Wednesday, September 26, 2007

not tonight, honey ... i have a headache

The ladies of Mars Hill's women's ministry blog have written a blessing of an article. They share that there are many reasons why a wife may not desire sexual intimacy with her husband. Those reasons include:

1. lack of desire
2. hormonal fluctuations
3. abuse
4. physically exhausted
5. no reason

However, they encourage women to move past these things and begin by seeking the Lord.

Make sex a priority, rearranging whatever is necessary in life until you have given it the proper place; remember, it’s a priority in God’s eyes and an entire book of the Bible is devoted to it! (Heb. 13:4)

The entire article is well worth the read.

from Reforming the Feminine


David Castor said...

You couldn't imagine just how distasteful I find that article. Even if one believes in "loving, sacrificial headship" of the husband and that sex is a "right" for him, why is there no talk about the husband self-sacrificially loving his wife by forgoing the "right" to have sex with her? And besides, what brute of a husband would enjoy having sex with his wife even though he knew that she was having sex not because she wanted to, but because she felt guilty?

Alison said...

I think the key bit of that last paragraph is "Seek to satisfy your husband and meet his needs as far as you are able" - i.e. she's not suggesting a wife try to do anything she does not feel able to. She's not suggesting the woman force herself to have sex if she doesn't feel she can.

Bron said...

I think the strength of the article is in highlighting the importance of sex, not so much in giving an answer for what to do when you really don't feel like it.

Also, bear in mind it is written to women. I should hope that if there was a complementary article written for men, it would include such advice as 'be understanding of your wife, be gentle and loving and don't demand of her' and 'if her problem is exhaustion, make sure you're doing everything you can to help her!' AND, I would hope that it would point out that if you force her to have sex with you, you should be convicted of rape.

However, that would be a different article.

I think it would be helpful for someone to write an article exploring the issues of desire and sex along the same sort of lines that John Piper's book How to Fight for Joy looks at desiring God.

See, you can't force yourself to enjoy something. A lack of desire for sex would surely go hand in hand with huge amounts of guilt and stress, which of course would make the problem worse. But the solution is not to just say 'get over it' or 'just make yourself do it' because that's going to cause more damage. By your will alone, you cannot change your desires and emotions.

I think that's where the last paragraph of that article may not be expressed as helpfully as it could be. I think that someone could come away from it thinking 'I have to do this' and even though the authros say they don't expect gritted-teeth submission, I think that someone who felt guilty and pressured would not really know what else to do. That last sentence (which is really helpful) might not quite sink in.

I would hope that someone struggling with this issue would read this article and be encouraged to seek God's help, not just feel guilty and more stressed. (I'm sure that was the spirit it was written in... I just think that it could possibly go either way)

ckjolly said...

Re: "By your will alone, you cannot change your desires and emotions."

and i think that is exactly why their first bit of advice is:

"begin by praying. Earnestly seek the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you what He wants you to do in this situation. Memorize verses about sex and what it means to God. Meditating on these verses can change how you are feeling about sex. Read the Song of Solomon, and pray through or memorize passages that are meaningful to you. Talk to your spouse about what God shows you and commit your sexual relationship to Him together in prayer."

Bron said...

Yes, absolutely (hmm, there was going to be a bit in my comment about the advice on prayer, but I must've gotten scatty!) I reckon that's great advice and I don't think it can be emphasized too much!

Anonymous said...

While I think a healthy sex life is an important party of a healthy relationship, I think Christians in a sincere effort to do the right thing can end up perpetuating cultural, not biblical, stereotypes, ie the man is always up for it & the woman often isn't.

(As an aside, I also disagree with this idea of memorizing versus about sex, or asking God to whisper in your ear, sounds like treating the symptoms without getting near the cause, which could be downright dangerous if your relationship isn't working and your too busy treating the symptoms to get to the problem.)

There was an interesting article on recent research which found that many men feel coerced into sex, and these are 'virile' university students. Of course, things could change over many years of a marriage, but I think it's unfortunate that the burden is placed back on the woman, who is essentially told to 'get past it' & get on with it.

Why are men excused from looking at themselves and asking why their wife doesn't want to have sex with them? Overly busy, over worked (or overly lazy), emotionally distant men would hardly make attractive prospects, one images.

In an atmosphere of 'submission', women seem to agonize over themselves in an admirable effort to improve things, but sem to timid to even look at the other half of the equation (the man) & therefore the full relationship, which seems unfortunate, as the woman is probably a lot more perceptive about the relationship than the man is.. but maybe that's another stereotype ;)

In any case good on you for raising the issue, nothing gets solved in silence.

Anonymous said...

uhh "but sem to timid" = "but seem too timid", sorry.

Laura said...

David, has anyone said that sex was a right for a husband? You did put that word in quotes. Please point me in the right direction if I've missed where the author of the article (or Christine) says that. If so, I certainly disagree.

And to reiterate what Bron said, this is an article on a website called "reforming the feminine." It stands to reason that the assumed audience would be women, ergo, the content would be focused on the attitudes and behaviors of women.

I wonder, did you actually read the article, or did you assume you knew what it was going to say since it was written by a complementarian? I ask because the article addresses your concerns specifically, yet you still bring them up. Is there something unsatisfactory about how the author dealt with your questions?

ckjolly said...

thanks for your contribution, anon.

I believe that too often people (ESPECIALLY women) are too quick to point the finger and place blame on anyone or anything but themselves when they actually are blind to the plank in their eye.

i think you'll find that in many of my blog posts i come from the angle of self/woman-reflection rather than looking towards the faults of others as a means of keeping ourselves accountable. Otherwise, how easy it would be to put on the boxing gloves and go out a bash the men.

It almost always goes both ways.

I'm not saying that husbands do not have responsibilities towards their wives.

What i am saying is that instead of being self-righteous and waiting for the husbands to get it right ... there are steps wives can take to redeem the situation even to the point that the wife may be driven to repentance for her own contribution to the dilemma.

What redeeming good would a blog be if it harped on about the faults of others? Is this not unlike the contentious woman of Proverb 21:19 or even 27:15

There are plenty of resources out there that exhort men to godly living. just listen to a Mark Driscoll talk and in 20 minutes. Most men will be convicted of sin and desire to change to be better men and husbands.

CraigS said...

but sem to timid to even look at the other half of the equation

Fair enough anon.

But I've yet to meet a frustrated husband (and I've spoken to a few) who would not do whatever was necessary to make his wife more receptive. But it's rarely as easy as "change these 4 things and we'll be good".

Also, after I first mentioned this issue on my blog, a few people contacted me to say low-libido wasn't just a problem in women. There are many women married to low-libido men, and it is acutely painful for them as well.

David Castor said...

Hey Laura,

I was putting "right" in quotes just to make it perfectly clear that I didn't hold that position. I wasn't suggesting that anyone used that particular word. Just for the record, I find the quote "The point at which it becomes a sin is when a wife is unwilling to give her husband access to her sexually." Not only is such rhetoric extremely manipulative, but it also makes the woman sound like a piece of meat available for the ravenous desires of her oversexed husband.

I'm disappointed that you would suggest that I didn't read the article. Just as a rule for future discourse, if I've written directly on an article (especially if I've suggested "you couldn't imagine how distasteful I find that article"), you can safely assume that I have read said article.

I must admit that I can't see where the article alleviates (rather than exacerbates) any of my concerns about the complementarian perspective.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments Christine & CraigS.

Christine, I agree that people picking out the faults in others & not taking the plank out of their own eye is bad, and I agree it goes both ways. I just think it's unfortunate when women are trying *so hard* to do the right thing in a situation, but are essentially told to lie back and think of england, so to speak. I'm just saying the hypothetical woman & men need to think more broadly, deeply & openly to sort it out.

I agree to some extent with DavidC that it would take a uh, particular kind of husband who would be happy with his wife repeating bible verses in her head while he um, got on with it. When that kind of situation is inferred by the article (and it states the opposite is a sin), despite the good intentions of woman wanting to serve their husbands (which I agree is much better than them nit-picking their faults!), I think it's unfortunate.

Remember this kind of consequence-free, sex-on-tap idea is a very recent one. The bible didn't anticipate the consequences of effective, ubiquitous birth control such as the pill, for instance.

Bron said...

Anon said

"...but are essentially told to lie back and think of england, so to speak"

and "...wife repeating bible verses in her head while he um, got on with it"

Anon, I'm pretty sure this wasn't what the article meant. But I think that you demonstrate my point in previous comments. This article is quite easily misconstrued - whether by people who don't agree with it and become indignant, or by well meaning people who in their stress about the issue take it the wrong way and think that it is saying 'try these things, and if all else fails just grit your teeth and get on with it'

I generally agree with the article and I think that it has some good and helpful advice (and I'm thankful to Christine for posting it) I just think it could have gone further to make sure it was understood in the right way, given that the topic is so sensitive and can easily be misconstrued.

I guess that's why this post has caught on fire (comment wise)!

Anonymous said...

Also, I'd add it's interesting how sexual performance has been medicalized so drug companies can sell lots of drugs. Not that there isn't a market for it - viagra & co are blockbuster drugs for a reason.

Consider the difference in social attitudes: A man can't perform, he must have a medical problem ("ED") & be medicated for it. A woman can't perform, she's just not interested (though it wont be long until she gets 'treated' for her 'problem' if the drug co's get their way).

At younger ages treatment for 'sexual dysfunction' may seem appropriate - but what about at older ages? Is it ok for men to pop pills for more sex? Would not doing so if his partner wanted sex be a sin? Conversely, if there was a female viagra, would it be sinful for her not to medicate herself to be able to please her husband? Who, in the conservative church world, would recieve the most pressure - the unwilling man, or the unwilling woman ("*Gasp* - she's not submitting!")?

I think the pressure on the women would be exponentially greater. What does this say about our culture?

CraigS said...

Would not doing so if his partner wanted sex be a sin?

I reckon so. Since a man is called to give his life for his wife if need be - on what basis could he refuse to take a little pill?

Anonymous said...

CraigS, well the emotional side of it might come into it - presumably sex is more than an erection.

Bron, I don't think anyone here is stressed about the issue, it just makes for an interesting discussion.

It's true the article says "Here’s the hardest part…do not deny your husband sexually. I know that might sound horrible. I don’t expect you to lie there like a mindless automaton zombie, gritting your teeth and just waiting for it to be over." However the author is having it both ways.

She's addressing women who may "now find [sexual intimacy] repulsive" even when there "is no answer [as to why]" and the suggestion of sex 'horrible', but the bottom line is that to deny your husband is a sin, therefore lest your guilt get the better of you, you may as well by "gritting your teeth and just waiting for it to be over". It's a cop out for the author to say that's not what she means, when that's clearly the implication from the rest of the article. Better to be gritting your teeth than sinning, right?

I don't disagree that people may find the general suggestions helpful, I just think the underlying implication of the article is to put a burden on women they wouldn't necessarily have to carry if the issue was explored more fully & more depth (in terms of their own relationships, pragmatics, cultural expectations etc).

CraigS said...

Pretty depressing anon. It is a miserable situation for both partners, and the damage to the marriage is pretty colossal. But we live in a fallen world...

David Castor said...

Craig, are you seriously suggesting that because we live in a fallen world it is better for a woman to grit her teeth and bear sex rather than wait until a more opportune time?

Tim Adeney said...

Hi All,

This issue (and I haven't read the article, only this post and comments) tends to get presented in terms of competing rights, needs and feelings of the two parties.

I think we are better to approach it from the perspective of the nature of marriage.

Let me illustrate.

People don't need sex, not ever, never ever ever - it is not an absolute human need.


Marriages do need sex. A marriage is a sexual relationship, and when we get married and consent to be married we are consenting to sexual relationship.

(This doesn't mean that one can demand sex, each occurrence of sex requires its own consent, if you like)

In this scenario we could see libido as a reminder mechanism to the marriage, rather than just the preferences of one party pitted against the other.

Of course there are still things to be negotiated. And I'm not and I'm not at all suggesting that this solves everything.

One last thought.

When we say "someone doesn't feel like it", do we mean

i) It would be absolutely distasteful


ii) It would take effort

It seems to me that there is a significant difference between these two.



Anonymous said...

It's all upside down; people who are married don't want sex, and people who are single struggle endlessly with sexual temptation.

Anonymous said...

Other anon here again (not immediately above anon, but prev above anon).

"People don't need sex, not ever, never ever ever - it is not an absolute human need."

True, though it is a powerful biological drive which procreation depends upon.

"Marriages do need sex. A marriage is a sexual relationship, and when we get married and consent to be married we are consenting to sexual relationship."

In general yes, but there are plenty of exceptions to the rule (disability in one partner, illness etc) but most particularly age.

I don't want to downplay the hurt & rejection the loss of a sexual relationship in a marriage, but as CraigS mentions it is a fallen world, and really I think in the post-60's affluent West we have far higher expectations of a long term sexual relationship & sexual fulfillment, than the vast majority of people (a) in the rest of the world now and (b) in the rest of the world over previous millennia. In that sense our perceptions (including what we take from the bible) are shaped by our modern time & culture, which historically are somewhat of an anomaly.

There's a saying that unhappiness is the gap between expectations and reality. In a world of sexual expectations drummed up by our sex-soaked culture, and in some cases reinforced by our church (the ideal of the perfect, spiritual/emotional non-stop sexual relationship), unhappiness results when reality is quite different.

I think it's worth tackling the reality of the situation (and I think it's great we can do it here) but I do think we need to keep our expectations in check with a cultural & historical perspective.

Anonymous said...

As a woman who has struggled with this over the years, I have to say I appreciate Tim's comments. I think that these roundabout discussions about who should submit, rights etc are counterproductive, childish and insensitive. C'mon, we're talking about loving marriages here! We're talking about women who want to do what's best for their marriage and their husband, who love their husbands but who struggle with this issue. (And who are probably at their wits end!)

Christian women who struggle with this, by and large, don't need to be told they are sinful. They know what Corinthians says, they already feel guilty, they already feel like there must be something wrong with them, that they are a bad wife, etc etc.

What they do need to be reminded of (gently) is that it is right to prioritize sex in marriage, and that there is help available and they can and should turn to our Lord in prayer and try their best.

- W

CraigS said...

I think in the post-60's affluent West we have far higher expectations of a long term sexual relationship & sexual fulfillment

I do wonder about this anon. A reading of the New Testament would suggest that sexual immorality was absolutely rampant in the ancient world. Other ancient literature seems to back this up.

I understand there are low libido people and there's not much they can do about it. I want to say (and people are not going to want to hear this) that a partner that is unfulfilled sexually in a marriage is partner who will be frequently subject to temptation. That's why God says not to refrain in 1 Corinthians 7, because it is a snare.

It happened to a friend of mine. You wont believe this, but he is honestly one of the nicest and best blokes I know. A Christian guy. His marriage was totally sexually dysfunctional, enormously frustrating for him.

One evening, he wasn't looking for it, he met this chick, she propositioned him, and he was immoral with her.

It was the worst thing he ever did in his life, he massively regrets it. He told his wife and, thank God, his marriage survived.

I am not excusing his actions in the slightest. But I am asking us to be at least as "real" as God is when thinking about this situation.

David Castor said...

How about we think about it from another perspective. I'd be interested in how people answer this scenario:

Imagine a happily married couple in a complementarian relationship. While Daddy goes to work to be the breadwinner, Mummy looks after their two young children, cleans the house and slaves over a hot stove cooking tuna casserole. At the end of the day and after the two children are in bed, Mummy and Daddy go up to their room. It is clear that Daddy wants sex. Mummy, wanting to be honest with Daddy tells him "I'm feeling absolutely exhausted and I have a headache. I don't really feel like sex, but I'll have sex if I have to."

Assuming that Daddy is someone who believes in "loving, sacrificial headship", what would be the most loving and sacrificial way for him to respond to his wife in this situation?

Anonymous said...

(other/orig anon again)

Yeah fair point Craig. I was thinking in a largely agricultural culture in NT times, the amount of manual labor that needed to be performed both at work and at home & the much higher likelihood of pregnancy from intercourse, sex wouldn't be so much on people's minds.

But that said with no internet/tv/books/electricity & people marrying quite young & all the NT warnings & evidence of Roman culture etc, maybe it was, & they were more adventurous by necessity!

Nevertheless with no romantic comedies on dvd, and no sex in ads, sex on tv, sex in newspapers, sex on the internet, their expectations/perceptions/knowledge must have been quite a bit different...

Anonymous said...

Craig I should add, I can believe your friend's experience, very sad both in his marriage & what he did!

As a slight tangent, more for the women - men are generally familiar with women and PMS, but for some men, lack of sexual release can have considerable psychological & behavioral effects (due to the biology of sex), which while not as common or as severe as PMS (and PMS can be very severe for some women), are similar to a kind of male PMS, if I can put it that way, and it can occur a lot more frequently. (It just needs a snappy acronym!) If men are in a relationship where they aren't 'allowed' or don't think they should take care of themselves, so to speak, for whatever reason, the biological effects on their psychology & behavior can really compound the relationship difficulties, and I don't think it's any different to a woman ascribing emotional fragility to PMS (if that's a problem) than it is for a man ascribing general frustration/irritability to lack of sexual release, either.

Anyway that's a bit off topic, sorry!

Tim Adeney said...

Hi Again,

David, I'm not sure that this is another way of looking at it at all. It seems to me that you have set up a scenario where the husband and wife are in competition with each other, and where the primary beneficiary of sex is the husband rather than the marriage.

My basic answer is that what a husband and wife decide to do on any one night doesn't really address the issue. The issue is the overall pattern of the relationship; no sex for two weeks is very different to no sex for two months (or no sex for two years!).

We are not talking here about loss of capacity (as one of the anons helpfully noted) but persistent withdrawal of consent.

We are also not talking about (I don't think) about when sex might be absolutely distasteful but about where it might take effort.If someone is finding sex absolutely distasteful, I think it would be a good idea to seek help.

I have been happily married to Ally for fifteen years. Together we have 4 beautiful daughters under nine. We are permanently tired. Sex is an essential and enjoyable! aspect of marriage, and like anything worthwhile sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it takes a bit of effort.



CraigS said...

If men are in a relationship where they aren't 'allowed' or don't think they should take care of themselves, so to speak, for whatever reason,

Well, I'll speak plainly. I've had a few mates in virtually sexless marriages, and I've advised them to masturbate in the shower (or wherever).

It's not ideal I agree, but it seems far better than the possibility of an affair. And, as anon points out, the bloke is not going to be walking around snappy and irritable all the time.

Laura said...

David, that last comment goes straight to the point of what I think is the disconnect between how you are perceiving this compared to how Christine and I are perceiving it. Thanks for clarifying the issue.

Regarding your scenario, I certainly hope that a loving husband would see that his wife was exhausted and care for her by letting her sleep -- in fact, I would suggest that a husband who cajoled and guilt-tripped his wife into sex when she was well and truly exhausted would be in danger of sin, if not actually sinning. I don't think anyone, including the author of the article, is suggesting that an exhausted wife should put out simply because her husband is in the mood.

I agree with one of the anon's that the pattern of weeks and months is far more revealing than a single day's event. Is sex important to a marriage? Is it a gift one spouse gives to the other? Should an article addressed to women try to deal comprehensively with the problem of sex in marriage from the perspective of both partners?

Also, I apologize for seeming to accuse you of not reading the article. I was genuinely puzzled that you asked questions that the article addressed directly (or implicitly, like the audience and purpose of the article), and so I really did wonder if you had just skimmed it. Sorry for assuming!

And Craig, "plainly" indeed! ;)

Kristin said...

Bron, you said-- I think it would be helpful for someone to write an article exploring the issues of desire and sex along the same sort of lines that John Piper's book How to Fight for Joy looks at desiring God--- I think the Sex and Supremacy of Christ conference (you can find audio on the desiring god website i think) that Piper had would be along those lines?

Bron said...

Sounds good - thanks Kristin

CraigS said...

Also, a guy whose wife is regularly rejecting him will protect himself from hurt by building an emotional wall in his heart. I don't see that there is any around that, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

That is pretty obvious, I know, but it's worth saying.

meredith said...

Also, after I first mentioned this issue on my blog, a few people contacted me to say low-libido wasn't just a problem in women. There are many women married to low-libido men, and it is acutely painful for them as well.

Interesting that nearly all the comments are about men, while this comment elicited nearly no response. Is this because women protect their men by not mentioning their own libido issues, and the accompanying 'insufficiency' of low libido men?

Or don't most of the men out there believe such men exist...?
(said with a cheeky grin)

CraigS said...

Or don't most of the men out there believe such men exist...?

Well, anecdotal evidence (and some stats) suggest to me that it is usually the guys who are higher libido than the girls. Especially when they are younger.

I am told (and I've seen evidence of this) that it starts to switch around in the 30s and 40s.

The big struggle for women with low libido husbands (I am told) is that they feel really, really unattractive and undesirable.

Anonymous said...

I think Meredith has a point. While my husband loves being intimate with me, I love it more often than he does. But that's not something he's comfortable talking about and I'm sure wouldn't want me to discuss it openly.

meredith said...

Anon. - I quite understand. It is as I suspected. This is one of those taboo topics, similar to other no-go areas like mental illness and.... well I could go on but what is the point?

CraigS - I'm getting the same data you are. Wonder whether all those men realise they are destroying their wives' self-image with their neglect? (said quite seriously, no cheeky grin this time)

CraigS said...

Meredith, my word to those guys would have been "lift your game". But many on this thread seem to suggest that such "coercion" would be a bad thing, and that the ower libido partners needs must be given primacy.

I suspect too that, with some older guys, there's sometimes a bit of "payback" going on for all those "headaches" when they were younger.

Sin goes round and round.