A French Court Ruled that a Woman has a “Marital Duty” to have Sex with her Husband

Hello, 1950s? It’s Paris calling.

Photo by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

In a brutal return to a time when husbands had a legal right over their wives’ bodies, a French court found a woman to be solely at fault in her divorce from her husband in 2019 on the grounds of her refusing sex. The Cour de Cassation, one of France’s four courts of last appeal, said it constituted a “serious and repeated violation of the obligations of marriage, making the maintenance of a shared life intolerable” for him. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Lilia Mhissen, described the ruling as a “miscarriage of justice” and “completely archaic and medieval.” “I think it’s completely scandalous that we can turn the institution of marriage into one of sexual servitude for women,” she said. “The lack of intimate relations after thirty years of marriage should not, in itself, be a factor making communal life impossible.”

The woman has now lodged a legal appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. She is being represented by two NGOs, la Fondation des Femmes (the foundation of women) and the Collectif féministe contre le viol (feminist collective against rape). They are appealing the decision on the grounds of “intrusion into her private life and violation of her physical integrity.”

In a joint statement, they called the ruling “archaic”, saying it “denied women the right to consent or not to sexual relations” in marriage. “Marriage is not and should not be a sexual servitude,” it continues, pointing out that 47% of recorded rape cases in France are committed by spouses or former spouses.

In her original legal action, the woman said that her refusal to have sex was due to her poor health and the fact that her husband was violent towards her.

Schizophrenic Laws: Marital Rape is Illegal, Marital Duty is Enforced

Marital rape was outlawed in France in 2006, but several articles in the civil code allow room to judges for archaic interpretations, writes RFI. Over the past 20 years, there have been an estimated 10 cases when people were condemned for refusing sex to their spouses. In 2011, an appeal court in Aix-en-Provence sentenced a husband to pay €10,000 to his wife because their sexual relations were “insufficient.”

It is completely schizophrenic for a justice system to outlaw marital rape on the one hand, while making it an offense to refuse sex with your spouse. This ruling effectively marks a return to the idea that spouses are “owed” sex by their partner, which is a slippery slope. It gives weight to husbands who would pressure their partners and make them feel guilty for not wanting to have sex. In fact, it gives them a legal foundation. There can be no true consent knowing that the other person can demand a divorce if you refuse sex. Purely and simply, the notion of “duty” has no place in consensual sex.

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