the polluted sexuality of conquering: a response to the gospel coalition

This is old news now, and I hate to be jumping on the bandwagon, but here it is anyway…

Jared Wilson’s post over at the Gospel Coalition entitled The Polluted Waters of 50 Shades of Grey, Etc. has received a lot of attention. In the post, an apparent response to the new-book-on-the-block “50 Shades of Grey”, Wilson approvingly provides a lengthy quote from Doug Wilson’s thirteen year old book Fidelity: What it means to be a One-Woman Man. The quote addresses rape and sexual authority. I will also quote the passage in its entirety:

A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

A number of high profile bloggers have responded critically to Wilson’s post, including Scot McKnightRachel Held Evans, Michael Bird and J.R. Daniel Kirk. These bloggers have concentrated largely on the theological issues inherent in Wilson’s post, manifold as they are, with references being made to the mutual sexual submission taught in 1 Corinthians 7, and the egalitarian sexuality of Song of Songs.

Given the theological nature of this blog, I agree these issues need to be addressed. But I don’t think one even needs to address theology to see the error of Wilson’s view; basic logic will tell you that his is a culturally constructed perspective. Here is a comment I made on a friend’s blog when he posted about this issue:

I think a questionable aspect of Wilson’s statement (I read it two days ago and have been thinking about it on and off since then) is the notion that “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” This is, quite simply, a cultural construction. These sexual actions could be construed in other ways, and I would be interested to listen to perspectives from matriarchal cultures.

Why is it not the case that a man is given permission, or that a woman allows? Why is “reception” or “acceptance” construed as surrender, submission or subjugation? Is it not the case that reception can be just as easily construed as mastery, power, hospitality, or any other such suggestions?

Could it be that a man is consumed while the woman consumes? I could come up with more possibilities, but hopefully I have made my point.

I am not saying that these ways of discussing the sexual act are good or bad – I am not making a moral claim – they are simply alternatives. Later in his work Wilson discusses the distorted nature of authority and submission in the sex act in the form of rape fantasies, that is, men wanting to rape women. However he does not allow the concept of female domination of men to enter this framework; this is a huge omission given how common such domination is (even if it is taboo).

To me Wilson’s construal of sexual penetration screams of cultural construction, one that propagates the subjugation of women, albeit from a “Christian” viewpoint.

This oppressive construction needs to be called out for what it is; deeply unbiblical, yes, but also profoundly blind as to its own cultural situated-ness. Jared Wilson has written a follow-up post to try and provide further explanation in light of the controversy surrounding his initial post. To his credit he seeks to show how he was trying to promote a “sexuality that serves and protects and against ‘rape fantasy’ erotica/role-playing.” No intelligent critic would argue the opposite.

But of course the problem was never that anyone thought he was promoting rape – the problem that people discerned was that in his subtext Wilson had pushed complementarianism too far, welcoming patriarchal authority into the realm of sexuality. This is simply a dangerous move. Household roles may be an ongoing debate between egalitarians and complementarians in light of difficult Bible texts, but in terms of the marriage bed there is no legitimate debate – the Scriptures are quite unambiguous.

An egalitarian view of the sex act is completely valid, contra Doug Wilson, when we see that construing the male as the authoritative sexual “conqueror” and the woman as the submissive sexual conquered is, quite simply, a cultural construction.


Posted on July 20, 2012, in Current Events, Sexuality & Gender and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. the fact that this can still be a conversation among evangelical Christians is almost enough to suggest it is time to leave the church behind. Perhaps it really is time for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence on religionless Christianity. there are just too many of these sorts of issues (consider the gay marriage debate) flowing through the culture of churches. I despair.

  2. Justin Whelan

    I cannot fathom how WIlson thought words like “penetrate, conquer,.colonise” could be construed as anything other that violent domination that implicitly provides a certain cover for rape. It’s not like the words come without meaning.

    Great point about the absent reference to female domination fantasies. We could extend that to a more general point about women taking the lead, which I daresay happens a lot in most healthy sexual relationships.

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