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 7:3-5 (ESV)
Cail Corishev recently posted a poll on his blog asking men how often they would ideally like to have sex with their wives. So far the results seem to indicate that on average, men would like it about three to four times per week, but there is a lot of variance. I’m sure the same is true for women. And that variance can be a problem. In about a third of marriages, the couple’s libidos are mismatched, and there are only two ways to deal with that problem:
1. Self Control
The higher drive partner can suck it up and deal with it by controlling his or her sexual impulses.
2. Duty Sex
The lower drive partner can accommodate the higher drive partner by engaging in duty sex.
Duty sex gets a bad rap. We’ve had this conversation here before, where (usually) men will complain that their wives want it less often than they do and when I say, “Well, per the Bible, one partner cannot deprive the other, so she has to do it,” they’ll complain, “Oh, but we hate duty sex! She has to want it.” This conversation always annoys me because it’s essentially just a whine-a-thon. What is the lower drive (usually but not always female) partner supposed to do? She is in a lose-lose situation where neither having sex nor not having sex will please her higher drive husband.
I have a theory as to why duty sex gets such a bad rap; I think it is because there are actually two different kinds of duty sex, which I’m going to call attracted and non-attracted:
1. Non-attracted duty sex
Spouse A is not very attracted or not attracted at all to Spouse B; Spouse A may or may not have the same sex drive as Spouse B.
2. Attracted duty sex
Spouse A is attracted to Spouse B but just has a lower sex drive.
If the problem is a lack of attraction, that is going to come across loud and clear during physical intimacy. Having sex with someone you aren’t attracted to is probably a fairly revolting experience, but if you are married (which is the only morally-licit situation for pursuing sex), you don’t have a choice. I can see why the higher drive person in such a relationship would probably feel really discouraged and just say, “No thanks.” Who wants to feel like they are grossing out their sex partner? That’s a serious blow to the ego.
The solution here is to work on increasing attraction if possible, which is the focus of blogs like Married Man Sex Life. However, even if the attraction is not there, there is still a good argument to be made for engaging in duty sex anyway. If you are the one who is not attracted, you still have a moral obligation to meet your partner’s needs. If you are the one whose spouse is not attracted, you too have a moral obligation to allow your partner to meet your needs even though you can tell that your partner does not physically enjoy it very much. The unattracted wife, for example, may feel really badly about the lack of attraction she experiences for her husband and may wish to feel like she still has the competence to please him anyway. Her husband would be doing her a kindness by allowing her to please him even if it bothers him that she isn’t physically enjoying it herself.
Yeah, I know this is kind of a drag, but sex can be a spiritual discipline, too, and this may just be the cross you have to bear if you are a Christian who is committed to following what the Bible says about marriage and divorce.
But what is probably the more common situation is the one that most of us find ourselves in at some point: you are very attracted to your spouse but you have a lower sex drive than he or she has. My husband would like to engage around four times per week but I’m generally good with twice a week; that doesn’t sound like a big discrepancy, but actually that means his drive is about twice as strong as mine in an average week. We deal with this by using both self-control and attracted duty sex. Around twice a week, we’re both really into it, once a week he would like to engage but can tell that I’m sort of meh about it and so chooses to control his urges, and around once a week I can tell that I need to Woman Up for his sake.
One of the interesting things about attracted duty sex is that having it actually can lead to a situation where it starts as duty sex but doesn’t end up that way. There is a phrase in French about eating when you are not hungry
L’Appétit vient en mangeant
which roughly translates in English to
Appetite comes from eating
which I think perfectly describes what I’m talking about. I don’t know if this is true for men, but for women I know for sure that sometimes having sex precedes wanting sex. Ladies, do you agree?
Both self-control and duty sex (whether attracted or non-attracted) have their proper place in marriage. Part of being an adult is accepting reality and learning to deal with it.
Nota bene: I am not a sex blogger and have no particular expertise that credentials me to offer marital advice. However, one of the major themes of my blog is the intersection of Christianity, sexuality, and culture, so the thoughts I offer here are simply my musings on how to navigate sexual morality in a depraved culture. Never take my words as some kind of gospel and always compare everything I say with Scripture and the catechism of your particular faith.