My husband and I have had our share of ups and downs in our marriage, but one thing we are both grateful for is that we have a good physical relationship. I have joked here before that sometimes sex is the only thing that keeps us from hating each other; that isn’t true of course, but the marital act does serve a unitive function that helps keep our relationship loving.
I have had a lot of comments over the course of my two blogs from people whose marriages are (or were, if they’re divorced) unhappy, and these unions are very often marked by either a complete lack of marital intimacy or at least a very low frequency of it. That is why my advice to women has always been Have sex. Have it a lot. Don’t deprive your husband regardless of how high or low your drive may be. This advice is in accordance with Scripture:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (ESV)
However, there is another side of that argument, which has some valid points. Athol Kay, for those who don’t know, writes a blog called Married Man Sex Life and is pretty much against the idea of default yes.
You cannot force a sexual response from someone who doesn’t want to give one, without risking seriously negative effects to your relationship. So when the relationship is down in the dumps [...] that may well mean a whole lot of not having sex at first.
Why the “default yes” is a bad thing
It’s basically like dumping three tons of fish into the dolphin tank at SeaWorld and wondering why the dolphins are no longer interested in doing any tricks.
If your wife is into you, she doesn’t need a rule to want to fuck you.
Athol’s point, I think, is that if sexual relations have dropped off due to one or the other partner losing attraction for their mate, you have to fix whatever it was that made them stop being attracted to you. If you gained a ton of weight, you need to lose it. If a woman became too bitchy, she needs to be sweeter; if a man became too passive, he needs to become more dominant. Athol’s reasonable belief is that a genuine response of desire is better than only doing it out of a sense of duty. There is no doubt some wisdom in his words.
But there is something else to consider, at least from the woman’s experience. Sexual relations bond us to our husbands, but in addition to that, as we have discussed and as others have noted, non-contracepted sex has a positive effect on a woman’s health and emotional well-being. By the same token, not having it quickly starts a downward cycle in her attitude and behavior, and her marriage will suffer. And I’m not just preaching in the theoretical realm here; I know this because I’ve experienced it. Recently, in fact:
This disaster of a month started out with the children going back to school and my being pulled in fifty different directions at once while I tried to get everyone back into the swing of school, sports, homework, and practicing their instruments. At the same time, my husband has been driven to distraction by dealing with preparing to list both our home and our rental property for sale so that we can move out into the countryside.
By the second week, everyone had caught colds, and we were all sneezing and coughing. My husband and I started getting short-tempered with one another, snapping at each other over little stuff, which led to both of us nursing small grudges about the unbelievably difficult person we’d each married. And so the drought continued.
By the third week, I was feeling anxious about everything and nothing, sleeping badly, picking fights with him over every little thing and just generally being an unpleasant bitch. I was also prone to tears for no apparent reason.
By the beginning of the fourth week, I was panicking that we would never have relations again. I concluded that he hated me and was probably having an affair. I told myself to initiate it and then was paralyzed with fear and indecision and started baking (and eating) batches of cookies and pies every day. We weren’t squabbling so much because we weren’t really speaking to each other much.
By the time we went to bed on Friday night, I just prayed and asked God to intervene, and boy did I get an almost instantaneous massive conviction from the Holy Spirit for my horrible, disrespectful, unsubmissive attitude. Yes, it is unsubmissive to give in to the desire to be crabby and difficult to the point where you drive your husband away, ladies; part of being submissive is submitting your own selfish desires and doing what is right no matter how you are feeling. The Holy Spirit also convicted me that I was going to have to swallow my pride and humble myself by making the first move toward reconciliation. It was such a battle in my heart and mind; I knew what I needed to do but I was still trying to resist it. Finally I just laid my hand softly on his arm.
That was all I did, but it was enough. He just smiled and put down the book he was reading and forgave me and loved me in spite of my broken, arrogant, sinful self. If he had rejected me and held on to his anger at that moment, which wouldn’t have been an unreasonable response, he would have crushed me. The fact that he forgave me so quickly when I made the smallest step to humble myself showed me that he loves me as Christ loves His church. This is the kind of submission and sacrificial love that husbands and wives are called to in Ephesians 5:22-33.
Later that evening, we cuddled up together and apologized for our mutual roles in making this month a lot worse than it needed to be. His feeling was that he could see me spinning off kilter emotionally but he had failed to step in and set me aright. The thing that probably would have calmed me down the quickest would have been for him to insist that we come together physically. For my part, I apologized for being so cranky and emotional that he didn’t even want to touch me. The problem was able to grow as much as it did because the more awful I felt and behaved, the less he felt like initiating marital relations, but the longer we went without it, the more awful I felt and behaved.
Physical intimacy is like a reset button for our marriages. Waiting until things are perfect or even good in our relationships is only going to make things worse; it’s better to keep relations regular so that you don’t end up in a downward spiral. This is why I do still advocate default yes to women.