Is sex an expression of love for both men and women?

Sex as expression of love

I have often heard the statement: ‘Man gives love to have sex and woman gives sex to have love’. Many academics speak about the gender differences in the experiences of Eros (sex) as an expression of love. Some argue that men express their love both in practical ways – such as assisting with household chores – and in sexual actions. Others believe that both men and women find intimacy in verbal and sexual intimacy as this is in line with the cultural script of love. However, the majority of work that I read state that a few years into the marriage, gender differences appear as men will continue to find intimacy in sexual fulfillment but minimize their verbal intimacy, whereas women will tend to increase their need for verbal intimacy and decrease sexual intimacy. Consequently, men express and experience love when having sex, whilst women experience being loved in other ways: for instance, in kind deeds, talking and help with household chores.

I would like to challenge this point of view. During my research on sexually unhappy marriages, the co-searchers confirmed my suspicion that this idea may be another patriarchal discourse taken as the truth. The women who researched with me, all regarded sex as a way in which they experienced being loved and giving love. Sex for them was not reserved to the male experience of love. They also shared that when their sexual needs were neglected, they did not feel loved, no matter how many times he did the dishes. Practical help in the absence of sex did not build their intimate relationships. It would seem that sexual intimacy is an important expression of love to both men and women and cannot be replaced by practical deeds.

Sex should not be reserved to the male experience of love. We need to challenge gender discourses regarding sexual intimacy. Sex is important to both men and women, as is communication, practical help and deeds of kindness. Why do so many people insist in holding on to these gender stereotypes which are so life-restricting to both men and women? What is your take on this?

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. 

Electronic version available at –


Seks, plesier en geloof: hoe meisies gesosialiseer word ten opsigte van seksualiteit


Die sosialiseringproses van meisies ten opsigte van hul seksualiteit is onlosmaakbaar van hulle gender rol wat ‘n sosiale konstruksie is.

Met sosiale konstruksie bedoel ek die manier hoe ons iets verstaan en die waarde wat ons aan iets heg word bepaal deur die dominante diskoerse in daardie gemeenskap. ‘n Voorbeeld van so ‘n dominante diskoers in die Christelike psige van meeste Suid-Afrikaners, is dat mans die hoof van die huis is. Julle mag nou dadelik wonder hoekom ek hier van ‘n diskoers uit die Christelike tradisie aangaande sosialisering praat. In die 2001 Suid-Afrikaanse bevolkingsensus het die oorweldigende meerderheid van Suid-Afrikaners hulself beskryf as Christene beskryf, om die waarheid te sê, 79,8% waarvan 42,8% van die Wit deelnemers aangedui het dat hulle in die Gereformeerde kerke is. Ek maak dus die aanname dat die manier hoe die gereformeerde kerke die rol van mans en vroue sien, ‘n groot impak het op hoe die verskillende geslagte gesosialiseer word.

Een van die mees dominante diskoerse in die kerk was en in sommige gevalle is steeds dat mans die hoof van die huis is en dat vroue ongeskik of onderdanig moet wees aan hulle mans. Saam met hierdie diskoers vind ons die idee dat mans die broodwinner of ten minste die primêre broodwinner moet wees en dat vroue die versorgers van die gesin is. Uit my navorsing het dit geblyk dat hierdie diskoers ‘n groot impak het op hoe vroue hul seksualiteit ervaar.

Vir dekades was vroue se seksualiteit gekoppel aan voortplanting. Met die ontwikkeling van  veilige gesinsbeplanning het die klem van seks begin skuif van voortplanting tot dit van plesier en ‘n spesiale vorm van intimiteit. In my navorsing, wat meestal met ouer vroue was, het dit egter duidelik geblyk dat baie vroue steeds sukkel om hul seksualiteit te skei van die voorgeskrewe gender rolle en daarom dikwels hul seksuele behoeftes onderskik stel aan hulle intieme partner of eggenoot sin.

Uittreksel uit my doktorale tesis:

Mayer and Mayer (cited by Mager 1996:19) believe that it is important to acknowledge that women, like men, have sexual desires that require fulfillment. Nevertheless, there is a distinct difference in how men and women’s sexuality is defined. McFadden (2003:1-3) argues in Sexual pleasure as a feminist choice that, for many years, African women’s sexual and erotic inclinations have been suppressed by the patriarchal system which merged female sexuality with reproduction within a hetero-normative culture and society. In my experience, this is also true for westernised White Protestant women. McFadden links the suppression of female sexuality by tradition and religion with being a mother and a nurturer. Isherwood and McEwan (1994:18) concur, arguing that patriarchy established the role of the woman as nurturer with the aid of religion: ‘[r]eligions have reinforced…. [and] prescribed roles of wife and mother [to women]’. For many centuries the Bible was used to justify and maintain the construction of the wife within the nurturing role (Landman 2002:25).

The discourse of woman as the nurturer is reinforced by the way in which girls are socialised to be complaisant and accommodating (Fredman & Potgieter 1996:52). In their interaction with others and in gender discourses, girls soon learn that their worlds are much more limited than boys. The effects of the socialisation process are often seen in how women view their sexuality: they focus on their partners’ sexual needs instead of focusing on their own. Fredman and Potgieter (1996:52) conclude that girls tend to experience their sexuality as something that others do to them and define for them rather than something they can initiate and define. Buys (2010:2), a well known and ‘modern’ South African sexologist, confirm the belief that men and women are created differently:

Men were created as the ‘hunters’, the providers, and the protectors. They need physical strength. Women were created as the nurturers and the carers. They need emotional strength….Another big difference between men and women is the ways in [which] we perceive love and affection. Women often see kind deeds – like her husband washing the dishes without being asked – as acts of love. Men feel loved when they are intimate with their partners.

I argue that the conditioning of women to be sexually accommodating and/or complaisant can set them up for sexual disappointment and disillusionment, especially in the presence of the expectation of marital sexual fulfilment. Although women might expect a sexually happy marriage, they are often reluctant to pursue this actively in their marriages, especially in the early stages of the marriage. Within Christian marriages sexuality is often shrouded in silence due to many of the discourses as explored earlier in this chapter. All these factors contribute towards women becoming sexually frustrated in their marriages and the establishment of patterns that undermines sexual happiness for both partners. Due to a variety of reasons (which will be explored in the following chapters) many women in sexually unhappy marriages are not able to leave such marriages. This causes great predicaments, dilemmas, relational complexities and challenges, especially for Christian women.

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. 

Electronic version available at –

Hello world! My first blog

My Life as a writer

My life as a writer started when I was still very young, but back then I used to write stories in my head.

Being a nature child I found myself inspired when outside and instead of thinking about the game at hand, I would be narrating the life stories of imagined friends and characters. Often they would be in a struggle of some sorts.

As many writers, I would imagine, not many people got me or understood my stories. Therefore I clearly remember the first time a teacher ‘got the plot’ of an essay I wrote. The title was “In die spreekkamer’ (In the doctor’s rooms). This however, is a bitter-sweet memory, as he asked-suggested that I used a specific phrase in a symbolic manner, and if this was coincidence and if, I was aware of it. Please! Of cause I was aware of it, nothing in that essay was accidental, the only accidental part was that he understood it.

A few years passed and as before, very few teachers ever understood my writing. Even at university, it continued to be a lonely, less traveled path until my third year in the Sociology class of Miss van der Spuy. The assignment gave me the space to voice my ideas on Apartheid and gender issues – and she understood and approved of my understandings. To this day this memory fills me with a burst of joy.

Here after in my honnors year, I came to love exam times, as my exams gave me the opportunity to voice and share my knowledges and making meaning of that that I was taught and how I interpreted it.  Theories became conversation partners and sometimes even fencing partners.

Yet again, I was energized by those who were able to embrace my other-ness and who did not interpret different ideas as different-ness or indifference.

Many years passed then and the only writing I then did was letters to my parents, love letters to my husband and birthday cards to our children and close friends.

But my dance with words was to regain momentum. I became involved in a women’s organization and once more I started to write. Now there were computers and Windows.

I taught myself to be computer literate and this brought immense freedom to my writing. Editing was now no longer this time-consuming re-doing action of retyping on a typewriter, but fast, effective and accurate.

Up till here I used to write about learnt knowledges, but from 2000 I started to write about my personal experienced knowledges, thus my understandings and making meaning of lived experiences and knowledges gained. I became a Local Preacher. Before I used to write for no audience, Now, writing so-called sermons, (I prefer the term messages), I was writing for an audience. This was very different and held an almost crushing social and ethical responsibility. At times the complexity of this almost silenced me, especially as I understood and related to theology very differently than the dominant discourse.

But all of this was necessary as it prepared me for the writing of my dissertation and thereafter my doctoral thesis. Again I voiced a message not often accepted or embraced in the church. Sexuality, desire, passion, pleasure and faith. God forbid! Speaking the unspeakable. My writing became the vehicle with which I challenged, protested and created awareness. It enabled me to participate in the constructions of new realities of myself and of others. My writings shaped by my feminist ideas, became a powerful tool to construct and participate in the realties of others by offering a different way of hearing and seeing the ‘given’. It became the medium with which I rejected many dominant religious discourses. It became the tool which could transport my passion. It became a way in which I could show compassion, share my experiences and reflect on life. A way to negotiate meaning – for myself but also for others.

Being a writer invited me to explore places and spaces that no other experience, lived or imagined, could. It gave me a voice; no it gives all women in my life (socially and professionally) a voice.