How to Reclaim Sex and Not Make it Ugly

by | Mar 29, 2021 | Sex | 23 comments

How to Reclaim an Intimate View of Sex in Marriage

Sometimes, the way we talk about the purpose of sex makes it clear that we don’t understand the beauty of sex at all.

And that needs to stop!

Just a quick post today (or what I hope will be a quick post) with a comment about a news story in the Christian world that broke over the weekend, and that so many people tagged me in on social media.

I put a statement out on Twitter, but I want to make it here too.

So just a warning: this is going to start out a little dark, but i want to end it on a happy, hopeful note. And I will have some discussions of sexual abuse in broad terms (nothing specific). 

Okay, with that warning: here’s the dark part.

David and Nancy French broke a story this weekend about horrific sexual abuse of boys at Kamp Kanukuk in Missouri. Camp director Pete Newman is serving a life sentence plus 30 years for 7 counts of abuse, but he’s facing 57 civil complaints, and that’s apparently the tip of the iceberg. What makes this story so sad, like so many others, is that it seems as if those in power knew about the abuse and did nothing.

One particular paragraph in the article stood out, and this is why people kept tagging me:

Oddly enough, these prohibitions were enacted only until Newman got married. At that point, the camp said it would “re-evaluate” the restrictions. Years later, White characterized Newman’s wife as the “initial layer of accountability” against abuse.

David French

They Aren't Who You Think They Are

The wife was the “initial layer of accountability” and apparently would help reduce the abuse.

Oh, dear.

This is the same reasoning that we read in Every Man’s Battle, when they say:

Your wife can be a methadone-like fix when your temperature is rising. (p. 118)

Once he tells you he’s going cold turkey, be like a merciful vial of methadone for him. (p. 120)

Note: These quotations have been removed from the 2020 edition, though the idea remains.

Steve Arterburn

Every Man's Battle

We’ve already talked about how dehumanizing it is for women to be told that they are methadone for their husbands’ sex addictions or predatory behavior.

It’s demeaning and disgusting.

But what I really want to talk about today is how this shows a fundamental flaw in the way we think of sex, which is something that we covered in The Great Sex Rescue. When we talk about sex as being methadone for men’s sex addictions, we don’t just dehumanize women. We also change the very definition of sex.

Sex and porn are not substitutes for one another.

Rebecca and I have been talking about this on podcasts lately, but it is not that sex can keep someone from using porn, because the two are not the same thing.

Biblically, sex is something which is the ultimate “knowing” of someone else (Genesis 4:1). It’s a deep longing to be connected, which is why God uses sexual imagery to talk about His relationship with us. It’s more than just physical; it’s the deepest intimacy we can feel. And if it’s intimacy, then it means that BOTH people need to matter. Sex is about two people together in the truest sense of the word.

Porn, on the other hand, isn’t a knowing at all. Porn is a using of someone. It says, “I get to do what I want to you for my benefit, without any consideration of you.” Porn says your needs don’t matter; I have the right to use you. And if your needs don’t matter–if they’re actually a turn-off–then porn says, “I don’t care what’s going on with you.” That’s a rejection. Porn isn’t a knowing; Porn is an UNknowing. It’s a complete rejection.

Porn is about an entitled taking; sex is about a mutual knowing and mutual pleasuring. They aren’t substitutes for one another; they are polar opposites. They may use the same body parts, but the similarity ends there.

That’s why making women into methadone is so dangerous.

It actually rejects what sex is. In fact, in Every Man’s Battle intimacy is never talked about. Her pleasure is never talked about. It’s only about “giving him release” so that his eyes aren’t as clouded and he can resist lusting more easily. But that has nothing to do with the actual biblical definition of sex, and that cheapens and degrades sex for everyone.

What this camp did by seeing a wife as methadone not just for porn but also for sexual abuse is even worse.

Sexual abuse is not about sex but about power. It’s also about using someone. It’s getting a sexual high by corrupting someone; by managing to break down barriers and do something illicit.

This bears absolutely no resemblance to real, biblical sex.

The Great Sex Rescue

Now Available!

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

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

We will never have a healthy view of sex in the church when we equate sex with using someone.

And this, really, is a large part of the problem. Men are treated like animals that need to be controlled and satiated by as much “sanctioned” sex as they can get so that they don’t act out what they really want to do. Married sex isn’t seen as something beautiful but instead something that is standing between him and his monster self.

I think the reason people are so quick to blame the wife in these situations is that we actually have no idea what intimate sex looks like.

We only ever talk about sex in terms of male needs (remember, Emerson Eggerichs said in Love & Respect, “If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.”). And we tend to talk about sex not in terms of intimacy but in terms of men’s need for physical satisfaction. (Again, Love & Respect said, “a man has a need for physical release as you need emotional release.”). When we see sex as something men need, we deprioritize her experience and her pleasure. She’s just supposed to be there for him–it’s not for her. And that means that her needs don’t matter, and now we’re back to sex being a rejection of her rather than an intimate knowing again.

So what do we do about our shallow, degrading, and terrible view of sex?

Honestly, two things. Whenever we talk about sex with others, we have to include two things in the conversation:

  1. Sex is for her pleasure as much as it is for his.
  2. Sex is ultimately a deep knowing where two people matter.

We’ve gotten into this mess because we only see sex as something that men need, and thus we make it only about male entitlement. So we get out of the mess by stressing a woman’s experience too, and by stressing intimacy and mutuality.

If we understand that sex is not one-sided, but instead intimate where both people matter, then we would never, ever think of sex as being methadone for anything. We’d understand that they’re two polar opposites.

If we understand that sex is not one-sided, but instead intimate where both people matter, then we would never, ever think of sex as being methadone for anything. We’d understand that they’re two polar opposites.

Imagine what would happen if we really understood that sex was about a deep experience that two people shared together, that was the most loving and most intimate moments they could have? Imagine if instead of talking about sex as a 5-minute encounter where he gets physical release, we talked about the beauty of truly experiencing being together, of looking into each other’s eyes at the height of passion, of being vulnerable and bare before your spouse in a way that binds you together? Imagine if we talked about what a profound experience it is to be so completely vulnerable with each other, and still be loved and accepted? Would we still think of sex as methadone?

And imagine if talking about sex like that became normal! Imagine if our conversations around sex had far less to do with “needs” and far more to do with “intimacy.”

Last year, I did a Twitter and Facebook poll to ask which message people had heard more: ‘do not deprive your husband’ or ‘women’s sexual pleasure matters’?

It was “do not deprive” by 95%-5%.

That’s just unacceptable. We’re seeing sex entirely as something for men. That’s where the trouble gets started. It’s dehumanizing for everyone and it wrecks sex.

Let’s stop it. If you’re wondering how, that’s what The Great Sex Rescue is all about. But you can help, right now, by simply changing the conversation whenever it’s brought up.

Women’s pleasure matters. Sex is about intimacy. 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat!

How to Reclaim an Intimate View of Sex in Marriage

What do you think? Have you heard the methadone argument in any form lately? How do we stop this? Let’s talk in the comments!

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. Ylva

    I checked the original article and I am just appalled that White’s “excuse” for ignoring the 1,000 red flags apparently was that “Pete came from a good family” and “people said nice things about him”.
    Also, how can his wife be his accountability if White thinks “she didn’t know anything”? You cannot keep someone accountable if they a) don’t share their struggles with you b) do not want any accountability c) intentionally hide their sins from you.
    It is the same with the Catholic celibate… I get furious every time people claim that this is responsible for the abuse scandals as if simply giving these men wives would solve the issue. Also, if celibacy caused abuse, why is it just as present in Evangelical and Prostestant churches where pastors are allowed to marry?
    Unfortunately, this opinion is pretty prevalent in society. I am not saying that repressed sexuality is healthy, just that abusers do not become abusers because they are sex-starved.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, sex-starvation is not the problem at all! This really isn’t rocket science.

    • Jane Eyre

      The whole thing about “coming from a good family” is absurd on both sides. Good families can produce bad people. Dysfunctional families can masquerade as good families. Wonderful people can come from “bad” families and actually bad families.
      It’s classism, pure and simple.

  2. Erin

    My ex is in prison for multiple counts of sexual abuse and lewd molestation. On the surface, we were a happy couple with a growing family. We had a healthy sex life. There was no indication of all the evil taking place under the surface. After everything blew wide open, only then did I learn he’d been addicted to porn all that time in addition to his abuse of children. It took me a while to accept that it had nothing to do with me. The idea that I somehow should have known or should have “been enough” is so hurtful it’s beyond words. People like that get very good at living a double life and manipulating everyone around them to keep it going. I can’t imagine willingly accepting the role of accountability for a husband’s sick appetites. And you are absolutely right that the two appetites are polar opposites. My ex was the very picture of someone who could never have been satisfied with healthy sex only. The monster in him demanded more.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Erin, I’m so, so sorry! And I’m also so glad that you understand that it’s not your fault. I hope you’re in a healthy place now, too. What a terrible, tragic mess to have to deal with!

      • Erin

        It was an extremely difficult thing to go through. I was so young. We are all in a good place now, thank you. I’ve been remarried for 10 years. My husband adopted the kids from my first marriage and we have two together. He has been a totally different kind of father/husband. Very healing in so many ways. I appreciate how much care you show toward victims in these cases. The narrative has been so toxic.

    • Tamara

      I met my husband’s monster. It was not on the same level as yours but just as **cked up. Yes, it was how he was raised. Yes, as the 10 yr marriage went along I watched the mask slip from what I had wanted to see to what actually was.
      Yes, I ran.
      In hindsight, that was the worst thing to have done with this individual.
      As I sit in my hammock today with my hoodie all the way up. Maybe it’s good to talk about it.

  3. Sarah

    Good Morning, Shelia, thank you for this article. I read the David French article yesterday. The same phrase stood out to me, as well, but not for the reason you cite here. I think they put the wife as a first line of defense for a different reason. I understood this “First line of defense” to mean it was her responsibility to keep him accountable, to oversee that he was “being good.” This is obviously just as horrible as your theory of why she was that first line of defense. Did she have any clue of his already perverted state? Did anyone warn her that he was under observation for his perverse behavior? In my opinion, this is so much worse than expecting ger to provide his sexual needs to keep him on the straight and narrow. The men who knew anout these behaviors not only did not turn him over to the law, they knowingly allowed an innocent woman to become part of his perversion. They did not protect her, either. And they expected that she would be the first to notice if he deviated again. They expected that she would know or understand the signs. They expected that he wouldn’t convince her that everything was normal. What woman would knowingly marry a man with such antecedents? It is an all over horrific scenario. There is much that we need to learn from these systems of abuse.

    • Ylva

      In one of the youtube videos included in the articles, White testifies that he thinks the wife had no idea – and it’s safe to say he didn’t tell her either.

      • Sarah

        How these men allowed this woman to marry a sexual deviant and say nothing to her, but expect she be a line of defense is inexcusable, indefensable.

    • Rachel L.

      THIS is exactly what I was thinking too! Firstly, they act as if (I’m intentionally taking the tone of the institution here, which is dismissive and minimizing) “sacrificing the experiences of a few” is acceptable collateral damage to reach so many more kids. Last time I checked, JESUS already paid the sacrifice for all souls, which means we don’t need to SACRIFICE OUR CHILDREN for anyone. And why is one child’s soul more valuable than another?
      Second, who the heck gives them the authority to set up an innocent woman as some sort of sin gatekeeper? This whole thing makes me irate to the extreme. Not only were they sacrificing kids on this predator’s altar, but they offered up his wife as tribute too. Like she was supposed to cleanse him. As if any one one person can do that for another… Again, that’s GOD’S job – and he already did it!
      I have this mental image of a Moloch statue with the hands in front of the giant mouth, which leads to the fire pit below. These idiots were just letting kids roll down into the fire, and expecting his wife to be the cork/plug to prevent more, without being burned in the process too. Like… What?!?
      I also believe that this is another example of how the the church has treated “repentance” as a blank cheque to allow abuse under the guise of “grace”, without any sort of accountability. It damages everyone, from institutions like this to the individual wife who believes she can “pray away” her husband’s abuse. Please people, stop allowing the grace message to override the accountability one! We are called to better!

  4. Carol

    A friend of mine shares a bunch of your info on Facebook, and I am appalled, though perhaps not surprised, that in the 21st century this sort of abuse is still actively taught by self-proclaimed “Christians”. I’m lucky, I guess, that I was raised Catholic and never exposed to that sort of deleterious brainwashing. I was taught that sex was a beautiful thing shared by two people, however…
    In reading your stuff I also realize that my subconscious view of sex is that it is a using of one person by another DESPITE what I was taught in catechism. I’ve remained celibate my whole life out of a singular lack of desire to be used, while also desiring that intimacy I was taught SHOULD exist. I can only guess that practical exposure undermined the theoretical theological lessons I was given.
    Thank you for speaking up, I hope it makes a difference for the generations to come.

  5. Boone

    I know a young many that was victimized by this man. He tried to tell his parents what was going on but they thought that he just wanted to come home and spend the summer with the friends that they were trying to get him away from. They made him stay. The abuse kept up. He again tried to tell them when he got back. They ignored him. They sent him back the next summer with him begging not to go. The abuse continued for a second Summer. When he got home the next time the story broke that there were multiple victims.
    This boy’s now seriously messed up. He’s estranged from his family and has become an atheist. All because nobody would listen.

    • Lindsey

      How utterly heartbreaking. There is never a time or circumstance where I would disbelieve my child if they told me they were molested. The chances of them lying aren’t worth the risk of the possibility that they’re telling the truth.
      Side note: anyone who abuses my children better hope to God that they’re in police custody or prison before my husband finds out about it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s awful, Boone. It reminds me of Larry Nassar’s first victim–Kyle Stephens. The friend of the family. Her family didn’t believe her for years until the news broke, and her dad finally committed suicide. The damage abusers leave in their wake is immense–and the damage that is caused when those who should believe/protect don’t is even more immense, I think.

  6. Melissa

    The whole “his wife was a layer of accountability” thing just grosses me out. We were not created just to keep our husbands from doing wrong. We were created in the image of God right alongside men. We are daughters of the Most High and gosh darn it, stop treating us like either the enemy or the fix!!!!

  7. Nathan

    “Men are out of control sexual monsters, possessed of an uncontrollable, insatiable desire to lust, cheat, abuse and engage in sexual immorality. The only thing preventing this is women who were put on this Earth to pray for men, act as gatekeepers and take the blame for their sinful behavior”.
    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Isn’t it interesting that the very people who make that claim ALSO say that men are holier and more Godly than women?

    • Anne

      The cognitive dissonance is real.

  8. Susan

    Thank you so, so much for continuing to fight this fight! I’m divorced now, after spending 18 years married to a man with a sex addiction. It started with porn and moved to “online interactions with women” as he called it — basically sexting and video sex. He eventually left me for a woman who would let him continue his behavior. The fun fact is: He was never deprived! We were trying to get pregnant almost the whole marriage (he’s unlikely to be able to have children, we found out at some point), which meant we were having sex every other day unless he was out of town for work. Then, once he gaslighted me by telling me he had been hurt by my refusals for the (at the time) 13 years of our marriage, I made sure he was “taken care of” every day because that’s what he said he needed, and I thought I was saving my marriage. I spent years coercing myself to want sex with him and be a happy initiator as much as I possibly could, while he put me down constantly for various things. Again, I thought I was being a submissive wife and saving my marriage. None of that stopped the porn use or the video sex or anything. Now, I’m free from him and praying I find a man whose foundation is firmly rooted in Christ and who understands what Biblical sex actually is supposed to be. Meanwhile, I pray my ex-husband turns his sin over to God before it takes him any further down that path. But I am very fearful for him.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Susan, that’s awful! I’m so sorry. I’m glad you’re free now and that you can see clearly. And I pray you find that kind of a man too!

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy

    It says, “I get to do what I want to you for my benefit, without any consideration of you.”

    “I have the Right to do Anything to Anybody.”
    — Caesar Caligula

  10. Nikki

    Hi Shelia. I have been confused for a long time on mutual sex enjoyment and intimacy and it has deeply affected my marriage. Old testament scripture represents sex as a one-sided pleasure experience. Men wanted sex, women were there to have sex, even when it seems it was a harmful abuse situation (as in Lot offering his daughters and a traveling man offering his concubine to be abused and left for dead on a porch). These acts of self indulgence seem to not be condemned or reprimanded, as well as polygamy, such as the instance where God gave David Saul’s wives when he died. I know God’s love for me and all women is real and strong and of no uneven respect of persons, but I have always struggled with how sex is represented in the Bible. And I can hardly take Song of Solomon seriously (as in a direct representation of sex instead of some metaphorical prophesy of Christ) when Solomon himself had 700 and 300 wives and concubines. I don’t see how he could have experineced the mutuality of sex with any ONE woman while giving himself to so many others.
    On top of all that, my hope for sex being good was in the word yada. Now, however, I struggle with that as well. Yada is used in God knowing us deeply and intimately and a man knowing his wife the same. The debate in my mind looks like this: We do not know God the way he knows us. His ways are unsearchable and higher than ours. What I am concluding seems that sex is a way for a man to know his wife intimately but not neccesarily for the woman to have the same intimate experience (since it never says a woman knows “yada” her husband, as we do not know “yada” God fully)… I know a man and wife are to be one, so maybe a woman draws her intimacy through other means such as emotionally? I am not saying this is the right view, but am asking for guidance.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Nikki, I totally get where you’re coming from in regards to the Old Testament. I think it’s wise sometimes to just read the gospels. Only the gospels, even for a few years. See who Jesus really is–because Jesus is God. Jesus is what God looks like.
      Then go back and read the Old Testament, and realize that while they did understand some truth, they were also very clouded in their thinking. And God always revealed Himself to them in their culture, pushing them towards the kingdom of God. He didn’t start out with them being perfect (with Abraham on I mean), but instead started with them where they were at and tried to show them who he was. But they were human just like we are, and they didn’t always hear right. Polygamy was never His plan. Sexual abuse was never His plan. Even Song of Solomon was just giving them a glimpse, in their framework, of what they were supposed to have or understand, but didn’t.


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