This post is the second part of its title. To catch up on the discussion, see part 1.
I see four glaring red lights flashing in Jasmine’s story, three things that we, the Body of Christ Himself, need to take into consideration if we are to prove ourselves effective and not crippled.
1. Autonomy does not disappear when two people marry.
2. Ability and desire do not equate requirement.
3. Objectification is dehumanisation, and has no place in the church of God.
4. The unity of Jesus and his bride is not expressed in a marriage that revolves around gender inequality.
I am including bible verses that could have been shortened. I kept them in context because context is so important. Please go read the chapters and books from which these verses are taken, too. Don’t rely on me. Don’t rely on anyone who quotes the bible. Check it. Bold type is my own addition.
In part one I asked, how does a woman’s libido, a very personal matter, become a man’s pleasure or problem? The story I told wasn’t an instance of being married and sharing everything, nor was it a rebellion against two becoming one. This was, quite simply, Jasmine’s being assumed to be the object of Aladdin’s sexual need fulfilment.
I feel almost silly spelling this out, because it appears so obvious to me. And yet, plainly, it isn’t obvious to everyone: Bodily autonomy, even spiritual autonomy, does not disappear when two people marry. Marriage is a union, yes, and we talk about two becoming one, but it seems rather obvious that two do not literally become one. Although there is an entwining of lifestyle, habit, rational tendencies, there are still two individuals involved in a marriage. Two individuals with individual interests, processes of thinking, habits, tolerances, abilities, and desires.
There is [now no distinction in regard to salvation] neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you [who believe] are all one in Christ Jesus [no one can claim a spiritual superiority].
There is one body [of believers] and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when called [to salvation]— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is [sovereign] over all and [working] through all and [living] in all.
1 Corinthians 3:11-17
For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will be clearly shown [for what it is]; for the day [of judgment] will disclose it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality and character and worth of each person’s work. If any person’s work which he has built [on this foundation, that is, any outcome of his effort] remains [and survives this test], he will receive a reward. But if any person’s work is burned up [by the test], he will suffer the loss [of his reward]; yet he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has barely escaped] through fire. Do you not know and understand that you [the church] are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells [permanently] in you [collectively and individually]? If anyone destroys the temple of God [corrupting it with false doctrine], God will destroy the destroyer; for the temple of God is holy (sacred), and that is what you are.
Once again stating what you already know, there are differences between male and female humans. There are some physiological differences that cannot be ignored, such as I pointed out in part 1. But the bible clearly says that salvation is equal, and there is not a spiritual superiority between male and female. We are each accountable to God for our lives. We are each to be presented by Christ to the Father as spotless and pure because of Jesus’ blood. There is no clause for married women that allows us to sign over our spiritual autonomy to our husbands, nor anything that suddenly drops the weight of two souls on a man’s shoulders come wedding day. Men, you are acquitted from bearing spiritual responsibility for your wives. You are as much the Bride of Christ as your female counterparts.
But then here’s the follow-up issue. Point two. Ability and desire do not equate requirement.
1 Corinthians 7:4-6 AMP
The wife does not have [exclusive] authority over her own body, but the husband shares with her; and likewise the husband does not have [exclusive] authority over his body, but the wife shares with him. Do not deprive each other [of marital rights], except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves [unhindered] to prayer, but come together again so that Satan will not tempt you [to sin] because of your lack of self-control. But I am saying this as a concession, not as a command.
And the same passage in the Message, for the beauty of the modern phrasing:
Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations? Certainly—but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I’m not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence—only providing my best counsel if you should choose them.
The relationship between two people who have bonded their lives in faith and fidelity before God is not a simple thing to describe. Sex changes things. It is mysteriously one of the most intimate parts of a person’s self, their sexuality, and to share that part with someone else involves a peculiar blend of vulnerability and confidence.
I have in the past written about sexual needs of men. I’ve talked about how men are more visually stimulated, and women more relationship-focused. To quote myself,
“For guys, sex is more than just relationship. It is something they need for a physical outlet. Working out, running marathons or doing martial arts or lifting weights, can give abstaining or deprived men a physical release of sorts to help stave off and control the libido. But actual sex, my husband says, is more substantial than a workout. If you go without for long enough, the cravings will subside, but nothing is going to satisfy the body of a man as much as actually indulging in that sexual release.
“On the other hand, women place high value in relationship. Yes, there are exceptions out there. The TV show, ‘Sex and the City’, was very good at portraying certain women as only chasing man-tail for sexual release of their own, not seeking the relationship at all. On the whole, though, a woman engages in sex only after she feels there is value to the relationship and it is worth her further investment.”
Uh, yeah… That. Well, I don’t hold such a polarized view anymore. Rather than separating men and women, I would like to rewrite myself. It’s not “for guys”, it’s “for some people”. It’s not “women”, it’s “some people”. Sexual desire, for both men and for women, can be staved off with other physical or mental distractions, but nothing is going to sexually satisfy the body of a person as much as engaging in sexual release. It’s part of how God wired us. We’re spiritual beings; we’re also physical and sexual beings. We have deep spiritual needs that only God can fully meet, we have emotional desire for fellow human communion, and once we reach a certain developmental stage we also have desire for sex. In the same way as a person can live as a silent monk without speaking, another person can live bacon-free as a vegan, and plenty of people live without direct relationship with God, a person can live without sex. Some are better adapted to specific deprivations than others. But in a marriage, we must recognise that there are strong sexual desires for both male and for female, and that marriage is strong enough to contain them. Marriage is built to contain and purpose these desires in constructive ways. Besides God’s grace, marriage is one of the safest places in which we can truly be ourselves, admit our failings, celebrate our strengths, and share our wants.
1 Corinthians 7 is all about mutuality. Mutual consent for abstinence. Mutual submission. Mutual seeking to satisfy each other. “Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.”
Sometimes this goes wrong. We are sinful beings who tend to focus on self and our own wants and perceived needs, placing them above those of other people. Our marriage partners, being those to whom we are most closely bound, can receive the brunt of our selfishnesses in some catastrophic ways that more distanced people would never receive or endure. But whether married or not, consent is always key in matters of sexual intimacy. To clarify, “consent is ongoing, freely given, specific, informed, and enthusiastic”. That is, sexual consent is an ongoing and continual yes, which is specific to and made in full knowledge of the act in question, and given in free will without coercion or pressure of any kind. Anything less than full consent is a no. Anything less than full consent is rape or molestation. And yes, such ugly things do happen in marriages.
Susan Anonymous was raped as a teen, and a large part of the reason she was vulnerable was the church’s teaching that men are the authority over women. It was Benevolent Sexism throughout her Christian upbringing that caused her to believe the male gender can be trusted to always do the right thing because they are the image of God — as if it were not all of mankind, male and female, which are made to reflect God and portray Him to the world. This fundamental idea affected her so strongly that she was made vulnerable where she should have been armed with confidence — confidence of her individuality, confidence that her body is fully hers to give or withhold, confidence that questioning a man is okay. I suspect this woman would never have been raped by a woman, that it would have stopped at molestation, because she was not taught that other women would automatically do the right thing. But she was disarmed by complementarianism, her confidence over her own body frozen and shut down, because she had been taught so well and for so long the subtle but persistent message than Male = God-ordained Authority = Will Do The Right Thing. And when he didn’t? That was a devastating reality check, to say the least. Sexual intimacy, of any kind, that is not fully consented by both parties is abuse.
This decision of marriage to serve the other, whether in bed or out, has long been abused by the historically-male-led church to ensure guys could get their rocks off and gals had to go along with it. We’ve been taught that women can lie back and think of England, resign ourselves to the baby making life, and please our husbands. We’ve been taught that women don’t enjoy or desire sex as much as men. We’ve been taught that men have stronger needs for sex. But this just isn’t true. Women are endowed with ability and desire for sex, for intimacy, for a plain old orgasm, just as much as men.
Hear me again: ability and desire do not equate requirement. My husband can wake up with an erection and be in the mood, but neither he nor I are required to have sex. I can desire closeness through sex, or pain relief through sex, and he is not required to step up. We can be on a date night, I’m just not feeling it, and I can choose to pleasure him anyway, giving him a release and forgoing my own. We can be involved in sex and a particular act or position we’ve done before isn’t working for him, and he is not required to please me by following through purely based on our history together. We operate both with mutual submission and mutual consent. I do not have exclusive authority over my own body because I have linked the entirety of my life to my husband. But I do have authority over my own body. I am still responsible for what I do with it. And I am still accountable to God the Father for the outpouring of my life’s choices, and I will be presented at the end of days to God by Jesus, not by my husband, as covered in the blood of the Lamb and made holy and acceptable in His sight.
Meet me in part 3 to explore the matters of objectification, church unity, and Ephesians chapter 5.