My husband told me yesterday that I was in the middle of the “long dark night of the soul.”
We went down to a winery to celebrate our anniversary and we were just talking about the last year, and where we’re at now emotionally and where we think we’ll end up in five years and ten years.
Keith went through a lot of wrestling with God about fifteen years ago, mostly around the evolution/creation issue, since we were at a church and in a church community that didn’t believe that you could be a Christian and believe in an old earth. As a science person, Keith found that very difficult, and for a few years he was questioning a lot, but he ended up in a better place.
For me it hasn’t been around those sorts of debates but just the toll that our work has taken on me, this year especially.
To put it frankly, I am exhausted. I am emotionally spent. And I’m a little at a loss how to do everything I have to get done in the next year.
I’m so excited about the projects that are coming up. I’m excited for the launch of The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the revamped Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex in March. Our mother/daughter book that’s due in at the publishers in April is going to be FIRE. It’s coming along well, but there’s still lots to write. The marriage book Keith and I are writing that’s due next fall is sketched out, and I’m excited about that one too.
But I’m also emotionally drained and simply exhausted.
I’ve been fighting all year, and it is a fight because I have to always have my guard up for attacks from the evangelical powers that be that don’t like The Great Sex Rescue.
But what’s been really demoralizing, and what has made me have this long, dark night of the soul, is something I talked about in last week’s podcast (the last podcast of 2021; I’m not doing one this week). I naively thought that when the evangelical powers that be actually saw the numbers about how harmful some of these teachings were, there would be some sort of a reckoning. At least someone would say something. One of the big marriage ministries. One of the big marriage podcasts. Focus on the Family. One of the big marriage authors.
Instead, someone like Gary Thomas, who was a personal friend and who I thought totally “got it” and understood how harmful so much of this was to women, doubled down on the idea that men need sex in a way that women will never, ever understand, and that women need to give sex so that men won’t sin.
That was the thing that just about killed me this year.
And then, as the year is over, I’ve been a victim of friendly fire, where a small number of abuse advocates have accused us of deliberately trying to hurt them by publishing our men’s study that found that only just shy of 50% of men use porn, rather than 70-90%. We’ve been told it’s a “personal betrayal”, that we are “pretending” things aren’t as they are (for what agenda? I can’t figure that out); that we’re “totally inaccurate”, that our methodology was simply wrong.
It’s just been hard.
And so I’m exhausted, and I posted about it on Facebook recently, and caused a bit of a panic that I thought I should clear up (which is really why I’m writing this post).
Over the last few weeks there’s been a hubbub on some other pages and beyond because of our most recent research finding that between 45 and 49% of married Christian men currently watch porn (and most watch it intermittently or rarely, not daily or weekly). Some people, especially in the advocacy community, were certain it was higher. In talking about this on social media, they used language that accused us, without basis, of doing our research wrong; implied we didn’t know what we were doing; and said that we were hurting abused women. That was very, very emotionally draining for our team, especially since for the last year we have had intense behind-the-scenes pressure from the powers-that-be in evangelicalism who aren’t happy about our research showing that most evangelical books actually hurt women’s marital and sexual satisfaction (as reported in The Great Sex Rescue). Much of the discussion around this porn stat got ugly, and I contributed to that. I’m sorry. It took a big emotional toll, but I know that in defending myself I also hurt others, and I regret that. I only want to seek truth, because the truth will never harm us. And I believe that when more people see the truth, more people will understand the harm that porn does (which is what our study definitively found). In the meantime, our team is still reeling, and making plans to step back from this job eventually because it is too emotionally draining, especially with the friendly fire. But I did want to apologize for contributing to pain.
I realized once I started to see the comments coming in that I insinuated that I’m about to quit, which I’m not.
So I don’t want anyone to panic!
I just meant that all of us are realizing what we’re doing is not sustainable long term, and we want to transition into something else EVENTUALLY. Rebecca wants to do that sooner than me. She’s raising kids, and she wants their childhood to be happy and stress-free as much as possible, and that’s simply not possible when we’re as stressed as we are these days. So she’ll be writing our mother-daughter book and hanging out on the podcast, but also looking at ways to build a business that doesn’t keep her as involved on a daily basis (and we’ve got some great ideas for that).
So what’s my plan long term?
I’ve been thinking about how I’ve said all along that my goal is to change the evangelical conversation about sex.
I think we’re doing that. So now I’m wondering, over the next decade (or whatever time frame), how do I want to leave? And the answer that I keep coming up with is that I don’t want this to just be about me.
I never wrote to get rich and famous (I honestly don’t care that much, and it’s way too hard to get rich and famous doing this anyway). I only want influence that I can use to the better.
And now I’d like to use that influence to raise up other voices in the evangelical marriage conversation.
I’ve said for a long time now that part of the problem in evangelical marriage and sex books is that they’re all written by the same small group of people who often tend to be the same age and gender (boomer men) and they’re written from the same perspective. There are exceptions, especially of people who have big marriage podcasts, but even there–it’s all the same perspective.
If we’re going to make a dent, we need to raise up the voices saying something different, so it’s not just a monolith. If we want people to understand that you can’t teach the obligation sex message, then we need to be raising up people who teach something different.
So I want to start introducing you all to new voices on my podcasts and even in this blog. I want to start elevating people in their 30s or 40s (or even 20s!) who are bright, sold out to Jesus, and doing this well. I want, at the point where I leave, for there to be so many people talking about this in a healthy way that there isn’t a monolithic evangelical view of marriage and sex anymore. There’s healthy as well. And it will become ever so apparent who is healthy and who is not.
- Sarah McDugal
- Ngina Otiende from Intentional Today
- Dr. Camden Morgante
- Andrew Bauman
- Meghan Tschanz
- Rachel Joy Welcher
- Jonathan Puddle
- Matthew Shallenberger
And those are just the ones I’m thinking of off the top of my head! There are so many more.
I’ll know that I can retire when there are so many other voices that are getting attention in this sphere, and it’s no longer just the unhealthy ones.
I think together we can do that!
In the meantime, I will honestly try to get a handle on my emotions.
I do want to give myself more time to myself. I do need some time to process and to rest. I don’t always want to be depressed when I talk to all of you, because in many ways the news is good! Just read the Amazon reviews for The Great Sex Rescue! I’m talking to a professor tomorrow at a university in California who was amazed at the reviews, and our dataset, and who I’m hoping will partner with us on some peer-reviewed papers. People are finding freedom, and that will continue.
And so many churches are using The Great Sex Rescue now! I talked to a military chaplain yesterday who just ordered 150 copies! This is amazing.
But I think I need some downtime, so this will be my last post of 2021. As I look into the Christmas season, I’m thinking a lot about the idea that when Truth and Light and Life come, they also often are met with disruption and pain. It doesn’t mean the Truth and LIght isn’t there; it’s just part of the world we live in.
Many have asked how they can encourage us and help.
I so appreciate the question!
So here goes:
If you want to encourage Joanna and Rebecca and keep the in this fight, join the Patreon group! We really need to write a bunch of papers for peer-reviewed journals (and several are coming along well) but there’s no money in that, and Rebecca and Joanna each have small children. We also want to get into some other social media channels that can’t be monetized, and I can’t pay them for that. So if you support them for as little as $5 a month, you get access to our Facebook group, some unfiltered podcasts, and more! And it’s an awesome bunch there.
Pick up The Great Sex Rescue!
If you haven’t read The Great Sex Rescue, you need to. Seriously. I know it can seem like you’ve heard it all if you’ve followed the blog and listened to the podcast, but the gut punch of reading all of the terrible quotes in one place, and seeing the data of how much these teachings have hurt marriages and sex lives, is something that needs to be experienced.
Gift The Great Sex Rescue–and Review It!
Give it to your pastor, your women’s ministry leader, your MOPS group leader–or your sister or best friend. We need to get this data into as many hands as possible, and especially the hands of people who decide on curriculum for women’s studies. And if you have read it, remember to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! That helps too. (and don’t forget we have a FREE video study that goes along with the book too!)
Leave comments on the blog–or anywhere else!
I feel like I need 10 good comments to counteract every one that I get attacking me. 🙂 I’m not sure if that’s true, but it feels that way somehow. So just know that we read all your comments and emails, and we save so many of them in encouragement files, and we appreciate them. And I love seeing people comment for the first time on this blog too!
Pray for Us
I’ve honestly never ended a year this tired. I know so many of us are feeling that with COVID, but I really need a boost. I think the big thing keeping my head above water is my new granddaughter who is adorable. But we are tired. And I’m hoping that some of that lifts this Christmas and I can feel the joy and wonder of the Incarnation again.
And I wish that for you all, too. Merry Christmas!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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