The Double Standards of Sexual Expectations in Marriage

by | Jan 16, 2023 | Sexual Intimacy | 74 comments

Sexual Double Standards in Marriage
Merchandise is Here!

We need to deal with our double standards of sexual expectations in marriage.

This month we’re looking at entitlement in marriage, and how the entitlement mentality can kill a marriage.

One of the things we were talking about last week was that reasonable expectations in marriage are actually good; but when we expect someone to do more than we expect ourselves to do, that veers into entitlement.

Tragically (and it is a tragedy), when it comes to sex, the evangelical world in particular has primed men to have entitlement, while telling women that even reasonable expectations are unrealistic and even sinful. We have created a double standard with sex, which is one of the leading causes of sexual dissatisfaction, women’s low libido, and women’s low orgasm rates (and our 47 point orgasm gap!).

Yes, many women have the higher libido in marriages. But most do not, and when we measured it in our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue, we did find that women’s libidos appear to have been artificially lowered because of a combination of this entitlement/zero expectations double standard mentality.

If we want healthy sex lives, we need to deal with this double standard!

I wrote about this on social media a while ago, but I wanted to put this in a post too so that I’d always be able to find it and point to it, because it’s important.

 

Love AND Respect Banner Ad
Love AND Respect Banner Ad

I’m constantly astounded at how LITTLE we think it’s reasonable to ask of men with sex, and how MUCH we think it’s reasonable to ask of women.

1. We think it’s unreasonable to ask men to wait for sex after a baby comes so that his wife can heal;

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a woman who has just gone through labor after carrying a baby for nine months; who is not sleeping; who has lost a large volume of blood; who likely has some post-birth physical trauma; who is adjusting to breastfeeding–we think it’s reasonable to ask her to give her husband oral sex or a hand job every few days, and we think she should act enthusiastic about it for his sake, too.

2. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man to wait for sex to be comfortable for a woman,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a woman suffering from sexual pain to push through for his sake, because we believe it’s valid that the price of his pleasure is her pain.

3. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man to connect emotionally with his wife before sex,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a woman to have sex at least every 3 days, even if she feels used, even if she feels distant, even if she feels just like a sex toy with no thought to her as a person.

4. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man to make sure his wife orgasms,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a woman to keep having intercourse and giving sexual favors every few days, even if she never reaches orgasm herself.

5. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man to go more than a few days without orgasm,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask women to go for decades without orgasm, as long as she’s fulfilling her duty to her husband.

 

And what if her husband has actually sinned against her or betrayed her?

6. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man who has confessed to an affair or a porn addiction to go without sex until the marriage heals and his wife feels safe,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a woman who feels betrayed, abandoned, and unsafe to give up her body to the man who hurt her, so that he can have sexual release.

7. We think it’s unreasonable to ask a man who has been raping his wife to take sex off the table while he rebuilds trust,

But we think it’s reasonable to ask a traumatized woman to allow her body to be used, retraumatizing her in the process, because we believe his ejaculation matters more than her safety.

We will never, ever have healthy relationships and healthy marriages in the church until we get this right.

Sex is something that is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. If those conditions are not met, genitals may be involved, but it is not sex the way God intended.

If we in the evangelical church think it’s reasonable to expect women to sacrifice their physical and emotional safety, and endure emotional and physical pain, just so that a man has an orgasm–then we do not understand intimacy. We do not understand sex.

And what’s more, we don’t understand God. By their fruits you will recognize them.

For more on the problems with how we see sex as an entitlement for men and an obligation for women, please see chapters 9 & 10 of The Great Sex Rescue!

 

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

sign up for our newsletter and SEE HOW EVANGELICAL BEST-SELLERS SCORED AGAINST OUR RUBRIC FOR HEALTHY, BIBLICAL, EVIDENCE-BASED TEACHINGS.

References for These Sexual Double Standards Claims

(This is not an exhaustive list, but rather just an example of what is sprinkled throughout our resources and from the pulpit)

1. Postpartum expectations

Kevin Leman in Sheet Music tells women that they should give handjobs while postpartum (p. 206); so does the book Intended for Pleasure (p. 206). Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta in Married Sex implies that women get aroused giving hand jobs postpartum, making this seem like the norm (p. 69-70). Multiple, multiple examples from social media and sermons can be given telling women that they must not go more than 72 hours without giving their husbands sexual release.

2. Expectations of comfort

Of the 13 evangelical books we looked at for The Great Sex Rescue, only two handled vaginismus appropriately (Sheet Music and The Gift of Sex). The rest didn’t even mention it, or else insinuated it did not exist or wasn’t a big deal (The Act of Marriage and Intended for Pleasure). Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage gave an anecdote where the couple repeatedly had sex when it hurt, and she didn’t speak up during intercourse, but only said so afterwards, implying this was normal (p. 233). Nowhere did they say you should get help if sex hurts. Vaginismus affects 22% of evangelical women. When books tell women about their obligations to give sex, but do not offer caveats about pain, or even tell women that pain is not normal, then it is assumed that these obligations apply to those situations as well.

3. Expectations of emotional connection

Multiple books, like For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, insinuate that not having sex with a man is the equivalent to him not talking with you for a week. They say that men connect through sex, and so it is not appropriate to withhold it from him, or else he will feel distant. Many books and authors also say that men will open up emotionally if you have sex, and so if you want him to open up, you must give him sex (I’m afraid I also used to teach this!). When books give no caveat for when women can say no to sex, but simply reinforce how much men need it, they tell women that they should have sex even if they feel distant. Our study found that for 18% of women, their primary emotion after sex is feeling used.

4. Expectations of orgasm and pleasure

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the norm when evangelical books talk about sex is to insist how important it is that women give sex, without also saying that orgasm for women is a thing and that orgasm should be mutual. When we have a 47 point orgasm gap in evangelicalism, and yet this gap is rarely if ever mentioned in our resources, it shows that women’s pleasure is not a priority. For instance, Love & Respect’s sex chapter is all about how women owe husbands sex no matter what, and yet it never says a single word about women’s pleasure. Instead, he tells women that a benefit of sex is that it is over so quickly (p. 252).

5. Expectations of frequency

Multiple books and authors quote the “72-hour rule” that Dobson put in a book in 1977, based on no scientific evidence. It is found in The Act of Marriage; Sheet Music; Every Man’s Battle; The Power of a Praying Wife. It has been quoted by Carolyn Mahaney at a Desiring God conference. And yet, again, these same books and authors say nothing about women’s expectations of pleasure.

6. Expectations of healing from betrayal

I heard about a panel where a very well-known megachurch pastor was asked if a wife could say no to sex for 30 days after a husband’s porn disclosure so that they could rediscover intimacy. He said no, because this would be depriving him. No mention was made about how the husband was depriving the wife by using porn. The Every Man’s Battle series tells husbands and wives that when men quit lust and porn, they should acutally have MORE sex with their wives, using them as sexual methadone. Their book Every Heart Restored says: “And why shouldn’t you expect to make sacrifices even in the marriage bed?…On the battlefield of broken sexual trust, your husband must become trustworthy and you must eventually choose to trust again, and that’ll mean sexual sacrifice. It’s self-defeating to worry about which should come first.” (p. 211). Gary Thomas had to take down a blog post saying that having sex can help a man quit porn because of all the outcry. 

7. Expectations of real consent

One of the horrifying realities of evangelicalism’s marriage resources is the complete lack of conversation about what consent and coercion look like. Indeed, many of our resources laugh off the reality of marital rape, such as The Act of Marriage (p. 107), Every Heart Restored (p. 15), and His Needs, Her Needs (2011 edition, p. 49), all of which have anecdotes about marital rape but never say that this is bad (and indeed in these anecdotes show sympathy for the husband). When books and pastors don’t define marital rape, but simply say that women must not deprive husbands, then women in these situations feel helpless. And we found that a lot of women are feeling coerced into sex.

Sexual double standards in evangelical marriages

Can you think of another double standard? What would be your #8? Let’s talk in the comments!

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

Comments

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

74 Comments

  1. Jo R

    Don’t forget all the verses quoted at wives, as though the same verses don’t also apply to husbands:

    God loves a cheerful giver.

    Consider others as better than yourselves.

    Deny yourself and take up your cross.

    I can do all things through Christ.

    I consider that the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to eternal glory.

    Consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of all kinds.

    How about if husbands think of these verses in relation to their penises?

    Reply
    • Mara R

      They can’t do that. It might look too much like the Golden Rule.
      And everybody knows that the Golden Rule doesn’t apply to marriage.
      Roles, hierarchy and warped teachings on Eph 5 (and similar passages) are the rules applied to marriage over and above anything Jesus might have said.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Well, Mara, we all know that women aren’t included in the “others” of that verse. Or any other verse that talks about how Christians should treat one another. Those verses only address how men should treat other men. 🙄

        Reply
    • Stefanie

      Omg. You’re giving me flashbacks.

      Reply
    • Sierra

      Add “offer your body as a living sacrifice “ to the list.

      Sheila, and team, thank you for continuing to articulate these things and challenge the prevalent teachings. I know it is hard on y’all to do this and you have faced much opposition. It is surely exhausting.

      You are making a difference! You have changed my life for the better as I have been in an entitlement marriage for over twenty years and have been deeply harmed from those dynamics. I am in a safe place, for now, and working on my healing. It truly helps me to read your posts as you are capturing in words what was underneath my experience, the forces that drove the harm. I know from other survivors that your work has been such an encouragement to them as well.

      Reply
  2. Nessie

    ^Yes to what Jo R wrote! ^

    What about premarital sex? My husband and I did not wait (I’ve been working through that guilt for years now but don’t think he ever really felt guilt about it) and he was not given any judgment (he’s just a typical man- it’s her fault for not stopping him) but I was looked down on, whispers behind my back even without people knowing if we had or not, snotty comments to my face, lectures to me from a person in ministry who- knowing both of us- never *once* spoke with him but instead praised him, and turned away for certain tasks because I was not good enough but *he* was, etc.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this, Nessie. I remember a couple being treated like this in my church when I was in my mid teens – they got pregnant (or, as the church phrased it, ‘SHE got pregnant’), and she was suspended from all her church roles for a year, while he continued to serve as a deacon, on the music team etc, with never a word said against him. As a teen, I recognised the hypocrisy of this so clearly, and I kept asking why they were being treated differently, but the response was that I shouldn’t be talking about it because that was ‘sinful gossip’. So yes, I definitely think #8 should be the difference between the way the male and female half of a couple are treated, whether it’s pre-marital sex or adultery.

      (And as for the guilt – remember, there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Any sin you have brought to Him has been blotted out completely, so if you are still feeling guilty for it, that is the devil trying to drag you down. As Corrie Ten Boom said, God doesn’t just cast our sin into the bottom of the sea, He puts a notice up that says ‘no fishing’!)

      Reply
      • Nessie

        Thank you, Angharad. <3 I appreciate your kind words/thoughts. I see now how wrong that double standard is, but the erroneous teachings starting in my youth kept me from any ability to articulate it or see my similar thoughts as anything but pride, selfishness, shame, and sin. I hadn't removed the log in my eye enough to see a speck in his eye so I just needed to be quiet and look at my own sinfulness. Why did/do so many people have to use scriptures to do the devil's work? I've done a lot of deconstructing but have so far to go, too. I despise the wasted years thinking and feeling that God didn't love me, He only loved men.

        Thank you for your frequent wisdom, insights, and love that you share for others. And I love that No Fishing anecdote!

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s an interesting point too! It reminds me of an anecdote in the Ludys’ book When God Writes Your Love Story. Basically, a couple at college starts dating, and they have sex. Both were virgins. But the takeaway from the story is that SHE had lost her most precious gift. Excuse me? What about him?

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      My response would be “I don’t take any judgement from someone who is too stupid to understand that it takes two to tango.” Then laugh in their faces.

      Reply
  3. Bill

    Thanks for this – an important resource for sure for many wives who feel the weight of these false teachings. But I’d like to respectfully ask a question: does it ever go the other way? Is there ever a point in which it is the wife who is ‘unreasonable’ about sex despite the husband’s respectful best efforts? And if so, what can the husband do about that?

    Reply
    • Angharad

      I’m not aware of any Christian teachers or writers who are teaching this kind of imbalance the other way around. What examples do you have in mind?

      Reply
      • Bill

        I wasn’t really referring to specific teachers; in fact, Sheila’s point is clearly that far too many teachers say exactly this – heaping all the blame on wives for being ‘unreasonable’ and failing to meet their husband’s sexual needs, and most of it is harmful guilt-inducing crap.

        But I am asking about whether there is a point at which it really is the wife rather than the husband who is being unreasonable and is not trying to work together with him to find a respectful mutual compromise – and how to discern that. Or is ‘unreasonableness’ exclusively 100% one way?

        As for examples, well, I’m asking from my own experience. There’s also a passage/example in The Great Sex Rescue about a wife who ignores her husband’s sincere efforts because of her own ‘laziness’ (to use the book’s own words).

        Reply
        • Suzanne

          What passage are you referring to that talks of a wife’s laziness? What example can you give of a wife being unreasonable? Is this about an unmatched libido where one spouse feels it’s unreasonable for the other the deny sex to them when they are in the mood and the spouse is not? What is your question, you have not been clear in what you are asking.

          Reply
          • Bill

            Hi Suzanne. I don’t have a page number (just the e-book) but at the beginning of Chapter 8 of The Great Sex Rescue – Scenario 1, “Natasha.” That kind of long-term situation.

        • Joy

          Here’s the truth: Sheila is not speaking up for men in these situations right now. She had done so in the past, and a casual glance through her blog would most likely show you this. Why is she not speaking up for “the other side?” Because she has found through research that the voice of women is simply NOT EVER being heard. I’m sorry that you are dealing with a mismatched libido and that this is painful to you. But the reality is that as women we have heard about men being upset because they don’t get enough sex ALL the time. Unloving men dealing with the issues that you are facing are the source of the sorts of bad, painful advice that Sheila is standing up against. She does need to specifically speak up for women in this scenario without trying to teach low libido wives how to overcome that issue.

          I would suggest that you look on her blog at some of her other series.

          Reply
    • Phil

      Bill – This question seems like a set up for an agenda. I could probably help you with that.

      Reply
      • Bill

        Thanks Phil. I think my ‘agenda’ is pretty transparent: I’ve struggled for years with how to get my wife to talk and open up more about sex, in the mutual way that Sheila’s work advocates. But not much has worked and it does indeed feel like an unreasonable situation. How do you propose to help?

        Reply
        • Phil

          Bill – I now recall seeing your story here. I am sorry you are going through that. I have been coming around here for quite a while and usually when I see a question posed in the manner that you did that commenter usually male is getting ready to spit at Sheila. Quite honestly, I am a little sensitive to it. So if thats not you, please accept my apologies. I will say that my thoughts on your story was headed in the same direction as Sheila. I agree one needs to find out why. I had been trying to figure out why with my wife for a very ling time myself. I actually knew why but couldnt deliver the message correctly to get on the same page. The truth for me is that for many reasons I was not trusted enough. I was not safe. From what I recall of your story it is often pointed at your wife. You havent told us what your part is. There are 2 of you. I assure you its not just your wife. I come from a place of self examination. I would suggest you start there. There are many places to get help. Your wife has a reason she wont talk. Believe it or not when you work on yourself if your marriage has rocks under it she will notice. Best to you Bill.

          Reply
          • Bill

            Thanks Phil. I appreciate your constructive encouragement. My wife and I have come a long way on this. But I’ve often felt very alone.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            It can be very lonely! I know when I talk to high drive women it’s very similar. There is only so much you can do. Look for the root (and there usually is a root); work on connection so you can talk about it; and then ultimately it’s up to you to decide how you can live. Draw boundaries if you need to. But unfortunately you can’t change someone.

          • Bill

            Thank you. I appreciate that very much.

        • Lisa

          I’m sorry. If you’ve tried for years and it hasn’t helped, then I think you need to work it out with a professional that you trust. You need to figure out what you’re willing to do and not do when married to a person who has, for whatever reasons she has, chosen this path. This is not something that the Internet can answer for you. You, alone, can answer your question. This is your life, not ours.

          My best guess is that your wife has very good reasons for doing what she’s doing and she may not even be aware of the connection. I have no idea, of course. But I’m sure she would prefer freedom over the prison she’s in. But no one can force her to move forward.

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ve written a ton about this, Bill! I’ve written about how a wife should address her own sexual stuff, and I also have 10 questions husbands can ask if their wives don’t want sex. Then, at the end, there’s some recommendations if none of that applies.

      I do think the difference, though, is that there isn’t a double standard with what we ask of men vs. what we ask of women. While some women may honestly be rejecting sex, there’s not a double standard teaching about it.

      (Also, our research overwhelmingly found that few women give up on sex for no reason. It’s so important to figure out what the reason is.)

      Reply
      • Bill

        Thank you Sheila. I appreciate that your primary mission is to target those toxic teachings and double standards.

        Reply
        • K

          Another question you could ask at number 5 (trust) is does your wife feel safe with you?

          Reply
          • Bill

            That’s ultimately for her to answer, though I believe she does. But she had an emotionally abusive father that she didn’t trust, and she has said many times that it led her to resentment and a desire to always be in control. We’ve had lots of counseling and healing on this but I’ve had to cope with his legacy for decades.

  4. Mara R

    I’m going to add this but I don’t have source because it’s been scrubbed.

    But, when a woman is menstruting and her husband wants sex, she should offer her backside

    (Not debating about whether backside sex is acceptable or not. That is a different argument. I’m adding this to the obligatory hand and oral duties.)

    Also, I’ve been know to say this before and Keith has also mentioned it more than once or twice.
    We need to get sex out of Ephesians 5 and apply the Golden Rule to it. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As long as it’s all about roles and hierarchy as defined by certain groups who don’t really understand Eph 5, it will never be fully fixed.

    Reply
    • Mara R

      Forgot to say, Thanks for this.
      I know you will point people here when they want to say we don’t know what we’re talking about.
      But I’m also glad to point people here when necessary.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      I’m so confused by that for this: is blood draining out a vagina deemed that much worse than fecal matter? Like you said, not debating acceptability, just don’t understand why the one is considered bad but the other is considered preferable? There something I’m missing?

      Reply
      • Mara R

        The other thing that confuses me about the guy who pressed upon women to offer up their backsides to their idol/husbands…

        He is a known Homophobe. Again, not getting into an argument concerning homosexuality.

        It is just odd to me that a guy like that would condemn homosexuality out of one side of his mouth and demand the sexual acts that originated in that community from women on behalf of men.

        It boggles.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! Wonderfully said. It should be about the Golden Rule, never about hierarchy and authority and power.

      Reply
    • Lisa

      Mark Driscoll also recommends this in his first marriage book (XO Marriage is publishing a SECOND marriage book by this person, shockingly).

      Reply
  5. Brambonius

    I’ve said it before, but Golden rule, people…

    If Christians actually believed the scriptures can be summed up in ‘treat others like you’d want to be treated’ as the basis of the Christian lifestyle none of this would even be conceivable to Christians. Aren’t we talking about love relationships?

    And the creepy thing is that if Christians don’t even care for this kind of reciprocal dynamic in what should probably be our most intimate relationship, they’ll probably don’t care about following any of the things Christ said about ‘love your neighbour’ (let alone the harder things about enemies, or just the poor and strangers) even if they claim to be ‘biblical’.

    Reply
    • Mara R

      Pharisees are always looking for loopholes.
      This is no different for modern day Pharisees. Complementarianism is a loophole to the Golden Rule.
      It gives men ‘biblical’ support for their privilege, entitlement, and lack of empathy.
      It gives men permission to define who/what a woman is, what she’s good for from his self-centered perspective, and what role she is to play according to his fleshly desires and sinful nature.

      I imagine that there may be male hierarchalists who can try to imagine what it would be like if they were the one who had to submit.
      But really, there is no need for them to trouble themselves with such thoughts since they get to be the hammer rather than the nail. They have been taught that the “Bible tells me so.”

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Completely agree! If we can’t even teach that the most intimate relationship should be characterized by love and cherishing, then how will we treat those around us?

      I think the reason that we don’t apply the Golden Rule is, as Mara said before, because too often we’re focusing on teaching hierarchy and power.

      Reply
      • Anonymous305

        Unfortunately, life isn’t as simple as the idea that men who don’t love their wives also don’t love their neighbors. Yes, that can happen, but it can also happen that a man ignores his wife while helping the old ladies in the neighborhood because he gets more public admiration or because they “need more help” than his wife.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          Thank you so much for bringing that up, Anonymous305!

          My dad’s a nice guy in the world, but he’s safe with my mom, so he can be more of his real self. My mom was really sick for a month (on top of other chronic health problems). She had days when she was in too much pain to even drink water. She still had to make dinner, do dishes, etc. because it needed to be done.

          The only interaction my dad had with my mom during that time was to ask when dinner would be ready or what was for dinner. Meanwhile, he was being a good friend to his friends from work and his online game, asking them how they’re doing, listening sympathetically to all their problems, telling them they need to get rest and take care of themselves. That’s just one example. I could go on. He’s got plenty of time to be there for anybody who needs him, since he’s not there for his wife, although he’s always made sure to make people think that he is. A lot of guys seem to think that they have to be nice in the world for people to like them, but that their wives owe them adoration no matter what in gratitude for the great favor of being married to them, so they don’t have to act like even a friend, let alone a husband, anymore.

          Thank you again for bringing up that very important point. I wonder how many guys have a reputation for being so kind to others, while they’ve been making their wives unhappy for decades.

          Reply
          • Anonymous305

            ☹️❤️☹️ your poor mom!! That reality is really scary for women in the dating stage because they have no idea who to trust!!

  6. NM

    As a newlywed I definitely thought painful sex was normal and just part of being a woman. Everyone told me the first time would hurt. Thank God it didn’t…we had a long, wonderful time of foreplay on our wedding night and it was absolutely lovely. But I was very sore the next day, and the thought of taking some time off until I felt better never crossed my mind. This started several months of my mind solidifying that sex was painful, and it took quite a while to get over. The sad part is my husband was so wonderful, and anything I ever asked him to do or change in the bedroom, he did. And I was openly talking to him about how frustrated I was over the pain when I really enjoyed sex otherwise. We just didn’t know it was ok, let alone good, to ask for a break. I will absolutely be telling my own daughter to let herself heal if she finds herself in pain for any reason.

    Looking back now it is so strange that I didn’t know I could say no to pain. Can you even imagine if we put that kind of pressure on men? If we are in the mood, but our hubbies had a hard day, or are injured or not feeling well, I think the vast majority of women have no problem putting our own needs aside until he feels better. I am high drive so yeah it can be a bummer, but I would never, ever do that to someone I love. It would feel so selfish and gross. It is high time that respect goes both ways!

    Reply
  7. Luke Jalbert

    I almost posted this on the 4 things you should expect from your spouse, and chickened out. But now this seems like an appropriate time since we are listing on the negative expectations of sex.

    What should you expect from your spouse in terms of sex? I’m guessing most people here would say you should be able to expect sexual fidelity. But that’s not really I’m addressing.

    I feel there should be SOME reasonable expectation that sex will be a part of your marriage, and if there are issues preventing it from being part of the marriage than both partners need to take an active approach to getting them addressed. I feel like I’m about to be run out of town here, but I’ve seen the flip side of the typical story on this website where there are real issues, but one side refuses to address them and they fall into a once a presidential election cycle sex life. I don’t think that’s any better than any of the above ridiculous stances on expectations.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Luke, one of the posts I wrote in that series was why you have to deal with your own sexual stuff!

      Interestingly, Joanna has been running new stats all weekend, and once again, in our dataset of men, we have found that the men who get the most sex, and who are most satisfied with their sex lives, are the men who do not agree with the entitlement messages at all and have specifically rejected them.

      So I think speaking about sex as an obligation is harmful, any way you put it. It just is. We need to talk about sex as a vital part of a committed marriage, and as the natural outflow of how we feel about each other. If sex isn’t happening, that’s a red flag that something is going on that needs to be looked into.

      But that’s the thing–frequency is very, very rarely the real problem. There is something else going on. Our studies show this. Other studies have shown this.

      The idea that women just give up on sex is simply not supported. That’s why I don’t think that what we need to be teaching is obligation nearly as much as what healthy looks like and how to get there. When people pursue health in all its forms, sex happens. But sex can’t bring about relational health on its own. I hope that makes sense!

      Reply
      • Luke Jalbert

        Yes ma’am it does.

        We’ve been wading through the train wreck of what my wife absorbed in church over the years without me really catching on.
        It’s ironic , I grew up very very staunch catholic, and early in our relationship my wife was worried my background would be detrimental to our marriage.

        It turns out how sex was taught to me in catholic school (by a nun and a priest no less, doesn’t that sound like a horrible joke?)
        Was light years closer to what God intended and you talk about here than what my wife got.

        Reply
        • Bill A

          Very much my experience too. I think I got a reasonably enlightened Christian view of sex growing up. My wife got a repressed and narrow view, when it was talked about at all. It did not set us up for success.

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’ve actually heard that from a lot of people! I think the thing about Catholics is that (and I could be generalizing here and not right) they tend to stress abstinence and then waiting for marriage a LOT, and so there can be shame messages. But there aren’t male entitlement messages, perhaps because the priesthood is single and not getting sex anyway. So they don’t teach the dangerous obligation-entitlement stuff, but just the “don’t do it” stuff. And so even though there can be shame (and that has been documented) you don’t get as much of the other stuff.

          Reply
          • Luke Jalbert

            Single data point here, so not exactly rigorous research. You are correct the Catholic upbringing I had stressed abstinence. But the older you got the more they expounded on the WHY abstinence was a good idea. My wife was told abstinence because otherwise you are sinning, and that was it. i was given a whole long list of other reasons besides sin to abstain, that I’m betting everyone on here would agree with. it lead to a very different motivation for the same goal, which I think matters. The one that really stuck to a 16 year old me was when the mid 30’s man that lead my confirmation class for three years told us one of his regrets was having premarital sex with a girl where the sex was amazing, but the relationship was horrid. Years later when he got married to a wonderful woman, who was everything he wanted in a spouse, but the sex was rather bland in comparison. he said he so regretted having sex because he would have been blissfully content with sex with his wife, if he didn’t have the crazy sex in the back of his mind. He said he prayed none of us would have to fight the battle that he set himself up for.

          • Anonymous305

            Now that you mention it, my mom was raised Catholic and told me that all she heard was “don’t do it”, so she was glad that evangelical churches “gave more information” and talked about “resisting temptation”, and I don’t blame her because she didn’t know any better. She didn’t know that the “more information” would destroy my sense of worth. I’ve shared just a little about how it affected me, but I feel bad for her because I know she didn’t intend the effects and she is still the most lovable Mommy ever!!

  8. Anonymous305

    Regarding idea that some guys don’t feel loved without sex-I hate the pressure that it puts on women, but for some guys it’s actually true. I’ve even heard guys say they don’t feel human without sex. That’s weird to me because I feel I was still a person while a virgin, but I’m not sure I should say, “stop feeling that way” anymore than they should tell me to stop feeling whatever I’m feeling.

    I hate how much pressure it creates when a husband ONLY feels love from sex, but I’m not sure that a wife in that situation should say, “your love needs don’t matter” anymore than he should say the same to her.

    I hate that it’s possible to have situations where it’s literally impossible for both partners to feel loved. I always knew marriage could be hard, but didn’t always know that it could get to the point where the man only feels loved through sex and the woman only feels loved when sex isn’t expected, so they can’t both feel loved. I used to believe there was always a way to make both people feel at least content, but then I got older and more aware of reality.

    I agree that it turns women off to hear about male needs, but the common ideas about male needs come from some people’s real true experiences.

    Reply
    • NM

      If someone feels like they aren’t human without sex, or can’t feel love apart from sex, they have some deep issues that need addressing. That is something g to work through with a licensed therapist. As Sheila says constantly, sex is a very important part of marriage and a healthy sex life is a worthy goal. But it should be the outpouring of a healthy relationship. If one person is looking to sex to meet all of their relational needs, that is too heavy a burden on the other person and they will naturally withdraw from that pressure. It’s not your fault you feel that way; the messages sent to men in our culture in regards to sex and their own emotions are awful. But I think you need to be honest that there is some hard personal work to be done to get to a healthier place.

      Reply
    • Luke Jalbert

      Guy here. One whose first love language is physical touch.

      (is that a bad book? I don’t remember seeing anything on it but I’m new here)

      I’d say there is something wrong emotionally with a man who says the only way they feel love is through sex.

      Is there not a single other person in their life they either feel loved by or they themselves love?

      If the man’s mother lives him, I. REALLY hope that proves that he can feel sex without live, otherwise you have a whole lot of issues to deal with.

      Reply
      • Kay

        Yes, we need to teach that sex is an outpouring of one’s connection with said partner, not a way to build connection.

        Men are taught entitlement. Never once in a book, seminar, teaching has it ever been said that women “need” sex, too. Men are visual. Men need it. It means more to men. Men have a need you don’t have.

        And any good Christian wife has been taught to “lay down her desires” and please her guy….

        So any wonder why a woman might start to see it as another chore on her to do list instead of something enjoyable she gets to do with only her hubby?!?!

        Reply
      • Anonymous305

        I meant my comments about the marriage context, NOT his mom, but to be fair, making inferences outside of marriage is logical when reading the comment without inferences.

        Reply
      • Lisa

        The Five Love Languages is a pretty shallow book, it doesn’t promote intimacy. Learning what your spouse does and doesn’t appreciate is relationship 101 so, it can be an important first step for someone who literally knows nothing but I would be extremely wary of anyone who recommends it as a great book. And it has a section on sexual obligation from wife to husband. So, yes, I’d call it bad.

        Reply
    • Suzanne

      Men don’t need sex, they want sex. Sex is a want a desire, not a need. Only being able to “feel love” thru sex is more of an issue a man needs to work on, he will need to work to figure out why he is claiming that. A man can love a child, a family member, and a friend without sex, so no, sex is not the only way they can feel love, claiming so is manipulation. If you can only feel love by your spouse giving you their body even if under obligation or coercion, even if she is not into it, if she is in pain, if she doesn’t get an orgasm, if she is exhausted, or any reason she doesn’t want to have sex is manipulation and not love.

      Reply
      • Anonymous305

        To clarify, I’m not talking about someone who wants obligation sex, but who is really hurt and rejected when his wife doesn’t want to.

        Reply
        • Suzanne

          That’s still his own stuff he has to deal with. You said that sex is the only way they can feel love, if they cannot feel love from their wife unless she always is ready to have sex with him and then is feels hurt and rejuected when she says no, that is entitlement to sex. If he can feel love for his parents, his kids, family and friends then he can feel love. I am not saying he should be happy with no sex, I am saying its a cop out to say he can only feel his wife loves him and can only feel love for her if he is having sex with her, that is a him problem and he needs to figure out why he is choosing to feel that way. Does it feel good to be told no when you are in the mood for sex, no it doesn’t but a mature person deals with it and doesn’t take it personally that another person isn’t always matched to their sex drive at any given time and deals with it without whining they don’t feel loved.

          Reply
      • Sedge by the Lakeshore

        Exactly.

        And maybe our society thinks that it’s a barometer for the health of the relationship. So if we can just get the reluctant spouse to give up her or his body, then the marriage becomes OK.

        But sex doesn’t say anything about the health of the relationship. Says nothing about whether one is loved or not.

        Sometimes love requires abstinence. If he’s already working three jobs and ready to collapse, the risk of adding another family member would be rather inconsiderate, no matter how much she wanted to make love.

        As others have pointed out, sex can happen because of a sense of duty, not love.

        So just having it doesn’t say anything.

        Maybe what spouses owe each other is to *care* about sex.

        That means not cheapening it by using it as some sort of litmus test. And to try and resolve issues that tank desire. Just to name two things.

        Reply
      • J$

        Well then by the same token, women don’t need an emotional connection, they just want an emotional connection.

        Believe whatever you want, but if you approach a marriage with an attitude of disrespecting and discounting the man’s primary love language (which is typically physicality, with sex being the highest tier of physicality), it isn’t going to go well for either of you.

        Just like if I ignore my wife’s need for emotional connection, it’s not going to go well.

        And painting it with the broad brush of “manipulation” is just intellectually lazy, in my opinion. The fact is that both sexes can AND DO manipulate to get what they feel they need. Plenty of women manipulate to get what they need emotionally, too.

        I’m not saying that manipulation is right in either case, to be clear.

        But for a man or woman to simply be honest about what they need from the spouse to feel love isn’t “manipulation” by default, as you’ve implied.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          “Manipulating” to get what you want emotionally is called “Manipulation”

          “Manipulating” to get sex is called “rape”

          So… not the same. Not healthy, either of them, but let’s not pretend that men who feel manipulated into doing dishes are experiencing the same thing as marital rape survivors, ok? I don’t think that’s what you were intending to do, but recognize that having sex under duress is a different experience than doing dishes or having to spend time talking with your wife, which is what “emotional connection” typically means.

          If a man’s “primary love language” is sex (which, by the way, is not one of the love languages and even the original author of the book says that firmly), that means he likely has experienced stunting during his emotional development. That is 100% not his fault, but it is his responsibility to do the work to learn the skills he should have learned earlier in development but was prevented from learning for whatever reason.

          Sublimating all connection needs into sex leads to really bad stuff, like sexual entitlement, and is toxic to a marriage. Rather, the goal is that sex becomes an EXPRESSION of the love and connection already there. But if a partner tells their spouse, “I need sex to feel love,” that’s putting the cart before the horse.

          Reply
    • Sequoia

      Hey Anonymous305,
      Correct me if I’m wrong—obviously I don’t know you and am just going off of what you wrote—but saying “some guys don’t feel loved without sex” seems like you’re treating physical intimacy (specifically sex) as if it were the sum total of emotional and relational intimacy.

      Right quick, I’ll define those terms:
      Physical intimacy—signs of affection both sexual and non-sexual, an enjoyment of being in each other’s space. Think little hugs, back scratches, holding hands, kissing, ruffling hair, etc.
      Emotional intimacy—sharing deep fears, feeling safe and accepted, having feelings validated, effective communication about nearly anything. “On the same page.”
      Relational intimacy—doing things together, including with a larger group, feeling like a partner and a team, like they’ve got your back and are working with you. Generally good friends feel like this.

      I admit that as a woman, I have at times conflated the different kinds of intimacy and gone to my husband for sex when what I was really craving was emotional intimacy or non-sexual physical affection.
      Men are *notorious* for doing this. Especially since they’re often not taught to invest in emotional and relational intimacy-building skills.

      So back to your point. “Guys need sex to feel loved.” That’s admitting to a weakness and a LACK of knowing how to communicate and receive love. Love is built through all kinds of intimacy, and trust is a prerequisite for ALL of them. You can never build trust through sex. This, you can never build love through sex. However, you can build trust through compassionate and careful listening, and faithfully pursuing relationship. You can strengthen intimacy-building skills like muscles, and that will allow you to communicate and receive love.

      At that point, sex can be seen as part of physical affection.

      I’ve talked a lot, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. If you disagree with some point, that’s totally okay.

      Reply
    • Sequoia

      Anon305,

      I’ve been reading some articles by Matthew Fray on his blog recently, he does a pretty good job at analysis and recommendation specifically for men who want to grow in their intimacy-building skills.

      https://matthewfray.com/blog/

      Reply
    • Joy

      Sheila did a series on emotional health and maturity. It covers why men feeling like they need sex to emotionally connect is not a healthy place for them to stay. Share it with your friends.

      Reply
    • Lisa

      Men who say they don’t feel human without sex truly need and deserve the help of a qualified therapist. This is not simply another way of being, this is something they need help with. And there are women that experience this, too, and they need and deserve help.

      Reply
  9. Sequoia

    Just checking a typo under #3, emotional connection, it’s missing the word “no”

    “Books give no caveat that women can say (no) to sex.”

    Right now it just says “…women can say to sex.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you! I’ll go fix it now.

      Reply
  10. Sequoia

    Also Sheila,
    Thank you so much for this post!
    It’s really helpful to see these messages stated so bluntly and juxtaposed next to each other.

    I so appreciated listening to some of your older podcasts and really hearing your heart. You passionately defended women’s ability to hear from God in the same way and degree that men could.

    Now I think the great sex rescue, this recent entitlement series, and this post specifically is showing your heart clearly again. You want women to feel valued and seen regardless of what sexual messages have been thrown at them.

    Know that your blog played a primary role to redeem my understanding of sexuality. Please keep doing what you’re doing. You’re not perfect, but you and team are doing really good work among a population that desperately needs to keep hearing this kind of voice.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you so much, Sequoia!

      Reply
  11. Laura

    3. Expectations of emotional intimacy

    In Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge, she says something along these lines, “Men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.” If you think about this, doesn’t that sound like prostitution? Women are giving sex in return for something…love.

    It’s been nearly 20 years since I read this book and while I saw truth in that saying, it just did not sit right with me. This saying was lived out in my marriage to my ex. If I wanted him to treat me right, then I had to give him sex. If he felt like he wasn’t getting enough sex from me, then he treated me badly. Well, he realized that in order to get his way sexually, he would go out of his way to be kind to me. Sometimes, I felt like this was not for real and he was not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He was doing this to get something. Obviously, this does not sound like a healthy marriage. Yet, the author implied that this is just how it is. Men are all about the physical and women are about the emotional.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      Come on, Laura, things have changed in the twenty years since then.

      Now men can demand sex while being self-centered and unloving.

      Reply
  12. Codec

    Since you are going to be talking about expectations entitlement and unhealthy ideas could you address the nihilistic ideas that are floating around with many young people that marriage and romance are dead? That marriage is a trap and such? I feel that more and more people want to say things like that. I will get divorced so why even try, I will get replaced if a better man or woman comes along, I will be left miserable. I feel that these ideas also need to be addressed.

    Reply
    • Stefanie

      I think young people might not think that as much if they had better examples of healthy partnerships around them. Someone to show them, “This is possible.” Which is one reason Sheila’s work is so important. Because I think the Church needs major help before they can be that example. I’m thinking of the scripture about if salt loses its saltiness it’s not good for anything anymore.

      Reply
  13. Perfect Number

    Thank you for writing this! All of these points are SO REAL.

    Reply
  14. LIsa

    This post is SPOT ON. These books and teachings have to DIE. They are horrible and the exact opposite of a Christ-like life.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

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