I remember when Mark Driscoll’s sex book came out and a few Christian leaders began voicing their concerns while many still looked the other way. He overshares about his sex-life, shames his wife, and teaches a disturbing, one-sided view of sex. Many still gave and shared their popular platforms with him. He remained a respectable pastor of his mega church. It wasn’t until after the other scandals broke—using church money to manipulate the NY Times bestsellers list for said book to rank on, bullying behavior, plagiarism, and using an anonymous profile to make lewd comments on blogs, such as calling women penis homes—that the respectable names in reformedish evangelical land decided it now costs more to keep him.
The crass marriage/sex book alone, or his atrocious preaching series on the Song of Songs, wasn’t enough. Maybe it’s because the book was not an anomaly in bestselling Christian publishing on sex and marriage. It just wasn’t as sophisticated as the others.
After years of working to help married couples in the church with their sexual union, Sheila Gregoire discovered that bestselling Christian books about marriage and sex were enabling abuse and really messing people up. When she read the popular Love & Respect, promoted by Focus on the Family, she was horrified by the complete dehumanization of women. So she set out with Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach and Joanna Sawasky to survey over 20,000 Christian women with over 130 questions about their marriages, sex lives, beliefs & messages they’ve been taught about sex. They also read and rated 13 of the most popular Christian books on sex and marriage, alongside of the top-selling secular marriage book, John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. They used a rubric they designed highlighting 12 elements of healthy sexuality. Two books scored neutral because they didn’t address the categories in their rubric of infidelity and lust, pleasure and libido, and mutuality. 7 of these books scored poorly. Love & Respect scored the worst at 0/48. In contrast, the secular book scored 47/48. The rubric questions are basic, I’ll give you a sample from each category (there are 12 in all):
—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?
—Does the book acknowledge woman’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?
—Does the book explain that sex has many purposes, including intimacy, closeness, fun, and physical pleasure for both, or does it portray sex as being primarily about fulfilling his physical need?
Their book, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended, is both a critique of the prevalent harmful teaching on sex in evangelicalism and a sex education for married men and women. All along, they’ve been working to help couples in their sexual union. But, as they explain, “We needed to give people explicit permission to reject the aspects of the evangelical zeitgeist that were holding them back.”
It is an eye-opening book. It’s full of graphs and statistics from their research to reveal what sadly isn’t basic knowledge in the church. You know, it’s full of shocking findings such as, “Women who feel their voice matters in marriage report better sex.” We should be surprised that this needs to be said, but studies show that it very much does!
Sadly, evangelicalism is inundated with the teaching that men are lusting after women all the time and that women basically need to move from the unmarried gatekeeper to the married vessel for his constant release to keep his eyes from wandering. This teaching isn’t good for men or women. Here we are in 2021and it is sad to see the state of Christian marriages and sexual unions due to their very own teaching.
The authors of The Great Sex Rescue are not out to bash men. In fact, they even point out how sometimes women are raised in this teaching and the husbands become horrified to discover how their wives have been thinking for years about their love life in the bedroom. The authors are wanting to help both men and women learn more about how sex is an intimate knowing in the union of marriage which is deeply personal and should be mutually pleasurable. And yet, there are certainly some shared testimonies where husbands have a very selfish mindset in the bedroom which has been fueled by so-called Christian teaching. The authors want couples to communicate better. So they lead the way. They don’t back down from communicating a whole chapter about the orgasm gap between men and women, why it’s a thing, and what to do about it. They also discuss intimacy, body image, arousal, porn, lust, duty sex, painful sex, medical obstacles, libido, and sexless marriages.
There is a powerful chapter on consent in marriage. This is where I about had it. They gave examples from prominent Christian books, like Every Heart Restored, Every Man’s Battle, His Needs, Her Needs, and The Act of Marriage where marriage rape is described and not named and rebuked. The context is usually around the man’s needs and the responsibility is placed on the coerced woman. Predation is normalized. In the church. Let that sink in. The authors comment that all three of them “are married to amazing men, and we’re incredibly offended on their behalf when we read how bestselling Christian resources portray them.” These examples are followed by testimonies of some of the women they interviewed. They are hard to read. Some of the women are enduring pain and dehumanization because they are taught this is their husband’s need and their obligation. The best thing the authors can say about it is that they “honestly believe that the authors who have perpetuated this mentality did not write their books with abused women in mind.” Sadly, their research has revealed that “sexual pain is very widespread in the Christian community,” and they reveal how “our bodies interpret the obligation sex message in similar ways to trauma.”
The authors want married couples to have loving, thriving sex lives. So there is a helpful section at the end of each chapter, reframing bad teaching. I will give a few examples:
—Instead of saying, “A husband has a need for physical release through sexual intimacy,” say, “God made sex to be intimate, physically and emotionally, for both partners. Both of you have a need for intimacy through sex, even if you feel it differently.”
—Instead of telling women, “Assure your husband that you enjoy sex,” tell men, “Become a great lover to your wife.”
—Instead of saying, “Boys will push girls’ boundaries,” say the following to both genders:
- “It’s natural and healthy to want sex.”
- “You are capable of resisting temptation, and you are responsible to not violate anyone else’s boundaries.”
- “If you are pressured to do something you do not want to do, that is not a safe relationship.”
—Instead of saying, “Bounce your eyes to ensure you never become tempted by women around you,” say, “Treat and respect women as whole people made in the image of God.”
—Instead of saying, “Watching porn is a sin,” say, “Watching porn is a sin because it contributes to the abuse of others and reduces them to objects to be used.”
—Instead of saying, “Men have the higher libido,” say, “In marriage, one spouse may have the higher libido, and who that is may change throughout the marriage.”
—Instead of saying, “Fulfilling your spouse’s sexual needs and desires is a requirement in marriage,” say, “You should not get pleasure from something that causes your spouse discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, pain, or harm.”
This is just a small sample. There are also “explore together” sections in the book for spouses to communicate and possibly improve upon their love making.
Nowadays everyone in reformedish evangelicalism is pooh-poohing Driscoll’s horrible teaching on sex and marriage. The book is only brought up as a joke. And yet, we are still swimming in the water. I read The Great Sex Rescue thinking, Why are we so surprised about all these sex abuse scandals in the church? Much more work needs to be done in the theological field regarding the meaningfulness behind our sexuality. But Gregoire, Lindenbach, and Sawatsky have given a correct course on how this practically applies in the way we express our exclusive love for our spouses in sexual union for the long haul of our marriages.