In our fortnightly column ‘Great Sexpectations’ the Woman Alive panel answer your questions on sex, faith and intimacy. Drop us a confidential email on firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us anything. Here, we tackle; sexual assault in marriage.
Dear Woman Alive panel,
I hope you can help me. I have tried getting help from Christian and non-Christian counsellors on this question and answers range from “it’s in the context of a loving relationship so it doesn’t worry me” to “you need to end this marriage”…
What do you do when your husband decides to sexually assault you in your sleep because you’re struggling with sexual attraction when you’re awake and have said no? And even though he’s sorry and repented, it’s eradicated any desire for him and you’re physically uncomfortable with intimacy with him now? How far do I have a right to say no when my body is my husband’s and is the aversion simply me having an unforgiving heart?
The context is that I’ve been in a Christian marriage for 15+ years and have said yes to sex every three days or so otherwise he gets irritable (much longer and emotional bullying used to start). It’s a loving marriage, with this one flaw. Sorry… there’s a question about consent, forgiveness and assault in there somewhere I guess?
My heart broke for you reading this. It sounds like you love your husband and in many ways have a great life together. I’m sorry that sex has become a huge barrier between you.
Let’s start with sexual assault - you still have the right not to consent to sex even in marriage. Sexual assault in marriage is still sexual assault. It doesn’t sound like you want to leave your husband - but know that no one has to stay in an abusive marriage. I’ve heard of too many church leaders telling women to stay with their husbands under horrific circumstances to know that Christians have gotten this wrong in the past. The Bible instructs husbands and wives to give themselves to the other - mutually. Your body isn’t his, your bodies are each others.
Sexual assault in marriage is still sexual assault.
When it comes to sex, you and your enjoyment should be his priority - not his own physical release every three days. You struggling with sexual attraction is something that will take time to work on. Open communication and a bit more romance. For a woman, sex is a build up, it’s best when she’s felt loved and cared for and romanced. Down the line, you could work on those things together and tell him what you need. But I don’t think that’s a job for right now. Right now you need to restore the trust in your marriage and feel safe again.
He can repent and that’s great. And you can forgive and that’s great. But repentence and forgiveness doesn’t take away all consequences of sin. This will still be a long road. First off, I think you would feel more secure if you knew there was no expectation on you to provide your husband with sex for a while. That could give you the breathing space to pray and fast and work out the best way to rebuild. This is a biblical practice suggested by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5. It sounds like the pressure you’re feeling is suffocating you. I would explain to your husband that you would like to agree on a break for a month or two so you can focus on your relationship and not on the bedroom. Incredible sex is the fruit of a loving and secure marriage so I really suggest getting the foundations back in place.
Repentence and forgiveness doesn’t take away all consequences of sin.
Next I would go to a couple’s counsellor and tell them everything. Communicate really clearly about how you feel and how you would like to feel. Hopefully they will be able to help you carve a path from one to the other.
And finally, thank you for trusting us with your question. I think you have bravery and strength you don’t even realise you have. We’re praying for you and truly believe that God has something great for you both as an individual and as a couple on the other side of this.
Our Great Sexpectations column is written by a number of different contributors who make up the Woman Alive panel.