On the whole, women who attend church tend to believe, or are even more likely to believe, several key evangelical teachings about sex.
It makes sense. If you invest in your church culture, your beliefs tend to line up with the church culture.
And as we found in The Great Sex Rescue, in many cases women believe things about sex that are common in evangelical culture–such as “all men struggle with lust, it’s every man’s battle”–in larger numbers than say that their church teaches it. How could this be? Because they’re getting the message from Christian books and media rather than their actual church, which may not teach about it at all.
There is, however, one big belief that we measured where beliefs converge–and one with an effect, albeit a smaller one.
Before I tell you about that, though, I want to reiterate how we found this out.
This week I’m going to have something big to share about our data set that we used for The Great Sex Rescue (be sure you’re following my Facebook and Instagram to hear first!), and I want everyone to understand the significance of this.
We conducted the largest survey of women ever done in the Christian world up until now about marriage and sex.
We surveyed 22,000 women, of which 20,000 were eligible for our survey, and over 18,000 self-identified as Christian. They came from a wide variety of denominations and beliefs, as the chart below will show. They were across the ideological spectrum, and across the world. While our survey respondents were primarily American, we had a large contingent from Canada, Australia/New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Africa–basically any English speaking country–with a good dose of Europe thrown in, too.
We then asked at least 130 questions (depending on answers, some women received more), first covering marital and sexual satisfaction, and then, after that, covering typical evangelical beliefs. When we could, we used previously validated questions for marital and sexual satisfaction, so that we weren’t reinventing the wheel and we were using questions that the academic community had already found correctly measured these constructs. Then we asked if they had ever believed certain teachings, and if they had been taught certain teachings, at two points in time.
We chose several big outcome variables, which basically means we chose several of those marital & sexual satisfaction questions to measure the teachings against. The most important of those were:
- Orgasm rates
- Rates of sexual pain
- Being in the top quintile of marital satisfaction
- Feeling emotionally close to your spouse during sex
Joanna Sawatsky, my amazing stats person and co-author, then went to town. She was able to run cool statistical analyses to see if any evangelical beliefs were correlated with worse marital and sexual outcomes. And we found that many were! The results, of course, are in The Great Sex Rescue.
But I’m hoping today that you’ll understand how big a study this was, and how big an undertaking it was, and that we did this as scientifically as possible.
We did NOT:
- Ask people how beliefs affected them
- Ask people how certain books affected them
- Ask people if the liked certain beliefs (only if they believed them)
Again, we simply compared those who did believe certain things with those who didn’t believe certain things. (That’s why the criticism that we often get that we simply surveyed 20,000 people who believed just like me is so laughable. It wouldn’t have been possible to do the analysis we did without wide ideological variance!).
We have way more data than we included in The Great Sex Rescue.
It’s honestly a treasure trove of information! And I thought today I’d share just one tidbit that I found interesting.
Here’s the chart from chapter 1 of the beliefs that we found to be statistically significant when it came to marital and sexual outcomes. I know it’s hard to read–sorry about that–but I’ll print the important stuff below too!
Chart taken from The Great Sex Rescue, Baker Books, 2021
Take a look at the question on stay-at-home dads.
In a family with children, a working mom and a stay at home dad is as good as a stay at home mom and a working dad.
That question had the most divergence between what women said they believed and what they said they were taught, or had been taught, at church.
47% of women said they believed this before they were married, and 62% believe it now, but only 13% say they were ever taught this at church.
In other words, churches are not addressing stay-at-home dads.
They are either explicitly teaching that it should be women home with kids always, or else they’re not teaching it at all. And yet, even so, huge numbers of women believe that a stay-at-home dad is just as good as a stay-at-home mom.
We found the divergence in that one really interesting.
The other one with a divergence of 10% is whether or not you can divorce for abuse.
This is also the belief with the most movement between what women were taught and believed before they were married versus today! Before marriage, 56% of women and 63% of churches taught that the only biblical reason to divorce was an affair. Those numbers have come down significantly as we have come to recognize the reality and severity of abuse, and now 25% of women believe it, versus 35% of churches. Most churches, and most women, believe that you can divorce for abuse, though women believe it in larger numbers.
So in this area, too, churches are teaching something that women are less likely to believe.
Again, we didn’t go into these things really in The Great Sex Rescue, because they didn’t really affect our research question that much. But I did think those findings were interesting! And I’m hoping a few more news organizations will pick this up and ask us some questions, because we have so much data it’s falling out of trees!
I want to share a few more interesting nuggets with you soon, but I wanted to set the stage today, and I hope we can talk about the stay-at-home dad issue, because that one did give us pause.
Want to read more about our methodology?
Want to see our rubric of healthy sexuality teaching, and our scorecard of how books fared?
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.
Why do you think women and the evangelical church believe so differently about the stay-at-home dads question? Why don’t churches address this more? Should they? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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