They say that men give love to get sex, and women give sex to get love.
If this is true, then marriage is nothing but a market exchange where we trade emotion for flesh in a desperate attempt to satisfy our own cravings. If this is true, I am simply a customer settling a invoice with flowers and kisses, my wife is a deluxe call girl with a long-term contract, and love is a filthy currency.
As a newlywed man, with stockpiled marriage advice ringing in my ears, the sex/love economy hung heavy over my head. I worried about whether I was paying the fair market price of love for the sex I was getting. I worried that my wife wasn’t really interested in sex at all, but she just went along with it because it was in the small print on our marriage contract. No matter how many times she assured me otherswise, I couldn’t shake the feeling that sex was only a means to an end for her. I couldn’t shake the fear that she would think my love for her was only a way to get into her pants.
Rather than rejecting the sex/love economy, Christian relationship advice just operates within it. Apparently talking about the profound differences between men and women is a good way to sell books and fill up marriage conferences. Women are painted as mysterious creatures that must be decrypted before they can be understood, and then the secret to understanding your spouse is promised between the covers of whatever book is popular this year. And it’s all fun and games until you’re a confused newlywed trying to figure out all the secrets to loving your wife with fear of failure hanging low and heavy above your head.
I’ve given up on all that now.
The sex/love trading post has been shut down in this house. I enjoy sex. Sometimes I crave it. (In that way, sex is a lot like a bacon cheeseburger.) But it doesn’t control me, and it doesn’t define me. I am not a robot shuffling mechanically through life seeking out the next sexual power-up to keep me going.
I recently read a FamilyLife article about “Why Sex is So Important to Your Husband” that reminded me of all this all over again. I didn’t recognize myself in the picture they painted. Instead I saw a robot who trades love for sex and sees relationship as an afterthought.
It’s time to terminate that robot and become human again.
My primary motivation is not sex.
“A woman’s picture of romance tends to revolve around her emotional needs and her thirst for a relationship with her husband…. A man’s view of romance is much more focused on a single experience: sexual affirmation. In that regard, God wired men and women very differently.”
No. Men and women are not wired by God at all. We are flesh and blood and breath and electricity all bound up together in skin. We are whole human beings fully alive. Wires are for robots.
These blanket statements drive a wedge of fear between us, as if we are more different than the same. As if my wife’s “emotional needs” are some mysterious force beyond my simple sex-driven understanding.
This seems to imply that my thirst for sex drives me more than my thirst for relationship. As if relationship is the domain of a woman, and an afterthought for men. As if I trade love for sex.
This is every sort of false. Sex is a part of romance and relationship for both of us, in pretty equal measure. We were friends before we were lovers. I can live without sex, but I deeply need my relationship with my wife.
My sexual urges do not control me.
“A wife must understand that temptation can get a foothold when her husband’s sexual needs (including the need to feel desired by his wife) remain unmet. There are many voices in a man’s world tempting him to fulfill his needs through illicit and perverted recreational outlets.”
No. Because I am a man instead of a robot, I have the ability to say no to temptation. I am in control of my actions and responsible for my choices. And while I appreciate being sexually satisfied, it is not a prerequisite for my “good behavior”. Notice the difference between “Why Sex is So Important to Your Husband” and “Why Sex Is So Important to Your Wife”:
“When a man shows little or no sexual interest in his wife, she will experience several emotions. First, she’s going to feel she is undesirable as a wife and a woman. She will wonder if she’s still attractive, or if something is wrong with her, or if he still loves her.”
Do you see? When a man doesn’t get enough sex, he’ll be tempted to indulge in illicit perversion. When a woman doesn’t get enough sex she’ll start experiencing emotions – doubt, insecurity, loneliness. As if she’s an indecipherable mass of unpredictable emotions, while I’m just a machine just looking for an electrical socket to plug into.
Incidentally, this is the same line of thinking that says a woman’s clothing determines my thoughts and actions. It suggests that my sexual urges are so powerful that I’d sacrifice my relationship to satisfy them. While it is true that temptation can approach me from any direction, this isn’t unique to men or to our sexuality.
I don’t believe the “tempting voices” are really about sex at all. I think they’re about emotions, about desire. When we can see ourselves and each other as creatures of desires that run far deeper than sexual urges, we’ll better understand how to fulfill each other in healthy, loving ways.
My identity is not dependent upon sex.
“Your husband will never be the man God created him to be if you don’t validate his maleness and understand and satisfy his need for sexual intimacy. You are God’s primary instrument of love and affirmation if he is to became God’s man. You have the power to make him or break him.”
No. I am a man. I like sex. These two statements are both true, but they are not dependent upon one another. Liking sex is not a uniquely male condition, nor is the accrual of sex necessary for my ongoing masculinity. If I am looking to my wife to validate my maleness or be the primary conduit of God’s love to me, I am being completely unfair to her. It would be a smothering expectation.
Certainly, my wife and I both affirm and support and love one another and help each other grow and mature into healthy, whole humans. But this is not a uniquely gendered or uniquely sexual arrangement. While my desire for sexual intimacy is part of me, it doesn’t prop up my entire identity.
I am not a sex-fueled robot.
Eliminating the exchange of the sex/love economy has been one of the healthiest developments in our young marriage. It frees us to see each other as equally human, both with sexual and emotional needs. So I still cringe when I see these ideas about men and sex spread in Christian circles, whether we’re talking about purity or dating or modesty or marriage.
It doesn’t have to be this way but when these systems are reinforced and repeated from the time we’re teens, we tend to assume that it’s just the way it is. Men just give love to get sex, and women just put up with sex to get love.
Then fear and suspicion become the common factor in all our interactions, and we go along with it. Men just give up and allow themselves to become the slaves of their sexual urges, which women are then forced to accommodate and avoid and control. We eventually realize we that we have emotional and sexual desires that don’t fit neatly into categories, but we keep quiet because we know our roles and we play the game.
Let’s be human again.
We can learn to see ourselves and each other as human beings, with complex emotional and sexual needs to be explored. We can toss out the formulas and the easy answers and take the time to learn about each other as real people instead of stereotypes.
Let’s be done with the sex/love economy. Let’s not give love to get sex. Let’s love because it’s what we were created to do.
This is part of the #ModestyRules Synchroblog.
[ image: aCherryBlossomGirl ]