2 Kinds of Marital Rape that Evangelicalism (Inadvertently) Enables

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Abuse | 85 comments

Marital rape is the story in all too many Christian marriages.

When we analyzed the top 13 evangelical books for our book The Great Sex Rescue, there was one word that was missing from all of them: Consent. While several books did do a good job at talking about the importance of not raping your spouse (Boundaries in Marriage and The Gift of Sex), no book that we looked at had a robust discussion of what consent and coercion looked like in marriage.

Yet when we asked our survey takers who left their emails if any of them had stories of marital rape to share, a full 20% who answered our query did.

And in our focus groups, we heard horrifying story after story of marital rape.

Not all marital rape dynamics are the same.

I’m going to distinguish between two different dynamics that we’ve seen in readers’ stories:

My Hypothesis About the Two Kinds of Marital Rape

In my work, I have seen two different dynamics around sexual coercion in marriage:

  1. Rape where the husband is exercising control and truly doesn’t care and is abusive.
  2. Coercion where the husband may not have completely realized the dynamics that were present.

The first instance is illustrated by Tim LaHaye’s story in The Act of Marriage of Aunt Matilda, who is the actual antagonist (the bad person) in the story that he’s telling:

Apparently her aunt, whose marriage was arranged by her parents in the old country, found herself petrified of sex on her wedding night. When her embarrassed and clumsy farmer husband, who was twenty years older, brought her to their wedding bed, he “stripped me naked and raped me in my own bed. I fought and screamed to no avail.” . . . Her conclusion to her niece was, “As far as I’m concerned, marriage is just legalized rape.” As much as one might feel compassion for poor Aunt Matilda and her equally unhappy spouse, we can hardly envision more unhealthy concepts to pump into the impressionable young mind of a bride-to-be.

Tim LaHaye

The Act of Marriage

Please notice that Tim LaHaye called the rapist, who held his wife down while she was kicking and screaming, and did this throughout their marriage, “equally unhappy” as his rape victim. 

This anecdote is from the fourth edition of their book. And nobody at Zondervan (the publisher, who still, to this day, has this wording in its book and has not taken it out) thought, “hmmmm….maybe it’s not a good idea to call a rapist equally unhappy as his rape victim!”

No, they thought that was okay. Which is why I dedicated The Great Sex Rescue to Aunt Matilda, and all others like her. The evangelical world has failed women by making marital rape normal. And I’m incensed and so angry.

When writing our book we developed a 12 point rubric of healthy sexuality teaching. And the marker that evangelical books as a whole scored the worst on was the concept of consent, coercion, and obligation. It is absolutely atrocious. There is very scant teaching that women’s autonomy matters, and that men can’t just take what they want. There is lots of teaching, on the other hand, that men own women’s bodies and that men are entitled to them. (And you can read lots of evidence in The Great Sex Rescue!)

"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

In the evangelical world especially, we are not taught that consent matters.

When rapes that would obviously fall into the first category above, where there is violence being done and the husband doesn’t care are minimized in our best-sellers, is it any wonder that marital rape is so common?

But the problem goes deeper than that. It is not just that abusive men are enabled.

It is also, I believe, that men who would not otherwise be abusive become that way, perhaps even unwittingly. 

This is what happens when consent is not discussed properly. When we talk about sex as something that God commands women to give, then, as one reader commented to me about people who think this, “The wife’s consent is irrelevant to these people because only God’s consent counts.”

It’s like this passage from chapter 10 of The Great Sex Rescue:

Great Sex Rescue

From The Great Sex Rescue

We have even had several male commenters on the blog taking issue with the fact that women can say no to sex for the six weeks postpartum or during her period.

Referring to the 1 Corinthians 7 passage, Tony commented, “Consensual is a keyword. If he didn’t consent to going six weeks [after a baby] or even one week a month [during her period], then unilaterally imposing that on him is certainly not consensual.” Another man echoed him, “The period of absti- nence after pregnancy and during the wife’s period is not by mutual agreement so that the couple can devote themselves to prayer. It is being forced on us men because we are being told to give our wives a break.” You need mutual consent to say no, these commenters feel—but apparently you don’t need mutual consent to say yes.

Think about this for a moment:

If you honestly believe that GOD is telling you that you need two people’s consent to say no, then consent has been flipped on its head in the Christian world. 

It’s rape that is normalized, not mutual, intimate, and pleasurable sex. Because in this warped interpretation of the Bible, the evil thing is not taking sex from someone; the evil thing is withholding sex.

And if having intercourse in marriage pleases God (which is what we’re also taught), then when someone takes it, this is actually glorifying God, in some weird way.

Then let’s combine that with the idea that the wife is the only “lawful sexual outlet” he has.

As Doug Wilson recently said, wives are the only lawful sexual outlet. This is common teaching in the evangelical world–that the wife is the only proper place to put your lusts. So Every Man’s Battle teaches women that when he quits porn, you need to provide all the sexual release he needs so he doesn’t sin. You become methadone for him.

In this mindset, him using his wife prevents sin. In fact, the whole reason that God gave marriage is so that men wouldn’t have to sin sexually (as Mark Driscoll said, now his penis has a home).

The thing that must be avoided is lusting after someone else or masturbating or sexual sin in any way; and the way to avoid these things is to have sex with your wife.

Thus, using your wife for sexual release is seen as a righteous act to avoid sin. 

In fact, as Every Man’s Battle says, she should be grateful for this! She should understand that he is honoring her by doing this.

Orgasm Course

Can you see how, if you are immersed in this way of seeing sex, that a husband may totally not understand what marital rape is?

My contention is that the evangelical world enables the first type of rapist by not calling it all out. But then it creates the second type of rapist. It pushes men who would otherwise treat their wives well to using their wives, because they think this is what God wants and that this is righteous.

Yes, it’s twisted. It’s absolutely bizarre and hideous and evil. But over and over again we heard stories like this one, that we included in the book (and trigger warning, it’s especially bad):

Great Sex Rescue

From The Great Sex Rescue

My husband and I have sex every day. Every other day we have it twice a day, and often 3 times a day! When I’m on my period, tired, we still do. When I had our babies, he googled and told me it’s okay after four weeks, we don’t have to wait for six. When I feel like it’s too much, [1 Cor. 7:3–5] is thrown at me. He also explains to me why he needs it and how he feels when I deny him (like if I’m exhausted and fall asleep before it happens). I actually feel abused. I curl up in a ball on my side and let him do it. I’m detached emotionally (not always, but almost always during my period) and this hurts him.

I love my husband. He’s my best friend, but sometimes I want out! I feel like I’ll either lose my best friend or continue to feel abused. I tell him it hurts me when we have sex too often or when I’m on my period, but he says, then why would God say to NEVER deny each other?

Let’s notice a few things about this story, which is typical of so many that I’ve heard:

  • The wife feels abused (and is being abused)
  • The husband ignores the wife’s obvious distress
  • The relationship is otherwise good
  • The husband thinks that this is what God wants

Now, I know some may argue that the third and fourth point likely aren’t true, and that this guy is just abusing his wife and knows it.

But here’s the thing–I’ve had so many heartfelt emails from guys saying, “I didn’t realize I was coercing my wife. I thought this was what God wanted. I thought, by not wanting sex, that she was the one in sin. I used her and I never realized it”, that I’ve come to believe this dynamic is far more common than we think.

Should they have realized it? Yes.

Was it still abusive and coercive? Yes.

Did he realize it? In many cases, I think he (and even she) may have convinced themselves this was normal, and identified HER reluctance as the problem. 

I have simply heard too many stories from women saying, “he is such a great guy in every other way; he doesn’t belittle me, he’s not verbally abusive, but he’s so selfish in bed and I feel so used.” And I have had too many messages from men wanting to know how to make this right that I think this is a very real phenomenon.

In far too many evangelical marriages, she is being coerced and neither of them understand the dynamic.

When you believe that you need mutual consent to say no, but not mutual consent to say yes (because God’s consent is all that counts); when you believe that she is the lawful sexual outlet, and God gave her to you specifically to use so that you don’t sin; when you believe that God wants sex to be frequent in marriage, and is upset when it doesn’t happen–then it is easy to see how they both may not understand coercion and marital rape.

Quite frankly, we’ve created a lot of rapists, many of whom are absolutely devastated and heartbroken when they later realize what they’ve done.

Now, many are not, and that when someone doesn’t get it, that can’t be fixed. They abused because they wanted to abuse.

Marital coercion is any time sex happens when a woman feels as if there are negative repercussions to not having sex.

We tend to think of marital rape as the Aunt Matilda situation, where she is held down, kicking and screaming. But technically rape is any time there is no consent. And you cannot properly give consent if you feel as if something bad will happen if you don’t, or if you are being pressured into it in some way other than physically (as the second woman was with spiritual abuse).

So, for instance, these things are all instances of marital coercion:

  • If sex happens because he lectures her about not depriving him and uses 1 Corinthians 7 as an excuse to do what he is doing.
  • If he becomes angry, gives her the silent treatment, or treats her badly if they don’t have sex (Roughly 16% of our respondents said that their primary motivation for sex was to avoid something unpleasant, and 7% said it was to avoid him treating her badly).
  • If he embarrasses her in public less if she has sex with him
  • If he is nicer to the children and doesn’t yell at them as much if she has sex with him
  • If he gives her access to money, groceries, or other things only if she has sex with him
  • If he tells her that without sex he will lust at church, or at work, or use porn (Alyssa Wakefield told us in her podcast that she had to have sex every Sunday before church or her husband would lust).

Now this is not an exhaustive list, but I hope you get the picture: If she has to have sex to avoid something bad happening to her, or has sex under physical, emotional, or spiritual pressure, then that is not consent. 

And this dynamic is toxic for the marriage; it is poison for the sex life; and it can easily lead to PTSD, chronic health problems, mental health issues, and more in her. We know that long-term victims of abuse are more likely to develop certain chronic health problems. The body keeps the score. 

Anyone who thinks that Jesus thinks coercive sex is sex doesn’t know Jesus and doesn’t know sex.

They may think they know Jesus, but they don’t.

Because Jesus would never think it’s good and okay for a man to “have sex” with his wife while she’s curled up in a ball. Jesus would never call a rapist equally unhappy as his rape victim. Jesus would never tell a man that it’s okay to just use a woman to satisfy your lusts. In fact, Jesus didn’t.

And Jesus understands intimacy. He created sex to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both, not as a lust management tool and entitlement for men.

We have got this so wrong. We have done so much damage. It is time to repent and make this right.

Later this week I’ll talk about if the second type of marriage can recover–those where the rape was not deliberate, but was actually thought of as acceptable. We’ll look at the steps that the recovery plan would have to meet–and it’s an uphill battle, because coercion does tremendous harm.

But, please, let’s get this right. Let’s stop talking about sex like this. It needs to stop. 

do you know your favourite book's healthy sexuality score?


Two ways Evangelicalism Inadvertently Enables Marital Rape

What do you think of the distinction between the two types of rape? Do you think it’s possible for there to be marital coercion without him realizing it? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to support our work here:

Good Fruit Faith is an initiative of the Bosko nonprofit. Bosko will provide tax receipts for U.S. donations as the law allows.

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

What Does It Mean to Lament After Betrayal?

With thanks to Brazos Press for sponsoring this post. Forgiveness is possible only after we’ve had the opportunity to name our losses. That’s how Susannah Griffith opens the chapter on lamentations in her book Forgiveness After Trauma. We talked about the book on the...

6 Surprising Things About Biblical Forgiveness

Why does our doctrine of forgiveness and healing often cause so much pain? We’re told the problem is our hearts, that we’re just bitter. But what if it’s not that? What if our teaching on forgiveness has gotten things all wrong? This week, on the podcast, I introduced...


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!


  1. Rebecca

    Sheila, I am so glad you are addressing this topic. I have an important question that I have been wanting to ask you for a while, and I will give context after asking. You categorize sexual coercion as rape because it is not consensual. *Do you know if most mainstream therapists would make that same classification, to call sexual coercion “rape” because it is not consensual?*

    I have been wondering ever since an experience in couples counseling. We were seeing a mainstream therapist through a licensed Christian Counseling center (NOT nouthetic). I finally felt safe to explain to my husband one-on-one that our wedding night had been non-consensual and that our marriage had been rife with sexual coercion. He slowly had a mental breakdown of sorts, basically turned into a monster around me for months after this conversation. Eventually I brought it to our counselor and they met one on one. The end result is that both my husband and the counselor told me I was making a false accusation of rape by using the word “non-consensual” to describe our wedding night, and all of a sudden the counselor no longer believed that there were coercion dynamics in our marriage. This was a total shock to me, I did not understand how her understanding of non-consensual could be so different from what I had learned from you and others I trusted. I have been struggling heavily with this ever since. I would be so encouraged to see more evidence of “coercion = nonconsensual = rape” in mainstream therapy, if you are aware of any resources along those lines.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi, Rebecca. I’m sorry that your counselor didn’t understand this! That’s horrible.

      Basically, we can simply go to the law. Sexual assault is any time there is sexual activity without consent. It’s that simple. And consent can be taken in a way in a variety of ways (and most legal codes will list them).

      Rape is sexual assault that involves penetration of some sort. So if rape = sexual assault with penetration, and sexual assault = sexual activity without consent, then this was rape.

      Now, it may not feel that way to many people because we picture rape as being held down, kicking and screaming. And certainly there is a spectrum of degree of severity of sexual assault. But if you just want to talk about definitions, then, yes, any penetration without consent is rape, legally. That does not mean that it can all be prosecuted or anything like that, but that is technically the definition.

      • Rebecca

        Thank you for your response, Sheila. I was reasoning the same way, but clearly my husband and the counselor were not!
        We were actually fired by that counselor (praise God) and are looking for a therapist with more training and experience… And I’ve had some individual therapy in the meantime. But I continue to fear how the next person will interpret these terms “coercion”, “nonconsensual”, and “rape”.

        • Cynthia

          I think you would need to be careful in choosing your next counselor. Are they trauma-informed? Have they written anything about sexual coercion or coercive control dynamics? Do they understand the importance of affirmative consent? The quality and training of even licensed therapists can vary greatly.

          In terms of the law, both Sheila and I are in Canada, where there is one criminal law for the whole country, and the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly said that without consent at all times, any sexual activity is sexual assault. In the United States, however, each state has its own criminal laws, and the laws on sexual assault/rape can vary from one state to another.

          • Rebecca

            Wow, that is a very important legal distinction, particularly if therapist is relying on legal definitions to say their language. Thank you for explaining that. And those are great questions, I’ll add them to my list for when the time comes!

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s a good thing to ask a counselor in a session to decide if you’re a good fit. Most counselors will talk to you for 10-15 minutes first, and just ask what their understanding of consent is. That’s okay to do! It can help clarify things quickly.

    • Tracy

      A red flag jumped out at me while reading your comment. You indicated that the counselor was supportive until after meeting with your husband alone and his “breakdown.” I don’t know if this applies to your situation, but my experience has been that a man who is regularly coercing his wife is often also emotionally abusive and a master manipulator. I have seen my husband play the victim very convincingly and win marriage counselors over to his side. I feel like this might be what happened based on what you shared.
      It was my personal counselor who about jumped out of her seat when she declared that what was happening to me in my marriage was rape. She is a Biblical counselor and has also worked in the mainstream and she is the one who helped me see what was happening and what it is called. She never met with my husband. The counselors we saw together before that did not label the behavior at all.
      Don’t give up or doubt your experience.

      • Nathan Wachsmuth

        My father convinced my church’s main pastor that he was in the right and that my ma was being “disobedient” and had “Let herself go” before the pastor even talked to my ma. In fact, when that pastor knew he was going to meet with my mom, he purposefully called my father to get his side of the story first. Disgusting behavior that far too many churches allow due to misunderstanding/misuse of Scripture.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, that is awful!

    • Dee S.

      Hi Rebecca, I have heard “coercive rape” used as a term to denote a specific type of rape. But indeed, yes, rape.

      I am under the impression that coercive rape is spelled out as illegal – and punishable – in some places. But I am not super well-versed in this, I could be saying the wrong thing here. I’m under this impression from generally reading about coercion, I’m not stating facts here that I’m totally certain of. (But worth looking into, perhaps?)

  2. Anne

    I was part of Doug Wilson’s church network for far too long, and went to a number of weddings he officiated. I always left feeling sick and upset and assumed I just hated weddings. Took me a while to make the connection that new brides were being point blank told that saying “I do,” was the only consent she ever needed to give. To marry the dude standing with her WAS consent. If she wasn’t up for giving sex on demand, essentially, she shouldn’t be getting married.

    I’m still single, over a decade later and I think this whole thing is a huge part of that. I didn’t even know consent was a thing until I was in my late 20s. I just knew I couldn’t allow someone else unfettered access to my body.

    • Rebecca

      Yes! This is exactly what we were taught from the many Wilson books and other patriachal teachings that were showered upon us. It gets worse — I know of a CREC pastor who interpreted the verse “but women shall be saved through childbearing…” to mean that women are saved through sexual relations with their husband! That was apparently a theme in the sermon at a wedding he officiated. Horrible. I’m sorry you were adversely affected by such teachings as well!

      • Lydia Purple

        I have a few thoughts on the things that are stated by Doug Wilson, because they are tricky. There is truth to them and I don’t think that the statements themselves are the problem but the context surrounding – specifically the power imbalance in marriage. It is true that when you get married you are entering a relationship that is supposed to be also sexual in nature and if you are really not planning on having sex at all then you should not get married (or if there is a reason why you can’t have sex at all than the spouse must know and agree). So in a sense agreeing to get married is giving a general consent on wanting to have sex with your spouse. Also the statement that marriage is the only legal sexual outlet is true from a christian perspective – but that doesn’t mean that any sex in marriage is legal. The problem starts when general consent suddenly means always consent under any circumstance and the combination of submissive and obedient wives who may not speak up.

        Do I believe that enjoying sex with my husband is my duty? yes. I also believe I should make an effort to connect with him when I don’t feel like it or when I am tired. Does that mean I can never say no? not at all. I can and am even responsible to speak up if I don’t want sex or want to stop what we are doing in the middle – if for some reason I am in pain or feel uncomfortable. I can do this even if I initiated an idea to try something or consented just a minute ago but it doesn’t feel right once we are doing whatever it is. Because we are equal, because we trust each other, because we value each other and know that true connection needs honesty, because I know for a fact that my husband doesn’t want to do anything that will hurt me. Because sex is supposed to be pleasure for both and he will not be pleased to find out after the fact that I went along with something I hated or that hurt. (I know this because it did happen) He will not be happy about this, because he loves me and truly cares. My husband is more interested in truly loving me and caring for me than just to do the deed. Our sex live is an expression of our love for each other, it’s not a marital right to take from one another. BTW This is how I define my “duty” part in it… it’s to make an effort towards expressing this love in deed – not just in words. And that sometimes means to be intentional and not let my feeling tired be the boss of my decision making and sometimes it means to say no because I am not going to go along with feeling used – but my husband can’t know this unless I speak up.

        This is why consent seems so messy to define sometimes, because it is nuanced and it could change in the moment. It is not an all or nothing. And this is where I disagree with Doug Wilson, because he likes to make these statements and there is zero nuance.

        • Suzanne

          I’m curious how you can say you believe that you have a duty to enjoy sex, not just have it, but a duty to enjoy it? Sex should be mutual and pleasurable to both, but adding the word duty to it makes it more of a job then an act of love to me. I have never felt that having sex with my husband was my duty. If I am tired and not in the mood then I will say not tonight honey and he respects that. Sex is not the only way to express love and connection. We can snuggle on the sofa and watch a movie or just talk, both are valid ways of connecting and expressing love. I just can’t connect sex with duty and say that is the way a marriage should be. No one should feel like they have a duty to have sex.

          • Lydia Purple

            We’ll I think to me at least it means that I do not allow myself to just be lazy about it. Sex is not just a magical expression that happens when the stars align. It does take some intention and mental and physical effort sometimes so I think that there is no problem calling it one of my duties in marriage to pursue a great sex life, because i believe that I should put the effort in and not just use my initial feeling of the moment inform my choice but let my overall goal of having a great sex life be the guide. As i stated above part of that duty is to be honest and to say no when I am really not up for it because it would breed resentment and not a great sex life. So the duty is not to have sex whenever my husband wants it, but the duty is to pursue an enjoyable sex life. I can’t just be passive. But i can see that if you come from a problematic background calling it duty might be damaging because of the negativity attached to it.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, I do think that it’s important for women to understand that sex often ISN’T pleasurable, and we may not have much of a libido, unless we also decide to prioritize it and get in the right head space. This isn’t so much about duty, but we do need to know that sex isn’t magically going to be great if we don’t make an effort to get in the right head space; if we don’t speak up; if we don’t address the things that are holding back our libido (even if those things are related to our marriage relationship).

        • Cynthia

          Part of the challenge here is that people in these circles are also getting married with no sexual experience at all, and probably little to no information about sex. Imagine saying to someone: “I’m hiring you to be a driver for someone. You will be their only driver, ever. You need to drive them wherever they want to know, whenever they want to go. Even if you are tired or your leg is sore, you need to drive anyway. But because this driver-passenger relationship is so important, we won’t even show you a car before you get married, let alone explain anything about driving, and if you have ever driven anyone before, you are disqualified. Also, we expect you to get behind the wheel and start driving right after the wedding.”

          You can say that both spouses should put real effort into all aspects of intimacy: making a spouse feel safe and loved, discovering what the spouse enjoys, figuring out what works to make things good for both, and caring about how the spouse feels. I think that this sounds a bit different from saying “duty”, though, especially since duty has been used in such problematic ways.

          • Lydia Purple

            You can replace duty in my statements above with responsibility and I think it expresses just as well what I am trying to say. Duty was just what came first to my mind when typing this out and I don’t come from North America and don’t have the baggage attached to the word and English is also not my first language….

          • Jo R

            This is a fantastic analogy, Cynthia!

          • Jo R

            “And while you’ll start in an ordinary car, you need to be ready, and willing, and enthusiastic, to drive a dump truck, an eighteen wheeler, an F-1 racing car, a dune buggy, a snowmobile, and a motorcycle at a moment’s notice.”

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That pastor is so heretical and anti-Christian.

      • Lili Marleen

        1 Timothy 2:15 is notoriously difficult to interpret – there are dangers in either taking it “literally, 100%” or over-allegorising. I am certain, however, that it does NOT mean “justification through childbirth”, and especially NOT “justification through sex”. Philip’s daughters were prophets – presumably, being gifted by the Holy Spirit – while they were unmarried virgins. Also, Mary was called “favoured by the Lord” and Elizabeth “righteous” BEFORE they had kids. Even if you take 1 Timothy 2:15 “literally” and decide that fertile women of a certain age must somehow get married and have 1 kid to “work out their salvation”, it does NOT mean that a female member of the human race is saved from sin through being sexually assaulted by a male.

        Also, I do not personally know anyone who attends Doug Wilson’s church, nor have I talked to anyone supports him, but based on the research I’ve done, he seems to have misogynist tendencies.

  3. Cynthia

    Thanks for addressing this.

    I have seen a third dynamic in some of my cases: situations where the wife had sex with the husband when she didn’t want it, because she thought she couldn’t refuse him, but he was actually unaware that she felt this way.

    If he was not raised with these teachings and had no idea that she was, he could expect that she would speak up and refuse to do anyone that didn’t want. It could be in that patriarchal homes where the wife doesn’t feel abused, the husband knows that this dynamic exists and has learned to be extra-careful not to make demands or to proactively see how she is feeling. I have also seen this with wives who have experienced trauma previously – they can appear to go along with something because they are experiencing fear and dissociating.

    This is part of the reason that enthusiastic consent ie the idea that consent is active agreement and not just an absence of refusal, is important. It is also why it is important for couples to actually have a discussion about expectations and what consent means to them.

    • Jo R

      “Enthusiastic consent” can itself be a problem, since at least one “Christian” marriage book tells wives they should be enthusiastic about sex, even if sex is a horrible experience for them.

      LOTS of layers in this onion.

      • Cynthia

        Good point. I suppose there really needs to be a conversation about expectations and beliefs about sex, and to figure out if a wife has toxic beliefs which might make her feel that she can’t say no, or that she is obligated to have sex in order to prevent him from leaving her, having an affair, etc. In some of my cases, I thought that the husband may have genuinely been clueless and not realized how something like religious teachings, or other factors like immigration status (eg. fear that she could be deported and separated from their children if he left her) could lead to her outwardly agreeing to sex, or particular sex acts that she felt were extreme and degrading, when she actually hated what was happening.

    • Kay

      This was me. Over the years, I have initiated so, so much sex that I did not want because I thought it would make me a good wife to have sex (or a sexual favor) every 72 hours.

      Guess what, folks. It backfires. And gradually made me hate sex even though by all standards it was good sex because my husband is kind and loving. The pressure was never from him. It was from the church that I then internalized.

      Turns out the body reacts the same way even if we coerce ourselves.

  4. Nathan

    > > You need mutual consent to say no, these commenters feel – but apparently you don’t need mutual consent to say yes.

    And we’re right back to something that gets discussed from time to time here. The idea that the husband and wife have an equal vote in marriage issues, but the husband breaks all ties.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very true! It often comes back to that.

  5. Nathan

    Something happened at church yesterday that’s a bit off topic, but slightly related to what we’re talking about today. The sermon was about giving and generosity. The pastor put up a video of a husband and wife talking about how they gave a sum of money that was going to be for a new house for their church mission. It was a good video, and I got a very good vibe from both husband and wife, but a few things jumped out at me.

    First, the husband talked nearly the entire time. The wife only spoke rarely to agree with her husband. Second, the wife kept saying things like “I respect his decisions” and “the decisions that he makes” and so on. Third, She remembered how the discussion started and she said (emphasis mine) “YOU are going to give all our money away, aren’t YOU?” then he said “How can “”I”” not?”.

    It appeared to be basically a good marriage with a loving and caring husband and wife, but the underlying current was that he, and he alone, makes all decisions, and the wife is nothing more than a voiceless cipher.

    I likely never would have picked up on that had it not been for this site. If I had mentioned it out loud, some might have said I was reading too much into it, but I have a feeling that I saw what many maybe didn’t see, or DID see but saw nothing wrong with it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I start to notice those things a lot more now too. It does rub me the wrong way.

  6. Jane Eyre

    Men DID consent to go without sex for the postpartum period: they did so when they put their penises into their wives around the time she was ovulating. That six week period is no less medically necessary than is any other part of pregnancy, and it isn’t randomly optional because he finally has to give something up to get a baby.

    I am not kidding. I firmly believe that when you have sex, you are consenting to the creation of a new life and all that entails. When you marry a woman, you’re marrying someone who has periods. When you marry a human, you are marrying someone who ages and has problems and needs love. You signed up for ALL of that.

    • Stefanie

      Wish there was a “like” button for this comment.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’ll try to put that feature back up! I know when we moved our old site over here the comments went wonky so we had to turn off a lot of features.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      and I think “christian” marriage books do little to prepare men specifically for this. My husband was very upset by the ways pregnancy changed my body, and the way aging changed me…. and I’m only in my late 40s. The fact that I “wouldn’t” lose weight for him was his excuse to end the marriage. It’s pretty disgusting. (The teaching moreso than him.)

    • CMT

      “When you marry a woman, you’re marrying someone who has periods. When you marry a human, you are marrying someone who ages and has problems and needs love. You signed up for ALL of that.”

      YES this!

    • Angela England

      We tell our kids all the time – Sex is biologically designed to create new life. Yes, you can enjoy. Yes, it feels amazing. All awesome stuff. But biologically it is designed to create life so never have sex with someone you wouldn’t want to risk being the mother or father of your kids. Because that COULD happen even with all the prevention in the world. 😉 Would this be someone who would choose as the father of your children? The mother of your children?
      Glad we’re not the only one who’s brains work this way.

    • Lisa

      Absolutely. Men need to ejaculate responsibly. If they do it inside a woman, they are consenting to parenthood and EVERYTHING that entails.

      • Andrea

        Love Gabrielle Blair! Her super-popular Twitter thread has become an entire book recently. As to Angela’s comment, it sounds to me like you’re defining sex as vaginal penetration, which most women do not orgasm from. The most orgasmic sex for women involves rubbing or, even better, licking her clitoris, and that does NOT result in pregnancy. I’ve always found that very interesting, how God designed sex so that the kind that creates new life is actually the least satisfying for women.

  7. Suzanne

    Both types of marital rape are equally bad. I am not talking about a wife who isn’t in the mood, doesn’t speak up at all, the obligation sex message is something she believes even if he doesn’t, all the complaints and feelings of being used are kept to herself, a man can’t read minds. Those men I can forgive. The two examples given the man who forced his wife by holding her down and the man that mentally forced his unwilling, tired, bleeding, just gave birth wife by tossing a line of scripture he had twisted to his benefit are both monsters. It is not hard to know right from wrong. I do not believe that a man who is good, who cares for his wife as his partner, as something more than just a body to use, could hear that his wives body is his to use as he pleases and follow through with using her. How can a man enjoy sex when his wife is curled into a ball and checked out? How could he keep pushing when she has said she is just to tired, in pain, bleeding? How could anyone think well God wants me to do this. No get out of jail free card for either man, they both chose wants and desires over loving and caring for their wives, they made that choice with their own free will.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I agree–they are both equally bad. They are both assault. They both have pretty much the same effects on their wives.

      I just pretty much give up any belief that the first could be changed, and I think she just needs to get out. With the second, I’ve just heard enough stories of guys who did change and were horrified by what they did that I think it can be changed–but ONLY under certain circumstances, and it would involve owning up to everything, and giving her time to heal. I’ll talk about that on Wednesday. I don’t think those second types of marriages can be better, though, without a major repentance, trauma counseling, and major owning up of everything that happened and a realization of harm done.

  8. Laura

    If sex happens because he lectures her about not depriving him and uses 1 Corinthians 7 as an excuse to do what he is doing.
    If he becomes angry, gives her the silent treatment, or treats her badly if they don’t have sex

    These things happened in my former marriage. Before he started sexually assaulting me (no penetration, but humping me from behind then ejaculating on me-that felt like rape to me and I felt violated) in my sleep, I experienced a lot of coercion even before we married. When we were dating and engaged, he constantly talked about feeling sexually frustrated and hated looking at porn and masturbating because I wasn’t giving him sex until marriage. After we got engaged, he insisted he could not wait until after the wedding to have sex so it was up to me to pick a date on when to have sex for the first time. Of course, I was in my early 20s and very curious. I wanted it, but just not in that way. In order to keep him, I complied to premarital sex and felt guilty about it for years. After I left him, I vowed I would never have premarital sex again and if a man could not handle that, then he was not the one for me.

    He knew what he did was wrong and blamed me for it. I could not stay with him because I no longer felt safe around him. Several years after the divorce, I experienced PTSD which I thought only war veterans experienced. But I felt like I had lived in a personal war for 2.5 years with the ex. It’s kind of hard to explain these feelings but some of you can probably relate so you know.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think what you experienced is all too common, Laura. I’m so sorry you were assaulted like that. It isn’t okay. It never was.

      • Cynthia

        Where is the book for the woman who is denied sex from her husband? It is hard to always read and hear about how men want sex and women don’t. It does hurt and effects our relationship. I want to scream and wonder why I am so worthless. I have told him that it is his responsibility as a husband because I think it is, but I don’t want it out of duty, I want it out of love. I want to wanted. There lies the key. Things are getting better, but resentment of twenty six years is hard to let go of. I believe God will give me a heart of forgiveness.

        • J

          Do you mean it is his responsibility as a husband to always do the initiating? Or his responsibility just to have sex within a marriage?
          I don’t see that a husband carries any more responsibility than the wife for initiating – it’s good generally for both to initiate sex equally. How will he feel wanted and worthy if the wife never initiates? And vice versa.
          I do know in marriages where a husband has a porn addiction they typically don’t initiate sex with their real life partner much if at all, as they get their fix through the porn and then don’t need or want the effort that goes in to actual sex with an actual present human being, whose needs you would need to think about etc.

        • Matthias

          This is how most men feel. And as you said it is his responsibility to meet your sexual needs as it is a wife’s to meet her husband’s need.
          We want it out of love. We want to be wanted. But we have to beg and plead to get our wife to even acknowledge that we have a need. And then we get called rapists by Sheila, because we convince our wives to have sex with us.
          This feminist double standard is Gigantic. Not one person “corrected” you for thinking it is his responsibility to meet your needs.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Why don’t you instead try to figure out WHY your wife has no libido? Again, as I’ve said many, many times, when these 5 things are present:
            1. Wife frequently reaches orgasm
            2. Wife feels emotionally connected during sex
            3. There’s high marital satisfaction
            4. There’s no porn use
            5. There’s no sexual dysfunction

            Then frequency and libido tend to take care of themselves. So if she doesn’t want sex–chances are there’s a REASON. Instead of pressuring her, why don’t you do the loving thing and help her figure out why? Instead of focusing on your own sex drive, why don’t you focus on your health as a couple?

            Quite frankly, by begging and pressuring her instead of caring about her, you ARE acting more like a rapist than a loving husband. Great sex is amazing. People don’t need to have to be convinced to do something amazing. So why not try to figure out why it’s NOT amazing for her?

            And if your relationship isn’t good, that’s likely a big reason. If she feels obligation, that’s a HUGE reason.

  9. Mara R

    From above article: “If he gives her access to money, groceries, or other things only if she has sex with him.”

    Not only is this coercion, this, and some of the other points, sound like straight up prostitution. Or indentured servitude. Sex for money or favors should never be a part of marriage.

    I got into an argument with a fellow on-line who thought that a woman having sex with her husband was part of her job description. Long story short, I pointed out to him that this archaic view of sex was why some feminists back in the day called marriage “prostitution”. I assured him that I agreed that Christian marriage done properly was NOT prostitution. But that his attitude about sex being a woman’s ‘job’ in marriage was making the wife a prostitute as these feminist said. It took some time, but he finally backed down and agreed that it probably was a bad idea to make sex part of a wife’s ‘job’.

    P.S. Sad comments about the teachings of Doug Wilson above. Did you know that Mark Driscoll has had ties to Doug Wilson in the past? I tried to find the article about it but couldn’t do so quickly. If I do find it, I may link it later.

  10. Amy

    My ex-husband grew up in an abusive home, so I assumed that’s where he got his abusive behaviors. However, his Christian testimony is that he was saved and faithfully attended an SBC church for years and listened to Christian radio sermons. I’ve been exploring the idea that while his parents modeled an abusive marriage dynamic as a child, the SBC and other Christian influences normalized it and even promoted it as God-honoring. How does someone with that type of background have a chance of having a healthy relationship? So sad on multiple levels. The place that claimed to provide help and the answer is adding fuel to the already raging fire!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, all too often that is exactly what happens. Men are told they don’t need to deal with their wounds or become emotionally healthy, because all men need is sex. And wives are there to give it. It’s really bad.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      “Christian” marriage resources, and the SBC, can ABSOLUTELY be a source of entitlement leading to abuse for men. ABSOLUTELY. Your theory is valid.

  11. Angharad

    This is such a deep-rooted problem because so many Christians, both male and female, have absorbed very damaging teaching when they were too young to even realise what was going on.

    I was 17 when marital rape was made illegal in my country. When the law was brought in, teens in my church were given an article to read which poured scorn on the idea, and said the law was proof of our ‘godless society’. I remember the author was mocking the idea of consent within marriage, saying that the husband would have to be asking ‘are you ok with this? Are you sure?’ every 30 seconds. “She gave her consent permanently when she said ‘I do’ on her wedding day.”

    As a very naive and sheltered teen, I didn’t really understand what sex involved – but the article convinced me that only ‘ungodly’ people would believe there was such a thing as marital rape. And the way the author linked consent to the marriage vows ‘made to God as well as to her husband’ basically equated a wife saying ‘no’ to sex at ANY point with breaking the marriage covenant.

    Of course, as I got older, I could see the flaws in the argument. Looking back, I now see it as abuse, to take a bunch of teenagers and teach them such total falsehoods about marriage before they even fully understood what marriage was. But remembering that teaching, I can understand why some men coerce their wives without even realising it. I certainly absorbed the message that I would be sinning and ‘breaking the marriage covenant’ if I ever tried to say ‘no’ to sex with my husband. I can imagine that for guys who have absorbed the same message, it’s easy for them to justify their behaviour and not really see it as coercion – after all, they’re only trying to stop their wives breaking the vows they made to God…

  12. Stefanie

    Such a good article. So needed.

    “In many cases, I think he (and even she) may have convinced themselves this was normal, and identified HER reluctance as the problem.”

    Yes! It goes back to the idea among some that “women don’t like sex.” Men are sexual and women less so (they will acknowledge that some women want sex more than their husbands, but those are considered outliers). It becomes normalized that women have to be convinced and cajoled into having sex, so coercion becomes normalized. I have sat through so many marriage retreats where the lesson to the women was a variation on “You have to understand how much your husband needs sex. Don’t deprive him! That’s your job.”

  13. Margot

    (I’m submitting this again because I received an error message.)
    I lived with most of this in my marriage. Now divorced.
    I truly believe that if we were talking about any other form of physical abuse, slapping, pushing, kicking, punching -we wouldn’t dare think to say the abuser may not have known it was abuse. We wouldn’t so easily let him off because he “didn’t know” or grew up thinking it was normal.
    But because “Christianity” teaches that women must give sex anytime when demanded then we give leeway by saying the man might not have known that his curled up and tearful wife was being abused by him. Or that the 1,000 times she expressed her discomfort and said no didn’t count because the man wanted it so his need overrides her comfort or just her autonomy.
    So we may as well go back in history 2-300 years and say that since society, including religion, accepted and condoned a husband slapping around a “hysterical” wife when necessary, that the man couldn’t be responsible for knowing THAT was abusive…
    and since when is ignorance an excuse for inflicting pain?
    I think taking that position gives the abuser WAY to much wiggle room. Like I said, and won’t back down, ANY other physical abuse would never be given this grace. This is what makes rape in marriage SO evil. There’s SO many trapped doors through which the perpetrators can escape and gain empathy and SO many avenues for the victim to be brainwashed to believe that they are the cause for their own abuse.
    As in all abusive situations: GREAT! He’s sorry and feels bad but let’s get the wife away from her tormentor to be deprogrammed and to learn that what she was experiencing was in fact not love but abuse. And let the supposedly “sorrowful” hubby seek therapy and accountability and prove he’s changed over a decently long period of time.
    Never give the benefit of doubt to the abuser. Make him show his remorse through change with ongoing actions. He does not need someone to be his advocate or hold his hand if he actually sees the depths of pain that his own actions caused his bride! If he truly sees it, he will avidly search for, find and run after help to stop himself from ever abusing anyone ever again.
    If he had kicked her while she was curled in the fetal position we wouldn’t do or expect less than this, I hope.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is a great point, Margot, and I absolutely think he should have known. I do NOT think any of that absolves him. I DO think he’s being abusive. I DO think he doesn’t understand Jesus whatsoever.

      I have, however, seen a lot of these marriages improve. I don’t think that can be discounted either. But they have only done so with a ton of repentance and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

      We all know that the vast majority of abusers never change. Ever. The stats are so low it’s hard to measure them. And that’s why I’m saying in the first case, just realize it’s not going to change and leave. But in the second case, we talked to women in focus groups; we’ve heard from so many both husbands and wives; we’ve seen marriages reform.

      But it’s only really happened when they BOTH are able to name it as abuse and sexual coercion, and both have counseling. And sometimes she just can’t ever trust him anymore (for good reason). But I have seen some of these men change. But only some.

      What I want to write on Wednesday is a detailed article about how you will NEVER heal from this unless these conditions are met. And the conditions are huge. And most won’t meet them. But I get so many emails from men saying, “I realize I was terrible. What do I do now?” And I just want to answer that and lay out a plan, and say, “If you can’t do this, then it won’t get better.”

      I should also say that many of the stories we hear are from women who were raped on their wedding nights. Their husbands just thought, “she won’t like it and it’s going to hurt her, so I need to get it over with.”

      The complete and utter lack of sex ed and consent meant that many men don’t realize they’re raping. It’s awful. And then when the women tell them, they either are horrified or they’re defensive. Often it’s not even that rape happens for years; I get a lot of emails from people in the first month of their marriage just bewildered. So I’d like to write a big post on what recovery from this must look like if you’re going to get recovery, and if someone isn’t willing to take those steps–well, that’s your answer then about whether the marriage can be saved.

  14. Laurie

    The guy in this post who commented that waiting 6 weeks after birth was being “forced upon him” is a truly a selfish Neanderthal who devalues his wife and what her body went through to bring life into this world. He’s too immature to be married or a parent! I believe that part of this is church teaching men that women don’t have any sexual desires or needs, that sex is only for men, and so they will only get it if they pressure their wives for it. A Catholic friend bragged about this once, that his wife hates sex, but she’s so dutiful and awesome that she will agree to bend over whenever he asks as long as he promises it will last less than 3 minutes!! The entire idea that he can feel turned on while his wife is just bearing it, getting nothing out of it, is so gross and perverse – of course she doesn’t like it! With a husband who is doing this, sex is totally degrading and this poor women is getting robbed of her God-given right to pleasure and true intimacy.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly. It is disgusting.

    • Laura

      Sounds like “Wham, bam, thank you maam” sex and is so degrading to the wife.

    • Mary

      This is sad. As a Catholic, we are taught that using and objectifying your spouse for your own pleasure is a sin. Sex within marriage is unitive and procreative.It is about mutual giving. So he certainly wasn’t acting like a good Catholic.

  15. Maria B.

    From the article, quoting someone: “… he didn’t consent to going six weeks [after a baby] or even one week a month [during her period], then unilaterally imposing that on him is certainly not consensual.”

    So he does not consent to the fact that, as a human being, she has certain rights? Like the right to bodily autonomy?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s right. I think a significant minority of men do not. And it’s being actively taught by men like Doug Wilson, etc.

  16. Anonymous

    It’s all about ignorance and lack of education. Neither spouse was taught about God’s true meaning of sex. Lots of husbands would be horrified to think they raped their wives and lots of wives would be shocked to learn they were raped by their husbands. This would explain the reason behind all the sexless marriages but what does one need to do to fix this?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’ll be my big post on Wednesday!

  17. Mara R

    Here is that article that links Mark Driscoll to Doug Wilson as far back as 1992. The article is about a lot of other things. But it is interesting to note their early connection.


    May not be of interest to anyone but me. But just in case people want to see the connection between Mark “pen!s home” Driscoll and Doug “penetrate, conquer, colonize” Wilson, here is documentation that it exists.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, they’ve been in the same circles for so long. And Driscoll is in the same circles with Keller, and with both are with Piper. It’s all just a big mess.

  18. Michelle

    Why this book will be published in Spanish? It’s a matter of urgency!!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I get asked that constantly, but we need a Spanish publisher to buy the rights! So far Spanish publishers have said there isn’t a need because Spanish women wouldn’t buy it. I’m wondering about setting up a petition to send to some Spanish publishers? I don’t know what to do. But perhaps if you contacted a Spanish publisher?

  19. Sara

    I cried when I read the “fear of what will happen” part. Truthfully I’m the one that initiates, but I hate it. Because early on he would ask, and be really hurt if I ever said no and he took it really personally and clammed up. But when it had been a while since having sex he would start getting grumpier, more distant, and I knew that was the reason so I’d bring it up, hoping he’d truly see me and the physical pain and say no, and then have a better attitude. Even when he did though, I’d persist that his mood wouldn’t change without it (because this pattern kept happening over years). Still desperately wishing he would see beyond this, he remained grumpy. He hated that he got like this, and didn’t want to hurt me. But we didn’t see any other way. So I tried to hide my pain so he didn’t feel so bad. And he always seemed so overly thankful for the connection after. So… Yeah that’s us. And I’ll also be one of the ones to say that, despite all this story- the rest of our relationship feels great! He is super patient, never puts me down, speaks kindly. Is gracious. Talks with me. Is a great partner. I’ve said a hundred times that our marriage is great apart from sex.

    But we believed those teachings. Or didn’t know what else to do. We knew they didn’t always seem right but had no clue what else to do about sex.

    So even here, it technically wasn’t nonconsensual- but I have felt used for years. Because I thought I had to or we’d be in a bad spot.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I have heard so many stories like yours! I hope you’re in a safer and better place now. Have things gotten better? Does he get it yet?

    • Andrea

      I recently read an article distinguishing between non-consensual and unwanted sex. Unwanted is when you consent with your body and words even though you don’t really want to.

      Since you mentioned pain, is it possible to just take penetration off the table for a while and play, bringing each other pleasure through touching, stroking, kissing, licking…?

    • J

      Is it possible he doesn’t initiate now because his fear of rejection was so great, he eventually turned to porn for his fix? Cos it would never reject him. Then he doesn’t feel the need for sex as much as he gets his fix with porn, and also because he feels shame at his betrayal. May not be the case but worth asking about. If a husband isn’t intiating, porn is so often the reason.

  20. KarelV

    It’s interesting. I bought as a man from evangelical church from Central Europe two of your books on Amazon on the basis that they were disabled from discussion on The Marriage Bed server.

    From the point of view of the classical interpretation of the scriptures, i.e. as the apostle Paul wrote when he tried to organize marriage in the church in ancient times (for the church to be a showcase of Christ), there really is no way around the fact that a woman should obey her husband (as we they still had that in their marriage vows), that a woman should have a fear of her husband similar to the Fear of God, that there are divided gender roles for bringing bread and taking care of the family. That sex is a mutual service to one another. Not much about joy, but here Paul exceptionally wrote about equality and reciprocity. After all, the Jews of his age understood a man’s OBLIGATIONS towards a woman as bread, clothes and sex. And were they able to compile in the Mishnah? table of mandatory frequency of contact by occupation. And a woman who would not receive this care could apply for Get – a divorce ticket. Pavel was not much different in this, taking care of his wife, i.e. his own body, meant the same to him (in those poor times).

    However, history intervened. There was a gradual emancipation of those for whom the Scriptures predicted it, even though the church was sometimes very stubborn and cruelly unjust. In God’s kingdom there will be no distinction between: free/slave, Jew/Greek/Roman/barbarian, poor/rich, ruler/subject, male/female. And the church, as an image of God’s kingdom, was to bear it first. See from the epistle of James about the rich and the poor, similarly from 1Cor11 at the Lord’s Supper. It was not to be a revolution, but a conscious effort (Philemon). It lasted 1800-2000 years. From our history, for example, it occurs to me that in the Brethren’s churches (15th century), noblemen brothers sat on the same benches as others in decent clothes. Even though they paid and built that church and pastor. But it rarely lasted.

    Women have emancipated themselves and to go back to patriarchy is to go back against the flow of God’s Kingdom. Even if the emancipation was not always pious (similar to the emancipation of the slaves). It could be pious if Christians worked more.

    In came the sexualization of society, porn, especially video porn at click distance, and suddenly men needed far more to “rub a woman” to get their methadone (great analogy). And again, evangelical theology failed to treat this fairly. They were so afraid of porn hitting 50+% of Christian men that they made women into an outlet. A terrible turn from the decent silence of the previous “pious-looking” generations about sex. It looks like hitting the second barrier after years of driving on the opposite shoulder.

    The attitude with which we entered marriage, that marriage and sex is mutual SERVICE and service is SACRIFICE, I think was not so bad when it came to MUTUALITY. I am so grateful that my wife had the freedom to take off her clothes and say: My body is yours. Now show me what you can do. 🙂 Even so, we often suffered due to lack of information. And maybe there didn’t have to be a mysterious seriousness around it, and the church could have encouraged the joy of marriage and sex. But my job was always to make my wife orgasm, since time, I have read (probably not in christian resources first) that she is multiorgasmic.. (Whereas my ED hasn’t really allowed me to do that myself of late.) Fortunately, we discovered toys that were more like “prostheses” for us.

    It is similar with the mutual obligation of sex. On the one hand, the apostle Paul says in the very next sentence that it is a permission, a recommendation. Then it is logically related to the entire context of the marital relationship, a woman is not a pipe in the wall. In addition, Jewish wives had a break for the entire period + 7 days of purification. And finally. The duty does not mean the right to take her by force. If I have an obligation to pay an invoice, it does not mean that the debtor will come to me and snatch the money from my wallet. If I don’t pay, the negotiation and court process follows. Similarly, sex must be followed by an effort to understand the situation, conversations, counseling, and it may even lead to divorce. But you can’t come and take it by force (non-consensual).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you found my book! But I’m still reeling from your first sentence–The Marriage Bed actually said you couldn’t discuss the book? That’s so typical. Wow.

  21. Matt Halliday

    I just read through this in horror as a husband separated from my wife of 19 years. My wife has never accused me of this but I have to admit when I read through all of this, I feel like I may have been guilty and neither of us understood it. I have never been forceful as in the Aunt Matilda scenario and I have never withheld money or treated the kids differently (that sounds terrible to me) and I don’t believe my wife should always consent. BUT, I have definitely pouted when not receiving sex and she has definitely consented to sex when she didn’t want it. Probably to serve me or get me off her back. I know she complained about her lack of satisfaction with our sex life during our marriage and I am starting to see why. I don’t even know why I am writing all of this here. Possibly it is therapeutic to get it out. I feel terrible right now. I would like to know if she felt coerced during our marriage. I would like to know if this is part of what caused her to leave me. I want to be better even if she doesn’t want to be with me ever again. I want to learn and be able to teach my son better so that he may avoid this heartache that I feel and more importantly avoid being the cause of the heartache that my wife may have felt.

  22. Mary

    I’ve noticed that most evangelical churches that agree with these views teach that wives have to “give their husbands sex”, “put out”, “fulfill their husbands needs”. It’s never mutual even though 1 Cor. 7 says both spouses are to render the marital debt to each other. There is no separate “wifely duty”. Many other biblical passages tell us to not to be self-seeking, and to put the good of others ahead of ourselves so husbands who use their wives for their own “needs” obviously aren’t doing that. Sex should be about giving your spouse pleasure, not using her to give yourself pleasure.

  23. Erin

    The concept of consent is constant in marriage or outside of it. Understanding consent would have kept me from years of shame about what my HS boyfriend did to me. I thought that because I didn’t stop it, that I was just as much to blame.

    Another important reason to understand consent within marriage is when one of the spouses has sex outside the marriage. My husband confessed multiple affairs w unprotected sex. I remember a women in my support group saying that her husband had raped her. I asked for clarity. She explained that consent included having accurate information about your partner. When a wife has sex with her husband, not knowing that he has slept with other women, that is not consent. She thought she was agreeing to having sex with a faithful partner.

    For years I was deceived by my husband. I’m still uncomfortable calling it rape, I’m not sure who to recover from that word. (Not to mention all that other realities of infidelity.)

    So, my husband knew he was deceiving me but he didn’t know he was raping me.

    If we don’t have the full picture of what was done to us, we can’t fully heal and we stay more vulnerable moving forward.

  24. Lorraine Salmieri

    I’ve read most of the comments. I believe there was sexual coercion in my marriage in a couple of ways. I definitely bought into the teaching that the wife is not supposed to say no but be willing to say yes and even pray her way through if she was tired and not in the mood. So that is what I did. And somehow having a lot of children (8) showed that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. But, if I initiated and he said no, that was ok. And usually I got met with “I wasn’t thinking about it so I’m not really prepared”. But, looking back on it, I could be exhausted from having to care for all our kids all day long and still be expected to say yes.
    But also, I experienced things like, if you don’t do what I like, I won’t do what you like when being intimate; constant groping (not in the bedroom but anywhere in the house) even if I expressed dislike (usually he would laugh it off but he would do it again later); never demanded sex after having a baby or when on my period or even when I was sick but would vocalize continually his frustrations with not being able to have sex; would sexualize things like me nursing a baby by saying how much that turned him on.
    Yes, my husband is abusive in other ways (not physical) but it wasn’t til recently that I started seeing this behavior as abusive. I knew it felt wrong but didn’t know why.
    Not surprising, we are headed towards a divorce.
    Even after we in-house separated, he kept throwing comments out to me about his struggles and his needs. Picture a palm to face emoji inserted here.
    So, he didn’t throw scripture at me, he didn’t have to. It was already taught in our church. Now to be fair, our old church taught that husbands should live with their wives in an understanding way. But I don’t think they developed this fully and should have. And they didn’t (and still don’t fully) understand emotional and mental abuse. Glad we aren’t there anymore but we were there for 20 years. Just so much I have to deconstruct and reconstruct for me and for my kids.

    I’m sharing this because it’s just another shade of how this can happen and what it can look like for those who don’t experience what was already shared. I think that is why it was hard for me to see it. It didn’t fit other descriptions but it was still coercive control mixed with bad church teaching.

  25. KD

    One thing I was thinking also is that people who believe that in a marriage, the husband has the final word and the wife must submit, there is no option for consent. If she says no (and he considers it a “disagreement”), he makes the final decision that they will have sex. Ugh..

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Most definitely!

  26. Nita Middleton

    As I’m looking back on my dissolves marriage, I’m seeing things in a whole new light. The sex was what you’ve described here and in other posts – coerced and an obligation. For a few years, it did help prevent outbursts of anger and rage, but it never prevent him from driving around college campuses on nice days to check out the young women in tight, revealing clothing (I, myself, am 11 years younger than him and still not enough to fulfill that). Later on, he ceased making comments to me about the shape and/or his thoughts about other women, but at that point, the sex was a way for me to reduce his anger towards me for a very short time (hours, maybe a day), but I would then quickly be greeted with a massive explosion.

    His guilt-tripping, crying, threatening divorce, using porn, lying, threatening self-existence.. all present more often than any positive interactions between us. Saying “no” wasn’t an option.

    He started seeing a terrible Christian therapist, and talked me into marital counseling WITH THAT THERAPIST while he continued individual sessions with him. In the beginning of marital counseling, I felt heard and understood. Defended, even. The longer we went, the more my eyes were opened to the extreme abuse and neglect I was living in, while he was telling the therapist about how horrible of a monster I was. He began using scripture to abuse me (he’s never been a believer, mind you). He went as far as telling me he’s “entitled” to my body and can do what he pleases when he pleases, because “the Bible says so.” Don’t worry, I know that’s not the truth and I straight up told him that (leading into a huge argument in our 2 year old daughter’s bedroom first thing in the morning).

    His therapist agreed with me that boundaries are important and that I should be able to say “no”, but agreed more with my now-ex that I should be saying “yes” because the Bible says not to deprive…

    I was deprived for 7 years. Seven years of no sexual satisfaction unless I found 10 minutes by myself. If he caught me in the act or suspected it, he would rage and have a tantrum because he felt “inadequate”… yet he’s doing himself 3+ times per week while insulting me on a regular basis.

    Can we talk about therapists covertly encouraging spiritual abuse, coercion, blind obedience?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      The harm that some therapists has done is incalculable. Thankfully there are some really, really good ones, but when you get one that isn’t, it can do so much harm. That’s why I tell people: if it feels like not a good fit, end it early!

  27. JG

    This was my wife and I until just a few weeks ago. I never would’ve imagined being the man that would coerce and rape my wife, yet it happened. I was repentant immediately following the rape as I instantly knew what I had done. She forgave me but would not admit that it was rape. Even though it never happened again, the damage was already done. Things were never the same after that no matter how much intercourse we had or how much I repented. It took a year before she met with a counselor about it and the counselor told her that it was indeed rape. She still struggles to use that word because she is too kind to me. We now will be meeting with a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse and betrayal in marriage. Most days I still wake up feeling ashamed and riddled with guilt. It’s difficult to walk sometimes,the grief is so heavy and my appetite is greatly decreased. And I’m sure this is nothing compared to how horrible she felt after what I did. We are dedicated to each other and her healing from the trauma that I caused even if some days are worse than others. Sex is off the table as well as most types of physical touch. We have gone back to the boundaries we had while dating. She keeps saying that she doesn’t think that we will continue this strict for more than a month, but I keep letting her know that we will continue for as long as her heart needs. I am not setting a date on her recovery. I only wish we had found The Great Sex Rescue before reading Sheet Music. But now that we know of a better way, we get to begin the restoration process. I just pray that someday her body and her heart will forgive me. I do not want her pity, I simply want a marriage that is thriving emotionally like it did in the beginning. I want freedom for her.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      JG, thank you for the example of your humility. I know that means a lot to many of my readers. I wish you both healing.

  28. Annie

    I met my husband at 15 (he was 19) and married him a few years later. The preacher spoke for a whole hour at our wedding and kept repeating how I was a virgin and how my husband was going to take my virginity that night and he ‘joked’ about how I wasn’t my dad’s princess any more but would be my husband’s queen. I still cringe to think about it now, 30 years later.

    The wedding night I point blank refused but we tried the next morning on honeymoon and I was devastated. Looking back I realise now I had no sexual attraction to my husband whatsoever and never had done. He was just my teenage best buddy. But I had just thought I was extra holy that I was never tempted to do anything sexual with him when we were dating. I thought desire would magically appear when we married. I cried through the first three days of the honeymoon. I missed my mum and dad. In the end my husband drove me back early so I could see them and stop crying.

    For 7 years I tried to avoid sex. I was honest and told him I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it. I said maybe I had been abused or something but that I really didn’t want to. He would be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ and ‘let me off’ for a month or so but then he would gently and ‘lovingly’ remind me that it was important that we had sex and that God said we had to.

    As the years went on it got to the point that I felt nauseated if he even touched me. We went to counselling and I spent 6 weekly sessions telling them how violated and sick I felt, how I had no sexual attraction to my husband. They listened, week after week, then on our last session gave me a gift – a new Bible – and told me that all I needed to do was read that more often. And have sex regularly with my husband.

    At 28 I told him I was done. I said I would stay with him, after all he was such a lovely loving man, my absolute best friend and soul mate, and we had two little kids by this point, but that I would not, could not, ever sleep with him again. He left me.

    He hates me now. Our kids are grown but he’s spent the last 25 years refusing to be in a room with me. It’s been awful for our boys, having to keep the two sides of their lives so separate. My ex sees me as the baddie. After all. I ruined the marriage.

    I haven’t had a conversation with him in decades but I am so haunted by not knowing if, with the whole me too movement and the new understanding of consent, if he understands that he raped me. I think he doesn’t. I still think I’m imagining it so there’s not much chance that he sees it that way.

    I so want an apology. I don’t understand how such a ‘nice’ man, who everybody else adores, didn’t let me own my own body.

    Do you think there’s any peace or healing to be found in telling the ex what he did was wrong? That even if he felt coerced too, by the church, he should have protected me, allowed me to decide about my own body? Or is that a bad idea?

  29. Jill

    It is also coercion if he is having an affair, watching porn, or other sexual secret activity that his wife does not know is currently going on. She did not give full consent while he was living a double life, because she was not fully informed by him as to what she was giving consent to. Do you think she would have consented at the time to making love with him if she had been informed that he’s currently orgasming to watching others have sex, or that he’s currently having sex with her and another woman, or that he may have a STD? She was coerced into consent due to lies of omission that were pertinent to her making a fully-informed decision.

  30. Allison Williams

    Thank you! I feel like I finally have words to describe what happened in my marriage! Thank you for addressing it! More books need revisions to include chapters on consent in marriage! I struggled with it almost immediately!


Submit a Comment

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