Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Prager: Just Lay There and Take It

Just when you thought Dennis Prager couldn’t get any more ridiculous, he writes this column saying that married women should always have sex even if they’re not in the mood to do so.

It is an axiom of contemporary marital life that if a wife is not in the mood, she need not have sex with her husband. Here are some arguments why a woman who loves her husband might want to rethink this axiom.

First, women need to recognize how a man understands a wife’s refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. Few women know their husband loves them because he gives her his body (the idea sounds almost funny). This is, therefore, usually a revelation to a woman. Many women think men’s natures are similar to theirs, and this is so different from a woman’s nature, that few women know this about men unless told about it.

And absolutely no mention of the fact that many men, perhaps most, men are equally as clueless about how women tend to think (and all such statements are only about general tendencies; there are lots of both men and women who are quite the opposite of such statements) about sexuality. Or any mention of the husband bearing any responsibility whatsoever for a largely sexless marriage.

All the onus is on women, whom he wrongly presumes want sex less than men, just grinning and bearing it whenever her husband, whom he wrongly assumes wants sex more often, wants to get it on. But in my experience, there are just as many relationships where the woman wants sex more often but the man has a lower sex drive. Sometimes two people just have different sex drives, both in terms of how often they want to have sex and about the manner in which they’d like to have it. But of course, if you’re supposed to remain celibate until you get married you have no way of finding that out until after you’re already married. And that’s a very bad thing.

This is a major reason many husbands clam up. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives. They are often made to feel ashamed of their male sexual nature, and they are humiliated (indeed emasculated) by feeling that they are reduced to having to beg for sex.

And again, absolutely no mention of even the possibility that their wives might have an emotional nature to their sexuality just like the husbands do. No mention at all that perhaps there are emotional reasons why she’s not “in the mood” or that her husband could possibly bear any responsibility for those emotional reasons. Nope, just shut up and take it like a good little wifey.

Prager pretty much engages in every popular fallacy about human sexuality in this column. For him, the world is completely simple: men are made by God to want to have sex with every woman and only his “moral nature” (might) prevent him from doing so. And when he does agree to pair with just one woman monogamously, she can’t deny him sex or he’ll either cheat on her or become depressed. He argues this quite plainly:

Compared to most women’s sexual nature, men’s sexual nature is far closer to that of animals. So what? That is the way he is made. Blame God and nature. Telling your husband to control it is a fine idea. But he already does. Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual nature’s desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much. Deny him enough times and he may try to fill this need with another woman. If he is too moral to ever do that, he will match your sexual withdrawal with emotional and other forms of withdrawal.

I think almost all of this is nonsense. First, let’s recognize that human sexuality is extraordinarily diverse. There are lots of women out there that don’t want sex as often as most men do; but by the same token, there are also lots of men out there without much of a sex drive. And my observations say that the percentage of each gender that fits that description is not nearly as disparate as most people would imagine.

Let’s also recognize that there aren’t just differences in quantitative sex drive, there are also big differences in what turns each person on. The range of human sexuality is so huge that it’s virtually impossible to catalog all the various tastes and predilections and fetishes that exist. Most of those variations are reasonably healthy, some are pretty clearly not and some fall in between.

There are men with very high sex drives and very low sex drives; the same is true of women. There are men who are sexually dominant and men who are sexually submissive; the same is true of women. Some women like the whole artifice of flowers, dinner and lit candles; others find that stuff boring as hell and just want to have raw, aggressive sex (and lots and lots of women want both, depending on their mood – and the same is true of men).

There are women who are sexually closed up and afraid of their own sexuality and there are women who are entirely open about what turns them on and not afraid to demand it; the same is true of men. There are women who love sex that is viewed as “deviant” and women who crave it; the same is true of men. To take just one obvious example, some women absolutely love anal sex and others find the thought repulsive will break up with you on the spot for even suggesting it – and again, the same is true of men.

The key to a happy sexual relationship should be obvious: find someone whose sexuality matches up with yours. And the only way to know whether someone matches with you sexually is to talk about it and explore it together. That means talking about your fantasies and tastes (and recognizing that sometimes fantasies should remain just that). And sometimes it means one person giving something a try that they’d never thought of or just assumed they wouldn’t like; after all, they might find out they really like it. But if they’re not willing to do that, then the two people probably just aren’t compatible sexually.

And the problem in a whole lot of marriages, I think, is that they don’t communicate about this stuff and never did before they got married. It isn’t just about men wanting more sex and women not wanting it, it’s about two people whose personal sexualities mesh together. And if they don’t talk about those things, they have no way of knowing that until it’s too late.

And here’s something I’ve believed strongly for a long time: there are a lot of relationships out there that are sexually dead that could be revived if only the two people would be honest about what they want. In a lot of cases, they’d find out they want the same thing but they’re too afraid to express that. I think a lot of women want sex more often and in much more variety than they think they’re supposed to, so they’re afraid of saying that to their partners because they fear the reaction: “You’re a slut.” Despite great progress in this area, we still raise a hell of a lot of women to think that they’re not supposed to be openly sexual – and people like Prager, who think women are far less sexual than men to begin with and that they should just be a blowup doll that cooks dinner, reinforce that idea every day.

Conversely, a lot of men are also afraid to talk about what really turns them on sexually because they fear the opposite reaction: “You’re a pervert.” So they both sit there sexually frustrated until, in a growing number of cases, they find some anonymous person on the internet that they can talk to about it without such fear. But in truth, a lot of them could find exactly what they want right where they are if they’d just talk about it.

The only moral aspect to any of this is the issue of consent. If two people share the same fetish, no matter how much it might gross out someone else, as long as it’s consensual, have at it. But for crying out loud, get to know your own sexuality and don’t be afraid to talk about it and explore it with your partner before you have kids and a mortgage.