I wonder how many couples out there are engaging in a kind of sexual assault on a regular basis and don’t even realize it? I don’t mean that they’re physically forcing the other spouse to have sex and possibly using (or threatening to use) violence as part of that—though I know there are a few too many folks, most of them men, who do that and wouldn’t think of it as abuse as long as they’re married to the victim. What I’m talking about is more subtle, but still insidious. Less violent, but still damaging.
To get a sense of where I’m going with this, let’s run with the term sexual assault and take out the word sexual for a moment. Assault can be verbal or physical, and can be illegal either way. Is calling someone a racial or sexual epithet assault? Sure. Is it as bad as threatening their life or physical health? No, but that still doesn’t make it right. Is shoving someone who really hasn’t done anything serious to you assault? Yes, and the fact that you didn’t draw blood or break a nose or kill a person doing it doesn’t make it morally defensible.
So, sexual assault—and the more intimate, serial and individual-focused version known as sexual abuse—don’t have to be something dramatic like throwing a person down to the ground and pinning them so that you can invade their bodies. But before I go on, let me quote a couple pieces of scripture that I’ve mentioned before in my various posts about sexual relations between couples.
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time… First Corinthians chapter 7, verses 3-5
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church. Ephesians chapter 5, verses 28 and 29
We must remember that as in so many things with God, extremism at either end of the spectrum really pisses Him off.
We cannot be demanding of our partner all the sex we want whenever we want at whatever cost. At the same time, we cannot be withholding sex for no good reason. Sex is, primarily, not an activity for making babies but for building intimacy between couples. That is why it feels so damn good when you do it right and sometimes even when you aren’t performing so well. Sex is something that is supposed to be a constant in marriage (no, not every day kind of constant—unless of course that’s what you both want and you’re in good enough shape for it). Even if you’re the kind of couple who wants as many kids as God will give you and you shun birth control, the woman is still going to have a nine-month period every year or so during which the sex is just for keeping you as emotionally connected as you can be. And sex isn’t supposed to just go away when you get too old to have kids anymore.
So, to turn sex into a weapon in a relationship is a terribly screwed up thing to do. Yet many couples, either both members of the couple or just one of them, often do use sex as a weapon against the other, and think nothing of it. They don’t appreciate the fact that they are assualting and abusing the person that they supposedly love so much.
To harangue your husband or wife into having sex by saying, “You’d do it if you really loved me” or “If I can’t get what I want here, I’ll find someone who will give it to me” or anything like that is a form of sexual assault. It’s an emotional attack. It’s guilting someone into doing something they don’t feel like doing right now. It’s wrong.
Or consider the spouse who says, “You won’t get anything until you do this or that.” Withholding sex for some petty reason or personal gain or selfish desire in many cases. That, again, is using sex against your partner; using it as a weapon.
How about the spouse who says, “Honey, there’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and I was wondering…” or “I’ve never wanted to tell you that such-and-such turns me on because I didn’t want you to think I was weird” and, instead of getting a supportive ear and at least a consideration of validating the surprise desire—the other spouse goes in for the kill. Instead of being open and loving, the spouse tell his or her partner “You’re sick” or “I’ll never do that” or “I don’t think I can ever be with you again after hearing that” or laughs the partner to scorn. I mean, considering the wide array of kinks and fetishes out there, only a very, very few rank as so heinous that a person needs professional help. And even then, the spouse should be willing to urge the spouse toward help with love and a desire to curb those feeling and not start out of the gates with revulsion and rejection.
That isn’t to say that a spouse doesn’t have the right to “have a headache” sometimes. Typically, “no” means no, and that includes the marriage bed. Being married doesn’t let you off the hook for respecting the other person’s body and emotions. So, when our spouses say, “Not tonight,” we need to respect that, as long as it doesn’t become an unhealthy habit—and even if it becomes an unhealthy habit, we don’t get to just take what we want. We cannot expect that our spouse is always an open vessel or ready tool for our pleasure. And if there is a habit of constantly withholding or constantly demanding, perhaps it’s time to assess whether the two of you really should be together.
Guns, swords, closed fists, knives, clubs and the like are obvious weapons. But a beautiful little pedestal-top statue or tchachke-esque snowglobe on the shelf can be injurious or even deadly too, swung with enough force toward a vulnerable part of the body.
Get the picture? Rape is obvious sexual assault. But demanding or withholding sex in “nonviolent” ways can be dangerous too, when done at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons or done so often that you psychologically injure or emotionally kill your other half in the relationship.
It’s kind of like that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” thing. Sometimes, our bodies can be the loaded weapon in a relationship. Use them right, please.