We Read “The Act of Marriage” So You Don’t Have To!

by | Apr 9, 2020 | Uncategorized | 80 comments

Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye Review
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The Act of Marriage is the book I once drowned in a bathtub.

When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I told the story of reading a sex book before I was married that turned me into a nervous wreck. It gave such explicit directions about what you were supposed to do on your wedding night, the first time out, that I felt pressured and violated. So I drowned it.

I never named the book before; but after doing our survey of 22,000 women, and finding so many other women mentioning the same thing, I thought it was time to come forward. 

In preparation for writing our book The Great Sex Rescue, which is due in at Baker Books in a little more than a month, we didn’t just survey 22,000 women. We also decided to read ten of the bestselling Christian marriage books, and the bestselling Christian sex books, and score them on 12 aspects of healthy sexuality. We created a scoring rubric, and looked at whether they were healthy, harmful, or neutral.

As I’ve mentioned before, until I reviewed Love & Respect last year, I had never actually read a lot of Christian books because I never wanted to inadvertently plagiarize anybody. After reading so many in the last few months, I’ve noticed quite a few common themes that Rebecca and I are going to talk about in the next few weeks of podcasts. 

Today I thought we’d start with The Act of Marriage, for several reasons. It was so important in my own life, and I think played a big role in the vaginismus I experienced (some of the beliefs that the book perpetrated were highly correlated with sexual pain in our survey, and while it’s not the only factor, it did influence me). But also, The Act of Marriage was really the first mega-selling Christian sex book. Pretty much everyone who married in the late 1980s or 1990s read it before the honeymoon. All Generation X pastors likely used it as their sex education. It was tremendously influential, and laid the groundwork for future sex books, both for good and for ill.

What was so good about The Act of Marriage was that it was the first book to really talk about the importance of a woman’s orgasm, and the importance of clitoral stimulation to that orgasm. In our scoring rubric, it actually scored middle of the pack. It had quite a few good parts to it and positive parts to it. But there were still some very problematic things in the book, which reappeared in so many books written afterwards. So in today’s podcast, I thought I’d read some quotes from The Act of Marriage to Rebecca–who had no warning about any of these–to get her reaction. 

WARNING: One of the passages that I read out loud from the book contains a graphic anecdote about rape on a wedding night, which was obviously sexual assault, and yet the author dismissed it as such. This may be difficult for some listeners. The anecdote appears around 29 Min

I hope you enjoy listening to this, and I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

It’s hard to sum this up in a post, so you’ll have to listen in to the podcast. But I did write my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex as an antidote to The Act of Marriage. I tried to be far less paint-by-numbers and far more cognizant of the emotional aspects of sex. And I tried to say, “Hey, sex is wonderful, so let’s figure out how to get there and let’s prioritize it so you don’t miss out!” rather than “You don’t have a choice, you must give your husband sex.” And I tried not to be “women are like this” and “men are like this”, because it’s just not true. 

I hope I succeeded!

So now let me know–what did you think of these quotes? Did you read this book when you were married? How did it affect you? How can we do better? Let’s talk!

 

Are you ready for the honeymoon you always dreamed of?

The Honeymoon Course is here to help you plan the perfect honeymoon and start your marriage (and your sex life!) off with laughter, joy and fun!

Don’t make the same mistakes other couples have–get it right from the beginning! 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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80 Comments

  1. Meg

    Umm well, I DID read the book, (not long after my wedding) and found it really helpful. I honestly did not remember a part about rape.
    I wasn’t so emotionally fragile to think if my relationship didn’t meet each milestone in order and at the same place that I was doomed. To feel like a failure. I actually got the impression the author cared about both partners having pleasure equally.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, he definitely did! That’s what was good about the book, and that’s why it did score in the middle of our rubric, rather than at the bottom!
      But it also had some really problematic elements in it, and I think it’s important to be aware of what those were, because this book did influence a whole generation of pastors.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      And Meg, the part about rape was actually quite graphic and very disturbing. Even if you don’t remember it, it was there, and you can listen to the podcast to hear it.
      I think what I’m noticing in reading so many Christian books is that there are so many illustrations that are basically rape (and this one actually called it such, but excused it), but are not treated as serious. This is so common that perhaps we’ve become desensitized to it, and we don’t even notice it. But we need to notice it and call it out, because it is harmful.

      Reply
    • Tory

      @Meg, the rape part is a woman describing her wedding night as, and I quote, “he stripped me naked and raped me… I screamed and cried”. The author then lists this as another example of bad sex. But it’s really awful

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        Yup. And he says “Matilda and her EQUALLY UNHAPPY husband” as if having a wife who doesn’t enjoy being raped by you is as bad as being raped. Absolutely heinous and absolutely disgusting. Even if the rest of the book was 100% fantastic (which it is not; it’s self-contradictions alone make it a poorly written book regardless of what one thinks of the actual subject matter), that one example would be enough reason to burn the book. It actually made me nauseous to read that.

        Reply
      • Andrea

        I am not by any means defending Tim LaHaye, but let’s all remember that when that book was written (1976), there really was no such thing as marital rape. Marital rape became illegal in the 1990s, it is still legal in most countries of the world, and there are Christians in the U.S. who don’t believe it’s a thing (some have trolled this blog). When one of the characters in LaHaye’s book says that marriage is just legalized rape, it really was then in the sense that if you live in a country where there is no law against it, the only way one can legally rape a woman is if she is his wife. Again, I’m not defending Tim LaHaye and I’m so grateful I live in a culture where marriage doesn’t entitle men to rape their wives, but I am saying that LaHaye was simply a man of his time (and unfortunately not a man ahead of his time).
        His attribution of pornography to feminism is just laughable because feminists were the first ones to point out the dehumanizing of women in pornography, while Christians talked about it just in terms of lust (and most still do, as far as I can tell, with the exception of Sheila).

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          That’s a good point, Andrea, except that he has had every chance to revise the manuscript and change or take out that story and he has not. We read the 4th edition that was published after marital rape was made illegal (our version was published in 1998).
          As well, even if rape was not illegal in marriage in 1976, the way he wrote this rape account is horrible, and it simply not being illegal yet is no excuse when he wrote it the way he did–there was no grey area; he even calls it rape. We are not talking 1876 here, we are talking 1976. I find the thought that someone who loved Jesus at the time that my grandparents would have been in their 20s and 30s wouldn’t be able to see that rape was bad to be quite offensive since I know many people who lived during that time who I believe would have accurately sought to protect women in these situations, not heap blame on them for not putting up with their rape “nicely” enough.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yeah, I think all four of your grandparents would have seen this as rape. Even the one who abandoned his kid!
            What’s scarier to me, actually, is not that Tim LaHaye said this in 1976. It’s that I got so many other similar anecdotes from Christian books written in the 1990s and 2000s (like the Every Man’s Battle series). And you see so much of it in blogs today, too. We still don’t have an understanding that marital rape is a thing.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I thought that bit about porn and feminism was super funny, too, Andrea! I do think he was ahead of his time in some things–he did set the standard that women’s sexual pleasure matters, too, which is good. But he never updated his book in the four updates since to take out that rape anecdote or change it. I did find that disturbing.

          Reply
        • Madeline

          Andrea, I thought blaming women’s lib for porn was absurd too! I thought about Catherine MacKinnon’s work especially: she fought so hard to convince everyone that pornography was a violation of human and civil rights. To blame her and her peers for pornography shows that the church (or at least the area of the church influenced by The Act of Marriage) really has zero understanding of what the radical feminists even did. I’m not even trying to be an evangelist for feminism on the blog because that’s really not what this blog is about, but if people are going to criticize feminism or women’s lib, they should at least know the very BASICS of the movement.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, many of the feminists writing in the 70s, 80s and 90s were very anti-porn. Unfortunately there was also a strain that was very pro-porn (trying to “free” women’s sexuality), but some feminists were very adamantly anti-porn the whole time. I remember when I was in university being so frustrated that James Dobson wouldn’t make a pro-woman case against porn. He could have joined with them, but he chose not to, instead portraying porn as just a sin and a scourge on the family. I just thought that was such a wasted opportunity to build bridges, when you were really on the same side. Could he not see that porn was harmful not just to the family, but also to women?

          • Madeline

            I’ve actually wondered why so few Christian resources talk about porn’s fueling violence against women too! I obviously think its good when churches portray porn as a sin, and more and more Christian leaders are speaking out about its addictive property and the consequences of it ravaging your brain. But the slavery/human trafficking aspect is absent from the conversation in most Christian circles (that I’ve seen). I think all of these aspects are important in understanding how evil porn is.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I hear you.

          • Matilda

            I honestly believe God used the feminists to free women because the church wasn’t doing the job! Jesus had already paved the way by talking to the woman at the well and other amazing things, but his church, whom
            were supposed to be leading woman’s equality & freedom were too caught up in the patriarchal culture that has benefited so greatly with the subjugation of women. It is so exciting to see how God is freeing his people!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Absolutely! Although I don’t think the problem was the early church. In Roman documents of the time, Christianity was called the religion of “women and slaves.” It was largely women. It was when Constantine became a Christian and Christianity became the official religion that things really changed. I do think there were many female leaders in the early church, and history does support that!

    • Tory

      So I was curious, and I did read it very quickly. (It’s available as a free PDF online.) My take-away is that there was lots of positives in the book. Very sex-positive and prioritizes the female orgasm. So far so good. Here’s what I didn’t like: 1) self-congratulatory references to his counseling work, all the times he “fixed” women with just a single counseling session — I call B.S. 2) agreed on the “paint by numbers” approach to foreplay and sex (at one point the book actually says that most women require 8 minutes of thrusting or 75-80 thrusts — lol who is counting?! And since when are all women the same??) 3) the self-contractions (earlier the book admits that most women won’t have an orgasm from intercourse alone) 4) claiming that having an orgasm from intercourse alone is something the couple should strive for (making sex too goal oriented) 5) no references to oral sex except one brief mention at the end that frames it as some sort of deviant practice that originated from porn; doesn’t forbid oral sex outright but makes it seem like a fringe activity to stay away from. The author gives a lot of very specific formulas for what he defines as good sex; ie, a new bride will require 30 minutes of foreplay, but after 5 years of marriage, it is possible to reduce this to 15 minutes (???). And some of the book is adorably archaic, like the claim that all women secretly want to be housewives.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s pretty much my take exactly, Tory! Definitely some good stuff–and we did give it marks on our rubric for that. But a lot of strange stuff, too.

        Reply
      • Blessed Wife

        Where did he acquire this time table??!!🤣🤣 As a new bride, I could easily outpace my husband. After childbirth? My brain is ready before he even gets home, but getting the rest ready takes more work than ever!

        Reply
        • Jessica

          As a newlywed, I cannot tell you how many times I would tell my husband to pick up the pace already. I could easily outpace him and that shocked him because he had read books like this.
          He loves the cuddles and the slow burn and I would get super impatient. After baby, things are different. If he does the cuddle thing too long I just fall asleep. LOL.

          Reply
  2. Ina

    It’s funny how opposite people are- the clinical, practical descriptions that bothered you as a young wife are what I found most helpful about The Act of Marriage and the lack of those was the one thing that frustrated me about The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (to be clear, I loved TGGGTGS! I read it cover to cover twice, bought it for a newly wed friend, and found it very helpful with changing my mindset just not helpful physically, where The Act of Marriage really helped in finding some measure of pleasure in foreplay. ) The Act of Marriage also was the first book to make me feel I wasn’t broken. It’s definitely an antiquated book though with problems! I’m very curious about what other books you’ll be reviewing and maybe looking into some of the better ones.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you found both books helpful, Ina! I never wanted to write a totally clinical book, but if people want one, the best that I’ve read is The Gift of Sex. I saw The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex as being a book to help people see sex holistically–as physical, emotional, and spiritual–and to prepare people for all three. So many women don’t see sex the way that God intended, and I wanted to set the record straight. I tried to tell people all the different ways that you can stimulate each other and what tends to feel good, without doing a paint-by-numbers. I want people to be able to discover things on their own. But if people need more clinical, The Gift of Sex is a great companion. It doesn’t cover the stuff that I do, but it covers other things.
      I am hoping to work on an orgasm course, but again, I don’t want to do a “You must do X for 5 minutes, then Y at a 45 degree angle, then Z for 10 minutes” as Act of Marriage did. I would always do something more like, “X, Y and Z work for many people, but some prefer K and P. Try them all this way and that way until you figure out what works for YOUR body.” Because it really isn’t the same for everyone, and some people like some things and not others. That’s why a paint-by-numbers approach isn’t always the best.
      I also think there’s a bigger factor in that women have to feel empowered to own their own sexuality, which means learning how to please your spouse and how to feel good is a skill, as much as pleasing your spouse or pleasing yourself is. And a lot of these books skip over the learning and go straight to the doing, whereas the learning and discovery is a key part of learning your body. Rebecca says it’s like the difference between Ikea furniture and master carpentry. You can know how to put things together without really understanding how to make furniture. I think, with so many women uncomfortable with their bodies and uncomfortable with sex, learning how to discover and explore is so important and freeing.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    It’s been so many years that I no longer remember specifics, but this book was one that I pored over again and again for any glimmer of hope that sex would eventually work for me. I ended up giving up in utter hopelessness and tossing the books. Having them on our shelf would simply remind me that I was broken. Turns out, the real picture of what was going on in me, my husband, and our marriage was far more complicated than I have seen dealt with in any Christian sex advice books. In retrospect, we needed intensive counseling from day one.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Anonymous. I hope that you got that counselling and that you’re doing better!

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I am listening to your podcast, and you just got the part I remember causing me intense frustration and hopelessness. It’s when they lay all the blame for a woman’s sexual dysfunction onto her anxiety. Wow, does that bring back the angry knot in my stomach! My husband’s issues…his lust problem (for which I blamed my inability to measure up to all the women he was slobbering after), his sneakiness and lying, his lack of personal responsibility and blame of me for anything and everything he didn’t like, his laziness (complaining about anything he didn’t enjoy or thought was a waste of time, such as taking time to figure me out sexually), his emotionally whacked ways of relating to me (hair-trigger sensitivity, making excuses for himself, blaming me, accusing me of being judgmental, ungrateful, disrespectful, and arrogant, comparing himself favorably to men who were worse, etc), his intense possessiveness, his entitlement, so much self-absorbed junk, contributed to causing problems in me that had no real reason to be there. I was looking forward to sex. The part I contributed was an over-developed sense of responsibility, zero idea of healthy boundaries in marriage, and a trained belief in hierarchical marriages, all of which he took and used to his own advantage. I felt responsible for the success of our marriage and easily believed him when he blamed me for problems we had. I didn’t have anxiety before marriage. So anxiety surely partly caused my sexual dysfunction, but my husband’s beastliness caused my anxiety. This book just added to the enormous load of guilt and failure I already felt. We’ve started to make some progress in the past few years after two decades of toxicity, but I’m hoping to start therapy after quarantine is lifted.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Anonymous, I’m so sorry! I hope that by hearing us talk about it it at least gave you some degree of healing to know that you’re not alone. And I hope that you find a great licensed counselor who can help you sort this stuff out. It does matter!

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            Thank you, Sheila. I was in denial for years about how bad it was, so it does my heart good to hear the toxicity addressed appropriately. The other bad things I contributed were a terrible self-esteem and the ability to be in denial about any realities that didn’t match up with the ideologies I had been taught to believe. I certainly am not at that unhealthy place anymore, and our marriage has made amazing progress in the last couple of years.
            (Confession: I loved listening to your daughter’s reactions, because her perspective, her terminology, and her passionate and sometimes snarky personality mirror mine. We literally had the same responses repeatedly. I’m guessing our mouths even dropped open at the same times. I’m so happy for her that it didn’t take her half a century to get to a healthy place like it did me! You clearly reared her right!)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, and she really had no heads up about what I was going to read, either. So those were her genuine responses. I’m sorry that there hasn’t been good teaching in this area. I think it has hurt many, and I hope we can change that conversation.

        • Broken Heart

          I haven’t read this particular book, and have absolutely no desire to do so. But I wanted to thank Anonymous for her comments! I have been trying to make sense of my situation now and our marriage, but I couldn’t find the right words… this helps me to understand better, knowing that all that happened and is still happening, is not good and not ok! I seriously feel like I am going insane!

          Reply
  4. Ngina Otiende

    I read Act of Marriage right before we got married. It was the go-to sex book for many couples. It really helped me (I was a virgin and there weren’t many detailed books …this was back in 2008) So I think it served as a good introduction to sex but as far as moving forward, I had to seek out more information. That’s how I found you, Sheila!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      And I’m glad you did, Ngina!

      Reply
  5. B

    I read the book around the time we got married. My husband did not. He wasn’t a reader (his words). All I remember from that book is “never say no”, which led to having sex up to 10 times a week at his peak, and only 2 weeks of waiting postpartum for intercourse after each of our 4 kids (but no waiting on other forms of his release.)
    Wait, men can be bad in bed? 😅 Any time I mentioned not liking something this time even if I did last time, he would make it obvious that he thought I was either being intentionally difficult or it was just such a burden. He has even said that he felt my preferences were the only ones that mattered. Hello! It’s *my* body and I would never ask for something that hurt him, physically or emotionally! The most sensitive areas became painful if touched without the randomly-changing magic combination being unlocked first. I don’t even know if that’s normal for women or if it’s a side-effect of our relationship, which has had considerable heartache. When I finally told my closest confidants everything that had been happening for the whole relationship, they were appalled. It’s weird to think of myself as abused, but I would never want a marriage like mine for my children.
    Honestly, I believe some men push for their partners to orgasm even when she’d rather not because it makes them feel like sex gods. In our case, I believe that was a porn consequence.
    Your trigger warning was handled so well that it brought me to tears. I’ve had people tell me that there’s no such thing as non-violent rape. Thank you for mentioning coercion.
    I do wish pastors were more in the know about what *are* red flags that should indicate sending people to professional counseling. I also wish they would take time to counsel partners individually as well as together. There were things I couldn’t bring up while my husband was in the room because I was wary of his reaction.
    “Both people matter as people.” Thank you.
    I’ve recently filed for divorce from someone I believe is a covert narcissist. Your post several years ago about red flags in marriage led me to Leslie Vernick which started the process of opening my eyes. I’m looking forward to The Great Sex Rescue as one of my tools for healing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi B! Thank you so much for sharing your story.
      Your reaction to the book was very much mine–that my needs didn’t matter in bed, because I wasn’t allowed to say no. Even though LaHaye went to great lengths to say that women should feel good, and how to get there, he still said that sex was an obligation. That changed the meaning of sex for me, and caused a lot of problems that I don’t believe I would have had had I simply been encouraged to explore and discover sex with my husband, rather than giving him something he was owed. The difference was that I married a good man, and we got through it. I’m sorry that you did not. And, yes, bringing a woman to orgasm when she does not want it is a form of abuse. You cannot just do things to someone without their consent.
      I hope that what I have to say can bring a lot of healing. I’m glad I led you to Leslie Vernick–she’s great!

      Reply
      • Beka

        “…been encouraged to explore and discover sex with my husband, rather than giving him something he was owed. The difference was that I married a good man, and we got through it” Wow, totally relate to that. Thankfully I married a wonderful loving husband but I was a virgin when we got married and discovered I had vaginismus and vulvodynea which lasted for the first five plus years of our marriage. We could have intercourse only a few times in those years (but had a near miracle baby at year five!) I felt so GUILTY because I felt like I couldn’t please my husband like a wife was “supposed” to do. It took over five years to realize sex was for me too and to start really changing my thought pattern. Six years of marriage my vaginismus vanished after seeing a Christian sex therapist. Thirteen years and three kids into our marriage there is still a lot to learn but things are good! I’m glad I was a virgin when I got married but I feel like some of the messages/perceptions I had of Christian women and sex were so screwed up and I had no one I could talk to in those early years!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m so sorry, Beka, but I’m glad you’re in a good place now. I think it’s so true that in many cases Christian messages mess us up. That’s what our survey found. But I’m glad you also saw a therapist and that helped.

          Reply
  6. Active Mom

    These books make me so sad. I just don’t understand how if you sat a pastor down at a table and opened the book to the section that describes the rape, then ask him if he believes that God would say that was ok, that he could look me in the eye and say yes. How can they justify these books and these teachings? It used to make me really angry. Now it just makes me sad. The church Leadership in many ways is no better than the world they just hide behind self righteousness. The world would condemn the behavior in this book. What does that tell my teenage daughters? The world will make sure that you know that sex is supposed to be as much for you as him and that consent is always needed and rape is always wrong. The church condones and pushes teachings that tell my daughter that sex is for him or he will cheat, you are not allowed to tell him no your body is his (even if it goes against a doctors advice) and consent is not necessary if he wants it and there is no such thing as prosecutable marital rape.
    I know not all church’s subscribe to this mindset. Ours did not. However, they also didn’t speak out against it. They didn’t review these books from the pulpit and publicly correct the bad teachings.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly. In all of the books that we have reviewed for our book, the ONLY book that talked explicitly about consent in marriage was not a Christian one. It was John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I just wrote our chapter for The Great Sex Rescue today on consent, and we were really hard-hitting. I do hope we change the conversation. I don’t believe that all churches believe that consent doesn’t matter at all. I know many, many pastors who would be appalled by this. So it’s time that our resources adapt.

      Reply
      • Active Mom

        If they would be so appalled why do they still push the books in pre-marriage counseling, small groups and sell it in their book stores? I don’t understand their mindset. We have adapted in other ways. We now view depression and other mental illnesses much different in the church than we did 50 years ago and our resources available to members reflect that. There are other areas as well, addiction etc. It’s hard not to conclude that these marriage books are still there because the men in charge subscribe to these “teachings”. They like the idea that they have this power and control over women and even better that they can twist scripture to try and justify it. The church is one of the only places left clinging to the idea that the world was created for and revolves around men’s needs and wants. It doesn’t. It’s an example of how sin has distorted Gods creation but boy is the hierarchy still hanging on with a white knuckles grip.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I wish I had a good answer. I do. I think that we have given a very basic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (the do not deprive verses) too much power, and we are choosing not to see them in the context of the rest of Scripture. I do think things are slowly changing, though. Even the fact that two different publishers have me under contract to write sex books right now (within three years I’ll have 5 more out) means that publishers see that a new perspective is needed, and they wouldn’t think that if pastors and people weren’t also asking for them. So I think things are changing. I do wish pastors would stop recommending the bad books, though.

          Reply
          • Maria

            Going off of the English translation and not the original Greek, so take this with a grain of salt. Deprive means to withhold something that is owed. You don’t owe your spouse sex, not if consent means anything (if he/she has the right to guilt you into duty sex, is it really consensual?).
            Maybe what owed is to make sex a priority? (Over selfish pursuits, not a priority over self-care. Physical care, and emotional and spiritual.)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes! I totally agree.

        • Melissa W

          I think there a a number of reasons why pastors still recommend these books. One, is they do believe them. In that case, you should leave that church. Another, though, is that when they read the book, typically years ago, they didn’t see the same things in them that would stand out to them now. How many times have any one of us read a portion of scripture and saw it one way, typically through the lens of our own experiences and beliefs and then someone points out a completely different perception and we are floored that we never saw that before in that scripture. I think that is what happens a lot with these books. They and their spouse are two good willed people and have a good marriage so they gleaned the good and threw out the bad without even realizing it because it didn’t apply to them at the time they read it. So, now because the good parts help them they recommend it without thinking about it. And let’s face it most of them have not gone back and re-read them with a more critical eye. That is why it is important to bring these things up and question resources. I don’t think most pastor intend harm when they recommend these books but they need to be challenged to dig dipper and really consider the content now that issues with them have been brought to light. And if they still recommend them after being challenged to review these books with a more critical eye towards the harmful parts, then it is time to leave that church because you now know the pastor’s true heart.

          Reply
          • Active Mom

            Yes, a part of my heart agrees with you. I guess where I am struggling is marriage in the church is not in good shape. Our divorce rate is high, pornography is ravaging our churches both those in the pews and those preaching. Shouldn’t pastors be paying attention to marriage issues and resources? We wouldn’t give cover to pastors if there was a book in the bookstore that was racist and defended banning inter racial marriages. Why do we give them cover with this? Is Rape really that much less important than racism?
            If a book was just sold in a bookstore I could maybe understand. A head pastor may not even be aware or pay attention to what is in the bookstore. I just struggle when they are still used in premarriage counseling and Sunday school curriculum. At that point someone higher up the food chain is aware and making the choice to use the materials.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I get it. I think that’s why we all need to speak up. And if they don’t listen, then it’s likely not a safe church.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Melissa, that is so right on! I think you’re exactly right. Here’s an example: I’ve been recommending Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson for people in marriages dealing with infidelity for years now. I read it in the early 90s and thought it was great, and I haven’t reread it since. But recently people have told me some very concerning things that are in it, especially about how he handles abuse, so I won’t be recommending it anymore. But at the time, I read without a critical eye (I was in my early 20s, and assumed everything Dobson said was true). So I just didn’t know. It makes me think I need to reread so much now!
            And I totally agree about bringing up issues to your pastor. Chances are he (it’s usually a he) may not know about the problematic passages.

        • Libby

          Thank you so much for this podcast. We were given a copy by our pastor and his wife during marriage prep (in 2015), although they did write “read discerningly” in the inside cover! My husband saw the diagrams and noped right out of there lol. I read pretty much all of it and hated it, especially the “virtuous women will fear sex” thing, it made me feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting sex. I’m glad there’s good alternatives out there, I might buy yours and maybe give to my younger sister when she gets engaged (would that be weird?)

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lots of people buy it for their sisters/daughters/daughters-in-law! I don’t think it’s weird. 🙂 And she’d probably appreciate it! 🙂

  7. Madeline

    The rape part is incredibly disturbing. I find it so bizarre that the church so rarely talks about consent – in fact outside of this blog I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon or Sunday School lesson or *anything* church related that mentioned it. I grew up with the “sex before marriage = bad!” talks in church, and I’m assuming that youth leaders just assumed that teenagers would know that pressuring others into sex or sexual acts was wrong because those were wrong outside of marriage anyway? I think that the importance of sexual purity and sexual consent should be treated almost like two separate issues and that the church should begin education around consent as young as they do sexual purity.
    As I think about this it saddens and baffles me that that even has to be addressed. My husband loses interest in having sex with me if I don’t seem very into it, let alone if I was crying or screaming! How exactly do the “Christian” men who do this to their wives view themselves as loving or caring for them? How do they see that as laying down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is very interesting, Madeline. I’d never thought of that, but I think you’re right. Because we preach “no sex before marriage”, we really figure there’s no need to teach about consent. That would make an EXCELLENT blog post! I think I’ll take your comment and use it to launch a post soon. Really interesting stuff!

      Reply
      • Madeline

        Thank you so much Sheila! I would LOVE to see more Christian resources talk about consent!
        The Christian community that I grew up in certainly got many things right but they also lacked what I would now consider some pretty fundamental concepts, like consent. I received my education in these areas largely from the secular world, particularly the liberal college I attended. I think it’s a shame that the secular world is outpacing the church in those areas when really, what could be more Christlike than the concept of consent? It seems to fall perfectly in line with “Do unto others.”
        I also think you’re very correct in one of your replies to a comment above in saying that the church has given too much power to individual verses like those in 1 Corinthians rather than viewing those scriptures through the lens of the gospel message. This almost seems to be a separate issue from the problematic lack of teaching consent to teenagers, which I really do think tends to be more of an oversight, whereas the dismissal of marital rape seems more sinister. I’m just rambling at this point, so I’ll stop. This is an issue that’s really close to my heart.

        Reply
  8. Madeline

    I want to add two more thoughts:
    I love Rebecca’s reactions! She’s so funny but also incisive. “You can’t consent if you don’t have the option to say no […] you can’t truly decide to want someone or to make love to someone if it’s not your choice. Otherwise it means absolutely nothing.” Beautiful.
    I also really appreciate that your podcast includes a trigger warning. Very thoughtful.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Madeline! Yes, both of my daughters are wise beyond their years. They’re really a blessing.

      Reply
  9. Hannah

    My husband and I both read parts of the book separately before our wedding and parts together on our honeymoon. I actually thought the book was really helpful. We both definitely felt that the book prioritized satisfaction and enjoyment for both parties. And it certainly helped us figure things out in the beginning. Other than “the talk” I got when I was 9 and later in Jr. High, I was pretty clueless about how things actually worked. So I did find a lot of the info to be helpful.
    There were a couple parts that freaked me out regarding potential pain the first time. And the suggestion to go to the doctor and have your hymen broken in advance was appalling to me. I didn’t do that and was just fine. I think by following much of the other advice in the book we were able to avoid any pain and I haven’t had issues with it at all, even on our honeymoon. The one other problem with the book was the amount of pressure it put on me to orgasm. We ended up listening to a Family Life broadcast by from Ron Deal later, that helped ease the pressure I was putting on myself and that was probably a better resource.

    Reply
  10. Lyndall Cave

    I’m constantly amazed by how much bad theology about sex parallels legalism and fundamentalism. I’ve experienced so much healing from fundamentalist nonsense as a result of reading your blog, which is rather strange that a sex blog would bring more freedom in my faith, but it’s awesome and I’ll take it.
    This podcast had the same effect. When Rebecca talked about consent, and how true consent means you can say no, I immediately saw how this can apply in relationship with God, not just in romantic and sexual relationships. There’s this idea in religious circles that once you’re a Christian, you have to obey God without debate or delay. But I always hated that, because it made me feel like a slave. In a true and respectful and healthy relationship, both sides are free to say no, which makes the yes genuine. And I think we can do that with God too. Heck, Abraham and Moses debated with God a bunch, and we consider them heroes of the faith.
    A focus on obedience in Christianity is suffocating. A focus on RELATIONSHIP brings life. I hope that as the church embraces more healthy sexual ethics, it also embraces a healthier relationship with God Himself (and vice versa).

    Reply
    • Doug

      Speaking as a former rebellious soul, I would offer that there is a great deal of difference between debating with god, and refusing God.
      Moses debated, Pharaoh refused. So, yes. You are absolutely free to follow whichever path you wish, but there are consequences to following the wrong path. The idea is that those debates are to get you to his point of view, not to change his.
      Thise examples you listed as champions of the faith are not known as such because of their debating skills, but rather their obedience.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so insightful, Lyndall! I think it all comes down to the nature of relationships and the nature of real intimacy. Jesus said that he came to teach us to serve, not to lord over others as the Gentiles did. That relationships should no longer be based on power. Obviously, God has authority over us. But his conception of intimacy is also tied up with free will. You can’t have real intimacy without the choice to say no, which is why he baked that into the universe. And in marriage, if we operate in a power-over way rather than a mutual-serving way, we ruin intimacy, and also ruin sex. Christians need to get back to what constitutes healthy relationships, because I think we’ll find that it’s the real heart of Scripture!

      Reply
    • Meghan

      OH MY GOSH YOU’RE RIGHT
      When people ask why God even included the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden, I like to point out that love without choice isn’t love. Never really made the connection to obedience without choice, but it’s a good parallel.
      Like I raise my own daughter, she is free to choose to disobey…but she must face the consequences of her choices, which I spell out to her before I enact them.

      Reply
  11. Emmy

    What an interesting thread, and how important to read and review together those popular and influential books on marriage and sex! I’m really looking forward to the other books and I wonder if some books that were so influential for our marriage and our lives will be on the list…
    The Act of Marriage we got as a wedding present from our church. It had many advantages compared to some other books, let’s say “The joy of being a woman” by Ingrid Trobish, or “I loved a girl” by Walter Trobish. I would have wanted to read Act of Marriage together with my newly wed husband but when I asked, he yelled at me and I never dared to ask it agan. 🙁
    I can’t remember the rape scene. Perhaps that was not included in the copy we got. That was not an English ersion but a translation. It may have been edited more or less.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hope it was edited out! I really do. It was quite awful.

      Reply
      • Emmy

        I might check in some day if it really has been edited out. I read the book more than 20 years ago, so maybe I just don’t remember right.
        Some other things you discussed in your Podcast I do remember. They did not disturb me then, but now you read those passages I do remember, and they do disturb me now. The stong willed, choleric woman, that causes her husband to become impotent. :/ The woman who should forgive her husband for being harsh to the children. I mean, we should be forgiving, but if the husband mistreats the kids…the kids are the ones hubby should apologize and ask forgiveness. I mean, if I steal your neighbours bicycle and ask YOU to forgive me, that does not make much sense. I should return the bicycle to your neighbour and ask your neighbor to forgive me. That’s his/her bicycle, not yours.
        The same way, if daddy beats the kids, why should MOMMY forgive him? He did beat the KIDS. It’s THEM that have been wronged. Mommy should get a temper tantrum and make daddy apologize the kids and never do it again, or else…
        I just can’t figure out how can a woman even want to have a loving, intimate relationship with a man who is harsh to the children and beats them up.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Exactly, Emmy! And even for LaHaye not to make a comment that beating up the kids is NOT okay, but to put that story in there without commentary! I know it was a long time ago, but still. Isn’t that just common sense, too?

          Reply
  12. Emily

    I thought this was fantastic!!! You and your daughter are wonderfully articulate and astute. I was particularly impressed by the way in which you were both able to spot the logical flaws and explain them with wit, sensitivity and clarity. Great, insightful work. Thank you.
    I think you deserve some praise, rather than thinly veiled insults suggesting you’re emotional fragile.
    (Also, I found it gaspingly shocking that Tim told the true story about how a woman made a disclosure to him about her sexually abusive father, who was currently a leader IN THAT CHURCH and he didn’t address that issue at all!!! It seems likely that other little girls would have been abused because of his lack of action there.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Emily! Yes, that’s an element of the story that I hadn’t thought of. I know he wrote the book in 1976, but really–shouldn’t some of this just be common sense?

      Reply
      • Emily

        YES and just basic biblical and human love and care.

        Reply
  13. Meghan

    OK so I finally had the chance to finish listening to the podcast and I had one comment: THANK YOU for calling out the blatant issues with a wife trying to force her husband to have sex. I so rarely hear/read anything condemning such behavior and I really appreciated hearing it here.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know, right? Like, that was totally sexually assault, but female on male. Very strange indeed!

      Reply
  14. Natalie

    “Men have a higher rate of orgasm because they’re more active during sex.” Hahahahaha. Omg, that one literally had be tearing up with laughter. It was the exact opposite (husband lying on his back enjoying himself, me on top doing ALL the work, him orgasming, me not) for the first 8 years of our sexual relationship (which admittedly did start 4 years before marriage).
    And about that whole marital rape part of the book (BIG yikes!), it reminds me of a scene from the tv show Outlander (which I love, but warning, there is a lot of sex/graphic content in it, some really disturbing which I fast forward through. I like it because I think it depicts married sex in a fairly realistic light compared to what’s usually shown on tv these days (aside from the fact that the female lead character can apparently orgasm at the drop of a hat). It shows both the good and bad dynamics sexually that can happen in a marriage, which I appreciate.) Set in the 18th century, the two main characters basically have an arranged marriage. On their wedding night, he’s super inexperienced while she’s been married before & is older than him. He’s sweet and romantic with her & tries to ease them both into the mood so they can consummate their marriage. There’s a part where she compliments him on this & he says something like “you didn’t think I’d just force myself on you, did you?” WHICH IS GOOD!!!! That’s what every loving, caring husband should do for his wife not only on their wedding night or the first time they have sex but EVERY time they have sex! The higher drive spouse doesn’t just force themself on their spouse, no matter which generation or century you’re from! That’s just called being a decent human being! I think everyone, Christian or non-Christian, is at least on some level aware of this, & knows that it’s selfish and wrong to sexually take/use your spouse like that. The fact that the writer includes that as an example AND hasn’t updated it in almost 50 years is a concern in my mind.
    I think the Aunt’s story from your podcast heralds from a time when marriage/women were seen as business deals and property, which is why “using what the husband just bought” wasn’t seen as wrong per se. But also, not all marriages were only business deals throughout history, and not all men treated their wives sexually as just a piece of their property! So to think that that’s the standard or ever was is just sad and wrong, and really NOT something we need to pass down to the next generation in a marriage book.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Natalie. It was a very disturbing story, and the fact that LaHaye didn’t even call it out is even more disturbing. I do think it comes from that idea that women don’t own their bodies, but their husbands do. We need to come up with a rigorous theology of consent in marriage, because this isn’t okay.

      Reply
    • David

      Hi Natalie, there is so much being written on this topic that I couldn’t find where someone wrote: “Men have a higher rate of orgasm because they’re more active during sex.”
      I was like thinking that person doesn’t know what they are talking about, as my own wife orgasms’ at least 3 times more than I do. It wasn’t always like that, until I discovered a book written by a woman, who tastefully described how to make love to a woman.
      (involving anticipation and then slow and unhurried love making and allow her arousal to elevate to a peak and climax, then peak and climax, whereas we men by the time we turn 50 can rarely climax more than once,
      I’d like to find who made that comment and respond because it seems that in many cases, a woman can climax more (and sometimes a lot more as in multiples) compared to a man. If he climaxes multiple times every time he is intimate with his wife, I need to know what I’m doing wrong.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        The comment was in The Act of Marriage, the book that we talked about in this podcast!

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        David, my personal experience and the experience of close Christian friends has been the opposite of yours. In our 40 years of marriage, I have always climaxed and my darling wife has never experience a true, full blown orgasm. My friends have stated that their wives orgasm very little.a I hope this is different in the younger generations…

        Reply
  15. Emmy

    David, do you mean Sheila’s book? If it is a book written by someone else, would you mind to tell the title and the author?

    Reply
  16. Joe

    Hi, thank you very much about this critique. I agree that this book had a huge influence in several generations of Christian and specially in pastors. I also appreciate the fact that two generations were talking. So congrats.
    However, I don’t think using like “icky”, “disgusting” and “ridiculous” so frequently words as you do in the podcast, is really constructive. For example when you mention talking to your pastor about sex or massaging a penis. Sex is a taboo, specially in churches, and we should stop shaming people about what they do sexually or how and with whom they talk about. I have spoken with my pastor about my sexual relation with my wife, and I have felt embarrassed listening this podcast.
    Thanks again and regards

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear what you’re saying, Joe–but you’re a man. A man talking to a man about sex problems is entirely different than a woman talking to a man about sex problems. I hope you can see the difference? Advising all readers, including females, to talk to their pastors about sex problems is completely inappropriate.
      The massaging his penis thing was wrong because it was sexual assault, as we said in the podcast. There is absolutely nothing wrong with massaging a man’s penis–if that is what he wants. But LaHaye was recommending women do this even when their husbands don’t want it. That’s why it was icky. I hope you can see that sexual assault can go both ways–and that women can sexually assault a man, too? What he was recommending was wrong. Just as a man should not be touching a woman when she has said no, so a woman should not be touching a man. Consent matters.
      That’s what we found icky–him telling us to cross boundaries, and telling wives to assault someone. As a man, you may be comfortable talking to your pastor, and you may be the higher drive spouse and would be happy to have your wife grab your penis at any time. And so you may not have found them objectionable. But try to imagine reading those passages as someone else– as a woman, or as a low drive spouse. Then do you see how they’re wrong?

      Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m also going to add that the problem with talking to your pastor about intimate details of you AND YOUR WIFE’S sex life, especially if she is not present for the conversation, is that:
      1: Many women would feel uncomfortable knowing that a man knows that kind of stuff about her–so having it known by a non-licensed person who is not trained in this field is unnecessarily invasive
      2: Pastors are not licensed to counsel on these things. If my husband went to a pastor about this, I don’t know what advice he’s getting. He definitely is not getting licensed counsel, and so I would be uncomfortable with letting someone into that area of our lives unless he/she had a license in that area.
      3: Going to a pastor instead of a counsellor means that your wife’s social circle now has a chance to know about the most intimate parts of her life. You’re going on trust that the pastor won’t tell his wife, who’s maybe friends with yours. That’s a problem and it can feel very invasive. If my husband had come home one day and said he had talked to the pastor about our sex life I would have been absolutely livid. A counsellor? Not a problem.
      I hope that explains it a bit better.

      Reply
      • Joe

        Hi, thanks for your answers. I see your points, and yes, as a man and as a higher drive spouse, I am more ok with both aspects that we have mentioned. But you know, there are also female pastors and women with higher drive, so… Actually, I can imagine that many men are pretty ok or even really happy with their wives touching their genitalia without asking at the moment for consent. Of course this should be cleared out in previous conversations and yes, I see that if a man says no, that would mean sexual assault.
        I also see that your pastor is not the best person to talk about sex. And actually my conversation with him was not that long. However, since it is also shameful for many people to look for counseling and psychological help (that might be not that difficult in USA, it is a deal in other countries), a pastor can be the first person to talk to, and then he/she can recommend someone else with deeper knowledge in the field.
        Anyway, my point was really about considering the use of words like “icky”, “gross”, “disgusting” when talking about sex, because they have a strong component of shame, and that is a huge problem in churches. And I would advise about be really careful about using the word “ridiculous”, because many people really feel insecure when talking about sex in christian contexts.
        In any case, thank you again for your review, I will send it to a couple of people that have recommended me this book in the past 🙂
        Regards!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Joe, thank you so much for your graciousness! I appreciate it.
          I also think you’re very right that many people do see sex as distasteful and “icky”. I think, though, that this is largely due to incorrect teaching on sex, which we highlighted some examples of in this book.
          I think it’s very helpful to contrast what is unhealthy with a healthy message, so that people will be able to see the truth. Often people have grown up believing unbiblical things, and that’s why sex seems so distasteful. I think when we validate their feelings, and agree that this is “icky”, but then ALSO say that this is not a proper or complete view of sex, we help people see the good stuff. But it’s hard to see that if they aren’t first told, “you’re right to feel like something is off about this. You’re right to not like it, because that’s not what God ever meant.”

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Joe–had another thought this morning (and thank you for prompting me to clarify some of my thinking about this!).
            I believe that what Tim LaHaye did was try to dispell a lot of the shame that many women (and some men) felt about sex. He tried to show that God meant this to be a beautiful part of marriage, and that we were created for pleasure, and he did a good job of this.
            But what he didn’t do was show how sex needs to be seen through the cross of Christ–as everything needs to be seen through the cross of Christ. The cross should dictate how we see everything, because it changed everything. We should no longer look at things through kingdom of darkness eyes, but only through the kingdom of light.
            But what the cross teaches us is that we are to love and we are to serve, and that ultimately God created us for reconciliation with Him and with each other. We are designed for intimacy, and designed for love, and we are asked to serve. Sex, then, needs to be seen with those kingdom eyes–that it is about intimacy, love, and serving.
            When you take sex and make it ONLY about the body, and separate it from a deep, mutual knowing–which Tim LaHaye did on many occasions, most specifically with the Aunt Matilda story–then you are really keeping sex from the transforming and reconciliation work of the cross.
            When sex is not a mutual knowing and caring for one another, then sex becomes about taking and entitlement, two things which have no place in kingdom relationships.
            And when we separate something from Christ, it no longer feels right. It feels “icky”, because what is not of Christ is a distortion. That, really, is the definition of “icky”, and that’s why I stand by it! 🙂

          • Joe

            Hi Sheila,
            thanks for your answers. I see that LaHaye(s) was/were wrong in many of his/their understandings about sex. And yes, the story about the marital rape is huge issue in the book. But we can talk about all that (as you have done it in your last comments) without using the same exact words that people listen in their brains and say to their spouses when they fight again sex as taboo or when adding something in their sexual repertoires.
            It is ok to have difference opinions in the style of how we express ideas.
            Regards!

  17. Hannah

    I think it’s unfair to say as a blanket statement, “Don’t go to a Christian counselor because they aren’t licensed.” I work at Dallas Theological Seminary where the licensing training is emphasized equally with the Biblical formation. Just because some Christian counselors are not licensed does not mean there are not good licensed Christian counselors. And I believe it is better to go to a licensed Christian counselor than a secular one who does not believe in God’s view of marriage if you are having issues with sex.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hannah, I’m sorry if that’s what you heard, but that’s definitely not what we meant (I’m not sure what our exact words were) and I’m sorry if we misspoke. But we’ve been adamant on the blog, over and over again, that licensed Christian counselors are wonderful! Our problem is with the biblical counseling movement, and so we recommend that people see LICENSED counselors, not just biblical counselors. We’ve been beating that drum for about a year now! Licensed is great, because there are protections and evidence-based therapies; biblical counseling is often probelmatic. And, again, “biblical counselors” are not synonymous with CHRISTIAN counselors. The Biblical counseling movement is a specific branch of counseling which all too often denies the reality of depression and anxiety, and says that they all have spiritual roots that must be dealt with, rather than medication. And they are usually not trauma informed.
      We talk about this so much that we may have used shortcuts because we don’t like to always be repetitive, but we are very supportive of licensed counselors, and wish there were more of them!

      Reply

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