100th Podcast Episode! Let’s Talk What Makes Sex Dehumanizing

by | May 14, 2021 | Podcasts | 20 comments

Dehumanizing Sex: Episode 100 of the Bare Marriage podcast
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It’s our 100th episode of the Bare Marriage Podcast, and we’re a day late!

I think this is the first time the podcast has ever been late. Figures, eh? We had some technical difficulties with the sound for half the podcast and we had to refilm. But it’s all here now!
And sprinkled throughout the podcast are some encouragement messages that some listeners sent in. We just loved those! If you sent one in and it didn’t make it, we’ll try to put it into other podcasts coming up. And you can send yours here!
But here we go, with our 100th episode!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

0:20 100 Episodes! How we got to where we are today
2:40 Message from a listener!
4:30 Is sex always dehumanizing outside of marriage?
13:10 Waited for the wedding vs slept with fiance
18:30 Messages from listeners!
20:45 How Focus on the Family answered a coersive sex situation
46:20 Message from a listener!
48:40 RQ: Reclaiming your sexuality after betrayal by partner’s porn use?
59:50 Final message from a listener, and finishing off with encouragement!

Main Segment: Is Sex Outside of Marriage Always Dehumanizing?

A little over a month ago, Tim Keller tweeted this out, and it made quite the stir.

He got a lot of pushback from two sides:

  • Those saying that outside of marriage people can still be committed and treat each other well
  • Those saying that inside of marriage, sex can still be coerced, shallow, or degrading

I think both camps are right, and we talked about it today.
Believing in a biblical sexual ethic (that sex is meant for marriage) does not mean that there isn’t room for nuance to be honest about what’s going on in couple’s lives. We try to tease that out today.
Keller wrote a follow-up thread which was much better further explaining what he meant, but we still think he could have gone further. All of us know couples who aren’t married but are basically committed to each other for life who have great sex, and I don’t think we have to ignore that fact, or pretend it doesn’t exist, to still believe in a biblical sexual ethic. Eric Sentell, from PS I Love You, wrote a great article showing rebutting this idea that the wedding ring determines whether sex is dehumanizing or not using our arguments from The Great Sex Rescue, and it’s worth a read!

Speaking of Dehumanizing Sex–let’s remember that sexual coercion in marriage happens

We’ve spent the week analyzing the long-form answers from our survey, and we were really saddened by how many stories of marital rape we found. Marital rape and coercion are far more common than we may believe. So Joanna, when she was trying to procrastinate this week, did some searches on the Focus on the Family website to try to find posts on rape in marriage. She found very few, and no good ones.
She did, however, find this question on the Focus on the Family Canada website:

My husband is constantly badgering me to have sex. When I respond that I’m not in the mood, he gets angry and tells me that there are all kinds of things that he does for me when he’s “not in the mood”—like going to work, washing the dishes, helping with the housework. I’ve tried to explain that it’s not the same thing, but either he isn’t listening or he doesn’t believe me. Is there something wrong with me? What can I do to smooth these troubled waters?
Focus on the Family Canada

Q&A: Sexual misunderstanding (wife’s viewpoint)

We look at how they didn’t warn about possible coercion in this answer, even though many women reading that question likely do have coercion in their marriage.

Reader Question: How Do I Reclaim My Sexuality While My Husband is in Recovery for Sex Addiction?

Michael John Cusick, author of Surfing for God, and podcaster at Restoring the Soul, joined me for this one!

How can a woman who lives with a man active in sexual addiction reclaim her own sexuality and feel good about her sexual self while waiting for him to seek recovery?

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.

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. Anna

    Yay! I did a little happy dance when you talked about the quality of pre-marital vs. marital sex with the same partner! My husband and I had a lot of sex BEFORE we came to Christ…WITH EACH OTHER, and I have always been a little mentally uneasy about putting those encounters in the “bad” drawer, as opposed to the “good” drawer. It was fun, it was romantic, it was sometimes goofy, and scary and all those emotional moments are part of who we are as a couple.
    sometimes Christians are guilty of magical thinking, like when we assume that a ceremony or a moment in time has power to do things that it doesn’t have. The universe is run by choices, both human and divine, and those choices don’t always line up with moments and ceremonies.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree, Anna. We need far more nuance in the conversation. And having “magical” black and white thinking does not win others to our side. It just makes them think we’re out of touch with reality (which, quite frankly, we are if we argue that). We need to further explore the reasons for the biblical sexual ethic, because I think that will make everything clearer and will help us argue for one without labelling all sex outside of marriage as terrible and exploitative, and all sex within marriage as blessed.

  2. Frustrated

    It seems to me that you ladies have made a pretty big jump to call the husband from that Q&A abusive and a rapist. “He gets angry” does not mean he is raping and abusing her, yet you spend the entire time talking as if that’s a known fact. What if he is just a frustrated husband who got married with the silly idea that he would have some sex with his wife? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation. Especially when he loves to please her sexually (and every other way), and he was led to believe before marriage that she really desired him. After 100 rejections, what man wouldn’t be a bit upset? Reminds me of the old joke – “They’ve discovered a food that completely kills a woman’s sex drive – it’s called wedding cake.”
    Maybe you could spend a little time addressing the women – If he’s not raping you or abusing you, and is otherwise a good, kind, honest man, then perhaps you should occasionally make an attempt to get “in the mood.” It would be good for both of you.”
    If we all waited for women to be in the mood, there wouldn’t be much sex happening. It would be zero in my house.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Frustrated,
      We’re actually make some plans to do a month again on boosting your libido in the future. But here’s the thing: about 9-10% of women admit to experiencing sexual assault and marital rape in their current marriages–many more don’t recognize it. If you were to ask them to describe it, they would say, “He constantly badgers me and then he gets angry at me.” They pretty much all would.
      So if you are giving advice to a woman, and that is the scenario she presents, you simply MUST treat it seriously.
      Also, even if it isn’t rape–if he is constantly badgering, and then he berates her and is angry if she says no, that is ALSO not a healthy environment.
      As I’ve said before: Sex is AWESOME. It really is. People, in general, like to do awesome things.
      Therefore, if someone doesn’t want to do something that is supposed to be awesome, we should not be saying, “what’s wrong with you?” We should be saying, “why is this not awesome for her?”
      And the truth is that for many women, sex started off really badly in marriage and it never recovered. Or else the emotional aspect of marriage has become so negative that sex is off-putting.
      Yes, women need to prioritize it more, and I have two whole courses on that (boost your libido and the orgasm course), and a book on it (31 Days to Great Sex), and I’ve spent years talking about it. I am now spending a few months talking about WHY the story has been changed in her mind so that it’s no longer awesome.
      Do you know what would happen if instead I started telling women, “It doesn’t matter how you feel; you need to have sex more?” Because I now know. It would actually make things worse in the long run. Obligation sex kills her libido. It just kills it. It may make her have sex more in the short term, but it kills it.
      I don’t want people to just have sex. I want them to experience great sex. And that means getting at the heart of why something isn’t awesome. If you’re interested in that, I’d suggest starting with this post, and then following rabbit trails from there. Or getting 31 Days to Great Sex with your wife and truly talking with her about it. Or asking her to read The Great Sex Rescue, because it could be the reason that it isn’t awesome is because she’s believed bad things about sex.
      But constantly badgering her and then berating her and getting angry? That is not right, no matter how frustrated you are. And it will only make things worse.

  3. Active mom

    To be fair Sheila and the team may have more information on that particular situation than they released. Also, coercion is a form or rape. Aren’t we supposed to follow let your yes’s be yes’s and your no’s be no’s? Or does that not apply in marriage? By the way your wedding cake analogy could apply to men as well. As many as 30% of marriages. I’m sorry, I understand that you are frustrated and that being in a marriage where there is little sexual activity can be demoralizing. However, most the women on this site who may not enjoy sex are here to try to find out why. Sheila and the team has helped put together resources to give them some answers rather than the traditional lay there, spread your legs and smile afterwards. People are trying. This may make some women cringe and stop trying. Just once I would love some of that anger aimed at men on a blog designed for them. I have yet to hear someone take a man to task for depriving his wife even though many men are low drive and many more don’t even recognize the orgasm gap. If they do it’s something else blamed on her.
    Sorry……. getting off my soap box now. I guess I am just tired of someone constantly wanting to take women to task over this topic,

  4. Marie

    Hi Sheila and team, I’ve really appreciated your blog for many years and found many helpful ideas and tips. I think you have an excellent point that evangelicals often get the message “Marriage=great sex” and “No pre-marital sex, then marriage=great sex.” I agree that this simplistic message is a problem. And the kind of pre-marital sex where a couple that’s almost married makes a mistake and goes too far before the wedding…I get that the conversation needs to be nuanced.
    However, I strongly disagree with the way you present this statement and I believe it’s going down a dangerous path: “All of us know couples who aren’t married but are basically committed to each other for life who have great sex.” What Keller meant by “dehumanizing” was obviously not simply “someone feeling used in sex”. That seems to be the definition that you assume. Of course plenty of non-married people have sex that feels great in the moment. Some of them feel committed to each other on some level. But if they’ve conscious chosen not to make a serious, binding legal commitment, there’s some level of “non-commitment” as well. We can’t just ignore that as Christians. What Keller is saying is that situation of not being committed changes the experience of sex from the whole giving of self that it is intended to be. Does that mean that marriage automatically = giving of whole self” Nope, of course not. But you cannot truly have the giving of one’s whole self without starting with a covenant relationship. There is a reason that people don’t want to get married…that’s because they think it’s outdated to assume that you should or could stick with one person for the rest of your life. That means, they are not fully committed. To insinuate that un-married people living together in a “committed” relationship are not feeling used and are enjoying sex means they aren’t experiencing anything really any different from the sexual intimacy that God desires is simply not true.
    Please consider the very deep implications of your statements about marriage. You are saying that you believe marriage matters and then in the next breath saying that it doesn’t matter. I believe that is dangerous territory.

    • Andrea

      Those of us who have close friends that live in committed relationships without the marriage license know just how good some of those relationships can be, and let me tell you, it shook me and the Evangelical beliefs I grew up with to the core when I realized this. I am talking about genuine friends, though, not potential converts, people you get to know well enough for them to confide in you and vice versa. Years ago, in graduate school, I actually witnessed an ex-boyfriend lose his faith over it. He made secular friends for the first time in his life and realized there were decent people among them, people who treated the opposite sex with respect, committed couples like Joanna described in the podcast from her graduate days… For some reason, this made his faith somehow seem not worth it, and this is the real danger we do need to grapple with. It forces you to take your faith a lot more seriously unless you’re willing to discard it simply because other people manage to live decent lives of mutual love and respect. It makes you have to seriously grapple with what exactly Jesus means to you. I cannot help but wonder if maybe Tim Keller is grappling with that right now. I’m not sure if the blog readers are aware that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and he’s written about how this has made him have to face some tough questions, how it strengthened his relationship with Kathy, etc. (I also don’t understand why he would spend his last days on earth tweeting about the virtues of marital sex, I mean, his legacy is so much bigger than that!)
      I really like how Rebecca said in a previous podcast that her husband came from a loving atheist family that raised him well and that when he became a Christian it all just made even more sense (something like that, so sorry I’m butchering it). I think that precisely because it’s such dangerous territory that easily inspires doubt in believers, we need more committed Christians providing the nuance and also converts telling us how, if their lives were so good already, Jesus completed the picture.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Marie, I would agree with you. I really would. The problem is that I actually know people in real life who are with each other for life who haven’t had the wedding yet. They’re planning on it in a few years once they have more money/settle down/get jobs, etc. In their minds, they are already married.
      Now, I would of course say that they’re not yet, but the point is that in their minds they are. I would agree that a covenant relationship means something, which is why I’m passionate about marriage. I just don’t think that we can judge everyone who isn’t married and assume that they don’t love each other as much or have a commitment, because many of them actually do. It’s just that marriage has ceased to mean to them what it means to us.
      I do believe in marriage, and I think the world would be a much better place if we all valued marriage again, as it should be. But the fact is that many people don’t. And so we have to judge them by their own standards. Do you know any couples personally, like really know them well, who are cohabiting but planning on marrying one day? I know many, and I know many who lived together first for a few years before marrying, and their commitment level really didn’t change that much. I’m glad they married, but I do think we need to respect the couples who are committed, if not married, on their own terms. That’s what we were trying to say in the podcast. I think if you were to talk to many (not all of course) but many couples, especially in their late twenties who are living together, they would tell you about their plans for the future and retirement and everything. They’re just not married yet, and that’s normal. I think we should encourage marriage, yes, and I think there should be a difference between cohabitation and marriage. But the fact is that to many couples today there just isn’t, and so they honestly are committed. That’s all.

      • Marie

        Actually I do have friends that are not married and living together. I’m aware of the fact that they can have a good relationship and good sex.
        Knowing about those different types of situations doesn’t change my opinion of marriage. And yes, I also have known several couples that I would consider to be “common law” married. They really see themselves as a married couple and function fully as such even though they had never made it official. They are in a unique category in my opinion. But I still believe marriage matters and ultimately it does make a difference.
        I also worked in health care for a number of years as a family nurse practitioner in an inner city area ravaged by heroin addiction. I’ve interacted intimately with many, many women suffering in situations where they wanted to get married, but the guy didn’t value it…I had to treat STD’s from the relationship, etc. I’ve seen other elderly couples (usually from Central America) who were never married but were committed to each other coming in for healthcare. I’ve had a lot of exposure to the secular world, so I’m not speaking from a conservative church-bubble kind of experience.

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Hi, Marie–
          I do agree that it’s a different category, that’s why they have different titles! Married versus common-law! I don’t think anyone is arguing that they are equivalent, but rather that for some couples, the level of commitment can be the same. There are many, many common-law couples where, like you said, the amount of commitment is mismatched. But there are others–especially among my age group of mid 20s–where the slowness to marriage is not because of a lack of commitment but because of not being able to afford a wedding, growing up in homes that fell apart and so marriage isn’t seen as the solution but rather commitment is, etc.
          These friends of mine, when they get married, will not be more committed to each other than before. And that’s just the truth! And I do agree with you that this is the minority of cases, too, and the research supports that. Which is yet another reason why we’re very very pro-marriage!!!
          Now, that does NOT mean that there’s no reason to get married, or that we shouldn’t get married because earnest commitment is all that matters. Of course not! But we have to address the why: why do we get married? Is it because all marriages are innately better and more committed than all non-marriages? Of course not. That’s just not the case. I’m going to be honest: my commitment to Connor did not get stronger after we said “I do.” In fact, both of us were surprised by how we really didn’t feel any different than we did 6 months before we got married. I believe we are supposed to get married and not just live together first because I believe that’s a way of protecting your partner–telling them not just with words but with actions that you will never leave, you have tied your lives together in a profound way. But it doesn’t mean that the commitment is less, the love is less, or the respect is less if a non-believing couple decides to put the wedding off for 5 years until family stuff settles down/finances get better/etc. And that doesn’t minimize the importance of marriage, because we get married not because we want to be quantifiably better than other relationships, but because we believe it’s the right thing to do.
          As Christians, we get married because it’s a covenant. We are raised to see marriage as different than just promises, there is a profound mystery to the covenantal relationship that mirrors that which Christ has with us. But when you don’t see it as a covenant, when you are raised with the mentality that commitment is really all that matters, your reasons for marriage are often different. We can’t judge their commitment to each other through our covenant-minded lens, because they just don’t see it the same way and can be committed with a different way of showing it because, frankly, we’re in different cultures (Christian vs. secular).
          All we’re saying is that we need to be able to talk about it in nuanced terms because I’m really tired of seeing couples wracked with guilt because they’ve ruined their marriages by sleeping together 6 weeks before the wedding, thinking they’ve now doomed sex by having dehumanized each other. I’m sick and tired of seeing my friends not be able to set foot in church because of the judgment of their common-law marriages, rather than the church reaching out a hand of understanding and compassion. And I’m just tired of the dichotomizing when I know so many healthy, life-giving non-married long-term couples and hear from stories of abused women in “bona-fide Christian marriages” every single day.
          We need a better understanding than “marriage is better than non-married,” we need a deeper understanding of the nuance so that we do not doom couples unnecessarily to shame while still taking sin seriously, and we do not brush over red flags in marriages because they automatically get the Christian stamp of approval.

      • Marie

        Thank you, Rebecca, for your thoughtful comment. I think that the main point I want to make is that I don’t think it’s appropriate to react so strongly to Tim Keller’s comment by assuming that it is so black and white or judgmental. You mentioned some couples “thinking they’ve now doomed sex by having dehumanized each other ” Having followed Tim Keller’s teaching and ministry for many years now, I am quite sure that he would not at all have this attitude. He has personally ministered to many non-married people living together. He is very welcoming and gracious to having people from all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles in his church and discussing their ideas and perspectives openly. He will argue his points skillfully, but he is accepting of people who disagree. When he says that sex outside of marriage is dehumanizing, he’s trying to call people to a better way, not condemn them for some kind of “unpardonable sin” that will ruin their lives forever. Probably most all of us have had various “dehumanizing” experiences in our lives, but it never has to ruin us forever because God’s grace is so amazing.
        So please keep in mind a pastor’s practice and ministry before you form strong conclusions about their statements and critique them publicly.

      • Andrea

        Oh, OK, so this is another “don’t critique public figures publicly” comment.
        “Dehumanizing” is a particularly ugly word, it’s Keller’s politer way of saying “bestiality,” which is what homosexuality used to be compared with. Keller also compared gay and premarital sex to forgetting to change the oil in your car, so really, we do need to call this stuff out. (I know that sounds unbelievable, so here’s the tweet: https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/1377987691384569859).

      • tohu va-vohu

        Public figures should be critiqued publically; I agree with you there.
        ||Andrea|| “Dehumanizing” is a particularly ugly word, it’s Keller’s politer way of saying “bestiality,”
        ||Keller|| Since some persist in thinking that my use of the word ‘dehumanize’ here is problematic, please consider:
        ||Keller|| The definition of “de-humanize” – from Oxford Languages is–“to deprive of positive human qualities.”
        You are definitely putting words in Kellers mouth. He is nowhere near saying “bestiality”. And it’s not an ugly work. He is saying to be human is to use sex in a life-long commitment.

  5. Laura

    Twenty years ago, I was in an unhealthy marriage where my husband berated me if I wasn’t giving him enough sex. I was that woman who wrote into FOTF Canada and I was not pleased with their response for the most part. If a woman is in a very unhealthy marriage, she needs to seek counseling first and when her husband is being ugly toward her, she should not have to give him sex. During that last year of marriage, my husband sexually assaulted me while I was asleep because he thought that being married gave him a license to have sex anytime he wanted and it did not matter what I wanted. NO means NO.
    Thank you ladies for bringing the issue of marital rape and coercion to light. I didn’t know what to do about that problem all those years ago. I felt uncomfortable going to the church because I was afraid the male pastors would tell me I just needed to submit more. So, I got a divorce for my own safety. This topic needs to be addressed and out in the open because marital rape is an issue.

    • Laura

      I was not literally that woman who wrote FOTF with that question, but her experience sounded similar to mine.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Laura, I’m so sorry you endured that, and I’m so glad you’re in a healthier place now.

  6. tohu va-vohu

    \\Keller\\ Sexual love–if it’s not expressed in an exclusive, life-long covenant relationship–is dehumanizing.
    I think in your discussion you are kind of doing what you (rightfully) do with reader questions, “We don’t know all the details of this person’s situation so we are just using this question as a jump off point to talk about the possible issues; not give them advice for their specific situation.” But you didn’t say that was what you were doing with Keller’s tweet.
    You are reading a lot of other writers’ mistakes into Keller’s tweet. He would agree that sex in marriage can be dehumanizing. He would agree that sex outside of marriage can be great.
    \\Keller\\ The doctrine of sin means that believers are never as good as our true worldview should make us. Similarly, the doctrine of grace means that unbelievers are never as messed up as their false worldview should make them.
    \\Sheila\\ That doesn’t mean though that the main criteria of whether sex is dehumanizing or not is a wedding ring.
    That’s putting words in his mouth. There is a big difference between saying sex will be dehumanizing outside of life-long covenant relationship (he’s being careful not to say just a wedding ring; otherwise he could have just said “marriage”; he wants to be more specific than “marriage”), and saying sex outside of marriage is the MOST dehumanizing.
    This is what Keller believes:
    \\Keller\\ that’s the reason why sex outside of marriage according to the bible lacks integrity. You’re asking someone to do with your body, what you’re not doing with your life. You’re saying, “let’s be physically vulnerable to each other, let’s do physical display, disclosure but not whole life vulnerability.” That’s the reason why C.S. Lewis puts it perfectly, this is a perfect description of the biblical sex ethic, he says “the monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union, the sexual, from all other kinds of union, which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” To have physical union without having whole life union is a lack of integrity [this is a transcript of him speaking; that’s why is doesn’t read like written communication]
    Most of your arguments are that people do have life-long covenant relationship outside of marriage.
    \\Keller\\ Those who say “only consent matters” should know where the origins of consent come from and why divorced from a covenant relationship it leads to exploitation and ultimately dehumanization.
    He’s right; consent is not the only thing that matters. And he’s right that consent inside a covenant relationship is better. Consent outside of a life-long covenant relationship is still exploitation; maybe mutual exploitation, maybe not mutual.
    After all that, you guys are awesome! Your writing and podcasts have been a huge help to me.

    • tohu va-vohu

      \\Rebeca\\ We know where Keller’s coming from, because we want to protect our kids and our friends and our family from, in essence, the hookup culture that does seek to use you as a body. And even if it’s pleasurable sex it’s not humanizing. You know because it’s just physical. We want to be preserved from that as well. So I totally see where Keller was coming from. I just think that there is this major blind spot that we’re not willing to look at sex with any nuance because we are so scared that people will just start having it.
      No. You don’t know where Keller is coming from. You are projecting a lot of where other people are coming from onto Keller. That’s definitely not where he’s coming from.

    • tohu va-vohu

      //FROM THIS PODCAST POST// All of us know couples who aren’t married but are basically committed to each other for life who have great sex, and I don’t think we have to ignore that fact, or pretend it doesn’t exist, to still believe in a biblical sexual ethic.
      So, we all know people that are basically in a life-long covenant relationship in which sex is not dehumanizing?
      // Eric Sentell, from PS I Love You, wrote a great article showing rebutting this idea that the wedding ring determines whether sex is dehumanizing or not using our arguments from The Great Sex Rescue, and it’s worth a read!
      So, there are people with a wedding ring that are not in a life-long covenantal relationship? Agreed. But not what Keller said.
      If a spouse is manipulating their spouse with some sort of coercive conditional relationship, they are not in a life-long covenental relationship.


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