Recently in bloggerville and in the ‘sphere, a bit of emotion and hyperbole cropped up over some words spoken/written by Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, specifically, “Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed.… Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.”
A similar idea was expressed by Greg Smalley, Focus on the Family, who states “Husbands, instead of complaining that your wife isn’t interested in sex, you need to earn your way into the marriage bed.” For more context, OkRickety and I have also been discussing this in my thread about Mary Kassian.
All in good humor here, but I just don’t know what to say when your Southern Baptists and Focus on the Family people just aren’t conservative enough to satisfy you?? I rather agree with what they are teaching, in the full context, in the proper perspective. “Mohler tells wives they can withhold sex and affection to punish husbands,” is NOT the proper context NOR is it true. Nor is that what either Mohler or Smalley actually said. So, I’m just going to address the emotion, the hurt, the resentment, that has been triggered by those words.
I suspect there are a lot of men who have been exposed to psychological (and physical abuse) by wives, by women, and feel as if they have not been heard, not acknowledged. The secular world pretty much views men as perpetrators, women as victims. So if your wife is engaging in abusive behaviors, the impact of the abuse can be far harder for men to cope with, far more crazy making as I like to say. First, men tend to have a biological urge to protect women, their honor often revolves around not fighting back, and then the culture refuses to acknowledge them as victims, so it’s kind of a triple whammy on the male psyche.
I have a more cynical and philosophical view of what constitutes “abuse,” in comparison to popular culture that tries to designate everything as “abuse.” My idea is more along the lines of “stuff happens.” In life you’re going to be abused by someone somewhere and odds are pretty good you will also do something abusive at some point. So “abuse” should not be this huge word that designates someone a perpetrator for life. Interpersonal relationships, like marriage, can be challenging, none of us handle conflict perfectly and gracefully every single time. Stuff happens.
I don’t wish to imply that it doesn’t matter, that abuse is okay. It isn’t, it’s wrong every single time, the problem being we’re hyping up the whole concept of abuse and exaggerating it. When everything is perceived as abuse than nothing really is. We forget there is a continuum here. So a wife may withdraw into icy silence and refuse to engage. Abuse? Well yes, if you are trying to resolve a conflict, refusing to engage with your significant other is a way of trying to punish them. The silent treatment, (not to be confused with someone just needing a time out to process things before they re-engage.) Trying to punish, control, and manipulate your spouse regardless of gender, is always a form of abuse. It’s a passive aggressive attempt to punish and control. That’s the key right there, abuse is always about power and control.
Women can be very passive/aggressive with our abuse, we have few tools at our disposal, so withholding affection, withholding sex are big ones. Then there are also snipes, digs, subtle forms of contempt. I have to say when it comes to psychological abuse, to passive aggressive forms of emotional and psychological abuse, women are far, far better at it then men are. Philosophically, we’ve had to be, it’s been directly related to our survival. Women generally don’t get their way in the world through bluster, bravado, and brawn, we do so through emotional manipulation. That can easily, easily cross a line into power and control, into emotional and psychological abuse. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of it more than a few times. Women do not fight fair, we can’t really, we must use every advantage we have. With some good grace and gallows humor here, trust me, honor in battle is NOT a feminine virtue. Perhaps it should be, but it simply is not.
So I hear you, I get it, men can certainly be victims of abuse and frequently are in domestic violence situations, especially when it comes to psychological abuse.
I suspect those words, earn your way into the marriage bed, really rankled some because it was much like pouring salt onto an open wound. Men in general tend to have a different perception of sex, so sex is about preserving connection, relationship, loyalty. Reassurance perhaps, as in no matter how stormy it gets out there, we still have this connection, I still have worth and value to you. Where women would tend to use words, conversation, to affirm connection, men are more inclined to use sex. So deliberately withholding sex is abusive, it is rejection designed to punish for the purpose of affirming power and control. No, it is not okay, it can do a lot of psychological harm to a man and to a relationship. A rain check is one thing, a temporary time out, but perpetual rejection and contempt is cruel and unkind, it’s abusive.
However, I don’t believe that’s what Mohler and Smalley were addressing. I think they were addressing healthy marital relationships and how we go about using our natural biology to create desire in one another that manifests itself in happy marital sexuality.
Mohler says, “I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.” Absolutely! This is one of the world’s unfair and unjust situations, but husbands are often called to create the conditions that make healthy female sexuality possible. Whereas men are more physically hardwired, “confidence, affection, and emotional support” are absolutely vital to women’s sexuality. Women are not men. We are wired differently.
To add to the problem, our culture has made a real mess of things and it has tried to teach us that men and women are exactly the same, so women can just go forth and have a sexuality that is equal and the same as men’s, that is rooted nearly exclusively in the physical. That is a falsehood that has done a lot of harm to men and women alike. For all our talk of sex and sexuality in your face 24/7 in modern culture, women seldom understand the nature of our own selves, and in some ways we may be more sexually confused than ever.
A while back I was chatting with a young girl, depressed, drinking a lot, who keeps hooking up with people she doesn’t even like, for reasons she can’t even fathom, having sex she doesn’t even enjoy. “Why” was my question, why are you doing this thing that makes you so unhappy? “Empowerment,” was the answer, one so ironic that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of those words. She is convinced that she is the one with the problem, not the culture, and so she must sexually empower herself as a female…..by rejecting all and any traditional definitions of female sexuality and emulating men (of the lowest common denominator,) in this imaginary quest for her so-called biological equality. No matter how miserable it is making her.
That’s so crazy it threw me for a loop, but I have to say, that kind of confusion and chaotic psychology woven around sexuality is not uncommon for women and girls. The culture indoctrinates, deceives, and confuses us from day one, implanting us with multiple sexual messages and scrabbling our brains. It is not just sexual immorality that leads us astray, either. The other day I was chatting with a married woman who believes all sex is sin, always, and that marriage is just like a temporary grace covering for the sin of sexuality. So how does she perceive her husband? As an annoying biological unit with a weak sin nature, one she must reluctantly accommodate because…..bible.
That is just so bloody tragic.
So let me conclude with Mohler’s words, “Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.”
Unfair or not, like it or not, husbands, men, really are called to “earn privileged access to the marital bed,” by creating and writing the narrative that allows healthy female sexuality to blossom. Men don’t like that word “earned” anymore than women like the word “owed,” but there is truth lurking behind both of them. There is an exchange going on, cause and effect, symbiosis.
Men tend to be dragon slayers, conquers who go forth to achieve victory, to rise to challenges. It’s kind of the epitome of healthy masculinity to speak of earning a woman’s trust, of learning how to create the “affection and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.” Plus it’s just far more fun for all involved.