Sometimes you hear a saying, and you do not break it down and think about the meaning behind it. You do not comprehend the beliefs and attitudes that support that saying and what they mean for people who attempt to live up to that. One such saying is the term "wifely duty." When I think of marriage or marriage vows, I have heard words such a love, cherish, honor, patience, and kindness. A couple agrees to be with each other "through sickness and in health as long as they both shall live." Also, they agree to stick with one another through "the good times and the bad." They agree to be teammates; they agree to be partners through thick and thin. They agree to support one another, to love one another until "death do us part." There is no mention of wifely duties in the weddings I have attended. Wifely duty refers to the male expectation that women are to have sex with their husbands; in other words, having sex is a chore like cooking dinner, vacuuming the carpet, scrubbing the bathtub, doing laundry, washing the dishes, or mopping the floor. Also, women were traditionally expected to take care of the children and keep their husband's satisfied. It is never explicitly spelled out, but rather implied that having sex is what a "good" wife does. All of these things are what women were expected to do to keep her man happy. It is a wife's duty to take care of her man whether she is sick, tired, or not remotely interested in being intimate with him.
I honestly threw up in my mouth writing that. There is so much societal pressure on women to be sexy and sexual that the reality many women face around consent in a marriage is shocking to me. That is the problem here. When there is an expectation, there is an entitlement. That sense of entitlement around sex could lead to coercion. There is a huge part of male socialization going on here. There is an expectation of access to women's bodies. It is as if "putting a ring on it" means a man can have sex on demand or command, depending on how one looks at it. Furthermore, think about how people use the terms "wife" or "wifey" to imply that they are exclusive or in a relationship with another person regardless of whether they are married or not. There's no legal contract or marriage here, but the concept of "wifely duty" in the context of a committed relationship still applies. "Putting a ring on it" is more metaphorical than something that has truly happened, but the expectation is still there. This expectation of sex on command is not about mutuality, both parties figuring out what works for them, or even sex being consensual. The sad thing is that I can think of a few news stories where men have used violence against women because their "needs" were not being met. Using or threatening violence is wrong and is the antithesis of a healthy relationship. One would think that the one place one would be safe to say no would be within a relationship. Where is the discussion of love, support, and cherishing one another like it is in the vows we take on our wedding days? Where is the appreciation of what sexuality, intimacy, and choice mean for our partners? Is there partnership in our partnerships?