Marriage Is Not Consent: How Purity Culture Perpetuates Rape Culture

Most of the time when some sexist bullshit comes across my Twitter feed, I ignore it. I don’t have the energy to exert the amount of rage required to process every single one of these things. But every once in a while, something catches my attention and fuels my anger so profusely that I simply can’t look away.

It happened when No Shame Movement (which is a fantastic resource for anyone trying to unlearn purity culture) found, shared, and disputed an article titled Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal. It’s as bad as it sounds. I hate even linking to it to drive traffic, but it needs to be shared so an important conversation can be started about purity culture and how it perpetuates rape culture.

The article’s birthplace, Forgiven Wife, is a website dedicated to ‘helping’ married women fulfill their husband’s sexual needs. It specifically targets wives who refuse sex to their husbands. Here’s an excerpt from the about page (emphasis is mine):

I crawled out of the pit of sexual refusal and am learning to dance with desire. As I reformed my wifely self, I faced hard truths. I hurt my husband deeply. But now I am the Forgiven Wife. If you are a wife whose husband is sexually unhappy, let me walk with you for a while. I promise no yelling, just understanding and sharing and some virtual chocolate from time to time.”

The article I linked above talks about why sexual refusal is bad for marriage, bad for a man’s health, and how it makes a bad Christian. It makes me a little sick to even sum it up, but there you go. It quickly escalates, toting phrases like “Your husband’s sexuality is godly” in bold, in case you don’t understand how important godly is. And then we’re told that a husband not getting sex from his wife is literally “the worst thing in his life” again, in bold, because why the hell not. Shortly after comes the religion which I’m not even going to get into here but if you’re looking for a reason to be angry, by all means, go read it.

It’s not even just that article. I did some further reading (don’t, it’s a terrible idea) and found other content that’s just as troubling. There’s a piece that tells women how to have sex even when they don’t want to. Somewhere in there I found this gem:

“I began first by being more engaged when we were having sex (instead of just lying there and waiting until he was done). My next step was to stop refusing. Did you know that it is normal for a woman to not want to have sex until she’s already having it?”

I had to stop reading for awhile after that. I’ve literally heard that same question posed in rape defenses: ‘it’s normal for a woman to not want sex until she’s already having it.’ After a few deep breaths (and a glass of wine) I returned. I wanted to understand. I thought maybe I’d eventually find something that made sense. As you’d expect, the deeper I dove, the more horrified I became. I can’t even begin to document all of the awful things I read. I have to admit, by this point I was close to sending a rage-fueled, expletive-heavy message because it was this type of thinking that royally screwed me up. I clicked on the contact link and started typing but then I stopped. I couldn’t do it.

I want to be mad at her but I can’t. Yes, the subject matter infuriates me and I hate that she’s encouraging other women down this path, but I can’t blame the author. Because after navigating through this site, I truly understand the phrase ‘internalized misogyny.’ When I sit down and think about it, I could have grown up to be this woman. I began my marriage with much of the same dogma. And if I had married a different man or kept going to the same church, I could still be living with the idea that I owe sex to my husband for no reason other than he married me.

I was raised in purity culture. I vividly recall my pastor, a middle-aged white man, teaching my congregation about god’s commandments for ‘blessed’ marriage. He called women to glorify their husbands through sex. Though it was never explicitly said, there was an understanding that refusal simply wasn’t an option. I even remember sermons where it was said that when men cheat, often his wife is to blame because she withheld sex and the husband had to find his release elsewhere. Because men have needs. So women who love their husbands and want to be blessed would obey their husbands. Sex was part of that.

But here’s the thing: marriage is not consent. After you get married, your body is still your body. If you’re religious and believe that your body belongs to god, the same still applies because your husband is not god. Yes, I know there are bible verses that will dispute me. I was a churchgoer for most of my life and I know scripture can be twisted and spun to further an agenda. The real issue is that there are married women out there who have sex with their husbands because they are told they have to. They are told that they can’t refuse because that makes them bad Christians. There are women who let their husbands take advantage of them over and over again. They were taught that ‘no’ isn’t an option. They were taught that ‘no’ is a sin.

The woman behind Forgiven Wife, like many other women raised in purity culture, has been taught that she does not own her sexuality. It is owned first by god and second by her husband. It’s the same reason women are called to remain virgins until marriage. Because no one, not even the woman herself, is entitled to her sexuality until she’s married. Then, it becomes her husband’s property and she must use it to fulfill his desires. No one ever wants to equate religion with rape culture, but I’m going to do it because it needs to stop being ignored. Churches who preach purity culture absolutely perpetuate rape culture. These same churches tell women that their husbands are entitled to sex simply because they’re married. They call it “God’s Will.” Let me reiterate: marriage is not consent. Marriage does not give him a right to your body. Marriage does not mean you owe him sex. Marriage does not mean you can’t refuse him. Marriage doesn’t mean shit when you say no. Married or not, no is always an option and no needs to be respected.

(Author’s Note: Forgiven Wife has since edited the original post to better explain some of the points I refute in this article.) TC mark

image – holgabot

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