Do you believe you should have sex with your husband just because they want to? I’m going through a period where I’ve just gone off sex.
It’s only been six months and I’m sure I’ll come out of it soon but I resent my husband hassling me. I don’t think it’s right to have sex unless I really feel like it.
It's only been six months, she says. She clearly either doesn't know, or won't admit, just how crushing this must be to her husband and her marriage. She is almost entirely self-focused on the value of her own feelings and desires, rather than showing loving concern for her husband or having a realistic view of what might make a marriage work.
Tracey Cox wrote back the following sensible reply:
I totally disagree with you – and so do a fair majority of reputable sex therapists. Two people will never have the same desire or timing, even if their sex drives are reasonably matched. But when you said ‘I do’ you said ‘I do’ to sex as well. Sex is part of the bargain if you expect your partner to remain married to you and faithful to you. Six months is a long time without sex without a good reason not to do it.
Which brought upon her a feminist rebuke:
According to “sex therapist” Tracey Cox, the minute a woman gets that ring on her finger her rights to bodily autonomy go flying out the window.
...my response to the original letter writer would be:
“If your husband is hassling you for sex when you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t want it, he obviously has no respect whatsoever for your feelings. He does not have a right to expect sex from you, and no right to demand it of you against your own wishes and desires. And if he’s unable to wait until you’re ready for it, or to respect your rights as an individual to have sex on your own terms, then I’d question his suitability to be your life partner. Seriously, you deserve better than this”
The argument is that we should look at marriage in terms of the right to autonomy (rather than, say, in terms of love or stable family relationships). If it's all about my right to self-determine, then I should focus on acting from my own wants and desires rather than anyone else's. Other people are duty bound to respect this exercise of my autonomy.
It's an immensely ideological approach to intimate personal relationships. Reality gets lost along the way. Consider the following remark from one of the feminist commenters, Chloe:
the problem is the onus is ALL on the woman to do something she doesn’t want to, no one is even daring to suggest the man goes without to ‘save the relationship’. There’s no advice to the bloke going ‘maybe you could distract yourself by reading a book, or getting a new hobby...
In fact, it's the other way around. It's the wife who has shown an unwillingness to compromise. She's let the husband go without for six months. And there's an extraordinary level of cluelessness about men to suggest that the husband could solve the problem by "distracting" himself with a book or a new hobby. Realistically he's more likely to end up distracting himself with another woman.
Chloe goes on to add (apologies for her blunt language):
...is going without sex for 6 months or whatever really such a hideous thing? sex isn’t a RIGHT, even within a relationship, sure it’s great if you both want it but if you don’t no one has any grounds to demand it, it’s not an entitlement, which is what this ‘advice’ is implying.
That whole ‘without a good reason’, thus implying that a woman’s desires and consent aren’t ‘a good reason’ which is quite frankly terrifying and horrendously insulting.
I’d much rather have a life of celibacy than end up in a relationship with someone who assumes they have a right over MY body and pays no heed to my feelings.
‘Duty shag’ what about a ‘duty stop moaning and just have a wank for gods sake, you’re not entitled to anything and if you have to go without for a bit then boo hoo it’s hardly the end of the world is it?
Just remember this whenever you read one of those articles about how sex in feminist relationships is better. According to Chloe, her right to self-determine is what matters and is what has to be respected; she therefore is focused on this right rather than on understanding what might make a relationship work and what might matter to men in a relationship, and she's stated clearly that men are not entitled to a physical relationship within marriage.
Nor are women who take the liberal modern idea seriously likely to want to compromise much. At the heart of liberalism is the idea that autonomy is the primary, overriding good. As Senator George Brandis, the leader of the so-called liberal "moderates," put it:
the sovereign idea which inspires our side of politics has always been the same: our belief that the paramount public value is the freedom of the individual ...
the most important single thing we must do is renew our commitment to the freedom of the individual, and restore that commitment to the very centre of our political value system: not one among several competing values, but the core value, from which our world view ultimately derives...
Liberalism ... has such a central guiding principle - respect for the freedom of the individual, his dignity and his autonomy; his right ... to be the architect of his own life...
Every one of those reforms extended the bounds of human freedom, gave individual men and women greater autonomy ...
Liberals believe there to be a "sovereign idea," a "paramount public value," a "core value" (rather than competing values) - and this is the "freedom of the individual to be autonomous," i.e. the freedom to self-determine.
If you really believed this - if you thought that the paramount value is the right to self-determine - then you would want to decide on your own terms what you would do. Compromise would mean violating this sovereign idea, as it would mean no longer deciding entirely on your own terms.
So feminists who take the liberal idea seriously aren't going to be good at compromising. They look at a woman's wishes and desires as fundamental, so much so that the husband is simply duty bound to respect them. There's little interest in how this might realistically play out in a marriage, as they see it as a question of basic rights. If it makes life difficult for the husband, then too bad. The husband simply has to acquiesce or he is, in terms of the theory, a bad person.
Women who aren't as ideologically committed to liberal modernism, and who think in terms of other goods, such as the value of their marriage, are much more likely to accept the compromises which make a marriage work.