Mutuality In the Bedroom: A Better Vision for Marital Sex
This article was contributed on behalf of the CBE Voices of Color chapter, a CBE chapter specifically devoted to amplifying the voices of people of color in the egalitarian conversation. We’re grateful for their work.
The church has long overemphasized male sexuality in marriage. In prioritizing the male sexual experience at the expense of the female sexual experience, the church has contributed significantly to gender inequality.
Pastors seldom preach specifically about marital sex. But when they do, few offer a balanced perspective that equally considers men’s and women’s experiences. Instead, most choose a one-sided, male perspective on marital sexuality, or they fail to ask actual women about their experiences. I’ve observed many male pastors preach about the male sexual experience, but I’ve also seen them teach about the female sexual experience—as if they are experts—without talking to any women!
So what is the church missing about sex in marriage?
We’ve been conditioned to believe that men have a much higher sex drive than women, but studies show that the sex drives of men and women can vary widely. Biologically speaking, some men have low sex drives and some women have high sex drives. But more importantly, the Bible doesn’t teach that men are more sexual, nor does Scripture even imply it. Because of the emphasis on men supposedly needing sex more than women, women are often relegated to “sex-givers” in marriage—as if they don’t enjoy sex too, and as if they are obligated to provide sexual favors to men. Sadly, the church has allowed the world’s lies to corrupt our Christian sexual ethic.
The myth that all men have a higher sex drive than all women is one way patriarchy seeks to control women’s bodies. This lie is designed to privilege men, and some try to justify it with bad theology.
The church has historically called women to submit their bodies to their husbands in marriage while ignoring the command for men to do the same. But the Apostle Paul affirmed sexual equality in marriage, stating that husbands and wives own each other’s bodies. Yet, most Christian teaching—as evidenced in marriage seminars and sermons by male pastors—attaches far more weight to the husband’s ownership of the wife’s body in marriage than the wife’s ownership of the husband’s body.
Far too often, the church emphasizes male pleasure, and encourages women to prioritize their husbands’ sexual needs. But rarely have I observed the church urge men to prioritize their wives’ sexual needs. And it’s also important to remember that marriage is not all about sex. Sex is one healthy expression of love in marriage, but we shouldn’t elevate it to the most important part of marriage. I’ve observed that some men enter into marriage covenants because they want regular access to sex. I can think of few things farther from God’s vision for sexual intimacy in marriage. Additionally, both the world and church imply that sex is a debt between men and women. Women owe men sexual favors, and that debt can be collected at any time. I’ve seen sex reduced to a reward for good behavior—even in church. When a husband does something kind for his wife or fulfills his responsibilities in the home, he receives a sexual favor.
Consider that, if a husband is unfaithful, his infidelity is sometimes excused by the church, and his wife may even be blamed for not meeting his sex needs! However, if a woman is unfaithful, she is often despised and labeled a “whore.” In Africa, a woman accused of infidelity can be thrown out of her home and her children can be taken away from her. But when a man is unfaithful, “he is just being a man.” What a double standard!
Further, women are often taught to save themselves for their husbands, but men are not consistently taught to do the same. Females are expected to remain virgins until marriage, but males may be encouraged to sow their wild oats! Female virginity is generally policed far more closely than male virginity.
An unequal approach to men’s and women’s sexuality in the church has led to severe inequality in male and female relationships and the ongoing global exploitation of women. In failing to advance gender equality in the bedroom, the church has bought into a double standard for husbands and wives.
The church needs to examine and correct its theology of marital sexuality. A balanced approach to sex in marriage—a vision of mutuality and equality in the bedroom—will naturally produce stronger, healthier, holier, and more fulfilled male-female relationships.