Sex is supposed to be part of a marriage. You can see what I said about that here, here, and here. However, sex isn’t just about the physical connection or release; rather, God’s design for sex involves mutual desire and pleasure, emotional security and intimacy, and continuing to live out godly virtues in the bedroom.
Yet I continue to receive messages from wives explaining how their husband insists on having sex his way—with his timing, his repertoire, and his pleasure. Oftentimes, the wife is desperately trying to be a “good wife” and meet “his needs” and doesn’t want to “deprive” him of sex in marriage.
So, once again, let me make this super-clear: You are not your husband’s sex toy. That is not God’s design or will for sexual intimacy.You Are Not Your Husband's Sex Toy. That is not God's design or will for sexual intimacy. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Is Your Husband a Bedroom Bully?
Most husbands are good-willed men who love their wives, and even those who ache for more frequent or varied sexual encounters would not force an act on their beloved. But some husbands are bullies in the bedroom—manipulating, insisting, demanding, and/or forcing their wife to engage sexually in ways that are harmful and dishonoring.
How do you if you’re married to a bedroom bully?
Your specific circumstances determine the answer to that question, but here are examples of what it looks like.
- Despite your objections, he insists on engaging in irregular sexual activities, such as BDSM, anal sex, or fetishes.
- He demands that you dress and/or present yourself in provocative ways that make you feel objectified.
- He insists on watching porn together to get ideas and/or suggests acting out what he’s seen in porn.
- Sex consistently unfolds and concludes with his pleasure, not yours—including which acts you do and who orgasms.
- He dismisses your past sexual trauma, saying you need to “get over it” and have sex / oral sex / whatever with him.
- He picks out scriptures about how you owe him sex and cites them to pressure or guilt you.
In all these situations, the husbands attempts to use his wife to satisfy his sexual desires, without regard to what impact his actions have on her.
That is how you treat a sex toy—as a tool to achieve a goal. But people are not tools, toys, or trophies. Sex isn’t about one spouse getting what they want at the expense of the other!You Are Not Your Husband's Sex Toy: "People are not tools, toys, or trophies. Sex isn't about one spouse getting what they want at the expense of the other!" via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Can’t women be bedroom bullies too? Yes, a wife could also treat her husband like a sex toy, but that isn’t the focus on this post simply because I’ve gotten exactly one email describing that scenario but multiple emails about a husband way out of line. If you are a husband being sexually used by your wife, obviously that is not okay! You are not her sex toy either.
Both church and secular culture hold some responsibility for creating bedroom bullies. Without going into every situation that has caused this result, let me cover one big aspect of each.
Where Churches Have Failed
Churches are doing better overall with marriage and sex messages. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t get wrong messages or receive bad counseling or that you don’t currently attend a church that seems to have zero clue how to talk honestly and biblically about sexual intimacy.
There are plenty of myths out there, including ones from Purity Culture, long before that, and still today. But perhaps the one that has hurt the most is the idea that a husband needs sex and a wife has a duty to give it to him.
“But Marital Rights…”
Someone might ask, “Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 says?” No, that’s not the point of that passage.
The apostle Paul was addressing some in Corinth who suggested that if sex outside marriage wasn’t okay, wouldn’t it be best to abstain inside marriage as well? Paul responded that God intended sex to be part of marriage and spouses should be mutually engaged in physical intimacy.
The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise the wife also to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (RSV)
So yes, we have what some refer to as “marital rights.” But too often, the focus has been not on owing sex to one another or to the marriage, but a wife owing her husband.
By the way, I’ve come to really dislike the words owe and duty regarding sex. They hold some truth in the same way that a parent owes their children sustenance and affection. But doing that out of duty would obviously stink for all involved—parent and child. There’s no way that a relationship built on duty is what God desires. The better foundation is Christ-like love. For more, see Are You Owed Sex in Marriage? and/or Does Your Wife Owe You Sex?
“But He Needs Sex”
Sorry, but no husband needs sex.
Some guy just started screaming at this post, and someone(s) will likely argue in the comments that he needs it. But hear me out: You can assert that the marital relationship needs sexual intimacy to complete the one-flesh design God intends. With that, I entirely agree!
But an individual can live without sex, even in marriage. If tomorrow, my husband was unable to have sex again, I wouldn’t leave and I wouldn’t die. I’d miss sex with him a lot, but I’d still want him as my husband for all the other benefits.
Yes, going without sex for a long time can be physically uncomfortable and emotional painful (see How the Sexually Rejected Spouse Feels). So I’m not downplaying the deep longing higher desire spouses have! But if we constantly talk about a wife having a duty to meet her husband’s needs, the result is often to:
- Overlook that the duty is mutual (by the way, Paul mentions the wife‘s fulfillment first)
- Set up the expectation that she has a duty while he has a right
- Create anxiety and guilt for the wife who is struggling to engage sexually
- Endorse a husband’s use of pressure, demand, and intimidation to get his “needs” met
- Preclude the opportunity, now or later, for a wife to fulfill that “marital duty” willingly, lovingly, mutually
Sex for Both of You
Sex isn’t for him or her—it’s for them. As Scripture says:
So God created mankind in his own image,Genesis 1:27 (NIV)
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
See also Sex Is for You Too (by Scott Means, Heaven Made Marriage) and Dear Wife, You Deserve a Great Sex Life Too (by Gaye Christmus of Calm.Healthy.Sexy).
Where Secular Culture Fails
Secular culture has also long pushed that idea that men need and want sex more than women do. But the bigger problem is the widespread acceptance and prevalence of porn.
Short of being raised in a cave, a shack, or mountain cabin somewhere, I don’t know how anyone reaches adulthood these days without having at least seen pornography. You no longer have to seek out porn; you have to block out porn. And its negative impact can be seen in far too many marriages.You Are Not Your Husband's Sex Toy: "You no longer have to seek out porn; you have to block out porn. And its negative impact can be seen in far too many marriages." via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
While there are multiple reasons that porn is a bad idea, it fosters bedroom bullying in particular ways, including:
- Cultivating a selfish, consumer perspective of sex through individual pleasure and satisfaction
- Normalizing sexual activities that might otherwise be considered fringe or deviant
- Portraying women enjoying acts that many or most women do not enjoy
- Showing violence toward women as an arousing experience
Even a man who was good-willed before might be hoodwinked into thinking that this is what the best sex looks like. He can be enticed by how sex seems exotic, adventurous, and so gratifying. It reminds me of what God said to Cain:
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”Genesis 4:7 (NSRV)
If a man watches porn, sin is lurking behind that door. It creates unrealistic expectations, promotes self-serving sexuality, and minimizes one’s sexual partner.
Even if the porn was not sought out or is in a husband’s past, it can still have such impact. Moreover, it doesn’t even have to be what we think of as porn. You can find such porn-like attitudes in certain shows labeled TV-MA.
Just like we have to actively block out porn, we have to actively reject these messages and embrace a view of sex as mutual and honoring the other.
You Matter More Than Sex
A few years back, Gary Thomas wrote a fantastic post titled Enough Is Enough, in which he boldly asserted that God cares about each women more than He cares about saving the marriage she’s in. Here’s one poignant statement from that post:
Church, God hates it when a woman is sexually degraded and forced to do things that disgust her.
Amen. God did not create sex so that a man can get his jollies and a woman can be victimized.
Now, that’s not to say that any marriage with a bedroom bully can’t be saved. Some husbands believe these are their rights and don’t realize the damage they’re doing. Intervention with better knowledge, understanding, and relationship skills could make a big difference! I’ve heard from husbands who changed once when they recognized the false messages they’d embraced and the harm they’d caused.
Other husbands are characterological abusers, meaning they lack empathy for others and are unlikely to change. (See Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage?)
Either way, a wife should understand that God’s plan for sex in marriage does not involve one spouse being used for the other’s satisfaction. You are not your husband’s sex toy.
I hope the wives who need to hear that can absorb this truth. You matter more than anyone’s sexual desires, needs, or rights. Read and re-read this post, think about this truth, pray for God’s wisdom, and pursue help if you need it.
Next time, however, I will try to address what to do if your situation is one in which you’ve been bullied and used in the bedroom.
22 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Husband’s Sex Toy”
One place we will have to agree to disagree is that sex is a necessity, and a necessity for both the husband and the wife. No, neither will physically die. However, if both are physically able, denying each other physical intimacy will, not might, drive a wedge into the marriage. At best, they may stay together, but I am convinced the marriage will be empty. At worst, the marriage won’t survive.
Other than that, I absolutely agree with you. I actually don’t understand why a husband would not make his wife’s pleasure a priority as that would increase the likelihood of more sex and greater closeness outside of the bedroom. I also don’t like the term duty sex, although it is clear in scripture that we are not to neglect this area of our marriage. Closeness doesn’t come from going through the motions but from thr give and take that occurs during physical intimacy. And it really does make an incredible impact.
Chris, I’m not sure we do disagree, as I said this: “You can assert that the marital relationship needs sexual intimacy to complete the one-flesh design God intends. With that, I entirely agree!”
You know, you are right. I really hate the phrase “going without won’t kill you” because I have only read it from people who were trying to justify their refusal to their spouse. It fits in the same category as a few people who have stated that he has two hands of his own and therefore should accept the refusal. Both just really shock me and I am grateful my wife has never said either phrase. However, it didn’t sit right with me that it was in your article because it just doesn’t seem like something you would write. It bothered me so much that I had to go back and re-read it more carefully and yes, we really are on the same page … whew. Now, just to be clear, I would still continue reading your articles. Different opinions are OK, as long as we agree on the clear teaching of scripture (and yes, some parts of the Bible are not so clear). And I am glad you are encouraging wives to assert themselves and expect intimacy to be a two way street. I believe these husbands that are not considering the need to satisfy their wives are really missing out on a much better time in the bedroom and evidently don’t even know it.
It’s difficult at times to write articles like this, because I have a specific audience I’m trying to reach (in this case, wives who have been misused by their husbands and some husbands who’ve misused) who need to hear a specific message (in this case, sex in marriage shouldn’t be based on “needs” and “rights”). But if my message went to another group (wives perpetually refusing—to have sex or address why she doesn’t want to—and leaving their husbands in a no-win, sexless marriage), I might talk more about how the marriages need all kinds of intimacy, including sexual intimacy and how that desire isn’t just physical for many spouses but rather speaks to an “emotional need.”
Anyway, it’s a balance I aim for. I’m sure I don’t get there at times, but I do try and pray that God works His miracles both through His people and in the gaps where we fail.
I totally get it. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into your writing.
Great piece. I would just like to say that you may be married to a bedroom bully if one or two of those examples you have are present. I have heard women (especially Christian women) think that they have no cause to be upset unless their husband displayed all of the behaviors. I was guilty of that myself.
I believe sex is not a need. We can live without sex. [Sex] is the icing on the cake. You can have a good marriage without sex. My wife has very little desire for sex, in my opinion (she disagrees). Sex every 3 weeks is okay with her. For me, I would like 2-3 times a week. As a good Christian husband, I have not “complained” to my wife about this for over 40 years of marriage. I know of other Christian husbands who insist on having sex at least twice a week to have their “needs” met. To me, this is very selfish and not considerate of their wife’s emotional needs.
I actually think sex is not the icing but rather an ingredient in the cake. However, it’s not the only ingredient or even the most important.
A healthy marriage requires compromise on the part of both spouses. It is not selfish to meet somewhere in the middle. Just something to think about.
Sex is not a top need for women, but it absolutely IS for men. Not only physical, but it is one of their top emotional needs. It took me a long time and alot of marital books and counseling to get this, because I am very strong willed. I agree with this article almost completely, except the part about a marriage surviving if sex can’t be had. That’s called survival mode. No one needs to be living there long. And for a man, it’s only a matter of time.
I don’t know where you got the idea that “Sex is not a top need for women, but it absolutely IS for men.” That’s not the biblical view. Rather, both husband and wife can find emotional connection through physical intimacy, and about 15-30% of the time, the higher desire spouse is the wife. Moreover, to the idea that sex is a “need” for anyone, I direct you to Q&A with J: Sexual Wants Vs. Needs and Is Sex a Need? (For Christian Wives podcast).
This is a great post. You do a good job delivering your message. Writing is tough–I do some writing in my job and sometimes I need to continually refine my message–in my case I am sometimes writing boring workplace policies about who has the responsibility to do a given task. If I am not crystal clear people will often misunderstand what I am trying to say.
I think there are many who mean well when they write about marriage and sex—but the message they are often giving, perhaps unintentionally, is that wives are indeed their husband’s sex toys. There is a lack of mercy and compassion for wives going through difficult circumstances—your worth as a woman is measured by giving your husband sex the way he wants and at the desired weekly frequency–it doesn’t matter what else is going on in your life. A wife’s willingness to “grow” in marriage is measured by the amount of arbitrary and sometimes questionable activities she is willing to check off of a list.
Thank you. And yes, some wives are not having sex in marriage for reasons that make sense and need to be addressed rather than just telling her to “do her duty.” I appreciate the way you phrased it here, with genuine compassion.
Unfortunately there are many blogs these days that are teaching the opposite message. “Your wife is more spiritual then you are because she doesn’t want sex as much. Sex isn’t a need because she has the supply and you have want. Your wife has emotional needs, but your need for sex isn’t a real need. I completely agree that your wife is not a sex toy. He has no right to treat her as such. And if he is treating her in such a way as to make her not want to have sex with him, then that’s on him. But how many times is it that the wife has a hang up that is blocking her responsiveness and won’t do what it takes to get over it. Do women really not know how much their husbands need the connection a passionate sex life gives them. Guys don’t just want sex, they yearn to be wanted.
Yes, I talk about all those things, but this particular post was a message to wives who have been bullied in the bedroom.
Thanks for tackling a tough topic and setting the target audience and I’m-not-talking-about-that scenarios. That is tough on a topic like this. The OP is targeted to wives. To men reading the comments section, objectifying your wife in ways described above is not fulfilling your duty to love your wife as Christ loves the church and love her as you love your own body (Eph 4:25ff).
On the flip side, unfortunately, there are some wives that think vanilla sex more than a few times a year equals being her husband’s sex toy. Hopefully they will follow your links to discern the difference and read the links in the links that address underlying issues.
Lastly, thank you for articulating the devastation porn has on intimacy in marriage. Don’t stop!
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“No husband needs sex”, any more than no wife needs an emotional connection with her husband. I guess its ok for wives to go thru marriage without emotional support from their husbands, just like its ok for husbands to go thru life without sex.
However, if a husband won’t or can’t make an emotional connection with his wife, he is told that he owes it to his wife to get help and do what’s necessary to engage with and support her.
I believe husbands and wives have an obligation to engage with and support each other in the “love language” needed to make that connection.
I never said it’s okay for husbands to go through life without sex, and this isn’t me either: “However, if a husband won’t or can’t make an emotional connection with his wife, he is told that he owes it to his wife to get help and do what’s necessary to engage with and support her.” Moreover, I agree there’s an obligation to have sex or work on that area of the marriage. Rather than picking out that one phrase, how about reading it in the context of the whole post? Or, even better, my entire ministry that continues to encourage husbands and wives to engage in healthy, other-honoring sex?
That’s why I wrote the Reply. Even in this context that statement, with no qualifications, seemed strange and contradictory to what I’ve read here over the past ~10 years. And as you’ve described in past posts, depriving a spouse of intimacy without every effort to repair the situation is very destructive, and creates marriage-altering divisions. So how about this —
” Sex is a critical need for most husbands and many wives, and for the enrichment of their marriages. But ‘I need’ or ‘I’m entitled’ are not excuses for bullying or any form of abuse. If this is occurring in your marriage, seek help immediately ! “.
And yes, I’ve had a very deep appreciation for your ministry for many years !
Again, I feel like sex is a need for the marriage, not the individual. Honestly, your suggested language could prove problematic if/when a bedroom lifts out the part of “sex is a critical need for most husbands…” without regard to the other aspects. Not saying you and most of those husbands would, but I have moved away from talking about sex as a need or duty as much, in part of because of how that phrasing gets misused!
I know you’re busy with a lot more than this, so I won’t belabor beyond here.
To clarify, the rest of what I said after “most husbands”, was, “and many wives”. My thought was inclusive of both husbands and wives, not exclusively the “needs of husbands”. I also said “for the enrichment of their marriages” to umbrella the relationship, not just individual needs. So I don’t think my perspective risks being problematic.
Just as I would struggle with the statement “no wife needs sex”, I also struggle with the statement “no husband needs sex”. Why ? Because I can’t possibly know either of their drives, nor how physical intimacy contributes to their feeling of being loved, desired and appreciated. So even in a circumstance of bullying, where a husband (or wife) is coercing, or a wife(or husband) is constantly refusing, I believe the first step is to lean into the love and commitment, and exhaustively work toward a solution that serves both wife and husband, and ultimately their marriage.