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The Problem with the Whatever, Whenever, Wherever Approach to Sex.
We never serve the truth by promoting falsehood. This may sound uncontroversial, obvious even, but you’d be surprised. Lots of people try to do just this. They aren’t necessarily being malicious. They’re just clueless. Caught up in the ego rush of seeing themselves as one of the few willing to tell “harsh truths”, they promote ideas that sound like truth on the surface, but depart from it further and further the deeper we dive.
One thing that won’t surprise you is hearing that passion for truthy-sounding falsehood runs high on Twitter. A platform that specializes in filling shallow minds with low-context, short-form content reinforces our worst habits. Saying something serious, nuanced or deep on Twitter isn’t impossible. It just takes work, work many people aren’t willing to do.
A perfect example of all I’ve been saying showed up on my timeline this week.
Here it is:
This tweet got a lot of reaction just as the author had probably hoped. Tweets get lots of attention for reasons other than their being true, and this tweet hit the sweet spot I’ve described: sounding enough like truth to stir up defenders while at the same time leaving critics wanting to correct the falsehood, and thus limit its potential for damage. And, the potential for damage here is high.
On the surface, this tweet looks like a restatement of St. Paul’s admonition to married couples in 1 Corinthians 7 not to deny one another sexually. If we look a little closer, we can see something more nefarious is going on.
The scriptural passage mentioned above urges both husband and wife to enthusiasm for the mutual self-giving that characterizes all aspects of a flourishing marriage. Mountain Housewife’s tweet does the opposite. Rather than encourage a symbiotic relationship marked by mutual self-giving that points to the Divine, she creates a picture of husbands as creatures unable to transcend bodily lusts and women as creatures inclined to frustrate their attempts to fulfill these desires.
The picture drawn in the tweet is not one of husband and wife lifting each other up through the edifying power of mutual love, but of married people in conflict over who has the right to do what to whom. The advice in the tweet to wives is to end the stalemate by letting him do whatever, wherever, whenever. And that, in contrast to the life-giving Scriptural command, is a path to death.
Hidden within the tweet is a whole story about where marital conflict comes from. In this story, the source of marital conflict is the wife’s sexual boundaries. Any reluctance on her part to do “whatever, whenever and wherever” is a barrier to marital happiness. In short, this tweet proceeds from a view of marriage in which the wife is the leader. She sets the tone through her sexual willingness and her husband reacts and follows her lead. Sounds trad on the surface, but underneath, things get a little more modern.
This idea damages marriages by damaging women. Two types of women will read this tweet: those in abusive marriages and those in healthier marriages. Both will be hurt.
Women in abusive marriages where sex is weaponized as a tool for degradation and control will feel urged to comply with the abuse. They will imagine that the abuse they endure happens not in spite of whatever sexual boundaries they’ve managed to establish, but because of them. They will read this tweet as a promise that if they would just give in, things would get better because everything they’ve been through is really their fault anyway.
Women in healthier marriages will read this as scolding them for ever saying no. Many will feel guilty for having any boundaries at all, and wonder if their unwillingness to do whatever, whenever, wherever is hurting their husbands and derailing the intimacy they long for. These women will feel they’ve fallen below the standard, even though the standard put forward is unrealistic and one that no one, even the author of the tweet, holds. No woman is willing to do whatever, whenever, wherever, and those who come close we rightly regard as dysfunctional.
Contrast this to the Biblical admonition not to deny one another. Urging couples to mutual self-giving cannot be reduced to “do whatever, whenever, wherever.” The very attempt is crass. The standard for loving sex in marriage is not “whatever, whenever, wherever” but “I give myself to you in this special time, in this special space, in this special way for your edification and for the glory of God”. That is the right picture of marital love. The only acceptable one. Any other picture, even if put forward by a Twitter trad, is not an icon of Divine Love. It is , in the end, just more porn.