In one of my favorite Java with Juli episodes from last year, guest and author Noah Filipiak shared some of the male perspective on purity culture and the purity narrative. He kept returning to one main idea: entitlement.
While Noah is writing and speaking from a man’s perspective, as a married woman I couldn’t help but identify with some of the things he said. Not too many years ago, I remember the Holy Spirit convicting me about my own sense of sexual entitlement.
Much like Noah and his wife, when my husband and I got married, we were virgins. We had fought hard for sex to be something that only happened in marriage with a spouse, and so naturally, we had mentally and emotionally prepared for sex in marriage. Going into marriage, at the bare minimum I expected it to happen fairly often.
So when a few months into marriage my husband seemingly lost all interest in sex, I felt like I was being denied a right, and I made it clear in no uncertain terms.
I told my husband he owed me sex.
There’s a difference between a fair expectation and a right. I had a fair expectation that my husband and I would have sex often, but sex was not a right. One article from the New York Times in 2018 stated that around 15% of married couples are in sexless marriages for one reason or another, and as hard as this may be for some of us to understand, God never promised us sex in marriage.
It’s so important to understand this. God has not promised anyone sex. Married or unmarried. He doesn’t call it a right. If we assume sex is a right and are then unable to have it, we often try using this assumption to justify sinning against God and making decisions outside of His will for us. If I were a single person with no spouse in sight I might try to justify having sex with people God has told me I am not supposed to have sex with. As a married person unable to engage with my spouse sexually (for any number of reasons, I might add—health, distance, trauma) I may justify watching porn and masturbating or having an affair. Having the understanding that sex is not my right helps me seek to honor God in my sexuality, and provides a way for me to make decisions based on His word, not my feelings.
Of course, the Bible does establish some guidelines and standards around marital sexual intimacy, but it doesn’t cite these guidelines as a grounds to demand sex from a spouse. Rather these standards and guidelines are given as a way to prevent sexual immorality and foster intimacy.
The problem I was facing when sex began to dry up in my marriage was that I was focused on what my husband should be doing for me and giving to me instead of what God said I should be doing. God’s will for me as a wife is to focus on how I can love my husband. I was right to be upset, and I was right to mourn something I had thought would be a fun and fruitful thing in my marriage, but I was wrong to demand sex.
It’s been a long time since those days, and thankfully when I apologized to my husband he was gracious enough to forgive me. But as the frequency of sex in our marriage continues to ebb and flow, I remind myself of why I don’t want an attitude of sexual entitlement.
Sexual entitlement erodes intimacy.
Any guesses on how it turned out when I tried to demand sex from my husband? Yeah, not great. God created sex for intimacy, not as intimacy. My husband never felt I wanted him, but he knew I wanted sex. When sex is all about the doing and not about being together, the opportunity to connect emotionally is squashed. This is why couples trying to conceive often struggle to have intimate sex; their minds are so focused on the mechanics that they can’t enjoy each other. God’s design for marital sex is about knowing each other and delighting in one another. When you demand sex it becomes about sex, not the other person or the love you have for them.
Even if you were to discount God’s design (and I don’t recommend you do), coerced or forced sex is not intimate sex. If you force someone to do something, the only reason they are doing it is because they were forced to. It’s not out of love. It’s like the stingy person in Proverbs 23:7 saying “eat and drink” with a heart that is not really with the person they are engaging.
Sexual entitlement ignores personhood.
A phrase Noah used in his episode really struck me. He described seeing his wife as a ‘sexual vending machine’—simply a means to his sexual pleasure. In doing so he failed to see her as a whole person made in God’s image, which meant her feelings, desires, and wellbeing ceased to matter.
The primary way we are called to interact with our spouses is as brothers and sisters in Christ. This includes married couples! We are called to love our brothers and sisters as Christ has loved us and to attempt to outdo one another in giving preference (Romans 12:10).
Aside from the scriptural element, not seeing your husband or wife as a whole person prevents you from seeing other factors that may be influencing the way they behave or interact with you sexually. If your husband or wife is going through a stressful time at work, feeling down about themselves, experiencing health issues, or constantly exhausted, it makes sense that they may not be sexually responsive. How are they feeling? What are they going through? Where do they need support? Reflecting on these questions might give you more grace and more insight into their lack of interest in sex.
I’ve noticed that in times of stress, my husband’s desire for sex decreases. When he is not well in himself it makes sense that he’s not able to engage sexually with me in the same way. He has other hurdles he needs to overcome first.
Sexual entitlement is selfish.
Sexual servantship challenges you to make sex about the other person. Sexual entitlement is all about your satisfaction and what you want. God’s design for sexuality, while designed to be pleasurable for both spouses, is built around celebrating and pursuing the other person. I believe God knows that self-seeking in sex (as in many other issues and relationships) only ends in misery for both parties.
The call to marriage is not for the faint of heart. This includes sex in marriage. It is not for spiritual babies. It still requires a commitment to walking with integrity. It calls for unselfish love. It requires patience. Each of us still needs to treat our spouse in the way we would like to be treated. We still need to elevate our spouses above ourselves. Not begrudgingly, but joyfully, out of love for each other and our desire to see them flourish.
Note: If your spouse coerces you to have sex, even using Scripture, that is sexual abuse. If you think you might be experiencing some kind of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, please read this blog post.
Want to know more about God’s design for sex in marriage? Join us for Reclaim 2.0, our virtual conference running from Feb 15th – Feb 17th. For more information and to register, click here.
Java with Juli: #410 Sexual Abuse in Marriage and How To Help a Hurting Wife
Book: God, Sex, and Your Marriage by Dr. Juli Slattery