Last week we were talking about how neuroscience does NOT say that men and women are different species when it comes to sex.
Rebecca and Connor talked on the Bare Marriage podcast last week about how we’ve been told by many evangelical authors that neuroscience shows that men think about sex in a way that women do not, and that men are visually stimulated in a way that women can’t understand.
The only problem? The neuroscience doesn’t say that. And on Friday I took you through a process to see how Gary Thomas’ claim in his new book Married Sex is easily debunked with a few minutes of research.
This does not mean, though, that there aren’t any differences between men and women when it comes to sex.
I explained this in two long posts on Facebook, and I thought I’d adapt them for this post, because they’re a great conclusion to our discussion of neuroscience–and a great introduction to our series for October on sexual confidence!
So let’s jump in:
Our survey of 20,000 women that we turned into our book The Great Sex Rescue found that 58% of men have the higher sex drive in marriage, compared with 19% of women (the rest were shared). We also know from other research that men tend to be aroused more easily and stay aroused; women take longer and are often easily distracted. In general, men are more likely to have spontaneous libidos, and women more likely to have responsive libidos.
But that doesn’t mean that ALL men are one way and ALL women another way; that we are different species; that we can never understand.
More than that, though, our brains are highly influenced by what happens around us.
Our culture forms us; our beliefs form us; our experiences form us; even our anatomy forms us. Think of boys: they are very, very aware growing up when they become aroused, because they get erections. So they learn to pay hyper close attention to arousal. One of the big meta-analysis studies that Rebecca was talking about on the podcast this week talked about how women and men can get to similar levels of physical arousal with visual stimuli (though we tend to be aroused by different things), but subjectively men say they’re more aroused than women do (I’m simplifying here, so forgive me. It’s dense to get through).
Men grow up in a culture where women’s bodies are everywhere and objectified; women, by and large, do not grow up in a culture where men’s bodies are similarly objectified. Boys are taught from a young age that enjoying looking at women is manly; girls are taught from a young age that they have to fear men looking at them.
All of these things will influence how we experience sexuality.
Then there are the messages we get at church. Boys are told that they will find pornography and women’s bodies incredibly tempting and challenging and that they have to fight lust which will be their constant battle; girls are told that they will have to be the gatekeepers and dress modestly to stop boys from sinning and put the brakes on in the physical relationship because it will be too difficult for boys.
So boys grow up assuming they will have ravenous sex drives; girls grow up hearing that they don’t really want sex, and instead that sex can be threatening.
When we’re talking about sexual differences between men and women, then, it’s a much better idea to stop talking about brains and start talking about culture.
What messages are we giving our boys and girls?
Our resources seem to take it for granted that men want sex all the time and women don’t, and so we have to convince women to have sex with their husbands.
Wouldn’t it be better to ask, “why don’t women want sex?” We’re the ones with the clitorises. We’re the ones who can have multiple orgasms. What has killed women’s sex drives?
The culprits aren’t hard to find: Our messaging around sex; a culture that makes sex threatening and dirty to us; and, of course, mental load!
None of those things have to do with our brains (though our brains are heavily plastic and can be influenced by all of these things). All of those things have to do with how we talk about sex and what we inadvertently teach our kids.
Here’s why it matters that our differences about sex are not primarily due to the brain:
People are claiming that God MADE men and women incredibly differently. But then what is the solution? They can never really understand each other, and women just need to give men more sex, knowing that it’s hard for them not to lust or watch porn; and they need to help men in this fight (I can’t think of a less sexy message).
If God made us this way, there’s really nothing we can do. Men have to settle for less than they want; women have to give more than they want; and neither is ever really happy. Men feel rejected. Women feel used. And that’s the best case scenario.
But what if our sex drive and our approach to sex is largely cultural–based on our experiences; our beliefs; the messaging we hear? Then things can be changed!
Biblically we know that sex was designed to be MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH.
But those relying on neuroscience to say that men need sex in a way that women can never understand are already ditching the “mutual” part. In fact, they’re ditching “intimate”, too, because they’re saying his needs matter more than hers (you can’t be intimate unless you both matter). And often they’re ditching the pleasurable for both, because they’re asking women to give hand jobs while postpartum, etc. (Nothing wrong with that; more power to you! But it has to be at her choice, not because she’s pressured into it).
At the end of Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin du Mez said, “what has been done can be undone.”
THAT’S our message in The Great Sex Rescue: We are in this mess where women feel obligated and pressured and don’t always want sex, and men feel rejected and helpless, because of the way we’ve talked about sex. Because of our culture. Because of our messaging–including, and especially, in these books that blame it on our brains and the way God made us.
But that also means that we can change!
It starts with realizing that any teaching around sex that does not emphasize MUTUAL, INTIMATE, PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH is not of God. Instead of starting with bad takes on neuroscience, let’s start with what we know to be true about what God made sex for.
Then let’s ask: What’s getting in the way of that? We should all have healthy sex drives. Our drive should be for intimacy, not just release. When those things aren’t present, we need to start digging and asking why, rather than just lecturing women on how much men need sex or they will sin.
Men were not made to sin. Men are equally in the image of God as women. Men are not more evil than women. And women were made with sex drives, too–those drives have just been pushed under the surface because of our messaging.
What’s been done can be undone.
So let’s have THAT conversation. Let’s learn to awaken healthy sexuality in BOTH men and women, rather than spreading a false narrative about how our brains are made in a way that makes us different species.
That’s really the point of The Great Sex Rescue (if you haven’t read it yet, you need to).
Let’s stop spreading stereotypes that don’t work, and start looking for intimate, mutual, pleasurable sex for both spouses.
I believe we can get there–and that’s why this month we’re going to look at sexual confidence: what it means, and how to get it. You may be surprised by what I suggest. Sexual confidence is far more about sexual acceptance of where you are and who you are than it is about feeling totally empowered. When we’re comfortable with ourselves, confidence can bloom. When we try to be something we’re not, we further cause shame.
So let’s embrace who you are, even if who you are has been heavily influenced by bad messaging! What’s been done can be undone. You don’t have to be angry at yourself. You don’t have to feel shame. You don’t have to feel hopeless.
Just be you–and the more “you” you are, the more you’ll find healing, growth, and confidence, because you’ll start where Jesus is, in the here and now. I’m looking forward to what He’s going to do for us this month!
As we get started on sexual confidence month, can I just say:
if you haven’t bought The Great Sex Rescue yet, you need to.
I know so many of you read what I write everyday, and listen to the podcasts, so you feel like you’ve already gotten it all. And you have gotten A LOT. I provide a lot of content for free, and I’ll always keep it that way.
But you haven’t seen the charts. You haven’t heard the stories. There’s power to having it all explained all in one place. It’s a gut punch and it’s healing and freeing all at the same time!
Plus it’s a great encouragement to all of us if you pick it up–and tell others about it!
What do you think? Why do you think we’re so different? How does this conversation need to change? And if you’ve read The Great Sex Rescue, leave a comment and tell why the book is different from reading the blog!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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