Recently on Twitter, I showcased a dialogue I had with a woman about her feelings toward intimacy in marriage:
Me: “Is sex a duty?”
Her: I don’t owe him sex.
Me: I didn’t ask that. I’m asking, for you, is sex a duty?
Her: I answered – He shouldn’t expect sex.
Me: Forget about him. I’m asking, for you, is it a duty?
— Building Great Marriages (@dovidfeldman) April 20, 2023
I was asking her to explore, why are we having sex, anyways? Is sex a duty? Is it a responsibility? Is it a chore? Is it a gift? And, what’s your role in it? What are your feelings around intimacy, and where do you draw the line?
To me, what was unique wasn’t her response, but the responses of others who viewed this tweet. Of course, there were the usual extremes, from strongly convicted religious folk who view sex as a biblical duty to some more progressive types advocating that a nobody has rights to a woman’s body.
Yet one thought that struck me hardest was that most of the conversation revolved around his needs vs her needs, man vs woman, patriarchy vs feminism. Does he have a right to her body? Should she be opening herself up to intimacy when not in the mood? Is it a man’s obligation to satisfy his wife? Or vice-versa? Is it dangerous? Abusive? It is a fascinating and heated conversation, which I encourage you to read and comment on.
But in some ways, I also found it particularly sad. Because in my opinion, when we are discussing roles, responsibilities, duty, and sacrifice as something we do for each other, we miss the entire point of marriage, and of course, of love and sex itself.
As I have mentioned many times in the past, as well in my Recreating Intimacy program, our marriage exists outside of me and you. It is a third party we invite to define our relationship and commit to. Marriage has its own rules, traditions, requirements, and boundaries. We volunteer to subject ourselves to this framework because we are looking to accomplish and experience more—more love, life, and meaning—while living under this paradigm, than if we were to just wing it on our own.
Hence, when married, we must ask ourselves not only if this is good for me. Or even for you. But is this good for our marriage? Is this something that being married encourages or prohibits? Once we tie the knot, we must move past our own ideas, wants, and feelings, and start focusing on the edifice we are building together—our marriage and family.
For so many couples, this perspective doesn’t come till much later in their relationship. Usually, it happens when their existing way of relating fails them. When he begins to question why he’s giving up everything for her, and she begins to wonder what happened to their love. When after years of going to the office every day, he asks himself—what is this all for? And after decades of emotionally supporting her man, she asks, is this the best it’s going to get?
When we exist only within our relationship, sadly, the answers to those questions can leave us feeling distraught. Because it’s been years since this relationship felt fun, exciting, and joyous like it used to in the beginning.
But right around the corner from the deepest moment of night, the sun is ready to burst forth. Because when we make the shift from “me and you,” to “me, you and our marriage,” everything changes. Suddenly, we realize we aren’t only sacrificing for our partner, we are sacrificing for our mission, our goals, and our shared future together. For legacy, children, and Gd. For something much higher and more powerful and meaningful than our own meager feelings at this moment. Something eternal, everlasting, and worthy—our marriage. Our family.
New energy pours in, and gratitude and appreciation for each other’s commitment, sacrifice, and love becomes the new normal. Intimacy returns, and kindness, compassion, and understanding abounds. We join hands, and hearts, and continue our journey together for the sake of ourselves, each other, and our relationship, forever.
So is sex a duty? I don’t know—it’s up to you. But when we step back and reframe the question of why we are having sex in the first place, perhaps we can get some real answers.