(Let me preface this post, and stress as strongly as I can, this one caveat. If the cause of sexual gatekeeping/refusal in your marriage is due to legitimate issues of the past, such as seriously bad teaching or the result of past abuse, then sexual reluctance is understandable. Understandable, yes, but not necessarily permanent. If it comes to light that there has been past physical or spiritual abuse, then it is incumbent upon both, and I stress, BOTH, spouses to be understanding of each other and to work on healing, so that the marriage can be put on right footing.)
I realize that I haven’t written a post for this blog in a while, and I guess I apologize for that,… er, sort of. Unlike many of the other marriage and sexuality bloggers (whom I truly enjoy and honor), I don’t see myself as a writer. Instead, I’m more like that old guy that you know of who gets himself in a state and then proceeds to grace the world with his wisdom, whether wanted or not.
One of my aids for writing is my idea folder on my laptop, which contains word processing files with snippets of ideas or quotes that I’ve culled over time that I thought, somewhere in the past, might be a good topic to think on and to write about. This is a post that is triggered by one of those older snippets.
Apparently some time ago, I had come across a comment by someone who said that she felt “pressured to have sex” and I made a note of it in my Future Post Files. This is something that I had seen before a few times, as a pushback by a gatekeeping/refusing spouse against sexual initiation. In rediscovering that note and thinking about what might lie behind that sort of statement, I found that it triggered three questions that I want to take time to flush out.
Didn’t You Think That Sex Was Part Of “The Deal”?
You did know that sex was is part of the expectation of married life when you said “I do”, when you signed the marriage certificate, didn’t you? If not, I have a thought experiment for you: if you can, please name any culture, any society, down through the ages in which sex was NOT a part of a marriage relationship. What makes you think that your “I do” was so special that it set your marriage apart from all the rest of the marriages in history? And if you, by your “I do”, promised your spouse that you willingly enter into a sexual relationship, why is it transformed into “pressure?”
One word I’m hearing bandied about these days is “privilege,” and I’m wondering if some people come into marriage with a “privilege” mindset. One thought is that someone marries thinking “It’s my privilege to NOT have sex; my spouse doesn’t have a right to expect sex in our marriage.” Another tack might be, “Sex is a privilege, and by Billy Bedamned Hangtree, s/he is gonna have to earn the privilege!” Believe it or not, I’ve seen both mindsets expressed.
I always marvel at the statement, “I feel pressure to have sex.” When you say “I do”, you are entering into a sexual relationship, and you promised to “do” your spouse. Where does this so-called “pressure” come from other than believing that you are entitled to carve out a right to celibacy?
In discussing this topic with Wife, she made an interesting comment. Shaking her head, she rhetorically asked, “Do you feed pressure to feed your children? Do you feel pressure to go to work and earn money?”
And she is onto something, isn’t she? We DO face responsibilities for ourselves and others, whether it be going to work to provide, to clothe, feed and care for our children, to pay bills, etc. Imagine if someone were to tell their employer, “You’re pressuring me to perform my job!” Or to tell your kids, “Don’t tell me you are hungry, it puts pressure on me to feed you!” Try telling the bank, “Don’t send me letters asking me to pay my mortgage, it stresses me out when you ask for money!”
We have a word for someone who doesn’t perform their work: bad employee
We have a word for someone who doesn’t try to provide for their kids: bad parent.
We have a word for someone who doesn’t try to keep up their their bills: bad financial risk.
So, what should we say of someone who does not accept the obligation/responsibility (for that it what one assumes with an “I do”, responsibility) of their promise to enter into a sexual relationship? A bad spouse? (Too much pressure!)
Hmmm……. Maybe I’ve stepped over a line, and made some people feel ….
Or Something Else?
Make people feel… what? Could it be that it isn’t so much pressure, but something more like… guilt?
After all, I can’t bring myself to believe that, in this day and age, someone would actually go into a marriage with the idea that sex isn’t part of the arrangement, so the “too much pressure” is really bogus, isn’t it? But it has to come from somewhere, right?
And I’m thinking that it does, that it comes from our desire to protect our self-image, our belief that we have integrity as a person, if you will. All too often, we feel that we have to be perfect, and if something is wrong or off, it has to be the other person’s fault, it can’t be ours. And so we lash out in an effort to push the blame onto the other.
It’s not that I don’t want sex, it’s that you are always pressuring me.
It’s not that I don’t like sex, it’s that you haven’t wooed me.
It’s not that I don’t desire you, it’s that I get tired of your nagging about it.
But we know that the failure is inside of us, and so, to protect our self-esteem, we strike out in order to avoid dealing with our failure to make fulfilling our promise a priority. Yes, we actually meant it when we said “love, honor and cherish,” but so much of life has gotten in the way. And now your asking is a reminder of my failure to keep my promise to you.
What if it comes down to this, that “your pressuring me to have sex” is simply shorthand for “You’re making me feel guilty and I don’t like it”?
You know, as a card-carrying curmudgeon, I’m willing to bet that guilt triggers much of the “Stop putting pressure on me” pushback from a refusing spouse.
I think that unless there was an intent to deceive right at the “I do’s”, a gatekeeper or mored/moredet** actually accepted the fact, at the beginning, that marriage was a sexual relationship. Somehow however, other things choked out the intention of the original promise.
We know of the Parable of the Four Soils that Jesus told, and how he applied it to the hearts of those who hear his word. I’m thinking that the parable can also be applied (not interpreted, mind you!) to marriage. Just as weeds choked out the new growth, everyday living can choke out our good intentions.
If so, it’s time to do some weeding.
(more to come, maybe.)
** Rabbinic term for a spouse who refuses sex.