A bit ago, I wrote a piece challenging Michelle Duggar’s advice to her newlywed daughter about how to be sure to always be ready for sex.
“And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels. ‘I’m still here for you and I’m going to meet that need because I know it’s a need for you.’ ” (emphasis mine)
That advice, in my opinion, makes men out to need sex to such a degree that the lack of it will lead to bad things like porn and adultery. Sex is treated as the glue that holds fragile men in the marriage and the lack of it kills the marriage because men can’t function without it.
Interestingly, comments on that blog and other social media, by women, suggested that indeed sex is a need, not just a want.
Now, I just read a piece by a not-surprisingly anonymous blogger entitled, “How a husband can enjoy sex that is grudgingly given by his wife,” which argues much the same thing. While there are a million things wrong with his post, I only want to highlight the “need” language used in it. When illustrating how a wife might be allowed to (rarely) turn down her husband’s request for sex, he suggests she use this line with him,
“Honey, I know you really need it, but I am just really sick tonight, can I make it up to you tomorrow?” (bold mine)
And when he talks about the problem of the wife not wanting sex the way the husband wants,
But then we have the conundrum, women don’t always feel like having sex. Even women that have a healthy view of sex don’t always feel like having sex as much as their husbands do. (emphasis his)
One could argue that for some this is true, some men feel greater sexual desire than do their wives. But it is only a conundrum if such feelings/desires for sex are evidence of some innate need that if not met will lead to trouble.
Maybe from this quote you are not sure that this blogger believes sex is a need for men. Well, he also believes it is a need for women as well,
You need to realize that this is a physical need that you have as a man. You also need to realize that whether your wife knows it or not she needs to have sex too. Your marriage needs sex at regular intervals. If you don’t have sex with your wife at regular intervals, even sometimes when she is not in the mood but consents anyway, you will open yourself to temptation. You will find yourself becoming distant from your wife, because this is the primary way that you as man feel closeness with your wife.
But even if you realize and accept this truth that you need sex and it needs to happen even if your wife refuses to “fake it” and bury her wrong attitude then what?
What is probably most controversial in this blog is that he advises men to go ahead with sex when a wife is giving sex in a grudging way. He recommends that a husband not look at his wife’s face but focus on her body. You see, sex is such a need, it would be best to just muscle through it, don’t look at her face, so you can fulfill that need. Really!
Is it a need? Is it a want?
So is sex a need? Even if you believe it is a duty to provide sex to your spouse, does that make it a need equivalent to, “if I don’t get oxygen, I will die”? Will the absence of it lead to bad things? It seems that some have bought into this little formula: SEXUAL DESIRE = NEED. UNMET NEED = DANGER that will lead to temptation, straying, or some such pathology.
What do we do with single men who want to be married? Is God unkind to them?
I think our troubles begin this way: We often baptize desires as needs, expect needs to be fulfilled, are angry when they are not, make demands of others to fulfill our wants and excuse ourselves when we use illicit means to get what we want (either by outright force, manipulation, or secrecy).
Notice here the author conflates desire with need. Yes, many men and women desire sexual activity. We are designed for it so it is not surprising when we like it and want more of it. But it is also designed to be used to connect us with our spouses. And when it is used to only fulfill one person’s needs, then it is not being used as designed.
And when we see it as a need, we are encouraging men to see themselves as weak and incapable of living without sex.
Further, arguing backwards does not make it a need. For example, you could show that those in sexless marriages are more likely to cheat (example; I don’t know if this is true or not). This information still does not make sex a need. At best it can only tell us it is a powerful want.
Consider for a minute how we might respond to these two different equations:
- Sex as basic need + unmet need = ???
- Sex as powerful want + unmet want = ???
How would you conclude these two equations? The first is more likely to focus on ensuring the spouse is not selfishly withholding such a basic need. The second is more likely to be concluded by addressing the one who has the want and how they plan to address that want.
A Better Equation
Maybe this is a more accurate equation: Sex as a powerful want + partially unmet wants + brokenness (bodies, relationships, desires) = grief over losses + opportunity to rely on Holy Spirit + pursuit of loving our spouses more than ourselves. This equation better acknowledges wants, sadness the happens when wants are not met, the reality of broken wants and broken bodies but also points to a better goal of reliance on God and the focus of love more than getting something.
It is painful to have unmet wants/desires. Those desires do not have to be wrong (though we are never fully right either). But our wants are always given to God and made secondary to our command to love the other well. Yes, part of loving the other may be talking about desires and hurts. But surely let us get rid of the idea that failing to have sex leaves men or women in some greater danger than those who have sex as much as they want.