Guest post by Christina Kroeger
Before I got married, consent was pretty clear to me. If he wanted to touch me, I could say,”No” and that was the end of the conversation. No push backs. No attempts at convincing me otherwise. No means no.
My “No” was always respected.
My good fortune left me with a serious downside. I thought consent belonged solely in the realm of “before marriage”. I believed that the only reason one would have issues with sex after marriage is if there had been issues with sex before marriage. People often mentioned sex being hard, but I kept thinking mechanically difficult. I wasn’t really prepared for the fact that a couple’s sex life affects almost every aspect of their marriage. I had no idea that (for instance) if your husband is insecure about some random issue in his workplace, he could take that into bed with him. Before marriage it didn’t occur to me that I might need to know how to deal with saying “No” after marriage.
I am someone who loved physical touch before she got married, and after I was married I still enjoyed physical intimacy quite a bit.
But then I had kids, and my desire for physical intimacy plummeted.
I wasn’t “in the mood” all that often. So consent would have come in really handy at this point. And yet, for Christians, it’s not always as simple at “No means no”. There’s more to take into account, Paul for instance, in 1 Corinthians 7:5, where neither spouse can just wake up one day and decide that you’re not going to be intimate for an extended period of time without the other’s consent. For Paul, consent is about consenting to stop, not just consenting to start. And even then he lists a specific reason why you should abstain – to give yourselves over to prayer. I don’t think Paul is necessarily saying that prayer is the only reason you should abstain. I think he’s communicating that this is not a decision that you can make without the consent of your spouse nor is it one you should make lightly.
So here I was, really tired and hormonal and exhausted from taking care of tiny human beings that have absolutely zero care that they are crossing all kinds of boundaries, and my husband was standing off to the side kind of waiting for me to remember that he still existed.
I began to wrestle with feelings of entitlement toward my body and began to resent my children and husband for needing my body so much. Unfortunately, my husband was often my “emotional punching bag” during these moments of resentment. And remember, this is coming from the same woman who had trouble keeping her hands off of him before we got married. You can imagine his confusion.
I was confused as well. I had little idea how to voice what I was feeling. I had never before felt like my body was being used in a way that I did not want it to be. Pregnancy – a beautiful experience, definitely – is completely invasive. To put it simply, I was not prepared for how much ownership of my body that I would have to sign over. I reacted by becoming incredibly possessive of the meager moments in which no one was attached to me.
I was caught between that verse in Corinthians and the many days that I wanted to go half an hour without anyone needing my body – as a source of nourishment, comfort, physical intimacy, or even just my presence.
Truthfully, we both carry a few scars from the past few years of our marriage. I would say that we both were guilty of demanding our physical needs be met by the other in a way that wasn’t fair to the other.
Christians will tell you it is much easier to give of yourself when what you’re giving is being honored and seen as the gift that it is. But I would add that it’s impossible to give anything if it’s not really yours to give.
Many conversation with my husband later, I realized I had not been honoring my husband’s physical sacrifice either. The many date nights, the times he would sit next to me and listen to me vent, the times he would take the kids and let me escape – all of these things I had treated as an expectation rather than a gift. We were both assuming ownership in places we needed to practice, again, asking for permission, rather than trampling in assuming dominance. Since talking about this topic in our marriage, we have asked each other’s forgiveness and seen a lot of healing.
Regardless of your interpretation of husband/wife roles in the hot-button Ephesians 5 passage – one thing is clear – Paul is asking husbands and wives to honor & value each other. I don’t believe Paul intended husbands or wives to feel used.
What’s more, I don’t believe Jesus did either. If we look to how Christ went about sacrificing His physical person (and aren’t we fortunate that of all the behaviors we can look to Christ for, this one is kind of His trademark) it was done so willingly. (John 10:18). Jesus never gave in for fear of not looking good, or disappointing the Pharisees or even his disciples. Even at his death, Jesus was not manipulated, badgered, or coerced into giving his body for us.
Having kids has made me realize that the conversation about consent – consent before marriage and consent after marriage – is worth having.
Are we, as a Church, providing safe places for women and men to have these conversations? To ask the hard questions?
- Are we teaching that sexual intimacy is always a gift, never an expectation, especially after marriage?
- How can we make the transition more smooth from going from a more restricted physical relationship before marriage (where one might have even needed to put the brakes on a moment of physical intimacy with their future spouse) to one that has much more freedom after marriage?
- How can I tell my spouse that what they’re asking me to do makes me uncomfortable without shaming them or making them feel unloved?
- How can I tell my spouse that I would like them to engage more emotionally in physical intimacy without making them feel like what they’re doing isn’t good enough?
- How can I ask my spouse for something in the physical intimacy department while also communicating an appreciation for what they already give me?
- How can I tell my spouse, “Not tonight, babe,” in a way that is life-giving? How do I respond when my spouse tells me, “Not tonight, babe,” in a way that is life-giving?
I believe it would be good for us to help men and women know what it looks like to be self-giving with their bodies in a way that is right and good and healthy before and after marriage.
The times that I’ve engaged in physical intimacy when I wasn’t ready and didn’t speak up out of a guilt-based sense of obligation or an insecurity have often brought resentment and broken trust (even though my husband never demanded or forced me at any time, it still broke my trust). The times in marriage that I’ve engaged in physical intimacy, even when I don’t feel like it, from a place of self-giving or wanting to love my husband often bring wholeness and greater trust between us. Unspoken resistance kills intimacy, willing nakedness fosters it.
I believe the church should be one of the most active voices in the conversation about consent. It would be a powerful witness if a generation of women & men were raised up that understood what it meant to honor each other’s physical bodies before marriage, so that they could understand the deep beauty of honoring each other’s bodies after marriage.
Christina is a disciple of Jesus, the wife of a philosopher, mom to Zeke & Evie. She likes her theology like she likes her coffee: strong, but with a lot of cream & sugar to make it palatable. She works in campus ministry and spends her days helping college students understand that life is hard, but Jesus is good. Follow her blog at Mrs. Kroeger.
Photo credit: Google images