Laurence Thomas on the Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands

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Laurence Thomas defends Dr. Laura on marital sex, particularly her encouragement to married women to be more willing to be coaxed into sex by their husbands. Laurence argues that seeking to satisfy their husbands' desires is not merely giving in to selfishness. It's actually acting in a way that serves the interests of him while also being in her own self-interest at the same time. He suggests that the gift of sex is a power that women have that men do not, a theme consistent with a number of his recent posts. The good life involves the best use of that power, and fostering gratitude is one good use of any moral power. In the process, he argues that Dr. Laura's view comes from feminist motivations that her critics have simply failed to see, out of their assumption that seeking a man's happiness must always mean ignoring a woman's own concerns. It does not, and it particularly might not even when a woman thinks it means ignoring her own concerns.

I think the key issue in the whole post is the difference between choosing to see someone else's desire as an imposition on oneself vs. choosing to see it as an opportunity for kindness, one that will in the end reap the rewards of the other's gratitude. This point generalizes to many other circumstances, of course, but it does seem apt here. I think the problem Dr. Laura's critics have had is that they see her as arguing that women should consent to sex as a conjugal duty, when that is not at all what she's saying. She's saying that the kind of character trait that builds a good marriage includes seeking to please one's spouse, especially if the means of pleasing involves pleasure to oneself. I guess some of her critics can't see the difference between that and a mere fulfillment of a duty that one hates, but it's a fundamental distinction in terms of both motive and result. It's telling that in the one place this comes up in the writings of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians ch. 7, he tells married couples not to deprive each other (except by mutual consent for a limited time and only then for the sake of more focused prayer). The motive is concern for each other. The result is a good for each other that otherwise would count as deprivation. This is mutual. If abstaining is depriving each other, then sex is a good (a good for both parties) to be encouraged and engaged in, in part for the sake of the other. As far as I can tell, that's all Dr. Laura is saying to women. (What men might need to hear is a very different thing, but that's an issue for another time.)

2 Comments

Yes but. Don't make the mistake that duty is necessarily a bad thing. That word has gotten a bad rap because somehow people have attached to it the unnecessary connotation that duty is somehow always unpleasant or painful.

It depends on what you mean by it. Keep in mind the feminist element of the critique of this book. The way they mean duty has to do with selfish desires on the part of a husband, who then expects his wife to do everything he might ever want. Since that's not at all what Dr. Laura's book is dealing with, I'm sort of summing up that inaccurate portrayal under the heading of mere conjugal duty, which I think the views of Paul, Schlessinger, and Thomas will all say would be insufficient at best, even if there is a duty (which I imagine the three of them wouldn't all agree on).

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