How to Tell if Christian Authors Are Using Junk Science about Gender Differences

by | Oct 1, 2021 | gsr, Libido | 47 comments

How to Tell if Evangelical Authors are Misusing Neuroscience Research about Gender Differences

How do you know if a book is using junk science to prove a point?

I thought I’d combine last week’s podcast on a DIY test to see if Christian books are harmful or helpful and this week’s podcast on the problems with the way that far too many Christian resources misuse neuroscience research to give an example of how you can do your own research to see if a book is using science properly.

So let’s work through one example that Rebecca mentioned in the podcast yesterday that fits with our tests perfectly.

And, to be honest, this post is a sad one for me to write. We’re looking at Gary Thomas’ new book Married Sex (which he wrote with Deb Fileta). Gary and I were once quite close, and he often consulted me on how to talk about female sexuality in his books. I thought he “got” it, since he had written When to Walk Away and had told women that they could leave toxic marriages, something many male evangelical authors wouldn’t do. But ever since The Great Sex Rescue came out, which he did not support, he’s distanced himself from me.

I wasn’t going to look at his new book, but a number of people kept emailing me with issues from it, so we took a cursory glance recently (I still haven’t read the whole thing). And one thing we found that was concerning was how he’s using neuroscience research (as we talked about yesterday).

In one of the chapters that he wrote, he says:

It may be helpful to remember that your husband has a different brain than you do. Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist and researcher who studied at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Harvard, points out that “men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sex drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity.”

We realize that many wives have a higher libido than their husbands, but for those of you who are married to men with a higher libido, the quantity of sexual activity has the potential to create either long- term gratitude or slow-simmering resentment. Let’s not discount Dr. Brizendine’s surprising scientific truth: your husband has two and a half times more brain space devoted to sex drive than you do. So, yes, your husband is likely to think about sex more than you do.

Gary Thomas and Deb Fileta

Married Sex

Okay, wow. That sounds pretty incontrovertible, right? He’s quoting a scientist with major academic credentials.

But at the same time–this claim seems a little over the top, doesn’t it? A man has sex going through his brain ALL THE TIME, and he’s just waiting to seize a sexual opportunity? And sexually, he is completely different from her?

Yet, a neuropsychiatrist said it, so it must be true.

Well, let’s do some digging using the tests that we mentioned last week on the podcast and see!

Step #1: Check the citation–Is it from a peer-reviewed (academic) source?

Here is the endnote for this finding:

Louann Brizendine, The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think (New York: Three Rivers, 2010), 4.

Gary Thomas and Deb Fileta

Married Sex

The first thing to notice here is that this resource is not a journal article in an academic journal where it is peer-reviewed (or put to test by others in the field), but is just a book.

Step #2: Check the date of the publication: Is the science up to date?

This book was published in 2010. Last week we suggested that when it comes to scientific articles, a good rule of thumb is to look for something in the last 10 years. Neuroscience is changing rapidly. There are so many more studies out about gender differences and desire and sex since 2010–and virtually all of them show that men and women are far more similar than they are different.

When you see a study that is quite old, ask yourself:

Do we have to rely on an older study because not very much research is being done in this field, so this study is likely up to date? Or has there been lots of research in this field, and so this may be a sign that the author is cherry-picking data?

Step #3: Check the 1-star reviews on Amazon: Have any glaring problems been identified?

I always love checking the one-star reviews for books, because if there is a serious problem, chances are someone has mentioned it in a 1-star review. You can ignore all the stupid 1-star reviews, but if there are many thoughtful ones, that’s a sign that there’s a problem.

One of the one-star reviews for The Male Brain led me to a peer-reviewed book review in the journal Nature for her first book The Female Brain. Nature is one of the most pre-eminent and sought after scientific journals, so a review from that carries a lot of weight. Here’s part of that scathing review, which they titled Psychoneuroindoctrinology, to show how little they thought of the book:

Yet, despite the author’s extensive academic credentials, The Female Brain disappointingly fails to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance. The book is riddled with scientific errors and is misleading about the processes of brain development, the neuroendocrine system, and the nature of sex differences in general. At the ‘big picture’ level, three errors stand out. First, human sex differences are elevated almost to the point of creating different species, yet virtually all differences in brain structure, and most differences in behaviour, are characterized by small average differences and a great deal of male–female overlap at the individual level. Second, data on structural and functional differences in the brain are routinely framed as if they must precede all sex differences in behaviour. Finally, the focus on hormone levels to the virtual exclusion of the systems that interpret them (and the mutual regulatory interactions between receptor and secretion systems) is especially lamentable, given the book’s clinical emphasis on hormone therapies.

Rebecca M. Young and Evan Balaban

"Psychoneuroindocrinology", Nature volume 443, page 634 (2006)

Step #4: Google It

When we googled “The Male Brain” and “review”, a ton of negative reviews came up. One of them was from The New York Times Book Review, where the writer actually looked at all the studies that Brizendine refers to in her book–and finds that many of them do not show what she claims they show–something that Brizendine has frequently been criticized for.

Here’s just one paragraph from the review:

Brizendine has been here before. Her first book got particular attention for the claim that women speak faster than men (250 versus 125 words per minute) and use more words throughout the day, an average of 20,000 compared with 7,000. This was a conversation starter that lined up perfectly with stereotype — Chatty Cathy, quantified! Except that it turned out there were no studies backing up the words-per-minute claim, which Brizendine later removed from the paperback edition. Her claim that women use more words than men fell apart, too, when a paper published in Science found that the average man and woman use the same number of words (about 16,000 during the course of a day). But Brizendine has stuck with that claim, which she says was based on her own “observation,” and on a paper that referred to the vocabularies of 20-month-old girls, whose author disavows the leap Brizendine makes.
Emily Bazelon

"A Mind of His Own", New York Times Book Review

In other words, academics and scientists knew this was junk science at the time it was written. 

Another finding from Google was from a neuropsychologist’s blog, who does neuroimaging research projects. He routinely criticizes “scientific” books and articles that don’t use citations or misrepresent research, and his blog is actually called “Citation Needed.” Here’s what he had to say about an article Brizendine wrote at the launch of her book The Male Brain:

[Quoting Brizendine’s article] Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 200 to 250 percent more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.

Maybe the silliest paragraph in the whole article. Not only do I not know what region Brizendine is talking about here, I have absolutely no clue what the “sexual pursuit area” might be. It could be just me, I suppose, but I just searched Google Scholar for “sexual pursuit area” and got… zero hits. Is it a visual region? A part of the hypothalamus? The notoriously grabby motor cortex hand area? No one knows, and Brizendine isn’t telling. Off-hand, I don’t know of any region of the human brain that shows the degree of sexual dimorphism Brizendine claims here.

[Quoting Brizendine] If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.

If each fiber of chest hair was a tree, a 12-year-old boy would have a Bonsai sitting on the kitchen counter, and a 30-year-old man would own Roosevelt National Forest. What you’re supposed to learn from this analogy, I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s hard for me to think clearly about trees and hair you see, seeing as how I find it impossible to stop thinking about female body parts while I’m trying to write this.

Tal Yarkoni

"The Male Brain Hurts--Or How Not to Write about Science"

He concludes his article with this:

No one doubts that men and women differ from one another, and the study of gender differences is an active and important area of psychology and neuroscience. But I can’t for the life of me see any merit in telling the public that men can’t stop thinking about breasts because they’re full of the beer-equivalent of two gallons of testosterone.

Tal Yarkoni

"The Male Brain Hurts--or How Not to Write about Science"

This whole process took me approximately 3 1/2 minutes.

It wasn’t onerous. These critiques were published up to ten years ago–they are not new concerns by any means. It took longer to read through the articles, but it didn’t take very long to realize that there was a HUGE problem with this book and its findings–and the author had already been critiqued in peer-reviewed journals.

One has to ask: Why did Married Sex use such outdated and wrong-headed research?

Here’s what we suspect, after seeing it happen again and again in Christian resources (and this is only one example): too often evangelical resources are using science to try to prove their viewpoint, rather than using science to help inform their viewpoint. We can think of no other explanation why people would skip over the most recent research in favour of highly ridiculed pop pseudo-science.

What reason would evangelical authors have to promote out-of-date, largely discredited research instead of more recent findings?

Because it supports their view of male sexuality.

But also, cherry-picking convenient “scientific” findings to prove your point silences anyone who disagrees–it is an argument in bad faith. We truly do not understand why Christian resources seem so afraid to give up stereotypes for truth.

The evangelical community is very wedded to a view of male sexuality where:

  1. men have inordinately high sex drives that women will never understand
  2. men are visually stimulated so much that lust is a constant battle for every man

Then, once they have asserted these two things, they often draw these conclusions:

  • Men are drawn to pornography because of their lustful nature the way that God made them, and they need women to have enough sex with them so they don’t fall
  • Men have a terrible time not lusting after women, and so women must dress modestly
  • Men have high sex drives that women will never understand, and they need sex in a way that women will never understand, and so wives have to give husbands frequent sex or terrible things will happen to the relationship
  • Boys will have a difficult time resisting sexual temptation, and so girls need to be the gatekeepers to make sure things don’t go too far.

(I am not saying that Married Sex says these things blatantly, though it does hint at many of them). 

In The Great Sex Rescue, we found that these messages dampen women’s libido, hurt women’s orgasm rates, and just do terrible things to sexuality in general. We need to do better than this.

In his amazing article “Enough is Enough”, writing about how the evangelical church needed to grapple with the reality of abuse that many women are living with, and help those women get out, Gary concludes with this:

 

I think God wanted me to see the breadth and depth of what is going on, and in this case, perhaps to be His voice.

Gary Thomas

Enough is Enough

We pray that this will apply in his writing not just to issues of abuse, but also to larger issues of how women are treated in marriage when it comes to sex.

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.

We’d like to suggest a more evidence-based, healthy and biblical view of sexuality.

Instead of shying away from science, really look at it. What you’ll find is that men and women are more alike than they are different, and there is a lot of overlap.

Women are made to be just as sexual as men (and, indeed, we are capable of multiple orgasms and we don’t have a refractory period). We may not all have the same libidos (some can be more spontaneous and some more responsive), but we are all meant to be sexual.

If women aren’t as sexual, it could very well be that it’s because Christian resources have made sex sound so ugly and threatening to women.

And maybe the reason that men are so paranoid about lust, and feel that they need women to have sex so that the men don’t sin, is ALSO based on the messages that boys grew up with.

Get rid of the horrible messages, and you may just awaken healthy sexuality in BOTH men and women–sexuality that is focused on mutual pleasure and intimacy, not just sin avoidance for men and obligation for women.

Wouldn’t that be freeing and healing?

So when you hear a message that goes against everything you know is healthy, check out the citation, and do a little digging.

It’s not that difficult. And then maybe all of us can start demanding more of our Christian resources!

Are Evangelical Authors Misusing Neuroscience Research about Gender Differences?
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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

Adults Need Bedtimes Too!

Adults need bedtimes, too. Seriously. I have talked to thousands of couples over the last few...

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

For the Guys: When Your Wife Hates Sex

For every guy who has ever thought, "my wife hates sex," or, even worse, "my wife hates ME," I want to point you to some practical solutions. Usually I write this blog for women, but I do have a fair number of men who read it, and I get emails all the time from men...

The What’s Killing Women’s Libido Podcast

It's the wrap up podcast for our What's Killing Women's Libido series! At the end of the month we like to record a podcast that's a little more aimed at men, and today we thought we'd wrap up what can cause women's libidos to plummet--and what men can do about it!...

What Christian Authors Can Learn from Academia

Science often makes leaps and bounds by disproving previous assumptions and hypotheses. Galileo turned the world upside down (literally) by positing that the world wasn't flat; that it was round and revolved around the sun. For centuries Newton's theories were the...

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!

47 Comments

  1. M

    Mic drop.

    Reply
  2. Anon

    I remember reading a book which said that wives should never ‘bother’ their husbands in the evening by talking to them, because the husband had already used his words up during his day at work, while the wife still had half her quote to go. Instead, she should ring up a female friend to use up the rest of her words!!!

    I’m really saddened by the way Gary Thomas has got sucked into this ‘let’s find evidence that fits the stereotype’ thing – his previous books have been so good, and we NEED Christian authors who can write well on these topics – especially men, since so many people just won’t listen to anything women say (even about women!)

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Interestingly, I’m pretty sure that line of thinking (Men simply speak fewer words than women do, women need to understand men get “capped out” on talking) just came from a James Dobson book where he claimed research had found this, cited none, and actually research hadn’t ever found it. (Here’s a super non-scientific article about it)

      And we’re really saddened, too. Honestly it’s been incredibly disheartening to see someone like Gary just ignore all the evidence, all the women asking him to listen, all the research, and simply harden his heart towards the truth. I really really hope he turns back.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Ooh, we can do a little impromptu research on this topic of men “capping out” on their daily word count!!!

        What with so many people working from home during COVID, how many women have heard their husbands say, in the middle of a phone call or Zoom meeting with work colleagues, “Well, sorry, everybody, but I’m going to have to hang up now. I’ve hit my daily word limit”??? Hands up, ladies, if you’ve actually heard this.

        Yeah, that’s what I thought. 🙄🙄🙄

        Reply
      • Anon

        Funny thing is, my dad talked way more than my mum, my husband talks way more than I do, and I can think of a good dozen relationships offhand where the same thing happens. So I guess either we women aren’t ‘womanly’ enough to blether on, or the men aren’t ‘manly’ enough to shut up!

        I suspect the whole idea comes from the ‘strong silent hero’ of romance novels – Darcy onwards!

        Reply
      • EOF

        My husband can out-talk me any day. Sometimes I need a break and just sit in silence!

        Reply
    • M

      I was taught this (about words and not overwhelming my husband and talking to a girlfriend instead) at church as a young married woman. The pastors who taught me this are divorced.

      Reply
  3. B

    ….and people wonder why I don’t feel safe at church after sexual betrayal in my marriage!!!!
    It because this crap is taught/suggested/hinted at in so many churches and I don’t have have the strength or energy to try to figure out if they teach this kind of nonsense or not!!!!
    It’s ridiculous to assume anything about anyone’s brain. Male or female. Background, history, teachings, parenting, etc. make it all so variable!!!!

    Reply
  4. Anna

    Speaking as a woman who would be up for sex pretty much every day, married to a man who is happy with once a week AT MOST, this is frustrating and makes me feel unseen and like a sex crazed maniac that there is something wrong with.

    Reply
    • Tiger Girl

      Anna—I completely agree with you. And I read so many Christian marriage books looking for answers and not finding ones that addressed our situation. I’m not broken. And neither is my loving husband. We don’t fit the norm. The area of sexual intimacy has been one of the hardest issues in our marriage. We’ve had to communicate. We have had to sacrifice for each other. And God, who knows and sees, has knit us together. Even though we still only are physically intimate about 3 times a month, I know my husband loves me and cherishes me.

      Reply
    • Rebecca

      My husband and I have a great sex life, but I think about sex at least as much as he does, and possibly more. If he has a lot on his mind about work, sex drops way down the list for him!
      I’d be up for it almost every day haha

      Reply
  5. Jo R

    It’s about time someone is calling out authors, teachers, and even pastors on spouting “knowledge” based on little more than “that’s the way it’s always been” and, to probably a much larger degree than anyone is willing to admit, absolutely wishful thinking, especially when it comes to what women think, feel, and want.

    At the same time, in one very real sense, it doesn’t matter a bit what the research says or doesn’t say about any particular topic. That’s because research deals in averages, in the big picture. Even if 99.99 percent of women all think X about something, that does not in any way mean a particular man’s own wife thinks that way. And he ought to be a helluva lot more concerned about what his wife says than what the research and stats say. He ought to give her the common courtesy of ***believing what she says***.

    Of course, too many men don’t listen to what women say, even if their own wives say it. So I guess it’s good in one sense if a MAN says something that women have been saying for years, decades, centuries, or even millennia. There’s just the SLIGHTEST chance that since a man said it, other men might just take notice. But that circles back around to the question of “what are men saying?” If men are just continuing to spout the common “knowledge” or received “wisdom,” well, things won’t change, will they? And let’s face it. The current set-up in North American cultural “Christianity” is pretty sweet for the fellas. They get to make all the decisions, dictate to their wives, then call their wives disrespectful if the ladies dare to have an even slightly different idea.

    What’s the saying??? Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      YES! We had one husband comment once “I didn’t marry women, I married Beth (or whatever his wife’s name was).” I loved that sentiment, and I think it gets right to what you’re saying here. 🙂

      I didn’t marry “men”, I married Connor. So there’s not much point in me living my marriage for the average man when I married a very specific one!!

      Reply
  6. Gaye

    As a writer who works in a science field, I applaud the idea of actually tracking down studies and articles that an author quotes, in order to see what they actually say. Although some scientific articles will be hard to access because they’re “subscriber only,” everyone can read the article abstract in PubMed, and some full-text articles are available to everyone in PubMed Central.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yes! And I’m going to be honest, most authors do not have a subscription to a university database and so I have found very, very, VERY few studies cited in books that are not available to the public. 🙂

      I think that a lot of authors think that people won’t do the work to look at what they cited, and so they just say whatever they *want* it to say and think, “Meh, the masses won’t check.” It’s horribly unethical, but I see it far too frequently.

      Reply
      • Sue R

        I think a lot of authors don’t understand or plain just don’t know that it’s poor research/poor science/poor writing not to look up original sources and consider their context. An author finds something that resonates with them in the popular press or a pop psychology book and then cite what the author of that piece used as a reference without ever looking it up. And the author of that piece may not have looked it up, either. Really sad how these things get misinterpreted to begin with and then keep getting further and further away from what the original research actually said. And most people do not have science or research training (or even just the time) to investigate themselves.

        Reply
  7. Andrea

    I would just like to add a way to assess books; you don’t have to scrap them all in favor of articles. I noticed that Brizendine’s is published by “Three Rivers.” The books that go through the same rigorous peer review as articles are books published by university presses, so look for that phrase (Harvard University Press, Northern Illinois University Press … most universities have one). Two positive reviews are required for a university press to publish a book and if there is disagreement between the two reviewers, they will send it to a third one to break the tie.

    P.S. This does not mean trade books cannot be good, of course, such as Kristin Du Mez’s and Sheila’s — both trade books, but with plenty of footnotes. I just wanted to point out that there are books that are held to the same standard as articles before they are allowed to go into print.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Oh, and speaking of standards — what are Gary Thomas’ credentials in psychology, counseling, human sexuality and other fields he so confidently writes about? According to his Wikipedia page, he has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in systematic theology. He should have just stayed in his lane with the English degree, since he’s writing fiction about male and female differences anyway.

      Reply
      • Lisa M

        Yes! Just stay in your lane, Gary! Well said.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good point, Andrea. Also textbooks tend to be good books to look at. (But this is one reason that we want to get our stuff into peer reviewed journals as well, so that we can pass some major standards).

      Reply
      • Jason Smith

        Sheila, if you follow this logic what are your credentials to comment on this?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Here’s the thing–what we’re doing is telling people to look at the current scientific consensus–which is the two big meta-analyses. And the reason we’re saying that? Because we’re NOT neuroscientists. And so we need to go with the consensus in the neuroscience community. If you are not a neuroscientist, you are not qualified to say that anything is better than the current consensus as is shown in the meta-analyses from the big journals.

          That is also why we showed you what the actual peer-reviewed journals (Nature) said about a book that was not peer-reviewed. You always go with the highest level of scientific consensus on something when you are not an expert. And that is what we have done here, and what evangelical authors have not done.

          (Seriously, it’s not that hard).

          Reply
      • Jason Smith

        I understand your perspective Shelia, I guess the danger is that you are attacking a footnote from his chapter, rather than the conclusion he is trying to make (that there are differences between and an women and we need to facilitate dialogue so that everyone is heard and understood). I actually read this chapter as I am reading their book that I received from attending their conference. I am finding it to be incredibly balanced, showing both male and female perspective, and going above and beyond to make sure that a wife’s needs, sexual satisfaction, and voice is heard. I would caution you not to throw out the baby with a little soap in the bathwater.

        I also followed your link to the nature article, and that is strictly a book review. There is no actual data presented, so I would be cautious with even citing that. I actually am a scientist and qualified to speak on the subject, my goal is not to argue the science, but to make sure that people are understanding how people are using science. You can find data that says a lot and sometimes even conflicts, ultimately we try to see what does science ,God‘s word and our experience lead us to.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The book review is in a peer-reviewed journal. Her book was not peer-reviewed. If you follow the links you will find other articles that deal with her “scientific” claims.

          No one is claiming that men and women are the same. The issue is whether or not it is the brain that causes the difference. What we’re saying–and I’ll elaborate on Monday–is that this is largely cultural and due to experience. That’s what research shows. And that’s actually good news, because it means that it can be changed!

          Our research found, for instance, that believing certain things lowered a woman’s sex drive. So if we stop teaching those things, we can stop artificially lowering women’s libidos (which is largely what the evangelical church has been doing).

          Reply
    • Jennifer

      This is exactly the advice about academic publishers that I (a Professor of English who teaches research writing) was going to add. Yes, check book publishers. If it’s Yale UP or Routledge, it’s typically gone through rigorous academic review before publication.

      Reply
  8. Jen

    This is a great discussion. I, too, was taught the “less words” ideology, and was a bit baffled because I do not have a man who talks less! In fact, he used to talk so much that it drove me into relative silence. By the time he stopped talking I needed some quiet time and therefore didn’t share as much. He got better over the years, but by that time the kiddos were needing to be heard, and so I found I had less opportunity to talk and thereby had less to say. Not being heard/given an opportunity to share drove a wedge between us,

    Now that my husband is in therapy he has discovered that all of that talking was a poor coping skill for the pain he was in. Anxiety makes some people verbose.

    As far as the research goes, this type of cherry-picking and continuation of the narrative is so incredibly damaging. Thank you for continuing to educate by teaching critical thinking skills.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Jen! If people can start learning how to critically judge a book, then I think fewer harmful books in evangelicalism will sell well. Even if pastors or organizations still promote harmful books, if people know what to look for–that’s definitely a start.
      (And honestly, I think a lot of pastors are getting fed up too!)

      Reply
  9. Nathan

    I’ll add one bullet point to the list above about what some people are wedded to…

    If there’s ever a sexual problem or issue in the marriage, it’s always the fault of the wife for not praying enough, not being submissive enough, not having sex enough, not being a good enough Christian, etc.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very true! Especially since men have such great needs that they can’t help themselves–so women are the only ones who can be rational, so it’s up to women to do the changing.

      It actually is a very low view of men, to be honest.

      I do think that most men have a higher felt need for sex. I just don’t think it’s from their brains. I think our brains are plastic, and our experiences, our anatomy and how we interact with it, our culture, etc all contribute to it. The bigger question we should be asking is: why do so many women have so little sex drive?

      Reply
      • Anon

        I have absolutely had ENOUGH of the way the majority keep blaming women for male wrongdoing. It’s really raw right now. We’ve had a horrific case in the UK news where a serving police officer falsely arrested a young woman so that he could rape & murder her – this week, he’s been sentenced to a whole of life sentence (we don’t have the death penalty here, but this means he will never be released)

        During the trial, the news has been FULL of it – and EVERY SINGLE DAY, reporters have been telling us how women need to take more care, need to be more streetwise, need to think about how they dress, which routes they take, how late they are out to keep themselves safe…(all of which is irrelevant, because his victim did all these things and still got killed).

        When I heard the sentencing news, the thought flashed through my mind ‘how long before people start saying the victim should have done more?’ And sure enough – a male police commissioner (that’s like the boss of a whole police force) has just said that the victim ‘should not have submitted’ to the arrest and that women need to ‘just learn a bit’ about the legal process and be more streetwise.

        So an innocent young woman has been murdered in horrific circumstances by a serving police officer – and the (male) police response is to tell WOMEN they need to work harder to stop this happening in future. It’s OUR fault if a guy who is paid to protect society kills us because we didn’t bother to ‘educate’ ourselves sufficiently.

        Right now, I feel like giving up hope of ever seeing any change in this life. It’s NOT just the church – the whole world thinks this way. We are ALWAYS going to be regarded as the ones to blame, whatever we do.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’ve been reading about that case. Just horrific. I’m so sorry. And, yes, the response is very wrong. It does get disheartening sometimes. I also love the UK initiative #wecantconsenttothis which is so important–about the “rough sex” defence. I hope that catches on across the pond too!

          Reply
      • Lisa M

        Anon, WOW.

        “Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough.

        Women get raped because someone raped them.” –Jessica Valenti

        The end. Nothing more needs to be said.

        Reply
  10. K

    Excellent article. We certainly do need to up our critical assessment of these books. Two thoughts:
    1) We need to get over our hero worship of these authors. In university I learned great skills in assessing credibility of resources, but did not apply those skills when I went looking for marriage books because I trusted and loved Focus on the Family. Anything they published or recommended must be good… It took me a lot of years to unlearn that and a lot of help from this website.
    2) Christian fiction books – which of course will not have footnotes – often preach hard all of the negative views of sex you have worked to debunk. Sometimes the preaching is obvious, and sometimes it is much more subtle. And its often young teens being influenced without even realizing it. I’d love for you to tackle this topic some day.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, we’ve thought of analyzing some of the best-selling fiction books too. It is a huge problem.

      Reply
    • Lisa M

      During the shutdown last year, I read a Christian romance novel for the first time. It was positively abysmal. The writing was pure twaddle, for one. But the horrible messages, ugh! They were awful! The end of the book literally stated that her whole life’s purpose was now fulfilled, since she had met the man she was meant to be with. It literally turned my stomach.

      Reply
      • Rebecca

        I read quite a few Christian Romance novels in my late teens, and the way the female lead characters were written always annoyed me!Pretty much always needing to be rescued in some way by the man. No matter how strong she thought she was, she always ended up needing rescuing 🤦‍♀️
        There’s a lot of things I rely on my husband for, but he relies on me for just as much.
        Christian romance novels don’t have that sort of mutuality.
        Some of Jannette Oake’s books are terrible in this regard.

        I loved critiqueing these sort of books with my sister – lots of laughs about the bad writing and character development 🤣🤣🤣

        Reply
  11. EOF

    While it depresses and angers me that that JUNK is still being published in Christian circles, I’m so happy that Sheila and others are CALLING IT OUT! 🙌🏻

    Keep it up! I think we’re going to see real change soon. This is exciting.

    Reply
  12. Kat

    Hi Sheila! I have noticed that a lot of Christian circles seem to have a deep disdain and derision for material coming out of “secular” universities where a lot of high quality academic studies are being conducted. Have you noticed this, too? I am trying to figure out the root of these sentiments and keeping coming back to the idea of pride. Christians who see everything in an “us vs. the world” dichotomy seem to view everything that doesn’t come from an explicitly Christian resource with distrust. How do concerned church goers support evidence based claims in this kind of environment?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this is very true. Definitely. It’s sad, because we’re dismissing good work that is good science.

      Reply
  13. Lisa M

    YES YES YES! Thank you! Before you started on this, I truly felt alone. I read L&R in 2010 and had such a visceral reaction to it but I felt totally alone. In 2016 I read two of Feldhahn’s books and almost fell out of my chair! I actually wrote to her multiple times, trying to have a discussion with her about how old and spotty her research was, I sent her links of the latest research (at the time). She dug her heels in. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t like to guess at her reasons but I honestly cannot think of any good ones.

    I lay a lot on the shoulders of the publishers. Are dollars the only thing that concerns them?

    Reply
  14. R

    Best. Book review. Ever.

    Reply
  15. Rebekah

    Deb Fileta?? Is t she supposed to be known for good relationship advice?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, she is. To be fair, most of the problematic stuff in the book is in Gary’s sections. But Deb hasn’t distanced herself from it at all.

      Reply
  16. Anon

    Thomas has been dangerous long before this book. The book, “Scared Marriage” essentially teaches that marriage is not about happiness but holiness. This is a life sentence to women in abusive marriages who have been told in multiple ways that her even hoping for happiness is equivalent to selfishness. The book does not come out and say that but it sends dangerous messages that God is making you “holy” in this difficult place and that seeking help and safety is not trusting Him. *I have not read it in 6 years, and did not take notes so these comments are based on my experiences and frustration with the book at that point in time. I have not read anything by Thomas since.

    Reply
  17. Becky

    This is great advice. Thank you. I’m writing a book for a Christian audience that relies heavily on neuroscience research, so I am taking all your advice here to heart!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.