Marital rape

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West Midlands Police anti-marital rape poster.
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If you can't rape your wife, who can you rape?
California state senator Bob WilsonWikipedia going full mask-off on the whole "viewing women as property" thing (to a group of women lobbyists, of all people!) in 1979.[1]

Marital rape is just like any other kind of rape — that is, forcible unwanted sexual contact — except that it occurs between two people who are married.

History of marital rape[edit]

The roots of the concept lie in many older cultures' treatment of women as chattel, male baby factories, or the property of their fathers, brothers, and eventually, husbands. In the modern era, as women have been understood and legally recognized as human beings, the concept of a wife being the property of her husband for the purpose of perpetuating his progeny has fallen by the wayside. However, not all cultures or traditions have entered this "modern era" yet,[note 1] and continue to dehumanize women.

Fundamentalist view[edit]

Fundamentalist religious sects are not terribly helpful to women with sexually demanding and inconsiderate (and perhaps also violent) husbands. In fact, some of them even encourage the husbands' violent behavior.

People like Phyllis Schlafly believe that a husband is entitled to have sex with his wife any time he wants, and that her unwillingness to have sex with him would not justify a charge of rape, since to Phyllis and her ilk, marriage implies automatic and perpetual consent (until she files for divorce, at least). Either such people have not studied what is said about the harm caused by rape in marriage or they consider such opinions unimportant.

The following is from a website counselling abuse victims.

Marital rape is so destructive because it betrays the fundamental basis of the marital relationship, because it questions every understanding you have not only of your partner and the marriage, but of yourself. You end up feeling betrayed, humiliated and, above all, very confused.[2]

According to the "Biblical Gender Roles" blog:

Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as 'marital rape' – HOWEVER, there is such a thing as physical abuse. While the Bible does not speak specifically to this case of a man forcing himself on his wife, I believe it is a case of physical abuse. So what others call rape, I call abuse. In the same way that when someone is wrongfully killed it might be first degree murder, second degree murder or man slaughter what we call 'physical abuse' and what we call 'rape' is dependent on the relationship between the man and woman in question. There is no doubt a wrong has been committed. But what we call it, and how it is punished or dealt with is very different depending on the circumstances.[3]

Many fundamentalists believe that their daughters should remain "sexually pure" and be sheltered from anything beyond rudimentary — if any — sex education until marriage. Given the state of the advice and information circulated within fundamentalist groups, if these women marry, and often they do so when quite young, they enter marriage knowing little or nothing about reproduction or sexuality. This makes it difficult for them to understand their legal and moral rights, or defend themselves when their husband is "in the mood" and they aren't. The lack of education may also stop women from knowing when their young and eager husband's advances have crossed the line and gone too far.

Of course, not all relationships with a background of poor or non-existent sex education end up in such a situation — however, should these women want him to help them experience an orgasm, he won't know what that means and life will certainly be less enjoyable. Although such abstinence from "guilty pleasures", or sodomy as they may call it, may be part of the religious upbringing, so they may not particularly, on the face of it, care too much about this aspect.

The reverse also exists. Under traditional Jewish law, the husband may not deny his wife sex, as it is one of the three basic rights she has (the other two being food and clothing).[4]

Victim's option to get the rape case dismissed[edit]

Some countries allow a rape case to be dismissed if the victim agrees to this and if the offender completes a sex offender treatment program. In the Philippines, "In case it is the legal husband who is the offender, the subsequent forgiveness by the wife as the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action or the penalty."[5]

Options you have if you're in a sexless marriage[edit]

Marital rape may occur in a sexless marriage,[6] from either gender and in same sex marriages. The best course of action rather than to get jammed up on a rape charge is to leave the relationship. Leaving the relationship is better than infidelity. Ironically, Chistian counselors will argue — implicitly — to permit marital rape, but strongly advise against divorce.[7] Do you really want to put up with unenthusiastic sex, though, even if it's not rape, because your pastor told your wife/husband she/he must have sex? Of course, marital rape occurs in sexual relationships, too, as a form of domestic violence and control. Even in these cases, the best solution is to walk away, either temporarily or permanently, rather than getting jammed up.

Another alternative, especially if the marriage isn't necessarily sexless but there's way too little sex in it for you, is frequent dates with Madam Palm. Not only can you get it that way any time you like (within limits), but you stay out of jail and you can't be accused of cheating on your partner with yourself. If they don't like you stroking the banana (or taco as the case may be), they could always agree to sex more often, and either way, there's no coercion or abuse this way.

Countries that do not recognize marital rape[edit]

World map of consent-based and coercion-based sexual violence legislation, and whether exemptions for marital rape (spousal rape) exist or not.
  Consent-based sexual violence legislation; marital rape illegal
  Coercion-based sexual violence legislation; marital rape illegal
  Coercion-based on vaginal sex, consent-based on anal and oral sex; marital rape illegal
  Mixed legislation; rape without coercion considered a lesser crime; marital rape illegal
  Consent-based sexual violence legislation, but marital rape legal
  Coercion-based sexual violence legislation, and marital rape legal

In many parts of the world, women do not belong to themselves, but to their husbands (and sometimes the reverse). The following countries still permit husbands to rape (and in some cases, physically abuse) their wives, or vice versa.

See also[edit]


  1. Legally speaking, universal attention to the issue of spousal rape came in 1993, when the UN High Commission on Human Rights added "spousal rape", and in fact an entire section on violence against women, to their statement of Basic Human Rights, entitled "Declaration of ending Violence against Women", to which France, Germany and the UK and the US are signatories.