In my previous post, I looked at The Marriage Bed and pointed out some of the parts that can be helpful to many people, regardless of whether or not they believe in the basic tenets of conservative Christianity and/or biblical literalism. Today I want to take a more critical look at this site and see what parts of it are potentially harmful or incomplete.
In doing so, I want to do my best to set aside the whole issue of submission. The issue of whether and/or how women should be submissive to men is too big of a topic to cover here, and by not discussing it I don’t mean to condone the view that women should be submissive to men. Obviously, this issue is an integral part of the site, and if you find that part so off-putting you can’t be bothered with it, I certainly can’t blame you. But I think there’s some value to be found in distinguishing between the assertions that are a direct result of the argument for submission and the harmful messages that creep in alongside of them. If nothing else, recognizing them in a discourse that we’re already reading with a generous chunk of salt makes it easier to recognize and avoid them in the more familiar territory of our own words and actions. So without further ado, here are some ways in which this site could be improved.
1) There is a distinct lack of any information about or reference to any form of STD, except a vague “Google it!” on this page. This is dangerous. Regardless of whether you believe people should remain sexually pure until marriage, the fact is that most people don’t. Refusing to talk about STDs other than to say “this is scary stuff!” does several things:
- It makes you sound like a scaremonger. If a topic really is worth talking about because it can do real harm – which STDs definitely can – then talk about it. Otherwise it’s just a vague threat.
- It denies people information that could be useful for them. Someone already engaging in premarital sex who comes across this site might not be “scared straight”, but they might recognize symptoms or risky behavior and get themselves to a doctor to get tested and/or treated. They might also be more careful in the future, helping to prevent further spread of these diseases.
- It ostracizes people in the Christian community who have STDs from any source, sexual or otherwise. When the only place they are discussed is as a scare away from the “sin” of premarital sex, they become associated with shame and guilt. Not only does this cause emotional harm to the people who have these diseases, but it may cause them to hide them from spouses or other potential sexual partners.
- Not discussing STDs also means not discussing ways to prevent the spread of STDs. Let’s face it, Christians are no more perfect than anyone else, though they certainly try hard to be. A person who comes across this site may be having or considering an affair and wondering whether their marriage can survive. It would be worth the effort to discuss the topic of STDs if it meant that the pain of an affair was not compounded by the pain of an STD transmission which could have been avoided.
Frankly, I’m surprised that the site which included such a thoughtful discussion of birth control omitted a similarly thoughtful discussion of STDs.
2) Refusal of sex is provided as a reason in and of itself for divorce, along with the “4 A’s” of adultery, abuse, addiction, abandonment. This is really a tricky issue, partly because it’s my opinion that usually if a person is refusing sex on a consistent basis, there’s some underlying physical or emotional issue that is the real problem. Making the refusal of sex itself the issue avoids addressing the real problem. I’m also concerned that this could lead to situations in which one partner could threaten the other with “justified” divorce as a way of coercing them into sex.
3) In a similar vein, the injunction to fulfill the sexual needs of one’s spouse could easily be used to hide or avoid addressing the real problem of spousal rape. I am especially concerned by this page, which advises a husband with a wife who refuses him to “do everything possible to bring her to a point where she could receive sexually from him”. I could easily see this used by a person with religious authority to tell someone that if they were truly meeting their spouse’s sexual needs, they wouldn’t be raped. While I’d like to believe that this would never happen, I’m all too aware that we live in a broken world.
4) Nearly all of the explicit or implied injunctions to meet the sexual needs of one’s spouse are aimed at women. While the site gives lip service to the idea that women also have desires that need to be fulfilled, the main focus seems to be that men want sex while women should want to give it to them. Thus, there’s “better sex 4 him” but not “better sex 4 her” (women get “full body sexual massage“). There’s “how to strip (for your husband)” and “how to get him to want sex” but no equivalent pages about women. There’s also a page about how frequent sex is better for women. The pages which speak about a reluctant spouse in gender-neutral language address issues such as sexual abuse, which are more likely to be relevant to a woman’s situation (although to be fair, they also talk about physical problems which could affect either spouse). The underlying message seems to be this: if a woman refuses sex, it’s likely there’s some physical or emotional cause – ie, there is something wrong with her – and the correct course of action is to address these issues. Either that, or the woman is actively refusing what is “best” for her. If a man refuses sex, however, it’s because the woman isn’t doing enough to turn him on. Either way, it’s the woman’s fault. Obviously, they don’t say this outright. But there does seem to be a theme of making the woman responsible for fixing any issue of mismatched sexual desire.
5) Finally, in the sections on biology, there are many examples of essentialist arguments (a simple discussion of the concept is here). Basically, they boil down to “Most men/women are X, therefore God designed men/women to be X”. For example, this page claims, “Apparently God designed women to become more and more interested in sex as they become more active.” Yet note 1 on that same page points out that “the data is what most men and women experaince” [sic, emphasis mine]. The problem is that this pathologizes difference. If someone has a different experience than “what God designed”, does this mean that there is something wrong with them? Should they question whether they are sinning secretly in their hearts? I think that a better approach would be to accept that God has created a dazzling array of diverse experiences, and that we can learn from all of them.
All told, there’s definitely room for improvement on this site, even within the general construct that they provide. Next up: the ugly.