Ask Richard: Lingering Female Subservience From Old Religious Programming February 7, 2011

Ask Richard: Lingering Female Subservience From Old Religious Programming

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Richard,

I was raised in a very conservative Christian home (and church) before my deconversion at age 30. I don’t believe in God anymore, but I still struggle with the religious programming. I feel guilty about leaving my abusive husband (we were married at age 18). I feel guilty when I think about my choice to not have any more children. And my choice to work outside the home and leave my three kids in someone else’s care. I feel betrayed when my (current) husband looks at porn or masturbates, because I was raised to think that’s a form of cheating, and also because I feel I should be having sex with him instead (even though I’m just not into it every day, since I work long hours and he’d prefer to do it with me only when I’m in the mood). I have a very hard time speaking up when I disagree with him about something, because I don’t feel it’s my place to do anything but yield to his wishes.

I’ve outgrown the need for God, but I can’t seem to outgrow his rules. I’m wondering if other people have dealt with this and how to speed that process along.

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I think your troublesome feelings of guilt can all be traced back to a single religious rule: Women exist only for serving men and breeding children.

Feeling guilty about leaving your abusive ex-husband, feeling guilty about limiting the number of your children, feeling guilty about having your own work and using childcare, feeling guilty about not having as strong a libido as your husband, and feeling reluctant to assert your opinion with your current husband, can all be attributed to the lingering belief that you as a woman are in every way less worthy than a man.

But if you were to meet another woman who feels just as you do, I think you would not agree that she should give in to such despicable ideas. No, I think that you would strongly encourage her to fight her way out of that mental slavery. So keep doing that for yourself. You’re a lot further along than you may realize. With the exception of the last one, asserting your opinion, you have managed to continue to defy your guilt-ridden programming:

Despite the guilt, you did not return to your abusive ex-husband. Good for you! Far too many women return again and again until they are beaten to death.

Despite the guilt, you limited the number of your children so you could give them a higher level of care and resources. Good for you! Far too many couples have more children than they can adequately feed, clothe, nurture, and educate. Poverty becomes a multigenerational tradition.

Despite the guilt, you work outside the home to increase your family’s standard of living, and to assert that you are a person of consequence and competence. Good for you! Because of economic realty, the “traditional” husband-as-breadwinner, wife-as-homemaker family has been a small minority for several decades. Most families with children have two working parents. In unstable economic times, one of the breadwinners can easily lose their work, so it’s very important for the other one to also be employed, or at least readily employable.

Despite the guilt, you respect your own level of sexual desire, and you don’t force yourself to have sex more than you want. Good for you! Your husband shows respect for you too, by wanting to have sex with you only when you’re in the mood. Good for him! Couples where the man has a higher level of sexual desire than the woman are very common. This can result in the man pressuring or even forcing the woman to have more sex than she desires, or the man going outside the relationship for sex, or as in your case, the man relieving his sexual urges by himself. For the health, happiness and stability of the couple, that response seems far preferable to the other two.

As you have found, being free of the central belief of your religion does not mean that all the secondary beliefs automatically vanish. You may have to challenge each one of them just as pointedly as you did your belief in God. For instance, Christianity teaches that to think about adultery is equal to actually committing it. This is a ploy to keep even well-behaved people dependent on the church, since most human beings have active sexual imaginations even if they can control their behavior. It wouldn’t do to have only the actual adulterers begging (and paying) for forgiveness. No, a successful church needs the whole community to be continually sick with guilt and constantly needing the cure. So all sorts of thoughts are considered crimes just as grave as acting them out. When you see how deeply cynical, manipulative and destructive this teaching is, it may become easier for you to rid yourself of it.

Your husband is not “betraying” your marriage by masturbating. He’s accommodating the difference between his level of sexual drive and yours. No guilt or resentment by either of you is necessary or appropriate, because no one is breaking their agreements by their action. Making love should be just that, out of love, not fulfilling a duty. Strive for a loving and accepting attitude for each other’s and your own sexualities. You don’t need to live up to some primitive ancient ideal that never reflected the nature of the human mind, and was really intended only to centralize control over people.

So how to unsaddle yourself of inappropriate guilt? Firstly, acknowledge that most of your guilt is not really that powerful. It has not stopped you from doing these self-respecting things. It has been an annoyance, but not a handicap. You are what you do. For the most part, your behaviors are those of a woman who believes she is a worthy person, and that is what you are. Congratulate yourself for bravely going forth despite that emotional discomfort.

The second thing to do is to is to rid yourself of the lingering beliefs that stimulate the guilt. Beliefs are persistent, repetitive thoughts. Emotions grow out of thoughts. When you are feeling the guilt, the root thought will be close to the surface. It probably starts with “I should not..,” or “Women should not..,” or it will be some statement about your lack of worthiness. Find it, catch it, look long and hard at it, and see it for the lie that it is. You don’t live by that thought any more, so you are going to literally toss it in the trash. Write the thought down, capturing it on a piece of paper. Read it once, and then rip it to shreds and trash it.

Thirty years of training is a long time, but you can overcome it. The same thoughts will keep coming up again, and so you will probably have to do this trash-the-thought technique many times to wear them down. Always have a pencil and pad of paper handy for whenever the guilt and its root thought come up. The presence of the pad in your pocket will remind you to use this method immediately, and you can do it almost anywhere. On the bus or sitting in your car, at work or at home, this won’t attract much if any attention. Anyone nearby will only see you write something down and tear up a piece of paper. If you’re diligent and consistent with this, I think you’ll notice that the thought gradually comes up less and less often, and the guilt it spawns gradually weakens until it is finally gone.

Asserting your opinion with your husband is the only behavior that you mentioned that is still squelched by the old injunction against women’s equal worthiness. While I’m not implying that your husband is to “blame” for this, it could be that there is some difficulty in the particular patterns that both of you use when you talk together. Communicating with one’s spouse is extremely complex and multi-layered with many unspoken rules, habits, expectations, and unconscious agreements. The more you can make it a conscious, out-in-the-open process, the more control and choice you’ll both have in how the two of you interact. There is nothing as central and essential to a happy marriage as the ability for both people to talk openly, freely, easily, and equally about any subject.

Talk to your husband specifically about how you have a very hard time speaking up when you disagree with him about something. No one is to blame for this, you’re just looking for solutions. His attitude about wanting to have sex with you only when you’re in the mood suggests that he’s not a selfish or self-centered person. It sounds like he cares about your thoughts and feelings. Look for what both of you can do to make it easier for you to participate rather than automatically acquiesce. Holding back your opinion, thinking that you must yield to him deprives your partnership of your knowledge, your experience, and your wisdom. This should be an equal partnership. Two heads are much better than one when they can listen and work out agreements. Even if your husband has gotten used to you passively agreeing with him, I think after a brief adjustment he’ll be pleased to find that he has a smart and interesting partner who has helpful things to contribute.

Rachel, remember that you are what you do, rather than what you feel. I admire and respect you for the many things you have done in your liberation. Keep kicking your old programming’s ass!

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.


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  • Angel

    Rachel,

    In addition to the fantastic advice and suggestions provided by Richard, I would also recommend finding a support group (either in person or online) that works with survivors of domestic violence – many times you can simply call a hospital or police station and they’ll point you in the right direction to locate one. Most, if not all, of the issues that you outlined in your letter are areas in which groups deal with, and you may find domestic violence support groups an unexpected resource.

    You definitely don’t need to deal with this alone, and sometimes the best people to talk to are the ones that have experienced the same situation firsthand. Providing yourself as large a support network as you feel comfortable with is never a bad thing.

    Congratulations on the milestones you’ve already achieved, and I wish you many more in the future!

  • Rachael,

    To add to Richard’s excellent advice, we all partly measure our own character and worth by the extent to which we overcome adversity in all of its forms. It looks to me like you have already recognized and overcome quite a bit of adversity. That speaks very well already of your worth and character. You don’t need to always compare yourself with the “ideal”. To borrow a little from Christianity, feel free to forgive yourself for having the feelings that you have right now. Some of your attitudes may evolve over time and others may stay the same. As you are more comfortable in your own skin (and not living to an ideal whether religious or secular) you will naturally become more self-assertive.

  • Blacksheep

    For instance, Christianity teaches that to think about adultery is equal to actually committing it. This is a ploy to keep even well-behaved people dependent on the church, since most human beings have active sexual imaginations even if they can control their behavior. It wouldn’t do to have only the actual adulterers begging (and paying) for forgiveness.

    Richard,

    From a Christian perspective…

    (I’m not trying to get into a debate about the truth of these statements, but rather about your accuracy of depicting Christian Doctrine):

    Your’s is an interesting analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. Another way to look at it is from the perspective of forgiveness. If salvation through faith is the “good news”, then the SOTM could be called the “bad news.” In other words, just another reminder of how hard it is to be perfect, and another reason to feel thankful and at peace for being forgiven, because as the Bible says, “There is no condemnation to those who are in the Lord.” If you understood Christian doctrine, we believe that once we are saved we are secure in that salvation, so there is no desperate “begging” (or paying) for forgiveness.”

    No, a successful church needs the whole community to be continually sick with guilt and constantly needing the cure. So all sorts of thoughts are considered crimes just as grave as acting them out. When you see how deeply cynical, manipulative and destructive this teaching is, it may become easier for you to rid yourself of it

    The peace and joy of the Christian life comes from the exact opposite of what you are saying – Christianity offers release from being “sick with guilt” by saying that through Christ, we are perfect and blameless in the eyes of God. That was the whole point of Christ dying for us.

    I don’t say these things to try to convince you that they’re true, but to point out that your characterization of Christian doctrine is incorrect.

    Furthermore, Jesus had friends who were women, and treated them as equals. The Bible says that the people who discovered the empty tomb were women, it was women that stuck by him during his crucifixion. As a man, I am commanded to “live with my wife in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman…” and to “love my wife as my own body… He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”

  • Michelle

    I’m with Angel, writing to Richard is a good start, but regular support is even better. Congratulations on all you have done.
    It is so easy for us to see the good in others and often so hard to see it in ourselves, but from your letter it seems your husband sees it in you and would support you more.

  • Silent Service

    Blacksheep,

    Those trees you’re staring at, they’re a forest.

    You can talk all you want about how good it is to live in the grace of Dog, but it’s still the fear of punishment if you lose faith that keeps people inside the forest of delusion that is Christianity. The opposite of believing that you’re saved by your faith in Dog Boy and his daddy is the fear of damnation if you don’t have faith. Your warm, fuzzy feeling is still propped up by an irrational fear of not believing in a really bad myth.

  • Steve

    I don’t say these things to try to convince you that they’re true, but to point out that your characterization of Christian doctrine is incorrect.

    It doesn’t really matter what Christian doctrine says – which doesn’t exist anyways, since each sect has its own doctrines. Many of which are truly as manipulative as described.

    What matters are the practical effects. And in practice, being brought up in a strict religious setting often leads to decades of guilt and tons of issues later in life. This is hardly the first time someone expressed these feelings. It’s a common refrain. Just the extent of it varies.

    Furthermore, Jesus had friends who were women, and treated them as equals.

    Few Christians really practice what Jesus said and did. Almost the entirety of Christian theology is based on Saul/Paul. Not on Jesus. He had some seriously screwed up views about relationships, marriage and women. And somehow his personal opinions and advice to other congregations ended up as official doctrine.

  • Claudia

    Kudos to “Rachel” for coming as far as she has. The advice is generally excellent but I do have one (minor) quibble with Richard:

    Your husband is not “betraying” your marriage by masturbating. He’s accommodating the difference between his level of sexual drive and yours.

    This is true, but likely incomplete. It may lead you to believe that men who are with sexually adventurous, high-libido women have no need for porn and hence don’t indulge in it. This is simply not the case. Virtually all men look at porn, to a greater or lesser extent. Porn is not neccesarily something that your husband goes to because you don’t “measure up” and you shouldn’t think of yourself as in competition with the screaming banshees you might find on his hard-drive. Men watch porn. Even entirely sexually satisfied men watch porn. Some of the porn they watch can reflect real-life tastes, and some of it is stuff they wouldn’t dream of pursuing in real life (so don’t freak out if you find some girl-5 guys scene).

    I say this because it can help you stop feeling that your husband is “cheating on you” (if he is, there isn’t a straight woman or gay man alive who hasn’t been cheated on). If can also help you stop fretting that if you only did it enough he’d have no “need” for porn. Who knows, maybe if you stopped stressing about it, you’d find yourself relaxed and in the mood more often 🙂

  • Mihoda

    I’ve never really believed in God(tried) yet I imprinted quite strongly on the (relatively weak) social-religious programming of my community. It is something that i have certainly struggled with. I can say it does get better with time.
    I guess my strongest recommendation would be to avoid completely rebelling against these social constraints. Many of the Christian social constraints and rules are distortions of good old standbys like: don’t over indulge (too much of a good thing… etc).

    I find myself looking for a comfortable level of restraint in many Christian “vices.”

  • Oli

    great advice as usual Richard

  • Blacksheep

    You can talk all you want about how good it is to live in the grace of Dog, but it’s still the fear of punishment if you lose faith that keeps people inside the forest of delusion that is Christianity.

    Like I said – I’m not trying to start a debate about whether or not it’s true – but rather correct misconceptions about doctrine that in this case have contributed to what I believe is undue pain to someone who is struggling with a tough time in her life.

  • africangenesis

    Did anyone stop to think that Rachel might also have programming that isn’t religious that is relevant here? Perhaps it is just as much human nature for women to care and worry about their children and think they should invest directly in their care, and to feel leaving them to be raised by others and that breaking pair bonds is wrong. That guilt might have increased evolutionary fitness in the past and might still do so today, if Rachel once again gives a husband reproductive access rather than just meaningless pleasure. Pinker has informative writing puncturing the blank slate misconception of human nature that seems extant here.

  • Heidi

    @blacksheep: Please keep in mind that there are many interpretations of doctrine. What is taught at your church is not the One True Official Christianity. I’m willing to bet that Rachael went to a church whose teachings were much more like the one Richard described, than like the one you attend.

    @Rachel: I don’t really have anything helpful to add as far as getting over the guilt. But I think you’re doing great with the not-giving-in to it. Good for you.

  • Rollingforest

    I haven’t gotten married yet, so maybe I’m the wrong person to comment on this, but I think that in regard to the masturbation and jealousy, there might be a solution. Maybe she could take pictures of herself naked in various poses and then have her husband masturbate to that instead of porn. The men on this thread may think me a traitor, but I really do think it is understandable how a woman could feel badly if her husband gets sexual satisfaction from other women even if they are just pictures. I know I would feel bad if my future wife liked fantasizing sexually about other men.

  • Freemage

    Blacksheep: What you’re not getting is that your argument falls very close to “No True Scotsman” territory. The letter-writer’s bullet-list of conditioned thought-patterns were most certainly derived from her Christian upbringing. The fact that your–and, for the record, my–sect did not teach such things simply means that it’s not a universal Christian tenet; however, there’s virtually no such beast, especially if you look back at the historical sects which included groups that denied the very concept of Christ’s personal divinity.

    Rachel, at this point, does not need faith in God; she needs faith in herself, and in all the strengths she’s displayed in getting out of that horrifying situation. Nor does she need reassurances that this isn’t what Christ taught (if she still had her faith, and were in such a situation, THEN your argument would be the compassionate and effective approach).

  • The one unique good idea from Christianity is to be humble and get out of your “own way”. I view “own way” as any kind of preconceived ideal that can become a prison within your own mind. Or said in another way, carry things lightly and be able to put them down. IMO, this good idea has been polluted within Christianity with a lot of unnecessary and harmful supernaturalism like
    1. there is an outside divine force that can drive your life if you let it and become subservient to it.
    2. there is some kind of afterlife where reward and punishment are doled out dependent on how much you truly believe in and accept this outside divine force.
    3. This outside force wants you to think and behave in certain specific ways which will be explained to you by the clergy. This usually involves paying money to the clergy and working to convince others to believe (1), (2), and (3).

    I hope you can hold your learned thought-processes as part of (3) lightly and eventually let them go and free your mind of the habit of dependency and subservience.

    Or maybe I’m describing Buddhism…
    Good ideas usually have a convergence.

  • Claudia

    I know I would feel bad if my future wife liked fantasizing sexually about other men.

    I would like to humbly suggest that if you expect that once you are with a life-partner, they will cease to be aroused by and occasionally fantasize/masturbate about every single other attractive individual for as long as you both shall live, you are in for a lot of disappointment or setting yourself up for being lied to.

    I don’t know what your personal history is, nor do I wish to pry, but I would encourage you to look inside and privately ask yourself if, while dating someone, you’ve ever fantasized about someone else? Did you do so because your partner wasn’t “enough” for you? Was it a sign of disloyalty on your part?

    People who live in monogamous relationships already have made a difficult promise. Humans do not tend to be monogamous, but we can obligate ourselves to obey self-imposed norms because we think, for whatever reason, that it is beneficial. However expecting monogamy to extend to being only aroused by one person for ever and ever is an impossibly high standard. Chances are, your dad looked at porn, and that in no way means he was disloyal to your mother. I assume that my dad has. I don’t believe this diminishes his love for my mother (and blessedly, neither does my mother).

  • Angel

    It seems that there are a lot of different views on masturbation as it applies to marriage – both my husband and I do it, but his primary motivation isn’t “because he’s a man” and mine isn’t “because he can’t keep up with me”. There are many and varied reasons for it, and a vast majority of them aren’t indicators for anything. They are just simply “because I read a hot scene in a book”, or “I saw the lingerie magazine”. To simply state that it is because men need porn (painting them as primal sexual beings) is simply ignoring that women are the exactly the same.

    I can completely understand feeling badly about one partner engaging in it while the other doesn’t as there have been a few times in my household where there have been hurt feelings when one person chooses to masturbate instead of approaching the other, but it all boils down to a lack of communication. Neither of us can begrudge the other for masturbating if we have sex on the brain and our partner isn’t in the mood, isn’t available, etc.

    If sex is something that is hard to talk about in person, emails/letters to your partner is a method that can open the door to further frank conversations about the matter.

  • Courtney

    Hi Richard,

    I think you give some great advice here, but wanted to point out a small thing, that is not specific to the letter writer.

    You say:

    Despite the guilt, you did not return to your abusive ex-husband. Good for you! Far too many women return again and again until they are beaten to death.

    This reinforces a common misconception about victims of domestic violence/abuse, i.e. that the victim is out of danger after he/she leaves. In reality, many people return to their abusers because the abuser escalates the violence after the victim leaves. In fact, women are most likely to be killed by their abuser while attempting to leave/end the relationship. (Sorry, I do not have stats on that for male and female victims combined, only for female victims.)

    Thanks.

  • I read this in the early morning.

    Richard, kudos for your advice. It was very well thought out.

    I give only the best regards to Rachel and her husband.

  • Miko

    Religion is a large part of the problem, but not its root cause. As religion is a social construct designed by a powerful elite with the goal of maintaining dominance over a larger class through mental coercion, its faults are typically the faults of all hierarchy. Thus, even as one leaves religion, one remains within a hierarchical society that reinforces the same “values” through other avenues. As Emma Goldman wrote in The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation, true liberation requires not only the rejection of religion but also:

    First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation.

  • Parse

    @Rachel:
    The main thing that defanged my unwarranted guilt is the ability to recognize it as such, as it happens. When I start feeling guilty (or oftentimes as this started, after I was in the depths of guilt), I ask myself “Why am I feeling guilty about this?” By recognizing the guilt as coming from an external source, it helped separate what I wanted to feel from what I was actually feeling. It was beneficial to me to say “X is making me feel guilty about…” instead of “I feel guilty about…”, because I wasn’t the reason for the guilt, X was.

    Compare “I feel guilty when I think about my choice to not have any more children” to “My old religion is making me feel guilty about my choice to not have any more children.” As Richard says, you have nothing to feel guilty about, and a heck of a lot to feel proud about. Why should you take credit for the guilt your ex-church forced upon you?

    @blacksheep:

    The peace and joy of the Christian life comes from the exact opposite of what you are saying – Christianity offers release from being “sick with guilt” by saying that through Christ, we are perfect and blameless in the eyes of God. That was the whole point of Christ dying for us.

    What I see in this is the hidden, hovering shoe, waiting to drop: that once we’re forgiven, it’s only a matter of time before we screw up again and are guilty in the eyes of God. If Jesus’s forgiveness was a once-and-done thing, you wouldn’t need to go back to church a second time. There’s the guilt in knowing we’re going to mess up somehow, then once we do there’s the guilt in knowing we messed up – and that only by crawling back to Jesus, asking for forgiveness will that guilt get lifted (until the next time we sin again). That’s what makes people “sick with guilt” and dependent on the cure.

  • Ides of Ulven

    I just want to add that there are atheists who aren’t ok with pornography. Religious objections to porn are not the only kind out there. Some people object on feminist grounds (check out Skeptifem’s blog if you haven’t already). Some feel it’s fine for others but don’t like it for themselves. Some people feel fine about it when they’re single but not when they’re in a committed relationship. My partner and I are both atheists and we each have several reasons why we don’t use porn.

    Rachel, if you really think that your aversion to porn is just a leftover effect from your religious upbringing, then great! Maybe it is. But take care not to fall in the trap of automatically judging your own opinions as unacceptable wherever they don’t conform to what you see as the typical atheist party line. Part of breaking the pattern of surrendering your will to a perceived higher power, as an ex-Christian, is learning to resist the temptation to substitute in another form of authority to sit in the spot Jeebus used to occupy. No person or group (atheist or otherwise) deserves to be able to steer your life or decide what you like/dislike. You don’t have to agree with your husband or Greta Christina any more than you have to agree with the Pope or Billy Graham.

    You have the right not to like porn. You have the right not to like being with a partner who uses porn. You even have the right to dump or choose your partners based on this preference of yours, or any other desire you might come up with. You get to set whatever boundaries you choose, want whatever you want, and you get to talk about it and advocate for yourself.

    I hope you have a beautiful, fun, and free life!

  • Angel

    @Parse

    Absolutely fantastic observations, and incredibly useful for pretty much all aspects of life.

  • Demonhype

    @Claudia:

    I would like to humbly suggest that if you expect that once you are with a life-partner, they will cease to be aroused by and occasionally fantasize/masturbate about every single other attractive individual for as long as you both shall live, you are in for a lot of disappointment or setting yourself up for being lied to.

    Exactly this. My dad, while never being lewd or crude, also never hid the fact that he found other women attractive. He’d see a pretty woman on TV or across the street and say “she’s got a nice [insert characteristic here]” and my mom would just laugh. Because of the way my parents were and the way my mom explained all this, we understood that men are like this but that it doesn’t necessitate that he doesn’t love his partner or isn’t true to his partner. There was never any doubt that my dad was faithful to my mom or that she wasn’t “enough” for him. My mother, for all her other faults, was secure in herself and knew who she was and who her husband was, and taught us to be secure in ourselves as well and always see the reality in those around us. And she said almost exactly what Claudia says here: That if you expect your husband to never ever even look at another woman ever again, you’re in for some sour disappointment.

    But then, no one in my immediate family is a romantic, dreaming of pledging our love from here to eternity to a single soul who will, from that day forward, cease to have eyes for anyone else. We’re twisted horror-film-watching, priest-scaring, sarcastic circus freak artists, each of us sporting a particularly fucked-up sense of humor! 😉

    Of course, none of this applied to Mommy, who insisted that women are “less physical” and “more spiritual” and don’t have any need for sex or for the guy to be visually attractive. Imagine her shock when I matured and asserted exactly the opposite! If a guy was personally upset that I look at or fantasize about another guy, then he’s with the wrong girl. And I do need to find a guy visually attractive to at least some point, and YES my pleasure and arousal DOES matter, no matter how many people mansplain that a woman only has to lay there and therefore her pleasure/arousal are immaterial! So there! 🙂

    @Ides of Ulven:

    You have the right not to like porn. You have the right not to like being with a partner who uses porn. You even have the right to dump or choose your partners based on this preference of yours, or any other desire you might come up with. You get to set whatever boundaries you choose, want whatever you want, and you get to talk about it and advocate for yourself.

    Absolutely. Anyone has the right to decide what is important to them. No one should be forced into anything they don’t want, whether male or female. You have every right to like or dislike porn, though I would say that it’s important to have thought it out and come to an understanding of why you like/dislike it. ‘Rachel’ was taught by religious indoctrination to dislike porn and see it as betrayal, but it is completely possible for her to continue to dislike it for other reasons. I think the only concern the commenters here seem to have is that she was indoctrinated with a knee-jerk reaction against porn, and that she shouldn’t let that knee-jerk reaction rule her thoughts or decisions about the subject.

    It’s worth pointing out that he cares about her desires and has found this compromise to balance their mismatched libidos, because technically this is more a respect to her than not. I’m assuming from the letter that he doesn’t push her to enjoy any porn with him either, or engage in this stuff right in front of her, flaunting it. It might be mutually respectful to acknowledge this and not demand that he sit there no-touchy getting BB just because she has a problem with the idea of him satisfying himself–which is as unfair as the many justifications offered in favor of marital rape. In fact, that might increase the feeling of guilt she has that she has some “duty” to accommodate his sexual needs to the exclusion of her own desire, since her refusal is now causing him discomfort.

    I say this because they are already married, and things often change in marriage and the two parties often have to find a compromise. Now if she was dating and decided that “no porn” was a major issue to the point of being a dealbreaker–well, more power and all that. Right now, however, it sounds like she’s married to a great guy who actually wants to make love to a cherished partner who shares in the pleasure, and not simply screw an unwilling/unresponsive/unaroused sex receptacle, which is certainly something worth considering before telling her to kick him to the curb over this.

    Not to mention that one could be upset about their partner looking at porn because of personal insecurity that is not even tied into religious belief. And that giving in to a manifestation of personal insecurity is not exactly beneficial to either party.

  • Blacksheep

    What I see in this is the hidden, hovering shoe, waiting to drop: that once we’re forgiven, it’s only a matter of time before we screw up again and are guilty in the eyes of God. If Jesus’s forgiveness was a once-and-done thing, you wouldn’t need to go back to church a second time.

    I’m slightly confused by your comments because you seem annoyed by ideas of sin, forgiveness, etc. as if you believe in them but just don’t like them. If there is no God, and if Christianity is false, what does it matter if the other shoe drops?

    The Bible says that we are forgiven once and for all through faith, but part of our walk is still to seek forgiveness as we move through life, because we will continue to screw up. the difference is, our screw ups no longer count against us.

    That’s backed up with verses, and also parables like the prodigal son and the lost sheep.

    In terms of “not needing to back to Church a second time” that’s just silly. It’s a silly comment because one doesn’t “Need” to go to Church even a first time. (Not to mention that in the Bible , the Church of Christ is not a building, it’s a community of believers). You could encounter God anywhere.
    Also, when you love something and when you are part of a group of kindred spirits, you seek fellowship with them. Also, if you are thankful to God there is a desire to praise God.

  • Kristi

    @Blacksheep. sorry to say, it seems as though you are spilling exactly what you have been programmed to. This woman (Rachel) is not Christian. She does not believe in god. So to try to reassure her of false beliefs is not going to help her. She is struggling to get of a bad time in her life and she is looking for support from the other end. She is having a difficult time undoing the conservative indoctrination that was instilled into her as a child. She has lost her faith and I can completely understand why and side with her too… but what she has not lost is all the habitual negativity and guilt in her life that came from having faith. She needs her self confidence back.. she doesn’t need to be told she is just feeling it the wrong way.

  • Claudia

    To simply state that it is because men need porn (painting them as primal sexual beings) is simply ignoring that women are the exactly the same.

    Absolutely. At least for my part I didn’t mean to suggest that men watch porn and masturbate but women don’t. Sexism about sex is very much a two-way street. Men are primal animals, barely held back from humping every warm body, while women are creatures of pure emotion and no sexual urges, with no sexual agency of their own, merely agreeing to sex to please males. Bullshit, all of it.

    What is true is that you don’t often (or in my case, ever) hear of men disraught because their girlfriend/wives masturbate when they aren’t there. Furthermore men who get upset because their partner looks at an attractive member of the opposite sex are normally considered unreasonably jealous and controlling. So the focus here was about explaining that masturbation and being attracted to others while in a marriage is normal for a man, but of course it’s also normal for a woman.

  • Sarah

    @Demonhype

    It might be mutually respectful to acknowledge this and not demand that he sit there no-touchy getting BB just because she has a problem with the idea of him satisfying himself–which is as unfair as the many justifications offered in favor of marital rape.

    One point of contention:
    While both situations entail treating someone as sexual property, the crucial difference is undeniable: someone who is not permitted to masturbate is denied satisfaction, but anyone who is raped is denied the sanctuary of their own bodies. It goes far beyond unfair. There’s a reason the other definition for rape is plunder.

  • Excellent advice Richard. Kristi, your comment is great. Rachel is growing as a person and had left Christianity behind. Part of that growth is to shed the negative parts of her early life. Having someone who is still caught in the thing that she has left telling her that it isn’t that bad is hardly helpful.

  • Blacksheep

    @Blacksheep. sorry to say, it seems as though you are spilling exactly what you have been programmed to. This woman (Rachel) is not Christian. She does not believe in god. So to try to reassure her of false beliefs is not going to help her.

    Kristi,

    I was correcting Richard’s mis-characterization of the Christian faith, because some of the pain and confusion can often be born out of misunderstanding – on both sides.

  • walkamungus

    Good job, Richard, and good comments about sex from Rollingforest, Angel, Claudia, & Demonhype.

    Rachel, one more thing to consider about sex & your husband that I don’t think has come up yet: Sex does not always have to be of the man-penetrates-woman variety. You might at some point want to explore the idea of watching your husband masturbate — make it a shared sexual experience, not an individual one. He might really enjoy you watching him, and if you enjoyed it too, you’d remove the need for those feelings of guilt and betrayal. How can it be still be “betrayal” if you’re both getting off on it?

  • Reality Chic

    Masturbation is good. Porn is good. Been happily married for 11 years. Try it. You might like it.

  • dc

    @Blacksheep,

    Not all christians believe in “once saved, always saved” and there are verses to back up their point of view too. The fact that the bible contains so many contradictions is a factor in many people leaving christianity.

    Richard was talking about christianity, which is based on the bible, not just the words attributed to Jesus, within it. It was however, Jesus who said that thoughts and actions are equally sinful.

    You quoted some words by Paul, who also says that the husband is the head of the wife, even as christ is the head of the church, and that it is inappropriate for a woman to speak in church.

    Most of the people who frequent this site have been devoted, active and informed christians for years and know the bible forwards and backwards.

    Richard was not at all inaccurate in his comments regarding traditional christianity which takes into account all of the bible verses on a subject – not just the grace based ones chosen from the NT, while ignoring all the abuse of women condoned in the OT and their subservient role declared in other NT verses.

    I understand that you do not feel compelled to attend church out of guilt or fear as many christians do, however even grace based christians are constantly admonished to “stay strong in the word” and band together in order to be accountable to one another. Jesus’ teaching that even thoughts warrant condemnation is a compelling reason for members to support “the fold” in an effort to remain focused on being more “christ-like”.

    In other words, it would be like encouraging everyone to attend Overeaters Anonymous, supporting it with an investment of their time and financial resources – not just if they had the problem of overeating, but in order to avoid developing the problem, because EVERYBODY THINKS about overeating sometimes.

  • WolfAlice

    @ africagenesis, do you mean THIS Pinker?

    http://flowstate.homestead.com/askpinker.html