Conquering, Surrender, and Egalitarian Pleasure Parties: Gender Roles in the Bedroom

Since the release of 50 Shades of Grey, few words have caused more outrage until this past week.  In a recent post by Jared Wilson, in a response to 50 Shades of Grey, he posted the following excerpt from Douglas Wilson’s book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man.

“In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed…True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.”

Douglas’s response to the hurt, outrage, and pleas by women to remove such hurtful statements can be found here as well as another rebuttal by him, here. After reading Donald’s description of love-making, I felt outrage, disgust, and then sadness for the damage this would cause to my sisters in Christ.  These words that connote grossness, ludeness, and crime brought much pain to women, especially those who have been victims of sexual abuse. Thankfully, Jared posted a very humble apology and they have since taken down his original article from their site. However, these words have caused confusion and outrage regarding Complementarian’s beliefs about the intimate union between a man and a woman.

As a Complementarian woman, I do not advocate domestic discipline or a man “conquering” his wife – or any woman for that matter. Whether by a man or woman, sexual and physical domination is viewed as a sin and should be abhorred by all believers in Christ.Whenever Scripture addresses sex between a husband and wife it’s viewed as a mutual act, intended for mutual pleasure. A man does not have authority over his wife and she is not subordinate to him in the bedroom.

Some may ask if it is hypocritical to state that complementarian roles should be upheld outside of sex but don’t apply once inside the bedroom. The reason biblical husband/wife roles do not extend over is because, first, Scripture does not address it that way. Secondly, a man’s leadership and woman’s submission to him reflect Christ’s relationship with the Church and how the Body of Christ submits to Christ. Christ does not have a sexual relationship with the Church so husband/wife roles cannot be reflective in an erotic sense.

I don’t want to demonize either author, that’s not the point of this article. Unfortunately, the use of careless and insensitive language now requires clarification as to what most Complementarians believe Scripture says about woman and man’s roles in the bedroom.

Sex Is NOT:

Man’s Domination Over Woman

If men are supposed to conquer women, as Donald states, that means, by definition, men are supposed to sexually defeat and overcome women, which is similar to the definition of rape: “a forced sexual assault.” According to Scripture, this is abuse and sin. (Gen. 34; Deut.22:25-29;Gal. 5:19-21;1 Cor.6:9-11)  This is a disturbing, disgusting, and distorted definition of how husbands are actually supposed to treat their wives. Nowhere in Scripture is authority or submission found to be extended to the marriage bed. It does, however, refer to the marriage bed in terms of holiness, purity, “coming together,” one-flesh union, and love. (Gen.2:24; Mk.10:8; 1 Cor.7:5; Heb 13:4)

God never intended for intimacy between a man and woman to be something that a woman had no control or say about what happens to her. Instead, like the husband in Song of Solomon, a man is supposed to adore his wife, treat her with tenderness, respect, and love….inside and outside the bedroom.

Woman’s Subordination To Man

 God also never intended for a woman to just to lie back and surrender to her husband’s conquering. It makes it sound as though there’s a war between husband and wife ending with the woman’s inevitable defeat. Wives should be loved, adored, and respected within all aspects of a marriage.

Songs of Solomon is a beautiful picture of a husband and wife who love each other and exhibit a mutual attraction for each other. The woman pursues her husband, lets him know she desires him, and acts upon her desires for him. (Sgs. 3:1-5) Although Donald believes,” the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party,” it’s obvious as you read through the book of Song of Solomon that both the man and woman are receiving pleasure from one another and it’s seen as beautiful, right, and God-honoring, within the marital context.  It is right for a woman to intimately pursue, seduce, and enjoy her husband. We are supposed to be our husband’s other-half, his friend, equal, helpmeet, and his lover.

Sex Is:

 Mutually beneficial

Marital intimacy was designed to be pleasurable for both the husband and wife. It is a gift from God to both sexes.  Scripture shows that as long as both parties are consenting, then everything that isn’t physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive is permissible in intimacy between a husband and wife. (1 Cor. 7:3-5)

Who plays the pursuer/pursued is not based upon gender roles but upon the desire for man for his wife and a wife for her husband. (Song of Solomon) A loving husband seeks to please his wife and she seeks to please him. Both should not selfishly withhold from each other because both receive pleasure from the sexual union. While each party may have varying degrees of their intimate needs, both parties should be respectful of those differing needs and work together so that both husband and wife are satisfied with one another.


Mutually Consenting

Douglas Wilson also quoted the following on his website recently, “Sex, as commonly conceived, is something a couple do together.  But the sexual act itself is not quite like that.  It is, and remains, something a man does to a woman. (Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board, p. 51)

 But as 1 Cor. 7 shows, sex is something a couple does together and it must be mutually consenting and beneficial. A husband does not have the right to do to a woman whatever he wishes without her consent; neither does a woman have that right over a man. Sex is two people coming together to become one-flesh. (Gen. 2:24) One-flesh implies unity and you cannot have unison without two consenting parties, which is the way God intended. Sex between a husband and wife should be both mutually beneficial and mutually consenting.

We should be very careful when making up our own words for how a husband and wife relate in the bedroom; much of the hurt and controversy could have been avoided if caution had been used.  The biblical wording in Song of Solomon of “lying with,” “pleasing” or “bringing your lover to the bedroom” may sound a little too steamy, but isn’t that better than the demeaning, violent language of “penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants?”  Why use crass words that the Bible reserves for warfare when we have the beautiful (and somewhat racy) language of “opening my love” to my spouse? God gave a beautiful gift to husbands and wives, but this gift was unfortunately smeared and distorted across the Internet this past week. Please pray for the healing of the women who were hurt and had horrific memories triggered by the statements made this past week.

6 thoughts on “Conquering, Surrender, and Egalitarian Pleasure Parties: Gender Roles in the Bedroom

  1. Well said. It is sad that a post like this was and is necessary. The culture at large already sees the complementarian position as backward and oppressive. Statements like the ones you referenced do not help anyone and certainly do not glorify God or hold up the Biblical view of marriage as something to strive for.

  2. I’m glad you found that offensive because I did too. And, I was concerned that maybe my reaction to the article wasn’t biblical. A man domineering his woman in bed seems to only be looking at a man’s authority/dominance and not his obligation to protect. Atleast when a woman must submit in real life, it is often when there is a conflict in opinions on an issue and a man is exercising his authority *hopefully* with his wife and family’s best interest at heart. There is an element of protection that goes with authority. This would not carry over similarly in a sexual relationship where a woman is “dominated”.

  3. AMEN! 😀

    That’s really all I have to say about this article. I’ve never heard this perspective from complimentarians before, and I love it. 🙂

    Haha the Bible is supposed to be steamy! At least Song of Solomon is. 😉

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