If we subscribe to the Christian model of marriage, we can surmise that marriage is an open invitation for loving sex and lifelong communion. “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control”- 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.
From the foregoing it is clear that ‘the duty’ meaning sex in marriage should almost be as common as mealtimes or as often as you both can manage. One man tells me that the scripture makes room for the fact that men and women as human beings have an issue of self-control and so depriving one another in a marriage is extremely unwise. Indeed sex is not a weapon to be leveraged or a bargaining tool. There should be no ‘depriving.’ Implicit in the scripture is the idea that sex should be free, frequent and fun. With this standard for lovemaking in mind, the question of rape in the marital context becomes a little tricky, especially if the alleged rape act is of the non-violent kind.
We traditionally understand rape to be sexual assault of another person, involving force and duress. However according to the FBI “The new summary definition of rape is: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” That little part about consent is the main area that needs to be addressed when contemplating marital rape and passing associated laws.
In the 2011-2012 UN report – progress of the world’s women it was highlighted that “In Nepal, the law exempted men from being prosecuted for the rape of their wives. (However) in 2002, in a case taken by the Forum for Women, Law and Development, the Supreme Court ordered Parliament to amend the rape law. To date, 52 countries worldwide have explicitly criminalized marital rape in their penal codes.” So it would seem that more and more countries are taking steps to protect the woman from marital rape.
But what exactly is marital rape? For me, any sex characterized by any kind of violence is rape in any context – whether it is in marriage, common law or between strangers – it is a horrific crime in my book and should be rewarded with the heaviest punishments allowed by law. This kind of violent sex is not what 1 Corinthians is talking about when it says “stop depriving one another”. In fact, the bible teaches husbands not to be harsh with their wives, which sets the tone for how they should treat their wives and rules out violence as a way of married life. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” – Colossians 3: 19. I would imagine that this instruction to “not be harsh with them” includes no shouting, shoving, slapping or sexual assault!
However based on 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, I feel the need to point out that the expectation in a Christian marriage is that the wife and husband will freely and willingly provide sexual pleasure, except when they both agree to abstain for fasting. I would also want to think that once the two parties agree – they can abstain for whatever agreed reason (including health challenges etc.). But in today’s modern marriage – oneness, service, serving, deferring and yielding to the other’s needs, doing your ‘duty’ are oftentimes seen as primitive, weak and foreign. In today’s world some husbands are not allowed to view their wives email or phone messages, in the same way that they can’t ‘take authority’ over their wives bodies and vice versa. I can just imagine the most modern women among us cringing at that line – that the husband has authority over his wife’s body (and she over his).
Instead we may hear a modern wife say:
“Why should I have sex if I don’t want to? I have a right to choose if and when I have sex with my husband!
I’m so tired, my days at work are long and grueling, so I can only have sex on Sundays when I’m relaxed and only if I am in the mood!”
Or a husband may say:
“I need sex now I don’t care if you are tired, what, yuh want me find it somewhere else?”
“Oh, you are tired, well I need a release so sekkle yuhself…”
But the issues of selfishness and callousness in a marriage are too much to handle in this blog and have certainly been discussed at length in previous posts such as http://letsgoupstream.com/2014/06/01/the-phone-or-tablet-should-not-be-treated-any-differently-from-your-bed-or-your-bodies-that-lie-on-it-making-marriage-merry-with-oneness-time-and-fidelity/. The real issue that I want to discuss in this post is the sex expectation in the marriage context and the question of consent.
In a marriage situation, the woman can be sleeping, dreaming faraway in slumber land, and her spouse can touch her proverbial buttons to get her ‘juices flowing’ and make love to her. She may eventually wake up in the middle of it with him already thrusting to the stars and back. At this stage she may say “babes I’m really tired,” and he may say “please baby” while he kisses her softly in her secret places. He releases before she responds and it’s all over. He rolls over and goes to sleep. Based on the FBI definition aforementioned, is this rape? She didn’t want to, didn’t consent, said no… well sort of. In a happy marriage, this wouldn’t amount to anything sinister. But in an unhappy one where there are other issues such as verbal abuse, infidelity or lack of respect, the act could be viewed differently by the wife and could become ammunition for the future.
How many times have married women not really wanting to have sex, have sex with their husband? Many times they don’t say no, but they don’t say yes either. And sometimes they endure, allowing the lovemaking event because “cho, a man him name and mi nuh want him go a street.”
What about when the wife and husband come home from an event, and they both had too much to drink? And the wife has sex with her husband in the comfort of their martial bed. He didn’t know what she was doing and didn’t consent to the lovemaking. Did she rape him given that he didn’t consciously consent? Yeah…I know it sounds a little incredulous for a man to cry rape. In our culture we assume that all men, married or single, want to have sex at all times and so they walk with an automatic consent sign on their foreheads. But recent reports have shown an increase in the number of men being raped. Now this issue is a whole other kettle of fish when it comes to marital rape because the man has to be erect to be raped in a heterosexual way by his wife. So the question is if we believe becoming erect is a matter of will or biology or both.
In the end, any legislation about rape in marriage is going to be tricky especially when trying to determine the crucial point of consent since based on the Christian model, marriage is an open invitation for loving sex. Sexual violence and assault are easier to prove and should be criminalized but the other varied circumstances of ‘unwanted sex’ in the marriage relationship will be difficult to legislate and is an area that requires careful discussion, understanding and agreement between husband and wives before it even gets to the level of the state. After all, in the Christian model of marriage the husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh,” Matthew 19:6. Do you believe that?
Shelly-Ann Harris is a gender and family advocate and communication specialist who has held senior positions in several public and private sector entities in Jamaica. She is also a consultant for internationally funded projects in Jamaica and the region. Follow this blog www.letsgoUpstream.com to get an alert when the next post is made or follow her on Twitter @harrisshellyann