“Consent is not always given by choice”
Posted on November 26, 2011
I received this email a few weeks ago. I’m publishing it here with full permission of the author:
I read with interest your blog on Rape and Marriage (well some of it anyway!). I’d like to share part of my story with you if i may.
I am a born again Christian woman who has been married for 16 years. I am due to separate from my husband at the end of the month. Throughout my marriage i have been coerced and guilted into having sex on a regular basis.
As a result, i was never really ‘in the mood’. Unlike my husband, i didnt throw a sulk or resort to slaming Christian books down in front of him with titles like ‘More sex please we’re married’. I didn’t spend 2 hours sitting in bed accusing him of being a rubbish husband, saying that we had a ‘sexless’ marriage (even though we had sex twice a month) and finish off by quoting verses from the Bible at him to make him feel so crap and such a rubbish Christian husband that he would get out of bed, don some nice underwear and then ‘perform’ just to be that good Christian husband. I also didn’t have sex with him when he was ill or just after his children were born and he was completely knackered. He has never had to ‘just lie there’ whilst i had sex with him. He has never had to feel like his body is not his own and that he has little value other than that of an unpaid prostitute or sex object. He will never have had to face that awful moment of reality when the Counsellor says the ‘R’ word. He will never have to experience the awful emptiness and numbness that i feel. He will never have every shred of trust taken from him. He will never have to try and rebuild his self confidence, his self esteem, his faith. He will never have to see his friends cry for him.
I lived under the illusion that my body was not my own in marriage for 16 years. It took a straight talking Christian friend to put me right and i think its going to take a lot of counselling to get that ‘me’ back.
Thank you for your blog on this subject. Its still a taboo i feel. I have had friends who still think i should stay in this marriage and forgive him. If he was forcing me violently i’m sure they’d be telling me to run for the hills! What’s the difference though? Unwanted sex is unwanted whether you are forced to do it, coerced to do it or guilted to do it. Consent is not always given by choice. Submission is not saying you are happy to do it.
Rapidly becoming a born again Feminist,
For other posts on this issue see:
“Your husband has a right to expect regular sex”
More on husbands and their ‘entitlement’ to sex
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999
And, it need not even be a “christian” husband. It can be a lefty, hippy, atheist husband. The culture of entitlement is all the same. Spoken from 1970. That memory lasts a lifetime.
No one should be forced or pressured into sex – apart from anything else it will be shit if it’s reluctant.
But sex is a part of relationships, and both partners have a natural and valid expectation that sex will be regular and voluntary. If it isn’t, either end the relationship, or make fidelity optional. Sexual needs are important.
What a remarkable person she sounds, thanks to you Cath for provoking her response and thanks to this woman for being so incredibly honest and open.
An inspiring letter.
Agree with Anil MC over this. If she wasn’t satisfied with the relationship she should have ended it far sooner than she did. Instead she behaved like a martyr for 16 years and now blames her husband for it. And if having sex twice a month makes her feel like an unpaid prostitute why did she get married at all?
Why does she get all the responsibility? What is worse? Behaving like a “martyr” for 16 years* or using someone’s body for sexual gratification despite knowing that the other person doesn’t feel anyting for 16 years?
Did you skip that part where she says that she is a born again Christian? She most likely tried to fulfill her “wifely duties”.
Her counsellor is right: she was repeatedly raped. Start putting the blame where it belongs. No wonder so many women are sick and tired of men – empathy is obviously a concept you do not understand especially when it comes to actually having to admit to other men’s guilt. That guy is guilty of rape and that’s it. He could have made the decision to leave and he didn’t. Why? Because his wife was not human to him.
*And what a disgusting assessment to make. We are talking about a traumatic situation spanning nearly two decades and it is labelled “acting like a martyr”.
Gulfstream5, just go [comment edited by Cath] please.
I’m really glad she agreed to have this shared. I think this is something heterosexual women deal with regardless of their religious beliefs. I’ve dealt with it a few times and have listened to countless girlfriends talk about how they were guilted into sex on an almost daily basis. I appreciate it being talked about openly for what it is. Thank you.
@gulfstream5 – a)they had children b)she is a christian c)numerous potential other reasons (eg nowhere to live?) d)why didn’t HE end the relationship – instead of pressuring a clearly unwilling partner to have sex?
Responsibility in this situation is shared between both partners I think. The husband is guilty of either incompetence by oblivion at best, and abuse of trust, autonomy and the person they should care about the most at worst. The wife and author of the letter is at fault for accepting the status of victim and allowing pressure to force consent. Unless physically coerced or intimidated by the threat of violence, she would have been able to prevent having sex unwillingly. Basically the “no” has to be articulated and maintained if you want to claim rape from within a committed relationship. Clearly both could and should have left the relationship ere now. Still, at least it’s over now, and both should be happier as a result.
Anil MC – I for one would hate to have ‘sex’ with you. ‘Sex’, which in your case. I suspsect, penetration and erect penis is the default.
It’s not about being ‘physically coerced or intimated by the threat of violence’ in this instance, it’s about keeping a roof over your head, getting money to feed the children and maintaining community and religious ties.
Anil, you make ‘sex’ sound like a transaction.
I actually have tears in my eyes. 😦
AnilMC: “The wife and author of the letter is at fault for accepting the status of victim and allowing pressure to force consent.”
(Another example of a perpetrator being linguistically disappeared – the consistency and ubiquity of this phenomenon is fascinating.)
The clue here is in the words victim, pressure, and force. Her husband victimised her, and he forced her consent, on multiple occasions, by pressuring her – he would not take no for an answer. He’d already decided that not having sex was not a genuine option for her, he made it as difficult as he could for her to refuse. He wore her down. The responsibility is his. And if she had successfully resisted his pressuring, his actions were still abusive and wrong. I don’t know why you feel the need to contrive a get-out clause for him.
On the realities of “allowing” oneself to be raped, and misconceptions about overt violence and force, these two posts by Harriet at Fugitivus blog say it all:
People don’t get to choose to be a victim or not – the very nature of the concept of “victim” is that the person has been harmed in some way by someone or something – a victim of a natural disaster, or of the violent, abusive actions of another person. In the aftermath the victim might decide to redefine their relationship to what happened or what was done to them, by calling themselves a survivor, (not all victims survive of course), but that doesn’t change the fact that something terrible happened to them, that something unjust was done to them.
This is a very brave post, and a very powerful testament to what women have to put up with should they marry men, have kids, and need shelter. And I’m glad she is free, and getting help. All marriage is is legalized prostitution, and once you marry a man, he sexually owns you. You won’t escape this easily, but that is what a marriage contract is. It’s why we have radical lesbian feminism, to present a clear alternative to a life of sexual slavery to men.
Maggie – “I for one would hate to have ‘sex’ with you. ‘Sex’, which in your case. I suspsect, penetration and erect penis is the default.”
If you don’t like the fact that hetrosexual men generally regard penetration, i.e. the whole of having a bloody penis, as the default form of hetrosexual sex then I suggest you join the highly paranoid and rather mental (albeit more emotionally (proud to be homosexual) and intellectually honest (no side-stepping the real issue with them – all men are rapists. End of.)) radical lesbian feminist movement.
@ Mark. Thanks for your concern and advice. I believe that hetsex is a sharing of sexuality on an equal basis with no default mode.
Let me quote Havelock Ellis on what he thought Lesbians did in bed:
“Homosexual passion in women finds more or less complete expression in kissing, sleeping together, and close embraces, as in what is sometimes called ‘lying spoons’…mutual contact and friction of the sexual parts seems to be comparatively rare…While the use of the clitoris is rare in homesexuality, the use of an artificial penis is by no means uncommon and very widespread.”
I don’t believe that Ellis was being humourous or sarcastic when he wrote this, though I find it hilarious. The use of dildos in ‘Lesbian sex’, is a common motif of het male sexual fantasies. It was so in nineteenth century pronography as it still is today.
Mark, I congratulate you on the fact that in your brief description of Radical Lesbianism, you’ve steered clear of this het male dildo fantasy.
In spite of your clumsy efforts to make a comparison I’ve neither said nor implied anything regarding the use of dildos within lesbian relationships. This is something that occupies your mind, not mine. This is what happens when statements are viewed through the lens of a dogmatic belief system; gibberish gets spouted. As I stated, you clearly don’t like the idea of men expressing their sexuality through vaginal penetration, as most would want to during intercourse.
So tell me, from a feminist perspective, what exactly are men generally allowed to do with their penises during an ‘equal sharing’ of ‘hetsex’?
intercourse is the cause of ALL female-specific suffering around the world. all of it. what happens to female-bodied persons when men ejaculate into us is tangible, demonstrable harm, and women are terrorized by it, and suffer and die from it. 500,000 women every year globally die from complications related to pregnancy, most of these are unwanted or ambivalent pregnancies that occur because of mandatory intercourse, and the PIV-as-sex paradigm. birth control devices and medications can also kill you. this is unacceptable. intercourse clearly has very little to do with “sex” from womens perspective, and everything to do with suffering, death, fear, and being dominated and used by men.
this is not sex, and it should not be a part of any relationship. yet, it most certainly *is* a part of almost every single het relationship in every culture around the world. this is the cornerstone of patriarchy, and all het men support this and are supported by this paradigm. and radical feminists are not the only ones to know it, either. all women know the harms to women of the penis. they deal with it the best they can, because there are no other viable options for het women. women know we are victims to dangerous male sexuality and men know it too. its time this was discussed openly. and it is being discussed openly. thank you for this post.
I’ve been married 15 years and have been guilted many times, threatened to be cut off financially if I didn’t full fill my duties in bed. I go through physical abuse as well. I have taken sleeping aids and woke up to my husband having sex with me but was to scared to say anything in fear of his anger. He makes a point to tell me bc when I was young I made mistakes and have a record he doesn’t he says no one will believe me. He’s been rough when drinking made me bleed I was crying and he doesn’t stop till he’s done. What do you do when this is your husband and everyone loves and respects him. As a woman I feel like I won’t be believed that they will say it’s bc i want something from a divorce or if I keep staying it will just get bad bc i said something. Where can I turn if I speak out it has to be when I’m leaving and they will say I’m only saying it bc i want out. Is it worth even telling bc what happens to me when I do.