How can you tell if a book, website, or even a church is healthy when it comes to sex teaching, or harmful?
My inbox fills up with people asking me what I think of this book, or what I think of that book. And chances are I haven’t read it! I don’t have time to read everything.
But I understand why people are asking. As we’ve been talking so much over the last few years about how many evangelical books actually spread messages about sex that are harmful, people want to make sure they avoid them.
Today I want to give you a tool that will help you uncover whether a resource is healthy or unhealthy when it comes to sex.
I ran a version of this post back in February, but we’ve got the scorecard and rubric live for everyone now, so I wanted to run it again!
Our book The Great Sex Rescue is based on four different types of research:
- Our survey of 20,000 women
- Follow-up intensive interviews and focus groups
- A look at peer-reviewed research in the field
- A review of our top evangelical best-selling books on marriage & sex and seeing what messages they give
The hypothesis that we were testing with our survey was, “Are there teachings that are common in evangelical circles that hurt women’s sexual and marital satisfaction?” So we asked ton of questions about women’s marriages and sex lives, and then asked if they had been taught, or if they believed or had believed, a wide variety of messages.
From that, we were able to identify which messages were really toxic!
Then we combined that with data from other studies, and we now had a picture of what healthy teaching about sex looked like.
So we created a 12-question rubric–a scorecard, so to speak–of healthy teaching when it comes to sex.
Here are the questions that we used:
12-Point Rubric on Healthy Sexuality
Infidelity and Lust:
1. Does the book acknowledge that the blame for a husband’s affair or porn use lies at the feet of the husband, or does it, at least in part, blame the wife?
2. Does the book acknowledge that porn use must be dealt with before a healthy sexual relationship can be built while acknowledging that very few porn habits begun in the internet age are caused by a wife’s refusal to have sex, or does it suggest that the remedy to a porn habit is more frequent sexual activity?
3. Does the book acknowledge the effect of pornography on men’s self-perception, sex drives, and sexual function, or does it ignore porn’s harm to marriages?
4. Does the book frame lust as something both spouses may struggle with, even if men tend to struggle more, or does it state that since all men struggle with lust, it can’t be defeated, and the only way to combat lust is for wives to have sex more and women to dress modestly?
Pleasure and Libido:
5. Does the book acknowledge women’s orgasm and women’s enjoyment of the physical aspects of sex, or does it imply that most or all women do not enjoy sex?
6. Does the book frame sex as something a woman will anticipate and look forward to, or does it frame sex as something she will tend to dread?
7. Does the book describe men’s sexual appetite as healthy but also containable and controllable, or are men’s sexual needs portrayed as ravenous, insatiable, and constant?
8. Does the book acknowledge that in a large minority of marriages, the wife has a higher libido than her husband, or does it oversimplify, implying that virtually all husbands have higher libidos than their wives?
9. Does the book explain that sex has many purposes, including intimacy, closeness, fun, and physical pleasure for both, or does it portray sex as being primarily about fulfilling his physical need?
10. Does the book stress personal appearance and hygiene equally for both parties, or is far more expected from wives than from husbands, and is it implied that if she does not maintain a level of attractiveness, he may have an affair?
11. Does the book discuss the importance of foreplay and a husband’s role in his wife’s pleasure, or does the book ignore a husband’s responsibility to help his wife feel pleasure?
12. Does the book include reasons why a woman may legitimately say, “Not tonight, honey,” and discuss the concept of marital rape, or does the book say that a woman refusing sex is a sin or fail to recognize rape within its anecdotes?
That’s our starting point. But then what do you do with those questions?
Well, we also created a scoring sheet that helps you score each of the 12 measures on a scale of 0-4.
We’ve got that scoring sheet, plus the scorecard of how all the books rated, available as a free download!
Get your rubric and scorecard now!
The rubric is available as a .pdf download, and the scorecard of 14 books (and counting) is a live Google sheet that we’ll be updating frequently (we hope!).
Want to know how Love & Respect scored? His Needs, Her Needs? The Act of Marriage? Sheet Music? Find out which resources scored the worst, and which ones scored the best (and there were some really good ones!).
And as you’re looking at the rubric and the scorecard, just a reminder that, even after being warned, Focus on the Family called Love & Respect a “biblically sound and empowering message for wives.” Check out my statement in response to theirs–their statement is linked in it.
The scorecard and complete scoring sheet aren’t even in the book–so these are genuine extras you won’t get there, but we want to make available. And they’re just fascinating to look through.
Our goal is that people will be empowered to look at resources with a discerning eye.
By showing you what healthy and unhealthy look like, hopefully people will be able to judge marriage books and sex books for themselves. And if a book doesn’t get a “healthy” rating, then you shouldn’t be using it or recommending it or studying it in a group study. (And, again, several did get healthy ratings!).
You may also enjoy:
- Is it okay if a marriage book is just a little bit harmful?
- Why I Speak Up when Women are Getting Harmed
- The Thalidomide and marriage books podcast
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
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.
Who should use this rubric?
Anyone who wants to make sure the stuff they’re reading and recommending is healthy! But here’s how we’re hoping it will be used:
- Church librarians will laminate and post the rubric so people can be made aware of what healthy teaching looks like
- Women’s Bible study leaders won’t suggest a book to study before looking at whether it’s healthy or not
- Pastors will use the rubric to vet the materials they recommend
- Counselors will use the rubric not only to vet materials, but also to teach those they counsel how to identify harmful/helpful messages
- Youth group leaders will make sure the messages they spread are healthy, like we talked about Monday on our post on how to ensure youth groups talk about sex in a healthy way
- Marriage teachers/speakers will make sure their messages line up with what’s healthy
- Regular people will use the rubric to be discerning about the books they study and recommend, and to help identify where they’ve been believing harmful messages, too.
Let’s all get in the habit of being discerning, and asking: “does this book actually treat women’s sexuality in a healthy way?”
Here’s how the scorecard works:
When we were offering the scorecard as a pre-order bonus, we made it a .pdf download. We’ve decided that we’d rather just let you see our live Google sheet, where we can make changes and add new books. So consider this a work in progress! We’re hoping to add more books as we read them as well.
We also added quotes from the books so that you can see why we scored the books on each of the 12 points the way that we did, and so that you can go back and check for yourself.
In general, what I’ve found is that books that are heavily gendered (talking about how men are one way and women are another) scored quite poorly, while books that allow for nuance and for a wide range of experiences tend to do better. So that’s a good thing to look out for when you buy books in the future! Do they pigeonhole people, or do they acknowledge that there is a wide range of “normal”?
Church, it’s okay to demand better.
It’s okay to ask publishers and authors to teach about sex well, in a way that doesn’t harm.
This is a deeper invitation to do this better. This is a call for health. Jesus came so that we may have life to the full. He wants abundance for us. So there is absolutely no reason, and no excuse, for resources that claim his name to end up stealing great sex from couples. It’s time to demand more.
It’s time to change the conversation.
I hope this rubric can be one tiny step towards that goal!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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I’m still lmao about Mark Gungor’s refusal to address your question about the orgasm gap on Twitter yesterday. How many times was he asked in total between you and Rebecca, half a dozen or so?
Yep! Pretty amazing thread. I need to count the number of insults he hurled at me. I haven’t done that yet.
It’s hard to follow because there are so many different threads, but if people want to see, you can see some of it here. (this isn’t the first tweet, but it lets you see more of them. You have to keep clicking on various responses to see the rest. Sorry it’s so confusing!).
Okay maybe I just missed something said on Twitter but why were the insults flying? Please correct me if my understanding is incorrect.
1. What started the conversation was the following quote from Gungor:
“At it’s core, marriage is a sexual contract. Refusing sex to your partner is a violation of the contract.”
2. Shelia responded along the lines that marriage is a covenant, not a contract, and there are legitimate reasons for spouses to avoid sexual contact.
3. Then all he-double hockey sticks broke loose.
I am a bit confused as the immediate context of Gungor’s statement was….
“We are not talking about people who are having physical problems or those in abusive situations. We are talking about an individual, for whatever reason, just refusing to be sexually intimate with their spouse.”
“Bottom line is that couples are supposed to be sexually active with each other. When they refuse (and “refuse” is the key word here), they are being sexually unfaithful. ”
I get that it is very important to point out that trying to force a spouse to have sex (i.e., marital rape) or saying that a spouse doesn’t have the right to say no is evil, wrong, and anti-biblical. I wish his statement had contained that context. I also wish he had pointed out that sex-starved marriages are rarely caused by abject selfishness (i.e., there is generally an underlying symptom or issue such as anorgasmia). I have no idea why he would object to Shelia pointing those things out.
That said it seems to me (again please point out anything I missed) that he was specifically referring to situations where a spouse (husband or wife) is intentionally withholding sexual intimacy for no good reason. The example that popped up into my head while reading his post was a husband using porn and neglecting his wife’s sexual needs.
Now I disagree with his apparent contention that separation is warranted in most or all cases of sexual refusal. Separation is a big step and other less severe remedies may be better in some cases. That said in the case of an unrepentant porn user who hasn’t touched his wife in years I understand why a wife would feel the need to get away from him and show there are consequences for his sin.
I’m often surprised at how offended these other authors get with you. Anytime I read your comments or responses you’re very gracious and respectful. And even in TGSR when critiquing their books you’re respectful, gracious and even merciful (to a degree I often don’t share as one who’s still cleaning up the mess their teachings have left in my own marriage).
I’m so sorry you all have to deal with their lack of respect and kindness. It says a lot about the condition of their hearts.
I downloaded the rubric, and it looks identical to the one I received as a pre-order bonus. I remember you saying recently that you read a new edition of His Needs, Her Needs and it moved up in the rankings, but I don’t see that here? I’m mostly curious because our church library did a purge and I snagged an original copy of that book (copyright 1986! Porn is never even mentioned. I guess that was the 80s?) and I wanted to see the comparison between my score on the super old book and the newest version.
Hi! The rubric is the exact same, since we didn’t change our scoring criteria since it was based in our survey results, what you’re looking for is the scorecard which is on the same page, just a different button! 🙂
Bear with me, because for a millennial, I’m pretty lousy with technology. When I follow the link above, it takes me to a page where it asks for my email address. When I put in the email address, I get an email with a “Check it Out!” button. That button downloads a .pdf file, and when I open it, it is just the original rubric with no other tabs. How do I get to the live Google sheet?
Hi Kya! Oops, you’re totally right it reverted to the wrong link, one we were using for preorders, when we tried to update the optin.
Check your inbox in a few minutes, you’ll get the right link! 🙂
A-ha! Just got a second email with a different link; this one has it. Thank you!
I haven’t checked out the scorecard yet but I’m thankful for the guidance you give us to be discerning in what we read.
One of the questions I’ve gotten when recommending TGSR is is it biblical? Or concern that it’s challenging biblical teachings. My response is that the Bible doesn’t need us to defend it. If a teaching or book can’t stand up to scrutiny then how true is it? The Bible has been around a long time, it has stood the test of time and if someone is confident in who Jesus is and in the Bible then you will be confident they can take our scrutiny.
I mean Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him. I can’t think of anytime in the scriptures when he was defensive, if anything he was usually the one being offensive- think about some of the things he said to the Pharisees! Many people who heard him teach were amazed because he taught with authority. He didn’t fear questions, neither should we. If any teacher/leader bearing the name of Jesus fears questions then maybe they’re not really representing Jesus.
I really like number 10. I see this stressed so often as only an issue for women—but when you look around there are a lot of men who could work on their appearances. And to the extent it is only stressed as an issue for women—that tells me a lot about the author and how they really view women. And who knows, for the men who refuse to work on hygiene/appearance–this could be causing issues in the bedroom.
> > My response is that the Bible doesn’t need us to defend it.
> > If a teaching or book can’t stand up to scrutiny then how true is it?
> > I mean Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him.
This is all very true, but the problem (and this has been going on since Jesus walked the Earth) isn’t Jesus or the Bible, but with people who are deliberately twisting the words of the scripture, and wrapping themselves in a cloak of holiness to make their toxic view acceptable. THAT needs to be argued against.
It’s not the Word that needs to be defended, but the IMAGE of the Word.
> > At it’s core, marriage is a sexual contract.
I would say that this is a PART of marriage, but marriage at its core is a bond of love between two people, not a contract to have sex every so often.
Imagine a newlywed couple where the husband says to the wife, “All I need is PIV, so that should be all you need as well,” even though she happens to be part of the 70-some percent of women who really can’t get sufficient stimulation through PIV. He therefore doesn’t do any kind of manual or oral stimulation for her, so she never experiences sex the way she, being the possessor of a clitoris, ought to.
Two thought experiments:
1. Suppose the husband needs eight minutes of stimulation to reach orgasm, and after two minutes of PIV, his wife ends the encounter. Would Mark Gungor consider them to be “sexually active with each other”? Would he think there was anything wrong with her calling a halt to the proceedings? After all, the wife isn’t “refusing sex” to her husband. She’s just letting his experience of sex match her own.
2. After the wife has had three decades of unenjoyable sex, the husband has the usual aging and maybe some additional health issues, so he can’t get much of an erection anymore. That means ***HE*** now needs some non-PIV. Should the wife oh so sweetly say, “Well, honey, for thirty years, PIV was all that you said we needed to do, so I guess no more sex at all, huh?” Would anyone blame her? After all, she was following his leadership by not insisting on non-PIV stimulation for herself for all those years. Why does she now, just because he’s developed erectile dysfunction, need to do non-PIV stimulation ***FOR HIM***?
I’ve just recently discovered your Facebook page and have had my eyes opened for sure! My question is, if I wanted to find someone for marriage counseling, for communication issues/sex issues/etc, how can I know I’m going to be counseled correctly? Now I’m worried I’ll get someone who thinks like Mark Gungor and it won’t help my marriage at all! But we need help!
That’s such a common question! I think I’m going to write a post on it soon. Definitely ask about their view of submission and how they handle emotional abuse. Even if you’re not being abused, the answer to that question often signals if they’re safe or not. But I’ll try to write more!
Thank you so much! I look forward to that! I wouldn’t call it abuse, per se, more like neglect. Stemming from his own childhood emotional neglect. We both know the problem, and understand the why of it, but not how to fix it. But then sex becomes an issue from lack of connection. If you think one of your books would help our specific problem, I could start there! Please let me know if you recommend a starting point. Thank you!