One of the most frightening concepts to survive its voyage into the modern world is “Lie back and think of England.” It’s the notion that women do not enjoy sex, but have a duty to let it happen to them. It’s also the sentencing to a lifetime of bad sex.
Marital rape, which is when one spouse forces the other into sexual relations because sex is considered a marital duty, wasn’t fully criminalized in the United States until 1993. The actual process to criminalize this type of rape started in the 1970s, but the amount of pushback was so great, it took decades for it to be finalized.
Even after the criminalization of marital rape, the notion that spouses are sexually obligated to each other is still rampant. Senator Dick Black from Virginia said “I don’t know how on earth you could validly get a conviction in a husband-wife rape when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie and so forth.” This is the same guy that called birth control “baby pesticides,” but that’s a different article.
Another example comes from a United States presidential candidate’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. When allegations that Trump sexually assaulted his first wife, Ivana, his lawyer’s response to a reporter was “You can’t rape your spouse.” That’s a legally incorrect statement. From a lawyer.
“Lie back and think of England” also refers to an acceptance of a lifetime of bad sex, even when sex is wanted. Some television shows use an understanding of this concept by using the line to express the unpleasantness of a situation that might not be sexual at all. Take Man vs. Wild, probably the least sexiest show after anything on the Fishing Channel. It was used while the host demonstrated how to use an enema to absorb nutrients without consuming dirty water.
The line “lie back and think of Torchwood” was used on the show Torchwood when a character is tending to another’s gunshot wound. An enema and a gunshot wound to parallel a lifetime of unsatisfactory sex. That sounds about right.
All of this to say that even today, we’re ingrained with the belief that sex is a responsibility. Intellectually, we know it’s more than that, but little lines that we use as jokes today, such as “Lie back and think of England,” are supposed to be reminders of a time where sex was so scandalous, the queen herself told her daughter those very words before she went to bed with her husband for the first time. Even that, however, is a historical inaccuracy. Queen Victoria’s journals, after having some portions censored by her family, showed that Her Majesty actually enjoyed sex. A lot. She would even give her husband erotic paintings as gifts. And while sex talk wasn’t welcomed in public settings at the time, the people’s private lives would make many of us blush, or vomit, today. Early pornographic images depicted more than the Biblical missionary position. They also depicted rape, incest and bestiality.
So we’ve carried a line that was possibly never actually said by an authority figure into our new, modern world – for what, exactly? You tell me.
Lie back and think of a reason to keep it around.
Image by Anna.
Gem Blackthorn is QMT's Sex Columnist, and the author/curator of Lust Thrust Thursdays. Send her your submissions and questions at sexsexsex [at] queenmobs.com