Yes, Marriage as Consent Within Purity Culture Hurts Men Too.
Several Christian bloggers have posted about a woman’s supposed obligation to have sex with (or, as some put it “give sex to”) their husbands regardless of consent or even pain brought on or exacerbated by sex. Some people, including myself, see this as condoning marital rape. However, these bloggers generally see rape as getting assaulted by a stranger in a dark alley, which simply isn’t the case in the majority of rapes. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that 80% of rapists know their victim in some way and that can come in the form of marriage.
Being expected to have sex against one’s will isn’t like cleaning a toilet as one blogger put it. It’s like being a hotel maid expected to clean up after a string of unattended deaths by one’s self without so much as a sharps box or a box of disposable gloves. It’s dangerous, traumatic, unreasonable, and a sure sign that other abuses are condoned as well. However, one might overlook the consequences of expecting ongoing consent in marriage for men because, technically, they usually have some form of power in these situations. This power doesn’t mean that men get away from sexual dysfunction scot-free, though.
In these cases, men are expected to want sex at all times. While it is true that men do generally have a higher sex drive than women, it isn’t true that all men want sex all the time or that all men want to have sex with women. This assumption makes female-on-male rape, especially within a marriage, an impossibility. Even today as we begin to recognize that female-on-male abuse takes place, the idea that all men want sex all the time persists today. If the person consulting the transformed wife was a man, she would probably call him lucky to have a wife that’s so considerate of his needs. Even worse, some people who claim to lean egalitarian or feminist would agree with her. However, in reality, the man is anything but lucky.
Men are expected to view their sexuality as a predatory, beastly force rather than a healthy, controllable urge akin to a food craving. This leads a man to believe that his sexuality is something to suppress or fight rather than something to embrace as a part of himself. It also shapes a boy’s perception of his own budding sexuality as an urge to conquer rather than learning how to seek mutual enjoyment with a consenting partner. The expectation that they cannot control this urge leads to predatory behaviors and shifts blame for these behaviors onto women (well, any potential partner really) for acting or dressing in a certain way.
While purity culture doesn’t look like it would lend itself to female-on-male abuse, women still have the potential abuse their husbands. A woman can do so by questioning her husband’s masculinity when he shows any sort of vulnerability or accusing him of infidelity on the grounds of him not wanting sex. Compounded with a sense of shame about sex, if a man does not want sex, he will feel be alienated or seen as less of a man. If he wants it, he’s expected to commit to one woman for the rest of his life. Therefore, in purity culture, a man cannot have a healthy relationship with his sexuality or lack of it. Asexual and sex-repulsed men do exist and, with the expectation that men always want sex coupled with a lack of communication and knowledge of sexual topics, a wife may feel unloved if she suspects that her husband is withholding sex from her.
If a man is gay or bisexual, he will be expected to either marry a woman or not acknowledge himself as a sexual being at all. Sometimes, these men undergo conversion therapy as a way to “unlearn” their sexuality and suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues as a result. Marriage to a woman can either result in a miserable, sexless marriage, somatic health issues that arise as a result of stress, or infidelity on either the man’s or woman’s part. Moreover, people who were raised in purity culture feel uncomfortable about sexual dysfunction with a doctor or a therapist so health issues that cause problems in the bedroom can go unnoticed for years. Add the fact that purity culture doesn’t address gender dysphoria, much less advocate transitioning, and it’s a recipe for sexual dysfunction and toxic power dynamics for everyone involved.
Although it is hard to deny that women bear the brunt of the impact from the expectation that marriage means ongoing consent, men do not get away unscathed. To get back to my hotel maid analogy, being a man in purity culture is like being the hotel manager, not questioning the string of deaths out of fear of the hotel shutting down, and not hiring Aftermath to clean up after the deaths because it’s supposedly the maids’ duty to clean them.