How Did the “All Men Struggle with Lust” Message Affect You?

by | Nov 16, 2021 | gsr, Libido, Pornography | 46 comments

How does the "all men struggle with lust" message affect you?

The “All men struggle with lust” message is a toxic one.

On Tuesday I don’t write blog posts anymore–but I published something on Facebook this morning that I thought I’d move over here as well!

Yesterday I asked in my Instagram stories how the “All men struggle with lust” message affected women. I had hundreds upon hundreds of responses.

Here are just a few:

* It made me feel like if my husband ever cheated it was because I didn’t keep myself pretty enough
* Made me feel permanently unsafe and always on display
* I felt guilty for my large bust
* Made me not trust men (including my husband)
* Gave me that “I asked for it” mentality
* It made me vigilant around men–how I crossed my legs, how I stood up or bent over. I never could be natural
* I thought every time my husband touched me he was initiating sex (wrong!)
* It made me terrified, like an animal in a cage
* It made me feel weird around my dad and brothers
* I gained 20 lbs. trying to hide my body
* It made me feel like a freak as a woman who struggled with lust
* Put burden on my young brain that my marriage would always have shadow & sadness
* Made me afraid to have sons
* I judged other women…
* It made me size up other women to see if my husband would lust after them
* It made me feel like I’d never be enough
* Made me extremely paranoid that my honorable husband was a secret pervert
* I thought addiction to porn was normal and I didn’t see the red flags with my then fiance
* I was terrified that everything I did or wore made me a target. So I avoided men altogether.
* I still can’t wear a V-neck (and I’m 40!)
* When I was sexually abused as a child it made me feel like it was all my fault
* Eating disorder…trying to stay “perfect” to keep my husband faithful.
* I took all the responsibility for unwanted sexual encounters
* It made me feel disgusted. My friends’ dads? My teachers? My youth leaders? No safe space.
* Made me believe that men are never wrong; they’re just a victim of circumstance.
* It made me concerned about snuggling with my dad.
* I lost all respect for the men in my life. Could not see them as leaders.

So let me ask….

Are we listening?

Often authors try to dress up the message. Instead of saying, “all men struggle with lust,” they say things like “men have a sexual region of the brain that is 2 1/2 times larger, and they’re visually stimulated in a way that women will never understand.” (which is not, by the way, what science says).

But it’s the same effect. It’s the same message.

I had a conversation with a big name author about this. He believes that all men DO struggle with lust (It’s why he wouldn’t endorse The Great Sex Rescue). And I said–but EVEN IF that’s true (which it’s not), shouldn’t it matter that spreading this message has such terrible effects on women?

He disagreed. Women just need to know the truth.

But THIS IS NOT OF GOD. Women matter. God did not create men to incessantly struggle with one sin.

We have to do this better.

Please see chapters 5 & 6 in The Great Sex Rescue for a thorough debunking of the whole “all men struggle with lust” message, plus a thorough analysis of what that message does to women. AND a way to talk about it that upholds the dignity of both men and women, and points us to a safe and healthy way forward.

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.

Yesterday and overnight about 10 people alerted me to this article by Barbara Rainey, by the way, about “when sex is at the bottom of your list.” I’ll try to do an Instagram Live about it later today and talk about it!

So how did the message affect you? Let me know in the comments!

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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46 Comments

  1. Codec

    This message as a man was mixed for me.

    On the one hand knowing that porn use was more common and more discussed gave me hope. It gave me confidence to talk to folks about some of these issues.

    On the other hand it excacerbated many of the problems i had in the first place.

    I have had over a while to really look at myself. I have had to forgive people and reconcile the part of me that did not want to grow up with the part of me that did.

    This blog has been illuminating.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I can see that. What we recommend saying is something like, “Lots of people struggle with porn and lust, but not all. And this is a battle that you can win. The way forward is viewing others as whole people, made in the image of God.” Make it gender neutral (since some women struggle too) and don’t portray it as a lifelong battle you’ll never receive freedom from. That’s not even biblical!

      Reply
      • Codec

        I would also reccomend not overemphasizing the visual. Audio stuff is a big issue too and it does not get talked about much.

        Reply
      • Spud

        I recently read Every Man’s Battle and thought only 5% of it was inspiring, and I do not see the author as an expert on relationships. It was drudgery and I threw it in the trash later, I got it for free from the church group. I agree that having a POSITIVE, INSIPIRATIONAL message would be much better then just seeing it as a “battle”.

        That said, I am very disappointed when I take my son to the pool or gymnastics practice and the lifeguards or gymnasts are wearing spandex on their butt (which is honestly like wearing nothing to me) but the guys are wearing shorts. We need to fix some obvious double standards and over-sexualized culture.

        Reply
  2. A2bbethany

    I read the women only book and it kinda sucked the life out of me. I was 13-14(possibly 15?) And I just sincerely, daily wondered why I had to have a body at all? I frequently complained to God about, just wanting to be a floating head.

    I was able to get some better articles and opinions, around my older teens. That got me to better understand the concept of modesty and having worth.
    But I didn’t let go of all of it, until I married a man and proved that men were better than that.

    Also I know for a fact that those books were a part of my sister’s abusive marriage dynamic. They owned both of the for ____ only’s, and love an respect. (pretty sure that was a parental gift)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you married a good guy (but so sorry your sister didn’t). That’s too bad. And, yes, we did find that For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn had a lot of harmful teachings. Really sad.

      Reply
  3. Laura

    * I thought addiction to porn was normal and I didn’t see the red flags with my then fiance-

    This was definitely what I experienced in my first marriage and I got this message from mainstream culture that “all men care about is sex” and “it’s normal for men to look at porn because they are visual.” What surprised me is that these messages have seeped into church culture which I did not become aware of until after I rededicated my life to the Lord during my mid-20’s.

    Other messages I’ve heard in both Christian and mainstream cultures are that “all men, whether they’re Christians or not, will push your boundaries,” which is why “you (women) need to set boundaries” and “be responsible that things don’t go too far.”

    These messages, regardless of where they came from, messed me up and made me trust the male species even less, unless I was related to them or they were just friends.

    As for dating in my 40’s, I cannot get over how men my age and older still try to push sexual boundaries. Some of the “Christian” men I have encountered want to know what I like sexually and I’m not even dating them. I’m like thinking, “Excuse me? We are not even in a relationship and you want to know this stuff? I don’t know what I like sexually because I’ve been celibate for almost 20 years.”

    All I can say for now is that the church needs to repent of the way they’ve portrayed unhealthy attitudes about sex and pay attention to real research.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Laura! (And I can just imagine how difficult the dating world is right now. I’m sorry).

      Reply
    • Anon

      Hang in there Laura – there are some good guys out there still. I met my now-husband in my early 40s – and he’s destroyed every single harmful myth & stereotype I was ever taught about ‘what men are like’, simply by NOT being like that!

      Reply
  4. Laura

    I just finished reading Barbara Rainey’s article. The way she talks about sex makes me want to keep it at the bottom of my list. Well, I’m not married right now, so it’s not on my list at all.

    I’m looking forward to your Instagram video about this!

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      It is a really gross description of sex. You canNOT convince me that, as a woman, I’m supposed to see sex as an emotional connection when the man in question would bang some drunk chick at a bar if horny enough. Sorry, if he needs “it,” he doesn’t need it from ME.

      I also notice that she doesn’t talk about her husband’s job re sex, except to not hump everything in sight. Does she ever say – hey, you say that sex is “fine,” but maybe put the kids to bed early one night and have the kind of sex that leaves you smiling the next day? He wants sex so much, so maybe he should aim higher than “fine.”

      Reply
      • Andrea

        I couldn’t believe when she quoted her husband saying if he only had a dollar for every time she said she was tired. Um, how ’bout you pick up some slack, bozo, and do the dishes or something instead of counting the dollars.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ll try to do it around 3 EST maybe? I’ll check my calendar!

      Reply
  5. Jane Eyre

    I definitely did not see grabbing, commentary on my body, and sexual assault as abnormal – the message I heard was that I was a freak for believing in chastity.

    I really hated actual innocent actions being interpreted as a come on to lustful men. Leggings and a long, long sweater at age 11? “Risque” said my father. Pretty dress? (Jessica McClintock, for those who remember.) “Sexy” because it had lace. I was told to never drink root beer straight from a bottle because it would make men think of oral sex. Legs must be crossed at the ankle even when wearing jeans. I can avoid flashing someone and can dress reasonably; what I can’t do is to make myself disappear and live up to a long list of rules because men are (allegedly) disgusting horndogs.

    Reply
  6. Andrea

    One of the things the “all men lust” message achieves is pit women against one another, it’s the old “divide and conquer” strategy. That’s why Gary Thomas and others just want women to know.

    I might have mentioned this book in one of my earlier comments, but I want to bring it up again, a book by developmental psychologist Andrew Smiler called Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male. This is a research-based secular book that “debunks the stereotype that teenage boys and young men are barely able to control their sex drives” (quoting from the website). A secular book, I repeat, so shame on all the pervangelical authors who portray Christian men as horndogs. By the way, can we popularized this phrase – pervangelical? It seems so fitting, I can’t believe someone hasn’t coined it yet (of course, please let me know anyone if it has been around).

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      PERVANGELICAL. Oh, dear. Maybe that would actually be good–separate the pervangelicals from the good evangelicals! I know so many single women who say they can’t date anyone from their Christian circles because they all watch porn and go on about how women need to be more modest. They feel more respected by their work colleagues than the men at church. How sad is that? But maybe they’re just in a pervangelical space and not a real Christian space!

      Reply
      • Laura

        I totally get this. I’ve had better luck at finding good men outside the church than inside it. Of course, there’s plenty of good men in my church circles, but most of them are married and/or outside my dateable age range (either too young or too old).
        The men who are active in church seem to adhere to the gender stereotype roles so it’s not okay for me to be educated and opinionated and therefore, I’m not exactly “wife” material.

        Reply
    • Jo R

      A zillion updates for “pervangelical.” That captures it perfectly.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Argh, autoerror strikes again… UPVOTES.

        Reply
  7. Anon

    I have to wonder if the reason the evangelical community is pushing back so hard against “The Great Sex Rescue” and Sheila’s findings about lust (that yes, in fact, it is NOT a one-way street and there IS accountability involved) is that they don’t want to admit they were wrong. Not to mention a lot of men who have been pushing the “men just can’t help themselves” crap probably don’t want to take any responsibility for their own shortcomings. Too concerned about image and power, I guess. And it also makes me wonder if some of them project their own issues onto others.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think likely a lot do project their own issues onto “every man.” Yes.

      Reply
      • Laura

        That’s why their book titles are “Every Man…” or “For Men/Women Only.”

        Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Women do it, too. Barbara Rainey writes, “There are times when I’m just not in the mood—we girls are emotional beings, right?”

      We girls are emotional beings.

      Speak for yourself, Barbara. I loathe “we women” and “we girls,” which seem tailor made to turn one person’s understandable human foibles or tendencies into a weakness of the entire sex. End result is we all get blamed for her issues. Fantastic.

      Reply
  8. EOF

    What the “all men struggle with lust” message did for me was give me literal panic attacks any time a woman in skimpy clothing crossed our path. I imagined my husband having sex with that woman in his mind. I could hardly function going out in public with him for years. It felt like an assault on me every time I saw someone showing cleavage or too much leg. It was a nightmare. Like he was having an affair every time we left the house. Then because of all that stress, I got sick constantly. It was a horrible cycle.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, EOF! I’m so glad that’s behind you now. That’s awful. What stress!

      Reply
    • Codec

      Dude here is a hug.

      Reply
  9. Anon

    So many things on that list resonated with me – I was paranoid about ‘not being modest’ from a very young age. I felt guilty for developing breasts because they were ‘immodest’ (not sure how I thought I could have stopped them coming) and was hugely relieved they didn’t get too big. Wore baggier and baggier clothing to try and hide my shape. Developed a habit of never looking a man in the eye because ‘he’ll think you’re flirting with him’. Of course, my shrinking, shy demeanor made me an absolute magnet for the creepy guys – they could spot me a mile off as someone who would take the blame for anything they did. And of course, I did – it was my fault for ‘not being modest enough’ and I just needed to try harder – cue even baggier clothing and even more floor-staring. Which still didn’t work.

    It also made me really confused, because the girls I saw who wore low tops and short, tight skirts never seemed to get the hassle that I did – I couldn’t work out why the girls that older women in the church said were ‘brazen’ never got molested. Of course, now, I know it’s because the predator types spotted them as the kind of girls who were confident enough to make a fuss over unwanted behaviour.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Isn’t that ironic? Makes me wonder why, as much as the evangelical community pushed for modesty and purity, they never taught women and girls how to defend themselves when they were accosted. Too “unladylike,” I suppose. If defending myself makes me unladylike, I’m proud, honey.

      Reply
      • Hannah

        I was thinking this through lately, trying to make sense of my own experience. I grew up in the 90s, and secular and church settings talked about the random stranger in the street but not assault in your own social circle. In church, there was an assumption that going too far sexually would always be mutual, and both parties were responsible to stop. However, there was absolutely no discussion of what to do when someone ignored your boundaries (and school didn’t cover that either). I guess it’s a lack of awareness of how prevalent sexual assault is (bizarrely) or an assumption that women and girls must be ‘asking for it’ or complicit, ie victim blaming, or a belief that men who push boundaries are nice guys who will politely stop when asked (totally not the case). Appreciate some women push boundaries but it seems to be mostly men who do this.

        Reply
        • Hannah

          In other words, perhaps they genuinely thought modest women would avoid inappropriate male behaviour just by being modest, so would never have to defend themselves. So sad, and such a burden to put on women.

          Reply
        • CMT

          Definitely got this also. The “bad people” are somewhere “out there”, they aren’t us!

          There’s a bit of tribalism to this I think, and also some willful ignorance. It’s easy as parents to teach our kids about “stranger danger,” much harder to talk about the fact that people you know and trust can violate boundaries too. Even to face the possibility is deeply uncomfortable.

          The broader culture has a problem with this blinkered thinking too. I think there’s more awareness out there now that most sexual violence is committed by someone the victim knows, not a random stranger. But I’m not sure if that knowledge has percolated into church spaces in any significant way.

          Reply
      • Anon

        Definitely it was regarded as ‘too unladylike’ to defend yourself. And the message was very much that if you were ‘modest’ enough, you wouldn’t have to anyway, because of course, no man would molest a properly ‘modest’ girl.

        Oh and please can we ditch the ‘sharing of the peace’ in church – it’s basically just a licence for perverts to molest women under the guise of a ‘holy’ kiss or hug.

        Reply
    • Anon

      Oh gosh this all resonates so deeply. Add that if the guy did think eye contact = flirting, he’d invariably get annoyed when I tried to explain this wasn’t the case or to limit contact. Youth group teaching was clear that *I* was responsible for managing his response and now needed to “let him down gently”. Extraordinarily toxic.

      Reply
  10. Nathan

    I never got a lot of that at church, although when we went to summer camp, there was always a “girls only” meeting on the first day. According to friends, they discussed this, the modesty thing, and told them all to cover up because if boys saw them, they would lust and it would be the girls fault.

    These days, I hear a lot of “wives, have sex with your husband or he’ll stray, and it’s your fault”, but neither Mrs. Nathan nor I believe that.

    Reply
  11. CMT

    That Barbara Rainey piece is a real mixed bag. “Women are a stabilizing force for men”-yuk.

    And then “There are times when I’m just not in the mood—we girls are emotional beings, right? And at those times, we mutually agree to delay making love until the next night (and sometimes we opt for a quicker method to meet his physical need) but regardless, I make sure he knows I am not rejecting him.”

    Minus the tiresome “we girls” and “his physical need” bits this is actually pretty on point. The higher drive spouse frequently does feel personally rejected when the other partner isn’t up for sex. The lower drive spouse can love them in a vulnerable spot by finding other ways to connect. That is really good advice, IMO.

    It’s a bit sad. It seems that she and her husband really do their best to understand and love each other, but her good insights are so tangled up with gender essentialism and unhealthy stereotypes! Plus, is it just me or is it a bit… off to talk about your husband’s “need for physical release” in a piece that’s supposedly addressed to your daughters?

    Reply
    • Laura

      I sure would not want my mother talking about my dad’s need for physical release the way Barbara Rainey does in her letter to her daughters.

      Years ago I would not know what she was talking about in saying this, “and sometimes we opt for a quicker method to meet his physical need.” Now that I’ve been educated on evangelical marriage and sex books, I now know that “quick physical release” is code for hand job or oral sex. Yuck. Basically, sex is ALL about the husband.

      I would be in the mood if sex was not one-sided like it was in my first marriage. Maybe that’s why I was hardly ever in the mood.

      Reply
      • CMT

        “Maybe that’s why I was hardly ever in the mood.”

        Yeah there’s a crazy thought. Maybe women just don’t want to put out all the time if they aren’t getting any reciprocation. “We girls are emotional beings,” my eye. Not wanting one sided sex seems pretty logical to me.

        Reply
  12. H

    I got married three and a half years ago. I was recommended several popular Christian marriage books in preparation for our marriage by someone that I trust (she is from an older generation, and I believe her husband was a recipient of the “bounce your eyes” teaching. She often makes comments about keeping your husband satisfied because “some pretty young thing” is always around the corner waiting to steal him.).

    After reading those books, I was literally terrified that my husband was going to cheat on me. I thought that the rest of my life was going to be me competing against every other woman around him. He works in a school as one of the only male teachers. He teaches university students. He is a handsome and polite man in a country where (blanket statement here) men should be macho and women should be delicate and beautiful. He is a wonderful man and had never given me any indication that he “always struggled with lust” when we were dating, but upon reading those books, I thought maybe I’d just missed the signs? Maybe he was secretly struggling every day, so I needed to make sure to “keep him satisfied” so he wouldn’t stray from me. I was so scared of this possibility that I literally thanked God for his poor vision, so that he couldn’t see and be tempted by all the women around him! It was at that point that I knew there must be something wrong with my thinking. How on earth could I be so selfish as to thank God for my husband’s vision problems so he wouldn’t lust?

    It was after months of being married that I realized my husband was not like that. I began to think that maybe he was an exception to the rule of those books. Then I found your blog posts about some of these popular marriage books, and things started to click into place. When I read The Great Sex Rescue, it was like a bomb went off. All of the things that had felt “off” (but I couldn’t exactly put my finger on) in the other marriage books I’d read were suddenly clear in their toxicity.

    So yes, I would say the “all men struggle with lust” message definitely hurt me in the beginning of our marriage. Instead of enjoying what a wonderful man I’d married, I spent much of the time he was gone or when we were out together worried about all the women around us. Thankfully, God healed me of that fear (and He used some of your materials to do it!).

    Thank you for what you and your team do, Sheila!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, H, I’m so glad we could help you! And I’m so sorry you were given those books. I hope that if we’re all loud enough, and we spread the message enough, and more people read The Great Sex Rescue–then no other new brides will be presented with a whole host of toxic books.

      Reply
  13. Marius

    It literally made me suicidal. I thought that if I can’t live a pure life, a life that honours God, as a man, then I don’t want to live at all. So I tried to kill myself.
    God’s grace saved me, and looking back I realised it was all just false guilt. I didn’t have any problem with lust, not in the least. I just felt guilty for noticing women, even for seeing them at all!

    Isn’t it interesting that we make people feel guilt for things that are not actually true, but we avoid talking about actual sins? Like pride and selfishness and abuse.

    Reply
    • Hannah

      It made me go down that road too. I felt so worthless. How can any pastor think this kind of message is Christianity??
      As your sister in Christ who knows what that kind of dark place feels like, please know that I am so SO glad you’re free 🙂

      Reply
  14. Liz

    This teaching definitely made me feel weird around my dad, brothers, uncles, church pastors! It made just existing and being a girl so much more awkward than it needed to be. Things like church camps that involved swimming, or family gatherings around a pool felt so unnecessarily awkward!
    Also this might sound weird but it also made me think my lovely boyfriend maybe wasn’t as attracted to me as he should be as he seemed able to control himself and my boundaries weren’t constantly being pushed…turns out he is just a normal Christian good person who actually respects me and other women! It’s weird that this teaching normalises creepy behaviour so that we almost expect it even if we don’t want it. And then when we’re actually surrounded by really amazing, Christian men who aren’t objectifying us we think something is wrong with us!

    Thank you Sheila for writing about this. God bless!

    Reply

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