When She Says “No”

A follow-up to the article “She Only Said ‘Yes’ Once“.

My wife said “yes” to me 15 years ago on a beautiful July morning in rural Ohio.  She gave everything to me in that moment, and I gave everything to her.  She has never had to say “yes” again.  I can watch her get dressed (and undressed) without asking permission.  I can touch her, kiss her, and make intimate advances as freely as my heart desires.  She has these same permissions from me, which I granted to her, all at once, when I promised all of myself to her at the altar all those years ago.

We do not have to ask for permission.  We are not children playing at an adult’s game.  We are not teenagers crossing boundaries that could put us in jail, scar us physically and emotionally, transmit a disease, or unexpectedly introduce a new human life into a desperate situation.

I am a man who belongs to one woman.  She is a woman who belongs to one man.  We did not enslave each other, nor were we forced into this arrangement.  This was our choice and promise.  We gave ourselves to each other until death separates us.  That was our pledge, completely and without reservation.

People don’t like it when I talk like this about marriage – even if it’s only my marriage.

Since I published “She Only Said ‘Yes’ Once“, more than a million people from all over the world have read it.  While a lot of people understood exactly what I was saying, a lot of people think I’m condoning “spousal rape”.  They think that a husband should always ask permission before touching his wife, before kissing her, before glancing at her in the shower.

(By the way, am I the only one who steals an occasional glance at his wife in the shower? My word, I didn’t expect that comment to drive people so nuts.)

It boils down to this: they wrongly think that marriage relationships must operate in the same way as a premarital sexual relationship.  There is really no functional difference in their minds between the two.  The husband should always ask permission.  The wife should always ask permission.  Each sexual encounter between man and wife should proceed as if the two were teenagers sneaking around in the back of a car.

This is insane, but this is where we’re at in the world.  When they read about my wife’s gift of herself to me on our wedding day, they imagine a horrifying existence for her where I, the villain, fall upon her forcefully, whether she wants me to or not…insisting night after night that I’m fully within my rights for doing so.

Such a scenario would indeed be horrific, but it’s no less horrifying than taking the beautiful reality of marriage and demeaning it to the essence of that nightmare.

I maintain the following truth: when I approach my wife intimately, I do not have to ask her permission.  Here’s why:

In a marriage, the husband and wife are not wrong for desiring one another, or acting naturally on those desires.  It should be understood between the two of them that sexual advancement is not only permissible, but expected.  So I never have to wait for a “yes” before touching my wife.  Unlike what’s being taught to children in schools (which I have never condemned, by the way), I do not have to ask for my wife’s permission at every stage of an intimate encounter.

I don’t have to say, “Honey, is it okay for me to take this off now?  Is it okay to put this hand here now?  Is it okay to do this, and then this, and then this?”

Permission for sex has been granted in a marriage relationship!

But here’s the part that all of my would-be accusers need to understand about a biblical view of sex in marriage:  that doesn’t mean that my wife can never say “no” or “stop” or “don’t”.

And here is the important distinction between “She Only Said ‘Yes’ Once” and spousal rape:

It is never okay to violently take something that’s being withheld from you – even if it’s been promised beforehand.

Just because the Bible says that my body belongs to my wife, and her body belongs to me, that doesn’t give either of us the right to take it by force.  If my wife withholds her body, which she is obviously in possession of, I have no right to take it by force.  That’s obvious!  The Christian man or woman is NEVER given the right to take their possession by force, in any situation that I can possibly think of!

If my neighbor owes me money he’s previously promised, I don’t have any right to storm into his home with a baseball bat, assault him, and take what’s mine.  If that behavior is evil in a neighborly relationship, then how much more evil would I be to assault my own wife?

I have promised to love and cherish and protect her!  In light of these promises, no one – in good conscience – could possibly do such a thing.

And, of course, there are good and legitimate reasons for a wife to say “no” to an intimate advance.  There are physical reasons, as well as emotional and spiritual reasons.  So while the husband should not have to assume that his wife will refuse him, neither should he ever – under any circumstance – proceed by force when she has told him “no”.

To do so would be unequivocally cruel, evil, and criminal. And this should go without saying! No Christian should have to be told that he’s not allowed to assault his wife.  Any many who thinks that’s morally acceptable is so out of touch with Christian living that it’s incomprehensible how the Holy Spirit could be at work in his life at all.

When a man and wife say “yes” to each other in marriage, they are granting permission for a life-long intimacy between them.  There is an umbrella of “yes” that shades the entire marriage union from that day on.  The rightful expectation of both man and wife, from that point on, should be a “yes” from their spouse – but there will undoubtedly be occasions of “no”.  And when those occasional “no’s” come, they are always to be acknowledged and respected, whether for good reason or a bad one.


This should be obvious, but based on the reactions of many, it’s not.  My wife only said “yes” once, but she’s said “no” a thousand times and I’ve honored every one of them, loving her all the same.