Feminism

all complementarian sex is rape

Yes, I’m leading with that because I might as well– it’s what the naysayers will swear up and down I’m arguing for in this post anyway, and I’ve already made my peace with it. Several men from inside my own progressive Christian camp have already tried to misrepresent my argument this way, and I know that it’s what the complementarians will start screaming if they even read it. So, I’m Andrea Dworkin-ing it up and owning it. My argument has already been labeled “unproductive” and “pointless” (by “feminist” men– are you surprised? I’m not), but I believe that what I’m about to lay out for you is critically important.

I think that it’s common sense for all of us to view sex on a spectrum. Many people don’t– even and possibly especially in feminist discourse there’s a tendency to mock and belittle “gray rape,” and for all the reasons for why they argue there isn’t such a thing, I tend to agree. But in many/most of the spaces I frequent, there’s a tendency to create a harsh and impassable divide between sex and rape, and it leads to this idea that what makes rape rape is obvious to anyone, and all those people out there who are “confused” are merely rapists-in-sheep’s-clothing or people who are aiding-and-abetting rape culture.

Except a look at the world around us tells us that isn’t true. A conversation with any of my womanly friends tells us that isn’t true. As much as I don’t think that the differences between sex and rape are murky, those differences don’t seem clearly apparent to an awful lot of people, rape victims included.

Why is that?

Because, when it comes right down to the bare bones of it, most of a woman’s sexual encounters with men are unhealthy, abusive, coercive, or, yes, even rape. And it is hard, and mind-numblingly terrifying, to stare at a world where most of our sexual encounters are not fully consensual and not be sucked into a soul-drowning abyss. So I’m going to lay out this spectrum and hopefully make the world a little bit brighter.

On the extreme end of the consensual side of the sex spectrum is “take-me-now-I-must-have-your-body-rip-all-my-clothes-off-and-fuck-me” sex. Consent is verbally given by all parties, it is communicated through body-language by everyone, and it is re-affirmed at each stage. It is obvious, and it is glorious, visceral, full-bodied consensual sex. No one at any point could even have doubts about whether or not they’re interested in sex right the fuck now.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “stranger-danger-ski-masked-man-in-the-bushes-actual-cannibal-Shia-LeBeouf-look-he’s-got-a-knife” rape. The victim bites and claws and kicks and screams, but the rapist still brutally and violently rapes them, leaving them at the point of death. The victim immediately has zero doubts about whether or not what just happened is rape, so they go to a hospital, and in this perfect-victim story the staff finds all sorts of evidence and the DA presses charges and they’re locked away forever.

(Let’s just leave aside for the moment that even this undeniable example there are still cases where the victim is disbelieved, threatened, and even charged with making a false accusation. Rape culture is a bitch.)

Clearly, we all know that most sex and most rape does not look like these extremes. Most consensual sex does not look like the lead-up to a fade-to-black-scene in a romcom. Any person in a long-term relationship can tell you that. Sure, some sex is of that hot-and-heavy variety, but everyday average sex falls somewhere else on the spectrum.

In much the same way, the vast majority of rape isn’t even remotely like the “stranger in the bushes” scenario described above. It isn’t even usually committed by strangers, but by people the victim knows, and it usually isn’t violent in the way that leaves bruising or other visible marks.

For the rest, us sexually active folks can probably fill out the consensual side of the spectrum for ourselves. We’ve probably all had our “eh, why not, sure” moments when it comes to sex. I’m not arguing that all sex must be of the bodice-ripping variety for it not to be rape. Sex can be ordinary and ho-hum and still be perfectly consensual. I can’t get into all the varieties of what consensual sex can look like (especially inside a long-term trust-based relationship), or this will turn into a book.

However, I think a lot of the sex American women are having is not consensual. I’ve talked some about this idea before, but I want to introduce what I think could be a helpful term into the discussion:

Cultural Coercion.

I am far from the first feminist to propose this idea (see, notably, Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse). However, I want to take this idea and apply it specifically to complementarian marriages– that’s the background I come from, and in my opinion complementarianism is the most pernicious, poisonous theology gaining steam in America. It is hell-bent on destroying women through stealing away their right to self-determination. Most importantly, the ideas they promote about sex are, and are intended to be, sexual cultural coercion.

I want to highlight this difference between personal coercion and cultural coercion  because sex that is personally  coerced is always rape, but sex that is culturally  coerced is not rape in the same way.

I say this because “rape,” while absolutely a phenomenon that is (at least partly) created and sustained through culture, is not an act committed by some nebulous, abstract force. Criminally-prosecutable rape requires a rapist. In order for a sexual act to be rape, it must be committed by someone who overruled or ignored another person’s bodily autonomy.

For example, the first time he raped me, it was of the clear-cut variety (although, thanks to G.R.R. Martin, I now know that there are plenty of people who think saying “no, no, no please stop, no” can be “complicated consensual sex”). I said no. I said no repeatedly. Even though I spent the next three years utterly convinced that I must have done something to deserve it, that it was all my fault, that I didn’t know that saying no meant it was rape, supposedly the golden standard is “no means no,” right?

However, the second time he raped me, it was not that clear-cut. I said no. Initially. And then he badgered me and begged and whined and eventually threatened me … so I stopped actively fighting him off. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to continue resisting, and I was horribly afraid of his threats. He’d hurt me in the past– I still have the scars to prove it– and my fear immobilized me.

He is a rapist. The first time he used physical force to rape me, the second time he used coercion (constant pressure, threats, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse). That second time is an example of personal coercion.

But what about cultural coercion? What does that look like?

A husband opens his bedroom and sees his lovely wife, the mother of his children, in their marriage bed reading a book. Her lamp is on, the light shining on her sunlight-made-corporeal-hair, her lips pursed in that adorable way she has when she’s reading a book she loves. He smiles, gets under the covers, and pulls her into his arms.

He kisses her neck and she laughingly bats him off. “I’m reading,” she says, but he can hear the smile in her voice. He nuzzles that spot right behind her ear that– yep, there it is. She giggles. “Oh, you, stop it.”

“But you’re just so beautiful. Sitting there reading your book.”

She huffs and turns to him, a smile twisting her lips. “I’m not going to finish this chapter, am I?”

“Nope.” He grins.

He pulls her to him, and she responds …

Yes. Yes, I am absolutely saying that right there could be culturally coerced, non-consensual sex.

However, what I am not saying is that having sex with his wife in this circumstance makes this husband a rapist. It makes him the beneficiary of cultural coercion, which is a stark — and incredibly important– distinction.

In the scene I’ve laid out above, this husband and wife are complementarian. They attend a complementarian church, and she attends a weekly Bible study where they read books like Captivating and Lies Women Believe and Me, Obey Him? and Love and Respect and Real Marriage and all these books have told her the same thing: men, because they are men, require sex more often than women do. It is her wifely obligation, her duty to make sure that his sexual needs are fulfilled. If she does not meet his sexual needs, then any resulting pornography addiction, adultery, or any other sexual sin (and yes, horrifyingly, in complementarian culture this can include things like child sexual assault) is her responsibility. If he leaves her for a more sexually available woman, then the destruction of her marriage is her fault for not having sex with him often enough.

This cultural coerction– this pressure– is constant and unyielding. It follows her through every moment of her life, and it is present every single time she has sex. It is always there, always manipulating her, forcing her into sex she wouldn’t ordinarily have. Maybe that night she really wanted to finish her book– maybe it was an especially exciting battle scene that had her on the edge of her seat… but, instead, she does what she’s supposed to do. Sometimes, she’s willing and enthusiastic. But sometimes …. she’s badgered by an ideology into having sex she doesn’t want.

Her husband isn’t a rapist. But it doesn’t mean that the sex they’re having is consensual.

***

And this is where descriptors like “unproductive” and “unhelpful” started getting thrown around.

But — but … but that means that almost all sex that any man is having could be non-consensual! This is so broad it’s useless! You’re making a mockery of real rape!

In response, I shrug. Yes, it is broad. Sweepingly broad. Trust me, I am just as horrified and sickened at the prospect as you. However, our mutual disgust at the idea doesn’t make it any less true. If a woman is being compelled, against her will, by an abusive system like complementarian theology (and, let’s face it, American cisheteropatriarchy), then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape. It’s not criminal, and I don’t think complementarian men are all monsters (not that I think any rapist is a “monster“): however, it doesn’t make what is happening any less wrong.

And just because the sheer breadth of what I’m describing is utterly mind-boggling doesn’t mean that it’s “unhelpful” to talk about it. It just makes talking about it immediately and emphatically necessary. It’s buried bone-deep in our Christian culture. Removing it demands the fervent dedication of all of us to oppose it with all our righteous, soul-of-a-dragon fire and bedrock-steady resolve.

Sex in a complementarian marriage can be culturally coerced, and at those times is therefore indistinguishable from rape. The only difference is that instead of a mythical  man leaping out of a bushes with a knife, the “rapist” is the collective force of complementarian theology.

I’m not backing down from that.

Neither should you.

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  • Veiled_In_Dance

    The problem I have with this is that it utterly strips women of agency. Consent is consent; even if you are consenting because you believe that it’s something you need to do to help your husband, you are still consenting. Or is it only okay to have sex when you’re really horny and begging for it, and all other sex is some form of rape? Telling these women that actually they are essentially rape victims robs them of their agency and puts them in the position of being rather like children who don’t know what’s going on. This is not a defense of the sort of theology that tells women to completely submit, body and mind; that stuff is poison. However, I don’t like the idea of erasing a woman’s ability to determine for herself whether she consents to sex or not, even if that consent happens within a theological framework that places women in a position of subservience. Who are we to tell these women that they didn’t really consent at all?

    • Kevin

      I think what she’s trying to say is men(like myself) need to be considerate of others in sex.(Since comp theology is highly cisheteronormative, “men” here refers to cisgendered, straight men.) I agree with you on agency but I also agree that societal pressures can limit our options. For example many Fundamentalists threaten to kick their kids out if they don’t play by the Fundamentalist rules. They say it’s a choice; while technically that may be true, it in fact pressures the kids to make a choice and thus isn’t completely free. I think that’s the situation she’s describing that needs to change.

    • What Kevin said.

      Also, I disagree with this assessment. I don’t think that cultural coercion “utterly strips women of agency.” I think it makes agency complicated.

      Very few choices are completely unbounded in the sense that we could actually choose any option. Possibly bad analogy: most of our choices are like standing in a frozen yogurt shop. Maybe we want key-lime-pie flavored yogurt, but they don’t have that option, so instead we get strawberry cheesecake.

      These sorts of choices don’t have any moral subtext to them, of course. Choices regarding sex, however, will always be moral choices. What I’m arguing for in regards to cultural coercion looks more like this analogy:

      A woman is in a yogurt shop and she has two options: chocolate or vanilla. She actually wants to chocolate yogurt (ie: not having sex that night), but there’s a man standing next to the chocolate machine beating a bat into the palm of his hand and glowering at her. So she chooses to have the vanilla instead.
      A few days later, that man with the bat is still standing next to the chocolate machine, but today she she actually does want the vanilla, so she just ignores him, gets the vanilla, and moves on with her life.

      That’s what I’m talking about. There are times where complementarian cultural coercion restricts her options from options that are a moral imperative to be present. If she can’t choose the “chocolate,” (saying no) whenever she wants to, then sometimes she’s choosing the vanilla (having sex) it’s not a choice she would have ordinarily made if she weren’t being culturally coerced.

      If we were to rid the world of complementarianism and cisheteropatriarchal rape culture, then women’s agency would increase to the point where she’s not making extremely bounded choices regarding sex, and that’s a good thing. We can’t afford to ignore this cultural coercion that is removing options for women that should always be there.

      • Jeff

        If a non-complementarian couple has the exact interaction you describe in your post, is it rape?
        If a complementarian couple engage in what you describe as “take-me-now-etc-etc” sex, is it rape?
        I’m trying to think of an example, not pertaining to sex, where the existence of “cultural coercion” in some forms of the interaction justifies the extrapolation that all forms of the interaction are coercive. For example: you are an eight year old kid, and your friend asks if he can have one of your brownies because his parent didn’t pack him a dessert. You don’t want to give the brownie, but you’ve been conditioned by your culture to believe that sharing is virtuous, so you give him the brownie anyway. Therefore, all sharing of desserts by schoolchildren is coercive. That doesn’t seem like a persuasive argument to me, but maybe I’ve simply chosen a poor example. Perhaps you can think of a better one (again, not using sex or rape — we’re trying to establish the legitimacy of the argument by showing that the same principles can be extrapolated to situations that meet the same basic conditions, namely, the presence of “cultural coercion”)

        • Giving away a brownie isn’t a good example because it doesn’t involve bodily autonomy. Figure out an example that includes bodily autonomy and then maybe we can talk.

          • Jeff

            I don’t disagree that my top-of-the-head example isn’t foolproof, but I don’t understand how bodily autonomy justifies the extrapolation you’re making, and that’s what I think needs more support. By the structure of your argument, by the very title of your post, your answer to my second question above must necessarily be “yes, that qualifies as rape”. That appears to be internally contradictory. I don’t see how bodily autonomy resolves the contradiction.

          • *beats head into desk*

            Please go back and read the first paragraph again.

          • A request: see if you can come up with a way where bodily autonomy resolves the contradiction. If in 6 hours you still can’t figure it out, I might explain it then.

          • Jeff

            That seems mostly non-responsive to my point, and I suspect we’re talking past one another. I am arguing that the form of your argument doesn’t warrant the conclusion that you’re drawing.
            You are saying: If Person A and Person B interact through system X, and in some instances of that interaction, Person B behaves contrary to their preference as a result of cultural coercion, then, therefore, all interactions involving system X, between all pairs of persons (not just A and B), are coercive in nature.
            I think the general point that is more defensible is, “sometimes people do things they’d prefer not to do, because they’ve been led to believe it’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s exploitative to take advantage of that so as to get someone to do what you want them to do.” That’s a generally true statement that applies to marital relationships and lunchroom brownie swaps, but doesn’t make unwarranted extrapolations to entire systems of interaction.

          • Jeff, I have a scenario. Suppose a guy is watching a football game and his wife comes in and insists on having sex. The husband asks, ‘Can’t we wait till later?’

            ‘No, right now’, she replies. So he turns off the game and consents to sex out of a sense of obligation.

            Will guys do that? Not likely. They don’t have a sense of cultural coercion that expects them to do that. Why can’t women be free to say, ‘Not now. How about later?’

          • Jeff

            I’m not sure where that came from! I don’t think, nor did I argue, that wives, or husbands, (be they complementarian, egalitarian, or whatever persuasion) shouldn’t be free to say “not now, how about later”.

          • KellyLynne

            No, she is not. You added “between all pairs of persons” which is nowhere in her original argument.

          • Beroli

            Indeed, the qualifier “complementarian” obviously limits the pairs of persons in question.

          • Jeff

            I think it’s a little silly to nitpick about inadequate qualifiers and nuance when you’re defending a post that’s as hyperbolic as this one! But, sure, even when we qualify things to restrict our attention to complementarianism (I don’t think the post is entirely restrictive in this way, BTW), I still don’t think the inference is warranted. For example, your comment below, as far as I can tell, begs the question. As I mentioned above, I believe there’s a more restrictive form of the argument that would have established the central point without being logically questionable — but certainly it wouldn’t have the attention-grabbing headline, either. I’m probably content to bow out of the discussion at that.

          • Beroli

            Jeff, as far as I can tell, you’re saying:

            If she’d boiled what she was saying down to “sometimes people do things they don’t want to do,” with no more specific statements that might clip groups you perhaps have some identification with, you would not have objected to it. This is something she should consider overwhelmingly important. The fact that her post does not meet with your approval refutes it, with no actual counterargument required, only your statement of disapproval.

            If you feel this is inaccurate and wish to clarify, feel free.

          • KellyLynne

            Did you actually read her first paragraph? Or are you completely ignoring the part where she says that this is what she’ll be *accused of saying* (like you are). It’s not reasonable to criticize someone for hyperbole when you exaggerate their argument further than they took it.

          • Jeff

            Did you read her third-from-last? Or your own second paragraph in the post below this one? I don’t think my characterization of her post is exaggerated — she (and you) have come right out and said as much!
            Let’s approach this a different way — and this is what I was trying to illustrate with my analogy. There are certain patterns of behavior that we consider virtuous — things like “be honest”, “be unselfish”, “be kind”, “help others”, and so on. Few of us are born with an awareness that these behaviors are virtuous: we need to be taught, we need to be shown, we need to discover for ourselves, and — crucially — sometimes we need to be made aware that there can be negative consequences for failing to exhibit these behaviors. If we follow Samantha’s argument through to its logical conclusion, then we would have to say that the collective indoctrination in virtuous behavior that we all receive is itself a form of cultural coercion. But it’s worse than that — it implies that when a person acts in a manner that society deems “virtuous” — they tell the truth on the witness stand, they give money to a charity, etc — in actual fact they’re so heavily influenced by cultural coercion that we should probably consider their action to be part of an elaborate (social) survival strategy. In order words, “virtuous” conduct is actually intrinsically selfish (or at least, self-serving). Now that may be a thought worthy of further consideration in a Behavioral Psychology class, but it’s not an especially Christian sentiment.
            We can go further. One of the main Christian virtues is self-sacrifice. As the central action in Christ’s ministry, the Cross is a profound symbol of the power of self-sacrificial love to overcome sin and death, and the NT is replete with admonitions to and examples of compassion, benevolence, kindness, mercy — of putting the needs and interests of others above one’s own. In a (healthy) marriage, there are many forms that this can take and many opportunities to live this out. Maybe it’s watching a movie together when one of you prefers to watch the game, or going to your in-laws for dinner even though your mother-in-law is a horrible person, or agreeing to eat Chinese when you’d prefer to eat Italian. In ways big and small, spouses show their love for one another by acts of mutual self-sacrifice. Presumably you’ve read The Gift of the Magi — it’s read in every middle-school English class so presumably we as a culture think O. Henry was on to something.
            Now, let’s be careful — self-sacrifice isn’t something to be compelled or exploited. “We’re going to my mother’s for dinner, and that’s that! I’m your wife, you’re supposed to sacrifice your preferences to mine sometimes!” is not a healthy marital interaction. We can’t approve of using this principle, or any of the other virtuous behaviors mentioned above, as a tool to get people to do what we want, or to condition them to do things that they don’t want to do. In this much, Samantha is very much correct.
            But she goes much further than this. According to Samantha’s argument, a spouse who says “I’m not interested in {Chinese/in-laws/a rom-com/sex} right now, but because I love you, and because you are important to me and because I know you’d prefer we partake of {Kung Pao/dinner with Mom/When Harry Met Sally/sex}, together, I’ll participate voluntarily and happily” is acting not out of voluntary self-sacrificial love, but out of coercion. She (Samantha) has taken something that’s supposed to be a beautiful expression of love, and instead is effectively calling it evil, vile, and profane. And, as per above, I believe her argument requires that we do that across the board, for all virtues. This argument doesn’t lead to people being more virtuous or more loving, it leads to people being more suspicious, more jaded, more self-doubting. By all means, let’s get rid of “cultural coercion”, but let’s be a little more careful and a little more precise about what it actually is and is not.
            Also: there’s a rather big elephant in the room that Samantha completely ignores. Popular culture is extremely pro-promiscuity, in a way that has influenced and shaped the behavior of our society on a scale vastly larger than the small subset of people who identify as complementarian Christians. The weight of expectation that the culture places on individuals to engage in sexual activity (esp. non-marital) is enormous, and if it’s impossible, as Samantha asserts, for true consent to exist in the presence of cultural coercion, well, then the popular culture seems like a more important place for her to direct her argument and her attention.
            (Side note, that took a super-long time to write, and I likely won’t be able to engage in an extended back-and-forth. You’re welcome to respond, but it’s possible and probably likely, that I will indeed bow out of the discussion at this point.)

          • You are fundamentally misunderstanding my argument, and at this point you’re borderline arguing in bad faith, so I’m not going to waste much time on this book of a comment, mostly because I’ve already addressed it in the post:

            Maybe that night she really wanted to finish her book– maybe it was an
            especially exciting battle scene that had her on the edge of her seat…
            but, instead, she does what she’s supposed to do. Sometimes,
            she’s willing and enthusiastic.
            But sometimes …. she’s badgered by an
            ideology into having sex she doesn’t want.

            A wife in complementarianism can on occasion, willingly choose vanilla over chocolate yogurt (http://samanthapfield.com/2016/03/30/complementarian-sex-rape/#comment-2597095520). However, complementarianism through the combined cultural coercion of a) blaming her entirely for any immoral sexual actions her husband may take and b) saying that she must always obey and submit to him removes the option to say “no.” This is what makes complementarianism vile and profane– because it removes the option to say no.

            It does not necessarily follow that every time a woman says “yes” that she is being compelled against her will. However, it does make those times questionable.

            What you have been doing is a combination of slippery slope and reductio ad absurdum, both of which are logical fallacies. Yes, if you take my argument to an absolute extreme it’s going to look ridiculous… but that is true of all arguments. What stops arguments from being utterly ridiculous is the natural checks that come in place because the world is a complicated place filled with nuance and balance.

          • And just to head this off at the pass: yes, I’m aware that women in complementarianism do actually say no and the world doesn’t fall apart. However, the option to say no is not always present and the fact of the matter is that it is morally imperative for the no to always be present.

          • Jeff

            (Reductio ad absurdum isn’t a fallacy, it’s a method of proving an argument!)
            If you think that there’s a bright line between a defensible, nuanced view of cultural coercion, and an obviously ridiculous view, perhaps the problem is that you appear, in your post, to be staking out positions on both sides of that line, so it’s not entirely clear where your “true” position lies. In my defense, I’ll note that I’ve asked you to clarify by, for example, providing another example of a real-world situation (not a contrived example like a club-wielding goon at the self-serve ice cream machine!) that illustrates this point, and by suggesting that broader cultural sexual mores appear susceptible to the same critique you’re making. You’ve responded to neither of these points, and are under no obligation whatsoever to do so — it’s your blog. But, I do think some of the statements in the post are quite strong, so it’s a bit uncharitable to call attempts to follow them to their logical conclusion arguing in bad faith.

          • Beroli

            An assertion is not a point, Jeff. Pretending, for the moment, that your request for more information was actually a request for more information and not an attempt to score a point by distorting what she said, you have the answer to “Is [distortion about brownies] what you’re saying?”: it’s “No, it is not.” If you actually want information you do not have, I suggest you reconsider the method by which you’re asking for it and start over; if you want to score points, I suggest you accept that you can’t and give up.

          • Hey, let’s look at the fellow that immediately leaves a 173-word comment after saying:

            (Side note, that took a super-long time to write, and I likely won’t be
            able to engage in an extended back-and-forth. You’re welcome to
            respond, but it’s possible and probably likely, that I will indeed bow
            out of the discussion at this point.

            Sorry, I just think it’s hilarious when people do this.

            True, reductio ad absurdum can be a way to expose the fallacy of an argument, but when that argument has staked out an “always” or “never” position, which I clearly did not do.

            Yes, the post is quite strong. I’m aware of exactly how strong it is. However, what I very clearly did at several points was make sure that this is not a never/always proposition. In, fact the thesis of the post is found here:

            Sex in a complementarian marriage can be culturally coerced, and at
            those times
            is therefore indistinguishable from rape. The only
            difference is that instead of a mythical man leaping out of a bushes
            with a knife, the “rapist” is the collective force of complementarian
            theology.

            .

            That’s why you’re borderline arguing in bad faith– your comments are, in general, a straw man of something I did not say– in fact, they go against the things I did say.

          • Jeff

            Well, I do have a general pattern of trying to extricate myself gracefully from a discussion and then letting myself get sucked back in to defend my remarks against insults and misrepresentations. I should know by now to just walk away, but hey, we’re none of us perfect. I will leave it at this: you keep saying “I clearly said”, but for every pull quote you can generate that you think “clearly” says what you think you clearly said, I can generate another from the post that says exactly the opposite. I think it’s not that the post is unclear, it’s that it appears to be internally inconsistent. Hence my requests for you to not just keep quoting or restating your post, but to provide an alternative example or a limiting principle or something along those lines. Totally cool to not respond to such requests; not especially cool to try to belittle them out of existence.

          • Beroli

            Jeff, either a whole lot of comments you made never reached the blog somehow, or you’re outright lying about what you’ve said, because you haven’t quoted her contradicting the things she said and then repeated that she said. Not even once. Also, I see you’re back to claiming you’re trying to understand now.

          • Petticoat Philosopher

            Boo boy, looks like we’ve got a Smug Dude Philosophy Major in the house…

            Do you not think a “club wielding goon” by a yogurt machine is a pretty apt metaphor for the specter of adultery, marital crisis and consequent community shaming and blaming that haunts a woman in a complementarian marriage every time Hubby is in the mood–whether or not she is? It seems petty apt to me. When did we make a “no metaphors” rule?

          • Beroli

            Ah, the patented Dawkins “you’re not making the assertions I would make about what I think you should be talking about, so what you’re saying is automatically wrong.”

            If you want to set up a blog of your own where you make whatever claims you want about the evils of popular culture, Jeff, I’m sure no one here would even want to stop you. As a counterargument to anything the post you’re commenting on says, it lacks.

          • Jeff

            I understand that your preferred M.O. is to try to delegitimize dissent to Samantha’s posts, but I think this point is worthy of more attention than you’re giving it. It’s not a matter of whether the popular culture is “evil” or not — it’s a question of whether the popular culture’s pro-promiscuity (or “sex-positive”, if you like) orientation can also be said to act as a form of cultural coercion. I didn’t realize Richard Dawkins had a patent on such views, or that he had even weighed in on them. I shall have to contact him to see about royalty payments, I guess.

          • Beroli

            Ah, so you acknowledge that you’re not trying to understand something you think you do not understand, but to express dissent with something you already believe you understand. You seem to keep slipping back and forth on whether you’re trying to communicate, or assert the article’s wrongness; I hope you stick to that one now that you’ve settled on it.

            And again–an assertion is not a point.

          • It’s also just hilarious, because I actually have addressed that aspect of pop culture. Repeatedly. On, like, three different websites even.

            lmao.

          • Beroli

            Yeah, I remember those articles. Though somehow, I suspect if Jeff read them, instead of agreeing with what you’re saying there either, he would complain about who you were criticizing, saying it should be blamed on feminism or something similar.

        • KellyLynne

          If the woman is in a situation where she’s not allowed to say no to sex she doesn’t want, that’s coercive. A complementarian relationship, by definition, is one where the husband makes the decisions and the wife obeys. So he’s not encouraged to even consider whether her teasing “no’s” are really serious “no’s” but to just continue anyway because he’s entitled to the use of her body. In a relationship where she’s an equal partner, there’s a lot more credence to the idea that she probably wanted to have sex and that he can read her body language and tone of voice well enough to make that distinction. But without that basic concept that her body is *hers,* then, yes, all the sex they have is at least a little bit coerced.

          And the argument is not, “If cultural coercion exists, all forms of the interaction are coercive.” It’s more like, “If cultural coercion exists, then no situation *in which that cultural coercion exists* can be 100% un-coerced.” Nobody is arguing that giving away brownies is inherently coercive everywhere if anybody anywhere is coerced to give away brownies, but imagine if you lived in a culture where any kid with a brownie was expected to hand one over on demand, and where there were serious negative consequences for not handing over a brownie, like physical abuse or ostracism, or being blamed when the person you didn’t give a brownie robs a Dunkin Donuts at gunpoint. In that culture, no, if you ask a kid in that culture for a brownie, you will never know that they were 100% okay with handing you their brownie, because there’s too much outside pressure on them.

          You can mitigate that by watching their body language and their tone of voice and backing off if they seem at all hesitant, or by telling them flat-out that you only want the brownie if they don’t want it, or by waiting for them to offer you the brownie. But none of that makes any of the other coercion disappear.

    • D Liston

      A lot of Americans ‘consented’ to fighting in Vietnam. Even through some were coerced by the government … I’m sure many vets feel like they ‘did their duty’ out of love or patriotism – does that change that there was a coercive element to the draft?
      Do you take the actions of conscripted men during war as fully of their own agency, or do you partially blame the government and military brass for compelling them into those situations?

  • This is very interesting stuff. But I think you made your distinctions clear, and I am glad to find myself not to be unintentionally part of some murky cultural coercion system. I understand your point and agree with it; women should not consent to sex out of a sense of duty and obligation.

    • Trevel

      … I thought the point was that we ARE (hopefully unintentionally) part of a murky cultural coercion system?

      • Perhaps I should have been more clear. I am well aware of cultural coercion; I operated under that assumption for many years. But I grew more aware of the propriety of equality and sensitivity in our marriage and stopped it decades ago.

        Are you saying that, as a male, I cannot resist and control cultural coercion?

        • Trevel

          You may have missed the word “Cultural”.

          But yes. As a single individual, you do not have the power to stand on the threshold of your household and shout “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” at the culture surrounding you. You can’t just “stop” it. You can stop CONTRIBUTING to it, possibly, but you cannot, as a single individual, just turn off culture. It’s not just you. That’s kind of the point: we are inside a murky cultural coercive system. Someone else may be doing the coercion, whether they want to be or not.

          • Families have culture, too, Trevel. JWB is simply explaining that his family has chosen to make it very clear that they’re no longer functioning under the broader cultural assumptions.

          • Travel, I see your point. I know the culture is still there, and it is important to talk about it and try to change it. As a follower of Jesus, I am opposed to many aspects of our culture–especially the baggage of much conservative Christian culture.

            I think the issue is that when I said I was not part of the cultural coercive system that Samantha described, I meant that I am not contributing part.

          • Trevel

            Yeah, that makes much more sense.

            I remember when I was younger, I thought how we needed to protect conservative Christian culture from The World. Now I tend to think we need to protect the world from conservative Christian Culture.

          • Kevin

            *chuckles*
            The interesting thing about the way conservative Christian Culture labels things The World is Jesus said “The world hates Me and will hate you.” — the people who hated Jesus the most were the ones Christian Culture(TM) are least likely to label “worldly”.
            I guess that means that “Do not be conformed to this world”(Rom 12:2) means in this case to go against the comp theology.

  • This brings up a subject for me that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – authority. If a woman in secular culture chooses to ignore the pressures of society and tell her partner that she’d rather not have sex she deals with the consequences the culture can impose. She may be viewed as a frigid bitch. If her marriage fails she may be blamed. But this seems less damaging to me than the consequences of a similar choice in Christian complementarian culture where she has moved herself outside the Will of God. And if she “causes her husband to sin” then she is doubly to blame. And how can she even question any of this? It’s in the Bible (she’s told). It’s reinforced from the pulpit and in women’s groups and by what her parents teach her. If these ideas don’t lead to a healthy, happy relationship she can find no one to blame but herself and no solution but to double down.

    This hasn’t been my experience sexually, but it was in other situations where I was asked (forced) to make “sacrifes” I didn’t want to make and expected to be happy about it. Basically I was miserable and every smile felt coerced – like I didn’t even have the right to my own emotions. But I needed the problem to be with me and not with the system. Because if the problem was with the system my sacrifices were meaningless. Sorry for being vague. I’m afraid the details would weigh things down too much.

    • My ex actually said to me, “If you don’t have sex with me I’ll tell the church and they’ll make you obey me.” So it’s not always a subtle coercion.

      • No. That’s a “good” example (not good that it happened, but on point.) I keep thinking about how the church enforces these types of systems. If he had gone to church leadership, what could they have done?

        • True. I think it was how blatantly he was willing to use the church against me that finally made me realize how brainwashed I’d been. And that AHA! moment was one of the biggest cracks in the cage that had held me for so long up until that point.

    • “But I needed the problem to be with me and not with the system. Because if the problem was with the system my sacrifices were meaningless.” That seems to be a pretty good explanation why so many women continue supporting complementarianism. Thanks for your wise words.

  • TheBrett

    Sounds true enough. It’s like the idea of “bounded agency”.

    • I actually talk about bounded choices a bit in a comment below, so yes. 🙂

  • Ain’t nothing wrong with a clickbait title once in a while!

  • Amanda M.

    Admittedly, I was a little concerned where you were going with this when I first started reading but then I realized what you were trying to say, at least what I’m pretty sure you’re trying to say. Just to clarify, and possibly sum up the post, you’re saying that there is an issue in which wives are made to feel like they are obligated by to have sex with their husbands whether they really want to or not, and this creates a bit of a grey area when it comes to consent. It’s not rape but it’s not exactly consensual. (The way consent has been defined in regards to sex is that only a fully enthusiastic “yes” without any form of cohersion or being under the influence of any drug or alcohol is true consent)

  • Teresa Rincon

    What is your opinion of Fifty Shades of Grey? It seems like there is a sexual domination chic that society accepts as long as there is there is no explicit religious underpinning involved.

    • Christian Janeway

      There is a religious underpinning to some domination. If you have a strong stomach, google “Christian Domestic Discipline.” But we’re talking about every-day sex here, within a Complementarian marriage, where male rule is expected to be the norm, even in the bedroom. 🙁

      • pl1224

        FYI, if you google “Christian Domestic Discipline” you will need a very strong stomach–but you will also find yourself laughing in spite of yourself.

    • Guest

      Samantha’s opinions may have changed over time, but this is what she’s said on Fifty Shades of Grey and BDSM before:

      http://www.themarysue.com/i-dated-christian-grey/

      http://samanthapfield.com/tag/bdsm/

    • BDSM, if it is practiced correctly, is just one of the many things people can do during sex. I and my partner participate in several sub-categories of BDSM (impact and sensation play). I am typically a “bottom” and he is typically a “top,” although we don’t usually role play or power play, so the sub/dom aspect isn’t really something we have to talk about. However, even sub/dom play can be done in such a way that doesn’t restrict a person’s agency and ability to give free consent.

      There are differences between the book and film versions of Fifty Shades of Grey. In the books he’s a rapist. Period. She says no, he rapes her anyway. Anyone who argues differently is a rape apologist, end of story. However, in the film, the sex scenes included are consensual … but the relationship is abusive. Christian Grey, book or film versions, is an abuser.

      That our culture romanticizes abuse is a related problem, but not really a topic that can be covered in a comment. Hence why I’ve written a lot of posts about it (http://www.themarysue.com/i-dated-christian-grey/) and (http://www.themarysue.com/buffy-the-vampire-slayer-abuse-whyistayed/) notably.

      • Kevin

        I know more about this than people may expect, my being a homeschooled virgin from purity culture.(I’ve never practiced it though.) Do you think safewords would be helpful for vanilla people as well?

        • Perhaps the concept? We don’t use “safewords” because we don’t role play at all, so if I say “eh, that’s too much” … I really just mean “That’s too much.”

          But basically any encouragement toward honest communication where you talk about what you actually want is a good idea.

          • Beroli

            One of the commenters on Love Joy Feminism has a story she’s told a couple times about explaining the concept of safewords to a five-year-old niece, upon realizing that the niece in question didn’t actually want her to stop tickling when the niece said “No!”

        • Guest

          I think so. I will tickle my partner sometimes and sometimes they’ll say “stop” and not really want me to stop. But I know that when they say “stop” multiple times in a row they really do mean it. There are also other body language cues like smiling when saying stop (it’s okay to keep going) versus trying to curl up into a ball or roll over (it’s definitely time to stop). Similarly, there will be times when I say things that might sound like I want to stop when really I don’t. But we know each other well and we’ve talked about it enough that we can trust things like body language and tone of voice instead of just relying on verbal cues. We have vanilla sex. Still, we have a safeword we agreed on just in case one of us feels misunderstood. I think a lot of BDSM concepts are useful in contexts outside BDSM.

  • Sarah S

    Thank you for this. It needs to be talked about.

  • Christian Janeway

    This is a wonderful, and reasonably controversial post, because I’ve experience the Complementarian Sexual Fallacy™ long enough to hate it with a passion.

    However, we had to overcome this long-ingrained habit. Once, I said, “No, I really don’t want to,” because….wait, because REASONS! Reasons I don’t have to justify, right? However, he kept saying, “Aw…come on….” and continuing. I physically pulled back, and said, “I need you to let my No be No.”

    Not only did he jerk away like I’d poked him w/ a cattle prod, he spent the entire next day horrified, wondering why in the ever-loving HELL he thought it was okay to keep going after I said “No.” I said, “Because I’ve never said no before! I thought you’d leave me for Suzy Homemaker 5000 if I didn’t fulfill your every wish on the spot!” (Thank you, Debbie Pearl, among others.)

    It was sad for *both* of us to realize we’d fallen into the Complementarian Sexual Fallacy™ for so long, and had engaged in sex that one of us did not want. 🙁 Since when did “Laying down our lives for each other” take a backseat to “Don’t deprive each other [of sex]”?

    • Christian Janeway

      And for some background: I once went to a couples retreat, and the break-out session for women was ENTIRELY on why we should be willing to have sex anywhere, all the time, and be warm/willing/engaging regardless of our feelings, because this was protecting the marriage, and was what GOD WANTED. I’m sorry, but there’s no such thing as “consent” if someone’s telling you that GOD commands this of you. “Not-doing-the-thing” equals “losing my place in God’s will.” That’s not consent.

      What in hell do we even call this? Consenusal Rape? Loss of Sexual Agency? Flat-out heresy, manipulation, etc.? Whatever it is, I’m going to argue that it’s satanic. 🙁

      • I’d call it virtual slavery, even if the chains are heretical philosophy and not literal.

      • Kevin

        I’m normally reluctant to play the “satanic” card, but considering Jesus said “The thief comes not, but to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”(John 10:10) and “You shall know them by their fruits.”(Mt 7:20); and the fact these ideas are turning out kiloliters of bad fruit, I have to agree with you.
        A number of years ago I talked to my mom about this: she explained that men have a tendency to ignore their wives’ needs. I resolved to never do that.

      • Helena Osborne

        I’ve said this before. I don’t know what to call it either. I mean, if you hold a knife to someone, and she doesn’t struggle while you rape her, we all know that’s rape. Why can’t we just call it rape when you threaten her soul with damnation (since that’s what accusing someone of unrepented sin is, more or less)? Do we need qualifiers?

    • GovPappy

      This hits so close to home for my wife and I. This was something I needed to repent of, and still do (ongoing self-reminder that that behavior is NOT EFFING OK) and she happily found her “no”. I’m reeling a bit seeing this put in writing, but that’s a good thing. I will not be a part of this horrible culture any longer.

      • Christian Janeway

        I’m so sorry, brother. I can’t hold the Vulcan responsible, and I’m 100% sure your wife doesn’t hold *you* responsible. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
        For what it’s worth, Zombie (Pappy’s wife’s nickname) would probably eat your brains out if you ever went back to your uber-fundamentalist ways. 😉

    • AnnaBanana

      Thankfully, I got married after beginning to work through these issues, and my husband is mostly understanding and absolutely never intentionally coercive (when our relationship first started, I was absolutely STUNNED to be with a guy who loves and respects me the way he does).

      But there are all these narratives still going on in my head whenever he’s in the mood and I’m not quite there. It’s not something that will probably ever work out perfectly (i.e., when he’s not in the mood and I am, he can say “no” without a twinge of guilt. Great, yeah, but I wish it worked that way for me too. I can say “no,” but I’m much more likely to feel guilty).

      Anyway, I’m basically resigned to the fact that due to cultural conditioning it may never be 100% fair and equitable, but we have good communication and a lot of love for each other, so even if it remains non-ideal, we can still have a happy and, yes, consensual sex life.

  • Lee Hauser

    I’m curious about whether this extends beyond complementarian culture. Does cultural sexual coercion exist in marriage in general? Do spouses in a theoretical egalitarian marriage have rights to each others’ bodies, or at least the right to expectation that if they ask for sex, sometimes their partner will say “yes” just because it’s expected that married people will have sex with one another?

    As a cisgendered, straight white male who entered marriage 34 years ago under a more-or-less complementarian culture, I can see where Samantha is coming from, and am at least partly down with it in this case (I have one foot on the running board, at least). I’ll be following this with interest, because I’ve found almost every time she says something I’m sure I’m going to think is going just a little too far, I end up seeing the validity of her arguments.

    (Edited to add a little clarification at the end of the first paragraph.)

    • KellyLynne

      I don’t think anyone ever has a right to another person’s body. But at the same time, sex is, for most people, a really important part of a romantic relationship. So if one partner decides that they’re just never having sex again (for whatever reason, good or bad), then that might be the end of the relationship. Maybe not, maybe it’s something they can work through. Just like you don’t get to make someone have sex they don’t want, you don’t get to make someone stay in a relationship where they’re not happy, and for a lot of people, a sexless relationship isn’t going to be a happy one.

    • I did mention this slightly with this:

      If a woman is being compelled, against her will, by an abusive system like complementarian theology (and, let’s face it, American cisheteropatriarchy), then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape.

      If you click through the links that I’ve given in the post, there are a lot of good writers talking about the ramifications that cisheteropatriarchy and compulsive heterosexuality have on women. If you’re interested in learning more, googling “compulsive heterosexuality” is a good place to start.

    • Helena Osborne

      I think men in this culture are taught, subtly and overtly, that they are owed sex, so yeah, this kind of coercion definitely exists outside of religion. My husband is somewhere between agnostic and atheist, and he’s never been raised in complementarian religion, and we had to have a serious sit down not too long ago (actually, inspired by this article, I think) that sex isn’t a matter of debate. If I say “no, not tonight,” that doesn’t mean “convince me.” He’s good about respecting my “no” like 90% of the time, but any less than 100% means we still need to work on it (just like I need to work on the times when I don’t respect his boundaries).

  • KT Pridgen

    Thank you for posting this. As I’ve worked through the issues that came through my now-defunct marriage, I’ve thought things like this a lot. Recently, I’ve started to feel like Evangelicalism/complementarianism as an ideology (and also my ex-husband through complementarian ideals) groomed me into making sexual decisions that were not best for me. I knew I wasn’t coerced in any one situation by him, but the term “cultural coercion” really hits home for me. When you hear over and over again that your spouse’s sexual faithfulness is your responsibility (and when, while dating, he makes disparaging or positive comments about the women his friends have married, depending on their sexual availability), you don’t need to be coerced any particular night or in any particular instance. The fear that the complementarian culture has built up in you is enough.

    This is not at all unhelpful to talk about. For me, on a personal level, reading this post was incredibly helpful. It helped validate the way I feel about my marriage and about my ex. So thank you.

  • kittehonmylap

    Thank you for bringing this up. Unfortunately it shows up in non-complementarian (at least, ostensibly) relationships as well…though ours was flavored that way because of upbringing.

    I’ve had to recently come to the realization that my failed marriage was sexually abusive for the last 5 years of it (we were married for nearly 12). It was subtle, but less subtle than this…

    (Trigger warning- sexual assault and rape)

    I wrote a thing about it when I was trying to comprehend it.

    It’s like you’re in prison and the first food they gave you was fine and then after a few months they started poisoning it. Occasionally there will be good food but not often enough that you can only eat the good stuff and survive. There isn’t much of the poisoned food either, but you will starve slower with it. And there is a possibility that if you eat the poisoned food, they may give you more food that isn’t poisoned. And it’s a really slow poison- like how being celiac can slowly cause cancer if you keep eating gluten.

    You could turn down the food. Nobody’s stopping you and they will take the food away. They won’t make you eat the food. But you ask for the good food & they say “nope, sorry, none of that today, this is what I have.” And it is poison. And you know it is poison. But you eat it because maybe tomorrow there will be food that isn’t- and you’re pretty sure if you turn down the poisoned food, the good food will disappear completely. And you’re so fucking hungry.

    Now do that for five years.

    And switch sex for food. And furthermore, believe that if you withhold sex, you will kill what remains of the relationship.

    What is it? Is it consensual? Is it assault? Is it abuse? Is it rape?

    (Poisoned food= me being used like a Fleshlight. Husband wouldn’t even kiss me, if I asked for any kind of reciprocity he would tell me either that “he felt too weird about it, it’s too emotional” or that me asking made him not want to do it because it felt loaded. And he had sort of encouraged me to believe that I needed to encourage him to want intimacy with me.)

    I wanted intimacy with him so badly that I was willing to take whatever bits he was willing to give me, no matter how small they were and no matter how used I felt afterwards. That doesn’t feel like consent.

    • KellyLynne

      That sounds horrible. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

  • This is fascinating and I suspect pretty true.

    I have been thinking lately about how, until very recently, pretty much all sex between men and women ever would have been rape or coercive on some level– either because women were married very young, or kept very ignorant of sex and their bodies so that marriage was inevitably terrifying, or taught that they weren’t supposed to feel sexual pleasure, or simply because they had no independence or autonomy, or because they were prostitutes or courtesans in systems that allowed them few other ways to make money (so few or no other real choices….etc). As recently as the 70s there seems to have been such a culture of sex with young girls that it can be hard to even evaluate what was happening in a way that seems to make sense (thinking of the movie Diary of a Teenage Girl, or this http://jezebel.com/what-should-we-say-about-david-bowie-and-lori-maddox-1754533894)

    Such a long history is going to be very, very hard to get free of. Complementarianism makes it worse, but it’s everywhere.

  • Maura Hart

    absolutely correct. another way to say complementarism is “male privlege” and NO female privilege whatsoever

  • Maura Hart

    also, agency schmagency. she’s there, with her vagina. obviously she is occupied reading but that does not matter. only his lust matters. that’s the agency and he is the only agent

    • To be fair, if I had this interaction with my partner, I might have happily set the book aside 🙂

      The difference is that I and my partner are equals and I feel no pressure to “meet his needs.” I’m totally confident that he’d be equally as happy joining me in reading together.

      • Kevin

        “Equally as happy joining me in reading together.” He is one cool guy! ?

  • I’m an ex-Christian turned Humanist and there are some things I look back on fondly in my Christian past: memorizing the book of Jude, helping the less fortunate, late-night theology binges, even the cheesy music that occassionally rose to a higher level.

    But I definitely regret being a Driscoll fan-boy as a young married man. Complementarianism…I don’t really know if it’s the doctrine, or the culture (or if there’s any meaningful way to separate the two)…but it places a really weird idea about sex into men’s heads. I literally felt that I was a failure as a man because my wife wouldn’t have sex with me as much as I wanted her to. I was a *spiritual failure* because I had desires that outran our sex life (and in a framework that says even fantasizing about sex with another person is a mortal sin, that can be pretty daunting). I knew that the real manly-preachers bragged (not so subtley) about their robust sex lives. Their marriages kept them from “burning up” with lust as the Apostle Paul warned could happen to single men. I knew that my wife and I could have such an amazing sex life too…if only we loved Jesus enough, read the right books together, and prayed together consistently. Just follow the formula, lead your wife to comply with the right theology, and BAM, marital bliss. I can see now of course what a crock of lies it was, what an utterly warped system pretty much guaranteed to produce problems.

  • And for the record, I think you are spot on Samantha. Complementarian theology teaches men and (especially) women that they literally do not own their bodies, but that their bodies and sexuality actually belong to their spouse. If that doesn’t complicate consent and create a “culture of coercion” (love that phrasing) I don’t know what does.

    • spacegal2003

      Well, I don’t think your body belonging to your spouse is just a complementarian idea. I’ve heard egalitarians discuss it too, in the idea of mutual submission, using the language of 1 Corinthians 7 (“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”).

      Obviously, too many people take this to the extreme. Egalitarians wouldn’t argue that this means you have to have sex every time your spouse wants it, or that if you don’t that you are in any way responsible for your spouse’s bad behavior (abuse, adultery, withdrawing, whatever). But the fact that some people have distorted the teachings to fit their own ends doesn’t necessarily negate an underlying truth, that both of you should be looking out for ways to meet each others needs.

      • That, actually is reason #1 why I don’t use the term “egalitarian” to describe myself. I think that passage is irredeemable horseshit. I also dislike the theological language surrounding the “mutual submission” concept that’s so prevalent in Christian egalitarian circles.

        • KellyLynne

          Yeah, I have mixed feelings about that one. Having a responsibility to be good to your spouse and make sure their needs are met, I can get behind. But the idea of them owning your body, even if you own theirs, is pretty creepy.

  • Mara

    Thank you so much for this. You are a fabulous human being.
    “Because, when it comes right down to the bare bones of it, most of a woman’s sexual encounters with men are unhealthy, abusive, coercive, or, yes, even rape. And it is hard, and mind-numblingly terrifying, to stare at a world where most of our sexual encounters are not fully consensual and not be sucked into a soul-drowning abyss.”
    “If a woman is being compelled, against her will, by an abusive system like complementarian theology (and, let’s face it, American cisheteropatriarchy), then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape.”

    You’ve described my life. I’m looking at that soul-drowning abyss right now. I’ve never been in a complementarian marriage, but I experienced enough coercion from Evangelicalism and cisheteropatriarchy to effectively lose any sense of autonomy for many years. It took me almost a decade to figure out why so many “consensual” sexual encounters left me literally shaking and shivering, sometimes for hours. My body recognized what my mind had not – that culturally coerced encounters are emotionally indistinguishable from rape.

  • Well written, well said, absolutely (and horrifically) true. I see it all the time as a marriage therapist. And I work hard and pray hard for God to give me a sober mind to it as a man, husband, father. I really really like this post. For us all to be whole and alive, we’ve got to have things like this named. Thank you!

  • Complementarianism is dangerous, but it’s explicit about its intentions. Most cultures don’t need to spell out their emphasis on coerced sex because it’s assumed that a woman should expect it. Children are the main goal in most traditional cultures, and sex just happens to be the means to produce them. Complementarianism is the rare traditional subculture that is willing to accept sex for it’s own sake. Most cultures believe that coercive sex should be the norm.

    In my opinion traditional Catholicism is worse because it insists that a woman is sinning if she enjoys (or worse yet, initiates) sex. So I think if you’re going to say that complementarianism is rape, then you have to expand it to a much wider argument.

    • Beroli

      What definition of “complementarianism” are you going by here?

      • The evangelical definition. The example couple she gives has read books and followed a theology that specifically defines itself as complementarian. Catholics don’t read evangelical authors, and they would be as offended by Mark Driscoll as a liberal Christian is, even if in practice traditional Catholic theology is more misogynistic.

  • S Griffith

    What a wonderful description of my nightmarish marriage of 27 years. I am five years free from it and have never been happier. Here’s a great sentence, “In order for a sexual act to be rape, it must be committed by someone who overruled or ignored another person’s bodily autonomy.” My “no” had to be so explicit, it almost required documentation. I had to have a reason. The reason had to be good enough. And, I had to have the energy to argue my side. Thank you, Samantha, for thinking this out and explaining it well. I’m sure you have folks who disagree with you. Count me as someone who experienced it. Well written.

  • Cultural coercion is totally a thing (and THANK YOU for making me aware of such a useful term!), but I do want to nuance this argument to say that men and women share responsibility for the culture we’ve created. There’s been some good work done on the sin that is counter to pride, variously called the sin of abnegation, smallness, lack of a sense of self, feminine sin; I call it echoism. The response to cultural coercion can’t be “Men, make a better culture” (which retains male power) nor “Women, make a better culture,” (which puts the burden on the victim). It must be, “How can we all participate in shifting our culture together?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on what those shifts might be!

    • KellyLynne

      That’s true up to a point, but a culture that views women as inherently less capable of leadership and intelligent thought than men isn’t going to listen to women when they point out that the culture is a problem. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  • Leanne Veitch

    I think what she’s saying is that it’s always rape, unless women are the initiator, because if we accept sex when men initiate, we’re accepting cultural conditioning. Hence, rape.

    I think she’s also saying that of course women don’t enjoy sex, except on the rare occasions that we initiate. Hence, rape.

    I disagree strongly with both assertions.

  • SirThinkALot

    I just thought I’d point out that if you are correct(and I’m not sure you are), men are culturally coerced into sex quite frequently as well. Although in a different way. Men are expected to want sex, constantly. If a man doesnt express sufficient interest in sex, or God forbid, turns down an offer of sex, its assumed something must be wrong with him.

    Ask any man, and I gurantee he’s gotten the ‘What? are you gay?’ line in response for turning down sex*. And has at some point had sex out of fear of being perceived as ‘unmanly’ or ‘gay.’

    *And before you say it, no this doenst always come from other men. Women will say this too, especially when men turn down direct propositions(I’v experienced this myself).

  • Minerva Sue

    “…then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape.”
    I have spent so much of my life dutifully having sex that sometimes even consensual sex feels like rape. Complemenatarianism has only one purpose. To exploit women. Period.

  • I cannot say AMEN enough. I was raised in the cultural coercion model and have recently entered what I believe is my first healthy sexual relationship as an adult, in a long-term relationship. It took years to get past the guilt that comes from wanting sex as a woman. When I was married to a narcissist, he told me that he didn’t want to be intimate with me any time that I would initiate. Hours later, sometimes in the dead of night, HE would initiate. It didn’t matter how much that hurt, or made me feel used or manipulated or confused. It was my job to reciprocate.
    After he had threatened to leave several times and I finally told him he could divorce me without repercussion (i.e., admitting who he really was to our friends), he suddenly wanted me all. the. time. for the first time in our relationship. It was terribly cold and coercive and awful, and so bad that even our very conservative, complementarian Christian counselor felt the need to tell me that I did NOT have to have sex with this man.
    Recently, my very healthy, kind and considerate partner–also the first man with whom I have ever experienced total acceptance and the ability to actually communicate–wanted sex at a time when I was feeling mentally and emotionally worn out. Nothing in my body said “yes,” but I felt like I should say okay anyways.
    Instead, for the first time, I looked at him and said, “I am so sorry, but could we do it in the morning?”
    I was terrified that I would lose him. I also genuinely never want to be the one who hurts someone by turning them down for sex since my partner used to do that to me.
    But miracle of all miracles, he absolutely respected it, and the next day, I initiated (much to his delight).
    Going to bed that night without feeling pressured to do something I didn’t want to do was a game-changer. I can’t believe it took me till age 30 to do it … but this article makes it so much clearer WHY.

    THANK YOU, thank you, thank you.