The focal points for this “conflict” interpretation are the word desire and the English future tenses. Ron and Beverly Allen (Liberated Traditionalism, page 124) state that “the desire spoken of here is a desire to usurp [the husband’s] leadership. That is, in addition to pain in childbearing, the curse on the woman produces conflict between herself and her husband.” The future tenses suggest that the conflict will continue through time. In this view she wants to rule but he has the leadership role.
This interpretation, however, is not a foregone conclusion. The usurping of leadership idea attached to the word desire has to be transported into the text. The word simply refers to an urge, craving, impulse, longing (William L. Holladay, Editor, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon). The context must determine the reason for such feelings, and Genesis 3:16 speaks clearly about childbearing not leadership.
Furthermore, neither of the other two uses in the Old Testament (Genesis 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10, English) states or implies a leadership conflict in their respective contexts. This is eminently clear in the Song of Solomon, “I belong to my lover, And his desire is for me” (NIV). The crouching animal in the imagery of Genesis 4:7 also has no innate aspirations for leadership but does have an inborn desire to satisfy hunger. To read a leadership conflict into this verse distorts the literary imagery. As in Genesis 3:16, the immediate contextual issue is the satisfying of a biological need.
Also, the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb to rule can but need not have simple future reference. The Imperfect of Obligation (Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline) is very possible here as it is in 4:7 where the same verb is so translated in the NIV, “you must master [have dominion over] it.” Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are remarkably similar (3:16, וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּךְ׃ and 4:7, וְאֵלֶיךָ תְּשׁוּקָתו וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל־בּו׃—I had to remove two holem vowels because the program won’t display them accurately!) and the probabilities are high that the syntax of both verses is the same, the first reference setting the pattern for the second unless some textual clue makes a differentiation which is not the case in Genesis 4:7. The most natural idea that fits both passages equally well is that of obligation. The Genesis 3:16 clauses would then read, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he must have dominion over you.”
The broader context of Genesis 3:16 is Eve’s unintentional reversal of authority outlined by the order of creation as stated by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:
13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
(For an exegetical discussion of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 email me [firstname.lastname@example.org] for a Word formatted copy of my paper “How Childbearing Saves Women.”)
Genesis 3:16 provided the solution for the woman’s transgression. The woman by biological nature is the subordinate partner in the conception of children. Her innate need for children, the immediate context of the last two clauses of Genesis 3:16, moves her to sexually desire her husband, the dominant partner. This natural relationship should remind her of her subordinate role in the family structure.
An interpretive paraphrase of Genesis 3:16 may read like this: The woman’s inborn need for children means that she will desire her husband sexually who is the dominant partner and without whose cooperation children cannot be conceived. A “battle of the sexes” there may be, but Genesis 3:16 is not its source.