What if the Evangelical View of Sex is Priming Us for Sex Scandals & Abuse?

by | Feb 19, 2021 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 17 comments

My Opinion Piece on the Evangelical View of Sex

We read through the best-selling evangelical sex and marriage books when we were writing The Great Sex Rescue–and in many cases we were thoroughly dismayed.

What was said about sex in those books was toxic.

Last weekend, I wrote a thread that blew up on Twitter, being seen by 1,000,000 people. I began it this way:

I then shared some quotes from books, things like:

“Because of male hardwiring, men don’t naturally have that Christian view of sex.”

Every Heart Restored (part of the Every Man's Battle Series)

“We find another reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there naturally–simply by being male.”

Every Man's Battle

Well, that thread got so big that Religion News Service asked me to expand on it and make it into an editorial.

So this week I did. Here’s some more of it:

Repeatedly, God-given male sexuality and objectification of women are seen as one and the same. Tim LaHaye, in “The Act of Marriage,” echoes this: “Women must cultivate the problem of visual lust, whereas men almost universally must cope with the problem just because they are men.”

So if men can’t help it, what do these books propose is the solution?

Women! It is women who keep men from sinning. And it starts with understanding this is just how men are. “For Women Only” advises wives to “accept the struggle” their husbands have with lust. “Love & Respect” says: “If your husband feels you do not respect his struggle, his desire for you, and his maleness, he’ll pull back from you.”

In one of the most degrading choices of words ever made, “Every Man’s Battle” tells women: “Once he tells you he’s (quitting lust) cold turkey, be like a merciful vial of methadone for him.” Proving the metaphor was deliberate, the authors repeat it: “Your wife can be a methadone-like fix when your temperature is rising.” No talk of intimacy or dignity; she is simply a “methadone-like fix.”

Since male sexuality hinges on objectification of women, the best couples can hope for, apparently, is that he objectifies only one woman: the one he married. By getting his fill with his sanctioned option, he can withstand the more alluring ones.

Husbands don’t stop needing methadone when wives are physically unwell, either. In “Sheet Music,” Kevin Leman says that if a wife is bleeding heavily, recovering from childbirth or “simply not feeling her best,” she can help her husband out with a “hand job” if he’s “ready to climb the walls.” After talking about how difficult the wife’s period is on a husband trying to resist pornography, he adds oral sex to the mix, telling women, “faithfulness is a two-person job.”

"Is the Evangelical View of Sex at the Root of our Sex Scandals?"

My Religion News Service Editorial

I go on to show how damaging this is to everyone, and also how books then go on to warn that if wives don’t meet husbands’ needs, the books then portray men as becoming predators:

“The Act of Marriage” describes a husband who raped his wife while she was “kicking and screaming” on their wedding night as “equally unhappy” as his rape victim. “His Needs, Her Needs” says, “He is pawing and grabbing because he needs something — very badly. … As one thirty-two-year-old executive put it, ‘I feel like a fool — like I’m begging her or even raping her.’”

“Every Heart Restored” recounts a woman saying, “Without foreplay, he raped me — if that can happen when you’re married.” But then the authors fail to clarify that, yes, rape is rape, even in marriage.

“Every Man’s Battle” presents masturbating in gym parking lots or to the sight of one’s sister-in-law sleeping as normal male behavior. In the same book, a youth group volunteer who was married with three kids rapes a 15-year-old girl and is portrayed sympathetically, since his lust overwhelmed him.

"Is the Evangelical View of Sex at the Root of our Sex Scandals?"

My Religion News Service Editorial

Please read the whole thing!

And then please share it. They did me such an honour by letting me write, and I would love to write some columns for them on some of our findings from our surveys. If we show that our readers are engaged and will share, that becomes easier to ask for!

Plus we just have to get the word out there. it isn’t okay to talk about women like this, or sex like this. Or even men like this! This is so demeaning to men.

I have a spreadsheet of terrible quotes that I created so that we could write our book. It’s so sad to see them all in one place.

But I am feeling so encouraged as people tell me that I’m giving them permission and freedom to admit that this stuff is toxic! And The Great Sex Rescue will show you how sex was always meant to be–MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE. It is not only about his physical release, no matter what Emerson Eggerichs may say in Love & Respect.

Together, we can change the evangelical conversation about sex.

I’m so glad that Religion News Service let me write this, and I want to leave you with the ending:

In the Old Testament, we read the heartbreaking story of Hagar. Used sexually by her master to bear a child, and then discarded when she becomes a liability, she is forced out into the desert with her son. God meets her there. And then she is given the honor of being the first one in Scripture to bestow a name upon God: “the God who sees me.”
Whether a woman is alone in a desert, by a well in a Samaritan village or weeping while checking her husband’s browser history, God sees her. When will evangelicalism do the same?
"Is the Evangelical View of Sex at the Root of our Sex Scandals?"

My Religion News Service Editorial

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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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  1. Jane Eyre

    Sheila, I don’t know how you read all of this without losing your mind. It’s horrible to talk about humans this way.
    As for marital rape: we distinguish between fornication (voluntary sex outside of marriage) and rape (sex against someone else’s will). We distinguish between adultery (sex with a married person isn’t your spouse) and fornication and married sex. What is the rationale for saying that the fornication/rape difference is meaningful outside of marriage but not within it? Seems pretty clear that we distinguish between voluntary and involuntary sex even when it’s outside of marriage and therefore, sinful (except in the case of the rape victim).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Jane! And yet we were so surprised at how many women in our focus groups shared stories of marital rape, but all said they didn’t know what to call it at the time. They couldn’t put into words what was happening, because it didn’t seem to make sense in the way that they were taught about sex. We need to do a better job of this!

  2. Anon

    I’m reminded of Esther and how she was used for a specific time and purpose.
    I think you have been obedient to God’s call for you in this rooting up and replanting so to speak and it probably comes at a personal cost. Many will reap the rewards of your obedience, thanks to God for His work and presence in your life and in theirs. I know you’ve said you don’t want the credit, you want to leave this ministry without your name attached. So I’m trying to give God the credit in my encouragement to you. 🙂
    I pray for peace over you and your household as this is a battlefield and like you inferred, it could raise a lot of heat and disagreements. Also for change in the Christian world where toxic things have become accepted, ignored or justified.
    Btw I commented over on that article too!

  3. Active Mom

    Praying for you Sheila. It takes courage to take on the evangelical church regarding its teaching on sex but after reading just a small portion of some of the comments that come through your posts I can’t imagine not feeling overwhelmed by the attitude and the harsh words hurled at you. I get tired of hearing men quote “her body belongs to him.” It is so discouraging and I know I am only seeing a tiny slice of what you have to wade through every day.

  4. Natalie

    I’ve been going back and reading the classics I grew up on (mostly 18-19th century British literature, some from the 20th century). Sure, there’s the archetype of the man who’s a total chauvinist a-hole who doesn’t respect women and uses them instead (but he’s almost always the villain thankfully). But by and large, I feel like the men portrayed in literature then were far more respectful of women and also far more secure in themselves and their own masculinity. Back then, the struggle was viewing women as equals… assuming all women were weak and should be treated as such in all aspects. Now it seems like men still view women as lesser-than, but this time it’s in a sexual context… like she’s there to meet his needs and that’s her primary function and why God made her. Both perspectives were from Christian cultures, and both had their issues. But I think it’s far easier to view a woman as someone who has dignity and worth if you respect her first and foremost as a person, not just someone thereto provide a service to you. Too bad we can’t just take the best from both time periods and have them together while leaving behind the chauvinism and disrespect and view of women as things/property instead of people.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Natalie! I agree. I love Mr. Darcy. He actually reminds me a lot of one of my sons-in-law!

      • Ruru

        Take Gilbert in The Anne series. He respects Anne and is not threatened by her intellect or spunk. He loves her as she is and Anne grows to respect and love him as their friendship evolves.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I always thought that they were such a beautiful and healthy love story! (And a Canadian one, too!)

  5. Em

    All these people getting called out specifically…what do you hope their response will be once the book comes out and people read it? Could they stop their books from being published if they wanted to? I wonder if any of them would do something similar to Josh Harris and actually talk to people who have been negatively affected from their books.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great question! I’d like to see some of them recall their books. They can’t unilaterally decide not to publish; that’s in the publisher’s hands. But they could apologize for it, or, at the very least, they could stop promoting the books. They could write something apologizing for what they wrote and explaining why it was wrong.
      I’ve taken things down that I no longer agree with, or revised things that I no longer agree with. It can be done. I think we should call people to a higher standard.

  6. Ed

    My hat is off to Sheila for taking this all on and dealing with the inevitable blowback. However, is it possible to go any deeper than just deconstructing the “Evangelical View of Sex” and go deeper down to the roots?
    After all, these horrendous, male-centric views did not arise from some spiritual vacuum. It’s come from centuries of bad theology which wedded the performance-based Old Covenant of the Law with the New Covenant of Grace. When a pernicious mixture of law and grace is preached from the pulpit, heavy-handed legalism and misogynistic abuse is the result. We Christians cannot simultaneously accept the free gift of Jesus and at same time, unswervingly devote ourselves to observing the Law of Moses, The 10 Commandments along with any other laws and standards that our minds can conjure up on our own.
    Religious legalism produces mean, harsh, aggressive, uncaring, ignorant and selfish believers (both men and women alike). However, in the past, Sheila has posted before that she doesn’t want to “get into theology”.
    How successful is it going to be correcting the symptoms of legalism without correcting the corrupt theology which it’s emanating from?

  7. Wild Honey

    Hearing that what you think is wrong is one thing; hearing that what you think actually does harm to others takes it to a whole new level.
    I think there will be a number of influential individuals in evangelicalism who are going to see their character tested in their response to this book.
    And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
    Praying for the TLHV team in the upcoming months, and your families.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Wild Honey. Yes, exactly. That’s why we wanted to do a survey, so it stopped being about “what’s the right way to talk about this?” and it became, “what’s a healthy way to talk about this that we know won’t cause harm?”

  8. Nathan

    A bit off topic from the book, but a big way that this view of sexuality sets us up for abuse is the idea that sex is wicked and dirty and that you should never talk about, except within marriage, and even then rarely. It allows for abuse and convinces the victims that they should never talk about it, and that it’s probably their fault anyway.
    And that isn’t good.

    • Maria Bernadette

      Maybe more people talking about sex in a healthy way would combat some of that toxic crap mentioned in the book. (On that note, thank you, Sheila and team, for all that you do).
      If sex is viewed as dirty, I think the problem is that someone has mud on their glasses.
      So many stories of sex being used in dirty ways. Hook-up culture. Marital rape being condoned. Pornography excused. Promotion of duty sex. With all this mud being flung around, we each have to clean our glasses once in a while.
      Because sex, when done the way God intends, is not dirty at all.
      So, talking with one another, proposing new beliefs to consider, challenging beliefs that seem bad, would be good, I think. Talking about sex with the goal of cultivating the good beliefs and rooting out the bad ones.

  9. Angela

    This is just so good. And I thank you.


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