Category Archives: Current Issues in Sexuality

On “Pigs,” Good Men, and the Difference

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times in this era of #MeToo: There are many good and godly men out there.

Unfortunately, guys, some of your gender have done such a terrible job representing that various women wonder at times whether all men are pigs. Or at least a high majority of men.

Blog post title + four pigs mucking about in a muddy spot within a field

Apparently it seems that you could stand in Hollywood, Corporate America, or Capitol Hill; yell, “Pig!”; and within earshot there would be a sexual harasser or assaulter who deserves the epithet. Our human tendency is to notice what’s askew in our environment rather than what’s normal, so we can end up focusing so much on the stink of the sty in our noses rather than the aroma of goodness from all the other men in our presence.

I know this is true, because when I walked out of the movie Blade Runner 2049, I was really glad my husband was walking beside me as a reminder of honorable masculinity. Otherwise, I might have fallen prey to a general rant about “men!” with a disgusted snort every minute or so.

Now I rarely see R-rated movies anymore. I just don’t want to be bombarded by all the filth along with the other stuff. So maybe this is the new standard, but the amount of female nudity shown in close-up was utterly appalling to me. It was not done in a particularly titillating way; however, it was as if they thought nothing whatsoever of saying to an actress, or rather several actresses, “Hey, strip down, and we’re going to show off your body.” And there was no story reason why private parts had to be shown. Every single point they wanted to make could have been made with strategic hints and better filming.

I emerged from the darkness of the theater with my muscles clenched, nausea in my stomach, and my head reeling. I went off for a full three minutes or so—bless my patient husband—about how the film was written by men, directed by a man, had starring roles for men, and what did they do? They treated women like sex objects, to be displayed and used in whatever way the men wanted.

Yes, the actresses went along with it, and that does not make me happy. Plenty of times I’ve wanted to say to some woman, “Please stop! Your willingness to be treated purely as a sex object makes things worse for the rest of us.”

And in a world that consumes porn like air, I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked by a flesh-filled, R-rated film. But I’m still regularly shocked by blatant mistreatment of women.

I'm still regularly shocked by blatant mistreatment of women. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, too many “pigs” exist, who belittle women as little more than a collection of sexual body parts. Who watch porn daily with no remorse, who argue with me on my blog or Facebook that lusting after women is just what men do, who harass and assault women for their own jollies, who blame women for their willingness to go along with the sex object fantasy, who expect their own wives to be their personal porn star. Yeah, there are plenty of men mucking around in the mud of the pen.

But like I said, I walked out of that theater with my good and godly husband. So I kept my post-movie rant directed at the “pigs” out there, not men in general.

I am blessed to have amazing men in my life! My husband and my sons don’t treat women poorly. I have male friends who are upstanding husbands and fathers and spiritual leaders, for whom respect of women is given. And many men out there are just as bothered by sexual harassers and assaulters as many of us women are.

Have these men never struggled with lust? Have they have never responded viscerally to an unclad woman on screen? Has porn never been an issue for them? No, some have struggled with these issues. But they have overcome or continue to improve, because they get it — they understand that the difference between a “pig” and a good man is this:

“Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?'” (Luke 7:44)

Jesus knew Simon literally saw the woman. Before this verse comes this passage:

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39).

Jesus is asking if Simon really sees her—sees beyond the “kind of woman she is” to the woman God created her to be. Does Simon really see the person there? A person who deserves, just by being made in the image of God, to be treated with gentleness and respect.

Good men use their unique gifts to protect women, as Jesus spoke up for this woman in the presence of other men. Good men really see the women they interact with.

As I once said to my son, “Look, I get it: Women have very interesting parts. But remember that they are more than their parts.”

Want to stay out of the pig pen? Treat women like Jesus did. You can find some great examples in these passages:

Mark 5:24-34
Luke 10:38-42
John 4:1-26
Luke 7:36-50

And if you’re ever struggling, men, ask yourself Jesus’s question: Do you see this woman? 

Q&A with J: What about All the Sexual Misconduct Allegations?

Last week, I answered a specific question posed by a reader about sexual misconduct and modesty, and how they might or might not relate. Not surprisingly, there was some disagreement in the comments section. A few times, I found myself defending against charges that I wasn’t siding with victims. Which, for those who’ve been around me lately, was surprising — I’ve been ranting quite a bit to people I know personally about how thrilled I am with this whole #MeToo movement.

In hindsight, I probably should have explained my whole take on the situation before answering last week’s question, so when a related question landed in my inbox, I decided it was worth tackling:

I was writing to ask just now about your thoughts on the plethora of sex abuse allegations….

Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?

… I get the feeling that distrust of men has escalated with each new report or allegation. Not that I have been accused of anything even verbally. It’s more a sense of malaise taken to a new level.

I have a LOT of thoughts about the plethora of sex abuse allegations. How much time do you have?

Since you probably have other things to do than read a thesis-length treatise on sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, I’ll keep my thoughts to the highlights and trust readers to understand that I cannot cover every aspect of this topic in a single blog post.

Blog post title + man covering face with hand and many fingers pointing at him in accusation

In short, I’m 100% behind victims coming forward and telling their stories, others believing and taking them seriously, and harassers and assaulters paying a price for their inexcusable behavior.

As someone who advocates for sex in marriage by God’s design, I’ve been involved in many discussions, read many resources, and heard many stories about where married couples are sexually. And I know with absolute certainty that spouses who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused have a more difficult time embracing God’s gift of intimacy.

Spouses who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused have a much more difficult time embracing God's gift of intimacy. Click To Tweet

But I want to look at this issue biblically, so let’s take two stories from the Bible that deal with this topic.

Joseph. After being sold by his brothers into slavery, Joseph was taken to the home of an Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Then Genesis 39:7-12 tells us:

And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

Definitely sexual harassment.

Now, Joseph didn’t report her actions. As a slave, to whom would he have complained? Who would have believed him? Indeed, we find out that, despite being promoted to a high position in Potiphar’s household, he wasn’t believed when Potiphar’s wife claimed that Joseph was the one doing the harassing. Instead, he was thrown into prison, where he remained for more than two years.

Yes, God redeemed that situation (see Genesis 50:20), but sexual harassment wasn’t God’s doing. It was an injustice done to Joseph.

Tamar. Tamar was King David’s daughter by one wife, while Amnon was his son by another. Amnon declared that “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister,” but it wasn’t love. Rather, “Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.”

Just think about that: He was upset because he thought he couldn’t “do anything to her” — a completely selfish perspective. Yet he did do something: He pretended to be ill and asked for food to be brought to him by Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:7-14 explains:

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

“No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Amnon used deceit, verbal pressure, and finally his physical strength to sexually assault her. Then Amnon’s obsession turned to hatred, and he threw Tamar out.

Later, verse 21 says, “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” That’s it. Their father, the king, was furious, but he did nothing. Nothing whatsoever! The outcome was that an even more furious Absalom determined to get rid of both his brother and his father, thus becoming a thorn in the kingdom for several years. And Tamar? She lived out her days in her brother’s home, feeling utterly ruined.

What if the people around Joseph and Tamar had responded differently? What if Potiphar’s wife had been caught harassing him and Potiphar had sided with his servant instead? What if King David had held his predator son responsible for his sin against Tamar?

God worked His sovereign plan in spite of these bad events. But these incidents took a toll on their victims.

If these events happened today, what side would we be on? How might we intervene? And what does our answer tell us about how we should respond to the current slew of sexual misconduct allegations?

1. We cannot ignore sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Ignoring what’s happened won’t make it go away (just ask King David), and we need to be squarely on the side of the victims.

This problem didn’t just start happening. It happened to Joseph and Tamar thousands of years ago. And it’s happened throughout history in various ways. Sometimes, the misconduct was more overt, sometimes more secret … but it’s always been with us.

What’s new is the public airing of accusations, spurred on by the #MeToo movement that began with stories about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a man who was clearly disliked by many. But as I write this, the most recent powerful man to face consequences for sexual harassment is Matt Lauer, a TV anchor long beloved by his audience. You see, perpetrators run the gamut of people we might have known to be bad to people we really thought were good.

But sin that is obvious and sin that isn’t aren’t different to God. He sees it all.

Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord(Jeremiah 23:24)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

We have to be willing to believe accusations, whether the sinfulness comes from someone we expected it from or someone we didn’t. Yet in the wake of many revelations, some people don’t want to believe certain allegations despite credible witnesses and corroborating evidence.

Let’s face it: To each story, we bring personal baggage, prejudices, and politics. But we have to intentionally set those aside and let our Christianity outweigh our biases or longings for truth to go one way or another.

Consider that Potiphar wanted to believe his wife. So he did. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t a sexual harasser. Let’s not make the same mistake.

2. False accusations will also happen. Among the many credible victims, there will be some opportunists who make up allegations. Joseph was wrongly accused of being a sexual harasser, and it cost him dearly. Being labeled a sexual harasser, assaulter, or abuser can carry serious negative consequences, especially in our current climate.

It’s terrible when resources and good will are wasted by the deceit of someone claiming a violation or crime that never happened. For example, if law enforcement are tied up investigating a fabricated “rape,” that’s less time they have to spend investigating a real rape. Not to mention the damage to the person wrongfully accused.

However, false allegations aren’t as common as one might think. I did a bit of research and took a rather skeptical approach, leaning toward “yeah, some people lie.” Even then, it’s maybe 1 in 10 accusations that are false. And false allegations tend to be personal, like an accusation of abuse that accompanies a child custody battle. When repeatedly rejected and left with Joseph’s cloak in her hand, Potiphar’s wife had a reason to lie about what happened. But most accusers don’t. What would be the payoff that’s worth the cost?

But let’s take our cues from the Bible again. You’ve probably heard about the “two witnesses” standard in the Bible:

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15).

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).

Clearly, God doesn’t want people to go down for something they didn’t do. And this is why allegations with more than one accuser, or several, are more credible. Most harassers and assaulters don’t target a single person; they repeat their misconduct.

However, it’s interesting that a few chapters later in Deuteronomy, sexual assault is dealt with this way: “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:25). In this scenario, there are no witnesses but the young woman herself — “for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her” (v. 27) — and yet she is apparently to be believed.

Regardless, Deuteronomy 19:16-19 also says:

 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.

Our responsibility is to make sure there’s a “thorough investigation.” Most allegations are not false, but an accuser could be lying and we should take that into consideration.

3. We have to draw distinctions. Joseph’s story and Tamar’s story are not the same. They were both victims who deserved compassion and justice, but Joseph getting harassed was not as bad as Tamar getting raped. In fact, despite the horrible jail time, Joseph came back, got married, and had children (Genesis 41:45, 50). Meanwhile, Tamar lived out her days with her brother Absalom, “a desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:19-20).

Some of what’s gotten lost at times in all of the current revelations is understanding that sexual misconduct exists on a continuum. We cannot lump everyone in categories of “predator” and “victim.” Yes, those are accurate labels in many ways, but equating one person’s verbal harassment with another person’s sexual assault is ignoring degrees that matter. It’s like slapping and stabbing are both violence, but we intuitively understand that the latter has a greater impact on the victim and deserves a far worse consequence for the perpetrator.

Romans 5:6 says, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’” Likewise, our treatment of the perpetrator should be equal to the crime.

That said, our treatment of sexual harassers, assaulters, and abusers has historically been unequal to their misconduct in the sense of being far too little, and the current movement to stir up tangible consequences for those who have behaved so poorly is long overdue. For the vast majority of those getting a bit of comeuppance right now, my response is “About time!”

Yet, I’m also cognizant of the need to avoid what my father referred to as “falling off the other side of the horse.” That is, when you’ve leaned too far to one side, it’s tempting to over-correct by leaning too far to the other side. I haven’t seen much of this happening yet, but we should guard against it by making truth and justice our guiding principles.

4. The antidote to bad sexuality is good sexuality. The questioner in particular asked: “Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?

I can’t speak for my readers, but I haven’t sensed anything different. What I do know is that I have no reluctance to say what’s on my mind. (Which is probably what gets me into trouble sometimes…)

But I firmly believe that the antidote to Satan’s terrible messages about sexuality is God’s truth about sexual intimacy.

The antidote to Satan's terrible messages about sexuality is God's truth about sexual intimacy. Click To Tweet

If we want a world in which fewer people sexually harass and abuse and assault others, we need to proclaim what God says about our bodies and our hearts and our sexuality. God says that we have intrinsic worth and are not to be used or abused by anyone for their power or pleasure. God says that sexual activity belongs in the covenant bond of marriage. God says sexual intimacy is to be consensual, mutual, and intimate.

When more of us understand what sex is supposed to be, as created by our Heavenly Father, we’ll be better able to spot those times when someone is behaving outside of His will. We’ll know when we’re being harassed or abused, recognize that it’s not the victim’s fault, and take steps to stop it. We’ll have courage to pursue the best of sexual intimacy and oppose the worst behavior in the sexual realm.

And yes, questioner, we’ll know it’s not all men. It’s nowhere near all men. So many good and godly men exist. For me, one of the best outcomes of the #MeToo movement has been watching my two sons, high school and college age, respond with just as much disgust at creepy men who harassed and assaulted women. They don’t understand why any man would do that.

We women would be wise to remember that, even if the men in our lives sometimes don’t fully understand all the ways in which we’ve been impacted by sexual harassment and assault, most of them would never do what the harassers/assaulters have been accused of doing. Let’s keep our perspective that too many men are behaving badly, but it’s still a small minority.

Like I said, I didn’t cover everything I could say (even though Leo Tolstoy himself would be proud of my wordiness). Perhaps you can summarize your thoughts more succinctly in the comments!

So what’s your take “on the plethora of sex abuse allegations”?

Praying for the Victims of #MeToo

On Saturdays, I’ve been posting about prayers that involve sexual intimacy in your marriage. With my recent Q&A post, and one I have planned about that issue next week, I thought it would be a good time to pause and pray for those who have experienced sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.

Blog Post Title with close-up of woman praying in background

The current wave of allegations and the many #MeToo stories have prompted our nation, and others, to take a look at the culture that has far too long overlooked, dismissed, or opposed those who have been victims of sexual mistreatment.

Sometimes I hear people say this is a recent problem, but it’s not. The Bible mentions sexual harassment and assault. For instance:

  • Dinah’s brothers took revenge on the man (and his family) who raped their sister, saying that she was “defiled” (See Genesis 34).
  • Boaz told his men not lay a hand on Ruth as she gleaned in his fields, indicating that he knew overseers used their positions to approach and even harass women. (See Ruth 2:1-9).
  • King David’s son Amnon lied to his half-sister to get her into his room (sound like any of the “come to my hotel room” harassment stories?) and then raped her. (See 2 Samuel 13:1-22).

What’s recent is the ongoing news headlines and the tangible consequences befalling perpetrators of harassment and assault.

In the wake of all this, plenty of women have felt triggered by the news, by the personal stories, by the discussions. Some have responded with anger, some with sorrow, some with numbness. Some have had to step away because bringing up the memories makes the wounds sting once again.

For all of you — in whatever way you’ve been abused, assaulted, or harassed — I want to offer a prayer.

For all of you—in whatever way you've been abused, assaulted, or harassed—I want to offer a prayer. Click To Tweet

Lord, Father,

We know it breaks Your heart when Your children mistreat Your other children. May it always break our hearts too!

In this time of #MeToo, we are like Jeremiah who proclaimed, “What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city” (Lamentations 3:51). So many women have come forward with stories of sexual  assault and harassment they endured, and it brings grief to our souls. Men too have been victims and struggle to tell their stories as well, and for them our hearts ache.

God, the sexuality that You created for good, Satan has twisted and nudged others to use for their own pleasure and their own gain. People in positions of power, financially or culturally or physically, have abused those to whom they owed honor (Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 14:7-11). At times, it seems that such people prosper without consequences, that they are getting away with mistreatment and even evil toward others.

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand” (Psalm 10:14). We commit all victims to you, the helper of the fatherless and defender of the oppressed (see Psalm 10:-13-18). 

We pray for Your justice — that You will “call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out” (v. 15). Make us Your vessels of justice, giving us the courage to speak out against oppressors and to seek justice for those wronged.

We pray for Your mercy — that You will “hear the desire of the afflicted,” “encourage them,” and “listen to their cry” (v. 17). Blanket them with Your presence. Make us Your vessels of mercy, giving us compassion to reach out to those oppressed and to provide comfort for their hurt.

We know that You understand the pain so many have gone through. High-ranking people used their power to mistreat Your one and only Son. Jesus Christ was disrespected, dishonored, and abused in so many ways. He was stripped and mocked (Matthew 27:27-29), mercilessly beaten (John 19:1-3), and crucified on a cross (Luke 23:33). Because Your Son has been there, Lord, You understand and know the pain so many have felt.

When it comes to marriage, some with #Me Too stories have brought bad feelings about sex, or even men, into their relationship. They struggle with wounds and triggers and baggage that don’t seem to go away. Lord, lift that burden! We pray that they will take Your yoke instead, the one that is easy, and thus find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). Help these victims to see Your plan for sexual intimacy and to view it as a beautiful gift. Give them Your perspective of their husbands and/or their sexuality, so that they can fully enjoy the blessings you have in store, both for them and their marriage.

For those who have assaulted and harassed, Lord, we pray that You will to prick their hearts. Show them that confession and repentance is the way to healing. Help them avoid sexual misconduct in the future and to “learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). Do not let them be deceived by the lure of power, but rather turn their hearts to showing respect and care for those in their midst.

God, make Your Church the community that can lead the way. Help us to promote the biblical command to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17), to be the light of the world and the city on a hill showing what should be (Matthew 5:14-16) in how we treat one another and those we encounter. Help us to see clearly what is happening in our midst and to take action when we should.

Your Word tells us that “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). Be ever-present in this time in our history, this “#MeToo movement,” when wrong deeds are coming to light and we as Christians have an opportunity to join the path of righteousness and justice.

And God, right now, this very moment, someone is being abused, assaulted, harassed. Give them a voice. Guide the faithful to be there to listen and to support the victim. Help us to stop these cycles as much as we can. Lord, we know that evil will be with us until You come again, but each person we can help matters to You. May every one of them matter just as much to us.

In the name of Your blessed Son, and through the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

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Q&A with J: Is Modesty an Issue with Sexual Harassment?

I can’t stop reading and listening to all that’s happening with the #MeToo movement. This is a long overdue, watershed moment, and — as someone who is fiercely concerned about justice — I’m glad to see perpetual perpetrators of harassment and assault get a bit of comeuppance. More importantly, as someone deeply concerned about mercy, I’m glad that there is a shift to seriously investigating and believing credible stories from women and men who’ve been harassed and abused.

Yes, I know among the torrent of genuine allegations, there will be opportunists who make false accusations, those who wrongly equate an inappropriate comment with sexual assault, and those who choose sides based on who’s accused rather than the evidence at hand. And that can be discouraging.

While standing up for the oppressed should unite us, unfortunately it sometimes divides us. And makes us ask exactly how to handle these situations. That’s why I was happy to see an excellent question in my inbox related to what’s been going on. Here’s what the reader asks:

When someone works in an industry that is based on sex, sensuality, and beauty is the line more blurred as to what is appropriate? I really don’t want to discredit anyone or shame them as these stories come forward but they seem so detached from the realities that most of us, who do not use our sexuality to further our careers, live in. There are cases where the line seems hard and fast, like sex with minors, but others seems very blurred. I don’t want to say that women should “stay in their place” because that is not what I mean but it does seem that when you REALLY go as far out as some actresses and models do that you are opening yourself up to issues… I do tend toward thinking that its pretty silly to ask others to treat you with respect when your behavior reflects a lack of self-respect. BUT then I also think that the people who exploit these women are a perverts worth exposing…SO, I am sure you see that my thoughts are a bit tangled!

Statue of woman covering herself with a robe + blog post title

I titled this post “Is Modesty an Issue with Sexual Harassment?” but I want us to think beyond the typical how she’s dressed aspect of modesty. Modesty isn’t just what we wear, but rather “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency” (Oxford Dictionaries).

So here’s the question: Does lack of modesty open you up to sexual harassment and/or assault? Would demonstrating modesty help us avoid sexual harassment and/or assault? Is talking about modesty in this context “victim blaming”?

Let me first be clear: Under zero circumstances does lack of modesty contribute to rape. It’s rape, people. I don’t care how much she was “asking for it” by how she was dressed or behaved. (Just writing “asking for it” nearly made me throw up — what an abhorrent concept.) I’ve heard many rape stories through the years, and in not one of them was it unclear that the victim did not want to have sex. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a gazillion times: Force is never okay with sex. Never. God’s Word plainly presents sexual intimacy as He designed as to be had within marriage and to be mutual. If someone rapes another person? That‘s all on them.

But these #MeToo stories exist on a continuum, and while rape is the far end, the continuum also includes unwanted touches, aggressive advances, and inappropriate comments. When we’re talking about harassment more than assault, is there something we women can do to discourage that behavior?

As unpopular as this might be, I believe the answer is yes. And that it’s a biblical answer.

Consider Proverbs 7, in which the father warns his son about the “adulterous woman.” When he describes that woman, she’s not behaving modestly:

  • She speaks seductively: “the wayward woman with her seductive words.”
  • She dresses wantonly: “Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.”
  • She harasses him: “She took hold of him and kissed him.”

In the end, “with persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk” (verse 21). Of course, that’s an egregious example (like I said, she thrust herself on him), but it didn’t start with her slamming her lips onto his. It began with her dress, her manner, her seduction. She was conveying a message, and the man in this example received it loud and clear.

Unfortunately, sometimes we women don’t think through or perhaps appreciate what messages we’re sending. And in some circles, “embracing my sexuality” has come to mean displaying your body in public in sexualized ways.

So I understand the confusion of today’s questioner when women are launching complaints against men for treating them like sex objects, but then you go look at what some of these women wore to, say, awards ceremonies and wonder what messages they thought they were sending. (By the way, these aren’t wardrobe choices dictated by a costume designer or movie director; I’m talking about what actresses themselves choose to wear to a work-related event.) Some women also behave provocatively, talk about their sexual desires publicly, and use their sexuality to gain advantages in the workplace.

Is it fair to blatantly use your sexuality for your own gains, but be angry when others view it as a thing to be used as well? Look, it’s not that person’s fault if a harasser doesn’t control their own thoughts or behavior, but at the same time maybe it’s not so surprising that some will abuse that situation.

Let me share a personal story. When I was in my late teens, I went dancing. At the club was a lovely young lady dancing provocatively and wearing a tight, white dress with holes up the sides that exposed her bare skin. Later while I was in the restroom, she was there telling a friend about a stranger moving his hands to her butt while they danced. She exclaimed, “What kind of girl does he think I am?” I recall thinking: You pretty much advertised the kind of girl he thinks you are.

Did her dress and movements give him a right to grope? Of course not! But two truths can exist at once:

  • The sin rests squarely on the shoulders of the sinner. (“God will repay each person according to what they have done,” Romans 2:6.)
  • Our behaviors can encourage respect or disrespect. (“In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything,” 1 Timothy 3:11. This passage is about deacons, but I think it’s true for all believers.)

Now some men would grope a woman wearing a turtle-neck potato sack. However, some do respond to cues in their environment, becoming more assertive when they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the other person is sending a welcoming message.

And through our modesty or lack thereof, we women contribute to the culture around us. And if we’re conveying that we want to be seen not merely as attractive, feminine beings, but truly as sex objects, then we’ve played some part in being treated that way.

Now this is such a fine line to walk. Even as I write this, I know I’m angering someone out there. I myself could argue with points I’ve made taken out of context. But, looking at this in a big-picture and biblical way, it comes down to this: We are each responsible for ourselves. 

I can’t make someone else behave, but I can behave in a way that (hopefully) shows I will not welcome misbehavior on their part. I can’t make someone else respect me, but I can treat myself with respect. I can’t make someone else not sin, but I can choose not to sin myself.

I can't make someone else respect me, but I can treat myself with respect. Click To Tweet

I’m not blaming any victims in the #MeToo movement. Far from it! What I do want, however, is for us to take an honest look at our culture and ask ourselves if there’s anything at all we can do to encourage less harassment and more respect.

Hey, following God’s design for sexuality, keeping the most sensual parts of ourselves inside our marriages, is a good idea anyway. And it might help.

For those who have been victims (that’s pretty much all women), you should request and expect respect. Even if you wish you’d dressed or behaved differently, it still wasn’t okay what the harasser or assaulter did. You have a right to complain and try to change the culture.

At the same time, going forward we can be fully feminine in our dress and behavior while still behaving with modesty. We should do it not merely to stop someone from thinking the wrong thing (which they might do anyway), but because it demonstrates our own self-respect.

And for those of us out here hearing and watching these stories unfold, let’s support victims. As the questioner said, it can feel tangled when you have a scantily clad actress complaining about some powerful guy coming on to her, but the first doesn’t warrant the latter. We can make a case for the benefits of modesty at the same time that we hold harassers and abusers to account for their unscrupulous and predatory behavior.

For more on the #MeToo movement, be sure to listen to our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast episode titled “Sexual Harassment #UsToo.”

Sexual Harassment

Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 4

For a whole month, I’ve been tackling sexless marriages as the primary Q&A topic, not to mention a couple of other posts:

Q&A with J: “My Sexless Marriage Is Making Me Lose My Faith in God”
Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 1
Q&A with J: How Do I Write a Post that Helps Sexless Marriages?
A Prayer for Those in Sexless Marriages
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 2
Q&A with J: What Can I Do About My Sexless Marriage? Part 3

Today, as promised, I’m providing some concrete steps of what to do to address the issue of sexlessness in your marriage. But I encourage to look back at the above posts to make sure you’re laying a foundation of trust and avoiding negative communication styles that could undermine your efforts.

Blog post title + couple in bed, turned away from each other

And let’s return to this gem: Love must underlie all your efforts. Without genuine love for your spouse, it’s all for nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won’t help your marriage.

If you do all the right things but your spouse feels manipulated, that won't help your marriage. Click To Tweet

Sure, your spouse might comply out of guilt or the seeming futility of arguing, but that short-term win will damage your relationship over the long-term. Not to mention that God isn’t impressed with a spouse getting more frequent sex merely to satisfy his or her selfishness; that’s just not the picture of sex in marriage our Creator paints. Rather, it’s one of shared, mutually satisfying intimacy.

Some of you are likely saying, “I don’t care how begrudging the sex is right now; I just need some sex.” Oh, how I ache for you! But I stand by the belief that it’s worth pursuing higher, long-term goals so that you and your spouse can have the physical blessings God wants you both to have.

So what can you do? Let’s talk about steps for addressing a sexless marriage.

Set reasonable goals.

According to the popular SMART acronym, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your goal, I presume, is specifically to have more sex which is measurable by a certain number of encounters per week or month. But the third and fourth criteria, which overlap, are tricky. Because what’s currently achievable and relevant probably isn’t what you ultimately want. It may be far less than you want.

However, if your wife’s issue is that she endured sexual assault in her past, she isn’t going to suddenly switch her emotions and start jumping your bones the moment you walk through the door. That’s not achievable. Nor is it reasonable to expect a mom of four little ones to clear her calendar for a long night of lovemaking twice a week when she’s exhausted and can barely stand the thought of being touched by any more hands. (Trust me, that’s a thing.) And the husband who stopped having sex because his libido tanked with his high-stress job and decreased testosterone with age won’t simply rediscover his mojo buried somewhere under the bedroom pillow.

So write out your ultimate objective, but then break it down into smaller steps. If you find out that you two can leapfrog a couple of steps, great. But by setting goals that are baby steps forward, achieving each one will show you’re making progress and encourage you both to continue. Here’s an example I put together:

ULTIMATE OBJECTIVE SHORT-TERM GOALS SMALLER STEPS

(covered later in post)

Have mutually pleasurable sex twice a week, in which orgasm occurs at least half the time Reboot our sex life with a sexual encounter in the next three months Start a conversation
Write down what issues my spouse brings up and consider how I can address (not argue) them
Show physical affection without any expectation of or overture for sex
Follow up with a second conversation one week later
Demonstrate through actions that I care about other forms of intimacy as well Plan a date with an activity my spouse enjoys
Line up babysitting, finances, and any other details required to make the date happen
Set aside fifteen minutes to talk with and listen to my spouse each day
Spend time in the Bible and in prayer aligning my desires with God’s plan for sex Identify relevant scriptures and read through one per day
Ask my spouse if they’re willing to pray with me and follow through if yes

You could break this into even smaller steps, but maybe this gives you an idea of how to approach such a task.

Start a conversation.

Notice I said start, not have. Few of us are convinced from a single discussion to change our minds, hearts, attitudes about any subject. So why do we keep thinking we can launch into one conversation with our spouse and achieve a major breakthrough? I’m betting 99.9% of you will need to have multiple talks about the lack of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

I’ve learned a lot about effective conversations from my parenting successes and failures. Those areas in which I’ve influenced my teens the most are ones where I opened up communication lines and slowly, albeit intentionally, got my message across. I didn’t push my opinion, but I did let them know where I stood. Then I asked what they thought, and I listened. When their perspectives seemed skewed, I calmly gave my two cents without expecting them to immediately see things my way. But when I’ve tried to control their conclusion in a single conversation? Yeah, that’s where I’ve fallen on my face. Most people don’t want to be told what to do, much less what to think.

Likewise, take an easy, multiple-conversation approach to your spouse with this sensitive subject. Start the conversation by letting them know that you want to be able to discuss issues freely and supportively in marriage, whether it’s finances or annoying habits or your sex lives. Don’t push much beyond that in your first go-round. Just get across that you intend to do whatever you can to provide a safe atmosphere for the two of you to work together to increase all forms of intimacy in your marriage.

Later you can follow-up with a “Have you thought about what I said?” and/or “Is there anything you wish I understood about your sexuality?” And yeah, listen and don’t expect a ten-second miracle. Miracles do happen, but oftentimes we forget how many steps the Israelites took to reach the Red Sea that God parted for them.

Invest in your friendship.

We’re far more likely to do things for people we like — including listen to their concerns, help them solve issues, and spend time together. But let’s face it: In some marriages, the spouses love each other, but they don’t much like each other. Is it any surprise then when sex doesn’t happen?

If you’ve neglected your emotional and recreational intimacy, it’s time to revive that part of your marriage. Do it because it’s a good and right thing to pursue, but you may well reap the benefit of better communication and progress with your sexual intimacy.

Think about what activities your spouse enjoys and make them happen. Show interest in their hobbies. Listen to their stories. Chuckle at that joke you’ve already heard eighty-seven times. Ask how you can help with their day. Engage in random acts of kindness, just because.

Again, don’t do it out of manipulation. Your spouse likely knows you well enough to sniff out ulterior motives like a hunting dog on a fox. This is when you’ll need to keep your own lines of communication open with the Heavenly Father, to stay on track with keeping a pure heart.

Woo your spouse like you did before.

Remember when you snagged that honey-bun of yours? All you did to capture their attention and adoration? Of course you can’t just pretend to be back on those falling-in-love days. In fact, half of your friends couldn’t stand how mushy you were back then, and it’s good that you’ve settled down into a more mature relationship with bills to pay, a home to maintain, and family to care for.

However, some of the ways in which we wooed each other could have hung around and benefited our marriage. I can’t say exactly what those things are because they vary from relationship to relationship. In my own marriage, we let dating fall by the wayside for too long after the kids came, and until a few years ago, we didn’t foster kissing nearly enough. Re-introducing such romantic connections helped us feel more connected and opened up more opportunities for sexual intimacy as well.

Ask yourself this question: What do I do regularly that makes my spouse feel special?

Not what do I do for my spouse, but what do I do that makes my particular spouse feel special. Some of you could write a page-long list of all the things you do for your spouse, but they don’t really speak love to your spouse. Figure out what actions make your spouse feel special and loved and then do them, regularly.

Set proper boundaries.

So far, you might be feeling like everything’s geared toward your spouse getting what they want and none toward you getting what you want. Well, here’s a rubber-meets-road statement: Your needs and desires matter just as much as theirs. Not more, mind you, but not less.

Some of you pursuing the steps I’ve laid out so far will get push-back that is simply unacceptable. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you a pervert because you want to have regular sex in your marriage. It’s not okay for your spouse to keep blaming you for past hurts you’ve apologized for and done everything to rectify. It’s not okay for your spouse to compare you to someone else who mistreated them. It’s not okay for your spouse to accuse you of egregious sins you haven’t committed. It’s not okay for your spouse to call you bad names.

Setting boundaries is the process by which you encourage the extinction of bad behavior. People tend to continue with bad behavior when it allows them to get what they want. Take away the payoff, and they’re less likely to repeat the behavior. However, where people get caught up in applying boundaries well is one of two areas:

  1. You stop before the process has sufficient time to work. It takes time for the other person to recognize that things won’t return to their former state. Most people are likely to push even harder before finally accepting that a new normal has been set and adjusting themselves accordingly.
  2. You start behaving badly yourself. Instead of setting a boundary, you launch a counterattack. Your message gets lost with the other person feeling like they have to defend or argue back. When using boundaries, you constantly need to check your emotions and remain calm.

What does a boundary look like? If your spouse calls you a pervert, it’s not: “I don’t have to put with that! I’m a completely normal husband who just wants to have sex with his wife.” Instead, it’s something like: “It hurts that you would call me a pervert when I just want to be intimate with my wife. I want to hear why you feel that way, but I reject that label.” And if your spouse continues on that trajectory, you end the conversation, calmly but firmly. “I really want to know why you feel like this so we can address it, but I just can’t stand here and let you call me names. We’ll have to talk later.” And then, you walk away.

But ack!I that means no progress happened, right? No, it doesn’t. It means you’ll need to take more time to establish communication guidelines to foster better conversations in the future. Remember — long-term view.

Offer to pursue outside help.

Let’s say your spouse is refusing because:

  1. They have an issue they own (e.g., prior molestation, health problems, a porn addiction) that makes it difficult to have sex; or
  2. Not feeling any real libido themselves, they see no point in pursuing sex in your marriage.

These scenarios cover the vast majority of sexless marriages. And both of them could benefit from outside help.

In the first case, you offer to move heaven and earth to help your spouse heal, emotionally and/or physically. You encourage your spouse not to give up on getting answers. You research the issue with them, making sure your sources are solid and biblical. You suggest a new doctor, a new treatment, a new support group, a new marriage counselor. You watch the kids while she goes to the support group. You have a garage sale to pay for his subscription to porn-blocking software. You make it clear that whatever outside help you (both) need, you’re all in. And you will not give up until you both experience the blessing of physical intimacy God intends for your marriage.

The second case is obviously harder. Because most such spouses just don’t understand how hurtful and isolating their refusal is. They don’t feel this need to have sex, and they can’t fathom why it’s such a big deal to you. It would be like someone trying to sell this South Texan a pair of snow tires. Why would I need that? Why would anybody need that?

You should still offer to get help — to speak with a counselor, a pastor, a mentor couple in your church. Tell your spouse you know this is an area of contention, but you’re willing to sit down with an external mediator and hear what they have to say. But here’s where you have to do your homework: Find out who will be sex and marriage positive. Don’t pick the first Christian counselor in the phone book, but ask around and see who’s got a good reputation for giving both spouses a fair shot in the counseling room. You don’t need someone just taking your side or just taking your spouse’s side, but rather someone who will listen to both of you and address the underlying issues so that you can find unity. Say to your pastor, “What do you think is going on with the sex lives of married people in our congregation?” and see how he responds. You can learn a lot that way.

Don’t try to stack the odds in your favor by speaking specifically about your situation and making sure that person’s on your side. Your spouse will likely learn about that and feel manipulated. (Because they were manipulated.)

Also, if your spouse thinks you need a help in some area, be willing to go get it for yourself. Indeed, some of you would benefit from saying to your spouse, “I want us to get marriage counseling, but if you don’t want to go, I’m going on my own. I need someone to talk to.” That alone will motivate some spouses to show up, if only to spout their side of the story. But if they don’t, you’ll still have someone to speak with who can help you get perspective and take active steps to help your marriage.

Call it quits?

That’s a question mark there, because it’s not what I advise, but something I get asked about often: Is it okay to leave my spouse if he/she refuses to have sex with me?

Is it okay to leave my spouse if he/she refuses to have sex with me? Click To Tweet

After a lot of thought on this one, I believe divorce likely is permitted when sexual refusal is deep-seated, persistent, and aggressive. But in such cases, they’re are usually many other problems in the marriage that make calling it quits an option.

But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. There could be good reasons to stay.

I’ve heard from several spouses who’ve said that as soon as the children are grown, they’re done with their spouse. Do you really think divorce won’t affect your adult children? My parents divorced when I was in my mid-twenties, and it still hurt. Moreover, the consequences of having two separate families where there had once been one continues. Look, my parents had good reasons to call it quits, but I just want you to understand that divorce isn’t an easy walk-away for anyone. Sometimes divorce is the best choice, the only choice, but sometimes we think it is when it isn’t. As difficult as it would be for you, it might be worth staying for the sake of your family and community as a whole.

Here’s another reason to stay: I’ve got several testimonies in my inbox from couples who rediscovered their sex life in later years and are so glad they didn’t throw in the towel. Sometimes a refusing spouse finally realizes the damage they’ve done and decides to turn things around. Or a libido awakens when the demands of parenting or a high-stress job fall away. You just don’t know how this is going to go, and shouldn’t you give everything of yourself to your marriage before walking away?

Stop being a jerk.

I added this last one, because I do hear from spouses (male and female) who are so harsh in the way they talk about their spouses that my initial reaction is, “Good gravy, who wants to sleep with that?” Frankly put, some of you aren’t getting laid because you’re acting like a jerk. So stop it.

Stop insulting your spouse publicly and privately. Stop looking only for people to agree that you’re getting a bum deal and be willing to seek real answers. Stop grousing about the unfairness of life, and deal with the hand you’ve been given. (Someone else who’s getting more sex has a different crappiness in their life. Trust me.) Stop being an unhappy person your spouse doesn’t want to be around. For more on this point, you might want to read Kevin A. Thompson’s excellent post, I Wouldn’t Sleep with You Either.

And this is now the longest post I’ve ever written. If you stayed with me this long, I pray you found something helpful. Believe me, I’m pulling for you.

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