Though in many ways polar opposites, reality TV stars Khloe Kardashian and Anna Duggar are receiving similar messages about their husbands’ infidelity from two radically different sources: a pimp and a Christian matriarch.
For Kardashian, the message came from Dennis Hof, owner of the brothel where her estranged husband, former NBA standout Lamar Odom, was found unconscious last week after ingesting cocaine, alcohol, and herbal sexual stimulants. “If she really cared about this man,” Hof said, “he wouldn’t be at my place with my girls.” This, even though Odom’s relationship with drugs and prostitutes predates his relationship with Khloe Kardashian.
For Duggar, the remarks weren’t as direct. Following the Ashley Madison leak, her husband, Josh, admitted to several affairs and a porn addiction. Then, the Duggars’ family pastor in Arkansas addressed the leak in a sermon on infidelity. “If a husband or wife fails to keep his or her partner happy sexually they are opening themselves up to the attack of the enemy,” he said. “And that enemy is going to take your spouse away from you.”
A recent blog post from Anna Duggar’s mother-in-law Michelle carries that implication. When asked to share marital advice, the mom of 19 said that wives should always be available to meet their husbands’ sexual needs, even when they are exhausted or pregnant. “He can get his lunch somewhere else,” Duggar wrote. “But you are the only one who can meet that special need that he has in his life for intimacy…. So be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what.”
Normally I ignore dramas involving reality TV stars. I’ve never watched Keeping up with the Kardashians or the Duggar’s former TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting. However, these stories caught my attention because I have heard this blame-the-wife rationale expressed both inside and outside the church.
Of course, no one but Michelle knows how she intended her advice. If her words were offered innocently, she should say so and apologize for her insensitivity and bad timing. But it’s ludicrous to believe that Anna was responsible for Josh’s immorality. He admitted to molesting five girls when he was a teenager, including two of his sisters. Like Odom, Josh Duggar’s issues began before his relationship with Anna.
Even if both these men had squeaky clean backgrounds prior to marriage, the idea that their wives bear responsibility for their infidelity can be found nowhere in Scripture. Instead, this narrative seems a horribly misogynistic strategy to use fear of infidelity to compel women to submit to their husband’s sexual advances, regardless of their feelings or physical limitations. This has nothing to do with Christian marriage, and actually violates the nature of marriage itself.
His Sin, His Responsibility
Blaming a woman for a man’s sin is as old as the Garden of Eden. When God confronted Adam for eating the apple, Adam immediately blamed Eve. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Here, Adam is speaking truthfully: Eve had sinned first and given Adam the apple to eat. Scripture doesn’t indicate that Eve’s sin, which certainly influenced Adam, absolves him of responsibility. On the contrary, God curses both, showing that each is responsible for his or her own behavior.
Psalm 62:12 says, “You reward everyone according to what they have done.” This is repeated in Proverbs 24:12: “Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” And again, in Romans 2:6-8: “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’” Clearly, no amount of mitigating circumstances changes our personal responsibility for our sin.
Lust Is Insatiable
One of the prostitutes whom Odom hired said she was summoned to his room six times in one day, and Odom reportedly ingested several doses of so-called “performance enhancing supplements.” And Duggar not only reportedly had numerous sexual encounters with a prostitute and sought other women on Ashley Madison, but also confessed to indulging in pornography. This seemingly insatiable appetite for sex is common among men who stray because they have exchanged lust for love as the purpose of sex. And, like all sin, the more lust is indulged, the less it satisfies.
“Lust is not the result of an overactive sex drive,” says pastor and author Richard Exley. “If it were, then it could be satisfied with a sexual experience, like a glass of water quenches thirst or a good meal satisfies appetite. But the more we attempt to appease our lust, the more demanding it becomes. There simply is not enough erotica in the world to satisfy lust’s insatiable appetite.”
This is why wives simply offering sex as frequently as their husbands request it does not ensure fidelity. In fact, this practice may exacerbate the lust problem. 2 Peter 2 says those who have “eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin” also have “hearts trained in greed.” Adultery, then, results from a greedy heart, not an insufficient wife.
Any solutions to adultery must address the husband’s problem rather divert attention to the wife he’s betrayed. The husband needs to learn to follow Christ’s example and cherish his wife as his beloved. This means respecting her own desires and being more eager to give than to receive.
Loving Relationship, Not a Service Contract
In Michelle Duggar’s framework, marriage sounds like some kind of service agreement where a wife offers her husband sex and in return, he offers her a listening ear. “He will sit there and listen to everything I need to tell him because he knows that I’m there for him, too,” Duggar wrote. “I’m meeting his needs, he’s meeting my needs.” However, Scripture presents us with a different view of marriage and sex.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul teaches that husbands and wives should maintain a regular sexual relationship and that their bodies belong to each other. Sex is described as mutually giving—not as something the wife one-sidedly performs for her husband in return for something else. That’s because marriage is supposed to reflect the life and love of the Trinity. Genesis 1:27 describes the husband and wife as made in the image of God. And, theologians have traditionally understood the two becoming one reflects Trinitarian life and love. The marital embrace is meant to be mutually self-giving and affectionate, perhaps the closest approximation of Trinitarian love that we know. To describe marital relations as a service agreement, then, is reductionist and perverse.
Certainly, each marriage is unique. But, as a rule, when husbands focus on loving their wives “as Christ loved the church,” women respond in kind and sex becomes a beautiful reflection of mutual love. If we truly want to reduce adultery, we need to emphasize God’s design for sexuality and marriage, not infuse women with fear of not performing adequately for their husbands. This message not only victimizes women, it also excuses sin and perverts the meaning of marriage.
Julie Roys hosts a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network called Up For Debate. She also writes for various Christian periodicals, blogs at www.julieroys.com, and speaks on life issues, gender and sexuality, motherhood, and the intersection of faith and politics. Julie and her husband live in the Chicago suburbs and have three children.