There are many types of abuse that can occur in relationships, but when it comes to marital abuse our minds immediately go to the physical or emotional or even verbal harassment in a relationship. While there has been much written about these types of abuses, there is another type that routinely stays hidden and isn’t often discussed. Sex abuse in marriage occurs more frequently than many realize and, because it occurs within a legally recognized partnership, is often unrecognized and under reported.
Although it’s possible for a husband to be abused, in a marriage where sex abuse occurs the victim is typically the wife. Many women don’t realize that consent is still required even after marriage. Being manipulated, given ultimatums, or forced to have sexual contact is abuse and illegal, even in a marriage. So how do you know, and what should you do, if you are experiencing sex abuse in marriage?
What Does Sexual Abuse In Marriage Look Like?
In the era of the #metoo movement there is little tolerance for sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact. The exception to that, unfortunately, is the sexual harassment and abuse that can occur within a marriage.
Unwanted sex and harassment between partners goes unnoticed because an intimate relationship is considered an expected part of a marriage. Under the guise of “wifely duties” or quid pro quo, many women are placed in a position where they feel that saying no isn’t an option. Or where even if they do say no, it’s simply not heard or respected.
Because it’s such a private matter and not often discussed, many women can be victims of sex abuse in a marriage and not even realize it. And the intensity of the abuse can vary. Rape in any form is abuse, but what about some of the more subtle abuses? Consider some of the following scenarios.
Case #1 - Carla and Jeff were out shopping one day. In a store Carla found a purse she liked, but it cost more than she wanted to spend. Jeff said she should have it and decided to buy it for her. Carla thought it was a sweet and generous gesture – until later that night. As she turned off the light Jeff started putting his hands all over her. She said no, not tonight, she was extremely tired and had to be up early. His response was, "well I bought you that purse today – doesn’t that mean something?” Carla thanked him again but still said no, not tonight. Jeff’s reply was then, “Fine then. The purse goes back tomorrow.”
Case #2 - Liz and Roman have busy lives. They both work and have an active family. Sadly, a lot of the sexual chemistry and intimacy that they had at the beginning has faded. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have sex. In fact, they have sex once or twice a week. Liz says they have to because Roman reminds her constantly that “men need it” and that he could easily find it elsewhere with someone younger and more willing. So in order to keep her marriage intact and prevent him from having the affair he threatens, Liz has sex and does other intimate things that Roman demands.
Case #3 - Ron and Jennifer have been married for a few years. Their sex life has gone through some ups and downs as is normal in a marriage. Ron said he wanted to spice things up a bit and Jennifer agreed that they needed to try some new things. So one afternoon Ron came home early and found Jennifer in the kitchen. He suggested they have some “fun.” She said no because she was running late for an evening meeting. Not wanting to wait he came up behind her and started kissing her neck and groping her. When she said again, no, not right now, his response was, “no time like the present” and he forced himself on her and into a sexual experience she wasn’t ready for.
Case #4 - Dwayne says he loves Lori. He will tell you he fell in love when they first met. But Dwayne also likes to be in control and gets a kick out of asking Lori to do things for him. Lately he’s taken to asking her to cook and do other household duties topless. She said it made her feel uncomfortable, but he insisted saying he liked looking at her and that it was better than him going to some “titty bar.” So she said ok – it wasn’t too big a deal, right?
All of these scenarios represent sexual harassment or sexual abuse in a marriage.
Sex isn’t a bargaining chip and it’s not a duty or a right. In each situation above the was woman objectified, deprived of her right to say yes at the appropriate time, and made to feel like being intimate was a obligation of the relationship.
How To Recognize Sex Abuse In Your Marriage
Even after reading this there will be many women who still wonder if what they’re experiencing is really abuse. Women have been taught for years, even if it hasn’t been said directly, that it’s their duty as a wife to keep their man satisfied. And many men feel entitled to sex from their wives, believing that regular sex is one of the motivators for marriage. Even famed Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was recorded as saying, “by definition you can’t rape your wife” (a statement referring to the implied consent laws that have been long over turned, and which he later recanted).
If you are unsure whether you are being sexually harassed in your marriage or sexually abused ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you look forward to sex with your husband, or do you dread it?
- Have you ever had sex against your personal desire?
- Do you feel like you have to have sex in order to keep your relationship?
- Has your husband ever required or requested sex in exchange for something like money, shelter, food, favors, or anything else?
- Has your husband ever grabbed or groped you against your will and refused to stop at your request?
- Have you ever been humiliated into having sexual relations?
- Does your husband make sexual comments that are derogatory or humiliating?
- Does the sex you have with your husband make you happy – not could it be better – just happy overall?
The answers to these questions can be very telling. If your responses are generally negative in that your current sex life feels out of your control, or as though it’s a requirement and not a consensual expression of feelings, you’re likely in a sexually abusive marriage.
Dr. Kurt has worked with many partners who experience sex abuse in their relationships. He points out that not all of these partners are female, men can also suffer abuse. According to Dr. Kurt,
While it's true that most sexual abuse is done by men, it's important to remember that women can be sexual abusers in a marriage too. But what guy wouldn't want more sex? Well too much of anything, even sex, can be just too much, even for a man. Sexual abuse isn't really as much about sex as it is about power and control. When any partner, female or male, feels disrespected or controlled it kills the appeal of sexual intimacy. I counseled a guy who would weekly demand of his wife, 'give me an orgasm' (his description for her performing oral sex). She complied for a number of reasons, none of which were because she wanted to or enjoyed it. This scenario can just as easily be reversed with a wife demanding a sex act from her husband. The manner in which this man would order and expect – not ask – this from his wife, and the lack of mutual desire and enjoyment for her made it a form of sex abuse in their marriage."
Remember, marriage doesn’t make sex a right of either partner. No is no - married or not.
Next Steps For The Sexually Abused Spouse
Dealing with sex abuse in marriage is uniquely difficult and tricky. It isn’t the same as calling out a co-worker or boss for harassment, or reporting abuse or rape by a stranger or even acquaintance. Handling sex abuse in a marriage has many very personal repercussions that can affect many lives including those of children and extended family.
In fact, there are many women who opt to live with sex abuse in their marriage rather than potentially destroying the lives they have created for themselves and their families. The uncertainty of what might happen and the fallout for trying to make changes just doesn’t seem worth it.
Most abuses aren’t singular, however. Very often when bad behavior starts and boundaries are crossed things will continue to escalate over time. Verbal or emotional abuse can become physical, sexual harassment can become sexual abuse, and sexual abuse can become emotional or physical abuse. It’s a very slippery slope because both abuser and victim stop seeing what’s happening as wrong and start to believe that this is their “normal.”
There is nothing normal or healthy about abuse of any kind, however, including sex abuse within a marriage. If you are experiencing this your only healthy choice is to make a change. How that happens can vary widely though. For some it may be a matter of better communication in your relationship, making your own feelings, expectations and boundaries clear and insisting that your spouse respect them. For others it may require a great deal more time and effort as well as the assistance of a professional counselor.
However you chose to handle things, putting a stop to an abusive situation needs to be a priority. No one deserves to be violated, and no man or woman is entitled to a sexual relationship. Healthy sexual and intimate relationships are built on mutual trust and respect. Sex abuse in a marriage does not incorporate either of those things.
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