OBLIGATION SEX SERIES: 10 Things to Know about Obligation Sex

by | Sep 6, 2023 | Series, Sexual Intimacy | 53 comments

10 Things to Know about Obligation Sex
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Obligation Sex is the idea that a wife is obligated to have sex when her husband wants to.

It’s that simple.

It was one of the beliefs that we studied in our survey of 20,000 women for our book The Great Sex Rescue, and we found that when women believed this message before she got married, her chances of experiencing vaginismus (or primary sexual pain) increased; her chance of orgasm decreased; and her marital and sexual satisfaction fell.

It was disastrous all round. And yet it is widely taught.

41% of women reported being taught it in church circles before they were married. And of the 12 aspects of sex we measured on our healthy sexuality rubric, evangelicalism’s best-selling resources scored the absolute worst on the obligation sex measure, scoring just 1.2/4. 

This month on the Bare Marriage blog, we’re going to dive into obligation sex. We’re going to look at what it is; why it’s preached; and how to recover from it. We’re going to look at what to do if  your spouse doesn’t agree that it’s a problem. And we’re going to look at how the body holds the trauma of this message, and how to be free of it.

But before freedom can come, we need to understand what’s going on. So today I would like to write the definitive post exploring the problems with obligation sex, and pointing us to a way forward.

So let’s look at 10 things to know about obligation sex! I’ve talked about all of these before in posts and podcasts, but I want to put them all together in one place for easy reference, and for new readers.

1. What are some examples of obligation sex?

First, let’s understand what obligation sex looks like. 

Obligation sex is the pastor who hears about a couple’s profound marital problems, and the first question to the wife is, “are you keeping him sexually satisfied?”

Obligation sex is telling a postpartum woman that she should be giving him sexual favors when she can’t have intercourse, so he doesn’t feel threatened or jealous of the baby.

Obligation sex is telling a woman who has just discovered that her husband has been watching porn that no matter what, she mustn’t deprive him.

Obligation sex is telling a woman that God gave men the need for sex, and her the gift of sex.

Obligation sex is writing whole chapters on sex in marriage books that talk about how much men need sex, and never once mentioning that women should feel pleasure from sex too.

Obligation sex is telling a woman who is experiencing sexual pain, or who has never had an orgasm, that she just likely isn’t as sexual as her husband, but she must still fill up his cup.

Obligation sex is a woman feeling that if she doesn’t initiate every 72 hours, her husband will be tempted to watch porn

Obligation sex is telling a woman that if she says no to her husband, she is depriving him and she is in sin.

None of this sounds appealing, does it? 

2. Where does “biblical support” for obligation sex come from?

When people teach that a woman (and this message is almost universally directed at women) cannot say no to sex or else she is depriving her husband, they are almost always referring to this passage in 1 Corinthians 7:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

The idea is that her body belongs to her husband, so he has the right to use it. And if she says no, she is depriving him. 

However, this is a very problematic and sketchy interpretation of these verses.

First, if your child comes to you at 4 pm and wants Cheetos, you are not depriving her of food. Her need is for healthy food, not to eat anything she wants whenever she wants.

Second, Paul is addressing a situation unique to Corinth at the time when married people were vowing celibacy because they thought it was holier. And he was saying–hey, don’t vow to be celibate! Have sex! Again, he wasn’t saying, “you deserve sex any time you feel the urge.” He was saying “Don’t swear off sex forever, or for long periods of time.” 

Third, this passage is completely mutual. In fact, the mutuality is what makes this passage revolutionary. At the time, husbands owned their wives bodies by law, so to tell a husband that his wife’s body belonged to him was not revolutionary.

But to turn this around and say, “in the same way…”, and tell husbands that their wives owned THEIR bodies? That was drastic. One cannot use this passage to tell women they can’t say no and ignore the mutuality that the passage is based on.

Fourth, in the very next verse, verse 6, Paul says that he says all this as a concession, not a command. The church has used these verses as a command, when this is not at all what Paul intended!

But the biggest issue is a fundamental one: What exactly is it that Paul doesn’t want us to deprive each other of? And for that, we need to understand what sex actually is.

3. Obligation sex misunderstands biblical sex

If I were to ask you what sex was, you’d likely hem and haw and then say something that sounded like putting IKEA furniture together: Part A goes into Slot B. 

You’d describe intercourse.

The problem with that is that she could be lying there making a grocery list in her head; she could be in emotional turmoil; or she could even be in physical pain, and it would still count as having sex.

 When our idea of sex is merely intercourse, then her experience is irrelevant. We’re prioritizing his climax, not hers.

In our survey for The Great Sex Rescue, we discovered a 47 point orgasm gap between men and women, where 95% of evangelical men report reaching orgasm almost always/always, while the equivalent number for women is only 48%.

That’s a lot of women not enjoying sex. In fact, most women who do reach orgasm find other routes than intercourse far more reliable. 

So what is a better way of defining sex biblically?

Genesis 4:1 tells us that sex is a “knowing.” It’s not just physical, it’s a deep intimate connection. You’re baring not just your bodies, but your souls.

Song of Solomon tells us that sex is pleasurable for BOTH, not just for men.

 And 1 Corinthians 7 tells us that sex is mutual.

So sex is not merely one-sided intercourse; sex is something that is MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH. Sex is a beautiful expression of who you are as a couple, and is meant to bind you together.

When you insist on intercourse against someone’s will, then sex isn’t bringing you together. It’s pulling you apart. 18% of our respondents in our survey said that their primary emotion after sex was feeling used. Sex was making the marriage worse; not better. That isn’t of God.

If someone is insisting on intercourse against someone else’s will, it isn’t intimate and it isn’t mutual, and it doesn’t count as having sex. In this case, she is already being deprived of intimacy, and the verses in 1 Corinthians 7 don’t even apply.

4. Obligation sex sees sexual activity as separate from the relationship

When we tell people that no matter what is going on in the relationship, sex must look absolutely the same, and intercourse must occur with the same frequency, then we are saying that sex isn’t really about relationship at all. It’s not an expression of how you feel about each other. It’s not an experience you share together. It is merely one person using another for their masturbatory urges. 

That is the furthest thing from what the Bible says. 

5. Obligation sex prioritizes a husband’s ejaculation over emotional and physical safety

If sex is a deep knowing, then sex has to be about both people. It has to be about the relationship. But obligation sex ignores all that. It turns sex from a knowing to an owing.

It says to her, “it doesn’t matter what you think or feel or want; he has the right to use you however he wants.”

That’s not him knowing her; that’s him erasing her.

Anyone who thinks that God is more concerned that a husband ejaculate as soon as he feels the urge, rather than concerned about how the couple can love and know each other, doesn’t really understand God.

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6. Obligation sex is experienced as trauma

One of our biggest findings in our survey is that belief in obligation increased a woman’s chance of experiencing vaginismus to almost the same statistical effect as abuse did (there was only .1% separating the confidence intervals). 

Our bodies interpret obligation as trauma, because obligation erases her needs and personhood, and tells her that she doesn’t matter. 

This is inherently a dangerous message that is actually affecting evangelical women’s bodies. Evangelical women suffer from vaginismus at 2-2.5 times the rate of the general population, and the obligation sex message plays a large part of this.

7. Obligation sex can quickly turn into coercion and marital rape

It isn’t hard for obligation to turn into marital rape. If she is obligated to give him sex, then he can feel that he can just take it.

And if he feels entitled to it, then he can feel that if she doesn’t give him sex for any reason, she is actually the one in the wrong (even if the conditions in their marriage are deplorable). This can easily lead to him punishing her in some way.

If she doesn’t give him sex, maybe he yells more; treats the children badly; gives her the silent treatment; embarrasses her in public; refuses to participate around the house; lectures her endlessly using Bible verses; berates her; hits her. 

If she has to have sex to prevent something bad from happening, that is inherently coercive, and qualifies as marital rape.

Please see chapters 9 and 10 in The Great Sex Rescue for more on how obligation becomes coercion.

8. Obligation sex can be traumatic even if only the wife feels the pressure

In our focus groups for The Great Sex Rescue, we heard from so many women who internalized the obligation sex message even though their husbands had not. It wasn’t that their husbands were pressuring them to have sex; it was that they had read Christian books and listened to Christian media and been in Christian book studies where they had heard over and over again that it was their role to have sex no matter what.

And even if the husband didn’t feel that way, this belief in obligation sex still damaged her libido, damaged her ability to reach orgasm, and even prompted sexual pain disorders. 

9. Obligation sex erases the beauty of sex

Sex is meant to be a deep connection of love. It’s meant to be beautiful. It’s meant to be passionate and lovely and intimate. 

Obligation sex throws all of that aside and tries to sell us a cheap imitation. It uses the same words of passion and intimacy, but what it actually creates is the opposite. 

Beauty and passion and intimacy cannot coexist with entitlement, obligation, and selfishness. 

That’s why we need to erase the idea of obligation, so as to allow passion and intimacy to flourish (and even allow her libido to return!)

All about obligation sex in marriage

10. Getting rid of obligation sex does not mean getting rid of sex

One of the reasons people cling to the obligation sex message is the fear that if we don’t pressure women to have sex, they will stop having sex.

The underlying belief is that women hate sex.

But that’s simply not true! Women were created to be sexual beings too. As we’ll see this month, and as we show in The Great Sex Rescue, it isn’t that women aren’t sexual. It’s that our sexuality has largely been erased by too many toxic teachings. If we bring back health and wholeness, then proper desire can build.

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Couples have found that when obligation sex messages went by the wayside, they experienced freedom and passion, often for the first time. Getting rid of obligation doesn’t end your sex life; it allows it to finally begin.

This month, that’s the journey I’d like to invite you to. 

So read The Great Sex Rescue, if you haven’t already. It will help you immensely! And download our healthy sexuality rubric to see how some of the marriage books that you’ve read have influenced your own view of obligation sex. 

And now, let’s find passion instead. 

All about obligation sex in marriage

What do you think? Have you experienced negative effects of obligation sex? Were you taught it? How did you get over it? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Obligation Sex Series

Previous Posts on Obligation Sex

Previous Podcasts on Obligation Sex

Plus please see our Great Sex Rescue Toolkit for handy downloads about the effects of obligation sex that you can give to your pastor, counselor, small group leader--anyone who teaches it!

And see chapters 9 and 10 in The Great Sex Rescue for all our charts, stats, and commentary!

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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

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  1. Laura


    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you!

  2. S

    Interestingly enough, it’s worth noting that none of the biblical verses about marital sex frame it as a husband’s need, but there are some verses that frame it as the WIFE’S need: 1 Timothy 5:11-13 and Exodus 21:10.

    • Codec

      Interesting that you bring that up. In medieval Europe people thought that women had higher sex drives and their was a similar sentiment in India. In fact according to literature from ancient India most prominently being the Kama Sutra the female anatomy is compared to a fireplace that will burn hotter than that of a man.

      • S

        I believe that they believed women had higher sex drives than men for a number of reasons: women tend to be much louder than men during sex, women are capable of back to back orgasms and have no refractory period, women’s orgasms last longer and more intense, etc.

        I believe that in medieval Europe specifically, the verses I mentioned above (as well as other instances of sexually aggressive women in the Bible, such as Potiphar’s wife and the Proverbs 7 adulteress) also contributed to the idea that women were sex crazed demons. And the general idea that women were less intelligent and rational than men.

  3. Anonymous

    So is it normal to only want sex around my ovulation time? That’s usually the only time I want it and it’s way more enjoyable for us when we do it then. But he wants it way more than that and it leads to a lot of frustrating times. But he works a lot and I’m taking care of everything at home and 2 young kids plus have a small business I run.
    I’m just tired and tapped out most of the time. So a lot of times sex just doesn’t sound fun. I’d rather go to sleep.

    • R

      I think it’s quite normal, biologically, and the lack of energy from looking after little people is probably just making it more pronounced. This is also why a woman’s libido will often be lower if she is nursing an infant, and higher during the second trimester of pregnancy.

      I am much more likely to initiate around ovulation time, and in the day or two before my period is due. I’m still happy to do it other times, but it takes more time to become aroused and my husband has to put more effort into foreplay (which he is happy to do).

      Hormonal birth control can impact libido as well.

      • R

        I think my initial response was unclear. It should say that our hormones effect libido quiet significantly, and that is why we are more likely to desire to have sex and certain times.
        If it is really drastic for you, trying some supplements to support you energy levels, and perhaps some herbals to support hormonal function might boost your libido in general.

  4. Martha

    Once I read on a patriarchal blog a “great” interpretation of do don’t deprive.
    So for a wife it means drop everything and run to satisfy a husband’s every sexual whim otherwise she is going straight to hell..
    For a husband it means just don’t make a wife totally celibate, that’s all…

    • Jane

      Sadly that is spot on. Apparently these “Christians” think as long as a woman is “being serviced” at least once a year, that’s sufficient. A woman who wants a regular sex life is treated as a pervert and a pariah.

  5. Jo R

    So, let’s review.

    Spouse A needs activity T to orgasm, but activity T does not in any way help spouse B to orgasm.

    If activity T is oral sex done by the husband to the wife, there are no books, no sermons, no men’s Bible studies challenging husbands to give their wives orgasm-inducing oral sex for thirty days straight. There are no books, sermons, or men’s Bible studies telling husbands that giving their wives orgasm-inducing oral sex every time the wives want it is a completely reasonable interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7.

    Why, exactly, is that? Is it because THAT version of the “obligation sex message” is somehow harmful? Hmmm? 🤔 But why would it be harmful? One spouse, at least, is getting the regularly occurring orgasms. Does it matter so very much that with this version of the message it’s the wives, i.e., the people with the clitoris, rather than the husbands? Or is the clitoris a lesser sexual organ, seeing how it can typically orgasm repeatedly compared to the usually one-and-done penis?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Nessie

      “Does it matter so very much…?”
      Yes. Because you can’t get pregnant without piv. And women are essentially worthless unless we are popping out babies, right? 🙄😠

      • Jo R

        Then I, and some 10 percent of wives, are essentially worthless.

        Thanks, church! 🙄 🤮

        (Well, at least infertile couples, or the wives, I mean, can make coffee on Sundays and plan, coordinate, and clean up those family night dinners.)

        • Codec

          Heck by this insane standard you would have to say that Abraham and Sarah were abject failures until God himself stepped in.

          Also I thought part of healthy relationships was trying to find ways to have fun. Having never been romantically involved you know what I find intruiging about relationships? That they give you a chance to have fun and get to know someone. Even in the bad times someone can be their for you.

        • Nessie

          Yeah, interesting how the men of an infertile couple just aren’t stigmatized to the extent that the women are.

          My experience was being told to pray more/harder/make sure I wasn’t wanting to be a mom for selfish reasons or to learn patience and God was maybe withholding children from me (I did eventually have one child so I guess I let go of my “selfishness” for 9 months in there 🙄🤯😡).
          Conversely I heard guys joking about how, if a couple struggled to get pregnant, they’d just have to “work harder” in that department and get in more “practice.”

          A complete lack of caring all around. I hate what some churches have become for many couples, but especially those who are infertile. What should act as a sort of balm instead twists the knife in deeper.

          • Angharad

            And that moment where you get so fed up with people asking when you are starting a family that you tell them it’s not possible for you to have your own kids. And they brightly say “With God, all things are possible. You just have to have faith.”

            I know someone who was told this while she was recovering from a hysterectomy…

          • Nessie

            Argh, the “well wishes” for getting pregnant. I started giving responses like, “Take it up with God, ” or snarkier ones like, “Why? Do you feel the need to watch us to tell us if we’re doing it wrong?” Yes, I reached that level of disgust with people. Got some shocked looks on that one. If they used no compassion/appropriateness filter, I used no politeness filter. The dental hygienist even weighed in and told me taking cough syrup would get me pregnant.

            Even after I had a kid, I got chastised a lot for not “giving” my child a sibling because I was depriving him.

            I cannot fathom the pain that likely caused that person as she was in recovery. 💔

  6. Stefanie

    If your wife won’t have sex unless you pressure her, I hope that’s a wake up call.

  7. Jen

    I’m so glad that the pharisaical teachings are being exposed. All of these lies put extra loads on people, especially women. Looking forward to this series because recovery is HARD. I’ll take any advice you can give!

  8. Recoverymode

    Preach! Great series and so much wisdom and knowledge here. We are coming out of this framework into true intimacy and mutuality, and it has been life changing! We both had many things to work on and it has taken 2-3 years of hard work, patience, and steadfastness, but we are coming out on the other side, and the intimacy and sex is the best we have ever had. So much of our healing is from Bare Marriage and the resources from Sheila and team. Keep up the good work! Healing and restoration is possible!

  9. LJ

    I have to approach this issue from a different direction. For three decades, I lived with a HUSBAND who didn’t want sex. (At least, not with me.) The only times he enthusiastically initiated sex were when I was in emotional turmoil or if I was obviously uncomfortable with something. The rest of the time he would range from mild lack of enthusiasm, to doing just about ANYTHING to avoid having sex with me. In the end, sex became a tool used to sweep major marital issues under the rug (weaponized sex) — that is, if we had a conflict or were dealing with an issue, he would initiate and use it to distract me from pursuing the issue at hand. I had believed the obligation sex message, but at this point I ended up refusing ALL physical contact for well over two years. Last year he FINALLY confessed his porn use (which I knew about for several years), and quasi-repented (which I chose to believe even though I wasn’t totally comfortable — because I did think I should extend the benefit of the doubt until I had reason to do otherwise), and for a couple of weeks I thought we were going to make forward progress. He talked well, and for a few days acted the part. But I soon noticed that the enthusiasm was waning (even though he kept talking well), and then… well, let’s just say, he gave me his “final answer.” And I knew then that not only had nothing changed, but nothing was GOING to change. Ever.
    I held on for a few more months, unwilling to jump into ending a thirty year marriage, but the reality is, I can’t stay in a situation where I am expected to pretend that all is well while I am relegated to the position of housemate and my needs are nonexistent.
    Anyway, I say all that to say, sex can be used as a weapon of deprivation as well as a weapon of invasion, if that makes sense. My husband knew that I wanted sex and intimacy, and chose to refuse it. Others know that their wives don’t want to be used to satisfy masturbatory urges, and choose to force that on them. Either way, it’s all about the power a man exerts in his marriage, and equally destructive regardless of how he is choosing to do that.

    • Suzanne

      In the most compassionate way possible, I have to say it sounds like your marriage troubles were a lot deeper than him withholding sex or initiating sex when you did not want it. Having more sex would not have solved the problems you were having. Sex can’t fix an abusive marriage.

      • LJ

        You are correct on all counts in your assessment of the depth of the problem. I wasn’t trying to imply that having more sex would have fixed anything, just (after a bit of verbal processing) making the observation that the issue with the guys may be about power, not sex.

    • Viva

      Thank you for your courage and vulnerability. I appreciate you for saying this out loud.

      Me too.

      my experience is the purity culture messages and obligation sex message contributed to my commitment to be constantly available to my husband and that made withholding sex from me a very powerful and harmful weapon for him to use.
      (don’t have words or bandwidth to express how it’s all connected but entitlement and a will to exert power over definitely are in play).

      I believe that male withholding in this context is very common but it is obscured by the very messaging that we need to speak against because the premise is that men not only are entitled to sex but desire it more than women. Therefore, it is difficult to even shed light on the actions of those men who have sexually harmed their partners by way of withholding sexual intimacy.

      • LJ

        Thank you for sharing that! “My experience is (that all this) contributed to my commitment to be constantly available to my husband and that made withholding sex from me a very powerful and harmful weapon for him to use.” So, so true. Not to mention that I had a very good sex drive and really, really desired sex myself. I can say enough how harmful this has been to me!

        • LJ

          *can’t say

    • Jane

      Sounds so familiar. Unfortunately too many people refuse to accept that a man withholding sex to punish his wife, to humiliate her, to break her spirit, is not taken seriously as the very real psychological abuse it is.

      • LJ

        Amen! Thank you for saying that!

  10. Wild Honey

    Just a reminder of something we probably all already know but is never brought up in the context of 1 Corinthians 7…

    The apostle Paul was not having sex when he wrote those verses.

    We don’t know if he was a perpetual bachelor or a widower, but we DO know from THIS VERY SAME CHAPTER (1 Corinthians 7:8) that Paul was unmarried and planned to stay that way.

    Ergo, Paul knows very well what it is like to live without sex, and thought it was very doable.

    • Jane

      It’s hugely different for a virgin compared to a widower compared to someone in a relationship forced into celibacy. Virgins and widowers/widows can marry, even men can often get away with polygamy, but a woman denied sex in marriage? It’s very different.
      I can tell you from first hand experience having been married twice, between losing my first husband and marrying my second husband (nearly a decade) I had no interest in sex. I knew what sex was like (my first husband was a diagnosed sex addict and we had sex at least daily) and I enjoyed it. But when single again, i had no partner to desire so I had no desire. But marrying again, this time to a psychologically abusive bully who used withholding sex as one of many ways to psychologically abuse (as well as physical and other abuse), the desire for sex was strong, because there was a beloved spouse who I should have been able to trust to have a physical relationship with.
      Being celibate without a spouse is easy, being forced into celibacy by an abusive spouse is hell.

      • Lisa Johns

        Yes, it is, and I am so sorry that you have had to deal with that. I hope you are in a safe place not.

        • Lisa Johns


  11. Wild Honey

    May I add something to your list of obligation sex examples?

    Obligation sex is when your women’s group leader announces out of the blue to your group of exhausted young stay-at-home-moms who never have a disparaging word to say about their marriages or husbands, “Girls, just have sex with your husbands!”

    And in the back of your mind you’re remembering how your husband has privately told you more than once that he’s uncomfortable with the amount of complaining the husband’s half of this group does when it’s just the men present about the state of their households and their wives’ exhaustion when it comes to intercourse.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! Very much so.

      I think the message that “sex is great and we should have more of it” is actually a good one–IF it’s combined with the message that sex should FIRST be something Mutual, Intimate, and Pleasurable for both.

      Like, yes, sex is an important part of marriage!

      But one-sided intercourse where one person feels used is not.

      So we can’t give the “sex is great, let’s have more of it” message unless we first clear up misconceptions of what sex should be.

      • Suzanne

        I don’t think it is ever a group leader/pastor/person in leaderships/anyone place to tell people to have more sex. You can’t know anyones personal story, or marriage well enough to just announce sex is great, have more sex, wives go an do your husbands. Its harmful and shaming and just not anyone’s business what your sex life is like.

        • Anonymous

          I attended a women’s retreat once where the lead speaker said she did the 7 consecutive days of sex challenge to help heal her marriage after she found out her husband was having an affair. She did caveat she didn’t mean every marriage with infidelity could be saved, but it was worth trying for 7 days with a heart in the right place and not being selfish of course to try to bring back your old feelings with him. Therapy would be good too.

          How has this all gone so dreaadfully wrong?

          • Jo R

            “it was worth trying for 7 days with a heart in the right place and not being selfish”

            Uh-huh. After he’s had his penis in the wrong place? Isn’t that the very definition of “adding insult to injury” and “rubbing salt in the wound”?

        • Wild Honey

          In this situation, I found out later that one of the women was experiencing vaginismus and one (possibly two) others were in emotionally abusiveq relationships.

          So, yes to your point, sex was definitely not an appropriate solution to this context.

    • Connie

      In my case, he withheld sex partly because he wanted to join the complaint party. One of the guys, you know.

  12. Angharad

    The most horrifying example I ever heard of the belief in obligation sex was an article written by a ‘respected Christian leader’ when the law was changed in our country to recognise marital rape. He poured scorn on the idea that rape could ever exist within marriage. He said it was impossible for sex within marriage to happen without the wife’s consent, because she consented when she said ‘I do’ on her wedding day…

    As an innocent teenager who had a very limited understanding of what sex was, I accepted his teaching as ‘right’. It took a long time to realise just how horrific his viewpoint was. And I feel so much pity for his wife.

    • Bernadette

      I’ve never heard of wedding vows that mention sex on demand.

    • Lisa Johns

      The ignorance and asininity displayed by a guy who talks like that are beyond belief.

  13. C

    I’m curious how this all factors in when the wife is asexual/graysexual. I very rarely, if ever, feel like having sex, regardless of my energy level or how incredibly helpful my husband is around the house, and I don’t experience pain during intercourse…I just don’t want to do it, with him or anyone. I didn’t know I was ace when we got married and feel bad that he didn’t know what he was signing up for, so to speak. He has an extremely high libido and has expressed that he doesn’t want sex to feel like an obligation to me, but if we’re being honest it would feel like an obligation for all but maybe once a year for me. All secular information about people in relationships with an ace person suggest ethical monogamy as a solution, but that’s obviously not an option for us. Any ideas, Sheila? I really appreciate all the work you’ve done!

    • Perfect Number

      I’m asexual so I can give an opinion on this. Personally, I am sex-favorable so that may be different from your situation. (Sex-favorable aces want to have sex- this is a minority of the asexual community, as far as I know.)

      First of all, not cool that there are resources suggesting non-monogamy as an answer to this… I have friends who are polyamorous, and that’s great for them, it works for them because they *actually want* that. Non-monogamy can only work if that’s what you *actually want*, not as a “fix” for a relationship problem. Bad idea.

      So, I think that in a marriage between an asexual and non-asexual partner, it’s not *necessarily* a bad thing if sex feels like an “obligation” to the asexual partner. (Let’s call the asexual Partner A, and the non-asexual Partner B.) I think there are 2 different ways it could go- Partner A kind of sees sex as a chore they have to do to maintain the relationship, and it’s fine and they don’t really mind, and they’re happy with the relationship overall. Or, Partner A really doesn’t like sex, but they do it anyway because they feel like they “have to”, and over time this is really harmful and unhealthy. I think it can sometimes be difficult for people to figure out their actual feelings- are you actually fine with it, or were you just telling yourself you were fine with it, but you actually hated it? That’s something Partner A has to figure out for themself- nobody can judge them and say their consent is invalid.

      But I do have some suggestions for making sex a better experience for Partner A. These are just suggestions, feel free to ignore any that don’t apply to you. (I definitely don’t want to pressure anyone into trying sexual things they don’t want to try, so, yeah these are just some ideas.)

      Sexual things:

      Partner A can try exploring their own body through masturbation, etc, and figuring out how it works, how to have an orgasm, figuring out if there are any sexual things that they like, which they could then apply to sex with their partner, to make the experience more enjoyable for Partner A. (Some asexuals are very confident that they’re not interested in masturbation, orgasms, etc, so feel free to ignore this if you aren’t interested in it.) My experience was, I was having sex with my husband (actually at the time, it was before we got married) but I wasn’t having orgasms because I really had no idea how that worked, and so I tried masturbating with a magic wand vibrator to figure it out. It’s not natural for me at all, as an asexual, it’s something I chose to learn how to do, because I was curious. And after I figured out how to have orgasms, I was like, yeah this feels good, let’s incorporate this vibrator sex toy into the way I have sex with my husband. To make the experience better for me.

      Other sexual things to consider: It doesn’t have to be PIV [penis-in-vagina] sex. There are lots of other sexual things you can do. If Partner A is repulsed by touching genitals, or by bodily fluids, or by having their own genitals touched, find workarounds so you can do sexual things while avoiding the things that Partner A doesn’t like. (For example: Partner B can masturbate while Partner A cuddles them and doesn’t interact with any genitals at all. Or, Partner A can wear gloves and use their hands on Partner B. Many options!) And, I want to emphasize, it shouldn’t be like “well I hate this, but if I wear gloves then I can kinda tolerate it”- the goal is to make it actually enjoyable, not just something you can “tolerate”, or else I think it will be emotionally harmful long-term.

      Non-sexual things: It shouldn’t just be a one-sided thing, like “Partner B has sexual needs, so Partner A has to do this.” What about Partner A’s need for intimacy? What kind of non-sexual intimacy is meaningful to Partner A? Cuddling? Kissing? Massage? Partner B reading a novel out loud so they can enjoy it together? Partner B should make it a high priority to do those things for Partner A. This should be just as important as Partner B’s “need” for sex.

      So, both partners should think about what they want out of sex (what parts of sex do they enjoy? what is most important? what do they not like? what do they refuse to do?) and also what non-sexual intimacy is important to them, and communicate about it, and figure out what would be enjoyable for both of them.

      I’ve blogged a lot about my experiences with sex in marriage, as an asexual. Like I said, I’m sex-favorable, so probably not the same situation as most aces find themselves in, but anyway these blog posts are kind of related:
      Separating Vaginismus From Asexuality https://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2023/05/separating-vaginismus-from-asexuality.html
      Let me tell you about a fanfic that reminded me of my marriage https://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2021/11/fanfic-marriage.html

    • Perfect Number

      I wrote a really long comment responding to this (about being a married asexual) but maybe it got stuck in the moderation filter. Apologies if it was too long, Sheila. I can try to write a shorter comment later.

      • Jane

        I’m curious about your answer, perfect number. And I’m also curious what Sheila’s answer to dealing with an asexual spouse is? Specifics not just “pray” etc. because I’ve found so many useless answers like that from pastors. Prayer alone doesn’t solve the problem.

    • Perfect Number

      Okay trying again to write a shorter comment.

      I’m asexual and married, but I’m a sex-favorable asexual so that might be different from your situation (sex-favorable means wanting to have sex- this is a minority of aces).

      I think if sex feels like an “obligation” to the ace partner, that’s not *inherently* a bad thing. There are 2 different ways it could go- either the ace partner really doesn’t mind having sex, and sees it as worth doing in order to maintain the relationship, and is happy with the relationship overall, OR the ace partner really doesn’t like sex, and over time this becomes really unhealthy as they keep forcing themself to do it. And I think it can be hard to really know your own feelings about it- it’s possible that the ace partner might think “I’m okay with having sex” but secretly hates it, and years later they realize how much damage it did. So this is something that the ace partner has to figure out for themself- no one else can tell them what their feelings are.

      But my main advice is that sex shouldn’t be one-sided. It shouldn’t be just something the ace partner does for the non-ace partner. (Let’s call the ace Partner A, and the non-ace Partner B.) Partner B should treat it as an extremely high priority to find out what kind of intimacy (probably non-sexual intimacy) is important to Partner A, and then do it. It shouldn’t just be “well Partner B needs sex”- it should be about BOTH of their needs. Both of them are equally important. Partner B’s “need” for sex should NOT be a higher priority than Partner A’s needs for non-sexual intimacy, safety, consent, etc.

      So, Partner A should figure out what they like and what’s important to them. Are there things about sex that Partner A likes? Orgasms? Using a sex toy? (Masturbating is a good way to figure out if there are sexual things you like.) Maybe they don’t like PIV [penis-in-vagina] sex, but they like other sexual things? Don’t treat PIV as the default- both partners should communicate about what they want to get out of sex, and what aspects are important to them, and then they construct some sequence of sex acts and/or non-sexual intimate acts that they will both enjoy. (As an example- maybe if Partner A doesn’t want to touch any genitals, then Partner B can masturbate while Partner A cuddles them. It’s just an idea, if you don’t like it then don’t feel like I’m pressuring you to do it, but my point is, make sex what you want it to be, not what anyone says it’s “supposed” to be.)

      And what kind of non-sexual intimacy does Partner A like? Kissing? Cuddling? Massage? Partner B reads a novel out loud so they can enjoy it together? Partner B should treat these desires as an extremely high priority. To make sure they’re doing something together that Partner A actually enjoys, not just tolerates.

    • Perfect Number

      I’ve blogged a lot about my experiences with sex in marriage, as an asexual. Like I said, I’m sex-favorable, so probably not the same situation as most aces find themselves in, but anyway these blog posts are kind of related:
      Separating Vaginismus From Asexuality https://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2023/05/separating-vaginismus-from-asexuality.html
      Let me tell you about a fanfic that reminded me of my marriage https://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/2021/11/fanfic-marriage.html

  14. Ashley

    Where can I find your “ healthy sexuality rubric to see how some of the marriage books that you’ve read have influenced your own view of obligation sex?” Thank you!

      • Tim

        Do you have links/sources for these statements under point 2?

        Paul is addressing a situation unique to Corinth at the time when married people were vowing celibacy because they thought it was holier.

        At the time, husbands owned their wives bodies by law…

        Not disputing anything, just keen to read more on those points as I’m probably preaching on that passage next month (so this series is really timely, thanks!)

  15. Janet

    In what order do you suggest reading your books?

    I’m a 48-year-old woman married 20 years to a wonderful man. I’m not very religious but I believed the obligation sex messages even though I didn’t know that was a thing at the time. In year 19 of the marriage he said if sex was causing me that much anxiety (never had an orgasm with him) then we didn’t have to do it. We’ve been sexless for a year. I’m happy about that but feel guilty because I’m taking away something he enjoys.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      What about working on orgasm? I’d read The Great Sex Rescue first, and then maybe get The Orgasm Course? I’d hate for you to live without knowing what great sex felt like!


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