Obligation sex can wreak havoc on us.
For last month we’ve been doing a deep dive into obligation sex, looking at the main problems with obligation sex, how it affects women’s bodies, why you don’t need to consent to being used, and more.
But as we’re nearing the end of the series, one of the topics that keeps coming up is this: How do we actually get beyond this?
That question largely is shaped by whether or not you both recognize the gravity of the obligation sex message, so let’s deal with each scenario in turn:
Can you recover from obligation sex if your husband doesn’t agree it’s done harm?
Quite simply, no. You can’t move forward until you both:
- See the harm in obligation sex in general
- Acknowledge the harm that has been done in your specific marriage
When she has had her libido lost, her sexual response lost, or simply her emotional connection lost, that hurts. That is significant harm that has been done to her. You can’t really rebuild full intimacy until there’s agreement that there has been harm done.
Unfortunately, what often happens is that she starts setting boundaries–”I will no longer consent to sex where I feel used”–and he feels like he is now the one who is being hurt.
So the conversation revolves around who is the most hurt.
If you’re in this kind of back and forth, it’s very hard to move forward. So please, ask him to listen to the obligation sex podcast. Ask him to read The Great Sex Rescue or listen to the audio version.
Please see a licensed counselor that you trust so you can talk through these things and get some ground rules.
But often recovery from obligation sex takes a sex fast for a time, or a time to put his pleasure on hold so that she can rediscover her sexuality. If this seems impossible to him, here’s what I’d want to say:
You are being asked to put your sex life on hold temporarily so that your wife can rediscover her sexuality. Yes, this may seem difficult. But remember: she has lost far more. You are being asked to forego some orgasms. She has had her whole sexuality stolen from her by obligation sex. She was created to desire sex, to be passionate, to be orgasmic even with multiple orgasms. But instead sex was turned into an obligation to her, and all that passion she was made to feel was stolen. She is the one who has lost here, not you.
In the middle of this discussion, one of our commenters said:
Luke 19:8: Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”
Are any men brave enough to take Zacchaeus’s approach to restitution for the decades of obligation sex they’ve cheated out of their wives? And how, exactly and with much specificity of details, could men implement “giving half” and “repaying four times”?
She went on to mention some ideas, but it is worth remembering that this is our gospel example. When you repent, you pay restitution.
Now, I would hope it wouldn’t get to that point, and when she feels safe her libido and sexual response will return. But the focus simply must be on she who had so much taken from her, rather than on him who feels like he is losing out now. That is the only direction for healing, and if a husband isn’t willing or able to see that, it does cast doubt on whether she can feel safe in this marriage going forward. Even if he won’t see a licensed therapist, I would suggest that she seek one out in this case.
Scenario 2: He has repented, but desire isn’t returning
Then we have the other scenario, which so many women have mentioned on the comments here and on social media this month: They addressed the obligation sex. The husband got it. But her sexual desire isn’t returning.
One woman wrote this:
My husband was continually starting and having sex with me while I was asleep. I repeatedly asked him to stop, told him that I didn’t want to ever start or have sex with him that way and that it reminded me of past assaults and rape that I had endured, to wake up to him already inside of me. He continued to do it, despite me pleading with him not to, until he read your book and felt convicted and came to me, apologizing for raping me.
He has since stopped this, which I am grateful for, but I still am dealing with a wide range of emotions and ptsd from enduring marital rape, when I thought my husband was going to be the one safe man that I’d ever had in my life. I am completely lost on where to go from here.
My big message: It takes time. And please see a licensed counselor to deal with the trauma of being raped repeatedly. This isn’t a marriage counseling thing, and it isn’t something she can just get over on her own because trauma is stored in the body. Please find a counselor that is trained in EMDR to actually heal from the trauma, and then you can see about moving forward, perhaps in counseling with him, or seeing how you feel together.
I think some women may get that trauma therapy but not want to rebuild a relationship with a man who routinely violated her boundaries and sexually assaulted her during their marriage, even if he didn’t think it was sexual assault at the time. Some women may be unwilling to try to move forward, and I do think that’s a natural consequence to his actions.
If you’ve been traumatized and assaulted by your husband and you would rather start again, personally, I get it. I think that is a choice to be made in your circle, with your counselor.
But what if you actually want to save the marriage, and so you throw yourself into therapy, but it doesn’t seem to work? Another commenter wrote:
What happens when you’ve done “all the things” and your sexual trauma and disgust has only become entrenched?
4 years of creating sexual autonomy; counseling (individual and couples – THOUSANDS of dollars); EMDR and ART; SRT (sexual reintegration therapy); reading your book and loving it (basically our memoir); becoming an armchair expert on sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, recovery, and abuse.
I’m both desperate and hopeless.
I’ve received several of these types of messages, and it’s HARD.
When there’s been so much pain between two people, and specifically pain caused by one towards the other, which the body interpreted as sexual assault–is it really possible to get over that?
Based on our focus groups and the literature we’ve read, I’d say absolutely yes, it’s possible to get over it.
But based also on interviews and literature, I’d also say that it’s not guaranteed.
And here’s where I’m in a really difficult position, and I feel out of my depth.
We’re researchers. We’re not counselors. And so I don’t feel equipped to tell couples what to do in these situations where they’ve already sought the professional help that I would recommend–the trauma therapists, they’ve had the different trauma therapies, they’ve gone to marriage counseling.
If you’ve done all the right things, and he’s done all the right things, but you still feel no desire and even a lot of disgust, how do you move forward? Do you just restart sex regardless and settle in for the rest of your life feeling used? Or do you declare that you’ll never have sex again?
Those don’t sound like very good options, do they?
I’m assuming that the counselors would have told their clients to start with what does feel comfortable–maybe holding hands, snuggling, kissing, and working on those things until they feel natural and good. I’m assuming that the counselor may have started with desensitization exercises around other forms of sexual touch. I’m assuming that the counselors would have worked through the betrayal and honestly made sure that she felt heard and seen by her husband.
So after all that–what now? Is it really that it will never get better, and that years of obligation sex have honestly stolen her sexuality permanently?
Again, it does look like this happens for some women.
And I guess, in these cases, there’s a choice:
- Remain in the marriage and have the marriage be sexless.
- Remain in the marriage and continue to work at acclimatising yourself with sexual touch, in the hopes that one day it will return (even if you focus just on kissing and cuddling for now)
- Decide to leave the marriage
I’m not sure which one you should do. I certainly can’t counsel on it. I will say that I believe this decision should be up primarily to her. If he is truly repentant and is following Zacchaeus’ example, then he will be willing to make restitution, which may mean remaining in a marriage where he doesn’t get sex (since he has already stolen the capacity to enjoy sex from her).
I wish I had an easier answer, and I do think that a sex therapist who has worked with cases like these would have a lot more insight for an individual couple than a blog post could. I know so many sex therapists who have seen sex lives and desire rebuilt. But it could just be that a passionate sex life with someone who was once your sexual abuser is a step too far for many women. And I get that.
And I’m so, so pissed about it. So seriously pissed.
Not at women! But at the whole situation. At the books that made it seem like marital rape wasn’t a thing. At the books that framed sex as a male entitlement and a female obligation. At the books that talked repeatedly about a man’s sexual needs, and how you can’t expect him to talk to you or be a decent human being or not cheat on you if you don’t give him “release” and let him ejaculate inside of you.
I’m so, so pissed at the books that even made it seem like the primary concern during the postpartum phase was that he still got his mandatory climaxes.
It’s led to so much pain. It should never have been this way. It was never of Jesus.
And now women are spending thousands on therapy, and going trying so, so hard just to rebuild desire towards a man that these books taught to rape her.
Maybe some of these marriages just won’t be saved.
But then for goodness sake, let’s never, ever do this again. Let’s change the story for the next generation. Let’s burn these books and their messages to the ground. Let’s rescue.
This can never, ever be our story ever again.
What do you think? Have you experienced this? What have counselors told you? Let’s talk in the comments!