What do you do when you’re told that it’s your Christian duty to act like porn for your husband?
Many of you have really enjoyed hearing Andrew Bauman on the Bare Marriage podcast. He’s the co-founder and co-director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma, and he’s written extensively on what sexual health looks like for men, and how to overcome what he calls the “pornographic style of relating“, when you view women as objects to be consumed rather than as people to know, serve, and love.
This week he published a post on his blog that affected me deeply, and I wanted to share it with you today. It’s like the perfect storm of everything we talked about in The Great Sex Rescue, of all the bad messaging we grow up hearing in church about wives being obligated to give their husbands sex; about all men struggling with lust; about the cure for lust and porn being wives simply having more sex. It shows how often, when you go to the church for help for your marriage, the first question asked is, “are you having enough sex?”
In this piece, Andrew invites Taylor May, a survivor of emotional and spiritual abuse, to share her story. It’s quite raw, so major trigger warnings for abuse and sexual coercion. But it’s an important story, because it illustrates all too well what many women are told by our books, our radio shows, and even our pastors and counselors when we seek help for what we know are bad marriage and sex dynamics. I want to pull three things out of this story.
First, Taylor felt growing up that being a girl was problematic, even sinful.
As we looked at on Wednesday on the blog, girls are often portrayed as being seductresses and being sexual just because they develop adult women’s bodies. It is wrong to ascribe sexual motives to a child simply because men or boys may see her as sexual. This is viewing a girl through the eyes of the men and boys, and erasing her own motivations:
For me, this conditioning started long before I ever even understood sex and relationships. Since I was very young, my father wouldn’t let me be friends with boys for fear of something sexual happening. I was only a child! This said way more about him than it did about me or my friends. Sex was on his mind, not mine or any other children in my friend group. I was told over and over again that body parts and hormones were dangerous and sex before marriage would ruin me–but that it would be all boys wanted; all they thought about. If they liked me, there must be ulterior motives. They couldn’t possibly like me for me alone. To this day, my mother is suspicious of every male friend I have. If they are friendly, she will immediately jump to conclusions and will issue verbal and “mom look” warnings.
Second, women often feel trapped and coerced into sexual acts because they believe they must be his only sexual outlet.
Because we’ve been taught that men have insatiable sex drives, and that his sexual desire must be targeted towards us, then we feel that every time he wants sexual release we must give it to him, or he will sin. In fact, he can use spiritual manipulation to make us do this, because he can tell us that God made marriage for him to get his sexual release, and without her he’s trapped in sin.
He would touch the “right” parts, usually in the same way, the same order, and I would orgasm. He would often act bored, not aroused, and usually had to start his arousal process over because pleasing me was such a turn-off. If I was sick, uninterested, or incapacitated, he would ask for a handjob. All he needed was a couple of body parts, and he was happy. (You can see his pornographic mindset and pornographic style of relating. I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back, my body was right. I felt it, I just didn’t know how to put language to what my body was telling me was true.)
She goes on to explain how she had to dissociate during sexual encounters and think about something else or fantasize about something else because she felt so used. Sex wasn’t a deep knowing; it was a using. That erases you as a person, and is fundamentally traumatic.
Third, the fault for marriage problems was often laid at her feet–specifically that she needed to give him more sex.
When she did seek help, often the first question asked was about sex, and it was insinuated that simply having sex would fix all their problems. He couldn’t be expected to be nice to her if he was sexually deprived, and “filling him up” would somehow release this wonderful husband that couldn’t exist without sexual fulfillment.
Another lie I was told was that, as the wife, I alone was responsible for the health or lack thereof in our marriage. The church has made this point loud and clear. Over and over again, women are told that without a consistent sex life (which is our responsibility to cultivate), our marriage will crumble. But, if we just have more sex, our marriage problems will disappear. Put on lipstick, do your hair, show a little cleavage. But only when you’re alone, of course, or you’ll cause other men to stumble. Do you hear the absolute madness? These are contradictions that would drive any woman insane.
In other words: “Be like the porn I have consumed for the last two decades. Dress like a porn star in the bedroom and a Hollywood actress when in public. This will help me stay committed and keep my eyes from wandering elsewhere.”
But what about my needs? What about the importance of my pleasure; my sexual wants and desires? Why did I have to kill them so I could remain married? I am not saying my desires should have been above his. What I am saying is that both partners should both bring their full selves to their sexuality. Giving and receiving pleasure is part of God’s gift of sexuality.
One of the things we talk about early in The Great Sex Rescue is the importance of understanding the definition of biblical sex.
Many of these problems could be avoided, and much of this advice could stop being given, if we differentiated between a sexual encounter where a man has an orgasm and biblical sex, which is always mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.
One-sided sex, where one person feels used, is not biblical sex.
It is not the physical actions that make something sex; it is the meaning and the emotions that are imbued into that act. Just like Jesus said, it’s not the outside of the cup, but the inside that matters.
If someone has a pornographic style of relating, then sex won’t grow a marriage; it will only ever steal from it. Every time you have sex, you degrade your spouse. You make her feel used. Often she is coerced. This isn’t right.
We simply must differentiate between healthy, life-giving sex, and soul-crushing sex. Like we said in The Great Sex Rescue, we really need new words for this, because we use them interchangeably, and that’s where a lot of the confusion lies.
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.
This month and next month, as we talk about sexual confidence, let’s remember that confidence entails accepting all of yourself.
As we talked about earlier in the series, confidence means accepting who you are and what led you to this point.
But that means that you matter.
Who you are matters. You can’t be sexually confident if who you are is being erased, minimized, or ignored during sex. Unless sex is about two people deeply connecting, you will never feel confident. You will never feel known. You will never feel loved.
And that’s not what God meant for you.
It’s okay to reject the pornographic style of relating when it comes to sex.
Marriage does not mean that you have to consent to being used. And if you see ourself in Taylor May’s story, please seek out a licensed counselor. Call a domestic abuse hotline if necessary. And read The Great Sex Rescue (Taylor found it helpful too!), so that you can get a picture of what real biblical sex is.
How can we change this conversation about the definition of sex? What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
How do our evangelical sex books contribute to women feeling responsible for men's sexual sins?...
Can I share some random thoughts I had this Mother's Day about protecting the vulnerable around...
Is the next thing that's going to damage sex in evangelical circles the way that we're treating...
The shootings in Atlanta this week are all too tragic--but I believe they are also a logical...
We read through the best-selling evangelical sex and marriage books when we were writing The Great...
There are times when not having sex is a good idea. That should not be a revolutionary thing to...
If you've been constantly betrayed in your marriage, how can you ever have sexual confidence...
Are you making sex harder than it needs to be in your marriage? We're in the middle of our doing...