Posted in Dating / Relationships, Sex & Intimacy

Sexless Marriages and Spreadsheetgate (Reprise)

I know that Spreadsheetgate has all died down, but I was watching another Karen Straughan video a few weeks ago and she made a claim that I felt I had to stop the clip and go and check out. Specifically, it was that deliberately withholding sex (and affection) is considered a form of domestic abuse by DV charities and organisations.

Of course it surprised me, but it perhaps shouldn’t have – we need these things in relationships and withdrawing intimacy from a partner can make us feel alone within that relationship. An important bond is being withheld, sometimes for the purpose of punishment, and it is clearly a tool by which a person will attempt to control their partner. Certainly it is and should be considered a form of psychological abuse.

But then it got me wondering how feminists might reconcile themselves with the notion that a man is not entitled to a woman’s body (or vice versa) against this, especially in light of the double standards of the spreadsheet saga. Let me recap: in the first instance, a man listed all the times his wife refused his sexual advances, a list that included her excuses. That started a deluge of feminist critics pointing out that “even though they are married, he’s not entitled to her body”. Just a few weeks later, a woman did the same about her husband persistently refusing to have sex with her and the silence from the same Tumblr and Upworthy feminists on this was deafening.

The double standard showed itself here when with the second couple, her friends came out in support of their friend saying that “he wasn’t respecting her needs and she is justified for doing it, she should leave him for somebody who will give her what she wants”. Again, the silence from the feminists who criticised the man in the first instance was deafening, Tumblr feminists refused to comment that just as men are not entitled to women’s bodies, women are just as not entitled to men’s bodies.

Which brings me back to the first point. The more I think about the issue, I cannot see how anyone can reconcile two beliefs at the same time:

  • Nobody is entitled to somebody else’s body and
  • That withholding sex is a form of psychological abuse

As somebody who went through a sexless marriage, I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place in that situation – especially as a man when my options were a) leave her (and I would be a bastard for leaving her purely because she wouldn’t sleep with me) or b) pressure her (which is borderline rape and I have always taken no for an answer).

I dare say that if anybody can justify holding both conditions at the same time, then I can’t imagine them not getting a severe migraine from the cognitive dissonance? If you do believe that withholding sex is a form of psychological abuse, then how do you reconcile that with the notion that nobody is entitled to somebody else’s body?




I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

6 thoughts on “Sexless Marriages and Spreadsheetgate (Reprise)

  1. I believe both things, and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Withholding sex is a form of psychological abuse. Note that I didn’t say not being in the mood or turning someone down occasionally. Withholding sex is a deliberate act to harm your partner or spouse. It isn’t the same as simply having a lower libido or saying no sometimes.

    Withholding is “refusing to give something that is due to or is desired by another.” So maybe sex and my body aren’t “due to” my boyfriend or partner in the sense that he is entitled to it whenever he pleases, regardless of my desire or wishes. However, sex is an important part of a romantic relationship. It is what makes it different from a friendship, and it is part of what builds intimacy and connection between two people. Sex is expected in a monogamous relationship because what I’m doing by being exclusive with you is saying, “you are the only person who I will allow to fulfill my sexual needs, and to whom I will give that level of intimacy.” Agreeing to that and then withholding sex on purpose is abuse. You are blocking your partner’s ability to get that need met elsewhere and refusing to meet it yourself.

    With that being said, I strongly believe that people with mismatched libidos should not be together. You wouldn’t have been a jerk to leave your ex for lack of sex. You would have been a person with needs that weren’t being met who decided you weren’t compatible in an important area. It’s fine for regular sex to be a requirement for you in a relationship. What isn’t okay is forcing someone else to have sex, pressuring them, guilting them, or otherwise disregarding their personal boundaries and needs.

    So the crux of it for me is that having mismatched libidos is not indicative of abuse. It simply makes you incompatible. But trying to force your partner to have sex as much or little as you, or using sex as a tool to manipulate is abuse. If you have talked to your partner about your need for sex and they disregard that, whether you need sex more or less, without working on things, compromising, or considering your feelings, it’s not okay. And if they continue withholding and using sex as a tool, that is abuse.

    1. If you look at the link about the Spreadsheet saga, it wasn’t a case that either party said no to sex just sometimes, it wasn’t a case of mismatched libidos, it was that in the course of a month both couples had sex only once and had their advances continually rebuffed after having a healthy and normal sex life for so long. While I agree that neither party in each relationship came off looking good and that the actions of both parties (the man in the first relationship, the woman in the second) was wrong, societies attitudes towards each couple points to the double standard of the male sex drive.

      What struck me was the hypocrisy of a wave of feminist content condemning the man in the first relationship as feeling entitled to his wife’s body, yet the woman in the second relationship appears to have received the utmost sympathy for being in exactly the same situation. It appears then, that while men are not entitled to women’s bodies, a man must always put aside his sexual desires and needs, ignore the fact that he does not want to have sex with his wife because her needs are more important or she should leave him for not respecting and fulfilling her needs.

      I agree with most of what you say, but the experience of most men is that we are persistently berated for our sexual desires (led around by our dicks, our brains are between our legs etc. you know the cliches by now I am sure) and if we suggest for one moment that we are not getting in a relationship what we want then that is only confirmation that we are sex-crazed pigs and need to control ourselves. The spreadsheet saga is only confirmation of this social attitude.

      The second issue is the one of abuse. Now I am guessing you do not hold the opinion above so I would say that the question I pose in this thread is not aimed at you. However, I hope you can see it from my point of view that there is a problem between the reality that people do withhold sex as a form of punishment, and how society views or would view that attitude differently depending on the gender of the person withholding sex. Put simply, I can’t see a woman refusing to have sex with her male partner ever being seen as a form of abuse in a court case (the reaction to the spreadsheet proves that his desires are never important), but I can certainly see it being seen as a form of abuse when men refuse their female partners (the general reaction to the second spreadsheet proves that her desires take precedence).

      1. I think it was abuse in both cases if they had talked to their partner about the issue and we’re still having their needs ignored.

        I am a redditer, and I hang out in r/relationships all of the time. In fact, I was there when the first spreadsheet issue was posted, way before the media got hold of it and turned it into a circus. You might be surprised that most redditers were far more even-handed in regards to blame. They agreed that the husband was showing poor communication skills, and that it was petty to dump the spreadsheet out of anger and ignore her. However, virtually everyone noted that was probably an act of a desperate person who had his other attempts to solve the problem ignored and pushed aside callously. They all said that sex is important, being rejected that much tears at someone’s soul. They almost universally suggested therapy for their communication problems and for her to be aware of her husband’s need for sex and make time for it in the relationship.

        Then the media grabbed it and everything spun into a big publicity gig to stir up drama. The most extreme views got time because that’s what sells. I agree that society as a whole has a double standard, fueled by the media. However, I think you would be surprised that on a micro level, if you were able to present the full picture and ask everyone individually outside of hype, the answer would be pretty consistent regardless of gender. Sex is important. Rejection hurts on a deep level. Having a sexless marriage is bad. Withholding from your partner to gain power and ignoring their needs is selfish at best and abusive at worst. That doesn’t sell ad clicks on Google, though.

        My answer to your blog post was in response to the question of how I can think both things are true. It wasn’t aimed to answer the larger societal question. I do believe that there will always be people with extreme views, though, and those people get the airtime and attention because they scream the loudest. If you gave the entire story to your friends and family, not the abbreviated media version designed to make him look like an ass, I bet the reaction would be different than it was in the first case. In the second case, I think the reaction was different because it was presented differently. The media was fairer to the woman. It gave more of the story. And let’s not forget that the first post was from an angry wife and we heard nothing from the husband or his perspective on the situation. The second one was from the frustrated spouse who got to share more of how it felt to her. Of course the coverage was more even in that case. Even if she hadn’t been a woman, the chance to humanize her pain automatically made the situation more relatable.

        1. You might be surprised that most redditers were far more even-handed in regards to blame.

          I did actually read it, I always follow back to source with these things and I was relieved that there was such a mix of views.

          The problem only became a problem when Huff Po Women, Jezebel and Everyday Sexism got hold of it and naturally twisted it in conjunction with their other causes. It just… the double standard here bugs me as though a man’s needs in a relationship are irrelevant.

          if you were able to present the full picture and ask everyone individually outside of hype, the answer would be pretty consistent regardless of gender.

          For certain types of feminist (those who frequent Jezebel and the like), actually I doubt it. But we know those people are blinkered and sadly, they do shout the loudest and equally sadly, the media gives them unequal airtime over and over again. As men, if we criticise them then we are automatically labelled misogynists.

          This is an issue that is close to my chest because I was with my ex-wife for 12 years and we were together nearly 6 years before we had sex. Even after that it was rare and then she eventually cheated on me citing lack of my interest in her. I did want to have sex with her but I got so used to the rejection (and I didn’t know any better) that I simply gave up trying. I tried to talk to her but all that happened was that she got upset and made excuses. Yes I should have made my own happiness a priority but only did I not know any better, I learnt that my sexual desire was wrong and something disgusting – something I feel I see from that particular element of the feminist media. Male sexuality is always perverse and dangerous and we should only possess feelings that we have permission to feel. Many people claim to be sex positive, but their attitudes are anything but.

          Sex shaming of male feelings and desires is becoming ubiquitous and it is a major growing mental health issue for men. That’s partly what I want to do here, present male issues (particularly about relationships and mental health) while steering clear of the unhelpful gender war between Rad Fems and MRAs.

          Even if she hadn’t been a woman, the chance to humanize her pain automatically made the situation more relatable.

          But nobody would give the chance to humanise the pain of the man and nobody was going to purely because they would never be heard over the shrieks of “male entitlement” and cries of “misogyny” and that is tragic.

  2. I agree somewhat, I think it comes down to something being used in a manipulative or forceful way. Person A has an expectation of something from the relationship, and person B withholds that thing as a means of control/manipulation. It doesn’t give person A the right to “force” person B to provide that thing, but withholding it as a means of manipulation can be a type of abuse or control. Imagine the thing is money rather than sex. Person A has an expectation that person B will provide financially (this could be both people having that expectation of the other, or just one, depending on the relationship). If person B withholds funds as means of manipulation and control, that’s abusive. I don’t feel that gives person A the right to steal it or force them to give up money to buy whatever they want (though I’m sure it comes to that sometimes), but it could still be an abusive means of control if it’s used that way. On the other hand, if they simply don’t HAVE enough money that does not mean it’s abusive. It’s how it’s used.

    1. Thanks for your comments and you are of course right. Withholding sex as a form of abuse I think is something that will be difficult to prove because it can be a political topic when it is turned into an issue of entitlement rather than looking at the problems that led to it in the first place.

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