Dr. Laura vs. Dr. Susan: Can I Say No to Marital Sex?

Dr. Laura’s baaack! With a new YouTube video and more assholery. She’s…kidding, right? Except no, I don’t think she is.

Dr. Laura
Dr. Laura: living a life made possible by feminism, and then bitching about feminists.

The question: “I’ve heard you counsel married women to not turn away their husbands when they want to have sex with them. I’ve never been married so I’m soaking up all I can to help me when I do marry. Is it absolutely NEVER okay to say no to your husband – even when you’re sick? [Gives a “sigh” and disappointed look.] Not being there yet, I’m curious what “tips” you can give all women for overcoming not feeling well to go forward and still have sex with their husbands.”

And Dr. Laura’s response: Let’s just say that if you’re needing Kaopectate or an IV… come on, that’s just silly. If you’re husband is saying, “Hey baby, I want to pump you,” when you’re sick, you’ve married a jerk. We’re talking about when you’re feeling irritated or “I’m annoyed,” or “I’m just too tired today,” and turning away your man when… this is the measure that men have of how much we love them whether we’re willing to accept them (literally) into our bodies, whether we’re willing to open up to them; this is how men register that their woman loves them.

It’s not just “getting off” – he can do that without you, all by himself with his thoughts, with his memories, with a computer, with a magazine…he can do that without you. He’s wanting to make love to you. To turn that down is a blatant rejection. If you’ve got a fever of 104 and he’s not taking you to the emergency room but he wants to get you from behind, I think you married the wrong guy.

You’re kidding me, right? Dr. Laura? You aren’t really advocating never saying no except for in life-or-death situations, right? Right?

Oh wait, you are advocating that. Because you are Dr. Laura, and your schtick is making women feel shitty unless they are constantly subjugating themselves to and worshipping the men in their lives.

Marriage is not a prison. It is not a contract to be miserable and go against your own desires for the rest of your life. Marriage is a partnership, and most people enter it wanting it to last forever. But it isn’t just something that should last forever for the sake of lasting forever – it is intended to be a source of strength and happiness for both partners. Two in a marriage become stronger than each individual alone.

But not if one person is constantly subjugated. In that case, you might think that one person gets to live a fantastic life and the other might be content to be sacrificing, but it doesn’t work that way in real life. This kind of inequality breeds resentment, which ends up creating misery for both people.

The problem with Laura’s advice goes beyond potential misery. It is incredibly insulting to men to imagine that the only way that they can express love is through sex. It is insulting to women to think that the only way they can accept affection is through their husband’s orgasms. Dr. Laura makes it sound like sex is the duty of a physically unfulfillable wife to fulfill the needs of an emotionally stunted husband; in reality sex is something that both partners in a relationship rely on and desire at varying degrees.

Sex provides comfort, sex provides pleasure. For both parties. If one person is gritting their teeth and just getting through it as the other person “makes love” to them, it is neither comfortable nor pleasurable for either partner, assuming that both partners have even a modicum of esteem for each other. When a woman feels that she can never (or almost never) say no, there is never a time when saying yes is her own choice. When a man understands that the woman will never (or almost never) say no, he will never be able to feel like his advances are desired.

There is something to be said for agreeing to sex when you aren’t 100% up for it, because many women don’t get in the mood until they are already partway down the road. However, agreeing to sex whenever and however your partner wants it does not show love, it shows duty. There are enough things that I feel duty-bound in my life about. I want my marriage to be about love and trust and intimacy, and I want to know that that love and trust and intimacy is genuine. I would be insulted if I felt like he could never say no to me, and I know he would feel the same way about me. What you’re talking about isn’t love, Dr. Laura. It’s bullshit. Disguised as marriage.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

13 replies on “Dr. Laura vs. Dr. Susan: Can I Say No to Marital Sex?”

No no no Dr. Susan you don’t understand. Whenever a man wants it, the feeling will hop over to a woman and she will get on her back and open her legs! That’s the reason why there’s no such thing as assault either!

With what I mean to say: Dr. Laura, I feel sorry for you and your marriage, because clearly you’re getting your bad ideas from somewhere.

I do think she’s right that a dude who pursues having intercourse with you when you’ve made clear that you don’t feel good is probably a douche, but I think she means (as you suggested) like you are literally vomiting. I think it’s reasonable to assume that there will be some occasions when one partner wants to have sex and the other doesn’t and they will navigate those occasions together as a couple in a way that is mutually acceptable, even if that means one person doesn’t get the sex s/he wanted or one person acquiesces even though s/he isn’t super horny yet. But that’s a matter of couples communicating in a way that works for them, not universal gender policy. I mean, geez.

I’m going to be really blunt here: Dr. Laura’s message enables rapists.  For better or for worse, people listen to Dr. Laura’s advice.  Can you imagine how a woman in an abusive relationship, where her husband is forcing sex upon her, would feel hearing this “advice”?  Not only is Dr. Laura saying that she should not say no, she is saying that it is not possible to be raped within a marriage.  She is completely invalidating the experiences of women who feel forced to have unwanted sex within marriage, and is thus enabling those men to keep on raping and to keep on disregarding the feelings of their wives.

I was raised to be a good little girl, and instructed that my husband’s needs always came first. So I gave in, and gave in, and gave in – to the point that it began to feel very dirty, like I had no choice, like sexual assault. My ex was a nasty man, and I found out the hard way when I decided to grow a little backbone and actually SAY no. It went from “feels like assault” to “IS assault” very quickly. And unfortunately, it’s not something the cops will listen to you on, either. “But… you’re married.” Yeah, and?

A woman has every right to say no whenever she wants, for whatever reason she can come up with. “Sorry, hon, not tonight, I don’t like to have sex at 10:23 on Tuesdays”? Completely valid. And when you take away her choice in the matter, you take away intimacy, real connection from sex.

In short, Dr. Laura can go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.

Like the others, I am so sorry that you went through that. I’m not sure where you are in terms of addressing it, but I wanted to recommend this blog to you in case it’s something that might be helpful to you. She writes poignantly and powerfully on many issues, in particular the one you’ve described – that sort of saying “yes” because you know in your gut it’s going to happen anyway, and then you do say “no,” and it turns out you are so very heart-breakingly right.

Internetian hugs if you want them.

It’s SLAVERY disguised as marriage. There’s a difference between being open to sex when you’re not feeling aroused (yet) and having to open your orifices to someone who’s supposed to love you, whenever he wants.

Any person can say no to sex with anyone at any time for any reason, bottom line.

“When a woman feels that she can never (or almost never) say no, there is never a time when saying yes is her own choice.”

THIS. A thousand times this; as ever, you have hit the nail square on the damn head. THIS is rape culture. THIS is patriarchy. And that scenario in the final paragraph, where you make the point that Dr. Laura would have made were she not a thoroughly contemptible hack, is precisely the type of scenario made less possible by such attitudes. Can an orgasm maybe actually make that headache go away? Yep. Is a douche with entitlement issues and a raging lack of basic empathy likely to cause more headaches than he relieves? Also yep. And that is not a healthy partnership.

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