Anger is not always a bad thing–and some of us would benefit from a bit of it!
i’m just back from a weekend knitting retreat with my mom. About 60 knitters gathered at an inn close to where I live for some knitting classes and show and tell and just great food and time to chat.
It was the first time I didn’t open up my computer all day in, well, likely almost two years. In fact, I kept it closed for two and a half whole days! I was thrilled.
So I’m in a bit of a contemplative headspace today. I was going to write about what science is telling us about the clitoris (what’s new), and I think I still will (maybe next week!), but I had this thought last night as I was going to sleep and I’d like to try to put it into words.
In October and November we’re talking about sexual confidence–what it is, how you can feel confident even if your husband has used porn; how to be confident as the higher drive wife; and more.
And everyday I wake up to messages on Instagram or comments here or on Facebook from women who have finally found freedom after reading our book The Great Sex Rescue. They know that the reason that sex has been ho hum, or even downright awful, is not their fault. But more importantly, they see a way out.
I was thinking about those messages this morning, and what they have in common. And it seems to me that the big difference is anger.
Women who are becoming whole sexually have often expressed a lot of anger.
On the other hand, the women who are still really struggling often express hopelessness. It feels like nothing will ever change, and they’ve tried everything.
What’s the difference?
Now, as I write this, I’m aware that many of you HAVE tried everything, and you are feeling a little hopeless, and I don’t want to add to your burden right now. I want to try to enter in emotionally and say something to your heart, that I hope will help. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re doing yet another thing wrong. This isn’t about performance but about how we feel about our experience.
Here’s what I want you to understand:
Hopelessness is often anger turned inward.
You’re tried everything, why isn’t it getting any better? What’s wrong with me that everyone else finds this easy and I don’t? What’s wrong with me that I never want sex? What’s wrong with us that we can’t get over our pasts?
Hopelessness often blames ourselves.
On the other hand, sometimes the correct response to the problems that we’re experiencing in the bedroom is anger on our own behalf.
When we start to recognize the depth of pain that many of the teachings in the church caused us; that our youth group caused us; that our parents or culture caused us–and we realize what they robbed us of, righteous anger can be the correct response.
Now, I’m not saying that you should all get angry at your parents and phone them and yell at them! I mean less anger at a specific person and more anger on your own behalf.
Those who have told us that they’ve had new insights into the problems in their sex lives and feel like they can finally move ahead don’t do so because they’ve had it out with their former youth pastor who handed out copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye or their aunt who shamed them for developing boobs at 11. No, it’s simply that they realized what I experienced was not what God wanted for me, and it took something from me.
The Benefits of this Kind of Protective Anger
A lot of us grew up with cognitive dissonance, and it was exhausting.
We were told we were supposed to respect men and follow them and submit to them, but we were also told that they couldn’t help themselves around us and so we had to be the gatekeepers. We were supposed to never, ever think about sex or want sex while we were single, but then a switch was supposed to go off once we were married and we’d magically become sex kittens. We were told we were supposed to wait, and then sex would be amazing–and it wasn’t.
And we’ve been trying to hold on to the church and to the culture and to our families even as we start to feel this real cognitive dissonance, where nothing makes sense.
I think one reason that people find The Great Sex Rescue so freeing is that it lets you name the problem: it’s not you. It’s not even the well-meaning youth pastor who said stuff that really ended up hurting you. It’s not your parents who did the best they could, even though they seriously scarred you, too.
The problem is that our evangelical culture has believed things and taught things that simply aren’t biblical and that hurt people. (And we were able to measure the depth of the hurt with our survey of 20,000 women).
They’ve taught sex as an obligation; men as insatiable monsters; the purpose of sex as sin avoidance in marriage (you have sex so he won’t lust, watch porn, or have an affair). It’s exhausting. And we’ve all been caught up in this.
When we can see that this was never Jesus’ heart; that He is about true intimacy and oneness, then we can get angry at the fact that His name has been used to harm so many people. We can get angry on our own behalf. We should have been taught about true intimacy, we should have grown up without shame, we should have grown up with the words and ability to talk about this stuff. That would have honored God, not this.
And feeling angry on your own behalf gives clarity. You realize that none of this is your fault–or even your husband’s fault. That if you are struggling, there is good reason. You were all taught stuff that seriously messed you up, and now there’s a way forward.
When the anger is directed outside of you, that empowers you to start to fix things. When it’s directed inward, then every time you don’t make immediate progress it’s more evidence that you never will. When you are the problem, how exactly do you solve it?
Biblically, getting angry at injustice is a positive thing. It motivated the prophets to write what they wrote. It motivated change and a return to God. When we get angry at injustice we often feel free for the first time, because we know that the things that we are having a hard time accepting are actually not of God.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.
The Challenges of this Kind of Anger
We can make it too personal, and reject important people in our lives who were just as much under the bondage of the teachings as we were. Those who messed us up likely had others who messed them up too. That’s why seeing this as a cultural movement is so important. It wasn’t Josh Harris’ fault. It wasn’t your parents’ fault. It wasn’t your church’s fault. It was the culture.
Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have known better. That doesn’t mean that you have to choose to associate with them anymore. You can switch to a healthy church (and in many cases, you should!). You can limit your time with your parents if they are toxic. You can unfriend your youth pastor on Facebook. They should have protected you better.
But they didn’t invent the culture, either.
So often we associate God with those who taught us, because it was from them that we learned about God. What Rebecca and Joanna and I were desperately trying to do in The Great Sex Rescue was to show that these teachings were not of God at all. This was not God’s heart. He wants real intimacy, and that’s what He designed us for and sex for.
But I know for some that’s too big a chasm to cross right now. To you, let me just say: Don’t stop asking questions. I believe that God is there, and He wants to walk with you through those questions. He’s big enough to take it. And even if you’re having a hard time with God right now, maybe ask: is this because of God himself, or because of what people taught me about Him? What I often suggest to people struggling with this is just read the gospels. Forget everything else for a time, especially since that may have bad connotations to you. Just look at Jesus. Try to get rid of preconceived notions and just look at Him. What do you see?
On a personal note, one of the reasons I had to turn off the computer this weekend is how much I’ve been struggling with anger and disappointment and frustration, and some of it is aimed at individuals. I don’t mind people teaching the wrong stuff–we were all wrapped up in a culture that did that. But once you know better, you should do better. What dismays me is the number of teachers who have been shown, “hey, what you said here actually really hurts people,” and instead of apologizing they double down and say we’re wrong. The lack of compassion for real life people who are being hurt is stunning to me. It is that that challenges my faith, far more than the teachings in the first place. And I do struggle.
But that’s when I have to see that the church is so much bigger than those individuals. The work of God is not confined to the bigger name teachers.
And when I can read the stories of people finding their voices, of people recognizing real health and truth, that is a marvelous thing.
A final word to those who feel more helpless
Can you do an exercise for me? Picture yourself at 10. Picture how small you were. Think about what your favourite toy was. Did you have a blanket or a teddy bear that you slept with every night?
Now follow little you for the next few years. What was she–or he–taught? What did you hear in youth group? What scared you? What made you feel ashamed? Did someone hurt you?
If you were able to go back in time to when you were 10, or 12, or 14, what would you do to little you? Would you wrap your arms around her and tell her she’s beautiful, it’s not your fault, avoid X like the plague? Would you give him a pep talk that said you’re a real man NOW. You don’t have to struggle so much to fit the mold?
If you could have compassion on younger you, then can you also have compassion on older you? Because that’s really what this kind of anger is–compassion for those who have suffered injustice.
Compassion for those who were made to feel ashamed of their bodies, and so never figured out arousal or figured out libido.
Compassion for those who were made to feel their own sexual assault was their fault.
Compassion for those who experienced sexual pain, and felt like failures because they couldn’t fulfill their husbands’ needs.
Compassion for those who weren’t taught properly about porn, and now it’s eaten so many years of their marriage.
Can you have that kind of compassion? And then go back and read the first post about what sexual confidence is. It’s just accepting where you are, right now.
It’s not your fault. You can move forward. And I hope that I can give you a glimmer of hope that it’s possible!
What do you think? Are you in the hopeless camp, the angry camp, or another camp? How can be angry in a healthy way? Let’s talk in the comments!
Other Posts in the Sexual Confidence Series:
- 3 Markers of Sexual Confidence (especially in women)
- 4 Markers of a Sexually Confident Man
- Knowing that Sex is for You Too
- How to Feel Confident when You're Married to a Porn User
- Did You Grow up Embarrassed to Be Female?
- 5 Keys to Sexual Confidence after Menopause
- 4 Keys to Sexual Confidence as the Higher Drive Wife
- Sexual Confidence Doesn't Mean You're Willing to Try Anything in Bed
- Do you need to get angry at what purity culture stole from you?
- What We Didn't Know about the Clitoris
- Telling Women You Matter is Not Swinging the Pendulum Too Far (our wrap-up)
You may also enjoy:
- The Orgasm Course
- The Great Sex Rescue
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
On almost every measure, church attendance is good for you. Researchers have consistently found...
So many women--and many men as well--honestly feel like the church is hurting them. I do not...
I truly believe that most guys are good guys. I often get accused of hating men, but that's...
What if setting up marriage as a hierarchy, where men make the decisions, isn't good for men...
Sheila here! My husband Keith's manifesto on Wednesday about how the evangelical church has...
Most of us agree that you shouldn't have to submit to an abusive husband. But what if you're...
Sheila here! Last week I published some "Fixed it for Yous" from biblical counselors which were...
For the last three years I've been trying to change the evangelical conversation about sex. I've...