Why I Drowned a Book in the Bathtub Before I Was Married

by | Feb 12, 2021 | Uncategorized | 72 comments

How The Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye Wrecked my Honeymoon
Merchandise is Here!

Valentine’s Day is coming up this weekend, and I thought today I’d give you a personal, and even a private, insight into our love story.

I shared a bit on the podcast yesterday, but I’d like to expand on it some.

The book that messed up our sex life–and caused tremendous damage to our marriage.

I’d like to tell you a story that starts in the fall of 1991. I talked about part of this story in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–but I talked about these things as two separate issues. It wasn’t until we did our survey of 20,000 women last year that I had a lightbulb moment in my head, and I understood something really important about myself. So much made sense.

So, yes, doing the survey was healing for me, too!

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’d like to begin at the beginning.

In the fall of 1991, Keith and I were about two months away from getting married.

I was counting down the days to the wedding–but mostly because I was looking forward to the wedding night. We were both virgins, but we were both having a hard time keeping our hands off of each other. I had rather graphic dreams of what I wanted to do on that wedding night. I was definitely looking forward to sex, and everything about it.

Keith Sheila Dating

Us when we were dating

Then someone from our church gave me a book–The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverley LaHaye. Written in 1976, it had become the “go to” sex education book for evangelicals, and everyone read it in those days before their wedding.

I was excited about sex, and eager to learn what it would be like, so I did what I always did in those days when it came to books: I filled up my bathtub, climbed in, and got reading.

It wasn’t too far in that I started to get an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t remember much about what the book said. I don’t even remember how far I got. I just remember the phrase that kept going through my head, over and over again: “No one has a right to touch me if I don’t want them to.”

Why that phrase? Two reasons.

The book said that a woman was not allowed to say no to sex with her husband. This was a deep need he had, and you weren’t allowed to deprive him.

Now remember, I was looking forward to sex! I was actually expecting to have sex every night. I was not someone who was thinking, “I’m never going to want it.” But as soon as the book said that I couldn’t say no, sex changed to me. In fact, I felt my body physically change, and stiffen up. It was like it was saying, “sex is no longer about you. It isn’t about you guys enjoying being together, or having fun together. This is something you owe him.”

As soon as sex is something you owe somebody, then it isn’t intimate anymore. It isn’t something that binds you together, because if you owe it, then you become irrelevant. You don’t matter.

Now the second reason. As I was reading, the book started talking about what you should do on your wedding night to achieve orgasm the first time out. It gave very explicit instructions on what he was supposed to do, and what exactly I was to let him do: he would touch here for so many minutes, and flick here, and rub there 237 times or whatever. And I just froze. Absolutely froze.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want Keith to touch me there. It was that I wanted it to flow out of something that we were doing because we were excited! The author honestly was making it sound like a Pap smear. I lie there, and Keith touches me, whether or not I want him to. Once you’re married, you don’t have a choice.

Around this time I couldn’t take it anymore. I was about 2/3 of the way through, and I held that book under the water until I was sure it was dead, and then i plopped it into the garbage can, and got out of the bath.

Now let’s fast forward 21 years, and I’m writing The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

One of the impetuses for me writing that book was how awful I had felt reading The Act of Marriage. I wanted to know, “did that book hurt other women? Did anyone else have a horrible honeymoon, or was it just me?” (I’ll get to my own honeymoon in a minute; I know I’m telling this out of order, but it’s for a reason).

So I did a survey of 2000 women when I was writing that book, and I learned that most women did not enjoy sex on their honeymoons. I wasn’t alone!

Then, when I was writing the book, I deliberately did NOT give step-by-step instructions. I didn’t want women to feel violated. Instead, I told women the important thing was to relax and do what felt comfortable. Allow your body to take the lead. Don’t push yourself. And if you can’t have sex right away, just get comfortable with each other. This is the start of the journey together; you don’t have to get to the finish line the first time out.

I have gotten so much feedback since that many women really appreciated that.

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

Interestingly, the publisher at the time asked a big name marriage author to endorse the book, and he said no, because I didn’t give step-by-step instructions, and women LOVE and NEED step-by-step instructions. I thought that was kind of funny.

in my Girl Talk, my sex talk that I give in churches, I always made a bit of a joke out of the instructions in that book, and how they messed me up. I didn’t mention the title of the book (though many women guessed!), but I said that for many women, these instructions seem intrusive. And what we need instead is to learn to relax, feel comfortable, and figure out what our own bodies need and want.

Sheila Gregoire giving her Girl Talk

I believe in telling couples about the types of things that women tend to like, and when in the sexual response cycle they tend to like them, but never ever give a paint-by-number, because it feels forced. And no woman wants to feel forced to do anything.

For 29 years, that was pretty much all I thought about The Act of Marriage: It was a bad book; it made me scared of my honeymoon; I tried to do the exact opposite in my own sex advice.

Then we surveyed 20,000 women–and suddenly another big part of our life made sense.

When Keith and I got back to our apartment after our wedding reception, we were greeted, as I have also shared in my books, with a terrible case of vaginismus. Sex was exceedingly painful. We did eventually manage to consummate, but every time we tried it hurt.

In those days we didn’t know about pelvic floor physiotherapists, and I was taken instead to a gynecologist who specialized in sexual pain. This man in his 60s, with a beard and white hair, told me that this was most likely caused by me repressing my sexuality and being scared and ashamed of sex. What I needed to do was to embrace my body, and so he would put me in stirrups, hold a mirror, and touch all the parts of my genitals and name them while I could look, and this would help me get in touch with my body.

I literally ran from the room.

I couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t.

And I felt so guilty about it and so much shame. I was rejecting the only treatment that was being offered to me. I figured maybe I really was sexually repressed and didn’t realize it–even though, as I have said, I had definitely been looking forward to sex in every way. I figured I was a terribly selfish person, and I was depriving my husband, and I was broken.

I started to see a counselor who tried to get to the bottom of my sexual shame. Did I have abuse in my past that I was repressing? I tried so hard to conjure up memories of abuse, but nothing was coming. But we went over and over all the different reasons why my body was rejecting Keith.

What no one ever told us was that it would be a good idea to stop trying to have sex while we sorted this out.

No, instead everybody had tremendous sympathy for Keith. We had to fix me because Keith needed sex. I could not be broken because he could only feel love if we had sex (that’s what The Act of Marriage told me, too). So I muscled through, despite the pain. And everyone kept trying to figure out why I was so broken.

Over the next few years I got better at managing the pain and learning how to relax.

And within five years the pain was pretty much gone, something I largely attribute both to childbirth and to learning to really trust Keith’s love for me, especially as we went through the grief of losing a son. We put that period of our life behind us, and as the years went on and I started doing this for a living, I could see how God was using that part of my story, because I understood what it was like to have trouble with sex. I understood what it was like to dread it. I could relate to women who were having problems.

But when our survey results came in, suddenly it was as if I had the missing puzzle piece that explained what had happened to me and why.

I remember the day Joanna FaceTimed me and told me that the obligation sex message increased a woman’s chances of having vaginismus almost as much as prior abuse did.

When I got off the phone, for the first time in twenty years I had a flashback to that time in the bathtub, and that phrase that kept going through my head: “no one has the right to just touch me if I don’t want them to.”

I now believe that the obligation sex message I was given from The Act of Marriage was a contributing factor to my vaginismus, because it changed the way I saw sex.

I don’t think it caused the vaginismus on its own; vaginismus tends to be multi-faceted, and I had some other risk factors. I had done ballet a lot as a child, and often the way dancers hold their pelvises leads to higher incidences of this. And there are some other issues about how Christians tend to do wedding nights that perhaps I’ll write in more detail about later. But I do believe that the obligation sex message pushed me over the edge.

And for the first time in 29 years, I cried a bit for young Sheila, who should never have had to endure that. For young 21-year-old Sheila, sitting in that doctor’s office, who somehow had the courage to run out because she didn’t want someone else touching her without her permission. For young Sheila who was never told, “It’s okay for your needs to matter, too.” For young Sheila who was always looked at by the other older adults in her life–her mentors, her counselors, her doctors–with a little bit of panic, wondering what they were going to do with her, since she was broken and her husband would be suffering so much.

Me typing a paper in university.

Keith and I are great. We are rock solid.

But I so wish somebody back then had told me, “you matter, too.”

I so wish somebody had told me, “you get to decide what someone else does to your body; you do not owe anyone anything.”

I think it would have made a difference.

And so, with Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, I just want to reiterate what Andrew Bauman and I said in the podcast yesterday: you do not owe anyone anything.

Sex isn’t something that can be owed. Sex is only something that can be freely given.

Our role in marriage is to work at our marriage, to work at our issues, to choose to love, so that we can be in a healthy place in every sense of the word so that freely giving is natural and easy. But let’s never get to the point where we think sex is a duty, because that’s a traumatic message. We will instinctively recoil from that.

Sex is a deep knowing. That means you both have to matter.

So this Valentine’s Day, if you’re in a good place, or a great place, or you’re on a good trajectory, I hope you have an awesome, sexy, fun time! If you want something to make it even more fun, pick up 31 Days to Great Sex and start the challenge, or pick up our 24 Sexy Dares! This is a great chance to get started.

But if you’re not in a good place, then maybe take the day to talk about why and figure out what your next steps are. Look at my series on emotional labor and mental load; or on how you change a marriage, if those are your issues. And if your issues revolve around sex, pre-order The Great Sex Rescue, because it debunks so many of these unhealthy teachings that have held us back and stolen something great from us, and helps us recognize what real biblical sex is!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

"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
How The Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye Wrecked My Marriage

I’m almost scared to ask for comments because this is about as personal as I’ve ever been on the blog! But how do we get over the obligation sex message? Let’s talk!

The Obligation Sex Debunking Posts

Some posts that have also dealt with obligation sex and coercion

And check out The Great Sex Rescue–with two chapters looking at where the obligation sex message has been taught, what our survey of 20,000 women told us about how it affected us, and what we should teach instead.

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

Is Someone Stepping on Your Air Hose?

So many women--and many men as well--honestly feel like the church is hurting them. I do not believe that it is Jesus that is hurting them, but the things that the church teaches, especially around sex and marriage, do cause harm. Our surveys have shown that...

Can Sex Be Hot and Holy at the Same Time?

Can sex be hot and holy at the same time? One of my big picture passions that I want people to understand is that sex is more than just physical--it's supposed to be deeply intimate too. And maybe to understand that, we need to take a step back to see what God thinks...

Comments

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!

72 Comments

  1. M

    This is so good about the honeymoon! I have been able to discuss this with my daughters before their weddings this past year. Interestingly our pastor told them the same thing…. don’t rush things, go slow, take time to figure things out, no pressure for the wedding night or honeymoon. This helped them do much and was very relevant y to o them. Without that message they both would have had more difficulties. It’s a good message for men too. They can also have fears and insecurities.

    Reply
      • Angela

        What a terrific article! Thanks for being honest. I’d love to hear what your hubby thought of all this, and did he read any books? I read Act of Marriage at age 16 and it may have colored my perception a bit but I didn’t remember it saying such atrocious things. I do remember being in a mixed Sunday School class for engaged couples and newlyweds, and a guy making fun of a similar book’s step by step instructions that he didn’t think were humanly possible! “Hold yourself over her by your elbows while you reach to the nightstand for the lubricant…” lol! To be fair, step by step instructions never capture the joy of anything, whether dance, swimming, singing, or sex. But I’m glad there are better books now. I picked up one recently that has lots of compassion for abused people. And your book should great.
        Since you write and teach on the subject, you might be interested in karezzo, and I wonder if you have heard of the book Sex and Marital Happiness? (Free on the internet) it was written in the 40’s and is offensively patriarchal and authoritative, but he has case studies where he helped many couples where the woman had been abused or raped, and boasts of how many people he saved from divorce. He is VERY opinionated and into rules, but it sure is a fascinating look at history and refers to research you probably won’t find elsewhere. reuniting.info but it looks like the site in currently under reconstruction. This is not a Christian site but is focused on love and respect.

        Reply
  2. Active Mom

    I love it! I can picture a young women drowning a book until she is sure it was dead. 😂. That is what we all should have done to all of the ridiculous books out there in the evangelical world. Instead of a book burning party we could have a call to all the women to find the awful books and then fill up their bath tubs. Hopefully before the awful messages had a chance to take root.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Oh but if we don’t do a bonfire, we won’t get delicious smores out of the deal! 😀

      Reply
    • Anne

      Every time I see a copy of Babywise, I buy it and destroy it. Doing my part to protect babies from terrible (and potentially dangerous) theology and parenting advice.

      Reply
      • Lydia

        Really?! I don’t know much about Babywise. What do I need to know about it? I think I have a friend reading it.

        Reply
      • Ariel

        They recently did a new version of Babywise that is WAY better, there are countless reminders to “feed your baby when they’re hungry!” to make sure nobody misses that message. The newest edition is a book I can heartily recommend, but I do realize the older version was not explicit enough and caused a lot of moms to try to “hold their babies off” until the 3-hours mark. 🙁 So Lydia, if your friend doesn’t have a super old version she should be fine!

        Reply
      • J

        I cried reading BabyWise bc I was always the bad mom in the examples😂 I shut it and never read it again! I’m glad I never read any traditional evangelical sex books… they sound just awful! I was on the other side, I did too much before marriage and I knew that I was supposed to enjoy sex but that also was a barrier when I got married due to the guilt and shame of previous relationships. So it was a duty for years bc I didn’t want it and didn’t enjoy it then. My husband would never require it or think I had to but I internally thought I had to. Plus I had vaginismus after my first child and couldn’t afford the pelvic floor therapy so I just had it grit my teeth and get it over with for the next year after that. I’ve been married almost 13 years and it’s only been in the last year or so after starting counseling that I’ve experienced passionate, out-of-body, spiritual connection sex. Like we have to have (ok not “have” like we would not survive without it but is a high priority) 2-3x a week to feel connected and it’s been incredible and life-changing for me and my marriage. I’m excited to read the new book because I was one of the survey respondents😁

        Reply
      • Lisa

        The newer version of Babywise is still bad. There are great parenting books out there. There is no need to read one that is better than horrible. The Ezzos have an incredibly damaging theology. Their own children have disowned them.

        Reply
    • C

      My heart hurts reading this. I can’t imagine what that must have been like to experience. My heart hurts so much for the brokenness in our world and our churches.
      I gave your new book to two newlywed couples and I am praying that these tools can change how our Christian culture views this beautiful gift of sec and intimacy.

      Reply
  3. T

    Good gracious! Treatment! That’s more sexual assault than treatment! How Freudian. Ugh.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know. I still can’t believe I had the courage to just walk out of there!

      Reply
    • Andrea

      I was thinking the same thing about that doctor, Sheila, that he was a predator who would be reported in our current times. There have been several #MeToo stories of gynecologists touching their patient’s clitoris, which is totally inappropriate, and the women were just too paralyzed up there in the stirrups to do anything about it, wondering for years later if what happened should have happened.
      On a different note, I know you to be a reader of 19th century novels and I was wondering if you were familiar with Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata (it’s a novella, not his typical mother of a novel, only around 100 pages long). He criticized the marital arrangement in his own society as just high class prostitution and condemned marital rape without really having the language for it, but amazingly articulated some ideas 100 years before 20th century feminists did. I think of the church ladies I grew up with when I read it and my grandmother in particular, who opened up before she died about enduring painful sex and not being allowed to say no. If you’re looking for some short 19th century fiction to read and some quite unusual for its time, I would love to hear your thoughts on The Kreutzer Sonata. I know what literary scholars and various feminist schools have had to say about it, but I’d love to hear the opinion of a sex researcher, that would shed a whole new kind of light on it. And, like I said, it’s no Anna Karenina, just a 100 pages 🙂

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Okay, now I really have to read that book!
        I don’t know if he was a predator or not. He was going to do it with Keith standing right there (I know that means nothing; Nassar abused his patients with their parents right there). But there was this overwhelming philosophy back then that the root of vaginismus was shame, and specifically shame about your body. I never thought that was my problem, but that’s what everybody kept addressing in counseling and in the doctor’s office. So I was getting the same message in both places.
        My problem was one of agency. I had had that taken from me.
        But, yes, he may have been a predator, too! Either way, I’m so glad I ran out of there!

        Reply
      • Andrea

        I hope you do read it, Sheila (replying to your reply here). Some years ago I attended a speech by a Tolstoy scholar who collected impressions by Iraq and Afghanistan vets reading (shorter versions) of War and Peace and that was fascinating. Tolstoy was against violence, including sexual violence in marriage. The book is a tough read because there simply was no notion of mutuality back then that he could draw on, but when I read about some contemporary problems with sex among Christians, the book seems totally fitting. He also condemns prostitution and young men soliciting prostitutes while they’re single, which can easily be equated to porn these days and young men entering marriage having watched 100s and 1000s of videos. I just really want a sex researcher to address that novel! 🙂

        Reply
  4. Kristin

    This is very interesting. My mom gave my fiance & me that book when we were engaged. I even gifted a copy to a friend later. Honestly, I thought it was helpful for me because I had very little idea about the mechanics of sex, or that there needed to be intimate time before sex so I could have enough mucus to be comfortable, etc. At the same time, I don’t remember feeling like it was a prescription or telling me we needed to have sex regardless of my desires. My husband and I liked the message that the man was supposed to make sex mutually enjoyable and if the wife wasn’t enjoying, it wasn’t sex. Sheila, I can’t even imagine forcing myself to go to that dr appointment. I would have run away, too. I have experienced some similar issues through our 10 years, though, which makes me wonder if I internalized messages from this book unknowingly, or from other sources. I regret giving it to my friend, now. I certainly didn’t intend to cause harm.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Kristin! I think with books that can harm some, they definitely don’t harm all. Not at all. I think my issue was that I already knew how the mechanics worked, etc. So I didn’t need that part. So I likely picked up on other messages. And obviously many people were helped by that book or it wouldn’t have sold so many copies! I just know that for me, the obligation sex message really messed me up. The best book I’ve read on the mechanics of sex is The Gift of Sex by the Penners. That one’s great! Scored 47/48 on our rubric!

      Reply
  5. Ylva

    It is frustrating and infuriating how many resources try to steer women away from their idea of sex being mutual, romantic and close. While we might not have the exact ideas of how to get to that pleasure, I think many of us know this physical longing very well and may have (sometimes with a guilty conscience) dreamt about our wedding night and sex in general, and then these books come along promising to tell us all about how to make sex work in marriage and we read them because we want to be well prepared and learn how to enjoy this gift and then… this happens.
    I know that at the start of puberty, I thought sex was “something people that love each other do and is basically naked cuddling with some extras” and then all the messages from pop culture came in as “dress this way for him”, “do this trick to make him crazy”, “how to seduce him”, that sex was for him way more than for me.
    And then on top of that came the Christian books, when I became a Christian.
    Sometimes, the first idea that we have about sex is not always that wrong.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think you’re right! Sometimes, when our ideas about sex are simply coming from our natural longings, it’s right. But when we mess it up with weird messages, it can really distort it.

      Reply
  6. Becky

    That doctor sounds terrible!
    I know I’ve mentioned my own terrible wedding night experience on here before, but I did want to come on here and say that I really appreciate that you did write The Good Girl’s Guide. I did read that one when I was engaged (along with the book we were assigned for premarital counseling, which was thankfully not the one you drowned). Yours is the book that I credit for giving me the knowledge that the pain I was feeling meant something was wrong and we needed to stop. Even though my memories of the sex part of our honeymoon aren’t good, I know now from hearing others’ stories here and in your new book that things could have been much worse if I hadn’t felt that I could speak up and just had to push through with it that night, no matter how badly it hurt me.

    Reply
  7. Anon

    Someone recommended the LaHaye book to me pre-marriage. I am SO glad I ended up getting TGGGTGS instead!!! I’m sure our honeymoon would have been very different (in a bad way) if I’d chosen differently.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yay! And I’m so glad you found me when you did, too! (And I’ve so appreciated all your comments).

      Reply
  8. Melissa W

    As someone who is a big reader but can count on one hand the numbers of books I have read about marriage, sex and parenting, this just makes me really sad. The more I hear about the messages in these books, the more grateful I am that my husband and I didn’t read them and just learned on our own. I was very much raised to think for myself and to examine everything and to come to my own conclusions. So, even though I may have heard some of these messages, I never internalized them because it never dawned on me to believe something that I didn’t agree with or had a bad gut feeling about. You have been talking a lot about just “pointing people to Jesus” and that is the kind of books that I always read and what informed my decisions and beliefs about marriage, sex and parenting. I will am glad that much better options are being published and hopefully some of the damage is being exposed and undone. I will say, I did buy your Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, although not for myself. I knew it would be a good resource based on how long I have read your blog and read enough of the book to confirm that and I was finally able to give it to a friend who got married a little later in life and she loved it! So thankful for your books that I know I can feel confidant giving to others or recommending to others without fear of them getting some of those subtle but yet harmful messages!

    Reply
    • Karrie

      I had vaginismus also. 27 years ago when we got married. And bc I was on the pill and had no hormone desire sex became a chore. Not until after I had my first baby did it get better. My gynecologist gave me some “stretcher things”. (Ugh!) I had no more info and no one else to talk to. Now our sex life is much better but bc I’m 47 & hubby is 51 the hormones aren’t as strong. I wish I could go back and have a re-do.

      Reply
  9. Rachel

    “Sex isn’t something that can be owed. Sex is only something that can be freely given.”
    That’s it right there.
    My thoughts go to beyond the scope of this post and to what God seems to be doing to His church. Digging out the rot one failed leader and failed message at a time, using humble followers to point back to His purposes and His design, calling us to repent when we’ve relied on formulas for way too long instead of ongoing, daily personal connection to Him. He is using you Sheila. This is so important. Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Erika

    Thank you so much for your work here, Sheila.
    I read “I kissed dating goodbye” and thought: This sounds great – now I know how to navigate romance in a God-honouring way. I read “Every man’s battle” and thought: Now I know how to protect my brothers in Christ. But it turned out that both were also really damaging. Luckily I saw early enough that the whole dating/courtship thing does not need so many rules and does not work to find a husband. But I am still struggling with some messages from “Every man’s battle”. These messages I ONLY got from literature I read on my own. I luckily grew up in a very healthy church and with parents who gave very healthy sexual education. This work addressing the literature is so important and thank you for doing it!

    Reply
  11. Chris

    I have some thoughts on all this as I have been thinking a lot about women “looking forward to sex”. I am going to keep it to myself though because I might not articulate it very well. 😞.
    However, that pic of the two of you on the bed is priceless! SO YOUNG! and the tilted lamp shade makes it all so much cuter!
    What did Keith think (as a doctor himself) of that exam you got from pervert/criminal doctor? What were his thoughts on all that? Was he just as creeped out as you were?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Chris,
      At the time, what was being told to us was in line with medical teaching–that it’s all about a woman’s sexual shame or repression. And that doctor was supposedly the best. I think we were just so desperate and dumbfounded we didn’t know what to do. No one had ever told us that pain could even happen, and we knew no one else that it had ever happened to. And the other people who seemed to know anything about it said it was my fault psychologically. It was just very difficult and demoralizing.

      Reply
  12. Preacher

    I think you a liar who is out to sell books and go against Christ. You kind of forgot to tell the whole of the story how before you were married you believed all sex was rape as you bought fully into the feminist line of thought at university in your woman studies degree .
    So you’re trying to tell me that you went from all sex is rape to I can’t wait to have sex I’m going to love it so much to I’m afraid of sex because of something one book said in a bathtub?
    I call BS. Stop tickling ears. Repent. Be silent and stop teaching. Go home and try not to screw up your grandkids as much as you screwed up your daughters.
    This has to be the most hate filled, most uncontent, least happy place on the Internet. You’re literally the person Paul warned us about. You never stop stirring up strife, disunity, brokenness and trouble. Stop it. Just stop.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ummm….hello? What are you talking about? I believed all sex was rape? When did you ever hear that? And I don’t have a women’s studies degree. I have a Master’s in Public Administration and a Master’s in Sociology. Never even took a course in the women’s studies department! But thanks for trying.
      By the way, we have a survey of 20,000 women. We actually asked women. And it’s been approved to submission to peer reviewed journals–meaning that our research is valid.
      But you can keep on with your ad hominem attacks if you’d like. It’s funny to see how weak they are!
      And by the way, it may be good if instead of attacking me, you tried to describe what your view of biblical sex is, since that is what the blog is about. If you think I’m wrong, how about making a biblical defence for what you think is right, rather than just attacking me?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        One other thing, for everyone reading these comments: Note how he tries to discredit me by simply labelling me as hopelessly leftist.
        Here’s what really scares men like this: I grew up evangelical. I was an evangelical in university. I have tended to lean conservative. I have been on Focus on the Family three times. I have been on FamilyLife radio. I speak for FamilyLIfe Canada.
        I’m right in the middle of evangelicalism.
        They can try to discredit me, but the truth is: I am what they are scared of. I am a woman who grew up evangelical and who has been in the midst of evangelicalism, and i have realized that much of the teaching in evangelicalism about sex is dangerous. And I am showing other couples the same thing, and hoping and praying I can point us to Jesus and make Him more real in our marriages.
        They may want to discredit me, but I’m right here. And that’s what makes me such a threat, and that’s why these guys keep showing up here making dumb comments like this with no arguments except insults.

        Reply
    • Hannah

      Can we say ‘fragile ego who needs to be able to control how women think about sex so that women can continue to be used as objects instead of respected as people?’ 🤦🏽‍♀️😑

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Pretty much. For many of these men, too, what scares them is if women realize God wants them treated well, then these men will not get sex and will not get any woman, because they don’t know how to treat women well. They simply don’t understand Jesus at all.

        Reply
    • Keith

      “This has to be the most hate filled, most uncontent, least happy place on the Internet”
      Well it wasn’t before you got here!
      You are trying to bring your own “gospel” of hate, discontent and unhappiness, but we aren’t interested in that around here.
      We are interested in adults talking through issues, not 4-year olds throwing tantrums.
      SHEILA: Sex should be mutual, uncoerced and loving.
      YOU: Shut up.
      How exactly do you think this makes your point?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        HAHAHAHAHA! I still think it’s so absolutely hilarious that he thinks the least happy place on the internet is the place that sells The Orgasm Course for women and 24 Sexy Dares! 🙂
        Ohhhhhh….orgasms….sexy dares…..how unhappy!

        Reply
      • Lydia

        Uh oh, you guys are starting to sound too much like Jesus. The Pharisees and religious leaders are COMING FOR YOU!

        Reply
    • Keith

      Besides, Preacher, being taught something at University does not automatically mean you believe it.
      For instance, I was taught at University that “all men are pigs”, but I know that’s not true.
      Only a few are.

      Reply
    • R

      Shiela, thank you for exposing these commenters in all their ridiculousness and twisted morality. We need to know there are people posing as Christians and even religious *leaders* who would oppose the message that sex should be mutual and 100% uncoerced. Jesus didn’t worry when the Pharisees wouldn’t be convinced; they had no actual argument like these commenters. Thank you for standing against this. My family appreciates your ministry!

      Reply
    • Brian

      Preacher,
      I’m the first to say that I have some reservations about Sheila’s theology. She and I have had some pointed exchanges on social media and I think that her view that sex isn’t something that is “owed” to one another is soundly refuted by 1 Cor 5:1-7.
      But as a fellow pastor, I have to say that you are WAY out of line in the way that you have spoken here. You don’t know what she believed prior to marriage and you don’t have any right to accuse her of “messing up her daughter.”
      We have to be able to have these kinds of conversations where we disagree and sometimes disagree strongly, without resorting to these kinds of unfounded and unbiblical accusations and attacks.
      You need to apologize.

      Reply
  13. LMS

    Sheila, you are just a little older than me. My husband and I married I. The early 90’s also. Back then, the big birth control pill they pushed on young women was Lo-estren. Low estrogen causes vaginal dryness, irritation and even tears. Unfortunately, I had no idea the impact of this on my when I got married and we had painful sex for the first several years until I switched to a different pill. Why the heck did the doctor not put 2 & 2 together to figure this out? Things got much better after getting off of birth control pills. Just wondered if that may have contributed to your painful experiences too. Thanks for sharing your personal experience!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I was on the Pill, too! Definitely contributed, but it also continued after I went off. I did find that my libido went up when I went off it, though!

      Reply
      • Ruth

        Oh, really funny thing about the pill and libido: I’m in my early 20s and was on the pill throughout college. Prior to that, I was a bit of a late bloomer and had no inkling of a sex drive. Then in college I didn’t either, and I thought something was wrong with me. Well I went off the pill last year, and my libido hit me like a train! It’s created some comedic situations because I’m still learning how to navigate it; last month I watched Man of Steel for the first time since high school and I swear I didn’t have a rational thought for 2 full hours because I was too starstuck by Henry Cavill!

        Reply
  14. Anonymous for this one

    It was considered shameful for a bride to not “consumate the marriage” right away. My poor mother still gets teased/shamed for not being able to achieve penetration for several days after the wedding.
    I knew it was going to hurt, being a virgin, but the advice was to “muscle through and it’ll stop hurting sooner.” There was also this idea that since women dare to keep men waiting until marriage (despite being told to do so), they owe it to FINALLY give the poor long-suffering man sex ASAP.
    So, when evangelical virgin me married my secular husband, my husband was the one who said, “let’s get some sleep, first.” And I was mad because men are supposed to want it so badly. Why wasn’t he slobbering over me?!
    My husband was the one who wanted to take it slow. I insisted on going all the way because if I didn’t I would feel tremendous shame. I lied and said I was ok. The next morning I was bleeding and could barely walk.
    Now, they were right. Muscling through intercourse did “help” me acclimate to intercourse, but it was a very painful process.
    Later in our marriage I secretly cried in pain during sex for a year after one of my births. I had a lot of scar tissue from a more traumatic birth and sex was agony, but I would hide my face and cry silently. My husband didn’t know!
    When we faced problems with sex I sought evangelical counsel and read some of these toxic books and nothing seemed to fit. I was dismayed that something was “wrong” with my husband because he wasn’t a ravenous, almost rape-y man. In fact, by this point he was a refuser and sex, when it did happen was one-sided. No, he didn’t handle our situation as he should have. He basically threw up his hands and gave up, but looking back, I didn’t give him much of an option because, after all, my evangelicalism was right and he was the wrongful secular guy. Come to find out I was messed up and he was just trying to be a decent lover and I wouldn’t let him so he stopped wanting sex because it was so broken!
    But all the advice I was given in the evangelical world was, “you’re right, he’s wrong.”
    This made me wonder what else the evangelical world has messed up and I realized that much of evangelicalism is about control, emotional manipulation, and coercion. I was taught that my church, or at the most my denomination was the only true one. I was told so many lies of promises that just following this evangelical way would make my life great, but I had the cognitive dissonance of seeing my Catholic, Lutheran, and even secular peers have great happiness and success in marriage and life, and treat people better,and act like Christians better. Why wasn’t my faith “working?” But, I wasn’t allowed to think any other way.
    I used to wonder why my “heathen” husband was so rude and stubborn about my church and the congregants. I used to cry out that he would “be saved,” but what I didn’t realize was that he was resistant to being controlled and coerced. He, coming from the outside, could see the spiritual abuse that I could not. He was livid when our church’s “prophetess” blamed all our financial and marital troubles on him because I “fit in” and he resisted them.

    Reply
  15. Preacher

    While you have done a fairly good job of scrubbing your own website- although not perfect. So much of your tells were in the comments where you let things slip when you were still figuring out the Internet.
    But you can’t erase all your comments elsewhere on the net. And your socialogy degree was an emphasis on women’s studies.
    And I’ll quote you here, “ since I’ve done a Masters in Sociology with an emphasis on Women’s Studies, too. I’ve read all that feminist literature that calls all sex rape, and while it totally messed up my sex life in the early part of my marriage”
    That’s you speaking you jezebel.
    You care not what I think Biblical marriage is because you care not what what the Bible says at all. Your god is feminism that you cloak in egalitarianism with a heavy does of femdom. You take the Bible and twist it to say the exact opposite of what it teaches. Damn your father forever for screwing you up and you taking thousands down with you.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I have a Master’s in Sociology from Queen’s University (1996). I never took a single course from the Women’s Studies department. I did take courses in Family and Sexuality, and I sometimes use short forms about that, which I likely shouldn’t have. My Master’s Thesis was on the effects of the computer revolution on women’s ability to work at home, and whether that would be good or bad.
      And, yes, I read that sex is rape (everybody in the humanities in the 90s did). But I never, ever believed it. You said I believed it. I never did.
      But when sex started to hurt–yes, hearing that sex is rape messed me up. You know what else messed me up? Christian books that told me I wasn’t allowed to say no. That sounds a lot like all sex being rape, too. It was Christian books that made me scared of sex because it was Christian books that made me wonder if “all sex is rape” is true.
      And what have I done since then? Have I taught that sex is rape? No. Instead, I’ve created 31 Days to Great Sex. I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. I created a course to help women Boost their Libido. I created The Orgasm Course to help women reach orgasm. I created The Honeymoon Course to help couples start their sex lives well. I even created 24 spicy dares to spice up your marriage!
      I conducted the largest survey ever done of women’s sexual and marital satisfaction ever done–20,000 women. I surveyed another 3000 men. I have figured out what makes sex great for women, and what messes it up, so that I can point couples to great sex–hence the title of the book: The Great Sex Rescue.
      I’m all for great sex!
      You know what I’m not for? Rape. Or obligation sex. I’m for sex as it is meant to be biblically–MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE.
      And everything I’ve done has been to help couples achieve that!
      The fact that you are upset at me despite The Orgasm Course, despite Boost Your Libido, despite 31 Days to Great Sex, despite 24 Sexy Dares–shows much more about you than it does about me.
      You don’t want women to have great sex. You want men to have sex on demand. You want men to be entitled to use their wives.
      That is not of Jesus. You are the evil one here, and now you are banned.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        Anybody wondering if Preacher is a pseudonym for one of these terrible authors whose books Sheila is exposing for their promulgation of rape culture? If we only had evangelical books on sex to read, we really would come away with the conclusion that “all sex is rape.”
        To clarify, no feminist ever said those words, but Andrea Dworkin and Catharine McKinnon’s work has been interpreted that way. What kind of men do you think they had in mind but the kind this Preacher boy represents? McKinnon is a lawyer who gave us laws against sexual harassment, there used to be no laws against it until her, so think about that the next time you want to criticize radical feminism. Also, as Sheila’s Canadian compatriot and a fellow Christian, Mary Stewart VanLeewen, says, guess who opened the first shelters for battered women? Radical feminists did, not the churches!

        Reply
    • Keith

      “You care not what I think Biblical marriage is because you care not what what the Bible says at all.”
      Well given how upset you are about a post that sex that sex should out of love and not coerced, one is forced to come to the conclusion that you think it the Bible teaches otherwise.
      If so, you should probably read it again.

      Reply
    • Lena

      “You Jezebel”? What does that even mean?? And what a hateful way to speak to someone, especially if you claim to know Jesus. How much time you must have on your hands to troll through all of Sheila’s previous posts looking for one little sentence to take out of context. The fact that that is all you could “dig up” gives me even more confidence in Sheila’s heart and willingness to help, not tear down. I am so thankful that I am no longer under teachings such as your’s, “preacher”. I hope you find peace, truly.

      Reply
    • Boone

      Preacher, I’ve managed to spend 62 summers walking this year stained vale. I’ve traveled from the Highlands of Scotland to the cafes of Paris from the mountains of Alaska to the South Seas. As we saw here in East TN, “I’ve been up the creek and over the mountain.” I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two on the way.
      One of the things I’ve learned is that life is a lot more pleasant when you go through it with an equal partner rather than bond servant. It’s also a lot more pleasant for all concerned to have a warm willing woman in your bed that is there because she wants to be rather than one that’s there out of obligation and duty. Wives are to be cherished and loved, not subjugated.

      Reply
  16. Lena

    Sheila, this sounds so similar to my story. I read that book before marrying my husband (I was a virgin) plus a load of other horrible books and had been under different teachings in the past, Gothard, Pearl (unfortunately I knew the Pearl’s personally and their “advice” made everyhing so much worse!), Doug Phillips, Josh Harris – all of whom teach that women don’t have a say over their own bodies or that having a sex drive is sinful. I hated those messages every time I heard them but thought I must HAVE to squeeze myself into this mould to be a good Christian and ultimately, wife.
    Fast forward to my own honeymoon (I had a high sex drive, btw, but so many messed up opinions from others who just got in my head ruined things) – my husband is the sweetest and kindest, least pushy man. We took our time but it was physically impossible to have the wedding night we’d dreamed of. I was in tears more than once during our honeymoon, feeling like such a failure.
    Thank GOD I found an incredible female doctor who knew exactly what was going on and showed so much compassion. After two years of seeing several female doctors (and one gyn nurse who had never heard of vaginismus! She treated me like I was making it up :-)), a physical therapist, then the most wonderful pelvic floor therapist, we were finally able to consummate our marriage. Two years after we were married!! Talk about feeling like such an utter disappoint. My husband was such a champ through it all, unbelievably patient.
    Anyway, all that to say, all of the things you’ve written about vaginismus and your own personal story have been such a huge source of comfort and knowledge to know I wasn’t just some freak of nature! Your articles/books have helped me more than I could possibly convey. <3

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad, Lena! And I’m so sorry for what you went through. So very sorry. I understand how difficult that must have been! And the medical professionals who thought you were making it up? Yep. Been there, too.
      I really want to do a big research project on vaginismus in Christian women. We’ve discovered some interesting things in our survey, but there’s more to discover I’m sure. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story!
      And you may really enjoy The Great Sex Rescue, too. I think it will be very validating for you!

      Reply
    • Lydia

      Your gentle, sensitive hubby sounds like mine! And your repertoire of reading sounds like mine. I used to have a high sex drive too, and I cried on my honeymoon so much. Recently I cried over the fact that we can never get that honeymoon back. Sure, we can go on honeymoons now, but that first night was stolen by the obligation sex message. I’m so glad to find out I’m not alone. Best wishes to you! 🤗

      Reply
      • Lena

        I can relate to the “lost honeymoon” feeling for sure! But I also am thankful that time has given my husband and I something that our honeymoon wouldn’t have had – experience! It’s made life in that department so much better!
        Thank you for the kind comments!

        Reply
  17. Lydia

    Sheila,
    I want you to know I’ve been listening to your podcasts for about a year now. I’m coming up on 4 years of marriage to my devoted, amazing husband, and I want to thank you for everything you do. I was looking forward to sex in marriage and all sorts of things I wanted to do, and then the duty sex message hit in Love and Respect and from people in my church. I didn’t have full vaginismus, but sex was often somewhat painful. Your material helped me realize in the past year that sex is for me too, and it’s a choice. You prevented me from spending any more years with this message, and I can never thank you enough. I don’t make myself have sex anymore, and I’m starting to think I need to go back to my awesome therapist, this time to discuss what I suspect is unresolved trauma from forcing myself to have sex. Anyway, my story is so much better so much sooner because of you. 🤗

    Reply
  18. Natalie

    Between “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” and “The Great Sex Rescue”, which one of these books would you recommend “good” guys read to best prepare them for everything?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Definitely The Great Sex Rescue! Keith and I are writing The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex right now (due in at the publisher in two weeks!). It won’t be out until next year though. But The Great Sex Rescue is great for both men & women. Thanks for asking!

      Reply
  19. Karen

    I grew up in the generation of girls who were told we shouldn’t run because our uterus would drop. Menstrual cramps were “all in our head”, don’t wear revealing clothes because guys could’t help themselves etc. We couldn’t buy a car without a mans signature or even have a mortgage application consider our income. The most harmful to me was Christian churches teaching us to be submissive, that as women we are somehow less. Husbands are to make the decisions, they come first with their needs sexual and otherwise and something is wrong with OUR relationship with God if we don’t submit. I could go on and on but I just want to thank you Sheila for your mission of addressing this very important topic of sexuality. My 4 children are now entering into relationships and marriage and it seems like a much healthier place because of the teachings of people like you!

    Reply
  20. Anon

    Dear Sheila
    I have been a reader of your books and blogs and occasional commentator too. You have been so vulnerable here, thank you for having the courage to do that. We got married a couple of months ahead of you and can relate to honeymoon not being that wonderful!! Pictures of you and Keith as young adults are so cute and look familiar to me (fashions of the time!) And honestly thought that picture of you at the computer was one of your daughters until I scrolled down…So glad you have a rock solid marriage now. Blessings xx

    Reply
  21. Anon

    Hi Sheila,
    Thank you so much for all the work you do to change the horrendous mindsets. Almost 25 years ago I too was looking forward to marriage and sex, having had trouble keeping our hands off each other before our wedding. We were also given “The Act of Marriage” by our lovely marriage counsellors – things they told us in other areas of marriage were helpful, but the book wasn’t. It messed with me too, who wants to get things right, and years later my husband has also said it was not good for us.
    So, I really struggled with sex when we first got married. The first time was awful and hurt, and to make it worse I had forgotten to take the pill 2 days before the wedding and didn’t want the first time to be with a condom so felt extra pressure!
    The majority of the time for years afterwards (except for when we had been apart for a time and were excited to be back together!) it hurt but felt like I had to do it. I didn’t know who to talk to about it. Felt embarrassed and figured maybe that was either normal or I was abnormal. I’m not sure I even mentioned it to my doctor when we talked about changing the pill I was on because of all the other side effects. And yes, it meant I often had “obligatory sex” 🙁
    It wasn’t really until after I had birthed 4 babies, and no longer on the pill, that sex got easier and more enjoyable. However, I had all this baggage from the difficulties and awful information that meant I wasn’t particularly interested in sex anymore, and struggled with what was appropriate sex for a Christian.
    My husband and I really struggled for so many years. He had an affair – I know that was his choice and not because of what I had/hadn’t done – and devastating to me when I found out. We have worked/are working through that… but now in my mid 40s my libido is so low. Oh to be able to go back and start off well.
    So, all that history to say, keep getting the message out there and helping other folk starting out in marriage to start well. Good on you Sheila for sharing your experience and speaking up.

    Reply
  22. Emmy

    You post made me think a lot…
    We got AoM as a wedding gift from our church. I very innocently began to read it. I do remember reading those lines about never refusing him sex, and I can remember I thought something like, why should I refuse, that’s why I wanted to marry him in the first place. And I read on.
    But when I asked my newly wedded husband to read the book together, he got very upset and yelled at me. I could not understand his reaction and I was very disappointed, I must say.
    But now you told us how you drowned that very same book my husband refused to read together. Perhaps I understand him a little bit better now.
    I wonder if there was something in that book that was offensive for guys too.

    Reply
  23. Ariel

    Thank you for this post. I remember reading AoM before the wedding and feeling kind of grossed out by it. It was so clinical and doubtless led to me accepting the obligation sex message. My dear hubby would tell me he didn’t need it if he could tell I was in the mood, and this confused me and humiliated/frustrated me, because I was taught it was such a need and it was insulting that he wouldn’t want me. I am so thankful for his patience as I came out from under those beliefs. He would say things like “what kind of man would enjoy having sex with a woman who didn’t want to be there?” (fair question!) and helped me come to a healthy view. Just like you talk about in TGSR – my drive increased a lot as i came to see that sex was not some duty that I “give” to my husband but rather something we enjoy together (and is often more his gift to me honestly!)
    Thank you again for the important work you are doing.

    Reply
  24. Wendy Herrmann Smith

    Can we stop using the word consummate? For couples who cannot have intercourse (either because she has pain/vaginismus or he cannot have an erection), it makes it sound like the marriage isn’t real if there’s no vaginal penetration. That’s just not true.

    Reply
  25. D

    The pastor who did our premarital counseling spared us the technical parts of AoM and just assigned us the chapters “What Lovemaking Means to a Man” and “What Lovemaking Means to a Woman.” What ended up having a greater negative impact on me than even the obligation sex message was the way he connected a guy’s self esteem to sex. He seemed pretty convinced that if a guy has low self esteem, he’s probably dealing with sexual frustrations. My sweet husband has a couple of mental health diagnoses that contribute to very low self esteem. As a young bride learning to grapple with my husband’s mental and emotional struggles, it was really unfortunate to have had anyone, let alone an “expert,” suggest that this was because of something I wasn’t doing in the bedroom. We were having sex every day, so I could rationally rule out this theory, but that didn’t keep it from bothering me emotionally. Yes, sex is a wonderful part of our marriage, and it does make my husband feel great and happy. But it’s not the magic solution to low self esteem and shouldn’t be framed as such.

    Reply
  26. Lisa

    I’m really confused – I just read the first few chapters of Act of Marriage, and it seems to say all the same things you do, like that sex is a gift, for mutual pleasure, it shouldn’t be one-sided, it shouldn’t be a duty, it should be about exploring and discovering what feels good… have you looked at the book recently? What parts of it do you object to?

    Reply
      • Lisa

        This link doesn’t give access to the spreadsheet.

        Reply

Submit a Comment

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