When we follow Jesus, Jesus’ teachings don’t harm us.
That is a foundational principle of the Christian life–Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He hears our cry. He protects us. He loves us. He leads us to still waters.
When we follow Jesus, then, we should grow in health and wholeness. We should be transformed.
We should become more and more who we were meant to be.
But what if, in reading our evangelical sex & marriage books, our marriages are actually made worse?
That’s what our huge research project, that turned into The Great Sex Rescue, which launches on Tuesday, was meant for. And today I thought I’d share an excerpt from the last chapter, where we explain why we did this, and how this whole thing got started in the first place.
This chapter is at the very end of the book, after we’ve already made our case. We’ve shown which evangelical teachings have decreased women’s sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction and increased sexual pain (teachings that we’ve been sharing on all our latest podcasts!). We’ve made reasoned arguments about what is a more biblical way to look at sex.
And now we explain why we got started in the first place.
In reading all of these bestselling Christian sex and marriage books, we found ourselves dumbfounded by how little is being asked of men. Of the thirteen Christian bestsellers we analyzed on our rubric, only three books asked all the following of husbands:
- stay faithful (without offering caveats)
- make sex pleasurable for her
- do not insist or expect sex of any kind when your wife is physically or emotionally unwell
- seek consent from your wife
Some books asked for one or two, some gave caveats, but only three of the thirteen best-selling Christian marriage and sex books charged men to stay faithful, give their wives good sex, and not rape them. (The average book asked 1.85 of these requirements.)
However, these same books that couldn’t ask the bare minimum of men asked, on average, over five of the following of women (and five books asked all of them):
- Have intercourse as frequently as the husband would like.
- Have intercourse even if he is watching porn or has a lust problem.
- Understand that without intercourse, her husband is more likely to have an affair, and if he does, it will be partly her fault.
- Help him reach climax in some way even when she is on her period, recovering from postpartum and not sleeping, or during any other problem she may face, since her problems are not reasons to refuse sex.
- Prevent weight gain to stay attractive.
- Let her husband feel that he is a good lover (without necessarily any caveat that he should actually be a good lover).
- Initiate intercourse and be enthusiastic.
We are not saying that all of these requirements are bad (although some clearly are). What is so stark is the contrast between how much is expected of women and how little is expected of men.
I (Sheila) have been writing and speaking about Christian marriage, and specifically sex, for over seventeen years. But until recently, I never read other Christian marriage or sex books because I was afraid I’d inadvertently plagiarize someone. I assumed, though, that because these authors knew Jesus, they must be speaking truth.
So I recommended. I trusted. I endorsed.
Then, after being prompted by a Twitter conversation, I read Love & Respect in the winter of 2019. My whole world fell apart. I was horrified that the sex chapter in Love & Respect is aimed only at women (since, in Eggerichs’s conception, sex is only a man’s need). Here’s my summary of what he says to women about sex:
- Men need intercourse, while women don’t, and wives must have intercourse or their husbands will feel disrespected and then may cheat.
- Wives must sympathize with men’s lust problems.
- A wife must be sympathetic if a husband wants her to lose weight, even if he’s been watching porn.
- It is a sin to say no to intercourse, regardless of what she is feeling, or even if he is abusive (since you must give him unconditional respect, which includes sex, even if he is scaring you with his “withering rage” to the point that you want to “get away and hide”).
Yet what are men asked to do in the bedroom? Absolutely nothing. There was not even passing reference to making sex good for her too.
As disheartening as reading Love & Respect was, it also changed the course of our work and ministry. Until then, we were working with blinders on as we created helpful resources to improve people’s marriages and sex lives. Once we read it, we realized that we needed to do far more. People could take our courses, read our blog and books, and listen to our podcast to their heart’s content, but if they were still getting this poisonous marriage doctrine, good content alone wouldn’t fully fix the problem. We needed to give people explicit permission to reject the aspects of the evangelical zeitgeist that were holding them back.
We started on a small scale. We compiled a report summarizing hundreds of women’s comments from our blog, including many who found that Love & Respect enabled abuse, and sent it to Focus on the Family, which published the book and still heavily promotes it. I’ve been featured on the Focus on the Family broadcast three times and have been well received. I honestly thought they would listen. But after being presented with hundreds of stories of marriages made worse by this teaching, Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, issued a statement declaring the book helpful: “Focus on the Family maintains that Love & Respect has a biblically sound, empowering message for husbands and wives.”
We thought that if we presented them with stories of hurt from hundreds of women, there was no way they wouldn’t listen. But they didn’t.
So we decided to go bigger, and that’s where this book got started. We decided to conduct the largest, most scientifically sound research project into Christian women’s experience of sex and marriage that has been done to date, and we recruited twenty thousand women to help us. Several hundred women, apparently, can be ignored. We hope the voices of twenty thousand will make people listen.
The problems we have discussed in this book can be summarized in this woman’s comment:
In our first months of marriage I would beg my husband to slow down, and he never would because he was afraid sex would stop and he would be left hanging. Several years ago, in tearful post-sex frustration, I explained to him that he left me feeling that way every time we have sex. I saw a light- bulb go off, but he quickly put it out, saying, “We’ll just have to work on catching you up,” rolled over, and went to sleep. Nothing ever changed. My husband had multiple partners before marriage and I was a virgin. So he really thinks he’s a great lover and I just don’t appreciate him. I tried to explain his attitude is killing our sex life, but he thinks my lack of interest is killing it. I love my husband and sometimes I do want sex, but when I think about how he’s going to jump straight to intercourse and I’m going to be left disappointed, why put myself through it? How different would my marriage be if the marriage classes we took taught him he’s responsible for making sex feel good for me? Instead he has learned that I owe him sex, our sex life is bad because we don’t have sex every three days, and if he chooses to have an affair, it’s my fault for not giving him enough sex. Oh, and it’s my job to make him believe I enjoy sex even if I don’t. How can a wife even begin to combat all this bad teaching and be heard?
Our call to the evangelical church is that our resources should lead women like this commenter to feel protected, not dismissed, and should lead men like her husband to feel convicted, not validated.
Up until now, the vast majority of evangelical books that taught us about sex mostly wrote from the perspective of the author or pastor.
They didn’t use real research–or, if they did, it was poorly done.
Nobody stopped to ask, “does this advice actually work?” Does this advice make couples happier and healthier?
We want to set the bar higher.
We wanted to conduct the best and biggest survey, and then we peppered research and statistics from literally dozens of other peer reviewed studies throughout our book, so that hopefully the norm in Christian circles will now be: Has this advice been shown to be healthy and true?
And the only way to do that was to actually ask women.
We don’t want books to just be one person’s–and primarily one man’s–opinion.
We want something that should have been happening all along. We want advice that has been shown to be:
Healthy. Evidence-Based. Biblical.
That, we believe, is what we have achieved.
It’s got a ton of fun charts! The Great Sex Rescue has facts and figures. It shows where other books have gone horribly wrong. It shows how we can rescue and reframe things we say all the time in the evangelical world so they reflect healthy teaching instead. It gives a picture of what a healthy, Jesus-centered marriage and sex life look like.
And it’s funny, too.
This book does what I wish all the other good sources would. It tackles toxic and inaccurate teachings head on, shows with real research how they damage intimacy and sexuality, and how they are not, in fact, biblically based. It approaches these difficult subjects with empathy and humor, and a genuine heart to heal.
After reading this book and excitedly discussing my many breakthroughs with my counselor, he summed it up well when he commented that I *seemed like I had been set free*
If you grew up in the evangelical church, or if you read evangelical books, you’ll find so much of yourself in The Great Sex Rescue!
And we hope you feel validated, seen, inspired, heard, and convicted, all at the same time.
You all matter, my dear readers. And we hope that with this book, you’ll experience real freedom. Real passion. Real intimacy.
Thank you to the almost 600 people who have been part of our launch team and who have been encouraging us all month! Just 4 more days until launch! We’re so excited to see what God does with this book, and we’re humbled by your support.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
Any questions about the book? Encouragement for us? Thoughts if you’ve read it already? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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