“An egalitarian view of marriage… focuses on equality within marriage without distinct roles based on gender. Both the husband and wife lead the family collaboratively, stressing mutual submission to each other.” – Kelli Trujillo, Today’s Christian Woman.
Many of my friends are Complementarians. I am not.
But rather than get into theological debates about biblical interpretation, historical contexts, and Trinitarian views, I take a much more practical approach to egalitarianism.
The premise of my argument?
Egalitarians have more fun in the bedroom.
Here are some reasons why:
- Egalitarians don’t have distinct gender roles.
In a complementarian marriage, men and women have certain prescribed roles and functions within a family.
A man is expected to be a spiritual leader, provider, initiator…
A woman is expected to be a helper, supporter, responder…
But in an egalitarian marriage, instead of gender being the defining factor for divvying up responsibilities, roles are based on individual gifting, strength, personality, and availability.
In the bedroom, that means that the wife is free to lead and initiate as much as the husband. She is not limited to the role of submissive helpmeet, nor is the husband typecast as the dominant lead.
Sex is not a rigid routine where partners play their obligatory part.
Instead, it is a playful, fluid dance where the partners mutually guide and yield to one another. Couples set aside the gender scripts in favor of much more interesting role-playing!
- Egalitarians don’t base their relationship on assumed gender differences.
In the marriage conference that I attended as a young newlywed, we were taught about sexual differences between men and women.
Men are more physical, stimulated by sight, quick to get excited, turned on at any time, etc..
Women are more relational, stimulated by touch and words, slower to get excited, have a cyclical libido, etc..
The problem is that these descriptions are based on generalizations. They make assumptions about men and women and create either/or binaries when, in reality, each individual’s sexual attitudes and preferences are on a spectrum.
In contrast, being in an egalitarian marriage means we see each other as individuals instead of boxing each other in to fixed molds about gender differences.
Case in point: I can be ready for sex at the drop of a hat, interested in variety and experimentation, and just as intent on being satisfied as I am concerned about satisfying my husband. My husband can be very emotionally attuned, content with the tried and true, and sometimes prefer sleep over sex (like any parent of young children!).
My husband doesn’t assume things about my sexuality just because I am a woman, and I resist the same temptation to stereotype him. In this way, we are free to express our sexuality without labels, or barriers, or shame.
Rather than relying on set categories of male and female sexual differences, an egalitarian couple relies more on personal communication, self-awareness, and relational intimacy—all important skills to have inside and outside the bedroom.
- Egalitarians share in the responsibilities of housework and child-rearing.
You know what spells foreplay to me?
When my husband puts away the dishes. When he watches the kids so that I can have some personal time. A man who is willing to lead as a servant instead of simply serve as a leader. I find that incredibly loving, sexy, and attractive!
According to the most recent studies, research shows a correlation between a husband’s contribution to housework and increased sexual frequency and satisfaction.
One particular study from a University of Alberta professor states that a
“division of household labor perceived to be fair ensures that partners feel respected while carrying out the tasks of daily life. Completing housework may or may not be enjoyable, but knowing that a partner is pulling his weight prevents anger and bitterness, creating more fertile ground in which a (satisfying) sexual encounter may occur.”
Similar studies show greater sexual satisfaction and intimacy when men are involved in childcare.
Egalitarian partnership in household work and childcare means that both husbands and wives are encouraged to be grown adults instead of indulging in king of the castle, man-child, or mother-figure tendencies.
It is less about 50/50 division of labor, and more about creating shared space and experiences.
It fosters a sense of companionship as the couple builds a life together instead of operating in separate spheres of influence.
Since our sex lives cannot be compartmentalized from the rest of our marriage, when loving attention and mutual care exist outside the bedroom, it affects what happens inside as well.
- Egalitarians take pleasure seriously.
The sexual narrative in complementarian circles usually paints men as constantly aroused and women as reluctantly dutiful.
Men are tasked with trying to keep their desires in check. Women are tasked with the responsibility of keeping their men sexually satisfied. This framework frequently focuses on the sexual needs of men while ignoring those of women.
I remember watching a Christian marriage conference video in which a couple had been married for over 20 years, had half a dozen children, but the wife had never experienced an orgasm. Why had the wife stayed silent for two decades? Why had the husband not once considered her sexual enjoyment after all those years of his own gratification?
I can’t help but think that their complementarian views allowed that to happen.
In complementarianism, too often, the needs and desires (usually those of the woman) are laid aside in order to fulfill a duty and reflect a propositional truth. Sex is seen as a service to God: something that we need to observe in a certain way so that it accurately displays God’s character.
But sex was made for us; we weren’t made for sex!
As egalitarians, we receive sex as a gift for our enjoyment and benefit, not as a dictum to be followed.
As a result, both partners seek to give pleasure as well as receive it. Both give and welcome input about what feels good and what is acceptable.
Instead of worrying too much about what God needs or wants from us in the marriage bed, we embrace the reality of our own sexual needs and wants, as well as our partner’s. We humbly and joyfully accept sex as a grace: as a sacrament which God offers to us, and not as a sacred service which we offer to God.
- Egalitarians share power and influence.
In egalitarian marriages, there is no invocation of ‘authority’ and ‘headship,’ but more a striving towards mutual submission. Both parties share in the decision making.
This is especially relevant in regards to sexual issues such as birth control, family size, infertility treatment, or other concerns that disproportionately affect women.
In an egalitarian marriage, the husband doesn’t have the unilateral power to decide to have a quiverfull, regardless of his wife’s physical, emotional, and psychological capacity or desire. And vice versa. Such choices are made with careful consideration and mutual care for everyone involved.
With the understanding that everyone is ‘heard’ and ‘respected,’ sex can be more free, playful, and enjoyable without the anxiety of pain, discomfort, or an unexpected pregnancy.
Those who are complementarian are not likely to be impressed by my arguments. Some may accuse me of straw man tactics, logical fallacies, or false dichotomies.
Who knows? They may be right.
To each their own.
Meanwhile, my husband and I will be returning to our bedroom to mind our own business!
Iris Chen is a wife, mother, and writer who cares passionately about issues of equality—whether race, gender, sexuality, or otherwise. Her understanding of the gospel allows for nothing less than radical inclusion for all who desire to come to the table.
Originally hailing from California, she and her husband moved to China as newlyweds. Two kids and 14 years later, she is still living there,
trying to figure out what it means to be an American-Born Chinese raising Chinese-Born Americans. You can read more about her struggles as an Asian-American mom at www.untigering.com, where she challenges
authoritarian parenting and rejects destructive cultural expectations.