over time due to years of the wife deciding on no sexual contact? Yes.
But now that they appear to be trying to heal by HIS actions, that seems to me to be an abusive relationship where she is controlling him.
I would interested to see if she is doing anything to try to improve their relationship like counseling. It should not be solely the husband’s responsibility and she may need support to help her.
I think she absolutely should be looking for him to be producing fruit in keeping with repentance. Fruit does not develop overnight, so he needs some amount of time to reset his brain, change his default responses, learn to do the ordinary things spouses ought to be doing for each other, and so on.
If he’s not willing to make those changes, which really only involves becoming the averagely decent husband he ought to have been all along, well, who can blame her for being reluctant to have sex with a man who hurt her so much?
Because in all honesty, as soon as she resumes sex, he’s probably going to think he’s done enough and can start coasting again. And if that sounds harsh, well, men have only themselves to blame. Women are absolutely pushed to endless selfless giving, and we are not bottomless wells, even with God’s help.
And no, I’m in no way suggesting a keeping-score situation, but she’s absolutely empty, and his actions will largely determine how quickly, and even if, she fills back up again. What’s the saying? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
I would agree–except. In this case, he had been abusive. He had hurt her. If she wants to stay married because she can’t support herself, and it’s easier for her to live as roommates, I do think that’s her right. If she chooses to leave, okay. But when he was the one who wronged her, he can’t just leave her when he was also the breadwinner (even though he had also wrecked the finances so there was little to share). He was the one with the pension and the job, and so leaving would leave her in a very difficult situation. It’s not right for someone to abuse/have an affair on someone or whatever, and then leave that injured party later if they won’t engage in the relationship anymore. She may have other reasons she wants to stay. (although I do agree that she should likely get out! I just think that’s her call.)
I have a tough time Sheila believing you saying the same thing to a wife that had an affair. After x years she would write to you and state that her husband won’t engage in the relationship anymore. Your advice would be that she’s stuck in the marriage on his terms forever?
I think so, yes. It also depends–is he trying to punish her, or does she make more money and did he sacrifice his career for her, so that he can’t support himself? If she was the main breadwinner, and he would be destitute if the marriage ended, and so he wants to stay married because of that (or other reasons, maybe it’s easier to see grandkids or it’s easier with the family or whatever) then the injured party should decide here.
I think that some of your conclusions are not looking at the current state of divorce courts. Family courts overwhelming favor the women in alimony and child custody. Even if the woman in this story divorced and she was a stay at home mom, it is highly unlikely that she would be destitute.
Except that isn’t how it works. First incorrect assumption: there is enough money to go around. Let’s say she’s 45. Is there enough marital property and alimony to keep her comfortable for another 40 years? It’s more expensive to run 2 households than 1 household, so unless he is wealthy, there probably just isn’t enough money to divide up.
Second problem: even if she starts working, she’s missing out on 20 years of experience and pay raises. She’ll start at entry level and, by retirement, be mid level. That isn’t the same as working from 45 yo 65 when you have 20+ years under your belt. Judges usually don’t make speculative decisions about alimony, so they will chop up the family assets, look at his current income, maybe give her some alimony based on his current income, and call it a day. That leaves her poorer than him.
You are making a lot of assumptions. The story gives us little information as to their age, economic status, if she is also working or if they have any kids.
If kids are still in the picture and she is a stay at home mom, she is more likely to get the kids and get hefty alimony and child support.
Especially since she has evidence of emotional abuse from him.
Jim, it is simply not true that she is likely to get hefty alimony. Everyday I hear desperate stories from women escaping abusive marriages who have to turn over their kids while they are getting no child support because he won’t pay–but they also have to let the kids go to an abuser’s house for the weekend because his abuse against his wife doesn’t mean that he can’t see the kids.
Please stop spreading this, because it is hurtful. SOME women get huge alimony. MOST today do not. And many, many are left destitute, because just because you are awarded child support does not mean that it is paid. This is something I’m super passionate about as a child of divorce and as someone who knows so many abused women being doubly abused by the courts, so I will cut off further comments about this.
That is simply not true anymore. The number of abused women who have been doubly abused by the court system is terrible. And most courts only allow alimony for a certain period until she can get on her feet again. Many women get child support but no alimony.
Alimony is a local issue. It depends on what country/state you live in and what the laws are there. And I can all but guarantee that no jurisdiction gets this right. Case in point. Where I live, alimony payments can only go one way. To the wife. Even if she makes more money than he does. I am watching a close friend go through this now. He and his ex split custody of the kids evenly but he has to pay alimony. Even though their incomes are very similar. And he has to keep paying until she ever gets remarried. But a lot of people now don’t even bother getting married. So she has bought a house with her new boyfriend and they are living together as husband and wife but without being *married* the alimony payments keep coming in. It’s a geat gig if you can get it. I understand that their are women who suffer in this system. I am watching a female coworker go through hell just trying to get a little child support, but the alimony laws are very outdated where I live and need to change. Footnote: I am trying to set up my alimony friend with my female coworker. Fingers crossed. 🤣.
I’m a divorce lawyer in Ontario, Canada (same province as Sheila).
We hear this line from people a lot. It can be a common perception, but it is rarely something that takes into account which jurisdiction we are discussing or what the actual laws are. Family law can vary significantly between different states or provinces, there have been a number of changes to parenting and support laws since I started practicing, but somehow this line doesn’t tend to change.
In Canada, parenting (we just got rid of the terms custody and access) needs to be based only on the best interests of the child, and there is a checklist of related factors to consider. Anything not directly linked to parenting or family violence can’t be considered. The status quo prior to separation is often used as a starting point, so if it is more common for women to be the primary caregivers during a marriage, it will be more common for them to be the primary parents after separation. That said, I have cases where I won sole custody for fathers.
In Canada, we have spousal support (alimony) advisory guidelines. You plug in the incomes of the parties and the length of marriage, and a range of monthly support amounts is produced. Again, if there is a general societal trend for women to earn less and take on more household and childcare tasks, this may be reflected in the support payments, but it is based on circumstances, not gender. I’ve had cases where a wife was the higher earner and paid spousal support to the husband.
That’s really not true. 50/50 custody has become the norm (even though that’s not really good for kids) and alimony varies greatly by state. My state rarely gives any alimony.
He says, ‘I want to feel intimate and close with my wife again, which, for me, does include an active sex life. When I try to talk to her about it, though, she gets defensive.’
I wonder if sex ever was a pleasant experience for her in the first place. Why would she refuse something she’d enjoy? I’ll bet she never did. He might assume she did but it really might not have been close and intimate for her at all.
For a woman, it is completely possible to have intercourse without feeling any pleasure. It can feel outright bad. It may even hurt. If it has been like that for her during many ears, no wonder she gets defensive when he tries to talk about it. He may be looking forward to something she really does not.
Yeah and I’m wondering if the woman in this anecdote was responding out of trauma. The man acknowledges all kinds of terrible, “vicious” behavior, that she was afraid of him, that it took multiple years (!) of sexlessness for him to get serious about addressing his own behavior. He only really confessed to her and promised change a few MONTHS prior to telling this story. But he is surprised that a few months of doing dishes, giving back rubs and respecting her boundaries (maybe) doesn’t undo all the damage he did over years? That she isn’t ready to enjoy having sex with him yet? Huh? Maybe the woman’s responses aren’t super healthy here but I think it’s a huge stretch to call what she’s doing controlling or abusive. She needs therapy, dude. And time. And enough safety to be angry about everything you put her through.
This was a very interesting post.
I’m really looking forward to How Many Men Are Upset about their Wives’ Lack of Adventure? (and what does that mean?) (coming soon), but from the opposite angle.
I believe it is very true therre are many husbands who just assume their wife is happy and satisfied because they are.
I’m thinking very hard how to put it.
I’m not a guy, so this may be a very dumb question, but is it possible for a guy to have sex without feeling any pleasure. I mean, you just do it but at it’s best, it feels just as exiting and fun as brushing your teeth in the morning. And if it is a bad day, it may feel more like at the dentist office but not in your mouth but “under there”. But yeah, that’s your duty, so you do it. Thou shall not deprive.
If you are a guy, just try to imagine that. And then, imagine you’d hear the duty sex message all the time and everywhere: you have to do it for her, because she enjoys it so much and it makes her sooooo happy. And she has a need you do not have nor will ever understand. Thou shall not deprive.
At a certain moment you will just snap and say, I can’t do this any longer, but then your pastor blasts at you for being the the bad guy: You are witholding her something that takes her so little time and makes her so happy. You are using sex as a tool to manipulate her, how dare you! Oh, does it not feel good for you? That’s too bad, but at least you’ll find some satisfaction when she climaxes. Just the pleasure of doing something nice for someone else, you see. Oh, you can’t get it up any more? Man up, and get some therapy, or at least give her a hand job, so she will not watch porn…
I wish this dystopy was not true, not for anyone, not for men, not for women, but unfortunately there are some who live it every day. For them, the obligation sex message feels just like that. A dystopy.
…and actually, just to be fair, your wife is not that bad. She’d like you to have fun too. She’d like you to be aroused and feel some pleasure too. She is trying really hard. Can’t you see her vacuuuming, hours and hours, every Friday? Does it not do anything to you?
This is actually a great point IMO. When I sought counseling from my church one of the things I pointed out is how different I was being treated.
I said, If my husband was impotent and unable to perform sexually, I would be told to bear with him with patience and compassion, but since my body doesn’t have to cooperate for the sex act to happen even tho I’m “impotent” in my own way, I’m seen as being difficult.
I think it’s hard for men (at least my husband) to see unwanted sex as being a traumatic thing. He’s like, so you didn’t enjoy it, oh well. But he doesn’t see it as suffering, and it is.
Unwanted sex is traumatic. It is not like watching an unfunny comedy or attending a tedious lecture. Rather, it is like coming home and finding you have been burgled. A place you thought was safe is no longer safe. It is a violation.
Very true, Emmy! It really does.
I just think this is such a hurtful message for both sides. In my case I was taught this but my husband has a very low sex drive. After growing up hearing how that’s all men want and you have to make sure you fulfill their needs, to then be in a marriage where his drive is so low causes so many issues with self confidence and self esteem for the wife. You question everything about yourself because your husband doesn’t want you that way. Instead I get the obligatory once or twice a year (or only when trying to conceive, except our youngest is 10 so that’s over). I’m still not sure what message was drilled into him but obviously it wasn’t a healthy one. It feels like he checks off a box and then is good for the next 6 months to a year.
For me personally, the difficult aspect of these topics is when your issues are the other way around. Since I was a child it was drilled into me to keep things healthy in the bedroom, to not deprive my husband, to keep him sexually happy. Nobody EVER presents to women what to do when the HUSBAND continuously rejects the WIFE. In addition, nobody in the church is willing to offer counsel to that. NOBODY. Even from the pulpit I have heard the generalization preached over and over that women tend to reject men in bed. Not one time have I ever heard counsel offered if the opposite issue is present. While begging for counsel, obvious conclusion always becomes that there must be something within the marriage that the wife is doing wrong – something perhaps to belittle or emasculate her husband. If a wife is told consistently for years to work on herself but the husband is never even questioned, how is there an opportunity for reconciliation and mutual growth?! I believe that this an incredibly prevalent issue that nobody talks about because that would put us on an equal playing field.
I think you’re very right, Rae! And this is increasingly the case, even in younger couples. I hope one day we can get away from gendered teaching about sex and just teach principles: a healthy sex life is part of a healthy marriage. Sex is mutual, intimate, pleasurable for both. You BOTH have to work to get it there. The lower drive spouse needs to prioritize sex, just as the higher drive spouse needs to honor boundaries. I think if we talked about it less in gendered terms and more in terms of principles, then the lower drive men would still here a message that is for them.
Thank you for pointing out that a pornified style of relating is the actual problem, not just engaging in porn use. I never knew my ex-husband to use porn, but he clearly, in the crassest terms, made it known to me that he viewed the existence of women as solely to gratify the sexual desires of men. This done through comments directed at me as well as a constant stream of comments towards other women, teenage girls we knew, actresses in television shows, women portrayed in commercials, and even random strangers. Not only that, but he characterized these comments as good for our relationship because he was openly sharing his thoughts with me rather than cheating or using porn. Apparently, it never occurred to him that sexualizing and objectifying half of the population might be a serious problem in his life.
Oh, that’s awful! Yes, people can definitely have a pornified style of relating without watching porn.
Reading how men don’t seem to possess the tools to determine the health of their marriages apart from what is happening in the bedroom, reminds me of the Jackie (Roese) Always Unplugged current podcast topic. They have been discussing masculinity in America the last several weeks, and delving into the reasons most men don’t have emotional intelligence. It’s been fascinating and also sad.
Yes, it is tragic that boys were not taught how to process emotions, and then it ends up hurting relationships.
I was on IG and there was some video of Steve Harvey and Al Roker and Steve asked what the top 5 most important things in marriage were and Al said something along the lines of “For men, the top 4 are sex.” Now, aside from the Today Show being ruined for me and viewing Mr. Roker as some gross sex maniac… I started reading the comments and this one guy’s was about how “Even if my wife isn’t in the mood, she still gives me mine. It hasn’t always been this way. We talked and I told her how important my needs were and she listened and understood her assignment. Guys, if your wife doesn’t listen to you, go find someone who will listen and grow as an adult with you.”
And of course this rubbed me the wrong way… I told him he sounded abusive and hoped he didn’t want the same treatment towards his daughter. He replied back that my claim wasn’t true. He never forced his wife to do anything she didn’t want to do. That no means no. Etc. He said he would hope that I would allow my husband to tell me if he wasn’t getting enough sex. Well… I took awhile to think about my response and told him that his 2 comments didn’t line up. In the first, he was bragging that even if his wife wasn’t in the mood, she still has sex with him, which isn’t how it’s always been. SOOOOO… he has convinced her to have obligation sex… and he sees this as a GOOD thing. I said it sounds rape-y. Her “assignment” was that he had needs and she better meet them. The fact that he added at the end that if you wife doesn’t listen, then you need to find someone else leads me to believe that he probably threatened her with that… so he’s using fear and coercion to get more sex. He also used the term “sexual intimacy” and I asked him if one-sided sex was considered intimacy. Like, don’t call it intimacy if she doesn’t want it. It’s intercourse. She’s not connecting with it, she’s being used… it’s not intimacy. And lastly, I mentioned that I did listen to my husband when he said he needed more and I obliged with sex out of obligation and it nearly ENDED our marriage. I said how it builds resentment and eventually I couldn’t take being used as a blow up doll. Soooo… who knows. The guy probably won’t give it another thought because he’s getting sex whether his wife wants to or not. We don’t know her side. Maybe she’s fine with it… but chances are, she’s not. It’ll probably blow up at some point. One day she’ll be done and maybe he’ll recall that girl who told me this would happen.
Another disturbing comment was some 21 year old bragging about how he has sex 2-3 times per day at minimum. (Me slowly blinking). I commented that it sounds like he has a sex addiction. To which he said he didn’t. But come on. Who seriously “needs” sex 2-3x a day… or MORE??? You’re literally not trying to connect with your partner that much. It’s all for self gratification and you’re chasing the dopamine high from orgasm. Gosh! 2-3x/day. Get a hobby! My 2 cents.
Healing, we actually found that those who have sex at least everyday don’t do as well as those who have sex less often. It definitely is a sign of sex addiction for many.