SWM 096 – Why men being submissive is problematic
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I received this question from our Have A Question page a while ago and wanted to tackle it in its own post because I’m seeing this come up more and more. The question is:
Hi. I wanted to know if there is any reason that the man can’t be the submissive part sometimes during sex. Because I feel like I want to be submissive from time to time, but I don’t want to ask my wife because it’s an awkward topic.
Questions like this are becoming more common because there has been a war on masculinity for some time now. Our society has long been telling men not to be men. We’ve had an entire generation of men grow up confused about how they are supposed to act, their purposes, and who they are supposed to be.
Also, definitions continue to expand to mean things they never did, and ideas conflate to confuse issues.
This one, in particular, needs to be clarified for a few reasons.
There’s nothing wrong with submission
The first is that our society has completely changed the meaning of submission. We used to understand that all people submit in a variety of ways. I submit to my boss at work. We all submit to God. I submit to others when they’re correcting me, and vice versa (as per Ephesians 5:21). We can even ask people to correct us and submit ourselves to them for correction.
Submission is not a shameful thing. It’s a valuable, humbling thing that is appropriate in various situations.
If you have a sports team, the team usually has either a captain, a coach, or both. They might all have ideas of what the strategy should be, but the teammates will submit to the captain, and the captain will submit to the coach if there is one. Not because the teammates’ strategies could be better or because the coach is more valuable. It’s because someone has to be the leader, or you have chaos.
In marriages, this should be husbands. Our biology has been designed for it, which is why God tells us that’s the way it should be. And like the players on the soccer team, that doesn’t mean I think women should be silent – I want my wife to bring her best ideas. And like the soccer team in which the coach doesn’t get to make decisions outside the sphere of the sport, I don’t think all men are authoritative over all women. I’m talking about marriage here.
You’re welcome to disagree with me on those posts if you like. It’s not a popular or politically correct opinion these days – quite the opposite. Our society seems to want to demonize men so that we forget this calling to lead in our homes and to be protectors of God’s creation. Sadly, we’re also seeing this adopted inside many of our churches. I even see large prominent Christian bloggers and podcasters joining this agenda of demonizing men. I saw a tweet just this week that categorized all men as monsters and all women as their victims.
Women tend to prefer a dominant man, but they will test him
Women want a man who will lead. A man who will protect. A man who will provide. They want a capable and safe man like a lion who has decided not to eat you – not safe like a cute kitten who tries to attack you but poses no threat to anyone. It reminds me of this quote from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion “…” Safe?” said Mr Beaver …” Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”C.S. Lewis – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The problem is that women want a lion but are also scared of it. A kitten feels a lot safer. But kittens aren’t sexy – they’re cute.
I repeatedly hear and see from wives that what turns them on is adventure, excitement, and, yeah, a bit of fear. They want to be safe, but not too safe. Because too safe is comfortable, and comfortable isn’t sexy either. It’s boring. That’s why some of our printable games work so well – there’s an element of danger. You don’t know what card will come next, so it’s exciting. And, because you’re not in control, if you enjoy it, “it’s not your fault.” I’ve learned most women love to have plausible deniability when enjoying sex – especially more taboo adventurous activities.
I repeatedly see women push their men to do something they’re not okay with. They want to see that lion. If he caves, they’re momentarily happy because they got what they said they wanted, but then they lose respect for him. Maybe not a lot, it depends on what the ask was and how far she had to push, but after you repeat this pattern several times, it dwindles to very little.
I believe God warned us about this in Genesis 3:16.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.Genesis 3:16b
This word in Hebrew for “desire” used in this context isn’t sexual desire. It’s a desire to consume and control. It’s the same word used a chapter later when God is talking to Cain before murdering Abel.
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”Genesis 4:7
We see a lot of similarities here between the struggle between wife and husband and the battle between sin and believer. I’m not saying women are evil (or at least any more evil than men), only that there is a similar struggle. As men, we need to be strong and stand for what we believe and fulfill our role: to protect, to provide, to safeguard – in the same way, that Christians need to stand firm against sin. Because if you cave in, you’re not going to achieve what you thought you would.
Now, I’m not talking about when the wife makes a good argument for something, and he sees a new perspective and agrees. My wife’s perspective is an incredible asset to me. Sometimes I don’t like to hear her ideas, like if they conflict with mine, but she’s often right. Other times, she’s not. However, when a husband gives in to his wife to try to keep the peace rather than stick to his beliefs, he ceases to be the lion and instead turns into a kitten.
Living by “Happy wife, happy life” will result in neither.
It’s the same as if you have a pastor who makes a mistake. If you go to the pastor and show him his error, and he, of his own volition, goes to the congregation, apologizes and repents and changes, then you’ll have respect for him. But if he doesn’t, if you force the issue, make him apologize, force him to submit – even if he apologizes, you won’t respect him anymore because you made him submit to you, and he’s supposed to be leading.
So, are you sure you want to be submissive?
You can receive pleasure without being submissive
It could be you’re looking for something else. Many men who think they want to be submissive may wish to be on the receiving end of pleasure.
Ideally, both spouses are active in the marriage, inside and outside the bedroom, providing love and pleasure to each other. But, when that doesn’t happen, it seems to be that, more often than not, men are the more active participant during sex.
As a result, they tend to give a lot more pleasure than receiving it. They get pleasure at the same time, but it’s different getting pleasure from your own actions than from someone giving it to you.
Incidentally, I think that’s why many men make a big deal out of oral sex – because it’s an act where they receive pleasure without any personal action, which is rare.
Many men don’t get gifts often. We tend to buy our own presents; we pay for our own entertainment, we court the woman we want, and we take the emotional risk to initiate sex. We go and get the things we desire. To have someone say, “just sit back, and I’m going to do this for you,” is rare.
That could be what you’re looking for – someone to focus 100% on you for a time. Sometimes it’s nice to relax while the copilot handles the stick.
You don’t have to be dominant to be expressive
The other thing I hear often is that husbands wish their wives would tell them what they want – especially regarding sex. Christian wives tend to be (again, not all) reserved when discussing sexual desire. I have heard from untold husbands who are so frustrated that their wife won’t tell them: their fantasies, what positions they like, what turns them on, what gets them close to orgasm, if they’ve had an orgasm, when they’re in the mood, what activities they’d like to try.
So, sometimes when men say they want to be submissive, it’s because the fantasy dominant woman in their head is straightforward in her communication and desire. She tells him what she wants from him, and then he does it. She expresses her passion, sets expectations, and vocalizes her pleasure. In short, she tells him what she wants. There’s no mind-reading involved.
That could be what you’re looking for.
Maybe you’re afraid
Lastly, I often see that men are afraid to be men. We’ve been so beaten down in our society that it’s sometimes hard to stay standing. When everyone tells you that women don’t want you to protect them, to provide for them, that masculinity is toxic, and that society doesn’t need you, some men give up.
If you have a wife who has adopted those same ideas – it’s challenging to stand up and follow God instead of society’s desire for you to lie down and die. At best, that desire is understood figuratively, and they give up. At worst, some men take it literally.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 15-44 other than accidental injury, according to the National Insitute of Health. It accounts for nearly 3x as many deaths as COVID has in that age range, and it’s going up.
And I think it will get a lot worse because our government here in Canada has joined this war against men, and they’ve just legalized government-assisted suicide for those who are depressed. I worry that they’ll be targeting depressed men and suggesting they remove themselves since society doesn’t feel they’re needed anymore.
So, if you’re depressed because the world has been beating you down, and you have a wife who’s been pushing in the same direction – I can see why this might tempt you to step down and say, “I give up. Someone else can take control.”
But it’s not the answer. If our example in life is to be like Christ, then the answer is to keep standing tall, even when they ridicule you, when they call you a liar and a fake, when they spit on you and beat you, you stand up, carry the burden, asking God for strength along the way.
Note: I’m eluding to Christ’s burden here, not spousal abuse. If your wife abuses you, talk to the police and get help.
What do you mean by submissive?
So, what do you mean by submissive? If you want to be on the receiving end of pleasure, ask for that. If you want your spouse to be more straightforward when it comes to sex – then ask for that. If you think your wife wants this – think again. She may think she does, but I doubt it will end well. And if you feel like you can’t keep going the way you are – ask God for help and get support from other men. I’ve recently connected with the guys at TheLionWithin.us, who are all about helping men be godly men. Maybe check them out.
11 thoughts on “SWM 096 – Why men being submissive is problematic”
Great article! Something I personally have struggled with in my marriage. My wife makes quit a bit more money than I make, so it’s difficult to view myself we the ‘provider’.
I think that you are right about how “submissive” probably means more that they want their wives to be straightforward. At first, I was like I’ve never lost respect for him being submissive in sex. But the more I read, the more I understood what you meant. I’ve definitely told him what I want to happen and when and where, but I’ve never done things like tied him up. I’ve dug my nails into him and stuff like that but it’s on a different level of “submissive” than I am to him.
Men ruling I’ve their wives is part of the fall, NOT God’s design for marriage.
I would disagree.
Firstly, the fall was part of God’s design – I go through that in this post: https://www.uncoveringintimacy.com/swm-063-sermon-its-all-worth-it/
But, even without that, we clearly have Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that men leading their wife is a living example Christ’s submission to God. So, if you say men leading their wives is part of the fall, then Christ submitting to God must be because Christ and God fell, which would destroy the foundations of Christianity. So, that can’t be right.
The Fall was not God’s design. I guess that explains a lot about your theology. If things go badly then you’d better not try to change it, because it’s all part of God’s design.
Alright, let’s say the Fall was not God’s design. What is it? A mistake? Something God failed to plan for? Did He get blindsided by it? Maybe it happened when He wasn’t looking?
If you believe it was not God’s design, then you have to take away one of the three “omni” characteristics of God. He either isn’t omniscient, omnipowerful or omnipresent.
Or you could read you Bible and know that even before He made the world, God had a plan for salvation in place (Ephesians 1, 1 Peter 1:20-21). Why would He have a plan for salvation before the world was created? Well, because He knew it would fail. It was part of the plan. That doesn’t mean He caused it to fail, but knowing it’s going to happen and planning for it is not the same as causing it to happen. That’s why we make children wear bike helmets – because they will fall at some point. Are we causing them to fall? Nope. Do we plan for it? Yep. We design the situation for the inevitable fall that will occur that we cannot stop.
Anyways, I have a whole sermon on it here if you’re interested: https://www.uncoveringintimacy.com/swm-063-sermon-its-all-worth-it/
I always get so confused why Christians get so hung up on being submissive or not. I just think of being a team with my wife that follows Jesus. We both discuss things and come to decisions and there is never stalemates.
I think of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and then Christian men making a huge deal of that their wives do housekeeping.
I’m confused about how housekeeping entered the discussion.
As for egalitarian marriages – I once ran a survey asking about people’s marriage leadership dynamic. One interesting result was that female-led marriages are generally sexless or near sexless. Another interesting one was how many people said their spouse would have answered “egalitarian”, but they would answer that their spouse led the marriage. Husbands in that situation generally answered that their wives bullied them into agreement on any potential conflicts – often using sex as a method of control. Wives in the same situation said they didn’t want to lead – they wanted their husbands to, and so they simply said they agree to anything they disagreed on, because they wanted him to lead, but also knew he didn’t want to lead, so they kept up the charade of egalitarianism for his benefit.
Not saying that’s happening in yours – only that it seemed quite frequent.
As for Jesus watching the feet of his disciples – that wasn’t a marriage, so I don’t know how it applies, and even if it was, submission isn’t the same as serving. Just because I lead and my wife is submissive to that leadership doesn’t mean I don’t serve her. I think you have a radically different view of submission and headship than I do.
Men ruling harshly and demanding rather than gently, but firmly leading in love is a result of the fall.
Hmm, the article is a bit narrow in interpretation but for what it is not bad, but not viewing other avenues would be misleading. For example: Google “loving Female led relationships” be subjective, and use a loving lens, and one can have amazing spiritual, loving connection, one that is led by the wife and the husband submits and is submissive in a loving caring way.
I disagree – every time I run a survey asking about household leadership, those who respond that the wife leads the house they have lower marital satisfaction, lower sexual frequency (and the husband is never happy about it), lower sexual satisfaction, and the comments are devastating. I think this is contrary to what God intended.