Yes, You Can Write a Sex Book That Can Help (Almost) Everybody

by | Oct 19, 2021 | Uncategorized | 53 comments

Christian Sex Books Shouldn't Harm

A book about sex isn’t for everyone. It can’t be — and it shouldn’t be.”

That’s how Debra Fileta, a licensed counselor and the co-author of the recent book Married Sex with Gary Thomas, begins a recent article where she defends the book.

We’ve talked a little bit about some of the problems with Married Sex on our podcast about junk science and last week’s podcast about breasts, but the book is being widely panned for objectifying women (saying God created breasts so women can reset the power imbalance in their marriages with a flash); being overly explicit, bordering on pornographic; putting the blame for sexual problems primarily on women; and so much more. You may remember this Fixed it for You from social media last week:

Fixed it For You Boobs

I don’t want to say too much more about the problems with the book in today’s post. Instead, what I want to talk about are the defences that Gary and Deb are using to defend the book. I find them troubling, but also quite typical of what often happens in the evangelical world when problematic teaching is called out.

This is the sort of thing we’ve been trying to help the evangelical world see ever since The Great Sex Rescue was published–books shouldn’t harm, and there shouldn’t be an excuse when they do. So I thought we could take today to dissect the excuses they’re giving, and teach all of us how to speak against this kind of logic and stand up against harmful books.

Quick Note, because I know I will get some people saying, “But did you go to them first?”

I actually don’t think that’s a legitimate argument when teaching is done in public. Public teaching must be corrected in public, as I have argued repeatedly, especially in this post on how Matthew 18 applies

But in this case, I actually did go to both Deb and Gary before the book was published, repeatedly, and raised some concerns. I also offered to help repeatedly with stats and research over the last two years, and they never took me up on it.

So let’s start with Deb’s primary assertion: “We wrote this book for healthy couples, not unhealthy ones.” Why is that no excuse?

They’re acknowledging that the book harms some people.

A book shouldn’t harm. I’ve written about this before, many times, but one of the big problems we have in evangelicalism is that many of our books do actual harm. We’re not talking about merely disagreeing with doctrine; our study of 20,000 women showed that believing certain teachings, and even being taught them, can result in worse marital and sexual satisfaction. And the teachings didn’t just harm women in abusive situations; they harmed women in healthy situations too.

Some books make things worse. And that should never, ever be the case, nor does it need to be (and for more on why, please see these posts):

Healthy couples are not the main consumers of marriage and sex advice.

Who is it that is drawn to marriage and sex books? People who are having problems in the marriage and sex department! If everything is going along tickity boo, why would you need to read a book? You may anyway just before marriage, or you may read one for a small group study, but why would you invest that kind of time and money?

Most people reading marriage and sex books have questions or problems.

Most unhealthy couples don’t realize they’re unhealthy.

If you talk to people who are now divorced after an abusive marriage, they will pretty much all tell you that for years they tried to fix the problem themselves. They blamed themselves for the bad dynamic in their marriage. They didn’t realize it was abuse!

Most people who are in toxic marriages do not realize their marriage is toxic. 

So giving a caveat that “this advice is not meant for those in abusive marriages” does very little, because many who are being abused don’t know it.

It is perfectly acceptable to write a book that does not apply to everyone. If you write a book on managing a shoestring budget so one person can stay at home with the kids, that’s not going to apply to a wealthy retired couple, and that’s okay. But if that wealthy couple were to read the book, they would read it and clearly know “this isn’t for me.”

Debra is saying that this book is not for marriages where there is porn use. However, how is someone supposed to know that this book isn’t for them when in that very book they talk about porn users and they admit that 64% of their own research pool used porn?

(Besides that, in this particular case of Married Sex, the book gives multiple anecdotes of people in very unhealthy relationships, showing that they actually did intend the book for people in those situations, including porn users. I won’t go into the specifics here, but you can read this detailed Facebook comment that lists many of these issues). 

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Saying, “we’re only hear to minister to those who are already healthy” kind of invalidates the need for the book, doesn’t it? After all, Jesus HImself, in Mark 2:17, said that he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. It is those who are unhealthy who especially need Him!

Now the secondary assertion: Even the Bible can harm!

Debra says:

The truth is, even the words of Scripture — if taken out of context and applied to an unhealthy marriage situation end up causing more harm.

Debra Fileta

A Book About Sex Isn't for Everyone

I don’t know about you, but this excuse really gets me. Are they comparing their book to Scripture? It’s just such a terrible way to handle Scripture, and seems very irreverent.

Yes, people can twist the Bible and make it harm. But that’s the point–they have to twist it! When you apply the Bible properly, it doesn’t harm people. It brings life.

The problem with this book is that you don’t have to twist it. When you take it at its face value it can harm, because the advice in many places is just wrong, often because the underlying premise is wrong.

Here’s just one example: they spend six paragraphs talking about how sexy it is to text nude photos to your husband, even saying that doing so can neurologically make him fixate on your nude body rather than seeking out pictures of other women’s nude bodies. But then it’s only in one sentence after all that that they acknowledge that if she’s uncomfortable you shouldn’t do it. So they showed all these fun, sexy women sending nude photos, but then said–oh, but if she’s not comfortable (if she’s not like these fun and sexy women), don’t. And they gave no warning about privacy issues.

Later in the book they again reiterate how fun this is to do. Now, I’m not against taking sexy photos (though I have major safety issue considerations). But it should never be done SO THAT he doesn’t get tempted to look elsewhere. And the language they use pressures women into doing it, rather than honoring women who may be uncomfortable for extremely legitimate reasons. (Revenge porn is a thing; privacy is a thing).

Their underlying premise is that the problem with sex is that women aren’t being sexy enough, and don’t understand men’s deep need. But when your underlying premise is skewed, the book will be faulty.

If your teaching is truth from Jesus, it should bind up the broken, not add to their wounds. Healthy teaching binds up the broken.

That is what He came to do–to set the captives free! And He told us that a bad tree can’t bear good fruit, and a good tree can’t bear bad fruit. If your teaching bears bad fruit when it is read by those who need a doctor, then you are not doing the work of Jesus.

Please, people: Don’t use people twisting the words of our precious Saviour to justify you giving bad advice.

The final defence: We should read “charitably and carefully”

Yesterday, Gary Thomas tried to respond to some of the outcry about his book by posting an encouraging email he received from a pastor who had been in their focus group for the book. The pastor explained how great the book was, but then at the end of his glowing review, he said this:

“This is a difficult topic to write about without triggering some passionate (and, at times, unfair) responses, which are easily platformed on social media and, ahem, Amazon reviews, but the reader who gives Gary and Debra a chance and reads their words carefully and charitably will be rewarded with a rich discussion of the common struggles and wondrous blessings of married sex.”

Gary Thomas' Facebook Page

Read that last bit for a minute: As long as we read “carefully and charitably”, we’ll get something out of the book. 

This puts the author in the position of the person deserving of care, rather than the reader. We need to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

But the author is the one the power in a reading situation! The author is telling the reader what to do, and the reader can’t respond. It is the reader that we should care for.

Additionally, an author’s job is to communicate. Many authors have defended themselves by simply saying, “well, I didn’t mean for it to be taken like that.” But if readers are the ones who need to carefully make sure they’re receiving the right message from what an author writes, then the author is asking the reader to do their job. The author’s job is to communicate clearly; if they don’t do that, it’s not the reader’s fault.

Jesus told us to care for the sheep, not to protect the reputations of all of the shepherds.

Gary Thomas has told me that his main problem with The Great Sex Rescue is how I treat other authors. I take them out of context and I’m overly harsh with them. I have asked him to have just as much compassion for the readers who, we found in our survey of 20,000, were harmed by their books, to no avail.

We know a sex book can be written for (almost) everybody, because we did it.

We wrote The Great Sex Rescue to help couples reclaim the beauty of sex that God intended for them, that has largely been stolen by teachings (like some of the ones in Married Sex) prevalent in the evangelical world that warp sex. We thought that it would be primarily married women who would read it, because we thought singles wouldn’t be interested, and we’ve been told that evangelical men won’t read books written by women.

But we’ve been very surprised. Our book has been read and loved by married women, yes. But many of our Amazon reviews are by men. We’ve heard from pastors who are going through it with men’s groups. Divorced women have read it to find healing from what they experienced. Single women are reading it preparing for marriage. We’ve heard from many couples who are asking their young adult kids to read it to sort them out before they get in major relationships.

Health applies broadly, across the board.

And so I’d like to end with two messages from men about The Great Sex Rescue–and men are not even our target audience! One is an Amazon review; the other a Twitter thread (I’m not going to link it because I don’t know if he wants broad attention paid to this).

I’m a married man in my late 40’s and I’ve been married to my wife for nearly 25 years. We grew up as products of the Evangelical and purity subcultures. And what we “learned” about sex in that subculture is straight up garbage.

As I read this book I realized that I was guilty of some of the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that the author rightly criticizes, especially when I was younger. The purity subculture taught me that, as a man, I was basically “owed” sex from my wife. And I bought into that lie. I would pout like a spoiled child if we went too long between sexual encounters. The purity culture never, ever taught me about female sexual fulfillment. It also never, ever discussed the HUGELY important concept of consent. Marital rape in this subculture isn’t a crime; it’s an oxymoron. It couldn’t possibly exist because the wife is to be available to the man for HIS fulfillment unless there is mutual agreement to abstain. Because, well, that’s “biblical.”

The authors very correctly attack the myth that male sexual sin is somehow traced back to a woman and her lack of availability to her husband. While those outside the subculture may think this sounds impossible those of us inside know that it’s at best implied and at worst actively taught. I have a friend who once told me that his wife would give him some sort of sexual fulfillment if he was going to have meetings with women the next day so that he wouldn’t be as tempted. The implication of course is that men are totally incapable of controlling their sexual desires and are somehow quite likely to act out on their desires with women they have absolutely no commitment or intimate relationship with if the one that they DO claim to share both commitment and intimacy do not fulfill them often enough. Are. You. Kidding. Me?

The purity subculture needs an overhaul. Some of the intentions are fantastic. However, the methods need to be reconsidered to put it mildly. I applaud the authors for having the boldness to try to rescue one of the greatest gifts to HUMANKIND.

Rob Bethmann

"Should Be Required Reading for Men", Amazon Review for The Great Sex Rescue

When I read The Great Sex Rescue it described sex the way that my heart always knew that it was supposed to be but I could never formulate in my mind.

My wife and I are both child sexual abuse survivors and that part of our persons is pretty severely damaged. She hasn’t read it yet, but will as she finishes nursing school and has the time. I have relayed parts to her and tears welled up in her eyes when I told her that she could stop sex whenever she wanted. Even in the middle of the act. There were times that she would soldier through it when she was triggered and I just didn’t realize what was happening.

This book has brought us closer and has enabled me to return to her something that I didn’t know that I was taking but knew had been taken before we met. She walks with something new in her step now. For all of the discouragement that you may feel please know that you have helped to right the ship at our house. You are helping two wounded people that really didn’t have any other example to go by. You made a huge difference here.

Robert F.

on Twitter, about The Great Sex Rescue

A Christ-Centred book will help people who are hurting.

So Christian authors: when those who are hurting tell you that your book is harmful, why doesn’t that matter to you? Why do you insist on blaming the readers? On saying, “well, you’re just too unhealthy to benefit from our teaching.”

When did Jesus ever do that?

Why aren’t you heartbroken that people who are hurting are saying that your book is making things worse?

Why, instead, are you telling us that we should give you the benefit of the doubt?

It is time for the welfare of the reader to take precedence. It is time for the well-being of the sheep to matter more than the reputation of well-known authors.

Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. If your book hurts those who are lost–then do something.

If you need your readers to read your book “charitably and carefully”, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with your book. If the people in your anecdotes should not be reading your book, there’s something fundamentally wrong with your book.

I know that’s hard to hear, but Jesus asks us to do the right thing–even when it’s hard.

Here’s hoping that more evangelical authors start listening to the sheep, rather than insisting that we should listen to them.

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.

Christian Sex Books Shouldn't Harm
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

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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. No name

    I kept myself in shape. I did the lingerie. I was adventurous in the bedroom. I decided to do spicey, sexy photos for my husband. He loved them. Sadly, This brought about his 3rd time of being active in his porn addiction. It fueled it instead of keeping him from looking at other naked women. I would learn about it 3 years later. This time lasted for 3 years, the longest season he had experienced being in chains to the vile evilness of porn. I had no idea he had an a problem at all until one devastating night I happened upon a text message that led to a confession he was forced into making. I destroyed all of the pictures of me on his devices and on mine. He didn’t deserve them. When I found out about his addiction I begged God to take my life. It has been 4 years since that devastating night. God has redeemed my husband through his genuine godly sorrow and repentance and changed behaviors. Our marriage was restored last year. I am still in therapy and it’s been 4 years since that horrible night. God worked miracles in us and through us.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I am so glad you’re on the other side now! But what a price that was to pay. I’m so sorry for the betrayal you experienced. And, yes, we need to remember that you don’t defeat porn by becoming porn–and we need to stop giving that toxic advice.

      • No name

        Thank you, Sheila. Those sexy photos I did for him was the biggest, costliest mistake I have ever made. God has worked in amazing ways. I am thankful He didn’t take my life as I begged Him to do. We still deal with repercussions. I cannot stand to be naked in the light for my husband to see. If he unintentionally walks in on me while I’m changing I experience awful emotional things and I instantaneously begin uncontrollable sobbing. It’s awful. During sex I need him to keep his face close to mine. I can’t stand for him to see me. My husband is very mindful of what I need to feel safe and he provides it. I love my husband and he is still active in therapy to work through his own issues. We have helpful software on our devices as an extra step of comfort for me and as an added element of accountability for him. Thank you for the work you do.

  2. Emmy

    What about that full breast flashing thing? To whom was it meant for? When a healthy couple reads it charitably they probably think it it’s just weird and skip it, or they think it is a good joke and they enjoy it. No harm done, I suppose, but is it helpful in any way?

    And when an unhealthy couple reads it, well, anything might happen, and it may be harmful too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly. I think that’s exactly how it works. Healthy couples skip over it; for unhealthy couples it creates more issues.

      • Sarah

        This is true of all the weird and problematic things in that book. It is worse than worthless to Christian marriages.

  3. Laura

    I haven’t been able to comment on here in almost two weeks due to technical issues. Finally, I get to! What an eye-opening article and a much needed reminder how as the body of Christ, we need to be mindful of our message. From Amazon’s sample I read of “Married Sex,” I found a lot of it problematic and cannot believe the stuff that is in this “Christian” book. If these authors claim that their book is for healthy couples, why are they (probably mostly Gary) assuming that there’s a power imbalance so a wife should flash her breasts? Healthy relationships do not have power imbalances.

    Even though I’ve been single for many years, I have read quite a few “Christian” books on marriage to prepare myself in case I ever remarry. Sadly, some of these books turn me off from marriage and make lifelong celibacy more appealing to me. However, The Great Sex Rescue gives me hope that someday (if I ever remarry) that I can have a great sex life. I have spent many years trying to deconstruct the damage of problematic evangelical teachings and the sexual abuse I experienced in my first marriage.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Oh hooray that comments are working for you again! I’ll make sure Connor sees this so he knows his fix worked!

      And wow, that’s amazing to hear how TGSR helped you have hope. I’m so sorry you have so much to deconstruct from–but I’m so honoured we get to be a part of your journey. Thank you!

  4. Debbie

    And if you have to write a blog post to fully explain who your book is meant for, something is very wrong.
    Thank you for caring about women who have been victims of covert abuse and for evangelical authors who contribute to that. I’m sure the fight is wearisome, but I’m thankful for you!!

  5. Valeria

    I’m really sorry to see how bad this book is, as I’ve read and appreciated Gary Thomas’ books in the past.

    What doesn’t convince me in Debra and Gary’s justifications is this: even if we assumed for their book to be directed only at healthy marriages (and this doesn’t seem to be the case), questionable ideas can make a healthy marriage worse instead of making it better, which definitely could happen with some of the advice they give.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly, Valeria! I’ve found this whole thing very sad too.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Right. During the 17 years that I didn’t know my ex husband was a sex addict, I would have read this book. And he definitely would have LOVED the flashing suggestion. And I would have felt wrong, used even, but I would have thought, well, a pastor and a therapist wrote this book, so they must know…..

      And that’s how bad advice can go to people who are “not the target audience for a book”.

    • Laura

      Just like healthy couples who read Love and Respect; their marriages became unhealthy because the husband was brainwashed to believe that he deserved unconditional respect and he thought it was his “God-given” right to control his wife.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, we have a lot of testimonials from women who say their husband was a good guy until he read Love & Respect.

  6. Lindsey

    I really appreciated this article. And just wanted to note that the entire time I was reading Deb’s blog post I kept thinking “Most unhealthy couples don’t know that their unhealthy”, and I was so glad that you included that point!

    I am currently in a Master’s program for Clinical Mental Heath Counseling and I can say unequivocally that as a *practicing counselor* Deb absolutely knows that this is true (or, alternatively is really bad at her profession, but I’d hate to assume that to be true), and as such I found her blog post maddening. She should 💯 know better than to write a book based on junk science, filled with harmful anecdotes, that create or fuel unhealthy dynamics and then claim that it “doesn’t apply” to those readers who are statistically most likely to purchase the book.

    Forget book sales, if I were here I would be afraid of the impact this collaboration could have on her other works and her counseling practice.

    • Laura

      I felt the same when I read Deb’s blog post. In the past, I’ve read her stuff on dating and relationships and thought she had a healthier viewpoint than other evangelical authors. Now that she co-authored this book with GT, I just don’t think I can read her work anymore.

  7. Jane Eyre

    If I were to write a book on how to learn mathematics, I would either explicitly direct it at advanced students OR make it easily intelligible to students who struggle.

    Why should sex be different?

  8. Emily

    Spot on! The point that hits home the most for me is that most people in toxic/abusive situations do not know it. I didn’t know I was in an emotionally abusive dating relationship until four months after the relationship was over. And it was four months of HEAVY processing. It is wildly concerning that a licensed counselor would not see the dissonance here.

    • Laura


      I didn’t think I was in an abusive relationship because he never hit me, but I felt like things were not right. I was constantly walking on eggshells because of his unpredictable mood swings, he often blamed me for his bad moods when I hadn’t even seem him all day, and many other things. What made me realize that maybe I was in an abusive relationship was the sexual assaults at night which did not happen until the last year of the marriage. After putting up with that for months, I knew I had to leave for my own safety.

      • Martin Hudzinski

        You are so right, today’s news about Kay Foltz (sic) and the abusive husband who murdered her and tossed her body out of a plane into the Atlantic Ocean should be warning to all.

  9. Active Mom

    I think what’s hardest for me about these books is the example with the nice photos. As Sheila pointed out they give the disclaimer that is she’s not comfortable she shouldn’t do it but in reality it plants the seeds that she should be doing this as one more defense against his straying. That is not her responsibility! It’s maddening because these same authors don’t do the same thing regarding the men. Even if you want to stick with the men are visual women are not debunked science. They don’t ever say men you need to be really aggressive and ambitious at work so your wife doesn’t look around at her friends and start to second guess your ability to provide for her because you aren’t giving her nice things. Or even keeping it on a physical level. Nowhere are men expected and lectured about being fit and strong. It’s like the church wants to have sexist stereotypes types. But only towards women.

    • D

      This is a great comment. I would imagine there are many women who would not feel comfortable with sending nude photos. I think “planting a seed” is a great way to put it—this book, other books and some blogs are trying to promote a list of activities every good Christian wife should do—even though these activities have nothing to do with Christianity.

      I for one will have nothing to do with texting nude photos–and my husband has never brought it up.

      As far as women being visual—I have met many women who are far more visual than the typical marriage teachings would suggest.

      I do believe, as you suggest, that some Christian marriage “teachers” are there more to promote certain cultural stereotypes toward women–even when they know this is harmful.

  10. EOF

    Yes to all of this post! Please keep up your good work. You’re changing lives. Mine included!

  11. This is a Pseudonym

    [Note from moderator: Hi there! Sheila has already gone to her publisher about making changes. She appreciates your comments, but asks that you have patience because this takes times and she is doing her best! Thank you for bringing it to our attention, we’re dealing with this, don’t worry! 🙂 ]

  12. Hanna

    I get so mad every time I hear that a woman has “power” over a man because of her attractive body. I think that’s a statement straight from the kingdom of darkness, and here’s why:

    1. As has already been said, there are no power imbalances in healthy relationships, as they don’t even operate on a scale of power. Love and power are in my mind mutually exclusive.

    2. If a man feels powerless because of a female body, it’s not the woman who has power over him. It’s his own lust (or desire, depending on the situation) that has power over him. Jesus talks about plucking out your own eye, right? It has very little to do with the other person.

    3. Talking about the female body as having power over men very very easily slides into victim blaming. “Oh, he just couldn’t help himself when she was dressed like that”. It’s just two sides of the same coin.

    I’m a regular reader of Gary’s blog and I’m disappointed.

    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Your second point it is a very good one. I knew there was something else wrong with that statement and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

  13. Katie

    Thank you!! I read Deb Fileta’s article after this one. Now I’m wondering, has anyone asked Deb or Gary what their definition of a healthy marriage is? Deb wrote that it would be absent of abuse and porn use. But have they ever defined what it is? What would Deb do if a client of her read Married Sex Bc she trusted Deb for great advice and them felt so confused by the gaslighting mostly done by Gary? What if that client told Deb, your book made me feel less than not better, I was made to feel like a body not a person. I have to treat sex like breastfeeding, then flash my boobs to get what I want, then pretend sex is great so my man doesn’t have hurt feelings and then I can’t orgasm bc I’m trying to fo everything in your book but it’s not making me feel whole. Would Deb then say, “Oh sorry, my book wasn’t for you. It’s for other marriages. It’s not for everyone.”

    • Jo R

      So a marriage without abuse and porn is healthy? What if the marriage is marked by indifference, coldness, or even hate (as long as there is no abuse)?

      Shouldn’t we define a healthy marriage as consisting of positive qualities rather than an absence of two specific negative ones?

  14. This is a Pseudonym

    Wow, I’m really disappointed that you deleted my comments. Everything I said was respectful. The first edition of this book came out in 2013, and so it’s been published for quite a while and there are probably many copies out there. I think it’s wise to let your readers see my issues with the book so they can heal from the damaging messages and avoiding buying it. Sheila, this isn’t like you! 🙁

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      We kept your comment and the info, and we’re honestly taking it up with the publisher. And when we do, I will do a series of Fixed it for Yous on myself (as I have before). Please understand that I am trying. But I also have contractual obligations, and I’m trying to navigate that well.

      I fully intend to do some Fixed It For Yous, and I left up your original comments. But you were quite harsh in your comments to me. I’m doing my best. I hear your concerns. I do share them now. I think I have shown myself trustworthy on this. So please trust me when I say that I am working towards doing what you are asking.

  15. Andrea

    I want to make a comment on one of the creepy lines from the book that’s been making the rounds on social media: “The very act of sex speaks of profound differences in gender: forcefulness that requires gentleness, initiation that requires receiving, control met with surrender.”

    This is just a new and somewhat gentler spin on Doug Wilson’s “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” Seriously, just compare the two. Gary Thomas spews the same crap in slightly less offensive language.

    • CMT

      Ha. I’ve sometimes wondered why guys who say things like this don’t realize that they are just making themselves sound like awful lovers. And also like they are maybe TERRIFIED of vulnerability (Which might be closely related issues!)

    • Laura

      Yep, GT sounds like he’s trying to quote Doug Wilson. When I heard GT’s comment from the book, I immediately thought of Doug Wilson. Yuck!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, it does sound like he’s been heavily influenced by many in his book, and uses their phrasing/paraphrasing quite often.

  16. Nessie

    Just a technical note- the second male review by Robert F. link appears to go to the truelovedates website, not the twitter post.

    • Laura

      Isn’t the truelovedates website run by Deb Fileta, co-author of Married Sex? I believe I used to read a lot of stuff on that cite. Good think Robert’s review went on there. She needs to hear how problematic this book is.

    • Nessie

      Yay, it now links to Great Sex Rescue! And I apologize- you clearly stated you were purposefully not linking to his twitter post.

      If this book is for “healthy couples,” then why are they talking about trying to reset any “power imbalances that occur because of other issues?” And is manipulation (flashing breasts for the purpose of balancing out power) really a Christ-like quality? Where is that scripture? *eyeroll*

  17. Anon

    I’ve read a few reviews for this book that say we shouldn’t judge it by ‘a few quotes’ but need to buy it and read it for ourselves before making a judgment. Which I find really weird. If I read a page of a book which contains very disturbing and unhelpful advice (I’m thinking specifically of the ‘flash your breasts’ paragraph) I don’t NEED to read the whole book.

    If I were looking for a book on childcare and I found one which had a paragraph that recommended beating your child severely on a daily basis, I wouldn’t need to read the whole book to know it was harmful. If I wanted a book on how to have a healthy diet and read an extract from one which told me I should eat 15 Mars Bars a day, I wouldn’t need to read the whole book to know it wasn’t a helpful resource for healthy eating. So I find it really weird that people are saying just because a book has a small section in it that demeans women, we need to read the whole book before saying it’s unhelpful as a marriage resource. Really?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know. I’ve never liked that argument either. There are only so many hours in the day, and there are SO MANY books. If I know one has a good chance of being terrible, why am I obligated to read it to find out for sure? Why wouldn’t I spend my precious time reading something that is more likely to be good?

    • Fiona

      Exactly! I have read criticisms of TGSR by other bloggers who claim that these harmful books are taken out of context. But just how much context do you need when women are told to flash their breasts during an argument?

  18. Mel

    On the topic of sending nude photos: let’s all remember Mark Hamill’s brilliant handling of his hilarious/embarrassing 80’s commercial, which suddenly surfaced in 2018, “Thanks to the internet-NOTHING GOES AWAY. Who knew?”
    Guys, WE should know! 🙂 Sheila, I know you’ve addressed this in older posts, and my computer security expert husband is in complete agreement with your concern about compromising photos! You cannot control them, so are you SURE you want to create them?

  19. Jessica Taylor

    I popped over to Deb’s blog and in the interest of fairness listened to the latest episode of their podcast. It was about oral sex.

    What I discovered: their rhetoric is insidious and groom-y. They’re careful to say you shouldn’t do it if you don’t want to, but the bulk of the show was devoted to breaking down reasons one might not want to, in a way that erased women’s true concerns by deliberately misunderstanding them.

    First off the question was from a woman, but they pretended it was gender-neutral. Gee, who can possibly guess whether it’s the man pressuring the woman or vice versa, in a church culture suffused by both porn use and male authority teachings? This feigned ignorance of women’s concerns intensified when they said that some women might not want to do it because of its “associations with porn.” Got that? Women’s concerns about what porn is teaching men to expect is their own fault, somehow. Nothing was addressed to men about actually watching this kind of porn or the difference between the violent sex-substitute depicted in porn and normal, loving oral sex. Indeed they presented a logical argument about how it’s not forbidden to “kiss” any part of the body, with no acknowledgement of how far the act men are demanding is from “kissing.” They also emphasized that “oral sex” isn’t Biblically forbidden, with citations from the Song of Songs, but again no discernment over whether the ethics of loving foreplay that book describes can be applied to the violent act men are seeing in porn and seeking from their partners. I also noted that they referred to normal sex not as “vaginal” but “penetration,” which I suspect means they regard it as licit for a man to sodomize his wife. In fact they said that penetration and oral are the “two main types of sex” which seems to clearly indicate that they are not really talking about gentle foreplay kissing.

    Then Deb told a story about a counseling client she successfully “challenged” to get over her aversion to oral sex. I can’t even imagine what kind of counseling it would be where the counselor is “challenging” you on your sexual boundaries and you report back on your progress in abandoning them. Let alone under Christian auspices! What has happened to the church that such “counseling” is even a thing? I don’t even discuss this stuff with my best female friend of 25 years, let alone some authority figure with an agenda for me to expand my repertoire. Is this really the women’s mentoring envisioned in the New Testament? At the end of the day, just… how is this any of these people’s business?

    I honestly think that the in-your-face misogyny of a Doug Wilson is preferable to this type of sly, soothing doubletalk which comes out to the same thing in practice anyway. They are hijacking superficial consent language in order to manipulate women out of withholding consent to whatever weird stuff their husband picked up from porn. Their polite, “mild” style will cause the message that women’s sexual boundaries are always highly questionable to reach much further than Wilson’s controversial abrasiveness.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow. Did they talk about how oral sex is actually one of the most common sexual abuse ways, and that it causes women panic and trauma in a totally different way than vaginal rape? And the flashbacks that need to be dealt with?

      Wow, that is creepy. And the thing about oral sex that needs to be emphasized is that it’s way more important to talk about him giving HER oral than the other way around, because for many women it’s one of the few ways they can reach orgasm, whereas men can usually orgasm through penetrative vaginal sex. Oh, dear. I didn’t even know they did this on their podcast.

      • Jessica Taylor

        No mention of abuse that I recall. Just a couple of vague references to “things in her past,” which I guess could mean a few different things. I interpreted it as being about past partners and maybe history of a less than Christian lifestyle, especially as it was mentioned alongside “porn associations,” but I’m not sure how they really intended it. In any case it was clearly presented as the woman’s burden. To men they talked about hygiene, being understanding, and again I should be clear that they did technically state that nobody has to do anything they don’t want to. But the whole thing was just suffused with weird incuriosity/denial about what the actual factors behind that might be. Considering how unlikely it is that Deb and Gary really don’t know, it’s hard for me not to hear the way this was structed as manipulation, designed to signal to women who have such concerns that they are not valid and they should shut up about them.

        Honestly I just see it as another example of the immature, unserious Pollyannaism that fills so much evangelical literature and media. Regardless of which area of life it touches on, not just sex. Most evangelical authors don’t seem to be interested in speaking into tough places. Instead they just use their writing gifts to evoke a vision of a pleasant world where problems are relatively light and can be fairly easily worked out. They don’t seem to reflect on how devastating it can be for someone who faces more difficult issues to be passed over in silence and effectively excluded. Many people from troubled backgrounds, particularly abuse survivors, already feel alienated from “normal” people with stable lives – particularly at church. For Christians to actively orient our culture around that false “nice” image seems like a type of underhanded, “polite” brutality towards the many among us who don’t share the privilege of such a life. I don’t expect the average church member to automatically understand things that they haven’t experienced, but someone who puts themselves forth as a teacher, counselor, or expert has a different responsibility. To use a bunch of rhetoric, as the prior commenter noted, about “wounds” and “chains” and “shame” – then turn around and tell the people whose lives those words actually describe that their problems are too hard to take into consideration – seems particularly awful.

        Ultimately it seems to me that such authors and pontificators are just not serious. I don’t know what it’s going to take for evangelicalism to wake up and realize that “nice” is not enough. Evangelical counseling, authorship, and media seem to be filled with people who “were born on third and think they hit a triple” with respect to relationships, mental health, family background, etc. And you know what, thank God that so many have been spared the real ugly stuff this world has to offer; smart, empathetic pastors and counselors who know healthy relationships and family life firsthand can be a huge asset. But Christianity is supposed to be a solution to all of life, no? Including the many tragedies and depraved sins the world is filled with. A person who’s not prepared to speak into those evils should not aspire to teach.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Really well said, Jessica! If you haven’t written a review yet of Married Sex, you should. This is excellent. Thank you. I think you’re right that too much Christian material is ultimately unserious. Yes.

  20. Lisa M

    This is spot on. You don’t get a free pass on writing a book with damaging content because you didn’t intend to hurt anyone and you only wanted certain people to read your book. This book was advertised as “chain-breaking, life-giving, shame-stomping content” and “Our baggage, trauma history, religious shame, and personal pain has prevented us from receiving the gift of sex the way it was intended to be received.
    And it’s time to break some chains, heal some wounds, rewrite some stories, stomp out the shame, and take back the gift of sex!!!” –That is from Debra Fileta’s post on her Facebook page. So, heal some wounds? That sounds like this content is for people with wounds, people who are hurting, people who have real problems in their marriage. They did not promote this book as for “married couples where everything is going great but just have lots of time to read a book that they probably don’t need to read.”

  21. Angela

    What a post! “First, do no harm!” You know, C S Lewis said to reread your writing and be very careful that it could not be misunderstood, because if there was any possible way to misunderstand it, people for sure would.

    Also what a blessing those 2 reviews from men. You are making a huge difference, Sheila!


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