What does it mean to be “unwilling” to have sex?
We’re in the middle of a series on the blog about how to dig out of the pit your sex life is in, when one of you, or both of you, keeps digging that pit deeper.
One of the big points I was making is that we cannot rebuild without safety. She especially needs to feel safe; that her wants and desires matter; that she is not just a body to use.
This week we started looking in particular at marital rape–what it is, why marital rape is so common in many evangelical circles, and what she needs to recover.
Today I was going to turn to what men can do when they realize they’ve been coercing their wives (even if unwittingly). But something happened in the comments yesterday that so shocked me, and that shocked people on Facebook and Instagram when I talked about it, that illustrated one of the big problems. And I thought it was worth dealing with first.
Yesterday, a man left a comment showing he didn’t understand consent.
He was very polite, and was trying to have a dialogue about what sex really is. Commenting on our post about redefining what sex is, he wrote in part:
The sense i get is that you would say to that same couple (to the man) preparing for marriage, ‘if you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectations of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.’ This is the message i hear (as a man) reading your article (which has the tone of a rant at times). I’m sure (i hope) you would not want to be quoted like that!
That’s what I mean about the article presenting an unbalanced view and being unnecessarily (IMO) critical of other Christians.
Quite honestly, I was shocked reading that, and I responded to him and then wrote on Facebook:
Would I want to be quoted like this?
A comment just left on the Bare Marriage blog said:
“The sense i get is that you would say to that same couple (to the man) preparing for marriage, ‘if you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectations of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.’ This is the message i hear (as a man) reading your article (which has the tone of a rant at times). I’m sure (i hope) you would not want to be quoted like that!”
I want to say for the record that I would ABSOLULTELY LOVE to be quoted saying,
“If you’re not willing to give up any hope or expectation of sex until your wife is willing, then don’t get married.”
YEP. That’s it. Men should not hope or expect sex with someone who isn’t willing.
To expect to have sex with someone who isn’t willing means that you are expecting to rape her.
So, yes, I absolutely will stand by this statement.
I was so flabbergasted I even did an Instagram Live on it!
But here’s what’s interesting: I started to get some pushback that “you can’t expect people to go into marriage not knowing if it will be sexless or not.”
People were asking on Facebook, “But why would you want to get married and not have sex?”
This flummoxed me (and many commenters), until I realized what was going on.
People were assuming that if a prerequisite for sex was that she was willing, then sex would likely not happen.
Let that sink in for a moment. This original commenter, and many on Facebook, assumed that if you need a woman to be willing to have sex, then marriages would likely become sexless. Because the only way for there to be sex in marriage is if women have sex when they aren’t willing.
What in tarnation is going on?
I believe we have such a terrible understanding of consent, and such a warped understanding of libido, that we have wrecked sex for many.
I talked on our post on Monday about marital rape some of the reasons that evangelicals don’t understand consent. When you portray sex as a male entitlement, the idea of consent is irrelevant.
I’ve realized, though, that there’s another aspect beyond merely entitlement and obligation, and I’d like to lay it out. To simplify this, let’s create three broad categories of attitudes towards having sex tonight.
Three Categories of Attitudes Towards Sex
1. UNWILLING: I actively want NOT to have sex.
(the consent line)
2. NEUTRAL: I don’t really feel a need for sex, but I may be open to it.
3. WANTING: I want to have sex.
As I explained in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, there’s a difference between wanting NOT to have sex and not particularly wanting to have sex right now.
Sometimes we may not particularly feel in the mood, but we have more of a responsive desire, and we know that sex would likely be fun if we started; we know our spouse is interested and we honestly care about them; we know that sex is good for you in particular and for you as a couple. And so you decide, “Hey, I’m going to jump in and put my all into this, because I know desire will kick in!”
(And if you want help with that, we have our Boost Your Libido course available!).
But that “throwing yourself into it” really only works if sex is good for you too.
That’s why we tell people not to buy our Boost Your Libido course if you don’t regularly reach orgasm. If you’re not enjoying sex, that should be the first priority! You don’t need to throw yourself into something that does nothing for you, because that’s not the answer to your lack of desire. Figuring out your roadblocks to great sex is the answer! (And that’s why we also have an orgasm course).
So let’s just think through the logic here that people are using. Do you remember when we listened in on Emerson Eggerichs’ podcast where he advised the woman crying in the shower before sex that she was being a godly, amazing wife by having sex anyway? He totally missed marital rape. And he said that you couldn’t really tell if a woman was turned on, and that doing housework gets her aroused.
But doing housework does not get her aroused. Doing housework merely may make her think, “okay, I owe him now,” and so she decides to “let” him have sex with her. But she gets nothing out of it.
I think many of the people who are confusing being unwilling with “not particularly wanting sex right now” do so because they don’t actually believe sex can feel good for women.
If you don’t think that women actually physically enjoy sex, or that women are sexual at all, then it kind of erases some of the difference between #1 and #2. If she is never going to enjoy it; if she is only ever going to do it because he wants it; then she is never actually going to want it.
So the only time she has sex is because he wants it.
So it’s assumed, then, that she never really will want it. And so each and every time she has sex she is having sex she doesn’t particularly want.
That is still horrendous–but having sex you don’t particularly want is still different from being unwilling to have sex.
I don’t actually believe women should be having a ton of sex they don’t particularly want, because I do think women are sexual; I do think women can enjoy sex; I do think that we should be working towards making sex mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. And women shouldn’t be “giving gifts” for years on end, never getting anything out of sex. If she is not reaching orgasm, then for him to keep having intercourse with her, year after year, is selfish. They need to figure out how to make sex good for her too. (More on making sure sex doesn’t become one-sided here).
nevertheless, We should never minimize the significance of someone being unwilling to have sex.
I cannot believe so many people missed the significance of this language. Being unwilling means you actively want to NOT have sex right now. You are not consenting.
To say that women should get married assuming they will have sex even if they aren’t willing is rape language. It eradicates consent.
And language matters.
How can we stop this confusion around consent from happening?
First, let’s remember that unwilling means lack of consent.
It should never be normalized.
Second, let’s set the standard that women are sexual and should be enjoying sex too.
We should assume that women will feel pleasure from sex, and that sex is not just something that a woman gives to a man, but something that a woman receives as well. If we truly believed this, then we’d stop assuming that women will always need to be bribed or threatened into sex, or that the norm is for women to have sex they don’t want.
Third, let’s understand that a healthy sex life is something that both of you work towards.
It is not something anyone is owed. A healthy sex life is the culmination of your relationship together. It is the physical expression of everything you are. A healthy sex life is a vital part of a healthy marriage, but if the marriage isn’t healthy, then sex cannot fix it.
If we began marriage with men assuming that their primary goal is to figure out how to make sex pleasurable for her, and how to create conditions where she will want it, then we wouldn’t see sex as a male entitlement. And if she understood that sex was for her as well, then we’d give libido and responsiveness a chance to flourish and grow–and you know what? It actually does!
The All New Guides to Great Sex!
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.
Get them NOW!
And let's make these the go-to wedding shower gifts!
Most women do enjoy sex. Most women do want sex. If someone is talking like it’s the norm for wives to have sex when they’re unwilling, they’re revealing a lot about themselves that isn’t pretty.
Sex is something that should be life-giving in a marriage. When we talk about sex like it’s something that is always forced from her, then we’ll never, ever have healthy sex lives or safe marriages.
The Sexual Recovery Series--Digging Yourself out of the Pit
- A 4 -Point Plan to Sexual Recovery
- Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not an Individual Need
- What Sexual Recovery Looks Like
- Safety and Intimacy: You'll Never Have an Intimate Sex Life without Feeling Safe First
- When Sex Has Become One-Sided, Leaving Her Feeling Used
- 2 Kinds of Marital Rape
- How to Recover from Marital Rape (if it's possible)
- Why Christians Often Don't Understand Consent
- 5 Next Steps if You Realize You've Coerced Your Wife into Sex
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that She Has No Sexual Autonomy?
- How to Regain Sexual Autonomy (coming soon)
- How to Slowly Start to Rebuild Safe Sex (coming soon)
- PODCAST: A Path forward Addressing Sexual Shame (with Jay Stringer)
- PODCAST: The Myth of the Magic Penis (and a call for integrated sex)
- PODCAST: Learned Helplessness and Sex (coming soon)