Flourish (Part 9): The Final Post

Welcome to Part 9 of the Flourish series, which now represents 25% of the content on this blog. In today's post, we will be further examining the chapter on intimacy within marriage, and (assuming our blood pressure levels remain at safe levels) go on to examine the chapter about infidelity in marriage.

As we discussed in previous posts, the common view of sex in conservative Christianity as a whole (and, I would say) conservative Anabaptism specifically, is full of degrading teachings. Conservative culture is drenched in sex; everything is sexual, or might be sexual, and therefore viewed with suspicion. Common words and phrases are closely examined to determine if they might contain some secret, perverted meaning. Cross-gender relationships and friendships are viewed with intense suspicion, and every physical show of affection is freighted with sexual meaning. Even a couple holding hands may be liable for stirring up filthy thoughts in the minds of the viewers, so we are told. And the sight of a pregnant woman might incite feelings and thoughts about how she came to be that way.

And yet, as is so common, these sex-crazed people are the first to accuse others of having corrupt minds and motives and morals.

Fortunately, there seems to be a rising tide of sanity that may, in the coming years, wash this noxious flotsam back out to sea from whence it came.

Our book continues in the same vein as previous posts, namely that women should use sex as a godly leash to bind the wandering hearts of their men.

Here are a few quotes along those lines. (I've covered this point previously, so I just want you to read what I'm talking about.

Satan consistently twists into evil what God has designed for good. God designed men with a strong sex drive. When harnessed and intensified within marriage, it is an incredible tool for fastening a man's affections and passions on his wife. (But it doesn't do that, does it?) I believe it is perfectly right to claim your husband's sex drive as a source of influence in your marriage. I understand this sentiment. When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start looking like nails.

Later she says this...

Your husband is your fountain, and sex is a sacred act, blessed by God Himself. If you don't fulfill your husband's appetite, he will more easily be tempted from wrong sources. Keep him drained, as only you, his wife can do.

I apologize to my readers for the lack of warning there. The damage to your JetSki will likely buff out, though. I do hope your passengers were wearing life jackets, as they always should.

A fulfilled, happy man thinks often of the cause of his enjoyment, and it usually translates into more attentiveness, eager to keep his bride satisfied.

I hate this part, because it's kind of true, and since it's kind of true the part that isn't true is misleading. The fact is that, yes, a fulfilling sexual relationship is something that glues a couple together, and it is something that improves a relationship, and smooths out the rough spots. But that's because the relationship exists to begin with.

This is like saying that varnish is something that adds luster to your cabinets, and may even protect the underlying furniture from damage. Well, yes, that's true, but there has to be furniture under there for the varnish to add luster to and protect, doesn't there?

This author, and writers like her, would have wives frequently varnishing a collection of rough-hewn boards, in the hopes that somehow, once enough varnish has been applied, a Regency armoire might somehow spontaneously arise. And the answer, when this doesn't transpire, is always "more varnish."

Adding more sex to a marriage that doesn't have a good relationship at its core is like adding more spice to the pot of boiling water on the stove. You're just gonna make the water cloudy. You to add need some potatoes of compassion, and some ground beef of gentleness, and perhaps some pinto beans of sacrificial love, too. (I dunno, I'm bad at making analogies, and soup.) But I think you get my point.

Sex is good. But it can't make your pile of pallets into furniture, and it can't make a pot of water into soup. You need LOTS of other ingredients first.

Life keeps moving on, bringing with it changes in every area of married life, and the area of sexual intimacy changes as well. Just about the time you have figured out a way to balance intimacy with a new baby in the house, your baby begins to keep you up for many hours at night. By the time your baby learns to sleep all night, you may be pregnant again.

Look, I realize that accidents happen. (Again, sorry about the JetSki.) But, this book never suggests even the slight possibility of birth control. Maybe they have a conviction against it, but it really feels like some of these problems could solve themselves. And honestly, if your kid is keeping you up all night, how on earth are you finding the energy to invest in sex, and making it good? (The mountainous burden this places on a woman's shoulders makes me exhausted as I type these words.)

And then there's this...

Your hormones will rise and fall with your cycles, making you more eager for sexual activity at some times. (Unlike your husband, who is apparently perpetually in rut.)  Other times, sexual activity may be even a little painful. Try using lubricant, such as coconut oil, and do not be afraid to tell your husband when something is uncomfortable. (Brace yourselves for this next part.) When a husband sees that his wife is seeking to fulfill him physically and is not making excuses to avoid sex, he is more willing to fulfill her needs in a sexual relationship.

"Hello? CLP? Is anyone actually reading this stuff before you hit print?"

The clear implication here is that if a husband feels like his wife is complaining that the sex doesn't feel good, but he also feels like she is just doing it to make excuses, well, in that case, he can feel free to just plow on ahead without trying to make sure her sexual needs (or even comfort needs) are met.

This paragraph literally justifies husbands not taking the comfort of their wives into account. It's treated like an option. Something that he does as a perk, after she was done everything she can do.

I keep looking at the passage to see if I'm reading it wrong, and I don't think I am, but I certainly wish I were.

It's not as though she is saying, "Sometimes sex isn't comfortable, and there are ways to make it feel better, so that you both can enjoy it." Even better would be to say, "Sometimes, it's OK to take a break from sex, especially when it's painful after having a baby. Your body needs time to recover, and a loving husband will understand and support this." She assumes that women are making excuses not to have sex, and because of this, husbands should feel comfortable in ignoring their needs. I'm guessing there aren't many complaints about headaches in this home.

Your first priority as a wife and mother is caring for your husband, and that means more than just feeding him and doing his laundry. It means caring for his sexual needs, too. (Ok. I'm gonna stop you right here. I will never say that sex is not important. But I do feel the need to point out that a) people will die if they don't eat, whereas they will not die without sex, and b) Jacob spent 7 years herding goats and stuff as a single man, and he seemed to do OK, without someone around to take care of his "needs." I don't get why we expect single guys to live without sex their whole lives, but husbands can't do it for a couple weeks?) Your husband needs you to do more than just oblige him with the attitude of Can't we hurry up and get this over with? I'm not really interested; I'm only doing it for you?  Which is exactly what's happening, but she's supposed to pretend that it isn't. Nor does he want you to just lie there like a log and oblige him that way either. This is promoting completely shutting down your feelings and pretending to be super excited and turned on by everything he does, while nothing is actually happening internally. This chapter should best be titled, "How to Be a Call Girl in Your Very Own Home." Because what she's describing is basically being a sex worker for her husband.

To be fair, she does suggest that sometimes it's OK not to have intercourse.

For a time after having babies, during your period, and after surgeries or similar scenarios, there is a time for refraining from sexual intercourse. But do not let your husband go unfulfilled. There are other ways to satisfy him sexually.

The problem here is that when a woman is recovering from surgery, she shouldn't have to worry about keeping her husband satisfied. She should be worrying about getting better. This idea that men have to have their sexual needs met all the time, or bad things will happen is really bad. And it teaches men to lack self-control. It teaches and trains men to be entitled.

A number of years ago, I read a book that discussed fasting, and it explained how fasting sets us free from the desire to always be comfortable. He described how, after fasting one day a week for some time, he realized that he didn't need to be comfortable all the time, and it was OK to stand on the bus, rather than have a seat, and he wasn't bothered when the temperature wasn't absolutely perfect. Fasting had freed him from that bondage. And I think of that book now, and of men who are in bondage to their sexual needs. Yes, men (and women) do feel sexual urges, and yes, God designed marriage as a place for those sexual urges to be met and expressed. But He didn't intend us to be in bondage to them. They are not our masters, and this type of teaching encourages us to enthrone them as supreme.

This post has been plenty long, but I think I want to finish with this subject now (it's been really, really emotionally draining these past few days), so I will cover some of the passages from "When Your Love Is Betrayed" chapter of the book, and address one of the biggest lies there.

I will not cover all the passages I thought that I might, because honestly, it's all blurring together at this point. The general idea promoted here being that if a woman is pure sweetness and light to an unfaithful husband, then he'll hopefully feel ashamed and stop cheating on her, whereas the truth is that if he had the ability to feel that kind of shame, he wouldn't be behaving in that way to begin with.

But then there's this...

I wish I could personally ask you this next question--- ask it soft and low, for it is one that touches the deepest places in your heart. When your love has been betrayed, when your husband has been unfaithful, when he has said angry and unkind words to you-- and then wants to make love with you, what are you going to do?

I'm splitting this passage into two parts, so that I can deal with them separately. First, I don't think it's fair to equate unfaithfulness and angry words. And I think that this betrays the kind of sin-leveling that is so common in relationships. (If you snap at your wife, you're the same kind of person as someone who cheats on her.) It's this kind of thing that helps unfaithful husbands to justify what they are doing.

Also, and I've said this before, sex is an expression of mutual love and connection, so if the husband has broken that connection, and still wants sex, it's demonstrating that either he doesn't realize that he has hurt his wife, or else he doesn't view sex in that way. (Sometimes, it is true, husbands don't realize that their words have hurt the relationship. However, even the primitive spore people of the Crab Nebula know that unfaithfulness hurts your wife, so ignorance is no excuse there.)

And there's nothing wrong with a wife saying, "Hey, what you said earlier today hurt, so I can't really give myself to you right now. Can we talk about what happened?" This is the path to healing. Having sex and pretending everything is OK when it is not is merely papering over the problems in your relationship, and virtually ensures that improvement will not happen.

A mutually fulfilling sex life is something of a canary in the coal mine of your marriage.

And then this...

I have read the whole Bible and I have not found one place that allows a wife to give her husband ultimatums like this: If you are not going to be totally faithful to me, emotionally and physically, then you need to leave. Or at least you cannot have sex with me.

But God's Word is not silent on this subject. First Corinthians 7:4,5 says husbands and wives must not deprive each other of intimate relations unless they prearrange a time for prayer and fasting. If your husband is unfaithful or if he is angry, he will not likely choose to withhold himself for prayer and fasting. Therefore, it is God's will for you to have sex with him if he asks for it. This may feel very unjust, but when such thoughts run through your mind "build an altar" and make the intimate act of marriage a sacrifice of praise to God.

This is basically the equivalent of saying that you can easily avoid being raped by simply consenting. It's horrible and soul-killing and it's not even what the Bible says.

You need to read the whole passage, because here is what is going on.

1) Paul is living in a culture that views women as sexually promiscous, while men are viewed as self-controlled. (Some Roman writers encouraged men to keep their wives from moving around too much during sex, because she might be enjoying it too much.) In this culture, especially as Christians, there was a question if marriage and sex were even OK. And Paul says, "Don't cheat yourselves of the joys of sex. Married couples should be enjoying one another, unless they have chosen to set it aside for prayer and fasting, but then, they should continue to love each other in that way." My understanding of "Defraud not one another" is "Don't cheat each other out of a good time." 

2) Paul makes it very clear that in marriage, you stop belonging to yourself, and you belong to the other person now. Both partners in the marriage now live for the pleasure of the other. And this is a sword that cuts both ways. Yes, the wife's body now belongs to the husband, but the husband's body now belongs to his wife. So they only way that both bodies can be rightfully used in the act of sex is if both of them are consenting together to use them in that way.

The husband has no right to use his body in ways that harm his wife, whether that's being unfaithful to her, or using it to have sex with her in ways that are not pleasurable to her.

It's like a safety deposit at the bank. Unless both keys are present, the door cannot be opened.

This verse is used by men all over the place to harrass, and hound, and guilt their wives into having sex with them, but the fact is that just as surely as a wife's body belongs to her husband, his body belongs to her, and he is absolutely barred by the Word of God from using it against her will. It is God's will if your wife does not want you to have sex with her, that you do not have sex with her, because your body is now hers. (It's kind of shocking that I have to put that in writing.)

Many modern Christian marriage writers would have us to believe that the wife belongs to her husband, so that he now possesses himself and her, but the fact is that husband and wife are now bound into one body, each mutually owning the other, and so "he who loves his wife loves himself," because she is part of him.

Yes, I know that when she said "I do," she promised to blah, blah, blah...

I've read the articles. I've read the rationales. I've heard it all.

You need to stop reading the articles and start reading the Word of God.

Husbands, you belong to her now, and your job is to take as much care of her as you want her to take care of you. That's what the will of God is.

Go and do thou likewise.

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3 thoughts on “Flourish (Part 9): The Final Post

  1. Ray Zimmerman says:

    Thank you for taking the time to review this book! As someone who knows the author and family very well you have done a fantastic job of pointing out the wrong mindsets especially towards women. Having been raised in the same background as the author I have to say I’m happy my wife (authors sister!) took a different approach and confronted my wrong mindsets in an effort to become a team together. Although I’ve come a long way I have to admit reading your thoughts caused me to still see some inconsistencies in the way I relate to my wife so Thank you! Keep up the good work my friend!

    • By Thy Words says:

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      This series has broken my heart again and again, and I’ve never desired to hurt anyone.
      I, like you, have considered my views as I have written these posts, and have made some course corrections as well.

      Someone once told me that you should imagine all your issues and baggage as a swimming pool, and you have a thimble to empty it.
      The kicker is that whatever water you don’t empty, your kids have to deal with. Good on you for working on your pool!

      I truly hope that you and your family flourish.

  2. Lisa says:

    This whole series has been emotional for me because of my own story, but your quote “When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start looking like nails” is my new favorite line. Thank you for the wealth of insight found here. I’ve been reading and rereading.

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