A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Saying no to sex with one’s spouse

Many Christian women have been taught that they have no authority in the marital bed and that men have all the rights. But in the marital bed, women have just as many rights and just as much authority as men. 1 Cor 7:4 says a wife can say NO to sex —

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.

The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. This means she can tell his body to not do things to her body. She has the authority to tell his body what it can and cannot to do her body.

So if a husband says “You must let me do this to your body because I have authority over your body,” the wife can say back to him, “No; I have just as much authority over your body as you have over mine, so if I say you can’t do that to me, you must not do it. Our authority over each other’s bodies is equal and reciprocal, so neither of us can force the other do to anything they don’t want to do!”

Sex is supposed to be engaged in by mutual agreement and for mutual enjoyment. If one party does not feel comfortable with something, that thing shouldn’t be done. Sex is supposed to be about both spouses loving and giving pleasure to each other, and never forcing one person’s will on the other or making them feel uncomfortable. There is no other way of understanding 1 Corinthians 7:4.

It is beyond question that Corinthian 7:4 teaches egalitarianism in regards to the sexual-intimacy aspect of marriage.

* * *

Related posts at other blogs:

1 Corinthians 7 — Whose Body is Trump? by Dr Phil Monroe

Love, Respect, and Consent by Nate Sparks (Please note we do not necessarily endorse all that Nate Sparks writes)

Related posts at this blog:  

Do you tell others about the sexual abuse?

Should I marry a man just because we had sex? 

She did not cry out while she was being  raped, so is she guilty?

We were a Christian couple in ministry

The  unique nature of sexual intimacy makes its abuse uniquely destructive 

The Bible’s view on premarital sex: is the remedy always ‘get married’?

 

28 Comments

  1. Truth!
    There is nothing, Biblically, to allow “patriarchy” in the bedroom.
    (Otherwise, it would be nothing but abuse.)
    S/G

  2. LH

    While counseling with our pastor, I was told that verbal abuse was not in the Bible so I had no grounds for divorce, however the Bible was clear that I owed him sex, and if I said ‘no’ then he would have Biblical grounds to divorce me. (Thankfully both pastor and husband are now ex’s!)

    • Jeff Crippen

      Both are ex’s now. I like it:)

  3. Rosie

    I can’t wait to read the comments posted here! I was one of the ladies misguided by church “counsellors” in this area. I won’t get into all that I was told, to spare anyone from being triggered. What they told me was horrible, condemning, & not up for their debate. But my so-called “counsellors” missed the mark by a long shot. “Submitting” to my husband’s sexual requests when I was uncomfortable only created resentment in me toward him, toward my “counsellors,” & even toward God. Thankfully, I left that “church” (organization) & I’m following the Lord now, not men’s teaching.

    I strongly encourage anyone who *feels* something is off with the counsel they receive from their spiritual leaders, to pay close attention to that. I was also discouraged from listening to my intuition. I should have been listening to my intuition from the beginning. God made us perceptive & intuitive for a reason. Going against how He made each one of us is going against His design. And I found it’s exhausting trying to go against God’s ways.

    • Hi Rosie, since your keen to read the comments on this thread, you might also like to read the comments on Do you tell others about the sexual abuse?
      There are 243 comments on that thread, and there will probably be more in the next few hours.

      • Rosie

        Thanks Barbara. I’m slowly reading through the comments to the post you suggested. I’m glad you provided the link. It’s a lot to take in. I’m both, grieving & enraged about what we’ve gone through. Since the post is a few years old, I wonder what’s happened since then in the lives of these courageous women. Thank you for educating & encouraging us, even empowering us to make wiser decisions than we did yesterday.

  4. cindy burrell

    Bravo, Barb. I have never heard this Scripture taught from this perspective. This is a keeper. Thank you.

  5. JJ

    In the case of infidelity, it is very important (IMO) to not let the cheating spouse touch you sexually. I think it is paramount that a person protect their health!

    • Stronger Now

      I agree, but for those who teach that the husband has absolute authority over his wife’s body, even infecting her with an STD would be something he has the “right” to do.

      Hurting and injuring her during sex is not a good idea, but he has the “right” to do it.

      Forcing her to have sex is not loving, but it is within his “rights,” because it is her obligation to submit, and to satisfy him whenever he wants. If she refuses, she’s not being submissive.

      Getting her pregnant when she already has Post Partum Depression from the previous pregnancy is within his “rights.”

      His authority is absolute.

      Thank God I found a counselor who showed me the truth.

      • Well said, Stronger Now 🙂

        for those who teach that the husband has absolute authority over his wife’s body, even infecting her with an STD would be something he has the “right” to do.
        Hurting and injuring her during sex is not a good idea, but he has the “right” to do it.
        Forcing her to have sex is not loving, but it is within his “rights,” because it is her obligation to submit, and to satisfy him whenever he wants. If she refuses, she’s not being submissive.
        Getting her pregnant when she already has Post Partum Depression from the previous pregnancy is within his “rights.”

        All those ideas stem from an assumption of male privilege — the idea that, simply because they are men, men’s preferences and choices override women’s preferences and choices.

        In any society, the privileged group is relatively unconscious of how much privilege it has. If their privilege is pointed out to them, they usually can’t see it: they deny that they are enjoying special (unmerited) privileges. But the under-privileged groups in society are very aware of how the privileged group(s) are preferentially treated in contrast to themselves.

  6. LorenHaas

    Ugh!
    I heard this patriarchal mash-up of Cor. 7 at my former church and it is awful. I hope Barbara’s teaching on this will help set some women free.

  7. MarkQ

    I think this is a hard issue even among non-abusive couples. My wife and I have mismatched sex drives. This has been a constant source of difficulty in our marriage. We had a breakthrough a few years into marriage, when I refused her for the first time. She was quite hurt when I said no, and then she realized how much her refusal hurt me. Nearly 15 years in, this is still a difficult topic. There’s been a lot of compromise. I honestly don’t know how a couple could find this out prior to marriage.

    The “abuse disclaimer” seems to be appropriate in a lot of marital advice, including passages of scripture dealing with husband and wife. A husband and wife who trust and are committed to each other can find greater intimacy when they say, “would you…” to each other, and even then, the answer can be no. The passage applies there, but it isn’t going to apply when the husband is sexually abusive. Remember, 1 Corinthians has a target audience: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Cor 1:2). Thus, it doesn’t make sense to take spousal instruction given to two people whose Lord is Jesus Christ, and then try to apply it to a Christian wife whose husband is a wolf.

    • standsfortruth

      Any type of abuse whatsoever is enough of a reason for a wife to say no to sex.
      It should not only have to do with sexual abuse. Verbal, psychological, financial, and all other subtle forms of abuse, completely take away the women’s desire to be intimate with an abusing spouse.

      I felt like a hunted animal in my own house trying to avoid all my abusers pitfalls and set ups for coerced sex. I worked myself into an exhaused physical state each day so that he would know that I needed rest at the end of the day and leave me alone. I avoided taking showers or dressing nice for days on end so he would just leave me alone. I detested the thought of being intimate with him due to his covert mental abusive ways. I finally ended up sleeping in a room where I installed a door lock to get some much needed sleep and peace of mind.

      No, unless a husband can first respect the woman’s mind, and can treat her with dignity and the love of Christ that she deserved all along, he has absolutely no business being with her body.

  8. H

    Maybe this just shows my naïveté or ignorance, but prior to being abused by my husband, I couldn’t imagine why a woman would refuse her husband. I think in mainstream Christian discussions it’s always framed as something small like the woman is tired from the day or the husband just didn’t cater to her emotional needs enough to make her feel romantically attracted to him. I would read stuff like that and just think, well that’s rather silly. Because the issue is framed in such a trivial way, stuff like this post could be mischaracterized as a grab for “rights” (which Christians are taught to give up and not grasp for) or an inconsequential theological discussion.

    Because I always thought that way before I was abused, I think it’s important to make people in the church who have never experienced abuse aware of what this looks like in an abusive relationship. It’s not about the woman being tired or the man just not putting enough effort into their relationship to make her feel romantic. It’s also not an abstract theological point or an egalitarian grab for a women’s “rights.”

    So for any Christian reading this who has never experienced abuse and thinks this is a trivial topic as I used to, let me tell you another scenario where a woman might want to say no to her husband:

    (trigger warning) Her husband has been playing mind-games all day, putting her down, severely emotionally wounding her, or even physically assaulting her, and then a few hours later he acts as if nothing happened and it’s time to do the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable act known to humans. The same hands that are now caressing were the hands that a few hours ago slammed her up against a wall. Literally. The same lips that actually said “I will kill you,” are now saying, “Oh how I really do love you. How can you doubt it?”

    It’s extremely sickening. It’s Satanic. And it makes the victim just feel like a worthless empty body with no person attached. This is why understanding what the Bible says about consent in marriage is important. Praise the Lord that he is not a cruel God and that he doesn’t command women to have sex with husbands who behave in that way! He cares about us.

    • Anonymous

      H, thank you for your comment. You’ve described many aspects of the way things are framed-up so that we end up perceiving these matters as other than what they are–Satanic is an apt word to use.

      I had no idea until a few years ago how much damage this way of thinking had wrought in my life. I was trained to think of women as having the easy end of sex and that all we needed to do was lay there. That men could barely control themselves so if a wife didn’t allow sex every time the man wanted it she was pushing him to seek it elsewhere. Enter God into my sex life and all this thinking has changed.

      For one thing–and God has shown me that this is a big thing–sex was meant (as is everything that is made by God) for his glory and to enhance our walk with Him. (If both people belong to Him.) He took all the blinders off and I was left with the stark truth of what my husband was and that I was NOTHING like him and his kind.

      God forced me to be aware of what it felt like to truly love someone else (as a wife should love a husband) and how it felt to be loved in return. (God worked in my mind and heart.) He put me through the paces and because I resisted all this wisdom, it took a few years for Him to fully bring me through it. Some of the things I realized were how the old way of thinking stole from God and me (his child) and opened up the door for those who believed the lie (about constantly providing sex) and set me up to be abused–raped–and to then take responsibility for this rape. (I’m very tired by the way.) I am no longer surprised that I ended up with an abuser like my husband because I had never been taught by either the church or society/psychology that some people have no conscience and that these people appeared to be the same as those who do. Being raised by abusers, boundaries where never allowed in my life and I’d been trained to blindly submit to everyone and to never “judge” or discern lest I be punished by God and have a terrible life.

      Part of this learning process was God forcing me to have sexual desire. When God woke me up to it (in my forties) I realized that I’d never had it before. Why? Because I am highly-conscienced and deeply sensitive yet I’d been buried in the lies of religion and lies of the world and with the weight of these lies I was never able to be who I was at my core (the person GOD made me to be) or to feel any of my OWN feelings. Instead I’d been trained to deny everything I felt or thought and to please others. (I still get angry and feel sick that so much evil is dumped on God’s true children and that we who could be fellowshipping with our Lord instead spend years catering to those who belong to their father the devil.) I truly had NO IDEA that some women actually LIKED sex! To me it had always been rape–a violation–because my husband does not love anyone except himself and I’m sure God’s Holy Spirit in me knew this.

      God then worked in my life so that I bought a separate bed and slowly moved into another room so that I didn’t have to physically be near my husband (which helps in getting your mind out from under the fog) and eventually protecting my body so that he was no longer able to rape me. This happened over the course of about a year but it has now been several where we haven’t had any sexual contact. (It’s interesting to see that sex, as everything in an abusers life, is about control. Once sex was no longer the issue, he stepped up the manipulation by trying to control other aspects such as money, time, education etc. but God here again didn’t allow my husband to have success and instead protected me while He was forcing this wisdom on me.)

      What I am left with is this. Until we teach the TRUTH about evil, God, sex and EVERYTHING ELSE through GOD’S WORD, we will all be battling to get to HIS TRUTH. This website and non-Christian ones that deal with abuse (psychopathy) are the only places I have found that handle this evil in a “no-holds-barred” way. We need to START with this stark truth (stark truth with God’s heart and love) so that our children don’t become victims for the evil one and so that they don’t have to dig themselves out from under all the lies of this. Thank you ACFJ for being a light in the darkness and a place for Christians to share about evil and how God’s love and the truth through His word are the only real healing balms that sooth our hearts, minds and souls. I will now be taking a nap!

  9. FightingStrong

    I’ve never posted on this blog before but have read it every day for over a year. Thank you Barbara for addressing this. I also read through your other post “Do You Tell Others About the Sexual Abuse.” I have tentatively been saying for the past 6 mo. or so that what I put up with in my 2decades+ marriage was sexual abuse and now I believe that has been validated by reading others’ stories and Barbara’s responses to them.

    My husband and I were both virgins when we married in our late twenties. We were very much looking forward to our wedding night. It was fun and enjoyable but my husband could not climax, no matter what we did. Same with the next night. By the third night I promised to stimulate him while in the shower but while I was showering I decided I didn’t want to do that and didn’t call him in. When I came out of the bathroom he was sitting on the bed crying like a little boy. And so it began.

    Third night we were back at home and after receiving a few tips from my best friend we finally had success. I still am not sure what caused him to not be able to function those first 3 nights (fear? expectations? years of masturbating?). A few more days into our honeymoon and for the first time I did not want sex, again tears on his part. I don’t recall really but I believe the first few years of our marriage we were pretty much on the same page regarding our sex life. I’m not sure when my libido started to fade. I chalked it up to having small children. Never really dawned on me that my lack of desire was most likely linked to how he treated me much of time – verbally and emotionally abusive including swearing at me and calling me names. Who wants to be sexually intimate with someone who treats them like that?

    And so the years would go, the verbal and emotional abuse waxing and waning, me never really desiring sex, counseling on and off. At one point I promised him I’d have sex every two weeks if he would just leave me alone in-between. That worked OK for the most part but still he would pressure me, or if I didn’t uphold my end of the bargain, he would pester me until I would give in. Many times when he wouldn’t get his way he would rage, storm out of the room, slam the door and sleep on the couch.
    A few times I woke up in the middle of the night to him packing his bags to leave because I had said no to sex that night.

    He would coerce me constantly by using I Cor 7:4 saying that I had to give him sex, it was my duty. He would read books written for women and then tell me what I had to do to improve my sex drive. A couple years ago after he discovered a horrible blog he suggested that we have sex every day for 29 days and my lack of desire would be cured. About 3 years ago my husband badgered and badgered me into couples counseling (the last time we’d tried our therapist fired him because he would not listen to her nor do anything she suggested) and I let him do all the work to find someone and choose the person. In doing that he did me the biggest favor ever. This woman understood. My husband’s sole purpose of going to counseling was to “fix” my lack of sexual desire. But that’s not what happened. As we worked with this woman I became strong enough to tell my husband no and hold my ground w/o giving in. So often when he would badger me I would give in because he simply would not take no for an answer. It was easier to do than to say no, only for him to ask again the next night or to have him roll over and start pressuring me 30 minutes later. If my body would not respond to him most often I would just let him finish and afterwards I would cry silently, having felt prostituted.

    About 9 mo. before we separated, with words given to me by Leslie Vernick, I stopped giving in to sex. He started openly masturbating next to me in bed 3-4 times a week.

    I have no proof of porn use by my h but I am suspicious. He started telling me, even before we were married, that he’s never had a problem with porn, never been enticed with it, etc. He continued that statement all the years of our marriage, probably commenting on it monthly. He would also repeatedly tell me that he “only had eyes for me.” Why would he insist on telling me these things all the time? Why did he have to insist that they weren’t a problem?

    One time, in the years of dial-up internet, I walked into the room and he scrambled a picture that was obviously a naked woman. He insisted it popped up by accident and swore it would never happen again. We have daughters and as each daughter would go through puberty he would stop being physically affectionate with her, insisting that he felt strange hugging them when they were developing breasts and that it can arouse him. He insists that he’s asked other men about this and been assured it is normal. Is it?

    When he would complain to me that he “needed” sex due to semen build-up I told him wet dreams were nature’s way of relieving him. He told me he couldn’t let that happen because when it did he would have sexual dreams that included our daughters. That terrified and repulsed him. I do not think it is normal and it disturbs me greatly.

    We have been separated for more than a year and I filed for divorce more than half a year ago (still not final). I am just starting to work through the sexual aspect of my marriage with my counselor. I’ve hesitated to share my story because it does not contain the horrific details that I read in others’ stories but I still think it was sexual abuse.

    • Dear dear FightingStrong — your have most definitely experienced sexual abuse!

      There are many things you have told us that suggest you husband has a serious porn problem and he might have had this problem from before the marriage. But whether or not he had it before the marriage, he certainly seems to have it now. And what he said about not wanting to have wet dreams or touch his daughters once they reached puberty — that is indeed very disturbing and concerning. I think you are right to feel disturbed by it.

      Never really dawned on me that my lack of desire was most likely linked to how he treated me much of time – verbally and emotionally abusive including swearing at me and calling me names. Who wants to be sexually intimate with someone who treats them like that?

      Boy how I relate to that. My first husband was very similar. He would swear and call me names and be very sarcastic and contemptuous towards me, and then expect me to feel sexual desire in the bedroom. And for a long long time I blamed myself for my lack of sexual desire — I thought it was all due to “my” problem — the fact that I’d been sexually abused in childhood and that had fused my sexual wiring so I was unresponsive sexually. And I went to lots of counseling to try to fix my sexual problem.

      I now know that even if all that individual counseling had brought sexual healing to me, I would not have been able to desire that husband — because he was being so emotionally abusive (and occasionally physically abusive as well).

      Many times when he wouldn’t get his way he would rage, storm out of the room, slam the door and sleep on the couch.
      A few times I woke up in the middle of the night to him packing his bags to leave because I had said no to sex that night.

      He would coerce me constantly by using I Cor 7:4 saying that I had to give him sex, it was my duty. He would read books written for women and then tell me what I had to do to improve my sex drive. A couple years ago after he discovered a horrible blog he suggested that we have sex every day for 29 days and my lack of desire would be cured. About 3 years ago my husband badgered and badgered me into couples counseling … [his] sole purpose of going to counseling was to “fix” my lack of sexual desire. …

      [When I stopped giving in to sex] he started openly masturbating next to me in bed 3-4 times a week.

      What a lot of ways he abused you! He raged. He stormed out of the room. He tried to lay false guilt on you and lay all the blame on you when he was taking NO blame for his bad attitudes and behaviours. He emotionally blackmailed you, casting himself as the Poor Man who had to leave home because he wife said no to sex. He patronizingly and dictatorially gave you advice about how to improve your sex drive. He bullied you with Scripture. And then he showed contempt for your dignity and personhood by masturbating in your presence without your consent.

  10. FightingStrong

    Barbara – Thank you so much for validating my experience. You have given me a true gift. I spent all these years (until about 2 years ago) assuming that our sexual problems were MY problem. Now I know they were not. I know that deep, deep down I knew the problem wasn’t mine but with sexual abuse in my family of origin my H always assumed I was abused also and just had no memories of it. With the guilt he laid on me for not doing my “duty” as his wife I have to honestly say that I avoided reading I Cor 7:4. I think if maybe I had actually read it more closely I might have seen that the verse spells out mutuality. Thank you so much for explaining this for us.

  11. Estelle

    Thank you for this post, Barbara. I agree with Mark that this can be an issue even with couples where there is no abuse. Although my husband said at the outset of our marriage that he only wanted me to make love to him if I really wanted to, there have been times when I have gone along with lovemaking even though I didn’t really want to. Mostly because I had picked up on this teaching that I should make an effort to satisfy him. One time sticks clearly in my memory for the way I felt after: a terrible feeling of desolation, of being used, heartbroken, on the verge of tears. It was awful. If he senses I am just going along to humour him, it is a complete turn off and he will stop, say good night and go to sleep, no hard feelings. So, I have learned to express when I am not in the mood and that is all right. And it works the other way, too..

    • Thank you so much for sharing that, Estelle. 🙂 Your husband’s response is the kind of thing most of us as victims of spousal abuse have never experienced … and it really helps us to know how these things can be managed in healthy marriages! Even if we never get to experience it ourselves.

  12. CC

    Sometimes I get triggered easily (and incorrectly? unnecessarily? not sure of the right word), when i read about women denying their husbands sex. It’s hard for me, because I would deny sex to a cheater and an abuser, and I think that is the right thing to do. I am talking about people who use sex to control, using the denial or promise of sex to get their way. I am realizing that more and more as I near the 1 year mark of leaving my abusive marriage. Just as it is wrong to force someone to have sex against their wishes, it is equally abusive and wrong to do the opposite. Make them face long periods of celibacy, at a whim, knowing they are good and loyal people who won’t look elsewhere.

    My husband was all about control. But in a very different way than many other comments here. My abuser would purposely withhold himself from me, as a [covert] aggressive punishment. No hugs, no kisses, no touching, no talking. Not for weeks or months. It is extremely lonely to live in a marriage with no affection and no sex, if one desires those things. I am a young woman, I’m fit and healthy. I have always been faithful to my marriage, and yet, my husband hit me, yelled at me, but otherwise ignored me.

    When i left the marriage almost a year ago, I had decided that I would sleep somewhere else. The loneliness I felt in our marriage bed was crushing and overwhelming. After I moved, and not having sex was clearly my choice and no longer a punishment chosen by him, he tried to rape me. It was never about sex itself. Only about taking my hearts desire and making sure I never got it.

    I see that pattern over and over. For people (men or women) who desire physical affection or connection, their spouses deny them all contact for the power trip, or force sex on them with no affection or connection involved. Both sides of the coin break my heart.

  13. CC

    Thank you, i just read the new user page.
    I appreciate it, and that is fine : )

  14. Blessed

    Thank you for the blog- although it brings back many painful memories. It has been [some] long years of separation and eventually divorce, but the memories are still very painful.

    I was married to a pastor and on hindsight the sexual abuse started a few weeks into our marriage. When he didn’t enjoy sex it was my fault. I had to wash in a certain manner for him to enjoy, and sometimes he would insist that he needs to watch pornography while we were having sex. By the same token he would withhold sex and any form of intimacy as a form of punishment.

    I have [a medical condition] which causes inflammation in the abdomen, but he would insist that I have sex with him during this time. This would cause horrific internal pain and sometimes bleeding and external bruising.

    Refusing him was not an option as this led to threats of divorce, accusations that I am an “ungodly woman’, not submissive enough. Needless to say when I eventually got the guts to say no to all this, he wanted out of the marriage. At the time I was devastated because I had hoped that he would realise what he was doing and change.

    Disclosure is never easy, especially when the individual is a prominent person in the church. You are the victim but 9 times out of 10 you are seen as the person who is at fault when the marriage breaks down, and to give people credit, most abusers show a different side of their character when in public. My ex-husband would do all these things, give me the silent treatment, but as soon as we got into church grounds he would grab hold of my hand and walk in with me as though everything is okay. On the pulpit he would always start by telling the congregation how much he loves me. As soon as we left church grounds we would be back to the silent treatment.

    I am grateful that God pulled me through with the help of my family. I am slowly building up my self-confidence and putting my life back together again. I am learning not to define myself by the way my ex-husband treated me. It is a long, difficult road, but God is good.

    • Welcome to the blog, Blessed!!

      We like to encourage new commenters to read our New Users Info page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. And for safety sake I made a few minor edits to your comment.

      Again, Welcome and so glad you are free and on the recovery road!!

  15. Blessed

    Thank you very much. Changes noted and appreciated.

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