• Enter search term(s):

Is Celibacy a form of Abuse?

clarifying the concept of domestic violence

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 06/04/2000

At 8:48 AM -0700 6/4/00, Glynis Carr wrote:

How is a decision to be celibate "abusive" to a spouse? Do married people have a right, or an obligation, to have sex with their spouse, regardless of the spouse's feelings? I'm not sure about divorce laws of that era in India -- couldn't she have left him, or found a willing partner? Glynis Carr

I'm aware that this mailing list is not an appropriate forum for discussing what constitutes domestic violence, but I'm sending this to the list because it seems that many readers are missing the whole point about domestic violence as they discuss about this particular case.

I work in the domestic violence field, and this is the part that often troubles new volunteers. While discussing sexual abuse in volunteer training sessions, we list examples of different ways someone may be abused - and both "forcing to have sex" and "withholding sex" are on the list, as are "sleeping with other people" and "prohibiting the victim from sleeping with others." This may sound contradictory, but it would start to make sense when you realize that we are not talking about definitions of sexual abuse here, but specific tactics that are employed in an abusive relationship. That is, "abuse" is not about any specific act, but the *pattern* that exists within the relationship by which one partner gains power and control over another.

We know that there are abusers for whom "withholding sex" is a tool of manipulation and coercion that we consider it domestic violence. On the other hand, "withholding sex" is never abusive in itself. The whole point is whether or not one partner gains power and control over another.

This is often misunderstood concept, the one that results in arrests of many victims because police can't or won't distinguish whether a specific act of "hitting," for example, was abuse, self-defense, or consentual S/M play. "Hitting" is not domestic violence in itself, just like "withholding sex" is. Any time someone argues whether or not a particular act should be categorically considered "domestic violence," she or he is missing the whole point.

Of course, "forcing sex" is in itself considered a form of sexual assault regardless of the pattern in the relationship. It does not, however, mean that all acts of sexual assault between partners should be considered domestic violence - it could be a revenge on the part of the victim who had been victimized over years. I'm sure that most of you are aware of the problem that the legal system often treats an act of revenge by a long-time victim no differently than how they would a situation that involves definitive pattern of power and control.

Emi Koyama (in Boston June 13-19)
PO Box 40570
Portland, OR 97240