Undead sexist cliche: Wives are obligated to make love to their husbands

(As I’m writing an upbeat Thanksgiving post for tomorrow, here’s the political post that would have appeared on a regular Thursday).

“Why do we assume that it is terribly irresponsible for a man to refuse to go to work because he is not in the mood, but a woman can — indeed, ought to — refuse sex because she is not in the mood?” was an insight from right-winger Dennis Prager some years ago. In other words, having sex with him is her job, her responsibility — how dare she shirk it just because she isn’t feeling the urge. It’s the fault of those stupid baby boomers prioritizing their fragile fee-fees, leading to the ridiculous idea that “the only right time for a wife to have sex with her husband is when she feels like having it.”

That actually seems reasonable to me, though of course I am one of those Boomers who cares about feelings. I actually think neither man nor woman is obligated to put out when they don’t want to ever. As Jezebel points out, a woman might have very good reasons for not feeling like sex: her husband cheats, he’s an abusive drunk, there’s no money for the bills, he’s flushed her birth control down the toilet. Or she’s spent the day working, then provided child-care and cooking after getting off work and she’s just too tired. No, I don’t think “just lie there” is the best solution.

According to Prager (quoted at Jezebel), men see women having sex with them as proof of love; fell0w right-wing misogynist D.C. McAllister takes the reverse view, that men use sex to show their own love but she likewise concludes that women must therefore forget their own wants and focus on the man’s because that’s what love is, sacrifice! The idea that this works in reverse — don’t demand sex from someone who’s not in the mood — doesn’t occur to her.

I don’t agree with Jezebel that this proves Prager’s pro-marital rape — saying a wife is obligated isn’t the same as saying the husband has a right to force her (though it wouldn’t shock me if I were wrong). However pressuring someone who’s not into it (“Prove that you love me.”) is still unpleasant, and  the idea anyone is ever duty bound to put out is bullshit (though Jesus and John Wayne showed it’s a common one on the right).

It’s also a recipe for lousy sex. If a wife assumes that having sex when you don’t want it and don’t enjoy it is normal, she has little reason to become enthused, or to explore what would feel good. If she just lies there and thinks of England, the husband may never know she’s not satisfied. But as Rebecca Traister says, that’s not surprising in a society where women’s pleasure is disposable: “Male climax remains the accepted finish of hetero encounters; a woman’s orgasm is still the elusive, optional bonus round.” If the sex is unwanted, uncomfortable or painful, well that’s just the way it is for women. No big.

Prager goes on that compared to women “men’s sexual nature is far closer to that of animals. So what? That is the way he is made. Blame God and nature. Telling your husband to control it is a fine idea. But he already does. Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual natures desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much.”

This is another common view (writer Tracy McMillan made it some years ago) but it ignores that women also give up their option to take other lovers when they enter a monogamous relationship. Prager apparently thinks they wouldn’t do that because women aren’t animals like their men. But biologically a human male is closer to a human female than to any other living creature. And the question arises, which animals is Prager thinking of? Lots of animals only have sex when the female comes into heat. A few animals apparently mate for life. No animal (as far as I know) follows the common human pattern of outward monogamy/covert cheating.

And providing sex is not the equivalent of the husband’s job.

I write more about sex and related topics in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.

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