Marital neglect: should a wife deny or withhold sex from her husband?

My favorite painting:
Painting: “Godspeed” by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900

I noticed this post on Lindsay’s blog where she explains her view about whether wives should only have sex with their husbands when they feel like it.

She writes:

…[A] lot of people … [object] to the idea that a woman should ever have sex with her husband when she doesn’t feel like it.

But…I think it’s perfectly normal and right for a woman to have sex with her husband even when she doesn’t feel like it. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that a woman ought to have sex with her husband even when she doesn’t feel like it – at least sometimes.

That sounds like a radical idea, I know. Our society has become so feminized that this idea is actually considered crazy or weird or somehow the same as saying women should be raped. It’s not.

You see, there are lots of things we do that we don’t feel like doing. I don’t always feel like getting up in the morning, making breakfast, feeding my kids, cleaning the house, changing diapers, going to the store, or a million other things I do. But I do them because they need to be done and because I love my family. My feelings don’t rule me. I make decisions based on love for my family and what needs to be done to care for their needs.

It should be the same in for caring for my husband’s needs, including his need for sex.

[…]I may not feel, at the moment, like taking my girls outside to play. It’s hot. I’m tired. I have dishes to do. But they want to play outside and the fresh air and sunshine will do them good. So I go because I love them and have a duty to care for their needs. One of their needs is play time and time with mommy. But once we’re outside, we have a great time and I’m glad I did it. Duty, in this case, was not preventing me from having fun. In fact, duty helped me overcome laziness, lower priority tasks, and distractions that would have prevented me from having fun with my girls.

Look at the line that I bolded there . She is saying that duty is what pushes her out of the initial discomfort. That the motivation to do her duty is love. In general, duty is useful in order to get us to get over feelings of selfishness, laziness, busy-ness, pride, etc. And she feels good about the end result. And I’ll add one reason to her list: her choice to perform her obligations keeps her marriage loving and committed. I know her husband, and I can assure you he is also a master of doing hard things in order to invest in the marriage.

Dennis Prager’s advice

Dennis Prager did a two part series a while back on 1) male sexuality and 2) what women should do about it within a marriage.

Part 1 is here.


First, women need to recognize how a man understands a wife’s refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. Few women know their husband loves them because he gives her his body (the idea sounds almost funny). This is, therefore, usually a revelation to a woman. Many women think men’s natures are similar to theirs, and this is so different from a woman’s nature, that few women know this about men unless told about it.

This is a major reason many husbands clam up. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives. They are often made to feel ashamed of their male sexual nature, and they are humiliated (indeed emasculated) by feeling that they are reduced to having to beg for sex.

He then explains the 5 ways that women respond to their husband’s sexual needs, which is how he knows that his wife really loves him.

Here’s one:

1. You have to be kidding. That certainly isn’t my way of knowing if he loves me. There have to be deeper ways than sex for me to show my husband that I love him.

I think that this is a common mistake that liberal women make because they think that men are just hairy women. But men are not women, we are different and sex means something different to men than it does to women. In the past, most women understood how men are different than women, but younger women have been taught that there are no differences between the sexes. To think any different is “sexism”. It’s sexism – the denial of male nature, and the denial of the legitimacy of this male nature – that is killing women’s ability to choose good men, and keep good men.

Here’s another from the list:

4. You have it backwards. If he truly loved me, he wouldn’t expect sex when I’m not in the mood.

Again, this is the common mistake that many younger women today make in thinking that love is a one-way street – flowing from men and children to the woman. If men and children DON’T do what the woman wants, or if they make demands on her, then they don’t “love” her and she is justified in ignoring them. Feminists are taught to reject responsibilities, expectations and obligations in relationships with men or children. The “victim mentality” of feminists helps them to justify their selfishness in their own minds. Very often, women are taught that life is so unpredictable, and they are so special, that somehow they can act selfishly and that they can escape the normal consequences of this. This attitude of “I’ll do it if I feel like it” is not compatible with a stable marriage.

I actually had a conversation with a Christian woman once who said that women should not be obligated to do things that they didn’t feel like doing. I asked her if men were obligated to go to work when they didn’t feel like going. She said yes, and acted as though I were crazy for asking. I just laughed, because she didn’t even see the inconsistency. The truth is that men often don’t feel like working, but they get up and go to work anyway, whether they like it or not (in most cases). Men are not asking women to do anything they don’t already do themselves.

Part 2 of Denis Prager’s column is here.

He explains the eight reasons why women should not let their feelings override their obligations to their husbands.

Here’s one of them:

7. Many contemporary women have an almost exclusively romantic notion of sex: It should always be mutually desired and equally satisfying or one should not engage in it. Therefore, if a couple engages in sexual relations when he wants it and she does not, the act is “dehumanizing” and “mechanical.” Now, ideally, every time a husband and wife have sex, they would equally desire it and equally enjoy it. But, given the different sexual natures of men and women, this cannot always be the case. If it is romance a woman seeks — and she has every reason to seek it — it would help her to realize how much more romantic her husband and her marriage are likely to be if he is not regularly denied sex, even of the non-romantic variety.

I have actually been told by two Christian women I courted who rejected the notion that women have obligations to men regardless of how they feel as “contractual”. What they meant by this is that they did not want to lose the freedom to do what they felt like, and they expected that doing what they felt like would be enough to keep the marriage stable. Both spouses have certain basic obligations to each other, and those have to happen (most of the time) regardless of how they each feel.

The STEM (science, math, engineering, technology) test

One way to test women to see if they are used to doing work they don’t feel like doing apart from the influence of a man. It is so important that a woman’s selfishness be crushed through STEM degrees and STEM careers. This attitude of “I’ll do what I feel like” will never work when doing STEM degrees or STEM jobs. Lindsay, for example, has a BS and MS in biology, and taught biology, before retiring in order to become a full-time wife and homeschooling mother. She and her husband have never had an argument.

What does the Bible say?

Consider 1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.

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.

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

It’s very important for Christian men to look over a Christian woman’s life closely to see if her service to God involves putting the plain meaning of the Bible over her own feelings and desires. If she is already doing that, and not just using the Bible to justify her own desires, then it’s a good bet that she will rank 1 Corinthians 7 above her feelings. Look for evidence in her life where obligations to follow the Bible have overridden her feelings and desires.

Wedding vows

Here’s a wedding vow:

[Bride’s name], do you take [Groom’s name] to be your wedded husband to live together in marriage?  Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him so long as you both shall live?

Do these words impose obligations on the wife to provide for her husband? I think they do. And a wise man will expect to see evidence that she is comfortable with obligations, even if she doesn’t feel like doing them before the wedding ever happens. A woman who has rejected responsibilities, expectations, and obligations throughout her life does not suddenly gain the ability to resist the call of fun, thrills and travel by walking down the aisle and reciting vows. Pursuing fun and thrills is easy, but the work of being a wife and mother is hard. If you want a stable marriage, make sure you pick someone who is experienced at honoring obligations regardless of her feelings.

12 thoughts on “Marital neglect: should a wife deny or withhold sex from her husband?”

  1. My only thing is sex should be a duty, duty sounds too much like a chore kinda like taking out the trash or doing the dishes. A husband and wife should want to have sex because its fun and to become close to one another and of course to have kids

    1. Do people have a duty to feed their children? Should we not say it’s a duty because it shouldn’t be such a chore to take care of your children?

      Saying something is a duty shouldn’t be such a negative thing. We only think so because our culture is so narcissistic and everyone thinks life is about doing whatever you feel like all the time. But just because you have a duty to do something (like feed your kids or vote or be a good neighbor or whatever) doesn’t mean you have to hate it and only do it because you have a duty.

      Of course the ideal is that every time a husband and wife have sex, it’s because they’re both feeling passionate and excited about it and just can’t help themselves. Reality is that it doesn’t always work that way.

      And even if it is fun and exciting to have sex, that doesn’t make it any less of a duty. Whether I like it or not, I have a duty to have sex with my husband. Thankfully, I like it. But if I didn’t, that doesn’t mean I could just say no all the time. If I didn’t like having sex, I could do one of three things.

      1) I could simply refuse.
      2) I could grit my teeth, lay there, and hate the whole thing.
      3) I could tell myself that this is a good and important activity to connect with the man I love, fix my attitude, and jump in and enjoy it.

      Why do people always forget about option 3??? They act like 1 and 2 are the only options and calling sex a duty means forcing option 2 on women. But option 3 is the proper response and the best one, not only for the husband, but also for the wife and the marriage. Women are not slaves to their feelings and they can change their attitudes toward sex and their enjoyment of it by actively choosing to engage because it is the right thing to do. Seeing sex as a duty helps push them toward the healthy and marriage-building option 3 instead of the very unhealthy and marriage-destroying option 1.

      1. Really good blog post, Lindsay, and great comments. Just a thought, though: sometimes women are being very badly abused in marriages to men who only use them solely for their own pleasure and harm them in doing so. So I do not feel that we should try to follow what we see as the Bible’s mandate to give to each other without withholding when one person is sinning repeatedly. Sometimes it is better for both people, if there is no repentance, attempts at change, or even attempts at understanding, to stop the activity. It’s never good to allow someone to abuse someone else. I know you were just referring to healthy marriages, but sometimes women think they are in one and just can’t figure out why sex leaves them feeling so very sad, empty and used.

  2. This is a ridiculous article because it assumes patriarchal mythologies about men having a stronger sex drive than women, or that mis-matches in sexual desire is entirely responsible by strong male sex drive. What about when men don’t feel like having sex? If we are talking about faking it, is that really where we want to build our partnership of marriage? Perhaps instead we can love with the desire to do as the first commenter said, and manage our own sexual desires on BOTH sides by pleasuring ourselves instead of mastaurbating with our partners body.

    1. No, it doesn’t assume myths about men’s sex drives. It does, however, address the most common case – which is the man having the higher sex drive. About 2/3 to 3/4 of marriages have a man with the higher drive. Of course, that means 1/4 to 1/3 of marriages have a woman with the higher drive. Those marriages are not being addressed here.

    2. I asked that question on a different blog but apparently to the commenters i was just trolling and being a distraction. Men do have a slightly higher sex drive than women but they are some men who are either asexual or just have a lower sex drive, but it like most men (not all) do not want to acknowledge that fact.

  3. At least two comments have mentioned men with lower sex drives. Obviously this post is directed more at women who statistically have lower sex drives than their husbands so bringing up these men seems off topic and somewhat pointless and i don’t know what point you’re trying to make.
    With that said, 1 Cor 7:3 states that “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” Spare me the ‘patriarchy’ bullcrap. Even the patriarchal Jews and early Christians recognized that women had sexual desires, enjoyed sex, and deserved conjugal rights in marriage the same as men. They knew that sometimes wives wanted some even if the husband ‘wasn’t in the mood.’ They still thought it was morally wrong to deprive her of her conjugal rights! It is just as much the husband’s duty to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs as vice versa.
    So if you bring up men with lower sex drives than their wives this post applies to them as well.

  4. Wow, I can’t remotely relate to this. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing.

    For single Christians, sexual frustration is one of the most unbearable aspects. (I think loneliness in general would be #1, but only by a small margin.)

    You mean there are married people who never have struggle with this because they can have sex anytime they want… but they CHOOSE not to?


    1. I’m with you. I’m a single Christian who also has never had sex. Really not sure what spouses who withhold sex from someone they promised to love are thinking. It seems like a huge thing that has many positive benefits, and keeps the unity of the relationship strong.

    2. I am married and I love to make love to my wife. It is unbelievable to me that she is ever not in the mood. She is giving up a great gift from God.
      I thank God, every time I get to make love to my wife.

  5. my wife and I are lucky to have sexual intimacy of any kind once a month (twice on rare occasion). I’ve tried everything I could think of to let her know that I really desire to be with her, not just on a carnal level but because of the indescribable feeling of closeness, vulnerability and love shared during times of intimacy.

    I make sure to cook dinner every night, keep the house orderly and take care of our daughter as much as possible, as to make sure she isn’t feeling overwhelmed. I have tried communicating to her that I don’t feel we are intimate enough. She always ends up making me feel like I’m being a sexual deviant, demanding things that are not to be expected. I feel it is my duty to just deal with it and not complain, and I usually do but recently things have changed and I’m worried for the worst.

    My wife came to me and said her friend invited her to a “sex-toy” party. Before we could discuss it she said she was going. Now, the fact that we are intimate as infrequently as we are would tell me that she is going to this “party” to get something for her to use, by herself. I tried being direct with her and asking if this was the case and she became defensive.

    We are going on more than two months of nearly complete absence of any physical affection, of any kind, and her decision to attend such an event has basically destroyed any desire I had to be close to her. I feel like I’m losing my wife and it’s all to do with intimacy. I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m being too sensitive, feelings of inadequacy and resentment. I’m sorry if this post is off topic, but husband-based support groups are hard to come by, especially ones for people in the U.S. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I am sorry to hear about this, but the sex-toy part may provide an opportunity to have it out. What if you told her you would rather look at porn than be intimate with her? Her sex life should be you, not a toy. If she were to go to this party without your approval is itself desecrating the marriage bond. I wonder if you can get help through a counselor/psychologist/pastor who also knows your wife.

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