I hear it time and time again: “She won’t give me sex”, “She won’t give me what I deserve”, “What is wrong with my wife?” Even if these things aren’t said directly, they are often implied. Men feel they deserve sex on-demand from their wives, and that something is wrong with them if they do not comply. Seldom do men recognize their own socialization of entitlement and privilege, the development of their masculinity, or their sexual appetites.
I would argue the male sense of entitlement (specifically toward their wives’ bodies) is actually worse among Christian men than secular or non-married men. Though hard data is needed, I have experienced this dynamic working with couples for the last decade. There is deeper systemic socialization of male privilege that has taught us that if our penis is aroused, then we can do whatever we need to do to relieve that tension.
There are many contributing factors to this harmful mindset, most obvious and daunting being pornography. It has invaded every area of our lives. We have internalized porn culture in such a way that we don’t even notice it anymore. (You can read about it more here.) The insidious nature of porn culture has also begun to leak into our style of relating and many of the millions who have grown up consuming porn have now developed a pornographic style of relating that has made entitlement to women’s bodies the norm. Pornography is always there, always ready and willing for me to orgasm–sex on-demand–so why should it be any different in marriage? When I have spent the entirety of my sexuality literally using women via screens whenever I want, these expectations are unconsciously transferred onto my real life relationships. Pornographic mindsets do not suddenly change after the wedding night. The expectations and demands are projected onto men’s wives to compete with and fulfill the fantasies of the porn that they grew up indulging.
In Christian communities, male entitlement is more subtle and cloaked in religious shame and the misuse and abuse of scripture verses. 1 Corinthians 7:5 says, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. (NLT). This verse is sometimes interpreted to mean that if you deny your husband’s request for “sex on-demand” –to literally be his porn replacement–then you are “sinning” because you are withholding sex and depriving him. Many abusive spouses have misused passages like this to justify marital rape! CompellingTruth.org states,
“Using these passages in that way is a gross misinterpretation and misuse of the Word of God. Ephesians 5 discusses mutual submission built on a foundation of love and respect. It compares the relationship between husband and wife to that between Christ and the Church. Jesus never forces the Church to submit to His desires – let alone use violence. Rather, He willingly sacrificed Himself to save us and lovingly beckons believers to obedience for our own benefit (Mark 10:43-45; John 10:18; John 15:1-17; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 John 3:16-18).
The Bible always calls the marriage relationship to equality and mutuality. I remember one client who would recite Bible verses and prayers out loud about submission, shaming his wife about her supposed lack of spirituality and closeness with God to convince her to give in to his fetish of sucking his toes before intercourse. Scripture can be misused as a violent weapon of abuse rather than a tool to help liberate the oppressed. Sadly, because many women have internalized this sexist narrative that they are here to be solely a “helpmate”, i.e. a sex-slave to their husband’s pornographic obsessions, many women have become enablers of the very abuse they will come to despise.
The overwhelming message in many churches is that of “purity culture”, in which a woman’s worth is somehow tied to her virginity. This and many other patriarchal attitudes run rampant within the church, as many condone these lies as God-ordained truths. Women were, and many times still are, expected to be open and available to serve their husband’s every erection, yet remember men in positions of power (pastors, for example) are the ones normally pandering these lies, saying this is what love looks like in a marriage relationship, rather than a message of equality and mutually serving and pleasing both partners. (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16) This toxic message serves the patriarchy and continues to silence women of faith and push them further into domineering relationships. The result is that women end up killing their own sexual desires in order to be good Christians or loving wives. Let’s not let our theology become fuel to harm the very people we are called to love and serve.
If you are in need of immediate help, contact 911 immediately. If you need assistance talking through an issue and need resources, check out RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network on their website at (https://www.rainn.org) or you can call at 1-800-656-4673.