Close up picture of red and yellow flowers against a dark blue background with the words: ‘Be self-giving, not self-seeking’ — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice?

“Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

I see the same essential marriage advice given time and time again: “be self-giving, not self-seeking”. Depending on who you listen to, and in what context, the message ranges from the quite helpful to the incredibly toxic.

It can push for balance and mutuality — if both spouses seek the other’s wellbeing, then both will also be on the receiving end and good things tend to happen. But it can also give the impression that marriage is about work or indeed ‘sanctifying’ your spouse. Throw in false assumptions about what men and women need for their well-being (e.g. women need security, men need sex) and it’s a recipe for abuse.

That said, it’s hard for Christians to shake the feeling that marriage is about more than one individual and that marriage shouldn’t come at the expense of one spouse. So, you can see why Christians might encourage self-giving rather than self-seeking for good marital relations.

But I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.

Let me explain. Continue reading “Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

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

On consent for sex in the middle of the night

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

Blue sea underwater with the text: On wives ‘depriving’ their husbands of sex, because she ‘doesn’t feel like it’ and marital rape, 1 Corinthians and ‘disciplining’ your body (a response to another Christian blogger I hope you haven’t heard of) workthegreymatter.com

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)

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

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

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?

Lovers silhouetted against sunset with the words: But if I have not consent... A poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. Workthegreymatter.com

But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

And now I will show you the most the most excellent way.

If I speak in compliments, or confessions of undying love,

but have not consent,

then my words are mere noise and intrusive.

 

If I have sexual prowess,

and know all of a person’s bodily responses,

if I can give orgasm after orgasm,

but have not consent — I’m no lover at all.

 

Continue reading But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Ballet dancers in a ballroom. The man has his bare back to the camera holding the woman. She wraps her arms calmly around his body. She has blonde hair and is wearing dark red. The colour contrasts against the monochrome background of the room. Text: "Flesh: what Paul really meant when he used the word ‘sarx’ (Psst! — he wasn’t being sex-negative)"

Flesh: what Paul meant when he used the word ‘sarx’ (Psst! — he wasn’t being sex-negative)

(Photo credit: pixel2013 on Pixabay)

I reckon one of the biggest chasms between Christian thought and sex-positive thinking comes down to how we understand the word “flesh” in the New Testament. Or in the Greek, σαρξ.

The word appears 147 times and in the NIVUK translation it gets rendered 53 times as either “flesh” or “body”, 23 times as “sinful nature”, and a further 58 times with other meanings, translated either on its own or in conjunction with other words. These uses refer to something associated with humanity or earthliness, ranging from neutral terms like “human ancestry” to loaded terms like “perversion”. (And untranslated 13 times for those who want the maths.)[1]

Of the times that sarx is rendered as flesh or body, the context is often negative, emphasising weakness or mortality.

What’s more, the NIVUK repeatedly translates sarx as ‘flesh’ in Galatians 5.  That’s the passage where Paul writes this:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIVUK)

Upshot: it’s very, very easy to come away from the New Testament thinking that flesh is bad, bodies are bad, and anything to do physical pleasure is very, very bad. This is particularly the case for Paul, whose letters account for 20 of the 23 times sarx is translated as “sinful nature”.

But what was Paul’s intention? Continue reading Flesh: what Paul meant when he used the word ‘sarx’ (Psst! — he wasn’t being sex-negative)

Review of Endless Second play by Theo Toksvig-Stewart

Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

So, I recently went to see a play called “Endless Second.”

As with much theatre, especially niche works from emerging writers and artists, there’s a good chance that most people who read this review won’t actually get to see this play. Which is a shame, given how good it was.

Still, I want to share my thoughts, because it’s a fantastic example of creative story-telling that shows sex and consent at their best. It also shows non-consent at its most misunderstood and offers a narrative for how abusers might take responsibility for their actions.

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of rape (and spoilers). Continue reading Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

An open letter to my pro porn friend: ethic impossible?

An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

Dear Amy,

Very near the end of our conversation you asked me what I think of porn.

You asked me this, knowing that I don’t masturbate. You asked me, knowing that I’m a Christian and committed to my husband in a lifelong, monogamous relationship. And you asked, knowing that a lot of my good friends are strongly anti-porn.

For a moment, I hesitated. I wondered what I could say, or how I could say it, that would be congruent with what I believe, but wouldn’t be an affront to you.

You, after all, are very different to me.

You masturbate frequently. You earn money reviewing vibrators and dildos on your blog! You’ve gone from agnostic to atheist, you have little love of the institution of marriage and you’re polyamorous. Meanwhile, you’ve got plenty of friends who really quite like porn.

So, um… actually it meant a lot to me that you felt able to ask. Continue reading An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

Photo credit Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Having recently grown in admiration for Jane Austen as an author, my husband and I are rewatching the BBC’s 1995 six-hour adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. That’s the one where Colin Firth plays Mr Darcy. *swoon*

Anyway, we watched the scene where Mr Wickham (who later turns out to be the villain of the piece) introduces himself to Lizzy (the heroine).

From a #metoo and #churchtoo perspective, this scene is fascinating. We’re in a world where abuse victims are routinely disbelieved and it’s far too easy to say, ‘What about false accusations?’ What we have with Wickham though is an illustration of how an abuser can lie and claim to be a victim. It’s worth studying. Continue reading The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman's statement on sexual harassment

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, a story broke recently where eight women accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

His initial response was:

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.

Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.

His words illustrate uncomfortable realities about sexual harassment, power imbalances and how our society responds to these cases. And I have some thoughts about all that.  Continue reading 10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

As I finally come to write reviews of this last cluster of books from 2017 I realise that I’ve probably more not read them, than read them. Sorry about that. This batch is probably of most interest to people who are questioning some of the answers they’ve been given by the church, particularly around sex, sexuality and gender. There’s also some sci-fi. Here are the books I’ll give you a little flavour of:

  • Damaged Goods
  • God, Sex & Gender
  • Making sense of Sex
  • Searching Issues
  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood (fiction)
  • Lord of Light (fiction)
  • Soul Bare

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

Candles surrounding the cross in Norwich Cathedral

45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.

It’s a systemic problem.

Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.

And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.

So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.

I’ve categorised the list into issues relating to authority, sex, marriage, sin and gender.  Continue reading 45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.

Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:

  • personhood
  • abuse
  • God
  • sex
  • consent
  • Christian witness
  • the Bible
  • hope
  • purity
  • and me.

Continue reading Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations