"Whatever happened to wifely duty?" asks Bettina Arndt in The Canberra Times. Modern wives should put out for the good of their marriages, she says, even when they don't want to.
Obviously "wifely duty" is far from a new idea — but even neo-wifely-duty isn't new. Caitlin Flanagan was telling wives to overcome their low libidos back in 2003. In fact, Bettina Arndt uses the exact same very unsexy phrase that Flanagan used to describe how you will probably like sex even if you didn't want to have it: "Once the canoe is in the water, everyone starts happily paddling."
First of all, canoeing makes us think of family vacations and mosquitoes, neither of which we want in bed with us. Second of all, both Arndt and Flanagan assume that feminism has turned the modern-day wife into a compassionless, self-gratification machine who has no concern for her husband's needs or desires. Arndt does acknowledge that sometimes the man is the one with low libido. But she also writes,
These days unless women want sex it just doesn't happen. Women's right to say no has been enshrined in our cultural history since the 1960s when women's sexual rights became a rallying cry. As terrible stories of marital rape and sexual violence claimed the public's attention, women's right to refuse sex became fundamental to decent relations between the genders. The new rule was that sex must wait until women are well and truly in the mood.
And Flanagan says,
To many contemporary women [...] the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfillment (and the occasional bit of carefully scheduled baby making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters. Under these conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day's end.
In both cases, the idea is that the battle against rape and domestic violence (which it, it's worth pointing out, far from won) has made women care only about their own sexual desires, not their husbands''. But many women with low libido feel huge guilt over it, and most women have probably had sex when they weren't totally in the mood, just to please their partners. The idea that wives are unapologetically and obliviously indifferent to their husbands' sexual desires, and just need a little nudge into that canoe, is damaging to men as well as women.
When sex drives are out of sync, it can be a problem for both partners, and most relationships are probably healthier if those drives can get synced up again. But to say, as Arndt does, that "women must get over that ideological roadblock of assumptions about desire and 'just do it'" is to oversimplify both the problem and the solution. Like most problems in a relationship, sex problems are usually best solved together — not by telling one partner to just get over it.
Women Need To Say Yes To Sex [Canberra Times]
Related: The Wifely Duty [The Atlantic]