The marriage debt

Mark Richardson has come across the story of a woman who has refused–for no reason–to sleep with her husband for six months, to the applause of feminist commenters.  This brings to mind a couple of Throne and Altar‘s earliest posts.  Most of you hadn’t found this blog yet, so here they are again:

On the duty of wives to render the marriage debt to their husbands

How often?

11 Responses

  1. With the speed at which Christians in North America and Europe are embracing progressive notions, St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 will soon be joining all those other Scriptural passages which are de-canonized in practice because they conflict with the goals of the on-going revolution of individual freedom and democracy that contemporary Christians seem to believe that Jesus died to give us.

  2. The Afghans have this exactly right. Four days is a reasonable limit, it’s what I use in my marriage. And if she refuses, then I think that the husband has no obligation to remain faithful to the wife. If your Corinthians quote was to be taken literally, then the wife has no right to refuse ever. So my view, and the Afghan view, is actually more considerate to the wife than Corinthians is. As for the modern liberal American view, it can only be viewed as a very sick joke on husbands.

    Your argument that once a month is enough because it fulfills the need for procreation is like saying that it is enough to feed one’s wife once a month because that is enough for survival. In a marriage, each partner owes the other to do what one can to make the other happy. Each partner should do what they can to satisfy the other’s desires, not just meet the minimum needs of survival and reproduction. And it sounds like Corinthians supports this view.

  3. Those are some interesting posts.

    Speaking for myself, I get nervous when sex comes to be seen as a debt or obligation. I’d also say that, when couples start bartering or behaving tactially over sex, it’s often a symptom of deeper problems with the relationship. On another point, while it’s surely right that the male sex drive is usually more consistently strong than the female, experience with former girlfriends suggests that there are significant limits to this generalisation.

    Since you’re coming from a traditional religious perspective, you may be interested in the following, which are some translations that I did quite recently of a traditional Catholic theologian’s writings on marital sex.

    I would note that he doesn’t regard the “debt” as absolute. He also doesn’t lay down a particular frequency, and he recognises that there are several morally acceptable reasons for having sex aside from procreation.

    Best regards


  4. I commented on this too on my site.

    The Pauline letters say that married sexuality is a tool to strengthen each spouse in their attempts at virtue.
    I don’t think once a month qualifies for most couples.

  5. I put the wrong url above.

  6. Hello Paige,

    You’ve found the perfect cartoon for my post. I would hope that most wives would be more generous, but I was more thinking about things from a man’s point of view, that he should try to accommodate his wife’s lack of libido while still getting the children he’s entitled to. It’s a man’s way of being generous. Also, pleading for sex when your wife really doesn’t want to is humiliating. I’d rather have a lifetime of celibacy than degrade myself that way.

  7. Thanks for the links.

  8. I see what you are saying but I think that accommodating a low libido could have a severe down-side for the woman as well as the man. I will give this more thought and respond later.

  9. Hello fschmidt,

    My point wasn’t how often wives are morally obliged to submit (which seems to be what Saint Paul is addressing), but how often it would be reasonable for their husbands to ask them to. Many things that one has the authority to do should not be done. Given that we are addressing different problems, there may be no actual disagreement here. However, I must disagree with your idea that the husband’s duty of fidelity is conditional on the wife’s behavior. His vows bind him absolutely.

  10. I am inclined to liken the marital obligation to the Sunday obligation. If we are required to commune with God a minimum of once a week then it seems that the marital embrace should be minimally once a week as well (assuming NFP, health, etc don’t prevent it).

    As for non-religious reasons it is my observation that a healthy power dynamic is key to marital harmony. A marriage with very infrequent sex may impact the psychology of both spouses leading to a brother/sister or mother/son type relationship.

  11. His vows only bind him to fidelity if he vowed this. The standard marriage vow actually doesn’t include fidelity. I assume your views come from religion. I am reading the Bible now and I am interested to see what the Bible says about issues like this. I am currently in the Old Testament, and it is quite clear there that women’s fidelity was considered of great importance while men’s fidelity was a complete non-issue. I am looking forward to reading what the New Testament has to say about all this. I did write up an argument about why a husband should never promise fidelity to his wife.

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