What Happens When We Get Gender Stereotypes Wrong?

by | Dec 11, 2020 | Resolving Conflict | 20 comments

Why Gender Stereotypes Fail When it Comes to Christian Marriage Advice

Yesterday we posted an important podcast about the idea that “men need respect and women need love”, and that these should be unconditional.

It’s blown up on Twitter, and I’ve had so much feedback it’s hard to keep track. But a few things have come out of the conversation that I think it’s important to point out.

First, if you didn’t listen to that podcast, please do. It’s an important one. It shows how the idea behind “Love & Respect” is based on two things: an incorrect reading of Ephesians 5:33 (they ignored the original Greek which implied the opposite of what they teach), and a poorly written survey question directed only at men. As someone on Twitter said, “you have to laugh or you’ll just cry.”

Listen to the podcast, or watch it on YouTube!

Okay, a few important things:

When we make gender generalizations, we can leave out at least half of couples

In Love & Respect, as I said yesterday, they base their “men need respect, women need love” on a survey where they only asked men, and 74% of those men chose respect.

We showed that other surveys have used the same question on women, and 65% ALSO prefer respect.

But let’s assume that that’s not the case. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, the best case scenario, and assume that 74% of women would have chosen love.

74% is actually a very strong preference. In fact, it’s rare to get that strong a preference. So in that best case scenario, this would be a strong preference shown by both sides.

But let’s think through the math of that for a second.

If 74% of men prefer respect, and 74% of women prefer love, then how many marriages would we have where men prefer respect and women prefer love?

Well, if you remember the math you did in middle school talking about chance, you’d know that to figure out the chance of something, you multiple the chance of thing 1 by the chance of thing 2, and then you get the chance overall. So let’s multiply 74% by 74%. When you do that, you get 54.76%.

That means that IF their survey question properly measured men’s preference for respect (which we showed yesterday it likely didn’t), and IF women showed a similar preference for love (which we showed yesterday that they definitely don’t), then EVEN THEN this hypothesis only applies to 55% of couples.

This, my dear readers, is why we have to start questioning things in Christian books when we read them, especially around gender differences.

Christian marriage resources tend to differ from secular marriage resources mainly because Christian marriage resources stress gender stereotypes far more than other books do. And when you stress stereotypes, you often miss huge swaths of the population.

One of the things that we found in our survey of 20,000 women, for instance, is that it’s only in about 60% of marriages that he has the higher sex drive. In the rest, either she has the higher sex drive or they have equal sex drives. Yet most resources assume that he will have the higher sex drive, leaving high drive wives high and dry.

Or most resources assume that men are visually stimulated but women aren’t. Yet increasingly research is showing that women are neurologically just as visually stimulated as men–we’ve just been conditioned out of believing it.

It’s a big mess.

And this is why I believe that God’s desire for us is not that we be godly wives or godly husbands but that we be godly.

We need to stop focusing on stereotypes and start focusing on Jesus.

We’d all be better off.

And that’s really the focus of my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, which tries to approach marriage through the lens of “how can we look more like Christ, and encourage our husbands to look more like Christ, rather than just focus on gender?” We plant Jesus firmly in the centre, which is where He should be all along.

Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

A few other interesting comments on yesterday’s podcast on Love & Respect and bad science:

One thing that claim also misses is that if someone loves you they will respect you. You can’t have love without respect. So it’s like saying, “men prefer apple pie over dessert, whereas women prefer dessert.” It doesn’t actually make sense.

Jennifer G.

I think it sends such a dangerous message to women, who, thinking (as this book and “study” imply) love and respect are mutually exclusive, will allow her husband to disrespect her as long as he “loves” (shows affection) her.

Hannah M.

I always HATED this saying growing up. It is so generalizing, defective, and sincerely offensive. At first, I merely accepted it at face value. And then when I began to think about it for myself and test it by Scripture, it just fell apart.

Izzy O.

Hi—as a survivor of a cult veiled and hidden within an evangel church, who has suffered a decade of cognitive dissonance due to being falsely taught and KNOWING that the truth was something else, I wanted to personally thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you.


Thanks, everyone!

So listen to the podcast.

And let’s all do better!

Gender Stereotypes and Christian Marriage Advice

Have there been gender stereotypes you’ve heard at church that have bothered you? I’m trying to get in the habit of not spreading them–though it is a difficult to habit to break. Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to support our work here:

Good Fruit Faith is an initiative of the Bosko nonprofit. Bosko will provide tax receipts for U.S. donations as the law allows.

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

Related Posts

Who Is the Focus of Marriage Teaching?

Who is the person who is most likely to read a marriage book and try to get help with their marriage? Someone whose marriage is a source of strain. If you're in a great marriage, you don't need to read a marriage book. You might read one if you're part of a small...


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. Chris

    Sheila, I think that your survey results showing that only in 60% of marriages does the man have the higher drive is not valid. That would make it a (low) outlier amongst other results of similar surveys that have been done before. I think the reason for those results is that the women who follow your blog/ social media channels (and are thus more likely to complete your survey) are a self selecting group of women who either are higher drive wives, or who are lower drive wives who still value sex and its importance within marriage. I think if you asked a truly random sample of wives across all society this question the results would shift significantly. Just my thoughts.

    • Nathan

      It may shift a bit, but I’m not sure it would shift all that much. Sheila herself has looked at other studies that show that as high as 25% or 30% of marriages have a wife with the higher sex drive.

      • Chris

        Nathan, assuming you are right, that would still lead to a 10-15% point difference. Just saying.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The difference is shared libido. About 20% have women with the higher libido; about 20% have the same libido. When you give only two options (does he have the higher one or she have the higher one) you tend to miss the ones who would say it’s about the same.
          What we found was completely in line with other surveys; if anything, we found more men with the higher libido than usual. Evangelical marriages tend to have more women with lower libidos; secular marriages tend to have more men with lower libidos (largely because, i would think, they have more porn use and porn use has been found to decrease libido).

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            One more thing: I do think it’s important that we question research. Asking whether our survey is valid because of where the survey respondents came from is a legitimate concern. We can tell you that over half of our respondents did not come from this blog (we measured it specifically). And all of our findings were externally validated through other large scale surveys. We were exactly in line. We also used previously validated survey questions for our outcome variables. We will be discussing this at length when the book is released, and explaining how we reached our operational definitions and how we determined validity/reliability.
            But just because someone doesn’t like a result doesn’t mean the survey is invalid–especially when it’s in line with what other surveys say, and we had 20,000 people.

    • Elsie

      Sheila, I love the work you are doing to question harmful stereotypes that hurt marriages! But Chris is making an accurate point here that your sample is a convenience sample and therefore your results aren’t necessarily generalizable to the whole population. So, even though 60% of your sample had men with a higher libido, you can’t necessarily generalize that to the whole population of North American Christian married couples because your sample wasn’t designed to be representative in the first place.
      You are correct that your study should be able to speak to associations like having a particular belief associated with a particular outcome. But power is not the same as generalizability. Power allows you to be able to see differences between groups but it doesn’t let you say that 60% of all marriages have men with a higher libido.
      Does that make sense? (I have a PhD in Epidemiology so I have years of training in how to understand these concepts, I know it can be hard to grasp all the nuances when you haven’t had that training. I’m not trying to be critical of your work but I wanted to help clarify since there were some things said that are not completely accurate)

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Elsie, I hear what you’re saying–all I was saying was that it was externally validated by other surveys, so that we had pretty much the same percentages as they did.
        Also, while it was a convenience sample, the vast majority of studies are convenience samples, and ours is one of the largest ones ever done that wasn’t done by a government entity. Yes, that is a limitation of our survey–but I would argue that it is a limitation of the vast majority of surveys that are in the literature today. And the fact that our findings were in line with what other surveys showed does give us some credence.

      • Joanna Sawatsky

        Hi Elsie,
        Just want to clear this up: I have an MPH (thesis) focusing on epidemiology. Sheila has a Masters in Sociology and one in Public Policy. Rebecca graduated top of her class in psychology. I received one of 15 merit based full ride scholarships to a major research university in the USA (Ohio State, freshman class of 7200). I know you’re not trying to be critical, but your comment does legitimately feel a bit patronizing. I recognize that none of us has a PhD and I know it must have taken you a LOT of work to get one! I don’t want to minimize your accomplishments, but what I’m trying to say is that our not having a PhD doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything about basic epidemiological concepts. I can assure you that my professors felt that I “grasped the nuances” when I was asked to be the TA for both biostatistics and infectious disease epidemiology graduate level courses (not to mention the several other undergraduate and graduate courses I also taught).
        I recognize that our results aren’t generalizable to the entire population of Christians. However, what we are arguing is that our findings are in agreement with other research in this field, which is encouraging, even if we don’t have a representative sample. Note that we do not argue that we have measured the true parameter of the libido differences among Christians. We’re just reporting the results from our survey while being honest about the limitations.
        While we used a convenience sampling methodology I genuinely don’t think that there was a feasible option to do anything other than a convenience sample. Especially given our desire to measure rare outcomes like vaginismus which meant that we needed a large sample size. If we were to do a randomized distribution of the survey to churches in North America, that would have all sorts of other problems since we would have relied on pastors to distribute the survey to congregants, but many would have chosen not to once they saw what our survey was about. Additionally, we would have not been able to survey those who do not currently attend church but who once did and/or still are Christians. Had we done the survey in a randomized way, there is no feasible way we could have had 20,000 responses and we ran the real risk of only having responses from egalitarian churches who are not threatened by this research, introducing a whole other issue of self-selection in our “randomized” option. We needed large numbers in order to drill down on the issue of sexual pain, since the numbers are relatively low in the general population. That is a valid research choice that does not mean that our findings are illegitimate.
        Plus, let’s be honest about the fact that convenience sampling is incredibly common, especially for this type of research question. We simply couldn’t do a random phone sample or a random sample of church attenders. It’s not like we could do a retrospective chart review, like you could for many medical conditions. We chose a very, very common sampling method in psychological research that yes, does have limitations but we did our best to balance the limitations of our sampling method with the needs of our survey and by the questions we were going to answer.
        All studies have limitations and that’s especially true of observational work. And we’ve never pretended that our study is the “end all” answer on this stuff. In fact, in the book itself, we called for more research on this field! But it’s not as though we can do a double blind survey assigning children to fundamentalist upbringings 😉

  2. Nathan

    > One more thing: I do think it’s important that we question research.
    True enough, in all facets of life. One thing I noticed about that original survey was that the question asked was a bit complicated and not worded very well.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I said this on Twitter, and I’ll say it here too.
      She was contrasting: being alone and unloved in the world; or feeling inadequate and disrespected by anyone.
      So the options are: being totally alone; or being with other people, all of whom are disrespecting you and criticizing you and even abusing you. In that case, most people are going to pick being alone over being constantly criticized.
      That’s problem 1. Problem 2 is what Rebecca referred to in the podcast: a double-barrelled question. Instead a straight: respect vs. love, it was “alone and unloved” vs. “inadequate and disrespected.” In that case, you don’t know if people are reacting to “inadequate” or “disrespected.” That’s a problem.
      Problem 3: This is not talking about marriage. It’s about being totally alone in the world; or being disrespected by everyone. It’s not talking about “what would you rather your spouse do?” Those are very different things.
      So that’s a long way to say, “I totally agree! It’s a confusing question that wasn’t worded well.”

  3. Meghan

    Thank you TLHV team for all the work you’ve done! When I first married my husband, I believed all the typical conservative Christian stuff like that my husband would be the leader in the household, that he’d need sex more than me, that he’d ultimately make the decisions even after consulting me, that he’d struggle with lust, etc. But, as it turns out, I married a Samwise Gamgee (even better than Aragorn, in my opinion 😉 ) rather than an authoritarian take charge no nonsense man. We actually FOUGHT about this for a while because I thought he wasn’t fulfilling his God-given role, and because I thought he was lying when he said he doesn’t really notice other women any more than he notices other men. Which is silly, in retrospect, because part of the reason I chose him is because he’s the *opposite* of my own father who ruled with an iron fist (and is emotionally abusive as well)! It took a little while to appreciate him for who he is, but over time I’ve come to see how well we work together this way and be glad of it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yay! So glad, Meghan. (And I love Samwise Gamgee too. I still think he’s the real hero of the story. He’s the only one the ring didn’t affect, too).

  4. Nick Peters

    I thrive on respect, but I think we could be saying things in different ways. Men want love also, but many of us think of sex when we think of love. We try to have sex with our wives wanting it to be “I love you” and they don’t take it that way.
    Meanwhile, I was telling my pastor recently that with stereotypes, I don’t relate to many guys I meet where I am. I don’t care about sports or cars and I have never watched porn. I have the high sex drive, but there just seems something different about the way I see women. At our house, if we have turned on the Super Bowl, my wife is watching the game and I’m reading a book and watching during the commercials.
    Also, one other way I’m thinking about now is that saying that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Any woman who tried that on me would fail. I have Aspergers and my diet is very selective and in many ways, food is a necessary evil in my life.

  5. Purplecandy

    There is one gender stereotype that I always see in christian resources it’s the idea that the man is always the breadwinner. I read Gary Thomas “sacred influence” recently and it was full of such cliché. How I should be grateful for the house, holiday and other material things my husband provides… Which means I shouldn’t ask much of anything else since he works so hard.
    The thing is, like a growing number of women of my generation : I am the main breadwinner.
    We were a two income family until my husband got laid back and with five young children it made sense for him to stay home. Especially since my job pays better.
    I am far from being the only wife making more money than her husband but christian books who don’t use the “inconditional respect” thing tend to say things such as ” he works so hard making money so that wives will not demand anything from their husbands.
    Well, I work hard providing for my family and I still cook diner, mop the floor and change diapers (though my husband does it too which is great) . My husband stays home but the love and respect I have for him run deeper than his (lack of) paycheck. This kind of stereotype is hurtful both for men and women. Christian authors need to wake up.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! We actually had a really interesting finding about that in our survey. The majority of women said that a stay-at-home dad was as a good as a stay-at-home mom, but less than 20% of them said their church would teach that.

    • Lisa

      I don’t care for that teaching, either. My husband is so much more than a paycheck and meal ticket. It’s telling women marriage is transactional: his job is to pay for material goods, and your job is to have sex with him and not bother him with anything else. That’s not a marriage relationship. It’s basically prostitution. It erases the woman she’s not important for such a relationship could be maintained with any number of women- a fact the church reminds us of when they tell us he wi have an affair if we get out of line.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes! That’s what we said in The Great Sex Rescue, too–many authors are portraying marriage like prostitution. It’s just so sad. And so small. And so objectifying.

      • Chris

        One of the things that has so confounded me in this life has been how very intelligent people can see the exact same issue so incredibly differently. I have learned that I experience a much more enriching and fulfilling conversation with people who I disagree with than people I agree with completely.

  6. Sarah

    Yes, I am greatly bothered by many of the gender stereotypes and gender roles that are in the church. I have a high sex drive (which I feel was suppressed) I also get visually turned on. (Porn would be an aggressive addiction for me if I let it). But I was taught those two things are the way all men are and women can’t comprehend it, and this was why we needed to cover up to not tempt them. I find this message insulting. I am so over letting men (or woman) tell me how I feel and what I need and what structure my marriage needs. They just don’t know me. I will let God do the work.
    The more I think back to my upbringing in a Christian home, the more angry I get. Not all Christian homes are like this though, for the record. I would see the way some of my Christian friends grew up and wished that my parents were more like theirs.
    They actually had freedoms and their parents respected and trusted them. Mine were overprotective and they over thought situations. They still taught the love of Jesus and how we are saved by grace, but they prioritized our “purity” and were a bit legalistic in more ways than one. What was shouted out the most is what shaped my view on God and life. Most of it ended up being false as I got to know the real God firsthand. We are saved by grace, not by our works. My worth is found in Him, not in my purity.
    Thank you for taking your time to correct these delusions I was brought up in. When I read your stuff, I feel like you’re speaking about me. You help further confirm that my upbringing caused me emotional abuse and that I’m not crazy for feeling the way I do. I am left having to undo the harm by retraining my brain. God is good though. I’ve come a long way and I am healing.

  7. Lisa M

    Evangelical authors tend to be horrible at math. Thank you from those of everywhere who cringe reading Eggerichs and Feldhahn. Neither of them would pass high school statistics. Which is ok. But don’t try to fake out readers.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *