“But I have needs too!” he protested.
“Of course. And I do recognise that sexual urges can be powerful,” I said. “But you cannot force yourself on your wife.”
It took a while for Peter to process what I just said. Why not, he might be thinking. If a man is married to his wife, shouldn’t he be entitled to sex?
“Peter,” I coaxed him. “Do you love your wife?”
He nodded slowly. I could sense the pain in him trying to reconcile what he heard with his own personal views. Peter had come to me with his problem a week ago. His wife had run away from home and stayed at her parent’s home. They had a big quarrel. The night after the quarrel, Peter wanted to reconcile. In the process of coaxing of wife, he had a sexual urge and demanded sex. His wife refused. That was when he forced himself on her. The next day, his wife left home. Desperate, and sensing that he had aggravated the situation, he came to me to seek advice.
“Love is not possession, Peter. You have to understand that although Lucy is your lawful wife, she is her own person. You have to respect that. If there is any issue, talk and negotiate kindly. You should not have forced yourself on her.”
“It’s all about consent,” I said further. Peter was obviously uncomfortable with the subject. But he must know that marriage does not mean that the man can violate the right of the woman over her own body. Furthermore, marriage ought to be based on mutual respect and love, not coercion or worse, involves force.
Under Singapore law, non-consensual sex between a married couple in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse, is considered rape under section 375 of the Penal Code. After explaining to him, Peter realised the gravity of the situation. He told me that this was the first time that he had committed the offence. “There is no guarantee you will not do it again,” I told him.
Peter agreed that he must make amends with Lucy and seek her forgiveness. But this is not enough. They must work on their marriage. This week, they are seeing a marriage counsellor to discuss their marital problems. Lucy was prepared to offer him another chance. And Peter had promised to respect, cherish and love his wife without ever forcing himself on her.
The challenge for us men is to accept that marriage is an equal partnership between a man and a woman. Although both are entitled to sex within the marriage, it is not a blanket consent. Individual rights to the body do not dissolve upon marriage, just as both have responsibilities to each other. Any non-consensual sex therefore is a violation of the individual’s integrity and hence, constitute rape when penetration occurs. Marital rape is no different from other rape where force is used against a person’s wish. It is an exercise of power on the part of the perpetrator against the victim. This is hardly what a marriage should be like. It is thus a form of domestic violence.
As I explained this, Peter was quietly processing the information in his head. Probably he had not thought of this before. But there is always a starting point to unlearn and relearn. Learning is important. Hopefully, it will also alter behaviours. If one can agree that marriage should be about love and compassion, why would anyone condone marital rape, which is based on fear, coercion and violence?
I’m glad that Peter had approached me at an early stage before things got worse. Early intervention is important. The openness to accept mistakes and the willingness to change are so important in a marriage. No marriage is perfect – there are bound to be disagreements and quarrels. But violence is not the solution. And forcing sex on your wife is a form of violence that is unacceptable. That is why marital rape is viewed seriously under the law. This is something that I hope more couples will be made aware of. Like Peter.