Do Not Deprive One Another

Mallard’s Razor Applied to the Marriage Discourse

If you have spent any amount of time at all observing online discussions or popular teaching in the churches about marriage relationships, especially in regard to intimacy, you have likely noticed that the default setting for all discourse is that what women need from men is completely reasonable and can never be denied them, but what men need from women is a gross imposition and Herculean task they should never be obligated to perform. In one such recent online pontification from a woke pastor, the claim was made that “Husbands are never entitled to have sex with their wives. I don’t care if it’s your wedding night, your anniversary, or your birthday. Love is patient.” Rhetoric like this abounds from pastors across the theological spectrum, usually to a chorus of ‘stunnings’ and ‘braves.’ 

Now, I have developed a heuristic to quickly sniff out if a statement about marriage or sex roles is accurate or just another attempt to manipulate Christians into adopting contemporary, unbiblical attitudes. That heuristic is this: “Can I apply this statement, mutatis mutandis, to the other sex with the approval of the party making it?” If not, then it’s probably not a biblically sound idea, and we are being played. 

So upon reading the above claim about sex and entitlement, I immediately applied Mallard’s Razor©. It is generally agreed that husbands are more needy in the realm of conjugal relations and wives are more needy in the realm of emotional support. So I shot back to the author, “Wives are never entitled to have emotional support from their husbands. I don’t care if it’s been a hard day, you are overwhelmed, or you really just need to be heard. Love is patient.” The response from the author, and a great many others, was both predictable and telling. Of course, they would not have it. The idea that a husband could withhold emotional support from his wife provoked an enraged response, with a flurry of accusations about how much of an incel and spousal abuser I must simultaneously be. Mallard’s Razor: Don’t get on Twitter without it.

I could go off from here into various aspects of the digital battle that ensued, as many came to defend my exposure of the original statement, and all manner of silly cavils about men and sex were thrown out against us. But I want to focus on one idea that kept coming up in the arguments. Multiple times in the replies to my post I’ve now been told that emotional intimacy is definitional to marriage, while sex is optional. Thus, it would be faithless, a dereliction of duty, for a husband to not render emotional support to his wife if she needed a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. At the same time, a man has no claim at all upon his wife sexually, it seems. This idea is, in the words of quite a few angry people, “very rapey.”

And here, any competent Bible student can see that the feministic stance on the sexual and emotional obligations of spouses is exactly the reverse of the case, if anything. The Bible, and the Christian tradition as a consequence, clearly holds that sex (and the fruit that ordinarily comes from it) is the primary, distinctive feature of marriage. Marriage is designed to be the place where sex happens. Marriage and sex are not the same thing, but the latter is a necessary condition and the primary reason for the former. Marriage is meant to channel the incredible power of human sexuality into a constructive force- biologically, psychologically, and socially. When the heat of sexuality is allowed to run outside of marriage, it is inevitably a destructive fire. And of course, having a marriage without sex, is like building a forge to do basket weaving. So it shouldn’t be controversial to say that by design sex should be happening in marriage. Which means spouses owe conjugal relations to each other. They are in fact entitled to sex with their mate.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says “Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife [which could possibly entail sex], for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed [which definitely entails sex]; and for preventing of uncleanness [again, definitely entails sex].” (24.2) If all someone is looking for is good advice or help around the house, other arrangements, from friendships to hiring a handyman, will do. But marriage has more in view than that. If you think this is just some extreme Puritan take, the words of the Book of Common Prayer (1662) give us the same three purposes: 

“First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

For Puritan and Cavalier alike, marriage has the same purposes. And of course, these are all purposes clearly drawn from Scripture, notably 1 Corinthians 7:2-5:

“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

With the above in view, a marriage where sex is withheld by one party permanently, apart from reasons of physical or other impairment, is tantamount to abandonment and grounds for divorce. In the aftermath of the online spat noted above, a wise person suggested that just as porn use can rise to the level of divorceable adultery, denial of conjugal relations can rise to the level of divorceable abandonment. Again, Mallard’s Razor is useful here. I wonder how many evangelical feminists that chafe at the idea that a wife otherwise capable of rendering due benevolence who persistently refuses to do so is in violation of the marriage covenant and liable to be divorced would fully support a wife divorcing a husband with a porn addiction. So then, without ongoing conjugal generosity, a marriage is effectively killed. It is a form of desertion.

Let me briefly note that unwed people who cannot or will not have sex with their espoused when married should not be permitted to wed at all. Without any consummation, there is no marriage. This was uncontroversial in past ages, when the idea of a merely companionate, non-sexual marriage was unthinkable (I hope those who hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary can at least agree that hers would have been an utterly unique situation). Let me also add that nothing I have said thus far should be taken as applicable to those, who for reasons of infirmity, after marriage, have lost the ability to safely engage in sexual intercourse. In this case, there is a failure of ability, but not of good will to render what is due. To such people, we have no quarrel with you, and you and your spouse have our sympathy.

Now emotional intimacy is not definitional to marriage in nearly the same way that sexual relations are. To borrow scholastic thinking, sex is of the esse, or being, of marriage. Emotional intimacy is of the bene esse, or well-being, of marriage. While not strictly necessary for it to be legitimate, emotional intimacy is a very good thing, and it should be present ideally. I would happily concede that husbands should be willing to hold their wives when they need to be held, and listen to them when they need to be heard, even if they are tired or not in the mood.

I can sense that many might already be objecting that sexual and emotional availability are apples and oranges, and that the same standards cannot apply to both. But consider this point, lost on most of the feminist harpies: emotional intimacy and sex are inextricably bound together for men. With apologies to Gary Chapman, sex is virtually every man’s love language. Refusing a reasonable expectation of sex is how a wife says, “I don’t love you.” When a wife says sex is optional, non-essential, or subject solely to her mood, she is saying her love is optional, non-essential, and subject solely to her mood. Many good women accept this truth, although I am unsure if any woman truly understands what this is like for a man.

Yes, there will be times when a woman is exhausted, or unwell, or going through something that makes sex a low priority or difficult to get into, and a good husband will respect that. Men actually want our wives to have fun and feel good when we come together. But that’s a far cry from saying women are just never obligated to respond sexually, as if it’s merely an accessory to marriage and their “mood” is supreme. People do all kinds of activities that they find enjoyable even without being in some kind of special mood for them. Saying, “Now is just really not a good time, because I have to get up early tomorrow. Can you wait?” is a far cry from “I will have sex with you when and only when my Mood™ and the Holy Law of Consent determines so, which may be never.” Men are rightly expected to do all sorts of things for the good of their wives, even when tired or not really excited about it, up to and including death. It’s not some kind of violation of their wills. They agreed, they consented to it, at the altar. Likewise, these women in my replies talking about how onerous “penetration” is, like sex is a painful surgical procedure or physical affliction to be borne, are ridiculous. If being penetrated by the man is so awful why did you ever marry the guy? You agreed to do this regularly with him when you made the vows. It’s not “rapey” for him to expect you to do the thing you promised to do with him when circumstances allow, except by the very twisted modern consent doctrine that ultimately makes any intimate encounter a potential sex crime depending on her mood.

In the end, this feministic lens of entitlement, consent, and remuneration effectively turns marriage into another form of wage employment, where we need a detailed contract to determine how much a wife will be emotionally or otherwise “compensated” before she can submit to the “labor” of sexual intercourse. While they complain that traditional marriage is just cleverly disguised prostitution, it is their model of husbands earning or meriting every roll in the hay based on their level of relational performance that is far more transactional. Traditional marriage is a covenant where parties pledge to give to the other what is needed.

We’ve lost the idea of marriage as two people working for the common purpose of building a family and a home, furthering the life of their people another generation, exhausting themselves, laughing, crying, and enjoying each other in every way, as they do it. Feminism has killed all the magic and romance of marriage with its dour obsessing over consent, labor, remuneration, etc., turning wives into lawyers and men into beggars. Away with all of it. Have sex (and babies), a lot! Even when it’s not on the top of your personal to do list! Even when he didn’t get his to-do list completed. Even if you aren’t chomping at the bit for it. Don’t be weird and demand sex when she’s really busy or can’t stay awake after a long day. Don’t neglect your own duties to her. Everyone just do what you have to do, be generous, and leave ample time both to communicate and knock boots.

This is not new. Our forefathers (and foremothers) taught much the same. I will leave you with this lengthy passage from William Gouge’s classic ‘On Domesticall Duties’ (I have taken the liberty to modernize the language a bit):

For preventing this heinous sin [adultery]…One of the best remedies that can be prescribed to married persons (next to an awful fear of God, and a continual setting of him before them, wheresoever they are) is, that husband and wife mutually delight each in other, and maintain a pure and fervent love betwixt themselves, yielding that due benevolence one to another which is warranted and sanctified by God’s word, and ordained of God for this particular end. This due benevolence (as the Apostle styles it) is one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage: and necessary for the main and principal ends thereof: as for preservation of chastity in such as have not the gift of continence, for increasing the world with a legitimate brood, and for linking the affections of the married couple more firmly together. These ends of marriage, at least the two former, are made void without this duty be performed.

As it is called benevolence because it must be performed with good will and delight, willingly, readily and cheerfully; so it is said to be due because it is a debt which the wife owes to her husband, and he to her. For the wife hath not the power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not the power of his own body, but the wife.

I have my warrant from the Apostle to prescribe this duty as a remedy against adultery. For to avoid fornication, he advises man and wife to render due benevolence one to another. If then this question be moved (How will marriage keep men and women from adultery?) this answer out of the Apostle’s words may be given (by rendering due benevolence) which he further inculcates by declaring the mischief that may follow upon the neglect of this duty, namely a casting of themselves into the snares of Satan. Well might he press this duty to that end, because no other means is of like force: nor fasting, nor watching, nor hard lodging, nor long travel, nor much labor, nor cold, nor solitariness, nor anything else. Some that have by these means endeavored much to beat down their bodies, and subdue lust (but neglected the forenamed remedy) have notwithstanding felt lust boiling in them.

There are two extremes contrary to this duty. One in the defect: another in the excess.

Defect therein is, when in case of need it is not required, or being required by the one, it is not yielded by the other. Modesty is pretended by some for not requiring it: but in a duty so warrantable and needful, pretense of modesty is (to speak the least) a sign of great infirmity, and a cause of much iniquity.

To deny this duty being justly required, is to deny a due debt, and to give Satan great advantage. The punishment inflicted on Onan, (Gen. 38. 9, 10) shows how great a wrong this is. From that punishment the Hebrews gather that this sin is a kind of murder. It is so much the more heinous when hatred, stoutness, niceness, fear of having too many children, or any other like respects, are the cause thereof.

Excess is either in the measure, or in the time. In the measure, when husband or wife is insatiable; provoking, rather than assuaging lust, and weakening their natural vigor more than suppressing their unnatural humor. Many husbands and wives are much oppressed by their bedfellows’ insatiableness in this kind.

In the time, when it is against piety, mercy, or modesty.

1. Against piety, when no day, nor duty of religion, no not extraordinary days, and duties of humiliation, will make them forbear. The Prophets bidding the bridegroom and bride go out of their chamber in the day of a fast, and the Apostles excepting of prayer and fasting, where he enjoins this duty of due benevolence, shew that in the time of a Fast it must be forborne.

2. Against mercy, when one of the married couple being weak by sickness, pain, labor, travel, or any other like means, and through that weakness not well able to perform his duty, the other notwithstanding will have it performed. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” says the Lord. Shall God’s sacrifice give place to mercy, and shall not man’s or woman’s (for so I may well term this unseasonable desire)?

3. Against modesty, when husbands require this duty in that time, which under the Law was called the time of a wife’s separation for her disease (Lev. 15. 19 &c.) For what can be expected from such polluted copulation, but a leprous and loathsome generation? This kind of intemperance is expressly forbidden (Lev. 18. 19) and a capital punishment inflicted on such as offended therein (Lev. 20. 18) Abstinence in this time is set in the catalogue of those notes which declare a man to be righteous (Eccles. 20. 7) and the contrary intemperance is put in the roll of such abominations as provoked God to spew out the Canaanites (Lev. 18. 28) and to forsake his own inheritance (Ezek. 22. 10).

To this kind of intemperance some refer a man’s knowing of his wife after she hath conceived with child. But I find no such matter condemned in God’s word: neither dare I make that a sin which is not there condemned. Certain sects among the Jews are branded for this error.

Nothing I have argued for in this article differs from what Gouge says here. The idea that spouses are entitled to conjugal love from one another was not at all controversial until our time. Notice also that even in those alleged dark ages of misogyny, Gouge expounds reasonable limits to that entitlement. No orthodox divine has ever believed entitlement to regular sexual relations necessitates some kind of absolute, animalistic domination, as the feminists caricature it. Let us live in the light of Scripture and follow in the wise steps of our Christian forebears, in marriage and in all things. 

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The Mallard Reborn

The Mallard Reborn is a very happily married father of eight from Pennsylvania, where he reads lots of theology and history and unsuccessfully attempts to keep bees.

2 thoughts on “Do Not Deprive One Another

  1. “If being penetrated by the man is so awful why did you ever marry the guy?” Because they were virgins who didn’t know better until they married the guy! Think, man, think!
    How would they know how horrible it is to be penetrated if they gave never been penetrated before, precisely because they did what the Bible wants? You’re not allowed to take a test drive with your bodies in the Bible’s plan in either the law or the gospel.
    Back in the day, you bought her from her father ‘as is’ after having her examined for freshness (enforcable by death penalty Deut 22:20-21), and she was yours, her legal person was entirely under your ownership (Numbers 30:1-16). God’s plan is not her comfort or happiness (Genesis 3:16).

  2. Good article !
    Gordon sounds like a one trick pony – it’s not unusual for a first time experience to be uncomfortable or scary but over time (as experience, open-mindedness and curiosity grows) you find both the joy and wisdom for what the practice or event you experienced was intended. I’ve know folks who have literally vomited during their first plane or boat ride who later became airline pilots, astronauts and ship captains as their experience matured ! Perhaps advice from older godly women in the church (as taught by Scripture cf Titus 2:3-8) would easily suffice … Gordons views describes a “one and done” kind of person (or someone with an agenda or a bias). You could go the American & Hollywood way to individualize your just “falling in love” – But Biblically, martial love is learning to “grow in love” and that takes time and patience for everyone, no matter who is involved.

    As to those Biblical laws you quoted (and failed to consider), they existed for the ‘protection’ of women and to secure the sanctity of marriage. Your interpretations are a straw-man (that is void of all historical context) and ignores what it was like for women when the passages you quoted were written (eg., surrounding current pagan cultures where women could be cast out, abused, killed or sold at the whim of their husband “for any reason”). And if you want to understand Ge.3:16, first learn what Gen.3:15 means as the promises of the covenant develop eg. 2:23-25, 15:4-6, 17:3-9 with Galatians 3:16-18, 29.

    Further as for arranged marriages … well ironically, the stats show that more people around the world that exclusively or individually choose their own spouses (without any parental blessing or involved) get divorced more often than those who participate in arranged marriages. While I’m not advocating for arranged marriages (and not all Biblical marriages were), I do believe couples should be committed to enjoy the blessing & wisdom of godly parents whenever available (anything else would be sound foolishness!). Likewise, no marriages are perfect but that is hardly a reason to abandon the institution.

    You also fail to mention Jesus & Paul who (unlike you) rightly interpret the purpose and intent of these laws by incapsulating them in the command “husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her” (Eph.5:22-33) … which of course you fail to harmonize in your proof texting. After almost 50 yrs of marriage I would say these verses sum up all the Biblical mandates when we consider the Bible’s teaching (as “a whole unit”) on marriage as a covenant bond between a man and a woman.
    CF. Ephesians 5 in context – much to learn here.
    “22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church … 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

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