Can I tell you a story about a book–and about me?
As most of you know, on March 15 I have two books launching–The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, which I wrote with my husband, and a completely revised Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, which will be 10 years old this March.
I never originally planned to write a book about sex.
In 2010 my blog was growing, and I had a new agent, and we were discussing what my next book project would be. I had a vision for a women’s book I wanted to write, which would be able to be used as a women’s book study. He didn’t think it would sell. The recession was deep, and publishers were being really picky about what books they were jumping on.
At the same time, everytime I wrote about sex my traffic grew. So I told my agent that I did have one more idea–The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. It took a while, but Zondervan picked it up a year later, and it was out in 2012.
When I wrote the original version, I was trying to balance four things.
1. I wanted to help women relax
First, I had been really traumatized (and I don’t use that word lightly) by the book that I read before I was married–The Act of Marriage. I’ve written before about drowning that book in the bathtub, and why it had been so destructive for me.
One of the things I wanted to do was write the anti-Act of Marriage, a book that was the opposite. So while The Act of Marriage gave extremely explicit tips for everything you were supposed to do on your wedding night, right off the bat, to bring her to orgasm, and told her that she was now responsible for meeting his needs, I wanted to write a book that encouraged her to go at her own pace, to discover what felt good for herself, to learn to listen to her body. I wanted her not to feel pressure on her wedding night (since I still believe a lot of that was responsible for my vaginismus), and just enjoy getting to know each other in a whole new way.
I wanted a book that didn’t put expectations on her, but instead valued her and allowed her to explore her sexuality the way she felt comfortable.
In short, I wanted to honor her, rather than to pressure her.
2. I wanted to help women see sex as more than just physical
The sex ed I had made sex into something that was merely physical, about climax. That put so much pressure on both of us, and then when sex hurt me, it seemed like everything was crashing down.
And I felt that that was such a shallow version of sex. What if we could see the complete picture? I had begun to do some research into what spiritual intimacy really looks like, and I realized that this was an important component missing from our conversations about sex: that it was supposed to be holistic–intimate physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
3. I wanted to help women escape purity culture
In 2012, many of the women getting married had grown up at the height of purity culture. They had read the Brio magazine articles that made her feel like any sexual feelings were bad. They had been told their whole lives that the rest of the world was evil and depraved, but she wasn’t because she was pure. They had been told that their worth was in their virginity.
And it’s really, really hard for sex to be good if you feel like your main identity is in being a virgin.
So I wanted to help women escape purity culture. I wanted to tell them, “sex isn’t shameful! You can enjoy this! And by the way, if you’re not “pure”, that’s totally okay. Your past is not your present, and guilt doesn’t have to be your story.”
Okay, so far so good. Now here’s where things went a little off the rails.
4. I wanted to make sure I taught the right stuff
At the same time as I was writing this blog I was also speaking at marriage conferences, and I was very much in the conservative evangelical space. And as most of you know, the rhetoric around sex is very gendered. He wants the physical side; she wants the emotional side. He’s visual; she’s not.
At least I knew that women could have the higher sex drives (I’d been listening to my commenters for years on that), and my survey that I did for the book bore that out as well.
But I was still immersed in this very gendered way of seeing sex.
Over the years, as I’ve listened more and done even more research, I knew that things had to change with The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.
It still would score really highly on our rubric–and unlike the other 13 books we looked at, my original did include the word consent! (Well, technically it was the word “consensual”, but I would have counted that). And it did win a huge prize in 2012 for the best Christian book by a Canadian. But it was time to update it.
I still wanted to write a book where #1 and #2 were clearly accomplished, but I didn’t agree with much of the gendered stuff I taught anymore, and I felt as if today’s women have different issues than they did in 2012. Our main issues aren’t shame with sex so much as lack of understanding and too much obligation. We needed to free ourselves to know that our pleasure matters just as much as his does, and we don’t have to settle for terrible sex. We can be emboldened to speak up!
So I knew it was time to rewrite it, and when Zondervan came asking for The Good Guy’s Guide, I asked if I could rewrite The Good Girl’s Guide at the same time. That was actually a big ask, because it was still selling well, and to write a new book involves design, editing, reprinting–it’s an expense that you wouldn’t normally incur for a book that’s still doing well.
But after writing The Great Sex Rescue, I felt like I couldn’t continue to support a book that was so gendered (it even had two chapters on how “women are like this” and “men are like this”!). So I told them that I couldn’t recommend it anymore, and they took a look at the older version and saw that it really did need to be revamped.
(And I didn’t get paid for that either!). I’m glad they said yes, though, because I did want to do this well.
So I took out the gendered stuff, and I added a lot more about the sexual response cycle and orgasm.
I thought originally it would just be swapping the gendered chapters for more on orgasm, but as I read through the book I found that I now talk differently about just about everything–mental load; communication; obligation. So I ended up rewriting pretty much the entire thing!
It’s still based around #1 and #2–and The Good Guy’s Guide is too, by the way! The point is to help everyone learn to relax and do things at their own pace as they awaken and discover sexuality, rather than feeling like anyone is forced or coerced into doing specific things on their wedding night, right off the bat (especially since we did find that highly correlates to an increased risk for vaginismus).
And we wanted to stress the threefold nature of sex–physical, emotional, and spiritual connection. In fact, that’s how both books are organized.
But I’m much happier with this one now.
These last two years have been a humbling journey for me.
As we’ve done more and more research into women’s sexual and marital satisfaction, and sexual pain, and we’ve seen how much harm has been done in the evangelical community, I’ve realized how much of what I had written ten years ago or even five years ago isn’t what I would teach today.
We’re busy behind the scenes trying to move this blog to a new domain. We’re going to take about 1200 posts with us, and then delete the rest. Our blog is so clunky and about to break that there’s not an easy way to do this, so we figured it would be better to start from scratch and do things right. Hopefully that will be ready soon.
Someone told me the other day in the Launch Team for the new books that even though what I wrote five years ago wasn’t what I would say now, it was still better than what other people were writing five years ago, and it really helped her. And others said that they had grown with me too. That made me feel a little better, though I do wish I had gotten more of this right from the start.
I guess we’re all on a journey. Some are ahead of me, and are annoyed that it took me so long, and think I still have further to go. To them I’d just say, thank you for your patience. Please believe me that I’m trying to do this well.
Others may think I’ve gone off my rocker! But I feel the weight of what I do very heavily. I get countless emails and direct messages and comments everyday from women in dire straits, largely because of incorrect teaching in the evangelical church. I see the harm done up close and personal far too often.
And so I just want to write what is borne out by research. Jesus said that a good tree can’t bear bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t bear good fruit. So we can judge a teaching by its fruit. When we see that something harms, that’s not of Jesus.
It occurs to me too that I couldn’t have this ministry UNLESS I had gotten some things wrong.
If I had come out the gate saying the things I do now, I think most of evangelicalism would have discounted me a long time ago and not listened to me. But because I was right in the thick of it, because I had taught the same things, now when I say “this is wrong” it has more weight.
That’s not fair, of course. Those who have been teaching this well from the beginning deserve more kudos. But it does help me sleep at night.
I am excited about the new version of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.
I have a book I can recommend wholeheartedly again as a bridal shower gift or a gift for women who are just getting used to sex. And I really, really love The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex. It’s likely my favourite. I got to write it from scratch, and Keith helped so much with it, and I think we found the right “voice” and the right balance to help guys see that if they want great sex, they need to figure her out and make it about her!
I’d love to have you all on the launch team! If you pre-order the books, and then email me your receipt, you can join the launch team where you get access immediately to the book (or books!), plus our exclusive Facebook group with multiple Facebook lives every week and lots of places to ask questions. And you can win more copies of the books as well!
The All New Guides to Great Sex!
Launch March 15!
Imagine building a great sex life–from the ground up!
What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH–with no harmful messages?
Welcome to the The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.
Pre-Order Now! (Helps us out a ton)
And if you email your receipt, we’ll send you a special pre-order BONUS
What do you think? How has the conversation changed in the last ten years? What do you think younger women are struggling with today in a different way? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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