PODCAST: Do Authors Secretly Fear Women Just Don’t Like Sex?

by | Nov 4, 2021 | Bare Marriage, Podcasts | 61 comments

Do Christian Authors Fear that Women Don't Like Sex Podcast
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What if the reason authors can’t give up the obligation sex message is that they fear women won’t have sex otherwise? 

It’s time for another edition of the Bare Marriage podcast! (And we filmed this before Rebecca gave birth; she’s being induced as we speak, so that’s exciting!).

In this one Rebecca and I are looking at a simple question: Is there an underlying fear in Christian culture that unless women are told they have to have sex that they won’t have sex? 

We start with a great reader question that launches us into the discussion, and then counselor Amie Latta joins me to talk about navigating sexual addiction in marriage. 

So let’s go!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

1:45 Gift sex vs Obligation sex
8:20 The Obligation Sex message
19:00 Will women stop having sex?
33:45 Why are more people not noticing these flaws?
44:45 RQ: Infrequent sex, and past porn use
49:20 A discussion on Porn Use
58:30 Encouragement

Reader Question: How is giving sex when you don’t particularly want to right now as a gift different from obligation sex?

A woman asks this really insightful question:

I’m trying to wrap my head around this and what keeps coming to mind is: How is this different than making dinner when you don’t want to? (Or any other chore). I know there IS a difference, but I need someone to point out to me what so I can understand fully. Or listening to your child tell you about minecraft when you don’t really want to, but do because you want to grow the relationship. In other words, what’s the difference between having sex when you don’t want to (which is not good) and serving others by gifting them your time (which IS good). (If I’m even making sense)

Rebecca and I delve into why there is a difference–but also why we should be giving. It’s a nuanced thing to talk about!

Main Segment: Are we afraid that women aren’t sexual?

We took a look at how, in the book Married Sex, the authors say that while sex shouldn’t be an obligation, you are obligated. And how sex should feel like a sacrifice, at least some of the time.

And we asked: Why is it that people are so reticent to let go of the obligation sex message, when we know from our survey of 20,000 women how toxic it is? (Read all about that in chapters 8 and 9 of The Great Sex Rescue!).

We have a theory: We think it’s because they judge frequency as the main success outcome, rather than anything else. And they forget that frequency is not the problem–it’s a symptom of other problems (as our survey definitively showed, which is why I’ve started changing how I talk about libido differences as well!).

We also looked at how Shaunti Feldhahn’s survey actually found even more women with the higher libido than ours did, but she still completely excluded them from her book because she said that men didn’t believe it. (So she didn’t allow women to be narrators of their own stories).

What would happen if we simply believed that women were sexual, too, and started talking about sex that way? And started asking, “if we know women are sexual, but we also know many women have trouble with desire, then what have we done to decrease women’s desire?” Isn’t that a better question?

PLUS: Why haven’t pastors recognized that this idea that women don’t want sex is off?

Our survey found that 1/5 couples have her with the higher sex drive. Yet these books do well because pastors tend to recommend them. Where are the pastors who would say, “this doesn’t apply to us or this sounds off?”

Rebecca has a theory that we’d love your feedback on. Is there something about the demands of pastoring in today’s culture something that is just emotionally harmful for the couple? It kills her sex drive; it makes him feel exhausted; and it’s not life-giving. Are we demanding too much from our pastors?

That’s just an aside, but it occurred to us while discussing this.

Reader Question 2: How can we handle an infrequent sex life now, when porn has been part of our story?

Amie Latta, a licensed counselor, joined me to discuss this complicated reader question–which shows the messy situations so many of us get into!

Amie Latta is a registered psychotherapist in Ontario who specializes in sex therapy. She helps women struggling with pain and discomfort during sex go from feeling frustrated with their bodies to feeling more connected with who they are.

She’s also an avid knitter and spinner–and loves hand-dyed yarns as much as Sheila does!

Contact Amie at her website for information on coaching sessions online.

Amie Latta Counseling

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

Do Christian Authors Fear that Women Don't Like Sex? Why the Obligation Sex Message Persists
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

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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61 Comments

  1. Kristen

    First off, congratulations on the new baby! Best wishes for Rebecca as she goes into labor!

    I can’t speak for pastors directly, but as a former PK, I can say that I do think that people put a lot of implicit pressure on pastors’ families in general. Even their kids are never allowed to be just kids—they’re the **pastor’s** kids and because of that, they are held to a much higher (and I would even venture to say damaging) standard than other kids. Even if the congregation isn’t putting explicit demands on the pastor (like demands on his time, for example), they often expect his family to be superhuman, unemotional, unaffected, etc.

    I’m sorry to sound so jaded. I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer. But growing up under that kind of pressure took its toll on me, and I’m only now, in my late twenties, realizing how big that toll was.

    Reply
  2. Anon

    Pastor’s wife and former pastor’s child here – I think you may be onto something. It’s hard to ‘switch off’ from the job when it is 24/7 and anyone can ring your number or knock on your door at any time. Sometimes, we are both so exhausted, we just want to sleeeeeeeep when we get to bed. And the emotional impact (dealing with illness, bereavement or just the petty squabbles that are so often found in church meetings) can also make it really hard – we both notice the difference when we get a few days away because a) we know we’re not going to be interrupted by a pastoral issue and b) we’re not thinking about problem x from last night’s church meeting. Plus, of course, we don’t have to choose between sex and sleep when we’re on holiday!

    I think it’s always been the case, but certainly when my parents were pastoring, I think there was a little more respect for the work a pastor did, combined with the understanding that the pastor and family needed space sometimes. Plus of course, pastor’s wives didn’t usually go out to work – now we have to juggle church work, running the house and going out to paid employment. And now churches also seem to have an attitude that combines ‘you’re no different to the rest of us so why should you get any special treatment’ with ‘you’re pastors so you shouldn’t need rest, time off or any concern shown to you because you’re spiritual enough not to need it.’ So we are at once expected to be the same as everyone else AND totally different to everyone else!

    We got married when lockdown restrictions were severely limiting church work. I’ve really noticed the difference since things have opened up. It’s much, much harder to carve out ‘us time’ now.

    No regrets about what we do – it’s what God has called us to and it’s a huge privilege. But it does impact our personal lives big time!

    P.S. Praying for a swift and safe delivery for Rebecca xxx

    Reply
    • R

      My husband and I aren’t pastors, but he is an elder and we are both on the committee (some churches call it a board), I am the treasurer. I feel you on the church meetings!! We do debrief/vent with each other a lot. Leadership can be isolating. Combined with the demands of having young children, and my husband is running his own business, we are both mentally and physically tired at the end of the day. Some men probably turn to sex as a bit of a distraction or relief from the pressures of the day, but that is actually how I am – my husband just wants to sleep. He’s not disinterested, he’s just very tired.
      It’s just a season for us – sometimes it all comes together and we both have enough energy plus the baby is actually asleep in her own bed haha
      But I can see how if the wife is the one who just wants to sleep because she’s exhausted, and the husband wants that outlet from the pressures of the day – then it could seem like the wife just isn’t interested in sex. Add in the fact that a lot of women with small children feel completely “touched out” by the end of the day, and libido is pretty much swallowed up by the need to rest and refresh.

      Reply
      • Anon

        I’m working 2.5 days a week at a physical job and 3.5 days for the church, plus running the house and I’m pretty much permanently exhausted. We do still manage to keep sex happening, though not as much as during lockdown. But I have a friend who is also a pastor’s wife, similar work schedule to mine but she has four school-age children too. I honestly don’t know how she has the energy to get out of bed each morning! She’s younger than I am by a few years but looks older, permanent bags under the eyes and she told me several months back that she NEVER feels like being intimate because she’s just too tired. Everyone is telling this couple how good it is to have such an ‘active’ church, and they are expected to attend EVERY church event…the congregation is thrilled with how ‘busy’ the church is, but I’m looking at this couple and seeing the impact it’s having on them. And by extension, on their kids. Maybe if pastors & their wives weren’t expected to plan and attend EVERY church event?!!!!

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That would be interesting–seeing the difference as COVID lifts! I always love your marriage stories, though, Anon. They’re so encouraging.

      (And Rebecca did deliver today! It was rather harrowing for a bit, but baby is doing great and eating like a champ!)

      Reply
  3. Melissa W

    Congratulations on the baby! What a wonderful day for you all.

    I don’t think fear of women not wanting sex is the issue for teaching the obligation sex message as much as it is fear that women do like sex or will like sex and what the ramifications of that are. Let me explain. For thousands of years marriage for a woman was about survival, having a roof over her head, food in her stomach and clothes on her back. Marriage and therefore sex were transactional and not about love, doing life together and intimacy. Everything that we deem essential to the success of a modern marriage are options for women today because we have the luxury of marrying for love and not survival. Most women (not all) have the opportunity to be able to support themselves and so marriage is a choice and not a necessity. Unfortunately, there are a lot of men, especially in religious circles, who are so addicted to power and control that women having that kind of freedom terrifies them. They only see women as an extension of men and only in terms of what women provide for men. So apply that to sex, what if women liked sex. Would they then become promiscuous before marriage, would they leave husbands who were lousy lovers or expect equality in both the home and the bedroom. Let’s face it men have had a pretty good deal for a really long time because of the power and economic imbalance that benefits them and hurts women. So, they convince women before marriage that they don’t like sex and thus establish power and control over them and then teach that “Biblically” they have to have sex once they are married and the power and control continues. I don’t think any of it has to do with sex as much as it has to do with power and control idolatry. Power, control and their definition of masculinity is so much a part of their identity that they manipulate the Bible to fit their identity instead of using the Bible to define their identity. It makes me really sad for those that live in those chains because there is so much freedom in life, in marriage and in sex when we allow Christ to truly set us free from the idols and false identities that can so easily consume and blind us.

    Reply
    • NM

      You hit the nail on the head! A sexually confident woman is going to be confident and independent in other areas as well. It’s been mentioned in the comments before that female genital mutilation happens in other societies as a way to control women’s sex drives. The western world, consciously or not, has found a way to do it mentally instead of physically.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I just recorded a podcast with Rebecca about how the reasons for marriage were changing, and the church should start prioritizing emotional health and maturity over marriage, because what people want today is a real partner. It is very different now. I hope that we can adjust, because we have the chance to build such life giving relationships instead of things that sap us.

      Reply
  4. NM

    Congratulations on the new baby! So happy for your whole family!

    I loved this podcast so much. I somehow managed to escape the more damaging effects of purity culture. I have always known I had a sex drive and it’s been something I’ve enjoyed throughout our marriage. But I always thought I was weird for being like that! And it’s so incredibly sad. We’ve got to reframe this conversation so women can expect to be sexual beings, and recognize that something is off if they don’t desire or enjoy sex.

    Why did I not get screwed up by purity culture even though I went to a Christian school and youth group in the 90’s? I can point to a few things. One, my parents had a very affectionate and flirty relationship. It seemed pretty clear my mom liked it when he touched her!

    Two, we actually had a great sex ed program at our Christian school. In junior high, women leaders told us what an orgasm was and how great it felt. So I always knew, from the time I learned about sex, that it should be fun for me too.

    And third, I grew up in a beach culture where good Christian girls wore bikinis. And the boys at youth group behaved just fine. Frankly I was shocked when I went to college and there were all these rules about one-pieces and spaghetti straps. So not only did I avoid modesty issues, but I learned to enjoy my body feeling good – laying in the sun, jumping in the wild cool ocean…while those things aren’t sexual, I think it’s important to enjoy living in the good body God gave you!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That sounds great, NM! (I love the fact that you learned in Junior High that women could orgasm).

      Reply
    • Laura

      Wow! I was a teenager in the 90’s too and in public school sex education, I never heard the word ‘orgasm.’ I thought that only applied to males. I think it’s awesome that your church and Christian education taught healthy attitudes about sex.

      I didn’t become a Christian until 1994 at the end of my junior year in high school so I wasn’t familiar with purity culture in the church. However, as I look back on my teen years and the sex education I had in public school, I now recognize the similarities between what I was taught through mainstream culture and the purity culture teachings in the church. Like in purity culture, I was told that all guys care about is sex and they will do whatever they can to pressure you to sleep with them. Therefore, you must be the one to establish boundaries.

      Reply
  5. Jen

    Now that I’m coming out this obligation garbage, I’m just stunned by how rampant the message is. How can anyone expect someone to enjoy sex when she’s told from day one that her body is dirty, that men want her body, and that men can’t control themselves. There is no safe space in that thinking. I’m not safe in my home with male relatives, I’m not safe with my husband, and, heck, I’m not safe in my own skin. So these “teachers” have swallowed that thinking, too, which is why they have to force us into sex. I guess it should be obvious that the obligation message is not of God because Jesus doesn’t put us in bondage-He set us free.

    As for the great discussion toward the end of the podcast about generational differences: I’m a Gen Xer, raised by tight lipped Boomers. I’ve raised a (barely) Millennial man and have a Gen Z male teen. Holy cow is it tough stuff to have been raised by those who won’t talk about sex and to be trying to raise a boy in a culture that seems to talk about nothing but sex. Gen Z has a lot of issues to deal with, but one of the best aspects of them is a social justice streak. I can tell him that stat that if you’ve seen 30 minutes of porn, you’ve watched someone being abused. And that hits home for him.

    As for my almost-not-a-Millennial son, he says that purity culture taught him to hate himself. How does a young man hold both messages: that you’re a raging pervert by design and you have to control yourself to please God while leading women who can’t be leaders even though they have better self control? He ends up feeling that he can never be good enough for anything because he has to spend all of his time avoiding lust and proving to women that he’s good enough to lead. That explains a bit more of this obligation message, I think: men trying to prove themselves, explain their temptations, and get their desires met. And the enemy wins every time somebody buys this junk.

    I’m passing along what I’m learning here to my sons and my husband. Keep setting the captives free, Sheila and Rebecca, and blessings on the new baby!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      YES on the justice issue thing especially! Absolutely. I wish we could talk about porn more like this. The younger generations would react to it. To frame it as a personal sin, and a personal sin only, compounds shame. But to frame it as a justice issue actually empowers people to say no, and puts it in its proper perspective.

      (And, yes, the generations are hard to navigate!)

      Reply
      • Laura

        Porn is definitely a justice issue because someone is always being objectified. I’ve watched several documentaries about people who have worked in the porn industry. A lot of the time, they would self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs just to get themselves through filming the sex scenes. A number of them (mainly women) were forced into this industry and were promised they would make a lot of money.

        What I struggle to understand is how can people (both men and women) subject themselves to have sex (a very intimate act) in front of a camera crew and for millions of people to watch later? I cannot fathom that at all. I don’t understand the people who claim they enjoy doing porn. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

        Reply
        • Andrea

          It’s become a cliche that needs substantiating, but it is a commonly held belief that most women in the sex industry have been victims of sexual abuse. I’m not aware of any studies, but Sheila has written on the blog about how women are treated in the porn industry. There’s really nothing glamorous about it, and the women claiming it’s empowering is just the extreme version of women faking pleasure in order to appease men.

          Reply
  6. Andrea

    Gary Thomas said in a recent interview that it took him decades to figure out that what makes him feel good doesn’t also make his wife feel good (my educated guess is this refers to penetration). Decades. These men are bad in bed and they’re telling on themselves in their books. He also said that several Christian leaders called him to say the church really needs a new book on sex, which makes me even more convinced that it’s the industrial evangelical complex’s response to TGSR.

    It definitely is changing the conversation, though! I just looked up Leman’s book and Thomas’ on Amazon. Leman’s has a 4.5 star review and Thomas’ 2.5. Both books are equally bad, but one was published before TGSR and one after, which is what the difference in reviews reflects.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, the reaction to Gary Thomas’ book shows me that the conversation has moved on. It’s been so heartening, honestly!

      I actually think Sheet Music is a better book. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and the thing about Sheet Music is that all the explicit, creepy stuff is at least educational. And he doesn’t objectify his own wife or women in general–he just uses weird language.

      Yes, he has obligation messages (but so does Gary). Yes, he mishandles porn (but so does Gary). On the whole, I think I’d recommend Sheet Music first. Although honestly, you shouldn’t read either of them!

      Reply
      • Laura

        Years ago, I looked through ‘Sheet Music’ when I was in a bookstore and I recall being appalled at the obligation sex message Leman gave. Yet, at that time, I didn’t know it was ‘obligation sex.’ Needless to say, I put that book back on the shelf and forgot all about it until you pointed it out in the blog and podcasts. So, back then, I knew something was not right about that book even though it was a “Christian” book.

        Reply
      • Andrea

        Great point, so I just looked up the publication date of the first edition of Sheet Music and it’s 2003, a couple of years before online streaming and therefore online video porn became available. Gary’s current book is an excellent if sad illustration of the pornographication of everyday culture that has occurred since.

        Reply
    • Anonymous305

      My first thought is “did it take that long because he didn’t listen to her or because he made her afraid to speak up?” It’s also possible that she didn’t know what to ask for because she had followed purity culture in being inexperienced. Even then, she could have asked to experiment, unless he made her afraid.

      Reply
    • Marla Jea

      “These men are bad in bed and they’re telling on themselves in their books.”

      FACTS.

      But the question is: WHY are they bad in bed? Answer: unbiblical anthropology (complementarianism, patriarchy, male headship, whatever you want to call it) combined with an unhealthy theology of sex (going back to Augustine and John Calvin, who held pathologically shame-based attitudes toward sex). White evangelical pastors often grew up in purity culture and then attended seminary, where they became completely steeped in sexist (as well as racist) interpretations of the Bible.

      I think this is the reason they write and recommend these toxic books. And also the reason Sheila’s paradigm-shifting perspective is causing them to straight up LOSE THEIR MINDS.

      Reply
  7. Wild Honey

    Yay for baby!

    Regarding expectations on pastors, I think it’s a multi-faceted problem. My husband was a pastor prior to our marriage, and I have a couple friends who are pastors. And yes, some congregation members (unfortunately, often the most vocal) can have unrealistic standards.

    But I think there is a cultural problem as well with the celebrity pastor phenomenon. And that is a two-way street, where both pastors (of individual churches but also on a Christian-industrial-complex level) and congregation members are complicit in contributing to the problem.

    At one of our former churches, it was a very small church, but the pastor was totally worshipped as a celebrity. He was also a micromanager and perfectionist. Burnout of both staff and volunteers was openly acknowledged from the pulpit, but the pastor never seemed to connect the dots between the unrealistic standards he placed on himself and others and the burnout he and others were experiencing. But everyone seemed happy with the pretty (false) image we were creating for outsiders.

    Then there are pastors (will I get in trouble if I name names?) who “pastor” multi-site churches, push out a book a year (can anyone say “ghost writers”?), serve on a dozen boards (as a figure-head?), teach part-time at a Bible college or seminary, have a grueling speaking/conference schedule, and co-found a cattle ranch. By not limiting themselves to the one or two ACTUAL jobs they can do well, and by rubber-stamping their name on work done by others, they are raising the bar to unprecedented heights in ways that are harming their profession and the church in general. And pastoral marriages and families specifically, I imagine.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Completely agree about the ridiculous amount of work some celebrity pastors do (or really get others to do for them). That’s not pastoring. If you’re speaking away from your church multiple times a year, you aren’t pastoring your flock.

      Reply
  8. LL

    I don‘t think the current teachers fear women don’t like sex. I think they’re afraid to acknowledge they might be able to have healthy sex drives also.

    Because if they admit that- then men don’t get to call all the shots. They have to please her, be available to her, understand her. And in the process realize that sometimes, the “excuses” they claim women give are actually valid reasons for postponing an interlude. Ha. Their wife might suggest it when THEY are tired, achy, and etc. It’s a whole lot easier to proclaim she doesn’t, can’t and won’t ever like it but needs to be available to him.

    (Not my experience. My relationship is very mutual. But I have relatives…)

    Reply
    • Laura

      This reminds me of what Al Bundy said to his neighbor on Married…with Children, “Someone told women that they should start enjoying sex too. That was the beginning of the end. Now they like it, but it’s work for us!” If you remember that show from the 80’s and 90’s, Al’s wife Peg always wanted to have sex with him and he’d try to avoid her. Although this was a sit com and made for laughs, I do see this attitude mimicked by evangelical male authors.

      If a woman likes sex, she’s a threat to a man’s masculinity. She’s not supposed to initiate sex or want it.

      Reply
  9. Jo R

    Too many men want wives enthusiastic about sex to enhance the HUSBANDS’ experience.

    If he is all of a sudden going to be required to do things that focus on her pleasure but that don’t actually feel that great for him, where’s his incentive? Now he’s doing a lot of work for little or even no return. (Hmmm… if we reverse those pronouns, well, now we’ve just described too many women’s sex lives.)

    If his wife needs more than PIV to orgasm, now he’s got to put out extra effort he’s never had to do for HIM to enjoy sex (meaning simple PIV). Too many men (clearly!) can’t be bothered. And if a husband is selfish in bed, what OTHER areas of life is he being selfish in?

    Maybe women’s ability to have multiple orgasms with no recovery period is a little too intimidating to many men, because why should WOMEN get that level of enjoyment when a man is usually one and done? Maybe some jealousy is involved in pastors and teachers continuing to give the types of messages that—frankly—steal women’s libidos. (Isn’t there a commandment about not stealing???)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very interesting, Jo! I can’t think that much of this is conscious though. Most men I know do want their wives to have a good time, and don’t want to be selfish. I think they may not realize they are selfish? I don’t know.

      Reply
  10. Mara R

    I misread your title at first glance.
    I thought it said, “Do authors secretly fear women?”

    Maybe. I don’t think this is far off either.

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    I’m in my mid 20s and definitely have a higher libido than my husband. Nothing wrong with him, he’s up to it once a day, but he could also go 3 or 4 days no problem.

    We were told during marriage counseling that men expect sex when they get married and women aren’t as interested in sex. The pastor is in his early 40s.

    Reply
  12. Meredith

    My thought about the pastor thing- maybe if churches weren’t run like businesses, if church services weren’t performances where the focus is a lecture by the pastor, and the goal wasn’t getting more and more butts in the pew (more and more “tithing units”) then there wouldn’t be so many issues in pastor’s families.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I agree. After being away from church for over a year-and-a-half due to the pandemic, I am seeing that churches are business-like. Lately my pastor, who I still listened to online instead of attending church in-person, has been trying to persuade people to get more involved in church activities. While I recognize the importance of fellowship with other believers, I think the main focus of Christianity needs to be about our personal relationship with Jesus and not about corporate gatherings.

      Many pastors don’t have other jobs outside pastoring, unless they have a side business and/or their wives work outside the home, so I guess that’s why they push to get “more and more butts in the pew (more and more “tithing units”).” At least the majority of the pastors in my hometown do not have another job and some of them have spouses who work outside the home. Then I know several where both spouses are full-time pastors (one in youth ministry and the other in another pastoral position) and pastoring is their only income. It’s like they’re salespeople.

      Reply
  13. Justine

    Hi Sheila, I have a story for you.

    I had a huge lightbulb moment when you guys were talking about obligation sex. Most of the sermons and Christian books I’ve encountered about sex emphasize the two-way sacrificial love that sex requires— putting the other person before yourself, outdoing each other in showing love, etc.

    Before marriage, I unconsciously internalized a completely wrong message about what it means to love my husband “sacrificially” in the bedroom. Because of all the lies that our culture and the evangelical subculture tell about female and male libidos, I believed that the “loving” thing to do is have sex even when I don’t really feel like it, fake enthusiasm even when it feels like nothing, and tune out of how my body feels. I believed that LOTS of (bad, for me) sex would make our marriage healthy (even though my husband NEVER said anything like that or pressured me!) and I was being a good wife.

    After short while of this, my new husband told me that I didn’t seem to be loving sex. (Yes, he could tell, despite my mustered-up “enthusiasm.”) It took almost three years of work, but we went from “mild vaginismus and sexual pain” to “wonderful and mutually fulfilling, orgasmic sex”! However, I was still hung up on one thing. I felt a little guilty, because I’ve realized I have to be “selfish” in order to feel good during sex. I need to focus almost completely on my own body, what feels good, what I want, etc. I felt like either 1) I was being a selfish, unChristian lover, or 2) the Bible is wrong about love and sex.

    Here’s my lightbulb moment: forcing myself to have bad sex isn’t generous and loving. It 1) deprives my husband of the joy of genuine, passionate mutuality that sex is designed for; 2) creates an unhealthy emotional barrier between us, because I’m repressing my emotions and disconnecting from my body; 3) is potentially dishonest, if I’m lying about how good something feels or how much I enjoyed it; 4) isn’t sustainable in the long-term, because I can’t keep forcing myself to do this unpleasant “duty” forever. And it completely erased any of my husband’s enjoyment of sex to know that I wasn’t particularly enjoying it (God bless him). Bottom line: forcing myself to have bad sex was the result of a twisted view of what it means to love my husband more than myself.

    Loving my husband more than myself really means… that we both need to put in the effort to figure out how to have good sex! Gritting your teeth and having sex isn’t being a good wife— it’s ignoring the purpose of sex. This seems so basic when I’m writing it out, but it truly feels like a revelation to me. I can be so much more generous and loving now that I am truly enjoying sex. And you can’t just force yourself to enjoy it by sheer willpower. Enjoying sex required patience, a lot of time and experimentation (with positions, toys, etc.), emotional vulnerability and intimacy, and some “homework” on my husband’s part (reading some of your writing!)

    Thanks so much for all you do. I have so much hope for the future— I feel like my marriage is on a great path and we can overcome anything together! God is good.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that so much, Justine! I’m so glad I could be part of this journey with you.

      Reply
    • CMT

      Have had a pretty similar path Justine! It isn’t easy but it’s a relief to realize that there’s a better way.

      By the way-focusing on yourself for awhile isn’t selfish. It’s great! Your self deserves some attention too. That was such a freeing thing for me to come to-that my self is equally valuable as other people’s and equally worthy of attention and care!

      Reply
  14. Chris

    “They fear women won’t have sex otherwise”. Sheila, thats all it is. When I have read on this blog that pastors “teach” that sex is not for women, they are not “teaching” it in the sense that they want to instruct you on that message and practice it in your life, not at all. That’s absurd. Its self defeating for any man to teach that. What they are really doing is merely reporting their observations. When our buddy Emerson says “he has a need you don’t have” he has come to that conclusion because his own wife isn’t that interested, the wives of all of his friends are not interested, (yes men talk about this with each other) and the wives of the thousands of men who have come through his door for counseling are not interested, then the only logical conclusion that can be made by an observant man is that women don’t like sex. So we can now reread Emersons quote differently can’t we? We can now read it charitably as “he has a need you don’t have” as Emerson saying “ladies, we’re letting you off the hook. Its ok that you don’t want sex, most women don’t, theres nothing wrong with you for not wanting sex, it’s normal” in that context, he’s actually being kind to them.

    There’s a lot of projection here in the comments by women who appear to be very envious of “power”. Saying things like “men have had it pretty good for a long time and thats changing”. That is the zenith of ignorance. Aside from the obvious things like conscription and early death, it speaks to a general ignorance of the male condition and responsibilities.

    Reply
    • Meredith

      Wow. Take off your male blinders and actually read some history.

      Reply
    • Meredith

      You know what else, Chris? You’re right. You’re right that we women have no interest in having sex with whiny, entitled, self-absorbed men who would rather delude themselves that *they* have gotten the short end of the stick rather than do some serious self examination and consider if maybe the reason their wives have no desire for sex is because they as husbands are lousy lovers and selfish partners.

      Reply
    • Anon

      Chris, I would really encourage you to read some history, particularly relating to the history of marriage and the control that men have had over women in the past. Do you know why the bride is traditionally ‘given away’ by her father during the marriage service? It’s because for centuries, the bride was a piece of property who was handed from one ‘owner’ to another, without her consent. Until the late 1800s, married women were not allowed to own any property in their own right – it automatically belonged to their husband on marriage, meaning that a man could marry a wealthy heiress and literally leave her starving and in rags while he enjoyed her money.

      A man could physically abuse his wife, take her children away and never allow her to see them again, divorce her (leaving her ruined and disgraced, even if she had been faithful to him) or lock her up for life. He could even have her committed to a lunatic asylum, regardless of whether or not she had any mental health issues. He had similar power over his daughters and step daughters.

      And you seriously don’t think these things show that men have had an imbalance of power over women in the past? Ok…

      Reply
      • Chris

        Anon, how do you explain the “women and children first” thing on sinking ships? Also it was Christianity that introduced the whole concept of asking the bride and groom “do you take this person to be your spouse?” Other faiths and legal jurisdictions around the world don’t do this at all. They don’t care if you consent at all.
        I just don’t buy this “women were never valued until the pill” bs. Sorry I just don’t. History is rarely that clear cut. And this notion that prior to the 1960s all men lived like kings while all women were in chains is nonsense. The truth is, just like now, it was someone’s socioeconomic status that determined what kind of life they were going to have. And to those who say I should read history. Thats all I read. Everyday.

        Reply
        • Wild Honey

          As a fellow historian, then please take a few minutes to read the story of Julia the Elder, the daughter of Caesar Augustus, and how she fared in her marriages. Socioeconomic status didn’t save her from her father forcing her (as a widow) to marry a man who openly detested her, and whom Cassius Dio, among others, thought had a hand in her death.

          Reply
        • Meredith

          No, you’re not reading history. The massive willfull ignorance in your statement proves that if you’re reading anything, it’s self-indulgent misogynistic trash. Your comments reek of the incel attitude. “poor me, I’m a nice guy therefore I’m entitled to sex and those mean nasty women just won’t put out.”

          You’re a troll and have no desire to learn (“women and children first”, seriously that’s
          *all* you’ve got to counter Anon’s thoughtful and FACTUAL reply?!) I mean, good God, women didn’t even have the right to VOTE until 1919. The first state to outlaw marital rape was Nebraska in 1975. It wasn’t outlawed in all 50 states until 1993. (That’s less than 30 years ago, in case you can’t do the math.)

          Here’s a link to an article about wives in the 1800s being forced into lunatic asylums by their husbands because they weren’t submissive enough.

          Here’s a link to a longform YouTube essay on how since the 1930s Hollywood has glamorized the abduction of women as “romantic”. https://youtu.be/t8xL7w1POZ0

          In 1864 the British Parliament passed “The Contagious Diseases Act” in response to rampant cases of venereal diseases among the British army and navy due to their use of prostitutes. Rather than order men to keep it in their pants, instead the Act made it legal for British police to seize any woman suspected of being a prostitute (which meant any lower-class girl walking on the street) and force them to be “examined” for venereal disease. This led to widespread abuse of women as police and doctors preyed on women, often raping and injuring them during their “examinations.” It was thanks to the tireless work of a woman, Josephine Butler, that the act was eventually repealed.

          So Chris, I’d like you to say one more time that men have had it harder than women throughout history.

          Reply
        • Anon

          Meredith & Wild Honey have answered your questions very fully, but since they were directed at me:

          I think you are confusing mens’ lives generally and mens’ relationships with women. Men being conscripted does not prove that men haven’t had control over women historically (if anything, it proves the opposite – the reason why women were not conscripted into the army was because they were not permitted by men to join the army!) No one is saying ‘men have always had an easy life’. But men HAVE had it easy in their relationships with women in the past because the society in which they lived gave them absolute control over the women in their family. The fact that some men treated the women under their control well does not alter the fact that they had that control! If they chose to abuse their wives and daughters, there was nothing those women could do to protect themselves.

          Yes, socio-economic status makes a difference to what kind of life someone lived, but for women, it usually only made a difference to the kind of abuse they suffered. A poor serving girl would be vulnerable to rape – often by her employers and their guests (and if this were discovered, HER character would be ruined, while they had no sanction at all). A wealthy heiress from the ruling class would be married off to the man who could provide the greatest benefits to her father or brothers – regardless of his moral character and how he would be likely to treat her. Her situation could be as traumatic as the serving maid’s – the only difference being her surroundings and the fact that her abuse was at the hands of just one man, not many.

          Reply
    • Wild Honey

      Except that he’s NOT “letting women off the hook,”’is he? Instead, he’s saying that your husband will turn to porn or other women if you don’t have sex, and that you should have sex even when his response to your “Did you miss me while I was gone for a week” is “No,” in front of your daughter, no less.

      My husband and I were part of a church small group for two years where husbands met one week and wives met the next (most couples had young children, this solved the childcare issue). I totally believe you that husbands talk about this stuff, because that’s what MY husband told me about the guys’ group. It made him extremely uncomfortable, the amount of complaining his fellow men did that their wives weren’t “putting out.”

      You know what? The women NEVER complained about their husbands. Not. a. peep. ONE time a woman asked for prayers because sex was physically painful for her (I didn’t have the vocabulary yet for vaginismus) and she felt GUILTY because that made it hard for her husband. (On a side note, both my husband and I observed that the wife had SERIOUS hang-ups from purity culture shame and the husband was TOTALLY checked out when it came to his four young, very energetic children.)

      Right around the time we left that church, I found out through my own observations and private conversations that a different woman was in an emotionally and spiritually abusive marriage, and a third with a husband who had “anger problems” who “did something that hurt our marriage.”

      Not all husbands are responsible for their wife’s trauma or dislike of sex. But these ones certainly contributed to it. Next time you and your fellow husbands are talking about how little your wives like sex, please take some time to encourage some honest self-reflection.

      PS – Just because men faced early death and conscription doesn’t mean women had it any better. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are STILL the leading cause of death for women in some third-world countries. Is it any wonder that sex would then be approached with a certain amount of trepidation?

      Reply
    • CMT

      You know what, I think you’re kinda right. Not about the power differential issue, but that some
      men who say women don’t like sex are reporting what they observe. In fact I think that’s what the last segment of the podcast was getting at.

      The issue is, if a teacher stops with an observation, and assumes that what they are seeing in a limited subset of people is the God-given norm for all, if they don’t ask WHY this thing is happening, then they draw poor conclusions. Their solution cannot address the root causes of the problem. It is not wise to be overly “charitable” to the ideas of a teacher who engages in sloppy reasoning and lacks intellectual curiosity. Their prescription may be worse than the disease.

      Reply
      • Chris

        CMT, men have been asking themselves “why” for millennia. But the truth is, from an academic stand point, I don’t think a male pastor would be successful if he tried to conduct research in this area. If a pastor came out and asked “Ok ladies, why don’t you like sex?” The screams of “creepy” could be heard all the way in Barstow. No, I think only a group of female academics like Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna could pull off that kind of research.

        Reply
  15. Nicky Pena

    Sheila — love your stuff and thank you for your wonderful ministry. I am a missionary in Mexico and glad that some of your books are in Spanish — we are doing premarital counseling with a couple and I was glad to be able to purchase some of your books in Spanish, as well as 31 Days to Great Sex as a wedding present! So here just letting you know we really appreciate have these great materials in Spanish and hoping that putting The Great Sex Rescue translated will be a priority. Sure wanting to be able to use it here in Mexico. I teach at a Bible college and it would certainly be required reading. Thanks and blessings!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hope it will! Unfortunately I have no control over it. I have asked Baker Books to try to find a Spanish publisher for it, and I hope that someone does buy it soon!

      Reply
  16. Katydid

    Unpopular opinion here, but this is largely why I think the Catholic church’s stance on priest celibacy is actually a good one. Priests have even more duties than the average evangelical pastor and it really would be very difficult to fulfill them and have a wife and kids.

    I do know pastors who absolutely will not respond to calls on their days off, unless it is like someone dying. They have appointed assistant pastors or deacons to fulfill sick visits and such things, and have informed the congregation that no, you cannot request for Senior pastor where an assistant or deacon will do just fine.

    It is VERY important that pastors do not micromanage or try to do it all themselves. They absolutely need a team and strict boundaries.

    I also think that pastors’ wives should not be expected to fulfill roles within the church (most of them still unpaid!!). She should be allowed to have her own life and career and not be stuck filling ministry roles (again, unpaid) just because it is expected of her as his wife.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Katydid, agreed 100%. A Catholic priest told me once that he was in a hospital once for over 12 hours. Bouncing around between administering last rights in the cancer ward to having to do the same in the NICU. An evangelical minister went up to him and told hom that he feels inadequate sometimes as a pastor because he is torn between two worlds of dealing with peoples last moments on this earth while simultaneously trying to remember to bring home milk. They prayed together and have since become good friends. No matter what your denomination, that job is hard. And nothing you do is ever right or good enough.

      I have long maintained that Sheilas view of sex in marriage is actually a very Catholic one.

      Reply
    • Anon

      It’s a tricky one. While I get the argument about the minister’s spouse having their own career, it’s actually very difficult in practice. If I worked full time away from the church/home, I’d hardly ever see my husband!

      That’s why it’s so important for the COUPLE to know they are called to ministry, even if the minister spouse doesn’t have an ‘official’ role. Because you can’t expect a church minister to leave the work in the office, the way you could with most other jobs. My husband & I are doing this as a team, even if I don’t have an official ‘position’ in the church – if we weren’t, I think I could easily end up resenting the demands his job makes on our ‘free time’.

      In the UK, there is a big move to ‘bi-vocational’ ministry, where the pastor does a secular job one or two days a week and ‘pastors the church’ on the other days. While this is great at keeping pastors connected with the real world (and helps financially, since the church doesn’t have to pay such a big stipend), in reality, there is no such thing as a ‘part time’ pastor, so they end up doing a full-time pastorate plus a part-time job!

      Reply
  17. Emmy

    Are they secretely afraid women do not like sex? Dear Sheila, you are such a nice person. It does you credit trying to understand these men and trying to give them the benefit of doubt.

    I’m not a nice person, not any more. I believe many of these authors very openly do not care whether women like sex or not. If afraid for anything, they might be afraid people won’t buy their books any more. They might be afraid to loose their platform.

    Still, I believe it is a good thing, trying to be fair towards your enemy.

    Reply
  18. This is a Pseudonym

    I enjoyed a lot of the first part of this podcast. But the last part (the interview with the therapist) was not great.

    Have you ever read “What Makes Love Last?” by John Gottman? On page 159 in the chapter about recovering from infidelity he says,

    “My wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, and I created the following list of counterproductive therapy approaches, based on our knowledge of the therapeutic process and the experiences of couples we’ve worked with after other therapies failed them. If a therapist communicates any of the following beliefs, find somebody else to work with.”

    He then lists 27 different bad approaches, including:

    #7: The betrayed partner’s anger is bad and will drive the betrayer away.

    #13: There is something wrong with the betrayed person for having explosive feelings.

    The therapist you interviewed seemed to be focused on how to make revealing the betrayal a good experience FOR THE BETRAYER. This is completely backwards. The focus should be on getting the betrayed to safety, and teaching them self care and boundaries. The only job of the betrayed person is to keep themselves safe and healthy. They don’t need to be tone policed, and they don’t need to help the betrayer to feel good about themselves. This isn’t a couple or marriage problem. This is a betrayer problem.

    Reply
    • Marla Jea

      “The therapist you interviewed seemed to be focused on how to make revealing the betrayal a good experience FOR THE BETRAYER.”

      I agree that the therapist’s segment was unhelpful and centered the wrong party. Actual repentance doesn’t require 100% comfortable conditions.

      Reply

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