The word is spreading through evangelical circles that, yes, it is OK for Christian women to enjoy sex as much as their husbands and that men, not their wives, are responsible for addressing their own struggles with lust and pornography, said Sheila Wray Gregoire, co-author of the The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended.
Since the book’s publication in 2021, Gregoire said she has been overwhelmed with responses from evangelical women and men surprised and relieved to learn that the Bible calls for sex to be pleasurable for both. “’Validating’ is the most common word I hear. Validating and freeing.”
But she also has heard a disturbing silence from some quarters, she added. “What concerns me is that I’m not sure the church is listening. People are listening and counselors are listening and even some pastors are listening, but I don’t know that the evangelical powers-that-be are listening.”
What denominations and major ministries, publishers and authors are not hearing is that many bestselling Christian books on marriage and sex continue to perpetuate misconceptions about sexuality that foster attitudes and behaviors that sicken relationships, she said. As a result, many women not only fail to enjoy sex but often suffer levels of emotional and spiritual damage similar to that endured by victims of sexual abuse.
“The biggest belief by far is that a woman is obligated to give her husband sex when he wants it. It has statistically almost the same effect on women’s sexual pain as prior abuse does. So, literally, a woman’s body interprets that message as trauma because both abuse and obligatory sex say, ‘You don’t matter; he has a right to use you any way he wants.”
The Great Sex Rescue seeks to expose that and other lies and replace them with the message that the Bible calls for sex to be mutually pleasurable and intimate, and to be experienced within the framework of a faithful relationship, Gregoire said.
The project encompassed a survey of 20,000 women through questionnaires, focus groups and interviews, and an analysis of peer-reviewed sex and marriage books to assess bestselling evangelical writings on sexuality and marriage for helpful and harmful content.
“It shows how evangelical best-selling books fared against the rubric of healthy sexuality.”
“This report does three things. First, it shows what teachings in these books were especially damaging to the 20,000 women surveyed. Second, it suggests ways to reframe how we talk about sex and marriage so that we promote relationship health while keeping Jesus at the center. Finally, it shows how evangelical best-selling books fared against the rubric of healthy sexuality,” according to a summary provided by Baker Books.
Books on marriage and sex that raised red flags in the study included Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr., The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian and Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker.
These and other writings were held up against John M. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work as a control book and measured by 12 questions covering the topics of infidelity and lust, sex as pleasure, and mutuality.
“Does the book acknowledge that the blame for a husband’s affair or porn use lies at the feet of the husband, or does it, at least in part, blame the wife?” one question reads.
Another: “Does the book acknowledge women’s orgasm and women’s enjoyment of the physical aspects of sex, or does it imply that most or all women do not enjoy sex?”
That Scripture promotes a healthy, enjoyable sex life for women comes as a surprise to many evangelicals, said Gregoire, who pointed to passages in Genesis, the Psalms, Song of Solomon and First Corinthians describing sex as intimate, pleasurable and mutual.
But much of the evangelical literature on the topic instead views sex as a physical release for men that women are required to provide, she lamented. “The idea is that men cannot be whole sexually. They are sinful by nature and the urge is so overwhelming they cannot find freedom from it. So the only way for men to be able to cope is for women to fix it.”
That model is the opposite of what God wants for husbands and wives, she added. “That is not intimate or mutual. That’s where our Christian resources are really messing up and the church has told us that it’s men’s needs that matter. And who is being deprived? It’s women. And this needs to change.”
A Dallas-area minister said his encounter with The Great Sex Rescue last year transformed his preaching and teaching about sex as well as his relationship with his wife.
“All of a sudden, we became very well aware that we had heard and believed some things that were not based in truth,” said Brian Treadaway, senior pastor at Vertical Church in Ovilla, Texas.
One of those things was a classic belief identified in the book, he said. “For many, many years it was just an understood principle that every man struggles with lust and therefore you might as well adjust and give in, and that you are always going to battle with this. I just believed that was going to be my lot in life. From the wife’s side, the subtext was that it was her responsibility to provide intimacy for the husband so he won’t lust. And if he does, it pretty much is your fault.”
Treadaway said he had taught from some of the books identified as red flags in Gregoire’s project. “I taught all those things, that this is just the way it’s going to be.”
But that all has been transformed since reading The Great Sex Rescue, he said. “It has revolutionized how we counsel and how I preach and teach.”
And it has deepened his marriage, as well, he added. “It led into a lot of open conversations and transformed our relationship. Some of those discussions were difficult and painful, but they became very joyful and fruitful.”
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