8 Signs the Evangelical Conversation about Sex and Marriage Changed in 2021

by | Jan 3, 2022 | Uncategorized | 28 comments

2021 Evangelical conversation sex and marriage
Merchandise is Here!

As we begin 2022, I feel that there has been a shift in the air. 

I ended 2021 with a personal post saying that I was very, very tired. And I really was!

I took the last two weeks almost completely off (we did record the audio versions of the upcoming The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex last week), and got some much needed perspective.

And I knit a ton! I’ve been knitting from vintage pattern books for my granddaughter, and it’s been super fun (the pictures in older pattern books aren’t always clear, so you’re not always sure what you’re making until it’s done!). Here’s a pair of leggings I finished yesterday!

And I’ve had some time to process 2021, and to think about what’s coming in 2022.

Even though I was discouraged at the end of 2021, when I took a bigger look at last year–it’s amazing how far we’ve come! I think we’re having a really effect, and things are definitely changing–for the better.

How Things Changed in 2021

I started the year (or rather ended 2020) defending what I was doing against backlash, saying that you have to tear down before you can build up. I was talking about how I had spent years on the blog trying to give healthy advice, but I was realizing that you can’t really lead people towards health until you demolish the unhealthy foundation (which is what The Great Sex Rescue is all about!).

Have to Tear Down Bad Marriage Teaching to Build a Good Foundation

From We Can't Rebuild Without Tearing Down First:

We will try to watch our tone this year. We aren’t trying to take glee in just breaking down.

But break down we must. When women have been told they aren’t allowed to say no to sex; when instances of marital rape are recorded in Christian books without even being called rape; when women have been told they don’t need sex, don’t want sex like men do, and don’t have sex drives; when sex has been made entirely about a man’s orgasm–well, it’s hard not to get angry. And it needs to come down. In smithereens.

And then we want to build up. We want to get rid of the harmful stuff so that we can talk again about what a healthy sex life and healthy marriage look like. Our goal is that, at this time next year, we won’t have to tear down anything anymore. Our prayer is that the Christian world will see it and agree and scatter stones with us, so that we can build up again. We don’t want to keep doing this forever.

It is exhausting. It is demoralizing. 

But it is also necessary.

And as I look back at 2021, we did a lot of tearing down. But we also saw a lot of fruit that things were changing!

So today I’d like to take a little victory lap and show how the evangelical church is waking up to the harm that it has done to marriage and to gender relations.

1. The Great Sex Rescue was out in March–and continues to sell well!

After our huge survey of 20,000 women, and writing the book far faster than we thought possible, we released it in March, and it has sold well since. In fact, it was on so many people’s “Top 10 List of Books I Read in 2021” last week that it had another post-Christmas bump!

Once people have read it, it’s hard to go back.

Last week Joanna was taking a deep dive on Reddit, and found a post in the really big Christian Marriage subreddit where the moderator said this:

In Sheila Wray Gregoire’s book, The Great Sex Rescue, she lays out the dark and horrifying truths about coercive sex. She describes the way that women have been taught that they must have sex with their husbands no matter what. She describes the threats held over their heads, that their husbands won’t love them, will fall into sin, or will be justified in withholding love if they don’t have sex. And she explains the ramifications of these beliefs, how some women struggle even to have sex because their body wants to protect itself from the trauma.

But she goes farther, laying out the evidence that this mindset comes primarily from Christian resources. Books like “Love and Respect” encourage women to have sex out of obligation lest their husbands look at porn or feel unloved. And reading it, I thought, well, I’m glad we don’t promote those ideas on r/ChristianMarriage.

But over the past few weeks, comments and posts here have made me reconsider that. As the top moderator for the past 2.5 years, I am responsible for the content of this subreddit, the culture surrounding it, and the lack of clear messaging around this issue.

I have failed, and I apologize.

Sex is not about orgasm. Sex is not about fulfilling the apetite. Sex is about mutual care, affection, and pleasure that reminds us of the way that our Lord cares and serves his bride, the church. In sex, as in the rest of life, we should have the mindset of Christ Jesus who gave up his throne to die a cursed death for the good of his bride. Do NOTHING from selfish ambition or vain conceit, especially not in the act that is supposed to point us to the way that Christ loved us.

If you disagree with this post, I invite you to send a modmail to discuss it–this will not be a discussion post. But I strongly encourage you to read The Great Sex Rescue, especially if you think this post is mistaken. I think many of you, like me, will be shocked at the messages women are receiving about sex, even from well-intentioned resources like our own subreddit.

ChristianMarriage Subreddit

An Apology and a Message about Consent

This is a subreddit with 25,000 members, and the moderator actually apologized. 

I mean, I’m still waiting for apologies from the authors we called out, but the point is–people are seeing it. They are getting it!

And I’ve had sermons sent to me and podcasts sent to me where pastors mentioned our research and how things have to change. Counselors are loving the book. And just read the reviews on Amazon. We had more than 1,000 reviews on Amazon in 2021, and we maintained a 4.8 rating. Once people read The Great Sex Rescue, they’ll be immune to the harmful teachings. They’ll never be sucked in again, because they can see the harm and logical inconsistencies. We’re doing it!

2. We hit 1,000,000 downloads of our Bare Marriage podcast!

On December 31, Katie sent me this screenshot:

And that’s only DOWNLOADS. That doesn’t measure listens or how many people watch on YouTube, so it’s likely several orders more than that.

We had 500,000 downloads in 2021 alone! So in only 3  years we got to 1,000,000. Imagine what we’ll do in 2022!

Thank you for all your support. Please tell more people about the Bare Marriage podcast. But once people listen, they won’t be sucked in anymore either.

3. When Gary Thomas tried to publish his book Married Sex that included the obligation sex message, people wouldn’t stand for it.

The next “big” sex book to be published in the evangelical world after our book The Great Sex Rescue was out in March 2021 didn’t end up being so big after all–because it contained the harmful messages we’ve talked about. It contained the obligation sex message, said that women get aroused giving hand jobs postpartum, told women to flash their breasts to reset power imbalances (instead of saying that power imbalances are toxic and need to be dealt with), told women to send nude pictures so that neurologically he wouldn’t be tempted by porn, said that we should see having sex with our husbands in a similar way to how new moms see feeding the child in the middle of the night, and more.

And people spoke up, en masse, and the book did not launch well.

That was such an encouragement to me! And people started challenging this mindset on his social media as well. (more on that later).

4. When Matthew West tried to release a video for Father’s Day called “Modest is Hottest”, the outcry was so bad he had to take it down.

You simply cannot blame boys’ lust on what girls wear anymore without people crying foul. Even if many still liked the song, and even if he has since said that he doesn’t feel there was anything wrong, the point is that the outcry was such that the message didn’t stand.

That’s awesome.

5. When The Gospel Coalition posted a bizarre video saying that men can’t risk reading the Bible unless their wives respect and trust them–people pushed back big time.

I posted a Fixed It For You about this last week, but the comments on their initial reel were so encouraging to me. People aren’t standing for it anymore.

Gospel Coalition Fixed it For You

6. When Christianity Today told the story of the downfall of Mars Hill–the biggest critique they had was not getting at the root of misogyny and power

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast was huge last year, diving into why Mars Hill, led by Mark Driscoll, imploded. But the biggest pushback they got was that they didn’t go far enough, because this wasn’t just Mark. Everything Mark Driscoll said about women was merely parrotting what was already being said in our evangelical best-sellers. It wasn’t just about a power-hungry abusive pastor; it was that the things that allowed him to succeed are present throughout evangelicalism.

Of course an entity like Christianity Today, which is beholden to evangelicalism’s powers that be, can’t give that radical a critique. But the fact that they gave one at all was really encouraging to me. We’re allowed to speak up and question now. We’re being invited to. The rocks are being turned over. The tide is turning!

7. Josh Duggar was convicted on possession of child sexual abuse material.

No, the Christian culture itself didn’t have much to do with this one; it was pretty much all the criminal justice system.

But coming right at the end of 2021, I felt like it was a perfect nail in the coffin of a certain brand of Christianity that stressed rules and strict gender roles and put men in power over women. The whole thing was laid bare as completely and utterly a facade. We see the fruit, and the fruit is ugly beyond belief.

8. The term “Reconstruction” is becoming more common

I’ve been seeing this everywhere on social media in the last two weeks, and I love it. Deconstruction is necessary–we need to deconstruct what we have been taught about faith, about marriage, about gender roles, about everything, to see what is really of Jesus and what is not. That’s the tagline for our Bare Marriage podcast–we strip bare what isn’t of God.

But now what people are talking about is, “what do we build instead?” How and what do we rebuild once we’ve taken down that which isn’t of Jesus? How do we discover that which is?

Rebecca told me last week that the work I do is really reconstruction work, not just deconstruction work. 

Healthy. Evidence-based. Biblical. That’s what we’re trying to give everybody–marriage thoughts and advice that bear good fruit, because Jesus said that by their fruits you will know them.

And I’m so thrilled that you all  have joined me in this endeavour!

This year, I want to be a confident happy warrior.

Last year I felt like I was engaged in a constant battle, because we were always being criticized and attacked.

But this year I feel like the tide has turned, and as we begin this year, I want to celebrate that. I’ll still point out where people are wrong, and we’ll still deconstruct so we can reconstruct, but I don’t think I have to prove myself as much anymore. I think people have seen that the Emperor Has No Clothes, (as I wrote at the beginning of 2020), and now we just have to march forward and reclaim ground.

We reclaim ground every time:

  • People speak up on social media and challenge posts (like The Gospel Coalition’s or like Matthew West’s song) that share toxic messages.
  • People talk to their pastors, women’s ministry leaders, church librarians, or counselors about any harmful resources they’ve been recommending, and point out why it’s harmful
  • People tell their friends about healthier resources, and speak up in women’s Bible study or small groups or friend groups when someone tries to share a harmful message about marriage or sex

I think we’ve been scared to speak up in the past because we don’t want to rock the boat or be seen as crazy or wrong. But we are right! Jesus does not want people hurt. Jesus wants people to thrive! And Jesus cares about both men and women. The more we see we’re not in the minority anymore, and things are changing, the more emboldened we will all be to speak up. And then it will be like a tidal wave.

This is how change happens in the church; a movement of God catches on, and washes away that which was not of Him. We’re seeing that tidal wave start. It will be exciting to see what 2022 will bring!

 

Is there something you need to speak up about?

Have you felt God prompting you to speak to someone about the resources they are using, the things they are teaching, the people they are recommending?

Lean into it. Pray about it. Ask for courage. 

This could be God trying to change your part of the world through you!

And even if it’s not received well, you’ve been faithful. You’ve been courageous. And you’ve planted a seed.

So Happy 2022, everybody!

Let’s remember Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

He began a good work. He’s carrying it on. God will one day bring it to completion–and we’re closer to that day all the time!

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.

The Evangelical Conversation about Sex and Marriage Changed in 2021

What signs have you seen that things are changing? Are more people speaking up around you? Have you seen pastors or churches change? Let’s talk 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

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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28 Comments

  1. Nathan

    > > men can’t risk reading the Bible unless
    > > their wives respect and trust them

    Wow. This belief is just, well, there are no words.

    But we know that there is some good news and movement forward! Thank you, Sheila! Yes, we need to tear down AND build up.

    Reply
    • Codec

      I am not married. I read the bible and apologetics works.

      I can spend time with women and it is just a nice time for all.

      I do not think folks really understand how loneliness plays into things.

      Reply
  2. Emily

    One of my goals for the new year is to keep giving out copies of The Great Sex Rescue to my friends who were raised in the church. I also plan on donating a copy to my local library system and giving a copy to my church’s women’s ministry pastor!

    Reply
      • Rachael

        I gave your book to my pastor’s wife for Christmas! We had had a conversation where she was saying how many marriages she has seen with entitled Christian men and I hope your book can open her eyes.

        Reply
  3. just being real

    You say, “Sex is not about orgasm.”, but without orgasm, is it really sex? I agree that, “Sex is about mutual care, affection, and pleasure that reminds us of the way that our Lord cares and serves his bride, the church”, but doesn’t that include orgasm? Isn’t orgasm pretty central to sex? Obviously, orgasm alone or the pursuit of it doesn’t necessary build the relationship and isn’t what the ultimate goal is . . . but to say “sex isn’t about orgasm” feels a bit off the truth. Certainly an important part of sex is clearly about orgasm. Without orgasm is it really sex? I mean, can you have a healthy sexual relationship between a couple and not have orgasm. Even if that is possible, it is really likely or desirable?

    Reply
    • Anon

      I have a couple of physical health issues that impact on our sex life – when they flare up, orgasm is elusive if not impossible. To be blunt, it is incredibly offensive to imply that we can’t have a healthy sexual relationship without orgasm. You’ve basically just belittled and dismissed the sexual relationships of thousands of people with disabilities and health conditions.

      Reply
      • just being real

        No intention of belittling or offending. I’m terribly sorry for the health issues that take orgasm off the table for you. I would think that coming to grips with that would have been very difficult and likely disappointing. I was not trying to dismiss the thousands with disabilities and health conditions. I’m talking about most couples, those without those conditions, orgasm and sex really do go together. If health and disability does not get in the way, is it reasonable to exclude orgasm from the conversation of sex? l don’t think so. Orgasm is tightly related to sex. In fact, if it weren’t for orgasm, I doubt sex would be such a “thing”. Am I wrong here? I’m just trying to be real, and for a truth, if orgasm weren’t part of sex, I don’t know that I’d call it sex. Intimacy, closeness, physical touch, and probably many more really nice things, but probably not “sex”.

        Reply
        • Anon

          Ok, so if a couple with physical issues are allowed to have ‘real sex’ without orgasm, how physically ill does someone have to be before they’re allowed to have ‘real sex’ without orgasm? Is there a point at which you say ‘ok, your physical issues aren’t bad enough for you to have ‘real sex’ without it.’ And if you’re going to allow sex to be real without orgasm for any couple experiencing physical issues, what about those who are dealing with mental/emotional issues? Or who are enjoying their sex life, but haven’t yet reached orgasm.

          Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that it SHOULDN’T be part of a healthy sex life. Or that its not a good thing to keep trying for it if you’re not having it. But it is really unhelpful to label any sex that doesn’t include orgasm as ‘not real’. It’s part of the menu, not the whole meal! And couples who haven’t yet achieved it (or who no longer can) are not experiencing any less reality than those who do.

          Reply
          • just being real

            Sorry. I didn’t intend to offend. I’m trying not to be offensive at all. Based on your response, I think we agree that orgasm and sex are related, and if you’re not experiencing orgasm, then it would be a good thing (for the individual and the relationship) to try and identify why you’re not having it and seek help and understanding (both from the partner and if necessary from a professional), so that you can. I also agree that “couples who haven’t yet achieved it (or who no longer can)” can still have a solid, intimate and fulfilling relationship. Perhaps the rest of our differences are more semantic than substantive.

          • Anon

            I do believe that you are not trying to be offensive. I think the disconnect is that you are not aware of how inherently ableist your perspective is and some self-reflection would be more helpful than debate.

            The reality is, though you may currently be healthy, any one of us can acquire a life-altering injury or illness any day. What happens to your relationship if your foundational assumptions regarding sex are based on a “normal” that suddenly shifts and never returns to how it was before? Will the new reality always be seen as “not real sex”? Is the relationship then sustainable? It is not just for the benefit of others, but for your own benefit to reflect upon how you are othering the sexual relationships of individuals who are not what you view as “normal” or “healthy” and assigning those intimate interactions as “not real.”

            Sexuality counsellors who work with individuals who have chronic illnesses have to work with clients to overcome these pervasive and flawed assumptions so it really is disappointing to see on a site like this.

    • Lisa M

      Sheila didn’t write that, she is quoting a moderator on Reddit.

      Reply
  4. Cynthia

    I like the “reconstruction” idea. I think that it is really important for all of us to talk about not just what we oppose, but what we support. Personally, I have spent a long time reconstructing things in my head to make it clear that I don’t simply oppose “family values”. Rather, I oppose those conservative family values that stress patriarchy and rigid roles and power structures because they conflict with MY family values, which support healthy families with healthy relationships

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! I’m all about healthy relationships and thriving relationships, and that depends on emotional health far more than rigid rules.

      Reply
  5. Anon

    This whole post was so encouraging, but the bit I loved best was “I have failed, and I apologize.” I am so grateful to whoever wrote that. Such a simple sentence, yet to say it and mean it is so transformative. Because it’s only when we acknowledge our failures and apologise for them, that we can start rebuilding on a firm foundation.

    As for what I’ve seen changing, I think the biggest change has been in myself. I’m constantly coming across statements that wouldn’t have bothered me a couple of years ago and thinking ‘No! That’s wrong’. I hope I will get even better at discerning the difference between poor and healthy teaching this year.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, me too! The problem is that many of those statements I come across were written by me. 🙁 Oh, well. I failed, and I apologize! 🙂

      Reply
      • Codec

        What is more is that this subreddit has thousands of participants and viewers who will hopefully learn from this experience.

        Reply
  6. KR

    Your post, especially that last but reminded me that I need to speak to my kids’ Bible teacher at their high-school. He used the verses where women are encouraged to dress modestly, and I need to ask him why he chose those, what his purpose was and if he realized the impact it has on young women. Thank you for the reminder and the encouragement.

    Reply
  7. Von de Leigh

    I began reading your books and blog about 2 years ago when I was very much single. Today, I am engaged. My fiancé and I have both read “The Great Sex Rescue” and recently read your first edition of “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” together. Your books, blog, and podcast have helped me to see the red flags that past romantic interests waved, and your work helped me to recognize what a good man truly is. I cannot begin to describe the amazing sense of peace and freedom I feel knowing that I am walking into a marriage with a man who believes in Jesus, spousal equality, and open communication. Thank you <3

    Reply
  8. Jennifer

    Keep up the good work, Sheila! Thank you so much for getting Christians to realize that some of our teachings are producing bad fruit (demonstrated by solid research evidence).

    Reply
    • Jennifer

      And please keep doing the “Fixed It for You” posts. These are great!

      Reply
  9. Nessie

    I’m in a mostly conservative, “bible-belt” type area (high percentage of SBC churches in our community) and I haven’t witnessed a lot of change as yet, but I have been talking to friends about your book and the issues with these other writings.

    Hanging out with another couple one night, my husband shared some of what I had brought to his attention from your book, and the other husband had that “light-bulb” look, and started to talk about things a bit differently. It was very encouraging!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s so encouraging to hear indeed! Thank your husband for me for speaking up!

      Reply
  10. Em

    Hopefully I have planted a seed by having a conversation that I was 100% not likely to do over a year ago. And I also gave TGSR to my sex therapist friend. I think of the deconstruction of toxic ideas like a knotted necklace chain…you guys have started at your end and worked through all the knots. Everything is perfectly clear to you once the tangles are gone. You guys do an excellent job at articulating and helping guide us through those knots as we work them out ourselves. Hopefully we can do that for other people and save a lot of girls in the next generation from having to deal with this stuff.

    Also, those pants are the cutest thing ever.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks so much, Em! And thank you for having the courage to have that conversation!

      Reply
  11. Josh Parker

    I’m a new reader, I love this blog and what it’s saying, and this is a message that absolutely needs to be said.

    One caveat to this post, and I don’t speak from knowledge, just from a feeling, I think Matthew West’s song was meant to be mostly for comedy. I base this on several points:

    1. Matthew West has made many comedy songs, especially during the pandemic, including “Quarantine Life” and “Gobble Gobble”, as well as including comedy in the videos for his more serious songs. The lyrics even seem to suggest this, as he openly says he wants his daughters to dress “a little more Amish”.

    2. The video for “Modest is Hottest” has his daughters (playing themselves) rolling their eyes and looking decidedly displeased at being forced into shapeless slacks and high-necked, long-sleeved shirts. Throughout the video, West himself seems to be getting more desperate, seemingly casting himself as the “overprotective dad” who needs to lighten up. In responding to the controversy, West stated he was poking fun at the overprotective dad stereotype.

    3. Based on the photos of his family that West has shared on his Instagram before and since that video, it is clear that he is not enforcing a dress code on his daughters; both have been photographed with him wearing modern “cute” and, yes, revealing outfits that he apparently does not mind the world seeing them in (as it was he who posted the photos).

    I don’t think he really means that “what the boys really want is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks”. I think he was just having some fun, and people took him seriously.

    Reply

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