How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

Well, having just published 2,600 words explaining this law (and that doesn’t count the footnotes), I thought I’d give the short version. Here it is in fewer than 500 words: Continue reading How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22:13-21... it's not what you think. Forget the hymen. This was about power. And money.. workthegreymatter.com

There was some justifiable outrage recently when rapper T.I. said that he had a gynaecologist annually test that his daughter’s hymen was still intact.

Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.

Or is it?

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

So, do we:

  1. Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
  2. Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
  3. Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is all about option 3. (If you want a summary in fewer than 500 words, click here.) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

On consent for sex in the middle of the night

Picture of the ocean at night with moonlight reflecting off the water, with the words: On consent for sex in the middle of the night (a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of) workthegreymatter.com

A video of this post is also available on YouTube.

The middle of the night is not usually a good time to do things other than sleep. Lack of sleep makes us tired and most of us don’t get to snooze during the day. That said, sometimes our sense of nocturnal fun means we make exceptions.

Something you’ll hear me say is that marriage doesn’t give spouses a right to sex, but rather a right to approach each other for sex. So, in theory, sex in the middle of the night is on the cards.

Problem is — if your spouse is asleep, how do you know if it’s OK to have sex with them?

Well, for starters it is never ok to have penetrative sex with someone whilst that person is asleep!

Not even if that person is your spouse. Continue reading On consent for sex in the middle of the night

On wives ‘depriving’ their husbands of sex because she ‘doesn’t feel like it’

(…and marital rape, 1 Corinthians and ‘disciplining your body’. This post is a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of. I’ve made two videos covering this post on my YouTube: part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)

Photo credit: BreathlessDesign on Pixabay

There is this idea amongst certain Christians[1], that if a husband feels like sex and his wife is there, then she should habitually allow him to have sex with her even when she doesn’t feel like it. ‘Wives mustn’t deprive their husbands,’ they say, quoting 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

The problem with this kind of teaching is that it normalises prioritisation of the husband’s wants and needs over the the wife’s wants and needs, and it ignores the asymmetry of men’s and women’s bodies.

It’s also not what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church in Corinth. Back then, Christians had this idea that you were more holy if you abstained from sex continuously. But Paul was like, ‘Er, no. Husbands and wives shouldn’t deprive each other except by mutual consent.’

Why did he write that? Because, amongst other reasons, he knew that sex is one of the ways that spouses can celebrate their intimacy together. So unless there’s some adverse circumstance, it doesn’t make sense for couples to continuously abstain from this physical act of mutual affirmation. And I would agree.

That said, you can’t physically affirm someone when you feel that they pressure you, or ignore you, or use you.

And sometimes that’s how wives feel when they’re approached for sex. Continue reading On wives ‘depriving’ their husbands of sex because she ‘doesn’t feel like it’

Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

When it comes to sex, I’m not a believer that consensual = no mistakes.

Sure, consensual means no big, life-changing mistakes and no clearly and easily avoidable mistakes. It means avoiding all the nasty stuff like:

  • penetration without an active ‘yes’, or
  • lack of regard for risks or consequences, or
  • sex without an easy, agreed, recognisable way to withdraw consent, or
  • negotiation where a hard limit is discussed like it’s a soft limit or a preference.

People talk about “active, informed and enthusiastic” consent because it goes a long way to prevent the above.

But even when you stay well clear of those mistakes, even when your partner is a decent human being who would never want to violate or harm you — that doesn’t mean everything always goes to plan. Maybe an unwelcome memory rears its ugly head. Maybe your body starts feeling wildly uncomfortable when you didn’t think it would. Maybe you didn’t shut the door and the cat walks in.

Mistakes will happen; the question is, what do you when you realise it’s not working? And do you learn from your mistakes? Continue reading Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Picture of the book "Shameless: A sexual reformation" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, with a card sticking out saying "I'm ready to be SHAMELESS about ...." Text over the top: On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral workthegreymatter.com

“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”

As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.

For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.

Well that’s one way to make a statement.

She’s also authentic in what she says and a lot of people appreciate her honesty. I personally think she preached sensationally at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. Continue reading Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

Picture of a man and woman lying next to each other in bed, half-hiding under duvet, looking at each other excited, with the words: sex and consent: how does that work in a long-term relationship? workthegreymatter.com

Photo credit: sasint from pixabay

I originally wrote this post for abuse advocate Ashley Easter and you can find it on her blog. I’m re-posting here with a few minor edits to smooth over the language, but you’ll see it’s largely unchanged. It’s long (5,500 words) so have a think about when you might read it, but feedback seems to show it’s been very useful for people – whether Christian or not, married or not.


To this day, my husband and I are still unsure if some of our early sexual encounters with each other were consensual. Seriously. Make no mistake, we have a mutually fun and consensual sex life now and I believe we have loved each other deeply for as long as we’ve been sexually active with each other. But we didn’t always understand consent. Or sex. And I used to have some pretty messed up ideas about my place in the relationship. How we got into that situation and how we got out of it are both stories for another time. Right now, I want to tell you about how we’ve come to understand consent. Continue reading Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

Picture of woman looking at her phone, not smiling, with the words: He sent you a lewd message. Now you want to tell his wife. OK... but please be careful. workthegreymatter.com

Photo credit: rawpixel on Pixabay

The thought of getting your own back feels great. Some random guy sent you a lewd unsolicited message and a quick flick through his timeline shows that you’re probably not the first woman he’s tried this with. His comments ooze with ego and a grossly misplaced sense of entitlement. You see it. You’re fed up with it.

And after a little digging you’ve found out who his wife, girlfriend or play-partner is.

You relish the thought of busting this guy and seeing this woman triumph over him in a blaze of fury.

But as satisfying as the thought is, is it realistic? Continue reading On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Glass bowl of pink ice cream on a wooden surface with the words: I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream. workthgreymatter.com

So, Sheila Gregoire came to the UK on holiday and WE MET UP!

We had a great chat over ice cream and it was wonderful hearing her vision for her platform and her take on recent events in the marriage/sex blogging world.

So, if you’ve not heard of her, she runs To Love, Honour & Vacuum.

Her topic is sex (for married, Christian, heterosexual couples) and she finds that a lot of people come to her blog for sex and begin to deconstruct a number of their (false) complementarian beliefs. Which is an absolutely fabulous work. Continue reading I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

Text on purple, white and black swirly background: Why do Methodist evangelicals insist all sex outside marriage is 'sexual immorality'? Because that's not in the Bible. workthegreymatter.com

The Methodist Conference in Great Britain recently commended a report about marriage and relationships, God In Love Unites Us, by 247 votes to 48. The headlines have focussed on how this report commends same-sex marriage, but it’s actually much broader than this. For example, it also discusses cohabitation, developing resources for married people, and even developing liturgies for when relationships end.

Meanwhile, Methodist Evangelicals Together have issued a statement and article in Premier Christianity saying that the report was one-sided, ignored testimony, and biblically unsound.  They’re calling on evangelicals to “make the case for a biblical view of marriage and relationships” rather than echo society’s views. [Edited to add: I should probably caveat here that that not all Methodist Evangelicals agree with the stance that MET has taken. Certainly, I saw tweets to the contrary as the report and article came out.]

Now, I might have my own problems with the report (the section on good sexual relating doesn’t mention consent), but I also recognise that it’s attempting to tackle and contextualise big and very sensitive issues, whilst still being accessible to read. And on the whole, I reckon does very well at this. What’s more, far from being unbiblical, I think the report is conceptually groundbreaking in how it de-couples sexual ethics from marriage.

Make no mistake, the report doesn’t give a free-for-all. For all my talk of ‘groundbreaking’, much of what the report says about sex is still well within the bounds of Methodist evangelical sexual ethics. It explicitly says “promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning” sex is unacceptable and emphasises exclusivity (albeit, not marriage) as a pre-requisite for sexual flourishing.

As such, the report places itself outside of much sex-positive thought, including any discussion of, for example, BDSM or polyamory. I’m not going to debate that in this post. In fact, right now, I’m not interested in going over same-sex marriage (though you’ll probably be able to guess where I stand).

What I want to ask is simply this:

Why do evangelicals insist on directly linking extra-marital sex to sexual immorality?  Continue reading Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

“Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

Flyer for 'Just don't do it' by Beside Ourselves collective, on a black background. The flyer says 'Sex. Celibacy. The Church' and has two women on it, facing the camer. One is dressed as a bride; the other in a tracksuit. The bride is holding a large 'no entry' sign over the top of the other woman's legs. There's also large text: "Just don't do it review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture - but can it find its audience?" workthegreymatter.com

Where do I begin? This is a two-woman show about the failings of church attitudes towards sex and sexuality, complete with parodied worship lyrics, a chicken wire wedding veil, and vagina hand-puppets.

I got to see the Beside Ourselves Collective, with Kate Mounce and Eleanor Young, at the ‘Out of Control’ conference organised by Natalie Collins in March 2019. The conference had gathered a number of Christian speakers and artists to discuss gender violence and the church, with Natalie enthusiastically chairing and uttering words like “vagina” and “clitoris.” This play was performed just after lunch and with its savage commentary on purity balls and abstinence-only education, it was a fabulous fit for the conference.

But more than that, the show took all my emotional armour away, evoking buckets of tears and reams of hand-written notes which I pressed earnestly into Kate’s and Eleanor’s hands before I scurried away home.

Yeah, I didn’t really pay attention to the speakers in the afternoon.

Anyway, the play has finished its tour, but I still figured it would be worth writing up what I made of it. Its subject matter is very much in my blogging lane. Continue reading “Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

When we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly (especially for wives)

Book The Meaning of Marriage Tim and Kathy Keller

Last week, I met up with a good friend, also a blogger, whose areas of interest overlap with mine particularly in regard to consent and feminism. Though she’s not a Christian, a few months ago I had asked if she would read chapter 6 of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2013). For those less familiar, this is where Kathy Keller squarely sets out her complementarian theology and how she found joy accepting the ‘divinely assigned’ role of her gender by submitting to her husband Tim.

I asked my friend Amy to read it because I wanted a second opinion. I felt Kathy sounded eerily like a woman who’d been conditioned to believe she was a ‘submissive’ in the BDSM sense, even though she wasn’t one – much like Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey (click here for what I mean by ‘BDSM’ and ‘submissive’).

Amy had been through an abusive 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship and she blogs regularly about BDSM, so I was interested to know her thoughts. Also, as someone who isn’t in the church, and who hasn’t exited the church, she didn’t have any theological axes to grind.

I got a flavour of her reaction when she messaged me the day before we met up:

So… it’s okay that my notes on this book contain a lot of RAGE CAPS, right? 😀

When we met she read her comments to me a little hesitantly, in case she was being too scathing in her criticisms. She needn’t have worried. From my perspective it was satisfying to hear her name several of my key complaints against this chapter and complementarianism in general.

But what surprised me was her take on the Trinity.

Continue reading When we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly (especially for wives)

Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

1 Corinthians 11:3. Ephesians 5:22. If you’ve been anywhere near the arguments about complementarianism you’ll probably know what these verses say about women without having to look them up. Even if you don’t, you’ll definitely be familiar with what people have said they mean.

Several of my reads in 2017 were about the role and place of women. There were moments I was ready to write very long thank you letters to the authors; other times, I filled the margins with angry scribbles. Here are some short reviews of:

  • The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • God’s Feminist Movement
  • Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves
  • Why Not Women?
  • Scars Across Humanity

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:

  • Understanding sex and consent in context
  • Giving and receiving consent
  • Bad consent and withdrawing consent

I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage? and reposted (with very minor edits) on my blog here: Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

I changed the title because I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.