Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

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Jonah
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Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby Jonah » Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:45 pm

I received the following question. I gave a brief answer (at bottom), but didn't really know what to say. The person asking has approved my posting his question to the forum, in case anyone has a more complete answer. Thanks!

He asks:

My wife is Bahai. I'm reluctant (out of shame) to ask this question but I need to know about the answer. My wife refuses to have sexual relationship with me, which puts me in pressure. I need it 2 or 3 times per week but she refuses that deliberately. Do you consider this behavior as sin? Is there any teaching about this problem? Could you provide me with a reference? What can I do?


This was my off-the-cuff response:

That's a tricky question, and I don't have an answer. Have you read the few articles on the topic at the Library: http://bahai-library.com/title/sexuality ? You might also find some helpful guidance in http://bahai-library.com/nyc_unrestrained_as_wind . I can observe that the Baha'i Faith does not recognize the concept of sin.

brettz9
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby brettz9 » Wed Aug 28, 2013 10:51 pm

Hi Jonah,

Indeed a delicate question, and I hope one by which the questioner can find a loving resolution.

Here is a wiki page on the topic: http://bahai9.com/wiki/Satisfying_one%2 ... ge_partner (and its child link, http://bahai9.com/wiki/Physical_and_spi ... n_marriage ).

Notice the quotes like:

"some may need to restrain this quality [of sensuality], others may need to foster a greater warmth of feeling."


"He suggests to you that perhaps you are not giving your husband enough of your love, physically and spiritually, to keep his interest centred in you."


"The true marriage of Bahá'ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually".


That being said, in another connection, the House of Justice did state, "The consummation of marriage by a couple is, as you aptly state, an intimate and private matter outside the scrutiny of others." (see http://bahai9.com/wiki/Consummation_of_marriage ) and:

Bahá'u'lláh has urged marriage upon all people as the natural and rightful way of life. He has also, however, placed strong emphasis on its spiritual nature, which, while in no way precluding a normal physical life, is the most essential aspect of marriage. That two people should live their lives in love and harmony is of far greater importance than that they should be consumed with passion for each other. The one is a great rock of strength on which to lean in time of need; the other a purely temporary thing which may at any time die out."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to Mr. John Stearns, January 20, 1943--the first pioneer to Ecuador)


The above on sex being a private matter and subject to potentially dieing out, does not I think negate at all the earlier words and referenced quotes on marriage also needing to be a physical union.

I think the balance is well described by Shoghi Effendi in a letter on his behalf:

"The Institution of marriage as established by Bahá'u'lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union, considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions with which it has been invested by an all-wise and loving Providence. Only when these different values are given each their due importance, and only on the basis of the subordination of the physical to the moral, and the carnal to the spiritual, can such excesses and laxity in marital relations as our decadent age is so sadly witnessing be avoided, and family life be restored to its original purity, and fulfil the true function for which it has been instituted by God."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, May 8, 1939: Family Life, pp. 18-19)


And maybe this might apply (in connection with give and take):

"In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other. In short, the relationship between husband and wife should be as held forth in the prayer revealed by Abdu'l-Bahá which is often read at Bahá'í weddings: 'Verily they are married in obedience to Thy command. Cause them to become the signs of harmony and unity until the end of time.[+F1 (Bahá'í Prayers, p. 107, 1982 ed.)]'"

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand, December 28, 1980)


So, in summary, although this is a private manner (unless a couple wished to seek advice about it), and it of course would most definitely not justify any slight kind of forceful attempt at resolution, from a moral point of view, willfully and perpetually withholding sex appears to me by the above to be clearly against the spirit of the Writings of the Faith.

Even a lack of attraction is presumably not an excuse for failing to seek the advised physical union with one's partner since divorce is not permitted on grounds of a lack of attraction or sexual compatibility/harmony: http://bahai9.com/wiki/Divorce#Divorce_ ... nd_wife.29

As far as sin, the Faith may not have the concept of "original sin" nor a preponderance of overwhelming and non-constructive guilt and shame sometimes associated with the word, but the concept of "sin" exists--it is used frequently in the Writings in the same sense as in the wider society: an evil action for which repentance should be sought and future actions corrected (e.g., "Certainly for an intelligent man death is better than sin", SAQ, p. 265).

Take care,
Brett

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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby MontanaDon » Thu Aug 29, 2013 5:03 am

Believe it or not, this was an early issue taken to the House of Justice, before the summer of 1966. There is an unpublished letter to the USNSA which says that a refusal to engage in any sexual relations can be taken as *A* sign of estrangement, but is not a sufficient basis for divorce by itself. It was cited in a letter from the USNSA to an LSA in 1965/6. That case involved a young non-Baha'i woman who asked if the refusal of her Baha'i husband to engage in sexual relations was grounds for divorce.
It was included in the first draft of DDBC (now Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies) sent to the House of Justice in 1969/70 (I rcvd a preview copy of the section on divorce in the summer of 1969) but the House of Justice said that it, along w/ some other materials, should not be included.
I was told after DDBC was published that a big issue that delayed its publication was that the House of Justice wanted it to emphasize the principles involved and the USNSA kept trying to insert specifics.
[Side note: the young woman above did get a divorce. About 10 years later, late 70's, she declared and served on the LSA w/ her ex-husband.]
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brettz9
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby brettz9 » Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:47 am

Interesting...Thanks for the "legal" perspective. "Estrangement" is listed as one possible factor for divorce at http://bahai9.com/wiki/Divorce#Conditions_for_divorce , but it is very clear that "divorce is strongly condemned, and should be viewed as 'a last resort' when 'rare and urgent circumstances' exist, and that the partner who is the 'cause of divorce' will 'unquestionably' become the 'victim of formidable calamities'."

It seems some may gravitate to the outward law, however, so as to see what one can "get away with" whereas the Writings are trying to upraise our moral character in a holistic manner. Although divorce is technically easy in the Faith (per this quote, I believe the reason may be to avoid even worse situations harmfully impacting the wider environment such as with children), there are quotes on the other side like this which can be too easily ignored:

"There is no doubt about it that the believers in America, probably unconsciously influenced by the extremely lax morals prevalent and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevailing, do not take divorce seriously enough and do not seem to grasp the fact that although Bahá'u'lláh has permitted it, He has only permitted it as a last resort and strongly condemns it.

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, December 19, 1947: Ibid., p. 5, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1309)

njoy
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby njoy » Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:17 pm

Sex is something you do for a purpose: to make babies, enjoy intimacy, relieve stress, placate someone ... Placating" (defined as an action taken to "make someone less angry or hostile") can be a choice, but if it's somehow enforced is this not the very definition of rape and/or sexual slavery? Also, It would be difficult (if not impossible) to force a man to placate a woman sexually and, these days, the law could hardly apply only to women. Especially Baha'i women.

It seems to me that the asker is going to have to think about how he might become a more attractive sexual partner. If that is impossible, sorry to say his alternatives are limited.

brettz9
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby brettz9 » Tue Oct 15, 2013 1:57 am

Hello njoy,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Certainly the moral and often most constructive thing to do is to focus on what one can do. But there can also be a need for justice. While you are right that it should of course not be enforced, justice can also come from a recognized authority (in this case God through His Manifestation and successors) which can correct people and impel people with a sense of duty or possibly shame without any kind of imposed pressure. It is like the justice brought by parents correcting their children (which doesn't seem to happen enough these days in the moral context). It is possible that awareness of such quotations may indeed bring a change of behavior. Religion is a demonstrably powerful motivator in and of itself without external motivations.

As far as placating, I don't think anyone can expect 100%. But as "a law [expressed by Baha'u'llah] between a man and a woman...applies mutatis mutandis as between a woman and a man unless the context should make this impossible." (Notes to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, no. 133), I do think this principle indeed ought to apply for both men and women, but the enforcement must come internally (even if an external source brings it to their attention).

njoy
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby njoy » Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:48 am

I had a friend who might have been the young wife whose husband refused to have sexual relations with her. She consulted the Assembly they both served on and the consultation concluded that, serious as the situation was, it was not grounds for Baha'i divorce. I was outraged, at the time, until the wife admitted she hadn't told the Assembly that her husband was bringing home his male lovers!

Her reasoning? "He would be terribly embarrassed if I brought that up in public". I think we are going to have to leave this conundrum between the poster and his wife. Interesting topic, though.

MontanaDon
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Re: Baha'i teachings re withholding sex in marriage

Postby MontanaDon » Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:44 am

Actually, he belonged to a segment w/in the Faith that were convinced that sexual activity other than for the purpose of procreation was at the least discouraged.

There were a few of these people on-line when I first got on-line in 93/94.

Don C
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