Do You Owe Your Husband Sex? Duty Sex in Marriage
Do wives owe their husbands sex?
I remember hearing the term “servicing your husband” before I got married to describe how wives should be intimate with their husbands to fix their sex drives.
It never struck me as odd that men were being characterized as mechanical parts, in need of regular maintenance, without which they’d fall apart.
Over the years, I’ve talked to many women, and everyone has a slew of beliefs around sex in marriage. Some views are obvious and others not so much.
But whether apparent or not, our beliefs have a profound effect on the quality and depth of sex in marriage.
I recently watched a video by marriage blogger Sheila Gregoire, where she talked about “obligation” or “duty” sex in marriage.
If you are unfamiliar with the terms, obligation or duty sex revolves around the idea that:
- Sex is always or mainly about a husband’s pleasure and fulfillment. Good wives have sex with their husbands, whether they enjoy it or not.
- A husband’s sexual desire trumps everything. For example, if his wife is sick, tired, pregnant, not feeling it, or hindered in any way, she still must have sex or come up with other ways to satisfy him sexually. Otherwise, he will suffer greatly, struggle with lust, or stray.
These definitions of duty sex might have you asking, “Sooo..what is wrong with duty sex again?” Or leave you slightly nauseous.
Wherever you find yourself, allow me to take you on a journey.
Wives owe their husbands sex? A journey
I once believed that having sex as a duty was one way a wife loves her husband. So I wondered why mine didn’t LOVE my “sacrifice.”
My husband didn’t care for sex if I was sick, exhausted or not into it. He didn’t want sex if I didn’t want sex. I found it odd it because I thought all guys love a good tumble between the sheets, however, whenever!
I grew up hearing all kinds of talk around sexual fulfillment in marriage with a heavy emphasis on a man’s desire and the woman’s responsibility to satisfy it.
There weren’t many conversations around the husband’s responsibility to make sex pleasurable for his wife or that even in marriage, the man still had 100% control over his sex drive!
So when my husband prioritized me, and even though I loved it, I was confused. He was displaying utmost tenderness and care for my welfare and pleasure, but the “service my husband” song was blasting at the back of my mind.
Things came to a head when sex was off the table for a season because I was sick. Sick for a long time. We were navigating the season together but I felt like I was robbing my spouse and failing as a wife.
I was well loved. I was well cared for. But because some of my beliefs about sex were wrong, I was wracked with guilt.
At this point, you might be asking: “But isn’t marriage, and consequently sex, all about preferring our spouse above ourselves?”
Let’s pause and talk about that.
What does it mean to esteem your spouse above yourself?
Marriage comes with a lot of other-preference.
Much more preference than most of us are comfortable giving, actually. But preferring our spouses above ourselves isn’t the same as permanently kicking our own needs and desires to the curb.
Certainly, healthy sex costs us sometimes. We’ll sacrifice sleep, energy, time, even preference sometimes. But these “costs” should be seasons and moments, not the default sexual pattern of a marriage.
When you think about it, it’s not real preference or honor if the whole thing is being coerced out of you. It’s not real prioritizing if your needs didn’t matter, to begin with.
I love a passage in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus affirms the second commandment to love others. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 ESV
When we look at this passage, we tend to see the first part (You shall love your neighbor.) But the latter part of the text provides us with the “how” of loving our neighbor.
Jesus is telling the teacher of law and by extension us, to give others that which comes naturally to ourselves. There seems to be a presupposition that we don’t need a command to love ourselves because we are wired to put ourselves first.
And Jesus doesn’t correct that. He doesn’t say, “Don’t love yourself. Instead, love others.” He says, “Love your neighbor the way you love yourself.” He uses our love for self to paint a picture of how we should love others.
Loving our spouse (i.e., esteeming their needs in the marriage) and loving ourselves (i.e., esteeming our own needs in the marriage and expecting our spouse to value them) are not mutually exclusive.
We can value ourselves while valuing our spouse.
Our personal and relational needs don’t have to be shoved to the back of the line so as to be “good neighbors.” Our needs matter. In fact, we won’t value our spouses the way they need to be valued if we don’t value ourselves first.
Do wives owe their husbands sex: The uncomfortable discussion
Obligation sex is a jarring subject for many, especially those with a conservative Christian background.
It’s just hard to inspect long-held beliefs and explore topics: We don’t naturally like to put our views under a microscope because it feels like we are questioning God or the people we trust.
And I get it.
About four years ago, everything I believed about God began to go through a microscope. It wasn’t a journey I initiated. But one day, my body started acting up and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on.
The physical agony, which lasted about two years (and I am still recovering), shattered my “Christian prescription” for suffering and unanswered prayer. I was forced to confront and reinspect what I believed about God because some of my beliefs were not holding up.
So I get it.
Asking weird questions like “Eh, why did I just whip up a sexy pose if I don’t want sex right now?” is brain rattling. Sitting with questions instead of instantly fixing them with an old belief can feel so foreign. Opening up and pursuing authenticity instead of cruising along with the old can be bone-shaking sometimes.
But our God is the initiator of our freedom.
As I navigated my dark season and through God’s help, I began to discover a God who I didn’t know existed. A God more tender, more affectionate and more loving than anything I’d known. (And I had been a Christian for more than twenty years.)
I don’t believe He initiated my illness or suffering but all those questions, all the inspection and re-inspection of beliefs, all the growth and change, all the thriving – He initiated it. And He sustains it.
It might feel strange to “question” our current beliefs around sex but it’s actually Scriptural. God gave us a mind for a reason.
The book of Haggai in the Old Testament reveals a God in full pursuit of his people. It contains a brazen invitation to process circumstances rationally so we can take decisive actions. (See Haggai 1:5,7 2:15,18 )
The goal of that process? Healing. Freedom. Relationship.
My hope is all women and men will experience freedom in their marriages. I want newlyweds (and newlywed wannabes) to establish a strong foundation for their marriage. We need a good foundation if we are going to create a healthy vibrant marriage, devoid of foundational issues.
It’s hard to inspect our beliefs about anything, let alone about sex in marriage. But I invite you to think about it. Talk with your husband. If possible, watch the resource below and together get that conversation started.
Good healthy sex is both giving and receiving.
Healthy sex in marriage involves both giving and receiving. I think that’s one of the things we are missing.
But I am thankful we are talking about it! I am putting together another post where we’ll go deeper on damaging beliefs about sex and what I wish I knew, plus how to grow. (Update: Read the post here 5 Things I Wish I knew About Healthy Sex in Marriage.)
In the meantime, I invite you to watch this short video by marriage and sex blogger Sheila Gregoire. (Her video inspired this post!)
In the video, Sheila addresses the “Do wives owe their husbands sex?” messages, explains why obligation sex is harmful, and what we should aim for instead. She shows how Scripture paints an entirely different picture of intimacy in marriage and provides statistics from her survey of over 20,000 women.
Watch the video on Facebook here
One final thing..
Let me clarify what obligation sex is not. Maybe you are asking “So anytime I have sex with my husband and I am not particularly into is obligation sex?”
Answer: No. Obligation sex revolves around the idea that a wife is bound to have sex with her husband, whether she likes it or not.
But if you are in a marriage when your husband prioritizes your pleasure and enjoyment, if you know you can say “no” to sex BUT choose to be intimate (even if you are not feeling like it at that moment), that’s not duty sex. When you understand you can say no but choose to be intimate because it’s good for your connection, that’s a beautiful thing!
Can someone advise the women who want sex what to do if the husband has low libido or low testosterone? What about the women who, during or after menopause or hysterectomy, really need sex? By the time the later happens, the man usually has ED issues. Its simply not fair!
This post might have helpful pointers!
That part about a husband having 100% self control needs to be shouted from the hills.
I have found that Christian men justify their lack of sexual self control over their libido as, not only a male biology, but also, some kind of divine freedom they get as a perk of marriage. As if marriage is a licence to demand sex and expect to have it at whim. Nothing in the manner men are commanded to love their wives would condone such lack of consideration over a woman’s own sexual needs and libido. Yet Christian advice tends to be to tell wives to liven up their libido and perform anyway as some form of selfless sacrificial love.
And certainly, it is possible to simply wish to indulge one’s husband for the sake of his pleasure as a form of taking care of his physical needs, but the fact this is the solution being touted when there is a lack of interest or less frequent interest in sex goes to show how much the responsibility for men to have self control, and to show consideration and selflessness by denying themselves is ignored as an equal gesture of love.
That said, I throughly believe most women do not lack the same sex drive as men, otherwise the level of promiscuity that exists in the world would not be possible. These men going around having sex are doing so with women consensually seeking the same legal and frequency of sexual pleasure.
I would wager a strong currency that if there is a difference in libido between a husband and wife it is either from poor unhealthy views of sex and female sexuality or the mere commonality of gender socialized overburdening of females in marriage to roles of domesticity and child rearing that can zap any energy and enthusiasm to have to selflessly give to get another human being at the end of a long day in which she received minimal or no support in relief of burden from her husband.
I tire of the Christian advice for wives to be self sacrificing and have sex out of duty. If a man cannot sexually entice his wife into interest – whether by sensual pleasure in foreplay, or ensuring her home environment is conducive to being in the mood and having energy and undivided attention to give of herself, then he simply is not doing his part in the two way command for a selfless kind of love and a mindfulness of mutual marital sexual duty. Sex doesn’t ever get to be a one way street when two people are expected to be involved in it. Men need to be educated more on their need for self control as a selfless love sacrifice, and their need for sacrifice by relieving wives of distractions of duty. It is not just the wife’s duty to keep putting her own burdens down and giving pleasure to her husband. His body is not his either. It is hers. And if she needs his body to perform domestic and child duties to free her to regroup the necessary energy for his sexual pleasure (and hers) then he is just as obligated to perform at a sacrifice as she is.
Marital rape is a thing. If he is telling you it is your duty and you don’t feel up for it but requires it anyway, this is marital rape. If he is telling you he will stray or cheat because you aren’t fulfilling your duty, that is emotional manipulation. You are a victim. The church needs to start teaching men and boys that they need to have self control. Men are capable of self control. Men are capable of being loyal and they need to stop being given a pass.
I share this same view. God calls both to sacrifice, even more so the husband. Wives are called to love (as a friend and partner) and respect their husbands. Husbands are called to love their wives, agape love, like Christ. No where does it state that sex is a need, that os what the world tells us. If the husband loves as he is commanded and the wife loves as she is commanded, the sex will take place. When things are out of sorts, sex naturally is put aside.
Exactly. My mother felt the need to perform duty sex when my father wanted it. The. He complained about her laying there like a cold fish in bed. Well he didn’t know how to please a woman ! I felt bad for her. Later she developed endometriosis and bled every day even wearing two tampons and he insisted on asking her in front of me or my sister “how’s the pussy?” Like he was entitled to sex with her. She told him “bloody!” Good for her ! And bad for young daughters that had to grow up around this! No wonder my own marriage was dysfunctional as well. I never respected him when he started bad mouthing my mother about sex when I was10
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