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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I think the big change that happened in the last decade is that we went from largely accepting that “women don’t like sex” to discovering that, actually, “women don’t like bad sex.” We went from saying “a lot of women just aren’t that sexual” to “a lot of men are bad lovers.”
I think the evangelical world would have dismissed you all too easily if you preached your current message in the original version of The Good Girl’s Guide because we didn’t have a #MeToo/ChurchToo movement. That’s made all the difference, it’s emboldened women to speak up, social media has made it impossible to ignore them, and that’s why the powers that be are shaking in their boots and conspiring on how to “handle” you while at the same time plagiarizing your message to make themselves more palatable.
Oh, my gosh, I love that! “Women don’t like bad sex.” Yep. (And many are trying to plagiarize us, yes, or saying that “wasn’t there a great need for my book since no christian book has ever talked about how women don’t orgasm enough….” I mean, Hello? )
I’m so glad you rewrote it. I did not read the whole original, but I started it and I remember not liking it, the same as any other Christian book about sex. The gendered stuff really bothers me, because my husband and I go against the gendered stereotypes in almost every way, I would meet many of the male ones and he the female ones.
And it always made me feel like there was something really wrong with me.
Also I remember one particular quote from a “reader” in the book where the woman said that sex for her husband was a need , like breathing. And that surprised me as I’d been reading your blog for years and you’d pretty much written against that kind of language .
So I’m glad you updated it and I’m looking forward to reading the new version.
Agreed. I’m also happy that you rewrote the sections on consent and obligation – especially the messages about giving him sex whenever he wants. I know your views on that subject have changed since, so it’ll be awesome to see this in the revamped book!
Yes, I was just in a different place and I truly didn’t realize how much this stuff harmed. When we looked at the survey numbers, it was like, “WHOAAAAA.”
This is why we need a data driven approach. We really do.
I believe that God perfectly timed your review of love and respect, for my early marriage months. It was a big change in my beliefs about how a good marriage works, to throw it out!
My parents claim that they follow his stuff and they were my picture of a successful and semi happy marriage.
But I also knew that they’d given my sister that book, as a wedding gift….and a few months before you read/posted, I learned that her marriage had been abusive all 10yrs.
That she had had the book, and you were finding it linked to abuse, made me really think about it.
And that’s when the shift towards believing my opinions MUST hold equal value to my husband happened. Which has been a HUGE help in turning our dire poverty situation, into something better.
I’m so glad, Bethany! And I’m so sorry your family was so messed up (as I know from other comments of yours too).
Your humility is inspiring, Sheila. May we all keep growing as long as we’re on this earth. Happy Valentine’s Day!
True story: When I wrote this I forgot it was Valentine’s Day! I’m so out of it. Well, I shall have to do my Valentine’s Day post tomorrow!
You are so inspiring and I so wish more Christian authors and teachers had your integrity and humility. I’m so excited for this double book launch!
Thank you, Emily!
I am currently reading the Good Guys Guide with my husband, and it is really good! I wish we had this book when we were first married!
It will be a great gift and I think guys will appreciate how straightforward and honest it is. Because, men and women are different, but as you said, the gendered stuff of the past wasn’t really helpful (waffle vs spaghetti, mars and venus, microwave vs crockpot?) What you explain about the sexual response cycle is probably the most important piece and the guys who didn’t get it before are going to have a lot of ah-ha moments!
I am greatful too because I now have language for what I was doing. I had basically figured out the response cycle on my own over the years and how to move through those stages durring sex with my husband even without him really knowing what to do for me. He would jump back and forth through the stages (for me) it seemed too much heavy petting early and not enough when I actually wanted it, but I figured out how to make it work for me all the same. Recently has been more difficult though because he has depression and has started to focus a lot more on himself. Working through childhood stuff with his therapist and realizing that he always believed that sex was dirty. I always had a view of sex that was that it is a gift ofnGod and a good thing! He struggles to accept good things though. I don’t know yet if this book will help him through some of that. He doesn’t initiate anymore and if I try to I am often met with his annoyance and disinterest in sex, which, if you feel like it is a dirty thing and you can’t mentally enjoy it, then yeah, I can see how that would be a struggle. I honestly wondered if we get the good girls guide and read that together if it might help him more some since it is more about how to view sex as a good thing? Well, I am not willing to give up. Also, we are only about to chapter 6! And he said he is enjoying it so I will keep reading it. (I am reading it aloud! Proof that I am more chill with the subject right there) 👍🤣
That’s interesting, Lynne! I’m so glad that you’ve found the book helpful, but, yes, I wonder if your husband may appreciate some of the other messages, or just listening to the podcasts. I’m glad he’s getting therapy. Sometimes it’s just rough in the middle of all that, but I hope you start seeing an end in sight soon.
I’m on the launch team and have finished the Good Guy’s Guide. I loved it. I’m in the middle of Good Girl’s Guide and I’m loving that too.
I’m trying to put myself back 28 years when I was preparing for my wedding — I wish my husband and I would have had these books. I heard the obligation message more after I was married, so having good teaching prior to exposure to that devastating message may have helped me battle it. Who knows, though. That message was everywhere, and books like these would have received major push back then. I’m glad that time is in the past, and I never have to go through it again.
Like Sheila says, “when you know better, do better.” These books follow that philosophy, and it’s so relieving to read a book where women are equal partners in a relationship. I’m so done with being the “less than” partner. Those thoughts are ruts in my brain, so it will take time for this new, good message to erase the bad ones. I’ll be referring to these books often to keep “updating” my thinking and writing over those negative messages.
Of course, I’ll also give the Guy’s Guide to my sons! No way I’m going to leave them stuck with junky thinking.
Great job, Sheila and Keith!!
Thanks, Jen! And thanks for joining the launch team too!
I got married in June of last year. I was 22. I was severely damaged by purity culture (which did not come from my parents—they didn’t even realize those messages were being spread in the church/homeschool/social circles we were part of). Sex terrified me. I wanted to be excited, but I had internalized so many harmful messages and I was generally uneducated, so it was scary. I bought “The Good Girl’s Guide” a few months before my wedding, and I’m so, so grateful for it!! I absolutely devoured your blog and the book, and it gave me so much more confidence. My now-husband and I were finally able to talk about sex, and I was much less ashamed/shy about it. He asked if he could read this magical book, too. (Apparently he was impressed by my newfound confidence in the subject and wanted to know where it came from. 😂) Made our wedding night and beyond so much less scary for me! ☺️
Anyway, just wanted to say how much I appreciate everything you do. (The Great Sex Rescue was also incredible.) Can’t wait to read the new edition of “The Good Girl’s Guide.”
It’s so good to know the original helped you! I’ve been feeling badly about it, so it’s good to know that so many still found it really helpful.
Don’t feel bad – honestly, I came to your book after reading a load of other stuff and it was SO much better, the difference was exponential. Ok, so maybe there was some stuff you could have done better – but your ‘bad’ writing was still an awful lot better than most other people’s ‘good’ writing!
The big takeaways I got from the original which I didn’t find anywhere else:
1) sex SHOULDN’T be painful, but if it is, here’s what to do about it (I’d been told by my gynae that sex WOULD be painful the first few times due to some physical health problems, and I wanted to find out if there was anything I could do to ease it – all I got from other books was that either sex would be pain-free if you didn’t feel ‘guilt’ from previous wrong behaviour or that pain was ‘abnormal’ and would not be a physical problem but rather due to ‘ignorance and fear’. I’m guessing it was meant to be reassuring, but it was the complete opposite for me!)
2) Sex is about so much more than just PIV (great to know when physical health issues mean that can’t happen very often) And the wedding night focus should be on intimacy, not on intercourse.
3) Sex is meant to be mutual and pleasurable for both. And I also appreciated that you gave some clear, non-icky explanations about what happens. Other books were either ‘you shouldn’t read this bit until you’re on honeymoon’ (and I don’t deal well with having info sprung on me last minute – besides, it would be super-weird to be reaching for a ‘how to do sex’ tome in the middle of your wedding night!) or were ‘you just lie there and your new husband will do stuff to you’ which made me feel like some kind of sex toy. Yeeeuuuukkkk!
I’m sure the new GGGTGS is even better than the old one. But for this bride, it would have come two years too late – so I’m beyond grateful for the old version!
Oh, thank you, Anon! That gives me lots of warm fuzzies. 🙂
Sheila, I have so much respect for you. I started following your blog 8 or 9 years ago, and got the Good Girls Guide when I got married (and also got it for a ton of friends in the years following). It takes guts to admit you wish you’d done some things differently, but as a long-time reader, I think it’s been really neat to watch your teachings grow and shift. The Good Girls Guide helped me then, and I think the revised version will be even better. I have no doubt whatsoever that God put you where you are for such a time as this.
Thank you, Hannah.
I’m so glad you rewrote it. My husband and I go against the stereotypes (he’s disabled so he’s not stronger; I struggled with porn and he did not; I was sexually active in my past and he was a virgin; I have a much higher drive, etc) so although I didn’t read the original Good Girl’s Guide I would have been really bugged by it. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with the world!
Sheila, your willingness to look at your own work, ideas, and paradigms with a critical eye is amazing.
Please don’t be hard on yourself; the only perfect person to walk this earth did so 2,000 years ago.
So often, we talk about what in the Bible is a product of its time (e.g. the passages on slavery) =nd what is eternal. If even the Bible has passages that apply to 35 AD more than 2022, don’t beat yourself up over your own book being a product of the aughts!
Related to the substance of your post: while it’s admirable for men to want to give their brides the same wedding night pleasure they experience, that’s not always realistic. From a secular background, I always heard that it is just plain bad for women for a while, but a caring lover will get better at learning what she wants and needs. (That said, the obligation sex message is alive and well there, too.) My husband absorbed the idea that the wedding night is the test of his ability to please his wife???
Yes, I think many guys get the wrong message about the wedding night, too! We try to counter that a lot in the last chapter of each book. I think I’m dedicating a podcast to it coming up.
I’m so excited to have his and hers resources to give as wedding gifts and looking forward to reading both books!
I’m so glad to hear that you even originally wrote it to emphasize spiritual and emotional connection. When my daughter got married in 2013, she told me the Christian website she had gone to for sex advice, so I checked it out, and I was upset that it seemed to only mention the physical. So when my son got married, I went looking for a book that talked about intimacy and spiritual connection. The book I found also talked a lot about damage from sexual abuse, and compassion and healing from that. I’m not sure if that book was ideal, but it sure seemed a lot better than most stuff out there. I’d like to see you rate it. “When Two Become One” by the McCluskeys. The husband is actually a licensed counselor and sex therapist. Lots of good reviews but a few say it has too conservative gender roles, and I would probably agree now, but honestly sometimes you need a book you can hand to super conservative people that they won’t throw out immediately. Sometimes you even need that book yourself as you gradually step out of toxic teachings. But I’m glad you are writing new ones.
I am reading and loving both books! Going through any type of deconstruction and reconstruction is a hard process, and I appreciate your willingness to learn and adapt to do better rather than doubling down on beliefs that are harmful or just not working.
Thank you to you and Kieth for these books. They’re both helpful and healing. We’ve needed them, and they’ll be greatly used!!!
Thank you, Kim!
Sheila, thank you so much for being a great example of humility in this area! I honestly don’t feel like I’ve seen this kind of integrity in most of the conservative churches I’ve been a part of over the last 15 years that I’ve been active in the church. I didn’t even realize that this was probably a way more important thing to look for in a church than “all the right doctrine”. Of course humility is important in conservativism but not nearly as important as having “right” belief.
Glad to say my husband and I are casting off a lot of the pressures we carried for many years because of the teachings of the evangelical community.
God is pretty amazing when you can come to him as who you are instead of having to believe all the correct things first!
So true, Kay! Thanks for the encouragement.
I found your book in a library 6 months after I got married. I had fortunately not absorbed a lot of junk, but I didn’t know much about sex. Your book was hugely helpful- even as it was! I checked out 2-3 other ‘Christian’ books on sex and couldn’t even get through the first chapters because they were so unbelievably awful. I found your blog from your book and even though theologically we don’t agree on everything (cause really, who does!?) I’m still learning a ton from you and so grateful for it! I found out about pelvic floor physical therapists from you and went to see one after my 2nd delivery. Game changer! And I plan to do the same after having this little one in July. I’ve gone from being a newly wed to a mother of 7, (4 with Jesus) while reading your blog. Thank you for faithfully speaking out about healthy, God honoring marriages in spite of the flack the truth stirs up!
Is the publisher going to make a “bundle” of both books? It would be a great gift for an engaged couple!
I will ask them!
I really appreciate your honesty and humility, Sheila. I think it shows that we are all learning and that as we learn new things, we can adapt our perspectives based on this new understanding. Thank you for modelling that and for your real commitment to give good teaching that produces good fruit. It really shows that you care deeply 🙂
I am SO, SO glad that you’ve rewritten this!
I found your blog and book through an internet search years ago when I desperate to find a way to “bring the sexy” back into my marriage after having three children in four years. I was also depressed and struggling with reconciling the purity culture I grew up in with my current views of marriage and sexuality.
I didn’t understand how God would have created such a beautiful, intimate experience only to be enjoyed by the male half of married couples. I was also having such a hard time with the submission and subservience message that I was taught at church growing up.
When I first opened your book and began thumbing through it, I just happened to stop on a page with a big quote on the side that said something along the lines of “…. I just give my husband sex whenever he wants it and there hasn’t been a problem in our marriage yet.” I must admit, I was so upset, I started crying. Here I thought I had finally found someone who “got it” and understood, and yet, within the first five seconds of reading this book that I thought was going to be so helpful, it was just reiterating all the things I had been told since I was 10 – men need sex, women are obligated to provide it. Anything less will lead to marital discord. I immediately hid your book in the back of my closet. I will admit I never touched it again.
After that, it took me a long time to start reading your blog posts and updates again. So many times, I thought I should reach out to you and ask why that terrible message is there, given everything you stand for… Now, I love listening to your podcasts, reading your articles and have shared so much with my husband as I have learned new things about myself and the destructive purity culture messages that permeated so much of my formative years.
I think about how much I’ve changed and grown over the years… Of course – others can, and do, the same. Me, you, all of us – we stretch and learn and grow in wisdom. How humble and honest of you to go back and address this discrepancy. Your commitment to your message is steadfast. THANK YOU!!!! THANK YOU!!!!