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. 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.
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!