IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT 19 KIDS AND COUNTING MATRIARCH MICHELLE DUGGAR believes women should always be available for sex. Her family subscribes to the idea of “Biblical Patriarchy” — an ultra-conservative Christian doctrine that blames women for men’s sexual sins, from lust to pedophilia and rape. But Michelle’s recent comments regarding sexual dynamics within marriage have dangerous consequences for anyone who takes her seriously, including members of her own family.
In an October 8 blog post on the Duggar Family website, Michelle wrote: “And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels. ‘I’m still here for you and I’m going to meet that need because I know it’s a need for you.'”
The “availability” Michelle refers to is, of course, sexual. She reminds the wives in her audience that they are the only people who can appease their husbands’ sexual appetites. Even if she has been home all day, heavily pregnant, cleaning and cooking and caring for small children, a woman must submit to sex with her husband if and when he demands it. If he commits adultery after his wife has spurned him, the majority of the blame falls on her shoulders, because she did not “meet his needs.”
Within the Biblical Patriarchy movement, no man is expected to curtail his sexual impulses in deference to his wife’s feelings. Because the movement eschews choices in higher education, romantic partners, and work outside the home in favor of forced domesticity, arranged marriage, and unfettered childbearing, a woman’s divine purpose is to be an abiding wife. It is not her place to criticize her husband; even his infidelity is her fault.
Michelle’s comments would be worthy of a side-eye, at most, were it not for recent events concerning her firstborn son, Josh. The Duggars lost their long-running TLC show following the revelation that Josh molested several of his younger sisters as a teen — a crime for which he went largely unpunished, and for which his sisters received no known counseling. After the Ashley Madison hack revealed Josh had two accounts on the infidelity matchmaking service, adult film stars came forward to say they had sex with Josh while his wife, Anna, was pregnant, pushing the family back into the spotlight.
The public questioned whether Anna — who knew about her husband’s sex crimes before they married — would divorce Josh for adultery. In most Christian communities, even conservative ones, a divorce for Anna would be well within doctrine. However, as an anonymous source told People in August:
Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him[.] She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children. … Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.
Even though Anna was raised in the Biblical Patriarchy subculture, at least one member of her family repeatedly expressed his desires to remove her from the Duggars’ influence. Daniel, Anna’s brother, revealed in a series of Facebook comments that he had offered his sister and her children a place to stay if she wanted out. But it seems he is fighting a losing battle, as he observed:
my parents are preaching stay w him. There more interested in how there daughter getting a divorce will make then look then they are in trying to truly get josh some help and getting Anna and the kids out of there until he has gotten that help [sic].
Anna is trapped, not only in what we can assume to be a very unhappy marriage, but also in a situation that places her and her future children in peril. Josh’s infidelity puts him at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and, because Anna is already being told that her husband’s affairs are the result of her failure to provide for him sexually, she is now caught in a vicious cycle that coerces her into sex — read: marital rape — in order to prevent further indiscretions on Josh’s part and “save” their marriage.
Given Biblical Patriarchy’s views on contraception, it’s highly unlikely the couple would use condoms, meaning Josh would pass along any infections to his — quite possibly pregnant — wife. Those STDs could very well kill Anna’s children and render her infertile, destroying her purpose in the Duggars’ brand of Christianity.
Obviously, this isn’t just about Anna, but anyone who subscribes to similar ideals of Biblical Patriarchy. Sanctioning marital rape by coercing women into unwanted, risky sexual practices puts whole families in jeopardy. For those who take the Duggars seriously, Michelle’s comments could prove fatal.