Recently the topic of male sexuality, responsibility and faithfulness came up in a discussion among several LDS friends and co-workers. This discussion concerned a recent "bloggernacle" article discussing the idea that women bear some of the responsibility for their husband’s sexual purity. Specifically, some have posited that the key to a happy marriage resst with the wife’s willingness and ability to satisfy the husband’s sex drive. This premise engendered a heated discussion among us that day.
The issue is more complicated than whose libido is higher in a marriage. The issue, rather, revolves around the social construction of sex as a “need.” For example, in our culture we often excuse certain behaviors based on “need.” A man who has not had sex in years is often excused to some degree if he gives in to temptation. Implicit in this cultural construct is the assumption that men have sexual needs (rooted in biology), that these needs are natural, higher and thus more imperative than women’s, and that it is unreasonable that these needs would not be met. However, we have also been taught that all physical intimacy must, and can be, set within the bounds the Lord has set, including the principle that no domineering, indecent or uncontrolled behavior in the intimate relationship is approved of God (Hunter 1997, 51), nor may one enslave their spouse to their own passion (McKay 1953, 86). Under this principle, none has the right to compel another to action in the name of “need.” Furthermore, we can all readily see that sex is not a physical need in the same sense as the need for air, food, water, and shelter. One can literally die from not having these things; no one has ever died from not having sex. When we use the word “need” in connection with sex, then, we are socially constructing a new definition for the word.
It will be my contention that the social construction of sex as a “need” is both damaging to male-female relationships in general and particularly damning to the spiritual progress of those who are culturally designated as “less culpable” for their actions in that “moment of weakness”.
Male-Female Sexual Relationships
The central aim of the doctrine of the Restored Gospel is unity. Anything that divides us and creates hierarchy, especially between spouses, must be renounced for the evil it is.
When our prophets and apostles speak of sex they often refer to how proper sexual relationship can help bind spouses to each other. This potentially unifying concept of intimate sexual relationships becomes corrupted when we think just in terms of sex itself without reference to the purpose of sex. The goal from a gospel perspective is not more sex, but more unity. Intimate sexual relationships between a husband and wife may be one means of getting there, but it is not the locus of the unified relationship.
Years ago I counseled with a couple who were going through a every difficult challenge in their marriage. (The events have been slightly changed, and I have streamlined the story to just the essential points.) The man's affections had strayed. He had fallen in love with another woman. In an effort to win back her husband’s affection, the wife decided to focus on sex. When sex once a week was not enough to change his affection, she tried once a day, then several times a day. When she came to talk with me, she was at her wit's end. No amount of sex seemed to change his affection towards her, and she felt worse the more frequently they engaged in it. She wanted to share this intimate act with her husband, but doing it this way made it even worse. She couldn't understand why. I suggested that perhaps it was because she felt like a prostitute. She was giving sex in the hopes she would receive a payment, not of money but of affection. She was giving sexual intercourse as a bargaining chip for something she wanted more. What she wanted was not sex, but unity with her husband. Unity, however, cannot be purchased through sacrifices of just one party. Actually, her actions unintentionally served to make unity even more difficult to achieve because she felt used by both herself and her husband.
It was in this sad state of affairs that I asked her to consider not having sex with her husband for a period of time. This was not in an effort to deny sex to the husband as some type of punishment, but rather to give the couple a chance to talk about the situation, and all the realities and complications that were present in their marriage. She might then be able to tell her husband why she had been doing all of this, and how it made her feel.
A few weeks later her husband came to visit with me. I suggested they needed to start their relationship back at a more basic level. I asked them to continue to consider leaving sex out of the equation and find activities that they could enjoy doing together, and to find opportunities to really converse with one another. Then over time as they began to feel true intimacy, they would naturally find sex as an enjoyable extension of this unity they were developing. In this process I asked that they talk openly and honestly, but not do anything unless both were absolutely comfortable. It took several months, but gradually things began to return to a more comfortable place. It has been a few years now since we've had these very personal discussions, so I cannot report that all is perfect, but they have remained faithful to their marriage covenant.
This story illustrates three important points.
The first, sex is not intimacy. Prostitutes and johns are not experiencing intimacy together.
Second, even in marriage, sex does not necessarily lead to unity. While the former can contribute to unity, it is not a substitute for it, and it can even become a distraction from our true goal, if we conflate the two.
Third, a focus on who “needed” what, and who did or did not get what they felt they “needed” from their spouse sexually, would have been an unnecessary, confusing, and further damaging approach to the problem being faced. No spouse should feel obligated to meet the other’s sexual “needs”. Such a mistaken sense of obligation removes the potential for open and honest communication, which is the hallmark of a unified celestial marriage. Whenever we speak of marriage and sex, the real issue must always be unity. If we lose sight of that goal, no advice given or followed will bring our marriages to what our Heavenly Parents know we can achieve. Unity must be cultivated, and if we are not careful, the way we construct sex may destroy our hopes of unity.
Any focus on the concept of sexual “need” immediately elevates one partner’s position over the other and prevents true unity by simultaneously suggesting that the desire is at least partially beyond one’s control and must be catered to, and that the partner has some form of obligation to meet it. “Need” in this sense damns unity for it allows one to abdicate one’s responsibility in governing our individual selves, and requires the other spouse to submit to our will in a similitude of prostitution. True unity cannot be had on that foundation.
Damning Spiritual Progress
In addition to the unnecessary divides we construct between men and women that prevent open and honest communication before and after marriage, there is the matter of the spiritual progress of the individual. When we cast sexual desires as “needs,” and when those “needs” then go unmet for any number of reasons, we often hear various iterations of, “the individual did do something wrong, but...”. This is very dangerous spiritual ground.
The real danger here is that the individual will attempt to excuse their sin in some degree - of which we have the following explicit warning: (Alma 42)
30 O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.
As family, friends, or ecclesiastical leaders, we often try to understand those who have committed sin so that we might more easily have compassion for them. If we approach these circumstances as an outsider - as one who is trying to develop compassion for another, then it makes sense to try to understand the circumstances and difficulties that the individual may have faced that lead to their errant choices. However, how we interact with the situation in order to develop compassion should not be confused with how the individual must be taught to interact with their own mistake.
My concern centers on how we teach responsibility and ensure that we do not excuse sin in the least degree. My personal experience has been that individuals who have committed these sexual sins far too often approach disciplinary councils from a standpoint that their behavior should be excused in some degree because their “needs” were not being met. Rather than feeling both the full weight of their error, and the full blessing of the atonement as it works miracles in their lives, the repentance process is often short circuited because of the individual’s unwillingness to grasp the full magnitude of their error - because they have sought in the first place to excuse themselves to some degree. I suggested that we focus solely on Christ's love and atonement towards the full sin – which is in fact the only action to which it can apply. In this way we help those who have strayed, including ourselves, experience the full healing power of the atonement, rather than only a mortal’s relief at minimal disciplinary consequences. Any teaching or practice that comes between our recognition of the full weight of the sin and the full need of Christ’s atonement is detrimental to our eternal progress” “sexual need” falls into that category, in my opinion.
Returning to the concept of unity in marriage, it is difficult to comprehend how a man, under the divine responsibility to bridle his passions and not enslave his spouse, and who also has the obligation in the priesthood to not gratify his pride or vain ambition, and who is to eschew the exercise of control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, could feel any justification for requiring/expecting/demanding his wife to give him physical gratification. It is absolutely inappropriate for either a husband or a wife to do this. Frankly, I find it appalling when well-meaning individuals - even within the LDS Church - cast sex in this way. Ironically, this advice is often given as a divorce-proof-your-marriage type of suggestion specifically to women, and carries with it the false pretence that one partner (typically the woman) is somehow responsible for the success and health of the marriage as a whole. In this way, the weaker of the two positions (typically held by the woman) is supposed to be “empowered” to keep the marriage strong, but in pursuing unity through a means by which it can never be accomplished, this advice actually takes the individual further and further from his/her goal. It is difficult to see any circumstances where constructing sex as a “need” will not cause many women or men to feel compelled, controlled and dominated, and unity will never thrive in this environment.
Hunter, Howard W. 1997. The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter. Edited by Clyde J. Williams. In Church Education System. 2001. Eternal Marriage Student Manual. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.
McKay, David O. 1953. Gospel Ideals. In Church Education System. 2001. Eternal Marriage Student Manual. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.
Full Citation for this Article: Stearmer, S. Matthew (2013) "A Reflection on the Cultural Construction of Sexual "Needs,"" SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 1 (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmerNeeds.html, <give access date>
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.
I. Charles Stanford
This is a welcome start to a conversation that needs to happen among more latter-day saints, especially lifelong members from multi-generational families. I recommend Alain de Botton's “12 Rude Revelations About Sex,” a clear-headed debunking of various wishful notions about the problem. Some of these are secular, like the delusion that sex is “as natural as breathing,” but there is plenty of sentimental wishful thinking to go around in the Church and in Christianity more broadly: the idea that sex is some kind of “gift from God” that is meant to give us transcendent joy and fulfillment.
To face up to a reality that one of the strongest of our human desires is bound for frustration challenges a simplistic understanding of “men are that they might have joy,” so we keep trying to have it both ways. You do well to question sex as a “need,” but you should anticipate objections, on the grounds that human needs rise in a hierarchy above the basic necessities of food and warmth. (By arguments similar to yours, people can and have justified slavery: after all, who ever died from not being free?) If you want to insist on a narrow definition of “need” then you'll need to address ideas like Maslow's hierarchy, and propose an alternate name for those things that human bodies and spirits crave. Learning, love, belonging, purpose, autonomy . . . if these are not “needs,” what are they?
If we don't have sexual needs, we most certainly have base biological urges, which can be such powerful motivators that some countries have treated rapists by chemical castration. Some who advocate for equality between the sexes try to deny that the nature of this biological urge varies between the sexes (based on what evidence I don't know), but the male organs do periodically build up semen which they feel a “need” to discharge. Of course, that “need” can be tidily taken care of alone and in private, but since that is discouraged, what is a man to do?
As a young man in Church I was taught that God planted the sexual urge in males to assure that they would be willing to take on the responsibilities and attachments of family. I hope that this teaching is fading from use, because it goes in reverse to the truth: the male sexual urge has led men throughout history to impregnate females and abandon them – or to subjugate them. What entices the man to stay around (if not to nurture family bonds from a genuine masculine tenderness – imagine that!) is a set of restrictions on sex, with consequences enforced for their transgression. By holding out as a reward the privilege of indulging his urges, you can manipulate a man to comply with behaviors and protocols such as marriage.
Crude? Yes, and unbecoming a way of life focused on spiritual growth or unity. (By the way, if people say that spouses should not withhold sex as a punishment, have they considered that a reward is but the other side of punishment?) This is probably the most troubling critique that “the world” has to level against the Law of Chastity: that it drives people into marriages for which they might not otherwise be suited (I once read a sarcastic quip that “losing your V-card is a great reason to enter into a lifelong union”).
I distrust anyone who hasn't collected plenty of anecdotal evidence of this, and I wonder what kind of experiment could be devised to test the hypothesis. In any case, if you tell young men that they can't indulge these strong and deep urges except with their wives, then you set them up to approach sexual relations in their marriages with an insistence that can cross into desperation or coercion. If that is to be avoided, then they have to enter marriage with their sexual desires expertly moderated – somehow.
Complicating the issue are these facts: 1) to have mutually pleasing sexual intercourse does not come naturally at all, but has to be learned through work and practice; and 2) there is a spectrum of responses that one spouse may have towards the other's wishes. A wife may feel subjugated to her husband's “needs” against her will, or she may offer a gratification of his urge as a genuine gesture of love. I consider it another strong hypothesis that most marriages within the Church work somewhere in the middle most of the time – and that most during the last century have operated closer to the subjugation end of the spectrum. I would like to know how common it is for both partners in a Temple marriage to agree freely to engage in sex without any feeling of even doing a favor, let alone coercion – it taxes my belief to the utmost to imagine that this can be a normal occurrence, despite the fantasies sold in romance fiction.
Maybe most common is a scenario where the husband wants sex and initiates it, and the wife goes along, not because she feels coerced, but because she honestly has no objection – she doesn't mind doing it if he wants, even if she might not be really wanting it at first. This will be more likely if he makes sure she enjoys it, but it might also help if she doesn't identify her sexuality as something so “sacred” or “special” that her husband would sully it by asking for it too often. Teaching about sex as some kind of mystical communion might help a wife to be open to her husband's advances, or it might close her off to them except on the most special or romantic occasion. Meanwhile, if the husband has also been taught that his sole hope for the “fulfillment” of this urge lies in his wife's keeping, that can be an incentive to treat her right if all goes well. It more often has led men to all the wheedling, pleading and trickery that are so taken for granted in the world's popular cultures from the beginning of time. Marriage therapists like Laura Brotherson are quite right to ask husbands to be more considerate of their wives' wishes and do more to help them enjoy the act, instead of just satisfying a masculine “need.” In that way, some fortunate couples may indeed sometimes enjoy a mutual sharing of a great physical pleasure that does no harm. It may even reach a spiritual meaning – as all sensory pleasures can. Any shared pleasure can strengthen a relationship (as some asexuals say: “why have sex when you can have cake?”).
But despite well-wishing advice from LDS therapists, about the only way the problem gets framed over the pulpit is in terms of “the sacred powers of procreation,” as if sex and procreation were synonymous. It has been normal and even prescribed in the Church's incunabular culture for men to beget large families without a thought to pleasing their wives (maybe even without admitting to too much pleasure in it themselves). Your thesis also would be strengthened by considering some of the Church's official instruction materials, such as the Building an Eternal Marriage manual. Chapter 8 quotes The Miracle of Forgiveness which in turn quotes Paul's directions to “render . . . due benevolence” as a way to avoid adultery. Also, there is Elder Holland's talk in the October 1998 General Conference, where he states explicitly "may I stress that human intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union, a totality and a union ordained and defined by God." Later he re-states it: "the very uniting of their souls." Since he was talking in General Conference, it's a safe conclusion that that what he means by "intimacy" is mostly sexual contact: " In matters of human intimacy, you must wait!" Even if you insist on including all the non-sexual aspects of intimacy in his meaning, it is still clear he is talking specifically about sex as a part of intimacy, because the whole talk is calculated to persuade control of that carnal urge. So, there is a very recent statement in General Conference by an Apostle, citing sex as a union of souls. No wonder men, once married, feel like they might at least expect their wives to respond to their advances! To strengthen your argument you need to tackle this head-on. And putting "expecting" between "requiring" and "demanding" with your slashes confuses what could be a useful treatment of the range of attitudes that an LDS husband may have based on what he has been taught. He may hope, he may ask, but not expect, much less demand? There's a line to be drawn somewhere and I can't see it so well in that broad brush stroke.
Sex is most certainly not intimacy, but the pleasurable aspect of it has always, always been a powerful human desire and motivation quite distinct from and often opposite to procreation. To harness that pleasure as a wonderful expression of love sounds nice in principle, and it can work if enough other things are in place. But the idea of it has been transplanted into a culture where until recently women have been taught to be submissive – and many still live according to that internalized message.
Coercion is not only a betrayal of unity, but maybe more troubling, it is a false unity, a false consensus, where if the dominant person succeeds in getting the other to be silent, then he can convince himself that every decision he imposes on the other is one which they have reached through consensus. This state of affairs can be very hard to perceive behind a façade of cheerful couples on Sundays, but again, whenever women have been taught to be submissive, it is going to be common, if not the norm. Teaching that sex is only for procreation and that any deviation from that goal is a perversion seems useful in discouraging fixation on an impossible fulfillment, but it won't discourage sexual subjugation in such a culture if the male sexual urge is also seen as a divine gift for the preservation of families. In such conditions, men might not use their wives as sex slaves so much as breeders. The confounding fact of the clitoris in such a culture led men to project “insatiable” carnal lust onto women (Malleus Maleficarum Part 1 Question VI), and that is a whole other can of worms to untangle.
One more thing: the continuing popular disbelief in evolution among many Church members blocks them from a huge help in arriving at “a respectful accommodation with an anarchic and reckless power” as de Botton puts it. For if something so problematic (and recent discoveries about the nature of sexual orientation have shown just how disruptive sex actually is to the Lord's ideal) has been put in our souls by God's hand as a mechanic puts in a spark plug, what then? But if the sexual urge is understood as something inherited from a baser ancestral condition, akin to the aggression of predatory instincts, which our human spirits give us the capacity to manage in proper ways, then we might do better in avoiding the extremes of glorifying it as something to seek fulfillment of, in either a carnal or spiritual sense, and better keep it in its proper place.
II. S. Matthew Stearmer
It is difficult to have online discussions. You've brought up several points and I'm a little confused on the intent of many of them. I apologize upfront if I misinterpret your statements.
Rather than try to address everything I think it will be best for our readers to focus on three specific points you've touched on here; your last comment on Elder Holland’s remarks, both of which lead to a clarification on the purpose of sexual intimacy.
First, it is a dangerous leap in logic to suggest that the Elder Holland's statement allows men to expect anything, and certainly not to demand sexual acts from his spouse. This would go against both the husband and wife being co-equals and partners in marriage and each fully capable of agency. This is the danger of classifying sex as a need. It leads on down dangerous paths.
Second, I define a need as something, which regardless of the level of control, would cause physical death were it denied. The rest I refer to as desires.
This is inline with church doctrine. There are almost 900 articles on Lds.org on sexual desire. Elder Ballard sums up this expectation as "This law is clear and simple. No one is to engage in sexual relationships outside the bounds the Lord has set. This applies to homosexual behavior of any kind and to heterosexual relationships outside of marriage. It is a sin to violate the law of chastity."
There is nothing stated or implied in these statements which suggest that the control one has over sexual desires before marriage diminishes in anyway after marriage. We are always under an obligation to keep these desires in check.
Which then leads to the final point I would like to address. The classification of sex as a need is dangerous because it shifts the potential of sex away from its true purpose which is to unite husband and wife (for instance Condie 1986 https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/07/finding-marital-unity-through-the-scriptures?lang=eng; the Marriage and Family Relations Manual http://www.lds.org/manual/building-an-eternal-marriage-teacher-manual/intimacy-in-marriage?lang=eng; and Nelson 2006 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/04/nurturing-marriage?lang=eng). These are just a few of hundreds.
It is my contention that intimacy as unified co-equal partners requires that we abandon the notion of sexual needs. Sexual intimacy must be seen as a symbol of the balance between unity and equality that should be paramount in our marriages.
If sex is classified as a need, and my spouse is required/expected to fulfill this need, then we may achieve unity - but not equality. It may also be possible for each to be independent of each other's needs - we may be equally satisfied, but we will not have unity.
The call of the gospel is to hold both unity and equality in perfect balance. The marriage unit should be an expression of the this balance, and intimacy should be an extension of it. Coercion in any form, including the characterization of sex as a need which trumps in some way, however small, is inappropriate and unbecoming a priesthood holder attempting to emulate and become more like God the Father.
S. Matthew Stearmer MS MS ABD
PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
GRA, Mershon Center for International Security Studies
The Ohio State University
III. V.H. Cassler
Quoting Charles Stanford, "Of course, that “need” can be tidily taken care of alone and in private, but since that is discouraged, what is a man to do?" I believe spontaneous nocturnal emissions are certainly part of that answer, aren't they? Or are our missionary elders walking around doubled over in pain all the time?
Stanford's comments bewilder me. He appears to be blaming LDS teachings/culture for the theme of "expectation of sex" by men in marriage. He feels we must figure out in better fashion what "expert moderation" of the sex drive for men would look like. But surely, then, the answer to that question is provided by Stearmer, isn't it? But then Stanford feels Stearmer is unrealistic. Ergo . . . . ? I get the feeling that Stanford's approach might result in new approaches to the sexual coercion of wives. Instead of just, "Honey, I've got physical needs here! Come to bed and satisfy them!," we would then get, "Honey, I've got spiritual needs here! Come to bed and satisfy them!" Stearmer's right--we would do better to deny ourselves that ungodliness and aspire for something far better. Time to re-read the JST version of Mark 9:40-48.
I am glad we have men like Stearmer in our faith community. Stearmer calls us to live a higher law of marriage; Stanford (I think; I am still a bit bewildered as to his true meaning) suggests that is a fairy tale. I'll vote with Stearmer--who, please note, is also a man--on this one.
IV. Charles Stanford, responding
Hmmm, with allies like me, who needs enemies? I'm sorry that my attempts at brevity cause confusion: in essence I was setting out the reasons why I agree with you (as well as presuming to suggest how you might bolster your arguments). I was furthermore pointing out the gap I have seen that still needs to be closed between your correct conclusions and what are still popular attitudes among Latter-day Saints. I would like to think that the tone and substance of discussions among young single men in the Church have changed concerning marriage since the late 1990s, because – from my own perspective again – there was still enough of an attitude of “once we get married we'll finally have our sexual needs met” to show a great need for a change. Thus my curiosity about any quantifying research that may exist.
Despite how much my slice of my generation were taught from the lessons of Corianton about crossing ourselves and the heinousness of sexual sin, despite how much we heard sex framed as the sacred powers of procreation, we still labored under the illusion that we did have a real need that we could expect to be met within marriage, and looked forward to that as a welcome release from the frustration of waiting. Coming face to face with the truth of the matter can be a shock when you've grown up with those attitudes, and therefore the need for an expert moderation: someone who undertakes to teach young men about sex is going to have to dig into some deep-rooted assumptions and deal with them head-on and relentlessly in order to help those young men's hearts come around to the truths you point out. To really make such an attempt is to risk alienating some of those young men, if they're too attached to their so-called needs, and that is a hypothesis I guess I didn't state clearly enough: that a fear of causing such alienation may lead leaders to lead the young men on, through various coded messages, to expect that if they can just hold out until they're married, that their wives will "take care of them."
And with that I'll draw my confounded prose to a close.
V. S. Matthew Stearmer, responding
I was afraid that there might be some misunderstanding. Thank you for continuing the discussion and clarifying your position.
I think that you are right that there is a generation of leaders who feel caught. Past cultural errors in our perceptions, teachings and metaphors are beginning to develop into new, or perhaps a more complete, understandings of human sexuality and "needs", including how we talk about modesty.
There is a lot of cultural baggage that needs to be undone. Thankfully we have modern revelation to help us. We can continue these conversations and begin to try to understand pure doctrine better. Or at least get closer to pure doctrine.
I'm afraid I must disagree with you almost entirely. I think you are coming at this with an assumption that the idea being promoted is that of men exercising unrighteous dominion over their wives for the purpose of sexual gratification. That is not the case, it is the other extreme, where the (usually) the wife is either selfish, uncaring of her husband, or so tied up in false ideas and irrational fears about sex that she rejects and refuses his advances to the point of harming the relationship.
Calling sex a need is not "socially constructing a new definition for the word". Needs are tied to objectives, food, air, and (in most climates) shelter are needed in order to remain alive. A driver's license is needed in order to drive a vehicle legally, a computer or other electronic device is needed to access the Internet. In that sense, a mutually satisfying sexual relationship is a need for a happy and healthy marriage relationship.
Notice I said mutually satisfying. If one spouse is satisfying their desire to have (or not have) sex at the expense of the other's happiness then that marriage is in trouble, it isn't sustainable. Chances are that to get to that point of mutual satisfaction both spouse will have to make some changes, such as shedding unChrist-like characteristics, overcoming false ideas about marriage and sexuality (like the 'Good Girl Syndrome' or the idea the sex is only for procreation) and developing more love and empathy and consideration and unselfishness when it comes to making their spouse happy. It will likely include one spouse developing a greater willingness to engage sexually, and the other spouse learning to accept their partner's unchangeable limitations with grace.
There are several times where Church leaders have said that both spouses must each put the happiness of the other first. In the April 2014 General Conference, Linda S. Reeves said:
"The intimate marriage relationship between a man and a woman that brings children into mortality is also meant to be a beautiful, loving experience that binds together two devoted hearts, unites both spirit and body, and brings a fulness of joy and happiness as we learn to put each other first. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that in marriage, “the spouse … becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and … [no] other interest [or] person [or] thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse."
The Apostle Paul taught that " The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." (1 Cor 7:4) He also said " Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time," (1Cor 7:5). By 'defraud' he meant sexually refuse, withholding from your spouse what you pledged by marriage to give.
I also take exception with the claim that anything that 'creates hierarchy, especially between spouses, must be renounced for the evil it is'. God himself created a hierarchy between spouses placing the husband as the head of the home. You need look no further than the very first covenant made in the endowment for proof of that.
I'm not saying that a husband has a right to compel sexual compliance from his wife resorting to unrighteous dominion, but a wife is obligated to accept his leadership as long as he is not leading her into rebellion against God. A righteous desire trumps a selfish desire, and the desire of a husband to be intimate with his wife is a righteous desire, even a commandment. If she has a selfish desire to do her own thing and not be with him he is not justified in compelling her, but she is still in the wrong to act that way and it will harm their relationship. Likewise in those cases where a wife desires intimacy with her husband, he is obligated to put her righteous desire above his desire to do his own thing.
I agree that sex is not always intimacy, but it can be if they both choose to make it that way. It it is never intimacy for one spouse to reject another over and over and have no consideration for the hurt it causes, or the unfilled longings that will exist. Now if a spouse is simply unable to engage in sexual activity (illness, exhaustion, unable to set aside the time due to other commitments etc.), that is not rejection or selfishness, it's just bad timing. I'm talking about cases where a spouse has the opportunity and capability to make a choice to willingly and happily get intimate with their spouse, but they instead choose to put some lesser thing as a higher priority and turn their spouse away, or choose to resentfully dole out some 'duty sex' which is also unfulfilling and harmful to the relationship. Those who are on the receiving end of such treatment would call it emotional abuse or neglect.
I also disagree with you about spousal obligation. Neither spouse legitimately can find sexual fulfillment in their lives in any other way except from their spouse. By agreeing to marry somebody they take on that obligation to meet their partner's relationship needs including the need for sexual fulfillment as best they can, just as when they have a child they take on the obligation of meeting the baby's needs for physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual nurturing. They are not obligated to some specific frequency of sexual activity, but they are obligated to do the best they can to be there for their spouse.
Unity is only harmed where there is either selfishness or a lack of understanding. If one spouse doesn't understand their partner's needs, or rejects the legitimacy of what their partner says their needs are, then there will be disunity. If one spouse cares more about themselves than their spouse, then there will be disunity also. If both are unselfish and understand what their spouse needs to feel loved and fulfilled, they will each go out of their way to do those things for their spouse without resentment. They will find joy in serving their spouse and meeting their needs even when that means doing something that is only a benefit to their spouse.
As Elder Eyring said at the Vatican:
"Where there is selfishness, natural differences of men and women often divide. Where there is unselfishness, differences become complementary and provide opportunities to help and build each other...We must find ways to lead people to a faith that they can replace their natural self-interest with deep and lasting feelings of charity and benevolence. With that change, and only then, will people be able to make the hourly unselfish sacrifices necessary for a happy marriage and family life—and to do it with a smile."
As for those who are constantly refused and then fall into sexual sin, If all you meant was that nobody can commit adultery and claim to be sinless because of how their spouse treats them, I agree, but circumstances are not meaningless. Every good Bishop who has the unhappy task of dealing with such situations takes such things into account. Nobody gets a free pass, but God is merciful and understanding. A person who is put into a vulnerable position by a refusing spouse and makes a one-time slip up he quickly regrets when some other woman offers him the affection he is starving for should not be dealt with as harshly as a man who frequently and gleefully cheats on a good wife multiple times with multiple women. Both have to repent and face consequences, but there is no justice in pushing them both the same.
I would encourage you to reconsider your views. Read some good books on marriage like "And they were not Ashamed" by Laura Brotherson. Perhaps visit my blog as well at http://latterday-marriage.blogspot.com. I see this article is a bit old but I hope you can include my comments still.
VII. S. Matthew Stearmer responds to Emile Paul:
As soon as one's justification requires an appeal to authority and positions one's desires over another you have allowed a system of coercion to seep into the relationship. While you and your spouse may agree to this arrangement and may be personally happy, it is still, nonetheless, a system of control. These platitudes are the exact same justifications use to perpetuate emotional and spiritual abuse in many marriages. They come from a position of privilege and at best lead to a benign dictatorship, but a dictatorship nonetheless. It is not sustainable, nor godly.
VIII. VH Cassler responds to Emile Paul
Emile, I don't think you got the memo about "equal partnership" between husbands and wives from the Brethren. Your statement that, "a wife is obligated to accept his leadership as long as he is not leading her into rebellion against God," is antithetical to LDS doctrine. Consider even a few recent quotes--
President James E. Faust: “Every father is to his family a patriarch and every mother a matriarch as coequals in their distinctive parental roles.” “The Prophetic Voice,” Ensign, May 1996, p.4
Elder L. Tom Perry: “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward. (Elder L. Tom Perry, Church News, 10 April 2004:15; audio version of that General Conference, also.)
Elder Earl C. Tingey: "You must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to us. We walk side by side with a helpmeet, not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other." http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,538-1-4399-1,00.html
Elder Bruce C. Hafen: “Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to “rule over” Eve, but. . . over in “rule over” uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over. . . . The concept of interdependent equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam’s “help meet” (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.”
(Elder Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, Ensign, August 2007, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” 24-29)
Please allow your wife to read these quotations from our General Authorities, so that she won't be led into "rebellion against God."