Sexual Consent in Marriage: Do You Have It?
Do you experience real sexual consent in your marriage?
Sexual consent in marriage or a relationship takes on a very gray hue compared to the traditional views of sexual assault.
It should not, however, be surprising that walking down the aisle does not give your husband blanket consent to have sex with you at any time. No still means no.
Sex should be enjoyable for both parties! That’s the whole point, right? (With the obvious exception of procreation.) Marriage starts out (usually) because you love each other. Sexual intimacy takes things to another level. But what happens when one partner isn’t in the mood?
In any long-term relationship, there will be times when one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t. It’s part of the natural rhythm of life. A loving relationship has something called sexual communal strength, which is each person’s motivation to meet their partner’s sexual needs. Sometimes, the person who isn’t in the mood delights in seeing their partner happy by meeting their needs, so they oblige because they too gain pleasure. This is still a mutually beneficial situation.
Unfortunately, sometimes this can turn negative. We enter the territory of unmitigated communion when coercion is involved or when a person ignores their own needs. Those mutual benefits are missing! As you can imagine, this can lead down a slippery slope of dissatisfaction, resentment, and negativity. (And yes, marital rape.)
Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a non-physical way.
That means that using guilt, continually asking after being told no, yelling, calling names, and threatening to withhold something else from you if you don’t submit are all acts of non-consensual sex that toe (and often cross) the line of rape. Yes, even in marriage.
Forced consent via coercion is not consent.
Lack of consent while you are sleeping or drunk is not consent either.
Legitimate consent is the presence of an enthusiastic “yes” (verbal or non-verbal) without manipulation, threats, or mind games. The simple absence of “no” is not enough.
“Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with have expressed, quite reluctantly, that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been raped. And these women aren’t an anomaly. One study reported that nearly one in three women has experienced sexual violence within an intimate relationship.” -Hera Hussein, founder of chayn.co
One Woman’s Story
An anonymous reader sent me her story:
“After the drinking began, this part of our relationship began to go downhill. I disliked being close to him more and more. His actions annoyed me, his breath disgusted me, and his constant hounding made sex even less desirable.
I would say no. I would say I was too tired. I would use the kids as an excuse, anything to avoid a fight or him getting angry.
At first, I wanted to protect his feelings. I would oblige as often as I could bear, but I would spend the entire time just hoping and praying one of the kids would start to cry. Often they did which was always a huge relief!
Over the years it got worse. Every pop of a beer can, every drunken sway was another nail in the coffin our relationship in general, never mind in the bedroom.
But he never saw that. He saw a spiteful, cold woman who didn’t desire him.
I saw in him a selfish, addicted man who put himself before all others.
I would eventually give in to avoid the badgering and fighting. It was often easier to submit and just get it over with.
I shuddered at his touch at least half the time. I can’t say I never got any enjoyment out of it, of course. There were some decent times over the years but it got harder as time went on. I couldn’t always escape in my mind enough to give in to the moment. I would imagine I was with other men. A few of my favorite TV characters got me through the nights over the years.
Sometimes he’d notice and give up. Usually, he didn’t.”
Was that really consent?
Was saying “no” the first five times in an evening but eventually giving in consent? Was saying “fine” or “I guess” truly consent? What about saying nothing? What about drawing back when he touched her?
Was this really enjoyable for him? How could a man who insisted he loved her treat her in this way and be perfectly ok with it?”
And she’s not alone.
Sexual Assault in Marriage
Researchers estimate that 10 to 14 percent of married or formerly married women have experienced at least one forced sexual assault by a husband or ex, according to the National Online Research Center on Violence Against Women. That’s staggering!
Why might it be this way, you wonder? For starters, marital rape wasn’t even a crime in all 50 states until 1993. That means that until then, women were still treated more like property than free citizens. In the United States. In a lot of our lifetimes, or at least our parents’.
And still it continues, not just in gen X or Y, but millennials too, even though we grew up in a changing world that appeared to set women free.
There is something fundamentally wrong, in my opinion, with a culture that essentially allows this to go on still. How is it ok to coerce someone into the most intimate act between two people? And even more disturbing is: why would someone want to have sex with an unwilling “partner”?
I’ve heard stories from many women of sexual manipulation and coercion.
“With my ex, no wasn’t an option he accepted often. Woke up to him on top of me more times than I can count.”
“I was guilted all the time and made to do things I wasn’t comfortable with because I didn’t want him going somewhere else to get his needs met. He did anyway though.”
“You can’t deny me the right…”
“If you don’t, I will…”
“Since I have to beg for sex you’ll see how it feels to beg for something that you need.”
“If you won’t have sex with me, I’ll find someone who will.”
“He refused to pull out so he could get me pregnant.”
The back rubs that could never just be.
The constant insistence where you just finally give in to make it all stop.
Giving in is not the same as giving consent.
Drawing the Line
“I recall the day I finally said NO, forcefully, and with confidence.
And I told him I wasn’t doing it anymore.
We’d been trying to save our marriage. He’d gotten sober to appease me once he realized I had one foot out the door, but none of it felt genuine or real.
I had given in unwillingly for years and years and completely disrespected myself in the process. I needed space to help me think straight.
You see, I still wondered if it was my fault. If there was something I had to change inside me…could change inside me…that would make me want him and love him again.
Months later he tried to make things better by sending me several links to articles that tried to imply what a horrible human I was for not having sex. They included such gems as “letting Satan into our relationship” and that “God was crying” over it. (His addiction had nothing to do with any of this, of course.) He made it clear that he was unwilling to let me try to heal at my own pace, and that he was seeing my harnessing of my power as a betrayal to him rather than something I owed myself.
I had always thought that his nastiness over sex was more related to his drunkenness but it wasn’t — he actually meant it. No matter how much I tried to get past the barrier and negative association I had with him and sex it was all about his comfort and not mine in the end.
He couldn’t accept that when I set a boundary of no sex while I sorted out the future of our marriage that it was his fault. He tried to use guilt, religion, obligation, anger, and more to make me change my mind.
In the end, the only way for me to break my chains was to set myself free.”
What can you do?
First of all, if you are in a marriage where your consent is not important, you are not alone. And you don’t have to figure out what to do alone. At the very least, a good couple’s therapist could be in order if you want to try to salvage the relationship.
It may be that leaving is your best option. For example, if your husband is not willing to take responsibility for the emotional and physical pain he has been inflicting (or worse believes he is entitled to it and has done nothing wrong at all) then the relationship probably isn’t worth saving.
Yes, even if you have kids. What kind of example are you setting for them of how a relationship should be? What would you want your daughter to do in this situation?
You and your mental and emotional health are important. You are worthy of more than this. You deserve better!
I know it’s scary, trust me. I’ve been there. Making the decision to leave is the single most difficult decision I ever made but I never once regretted it for a second.
Women’s support centers and domestic violence programs can help. Victims of abuse in the United States can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for support. Expert advocates are available 24/7 to talk confidentially to anyone about their relationship and where to find further information.