On my nightly walks through the neighborhood, I have a habit of stopping at any Little Free Library that I see on the path. Little Free Libraries are mini-structures that individuals can place on their property tostock with books for a relaxed neighborhood book exchange. To date, there are more than 90,000 registered Little Free Libraries.
Last week, I came across a book about being the “wife of his dreams.” The cover promised that the reader would learn about the seven characteristics that every man wants in a wife, including physical intimacy. It was clearly Christian-based as it received praiseworthy reviews from prominent Christian authors and leaders. Curiosity got the best of me and I took the book home so that I could read the author’s perspective on a sexually fulfilling marriage.
I almost wish I hadn’t. That evening I found myself reading about a very odd exchange between an angel and God about what sex is like between a man and a woman. It was written in such a way that I half-expected it to be a joke. The whole exchange seemed to be written as an SNL skit, yet it was dead serious.
After the infantilizing exchange, the author emphasized the importance of wives having sex with their husbands as much as possible. According to the author’s survey of “hundreds” of Christian men, sex was one of the top—if not the top—priority in a marriage. In fact, many of the respondents said if their wives gave him sex whenever he wanted, that he would do anything for her.
The author agreed with these responses and emphasized that if a wife refuses to have sex with her husband, the wife should not be surprised when the husband does not communicate with her or help around the house. Shockingly, the author said that the wife should even be prepared for him to cheat since the wife is leading him to temptation and “opening the door to Satan.” Furthermore, when a woman says “I do” at the altar, she really means she’s saying “I will ” in the bedroom. The author even describes denying your husband sex as denying food from a starving child!
One survey respondent said that he wished his wife realized that “meeting my sexual needs is like putting money in the bank.” I found this to be an odd response for the author to highlight as she condemns sex workers by saying that “a prositute sells sex for favors, not a wife.” And yet I’m struggling to find the difference between having sex for cold, hard cash and having sex so that your husband will continue to provide for you. Talk about a Madonna-Whore Complex. (Oh and the wife’s sexual needs? There is nary a word. In fact, none of the survey respondents talked about wanting to make their wife happy in bed).
Sigh. Where to begin? First of all, I find it fascinating that the author and this brand of Christian-based marriage counseling seems comfortable with the fact that men are apparently so weak that they will abandon their wives, families, and households if they are turned down for sex. That strikes me as offensive and dehumanizing. But it also allows the men to be held unaccountable for their actions. Such vile behavior can be blamed on the wife for not attending to his sexual needs at his beck and call. Lastly, I find it baffling that such weak men who are so quick to turn on their loved ones are also the ones that God supposedly entrusted to be the leaders of our homes, families and societies? What a major disconnect!
And while I didn’t expect to ascribe to anything that the author had to say about sexual relations in a marriage, I did find a point in which we both agreed. In one section the author quoted 1 Corinthians: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.”
You see, nearly three years ago, I won second place in the Brian Bolton Contest with the Freedom From Religion Foundation for describing the connection between the bible and anti-abortion legislation. Quoting 1 Corithians, I explained that the notion that “you are not your own” justifies the subjugation of women—not just in marriage, but in legislation. I mentioned conservatives like Rick Santorum and Richard Mourdock who say that women should “accept what God has given” and that pregnancy from rape or incest “is something that God intended to happen.”
We are seeing that play out right now. To be sure, the Religious Right has been stripping away abortion rights from the most marginalized of people for decades. But for the first time in 50 years, we are witnessing the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Should this happen, abortion will become a “state’s rights” issue, with about half the states ready or already banning abortion care. The only organized anti-abortion movement in the United States is by religious extremists. And they use biblical scripture like 1 Corinthians to prop up their agenda.
When I put the book down, I was left with a feeling of sadness. The truth is that while it may be easy to ridicule this book for its antiquated and dangerous ideas about gender roles, sex, and marriage, this book isn’t the problem. The problem is harmful patriarchal ideologies that permeate our society, largely because of organized religion, which treats women like second-class citizens. As an atheist, I may scoff at this book. But, as a woman, I am subjected to its teachings every single day. I see this in the form of rape culture, the erosion of reproductive rights, and social and economic inequalities. And in that respect, the bible is right. Women are not their own. Not right now. But I’m hopeful that we will one day. And I hope that day is sooner than we think.