Sexual deprivation of wives

Lately, so many women shared with me their stories of sexual deprivation and isolation within their marriages. The withholding of sexual contact reminds me of the dominant discourse that a wife’s body becomes the property of her husband. I argue that this discourse is based on the premise that a husband has the power and right to decide when and how his wife could engage in sexual activity. Linked to this premise is the dismissal of female sexual desire and female sexual fulfillment. Women’s sexuality was and still is at times mostly linked to reproduction, and therefore men and women often hold different expectations for sexual fulfillment. Women (and men) are socialised to be indifferent to female sexual desire and fulfillment. This indifference is reinforced by the dominant discourse which encourages women to be passive in sexual activity and to wait for men to initiate sexual contact as “good girls” don’t. This discourse was present as far back as the time of Plutarch (46-120 CE), when it was believed that a wife who seeks sexual fulfilment for herself was regarded as bad, meretricious and impetuous. This discourse placed the fulfillment of a wife’s sexual desire under the control of her husband. It follows that if a husband disregards his wife’s right to sexual fulfilment – or even worse, if he believes that she has no need for sexual fulfilment – he might never attend to her sexual needs and desires.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

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