Our survey results have completely changed how we talk about sex.
And that likely surprises absolutely no one. But what we weren’t expecting was how much it would keep changing how we talked about things with each new finding. It feels like every 6 weeks Joanna calls us with something new that she’s run and we have a whole new blog series idea!
This week we’re giving you a run-down of our brand new, updated Sex Teachings Rubric (with info on how to download it!) and we’re talking through some of those new stats Joanna ran–and these ones may surprise you!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Sheila: Welcome to The Bare Marriage podcast. I’m Sheila WrayGregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to strip away everything that doesn’t belong on marriage and sex advice and just bring you what is healthy and evidence based and biblical. I am joined today by my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.
Sheila: Or rather I should say you are joined by me.
Rebecca: Yes, I’m going to be mainly hosting the podcast this month as Mom is gone on vacation. We’re all very happy for her and not at all jealous.
Sheila: Yes, I am an illusion. I am not really here.
Sheila: I am currently somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Sheila: Probably on a bird watching tour with my husband.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Sheila: But we are taking my 50th birthday and our 30th anniversary cruise several years late.
Rebecca: Several years makes you sound even older than a few years late.
Sheila: A few years late.
Rebecca: Yeah, so this month when I’m mainly hosting the podcast, we’re going to be talking a ton about peer reviewed research, about the research in the field, what’s coming out. Some really great stuff you guys have sent in over the last few months that we’ve been compiling and waiting for the perfect opportunity to share which is now. So we want to start it off by touching on what we were speaking on last week and introducing you all to our new and updated rubric of healthy teachings about sexuality.
Sheila: Yes, so last week we were looking at an Instagram live that Pastor Josh Howerton from Lakepoint Church–a mega church–in Texas did with his wife where they were talking about sex. We told you some of the things they did really, really well. We told you some of the things that we thought they didn’t handle the best, and our big takeaway from that is that pastors should not be put in the position where they need to talk about their personal sex lives to their congregations.
Rebecca: No. Completely inappropriate.
Sheila: And that we really should be basing sex talks not on personal stories but again on research.
Sheila: I think that’s a much better way to go. We also told you that that book scored neutral on our rubric.
Rebecca: Yeah, teaching. It wasn’t a book.
Sheila: Right, sorry. The Instagram live we applied our rubric to it, and it scored neutral. Now let me tell you about our rubric. When we were writing our book–The Great Sex Rescue–which was based on our survey of 20,000 women, it was also based on a big literature review that we did to look into what goes into healthy sexuality teaching. We combined the literature review with some of our findings from our survey, and we created a 12-point rubric of healthy sexuality. That rubric covers three big areas: infidelity and lust, libido, and mutuality. So there’s four questions in each of three areas, 12 questions altogether. The questions you can score between zero and four on each question. So zero is your lowest possible score. Forty-eight is your highest.
Sheila: Love and Respect scored —
Sheila: Yes, whereas John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work scored 47 as did The Gift of Sex by the Penners so it was very possible to score well, and as we know obviously some books scored very badly. So then your scores — you can either be a healthy book where you’re actively promoting healthy messages, but you’re also actively teaching against harmful ones. You can be a neutral book where some of your stuff is healthy, and some of it’s not. Or you can be a harmful book where you’re actively promoting messages that we know cause harm. Most of the books that we looked at the best-selling evangelical books for The Great Sex Rescue did score in the harmful category. So we want to talk to you not about how Josh Howerton scored per se although we will tell you that but rather the process of scoring him led us to do something new. So I took a look at the Instagram live, and I scored it. I think I scored 30 out of 48.
Rebecca: Yeah, 30 out of 48. He got a solidly neutral category.
Sheila: You scored him, and you got —
Rebecca: Like 29 out of 48, but I can also make an argument for 30 or 31 out of 48.
Sheila: Yeah, and basically on the criteria for infidelity and lust they did really well.
Sheila: Yeah, the criteria for libido they kind of neutral and — well, they weren’t very good.
Rebecca: No, libido they did not do well on.
Sheila: Yeah, you’re right. Libido they did not do well. Then mutuality they were kind of neutral.
Rebecca: Yeah, because again as we talked about last week, the problem with this particular one is they said a lot of things, but it was all with euphemisms. So it’s like we didn’t really know what they were saying.
Sheila: Yeah, so we had one of the three categories was really helpful. One was like really negative, and one was neutral so altogether they were neutral.
Sheila: Yep, but as we were scoring it, we just realized, you know, we should be expecting more.
Rebecca: Mm-hmm, because we were realizing in our original scorecard–we talked about Every Man’s Battle for example. It’s a perfect one. My mom and I when we were both scoring things, we scored very, very, very differently, right? And the question is–is the question of do you have enough to pass or do you have more than the bare minimum kind of thing? Are you doing well, or did you just not get a zero? So for Every Man’s Battle —
Sheila: Yeah, so in the category of infidelity and lust, the very first question was just does the book acknowledge that the blame for the husband’s affair or porn use lies at the feet of the husband or does it at least in part blame the wife? I gave them full marks for that because they had so many chapters — they had multiple chapters in Every Man’s Battle on how you need to take control of your lust. But Rebecca —
Rebecca: I wanted to give them a zero because the whole point of Every Man’s Battle is the only way you can overcome lust is with the help of your wife pretty much.
Sheila: Yeah, she’s the methadone.
Rebecca: Yeah, and so I was like the entire point of this book is that the porn is the husband’s way of sinning when the wife kind of forces him to. That’s how I read the book.
Sheila: So with my scoring they got nine out of 48. If Rebecca had scored, they would have got five out of 48. So basically I was giving points away. Like if you mentioned —
Rebecca: You get a point, and you get a point.
Sheila: You said in one sentence in your book that the woman could have the higher libido, I gave you points for that.
Rebecca: Even if the title of the book was Why He Wants Sex and You Don’t?
Sheila: Yeah, like I gave you points if you mentioned it in a sentence even if the entire book was about something else. We’re like maybe from now on when we’re scoring —
Rebecca: It shouldn’t be bare minimum.
Sheila: We didn’t do this on the rubric when we scored Josh on that rubric, but we said, “You know what? If the primary takeaway someone has in reading your book is this negative message, even if you mention the helpful message, that should matter.” But we also realized there were some things that we really hadn’t spelled out in the rubric because this hadn’t been talked about yet in Christian circles, and so what we would like to propose–drum roll, please–is a pre-GSR rubric and a post-GSR rubric or a pre-Great Sex rubric which is the one that we used. So for books that you’re scoring that were written that came out before The Great Sex Rescue was published and then a rubric for after this has already been in the conversation. We were in Christianity Today recently. Thank you, Christianity Today. So we are entering the conversation. We’re so happy about that, and we are changing the conversation. So we need to start expecting more.
Rebecca: Yeah, and I think though the important thing to say is we’re not saying that if a book would fail by the new GSR standards but it was written before GSR, it’s okay to keep promoting it. What we’re just saying is if you’re a teacher who you wrote a book like 12 years ago and it doesn’t hold up today, the answer is to kind of let that book fade away. It’s not to necessarily like — it’s just the people who are continuing the message today even when it wouldn’t work. We just think it’s a little bit unfair to judge people on research that hadn’t come out yet.
Sheila: Yeah, and so we added new questions. We divided one question into two. So originally we had coercion and obligation sex as the same question, and we divided it into two. So now we have a question on coercion, and we have a question on obligation. This we really thought about with the Howerton Instagram live because they were so good on coercion.
Rebecca: Oh, they excelled in coercion, yeah.
Sheila: Yeah, they really spelled out that marital rape was not okay. That you cannot demand you. You cannot use the Bible to weaponize against your wife. They were so good on that.
Rebecca: But at the same time, they also said that withholding was a way of manipulating using sex.
Sheila: They really made — like you need to repent if you’re not prioritizing sex. So that’s really the obligation sex message.
Rebecca: It really is.
Sheila: So we created an obligation sex question, and I want to read it to you. Does the book treat sex as an obligation for women, telling her that she is depriving him and withholding if she refuses to have sex? Here’s an example of a good score. The book discusses sex as a gift freely given, emphasizes the benefits for the woman, and encourages women to have sex because it’s good for her not because he needs it. A perfect score would be the book does everything in the previous level but also gives examples where a woman refusing sex or not wanting to have sex is the right thing to do and praises her for it, telling the husband that he is in the wrong for pressuring her. So it’s like we need to stop seeing it as an obligation, and I think if frequency is really a problem and she is not prioritizing sex, the way to talk about it is not your husband needs it. It’s like this is something which can really help connect you in your marriage. This has benefits for you too.
Rebecca: Because if you’re doing that, you’re also going to be talking about pleasure, and you will be dealing with a lot of the other issues already where it’s things like, “Hey, if you don’t want to have sex, there’s probably a reason.”
Sheila: Yeah, and then a negative score would be sex is seen as a man’s need that a wife is meant to fulfill. We’d give an automatic zero if the book implies or states that she should provide sexual favors during the postpartum phase or during her period.
Rebecca: Exactly, there’s no excuse for that.
Sheila: There’s no excuse for that. Okay, then we also added a new question about sexual pain or vaginismus because this wasn’t mentioned on our rubric before because basically no one talked about it. So if we had mentioned it, nobody would have scored on it. I think Sheet Music ironically is the only one that dealt with vaginismus well.
Rebecca: It’s under question number 14 on the new rubric. It says does the book talk about female sexual dysfunction specifically dyspareunia such as proper evidenced based treatments or does it ignore the problem altogether? Okay, and dyspareunia is just another word for vaginismus in essence.
Sheila: It’s not —
Rebecca: It’s not but it’s an umbrella term for pain during sex.
Sheila: Yeah, because pain during sex could be caused not just by vaginismus but also like by endometriosis, vestibulodynia. There are other things.
Rebecca: So a perfect answer would be the book mentions sexual pain and mentions the correct route for treatment which is currently pelvic floor physiotherapy and encourages spouses to consider a sex hiatus to make sure that they don’t cause more harm. The emphasis is on the pain and suffering of the wife and the instruction is on how the husband can support her. Then failure — like an utter failure — would be the book mentions sexual pain but implies that the main one suffering is the husband who is not getting release so she must get over it or have sex anyway for his sake. Then another negative but like one step up is the book does not mention sexual pain or mentions sexual pain but offers outdated or incorrect information.
Sheila: Yeah, and this is the only question that we do not have a neutral answer for.
Sheila: All of the questions like if they just don’t talk about libido, then they get a two. It’s like this just isn’t mentioned. If they don’t talk about porn use, they get — there’s a neutral score. But for this one, no. We know that 22.6% of evangelical women suffer from sexual pain of some sort.
Rebecca: At some point in their marriage, yeah.
Sheila: 28% suffer from postpartum pain. So if you do not talk about sexual pain, that is not neutral. That is negative.
Sheila: Because this is such a big problem for so many people, and people don’t realize that this is a real condition that they can get help for. They think this is just how things are.
Rebecca: That’s also why it’s again so important to go with research versus personal experience because if we only talk about personal experience that means that three-quarters of the people speaking assuming that we’re even normally distributed there will not have any reason to think about sexual pain. That seriously impacts a quarter of the couples that they are talking to.
Sheila: Yeah, and interestingly in that Instagram live, they did say that the advice they were giving didn’t count if you were having medical issues which is great except most people who are experiencing vaginismus don’t realize this is an issue that can have treatment.
Rebecca: They don’t see it as a medical issue because a lot of women think that sex just hurts for everyone.
Sheila: Yeah, I was talking to a woman — gosh, it was probably like 15 years ago now — and she was telling me about the problems that she was having. She was like five days into marriage, and they couldn’t have sex. They couldn’t consummate. We went back and forth. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and then it finally dawned on me by some of the things she was saying, he didn’t have an erection.
Sheila: But she had no idea what an erection was, and so they’re trying to put it inside. It ain’t working. Presumably he knew what an erection was, but —
Sheila: — but he wasn’t opening up this was a problem. I had to explain some basic stuff to her, and all of that to say, that when people are having problems with sex, they often don’t realize it’s a problem.
Rebecca: Yeah, or they don’t know what the problem is.
Sheila: They don’t understand. So giving a blanket — this doesn’t apply if you have medical issues, well, when people don’t realize what the medical issues are, a blanket is not enough.
Rebecca: If you did say this does not apply to anyone for whom sex hurts —
Sheila: Yes, that would be okay.
Rebecca: — that’s okay. That’s okay.
Sheila: And sex shouldn’t hurt so please get help if it does. That’s all you need to say really. That’s all you need to say, but it does need to be said because it is such a common problem. Remember, this is an evangelical issue. That’s the thing about vaginismus. Well, I mean it’s also very common in conservative Muslim, conservative Jewish populations.
Rebecca: Conservative religious populations.
Sheila: Conservative religious populations, vaginismus is our problem, and so we need to be talking about it when we talk about sex. Another question that we added — and this was one of my favorite ones — because this is the hill I die on as I said last week. Do you want to read this one?
Rebecca: Sure, I’ll read this one. The question is does the book portray the main enemy of a good sex life as a lack of frequency or does it discuss frequency as a litmus test to the health of the relationship recognizing that few people will choose a sexless marriage with no cause?
Sheila: Yes, because when we frame the problem as frequency and we say she just needs to prioritize more which is what the vast majority of Instagram reels that I’m sent of articles like that Gospel Coalition Canada one, like this Instagram live when they’re talking about frequency and how she needs to prioritize and you don’t mention the orgasm gap, that is a very different message.
Sheila: Because you know what? If there’s an orgasm gap and you are going on and on about how she needs to prioritize sex, what is she going to feel? What is he going to think? He’s going to think, “Yeah, my wife needs to step up to the plate.” But she’s being deprived.
Rebecca: Well, it’s like at some point, it’s like, you know what? People are not — like obviously people are ridiculous. There are ridiculous people out there who are selfish and mean. For the most part though, people do things that feel good. That’s why we all eat potato chips. That’s why we all like ice cream unless you’re lactose intolerant, but most lactose intolerant people — you know what — they’ll still have ice cream. They will bear the consequences because people do things that feel good.
Rebecca: If sex feels good, frankly it should not be that much — it shouldn’t be a fight to get her to have it. The issue is that sex doesn’t feel good for so many women. So the frequency issue was not the first issue. The first issue is that he did not make sex good for her from the beginning.
Sheila: Or it could be something very different. Like we said in The Great Sex Rescue, five things. I’m going to list them.
Sheila: I list them on almost every podcast I’m ever on, and I’ve done them a couple times on this podcast. But what we found in our survey was number 1 if there’s high marital satisfaction — right? Mental load is shared. She’s happy with her marriage — if she feels emotionally close during sex, if there’s no sexual dysfunction on either side, if there is no porn use in the marriage, and if she frequently orgasms, frequency tends to take care of itself.
Rebecca: It really does.
Sheila: So we need to stop framing frequency as the problem and start seeing frequency as the symptom of a different problem.
Rebecca: Yes, the canary in the coal mine.
Sheila: When somebody really doesn’t want sex whether it’s her or him, then we need to start asking, “Okay, what is the underlying reason, and what can we do about that?”
Rebecca: Well, and just another little plug for research, this is also yet another reason why research needs to be first and foremost because let’s talk about frequency, okay? What does frequency mean? What about the men who want sex ten times a week and their wives only want sex twice a week? What? Does she have a problem? No, she doesn’t. Research says it’s perfectly normal as long as you’re having sex around once a week or more, your marriage has all the benefits pretty much. I think there’s a slight increase from like once to twice a week to two to three times a week. After two to three times a week, you’re not really seeing that many more benefits, and actually there’s a sharp drop off.
Sheila: There’s a sharp drop off if you have sex every day.
Rebecca: Yeah, because who’s the kind of person who has sex every day for the most part? There’s a lot of people who are just super like sex, and they just have sex every day. But there’s also a huge swath of people who have severe sex addiction, who have sex — they have porn problems. They’re incredibly sexually entitled. They don’t care about their spouses. The likelihood that two people will want sex every single day in perpetuity is so low. It’s much more likely that one is taking advantage of the other.
Sheila: Yep, yep. So again this is why we need to —
Sheila: — research. So we have expanded the rubric to now it’s out of 60. So instead of having four questions in each of our three categories, there’s now five on infidelity and lust, libido —
Rebecca: On libido and mutuality.
Sheila: — and on mutuality. When we look at that, I think infidelity and lust and coercion is where we put that so that’s why there’s five there. We moved the coercion question.
Sheila: So when we looked at that, here’s what’s interesting. So in the rubric out of 48, we’ll just score them according to me. They got 30 out of 48, and it was neutral.
Rebecca: Yeah, and we’re talking about the Howerton Instagram live.
Sheila: The Howerton Instagram live. On this new one though, the sex rubric 3.0, they actually got 34 out of 60 so they didn’t do that much better because the things that we included that we now think really need to be talked about, they just didn’t handle well. Those are some of the really key things.
Rebecca: I want to say here because I just don’t know who listened in last week. I don’t think that a lot of the things that they failed in are necessarily because they themselves have super harmful beliefs. I think it’s because once again they were put in a position where they were sharing personal details, and to actually say the things that you would be required to say to have it be healthy, with the kind of Instagram live they were doing, it would have had to be way too personal which is why I think this is an argument for why pastors should not be speaking in these kinds of situations from a personal perspective and why it’s kind of ridiculous to expect pastors and their wives to do this. Because I don’t actually even necessarily think that they don’t know that female pleasure matters. It’s just are you really going to talk about that when it’s your wife on the Instagram live?
Rebecca: I wouldn’t want to talk like that with Connor in an Instagram live. We’re talking about the research, of course, but they weren’t talking about research. They were talking about themselves, and I do think that that’s inappropriate which is why research matters not anecdotes.
Sheila: Yeah, exactly, and using the new rubric — so our new one out of 60 which you will be able to have access to. We will put the link where you can download our rubric and scorecard. The new rubric is not in the PDF download, but it is in the Google sheets where you can find the scorecard.
Rebecca: I’m going to be adding it as a new sheet within the same document. So if you go on — you’ll see it there. It’s not going to be a new download so if you’ve already downloaded it and already have the link, you can just go there right now, and it will be there.
Sheila: Yeah, so we’re going to have the sex rubric 1.0 so the pre-Great Sex Rescue rubric that we used for everything, which is appropriate to use for things published before Great Sex Rescue. But then the Great Sex Rescue 2.0 is for books that are published now. So in this one, they scored 34 out of 60, but they actually fell in the harmful category now. They were no longer in the neutral, and that’s because we have a rule that if you fail one of the sections, then you can’t be neutral. So if you fail one section in its entirety, then you are now considered harmful not neutral. They did fail on the mutuality score.
Rebecca: Yeah, because again they just were not willing to talk about women’s sexual pleasure which I personally think is very fair in that context but just shows why the context was wrong.
Sheila: Yeah, and again, like I said last week, I do push back a little bit.
Rebecca: I know, but —
Sheila: I understand what you’re saying. I just have a really hard time with the fact that we’re all comfortable talking about porn use and libido, et cetera, but we can’t mention that she should orgasm. I just have an issue with that. So you can download that. You can take a look at that at our new rubric, and we’re just hoping that we can help people talk about this better. If you are a pastor or a writer in this area, again if you’re a pastor, we don’t think that you should give a sex talk necessarily. If you are going to give one — if you just feel like you have to, then please speak to it from a research standpoint.
Rebecca: I would say —
Sheila: We do have a checklist.
Rebecca: Yeah, and I would say if you’re a pastor and you’re being asked to give a sex talk, why don’t you promote to the church, “Why don’t we just do a Great Sex Rescue study as a church instead?” Let us do the talking because I do think there is an ethical consideration about what pastors are asked to do with this.
Sheila: Yeah, I agree. But there is a checklist that you can download which just has simply our 15 questions, and then you can say, “Hey, am I addressing each of these things in the proper way?” Sometime the way you address them is literally just to say, “Hey, you know what? Sex shouldn’t hurt. If it does, see a pelvic floor physiotherapist.”
Rebecca: Also I’m going to say another quick little thing. If you’re a pastor and you have to talk about sex and you find it really awkward, just use us as the scapegoats. Just say, “I’m going to be speaking from the research done by Sheila Gregoire, Joanna Sawatsky, and Rebecca Lindenbach.” Just say that and then work through our checklist so that if someone is like thinking about it, they aren’t —
Sheila: Picturing you.
Rebecca: It’s clear that it’s not about you, and it’s from a research perspective. That’s just a great way to do it.
Sheila: Yeah , because my goal honestly is for none of you to ever know what I like in bed.
Rebecca: Oh, gosh.
Sheila: I really think I have achieved that.
Rebecca: So far, yeah.
Rebecca: Oh, gosh.
Sheila: That is my goal. I talk about this all the time.
Rebecca: I think it’s a worthy goal that we should all strive for. I think that’s good.
Rebecca: Yep. I am here with Joanna, and we are going to talk about some new numbers that we have not shared with you yet.
Joanna: Because we just ran them.
Rebecca: Yes, they’re new. These are brand new, and so for the last four years what we’ve really been focusing on is figuring out where have the teachings that the church has given on marriage and sexuality, where have we gone wrong? Why are we seeing the hurt that we’re seeing? Why are we seeing a lot of this dysfunction coming from people who got their teaching from the church? But there’s also — we are an evidence-based group. Let’s be honest here. This is what we do. We talk about the evidence. We talk about the research, and we let the research form our opinions rather than the other way around. At least we try to. That’s our goal, right? So we want to talk about a side of the research that we haven’t really talked about as much, and so I want to let Joanna kind of get us started and let us know some of these numbers.
Joanna: Yeah, so what I did is I looked at church attendance in high school and currently. Now notable currently means the very, very, very end of 2019 and the first like five days of 2020. So none of us — like there were not even whispers of a new virus at that point. So we recognize that things would be a little bit different today.
Joanna: But this is slightly pre-pandemic. But when we looked at that, I compared church attendance in high school and today with just a whole suite of marital and sexual satisfaction outcome variables. The ones that we used in Great Sex Rescue. Just doing some more analyses with the same dataset which is amazing and thank you again to everyone who filled out the survey because it is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Rebecca: It’s amazing.
Joanna: Yeah, we keep learning so many things from the dataset. So we really appreciate all of you who are listening who filled it out. Thank you. You’re amazing. Okay, so when we looked at marital and sexual satisfaction based on church attendance, what we found is almost universally that more church attendance was better.
Joanna: Now specifically this is among American Christians so there is that. We’re not comparing Christians to people of other faiths. We’re not doing any of that stuff, but within women who say, “I am a Christian,” more church attendance is protective. So a couple of example numbers. Women who attend church more than once a week were 85% more likely to agree that they are comfortable bringing up difficult conversations with their husbands.
Rebecca: Yeah, and more than once a week would mean like for example you go to church on Sunday and then you also have like maybe a Bible study or maybe you volunteer with the kids’ group on Tuesdays. Your family is involved in church more than once a week kind of thing.
Joanna: Yes, I am not talking about you go to the Sunday morning service. I am old enough to remember the Sunday night service. We’re not talking about that. Church services or activities is the actual question. The once-a-week crowd also scored better on this one. They were 48% more likely to be comfortable bringing up difficult conversations.
Rebecca: Do you mean 48% more likely than whom then?
Joanna: Than the people who attended once a year or less.
Rebecca: Okay, so people who —
Rebecca: — people who said, “I believe in Jesus,” but they don’t have a congregation that they are a part of. This is pre-COVID too.
Joanna: Yes, yes. Pre-COVID.
Rebecca: That’s really interesting because what I think this says to me is that we’re not arguing that there’s not harmful teachings. Goodness, gracious, no. The entire podcast, the entire blog, our entire book is pretty much about helping us fix the harm, but what this does show me is that there are a lot of places that are doing good.
Joanna: Yeah, and we found — again, we found that women who attend church more regularly believe that their opinions are as important as their husband’s. They’re more likely to not think that their husband is being tempted by other women or by pornography. They’re more comfortable bringing up what they want sexually. They say that their husbands pay more priority to their sexual pleasure — to the woman’s sexual pleasure.
Rebecca: Yes, that’s an important pronoun to explain.
Joanna: To their.
Rebecca: Is it his sexual pleasure? No, her sexual pleasure. So in essence what we’re saying is women going to church frequently tend to have actually genuinely pretty happy marriages.
Joanna: Yeah, they’re better, right? Even when we look at sex closeness — sorry, I called a variable in my dataset sex closeness. So that’s what I am looking at, but what that actually is measuring is having a sense of intimacy during sex. Women who attend church more frequently are more likely to report feeling close to their husbands during sex which is exactly what we want to see. It’s exactly what your mom talks about all the time.
Rebecca: It’s also what we see when we look at other people’s research as well which is what I love about these particular results I’ll be honest. Because we have our study and we’re really proud of our study, but no matter how big your study is, no matter how many studies you’ve done, you always want it to be able to be kind of comparatively — you want it to make sense with the other research that is already out there. There is so much research out there that shows that religiosity helps marriages. Genuinely it’s just kind of a given at this point in the psychology realm. Religiosity tends to lead to happier marriages. It tends to lead to better sex lives. It tends to lead to all these different things. There’s a lot of reasons for that, right? If you’re highly religious and you’re incredibly invested in your church community, who are you likely to marry? You’re likely to marry someone who is also highly invested in their church community. Now that’s going to include for a lot of people — that’s going to include — there are going to be bad people everywhere. But the people who are really pro-social, who really want to make the world a better place, who want to look like Jesus, who want to serve Christ, they’re also going to be there. So I think this is one of the things where it’s great to see that our research is echoing back what is just kind of accepted already in the research community because it helps in essence to validate our study as well.
Joanna: Absolutely. It was really exciting. We have lots of new questions that we’re able to ask with our dataset, but there’s also lots of things that have already been evaluated. It’s really nice when some things line up. It makes me feel really good about the job that we did honestly.
Rebecca: We kind of need both because we also had the new stuff. Think about these as like the anchor questions, right? Like people who are listening in, there’s — we had all the new stuff. That’s our big, flashy — it’s what we’re trying to figure out the obligation sex message and how that affected us. But if we don’t have those anchor questions where we can compare our study to someone else’s, then there’s really not an easy way to validate our new questions. If our questions that are also found in other research are lining up with what other research found and what we should expect, then we can be much more confident that our new questions should also be relatively valid so that we know that we’re measuring what we want to measure. Just so that people know. That’s why we made sure to have so many questions in here that you can actually find word for word in other surveys or you can find them asking pretty much the exact same thing so that we can compare and contrast and say, “Okay, did we find a totally different outcome than others?” If that’s the case, do we need to kind of have a little bit of doubt about what we found, or is it going to make sense? So that’s just a little bit about psychometrics for anyone who is interested in knowing how we validate things. That’s just one of the many ways. It’s really, really encouraging every single time you run something like this, and frankly it makes sense with the data that is already out there.
Joanna: Yeah, so it’s actually been really funny because I’ll be running stats late at night. I’m two hours behind you guys. It will be late, late, late for you both. I’ll think, “They’re probably in bed, but I found this new thing. I have to text them.” Then I’ll shoot you both a text saying how over the moon excited I am that we found such-and-such. Your mom will respond as animated as me if not slightly more so. Rebecca will be like, “Yeah, sounds about right.”
Rebecca: Yeah. I know. I’m always the one who’s just incredibly boring whenever we find stats because I immediately go into the psych brain where it’s like have I read studies that say? Yeah, I’ve read a lot of studies that say that. That makes sense to me. That’s good. It’s very funny.
Joanna: We tick the box. It’s always very gratifying. It’s gratifying that it’s new and exciting, but it’s also gratifying that it’s not that new and not that exciting.
Rebecca: That it makes sense. It’s new, but it’s logical. So with that being said, there was one area where frequent church attendance did not lead to a good outcome. Can you talk about that?
Joanna: No, yes. This was not true for your more than once a week crowd. Your once a year or less people and your more than a once-a-week people — there was no statistically significant different, but you’re a few times a year, a few times a month, once a week, that whole bunch in the middle, they had lower rates of orgasm than the people who never attended or who attended more than once a week.
Rebecca: So we’re saying the people who orgasmed the most — the women who had the highest rates of orgasm are those who either didn’t go to church at all —
Rebecca: — or those who went to church a lot?
Joanna: Yeah, and your once a year or less people did the best. More than once just wasn’t statistically significant as a difference, and then the other groups were below that.
Rebecca: Got it. Yeah, I really wonder how much that is then because frankly if you are — this is a lot of what we talk about in chapter four of The Great Sex Rescue in my opinion. When I’m looking at this, there’s a lot of research that’s coming out that I’m actually going to be talking about on the blog a lot I believe next week. I may have already done it this week. I’m going to be honest, guys, I am working on the blog while my mom is gone. I am very — there’s a lot of stuff going on in my brain right now. So at some point, there’s going to be a blog post about modern research and orgasm rates among women. But one of the studies that has come out recently has found that whether or not you have an orgasm the first time you have sex makes a really big different for your long-term sex life. This to me makes sense based on our focus group data that we wouldn’t do as well if you attend church every now and then or you attend church relatively frequently because if you’re someone who is a Christian and you are involved in a religious setting, you are more likely to be a virgin on your wedding night, right? We know that. It’s not just from our research. We know that from tons of research. Christians tend to have less extramarital sex so there you are. We ran a really informal poll as we were writing The Great Sex Rescue where we asked people, “Hey, for women who were virgins on their wedding night, the first time you had sex, were you aroused?” Yes, or no? A lot of people said no, but you know what needs to happen before you can have an orgasm? Arousal. Quite frankly sex is just easier if the first time you have sex it feels really, really good. So I wonder how much of it is just that people who go to church more often are having sex for the first time without really understanding what arousal and orgasm feels like for her because a lot of Christian women don’t have great sex education.
Joanna: Oh, yes, we have many of those stats in our upcoming book.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s coming up later. We’ll share those ones later.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a big part of it. I do think it’s sad that while everything else is positive for more church attendance it’s quite sad and it’s an indictment of the church that in this area — it’s really important. It seems like the ball is just being dropped. That there’s not — I don’t think that it is a hot take to say that orgasm is very important.
Rebecca: It shouldn’t be anyway. It should not be.
Joanna: Yeah, and it was quite sad that this is the one that is varying from the trend elsewhere.
Rebecca: Yeah, I agree. I do want to now ask you as we’ve been talking about all of the benefits of church and how church is really actually does tend to lead to better marriages, better sex lives, happier couples, all that kind of stuff. Actually even more equality in marriages. Feeling like your needs matter just as much as your spouse’s, feeling like you can talk about anything, bring up hard conversations. So in essence, you’re less likely to live out the Love and Respect marriage if you’re going to church frequently than if you’re not going to church frequently. How do we kind of bring that together with our knowledge that a lot of people are really hurt by the church? So I’ll let you —
Joanna: So essentially why did we write The Great Sex Rescue?
Rebecca: Exactly. If things are so great, why did we write the book?
Joanna: Yep. Well, it’s because for two things. First of all, the mean is not the entire distribution curve. If you look at — I mean, goodness. Think about your kid. I have an app for my children’s height because I’m really short, and my husband is really tall. Heaven knows where my children will end up because it could be anywhere. Every time I measure them against the wall or they go to the doctor’s office, I stick it in my phone, and it tells me what percentile they’re in because while the average woman is 5’5″, we are not at all surprised when you see somebody — a woman who is 5’11” walking down the street or me at 5’1″ walking down the street. Sure, you’re less likely to see someone who varies a lot from the mean. If you see a man who is over 7′ tall walking around, you’re going to look up, but we see a large distribution. So part of it is that. We’re measuring averages not measuring your personal experience. Additionally though — and more importantly actually than that — we found that the teachings that we looked at were very harmful, and those teachings are also highly correlated with church attendance. So there are safe churches that do a lot of good, and there are unsafe churches that do a lot of harm.
Rebecca: There are also churches where if you are in a good marriage, you’re going to be fine, but if you’re in a bad marriage, it’s going to do even more harm, right, because you don’t realize it’s bad until you have to talk to the pastor. So there’s three types of churches. There are ones that are just genuinely safe.
Rebecca: That are going to have people who have a lot of benefits from being involved in the community. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect. These are the churches where you talk about how we’re a community of people. We’re not perfect. It’s imperfect people meeting together. That’s those communities. They actually are genuinely good. They’re really living out the body of Christ. Then there’s the truly bad ones where there’s a lot of spiritual abuse. You’re taking advantage of your congregants maybe. You really believe in promoting a lot of messages that are teaching women to act in a way in their marriages that undermines their humanity and undermines their dignity and encourages men to objectify and consume women rather than honor and respect them the way that Christ did. So there’s there two opposite ends of the spectrum, but then there’s also the middle where you have churches where it’s good if it’s good for you, and it’s bad if it’s bad for you. Maybe you’re someone who is in a good marriage, who has healthy parenting techniques, who has frankly a lot of stuff going for you, and you’re not going to be harmed because it’s kind of a wishy-washy church in terms of whether it teaches these things or not because it only teaches them behind closed doors. So if you’re not behind those closed doors, you’re okay. So that’s where you get these churches where you have all these people saying, “What are you talking about? It’s super healthy. It’s great.” It’s like yeah, because you don’t see what’s going on behind closed doors. The goal is to get to a church that is still safe behind closed doors.
Rebecca: And they do exist. They really do, and that’s what our stats are really showing.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Jesus is good.
Joanna: There’s good fruit. That’s the really good news. I think we understandably and prudently — goodness, we have 2,000 years of church history to reckon with where the ways in which the church has hurt people and failed to live up to our calling. But simultaneously while we absolutely need to be calling that out and repenting and doing what we can to right the wrongs, we also can celebrate and acknowledge the good fruit.
Rebecca: Yeah, and I think that’s what difficult is you have to live in that tension of we know that we are — again, I say this all the time. We serve a God who left the 99 to go after the lost one. He didn’t say it’s just one. I really hope that research like this that shows this is what it’s supposed to be like is something that kind of charges frankly those of us who are the 99 where our marriages haven’t been destroyed by the church. We’ve actually had a lot of benefits to our marriages because of the church. What we’re able to do is come around and protect the lost one from any hired hands or wolves who would want to take them away. That’s what I hope is we can show with the data and with the research this is what it should be. This is what we’re aiming for. This is where we’re doing things really well for the most part. So now let’s figure out what about those people who are still experiencing the damaging effects. How can we get them to get the true benefits that we should be having as a part of the body of Christ?
Joanna: Yep, now I do want to give one big caveat to this. Not a caveat actually. I do want to just make sure that we talk about what important part in analyzing this data because when we first started finding things about church attendance, I was thinking immediately about something in public health that we call the healthy worker effect which is that if you compare people who are working to people who aren’t working you are always going to find that the workers are doing better than the non-workers because a lot — if you can’t work, you definitionally will not be working. So on average people who are unemployed have poorer health and are just doing less well overall than those who are employed. So we have to just be aware of that when we’re doing statistics. I thought, “Well, I mean maybe there’s something like that for churches.” So I said, “Rebecca, do you think maybe it’s that people don’t go to church — like you have to be able to get yourself there every week. You have to have some privilege to be able to make the commitment to go frequently.” That’s what we’re measuring as opposed to actually measuring benefits from church attendance.
Rebecca: Yeah, and that’s a really good question. I will say though that what we were talking about is that in all of the research that I went through in my undergrad too — there’s been a lot of research out there including the giant Harvard study which is just anyone — it’s just an amazing study. They followed the same people throughout literally their entire lives. I think they’re still tracking them.
Joanna: They’re studying their children and grandchildren. That study pretty much just says come at me, bro.
Rebecca: With any question, any limitation you want to throw at a study. Like no, I am ironclad. It’s amazing. They’re looking at multiple generations of families. They’re looking at whether or not you did X way back in 1932 whether it affects your grandchildren today or whatever it is. It’s very, very interesting. It’s an amazing study, and they actually did study the effects of religiosity. They looked at whether or not is it that healthy people go to church or is it that regardless of how healthy you are church helps? It really is the latter which is really quite interesting. It’s that church is just helpful. It’s not that healthy people — it’s not a self-selecting group is what we’re saying. There’s lots of reasons on that. Additionally I know this is anecdotal. This is not actual peer reviewed research study, but practically every single of my highly atheist professors at school whenever we talked about mental health and working in a holistic kind of client centered protocol treatment plan a lot of them said that they actually recommend going to religious services for religious clients because being involved in a religious community has amazing mental health benefits for the most part. If you’re in a healthy one obviously. Yeah, this is the thing where the benefits are just actually so strong in the research that even my incredibly personally anti-church professors actually recommend a church to their clients. You have to do it if you’re doing evidence-based practice because the evidence is really there. So that’s really an interesting perspective as well where is it just like healthy people like church? No, it’s just that church actually does make you healthy in a lot of ways. It makes sense, right? Going to church teaches us that we’re not the center of the universe and that alone takes so much weight off of a lot of things. It puts things in perspective, right? We’re more likely to practice gratitude. We’re more likely to be living a life of service. We have purpose. We have hope. There are so many benefits, and I know that as someone who’s gone through a very painful and difficult journey with my faith over the last few years specifically because of this work, that to me is really quite a strong lifeline.
Joanna: Totally, and I think for you and I when it comes to church, we’re both in the position where it’s really — we went to Focus on the Family, and we said, “Do you care about women who are being hurt?” They didn’t care. For us, it was truly a betrayal. So there’s a lot of hurt there. There have been many people with power who we had hoped would care about the sheep and who have not.
Joanna: Yet all three of us have been tried really hard to cling to the ancient mast of our faith and to cling to the cross. That has looked differently for each of us. We’ve ended up — all three of us have changed churches. That has been — for you and I precipitated in part by moving, but still we’re in churches that we would not have considered before.
Rebecca: Yes, very much so.
Joanna: So we do just want to — we want to offer our personal experiences here, not as a “thou shalt.”
Joanna: Because again we’re talking about means and not about —
Rebecca: Means is another word for average for anyone who hasn’t done any statistics.
Joanna: Sorry, I keep forgetting what is normal vernacular and what is not. Mean just means what’s normal, what’s expected, what’s the average, that kind of thing. My husband is a lawyer, and he will occasionally use jargon. Honestly I don’t know.
Rebecca: We do the exact same thing.
Joanna: We do the exact same thing. Exactly. So we want to give that caveat. The other thing is if you are dealing with profound church hurt or even just a lot of church hurt — I don’t want to gatekeep that and say you have to have a certain amount of church hurt and then you’re allowed to not go to church. But if you don’t feel up to going to church because you’ve been hurt by the body of Christ, first of all, that’s a huge betrayal. Second of all, take time to heal. God is with you, and God is for you. So we don’t want to be a shaming place of saying, “You need to be getting back into a pew as soon as you can. If you’re not working actively and if you don’t have a plan to reengage in a church, you are failing. You’re suffering in Christ.”
Joanna: Like that is not the goal here. However, flip side of that, you might be going, “Hmm, you know, COVID happened,” and so took a bit of a church break which was — both of us.” I watched online church for a few weeks, and then did — the break was honestly healing in the midst of the book coming out and all of the difficulties there. But if you’re wondering if maybe is it the time to reengage, we do want to encourage you that there is good in churches.
Joanna: We also want to give an example. We were talking about this. We were planning out this podcast as dinner was being prepped. I said, “You know, Rebecca, you and I both have the goal of feeding our kids healthy food, teaching them to like to eat vegetables. We both have kids with allergies. We’ve had to deal with that. But the way that we procure our veggies is entirely different.
Rebecca: You’re in a downtown environment. I have a really nice backyard that I can have our own garden so I have a lot of my own garden and produce. I go to a lot of orchards, and you do a lot of farmer’s markets downtown. We get to the same place.
Joanna: Our kids like carrots. Mostly. My daughter doesn’t really like them, but you know, we’re working at it. We’re getting to the point where — our goal is vegetable eating children. Based on where we’re at and the peculiarities of our locations quite literally, I do not have a backyard. I cannot garden. Even if we do garden, we won’t be able to get the amount of crops that you guys can because we have a smaller footprint. We also live in a part of the country where there aren’t orchards. But you have that ability and so you go and you pick berries, and it’s amazing. But I don’t need to sit by and go — I don’t need to covet Rebecca’s berry picking abilities. Occasionally I’d like to.
Rebecca: Really what we’re saying is that all these benefits that we’re seeing about church — it’s not only the kind of church that you grew up in. This is about all churches, right? So you might be in a situation where you’re like, “Man, I just don’t think I can go back to that church,” and we’re saying maybe you don’t have to. This research does not show that going to one specific denomination is necessarily better than any other. So if you’re someone who has always gone to one particular denomination and you’re really struggling to find God there and you’re really feeling hurt and just kind of burnt out, try something new. I don’t really think that we give a lot of credibility to the idea of trying new denominations a lot of times because sometimes it can become — I’m going to be honest — it can be a little bit tribal where it’s like it’s our way or the high way situation. We’re the only ones who know God, and I think that there’s a lot of room for understanding that we can disagree on things and still know God. I hope that we can just encourage anyone who is in the same boat as us where we were kind of in a situation where it’s like we got to make a decision. We got to figure out what we’re doing. We can’t keep kind of floating around. We’ve got kids. We want our kids to be raised in the faith. We want our kids to love Jesus. We want our kids to know people who can really pour into their lives. Knowing that the evidence shows how good it is for kids and for us, it was just that last little push that made it really easy to put in the effort to really find a good congregation even though we knew it was going to be frustrating. We knew there were going to be some growing pains. We knew it was going to be starting from round — starting from the ground floor all over again. I guess that’s just what we wanted to talk about here. Again we talk a lot about the harm church has done but we are an evidence-based group, and the evidence shows that there are really damaging teachings in the church. There is toxic, toxic stuff going on that needs to be weeded out, and it needs to be ripped up at the roots. It needs to be thrown into the fire, and the Bible uses a lot of very graphic imagery to talk about what should be done when there’s bad stuff going on. But what we can all take heart in is knowing that even though we have a long way to go as a church to really meet our true calling, there’s a lot of hope in knowing that even though there are a lot of places in the church as a whole that are really failing, there are also a lot of places in the church as a whole that are doing really well, and that are bearing good fruit. If you’re having a hard time finding it, cast a wider net, and see where God takes you. That’s all I’m going to say.
Joanna: Absolutely. I do want to tell a quick story about my four-year-old. Because this is my hope for us. So we have been attending an Anglican church here in Edmonton, and the first time that we went there was a woman priest presiding. So we went up at the end for communion, and our daughter received a blessing. On the walk home, she looked up at me, and her eyes were so excited. She said, “Mommy, it was a girl.” Every week at the start of the service, there’s a processional, and so the choir walks in following the cross that is being held by one priest. Then after that comes the head priest for the church. Every week, she’s like the pied piper. As she walks down the aisle and around the back and up the center aisle, the children usher out from their little pew seats, and they go up with her to the front for a little children’s moment. My little daughter scurries out as quickly as she can to go and take Pastor Sue’s hand. I just think about that so much that Jesus is our tender shepherd, and I see such tenderness in my daughter’s experience of the church. My hope is that her experience of church is ever like that.
Joanna: There’s always a place where she’s safe and where she feels that she can be comforted and experience the Lord.
Joanna: That’s my hope for all of us, that we would find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Rebecca: Absolutely. Well, that’s a great way to end our research segment for this week. So that’s our new research is that we talk a lot about the doom and gloom, but there is still hope. There is still good fruit. It just might mean that we got to look. Thank you so much for tuning into The Bare Marriage podcast this week. I hope that you found it encouraging and fun, and I hope it made you think. Make sure that you check out the links that we mentioned in this episode including the new rubric and the checklist for pastors who want to talk about this in a healthy way. You can find those both in the blog podcast that goes along with this episode. You’ll find a link to that in the podcast notes if you’re listening to this on a podcast listener instead of embedded on the blog itself. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. Until next time, we’ll see you later. Bye.
Timeline of the Podcast
First segment: the updated rubric!
We originally wrote our rubric back in 2020, when we were coming out with The Great Sex Rescue, based on the results of our research.
And honestly, the rubric asked a lot of these books, but it was still pretty easy to score really well in a lot of categories! We tried to make it achievable (and considering lots of books scored really well, we believe it was).
However, we feel like now that The Great Sex Rescue has been out for almost two years, now that the culture at large is talking about women’s sexuality and there has been a research boom over the last five years in this area, it’s time we stepped it up a notch.
Now there’s no excuse to not know about vaginismus if you’re putting yourself in the position of a sex expert. Now there’s no excuse to not mention women’s pleasure (not that there ever really was one before), and we want an updated rubric to reflect that.
So if you’ve downloaded the rubric before, you can go to the same link as you had previously and you’ll find the updated rubric. If you haven’t ever gotten it before (or if you lost the link!) you can go sign up here.
We have had some of our lovely patrons work through books they’re reading with our rubric and it’s always fascinating to see what scores they give them and why! We love seeing it being used to help people discern what is helpful and what is not, and to put words to some of those “funny feelings” we get when we read things that just seem a bit “off.” I hope it helps you, too!
Second segment: Is Church Good?
Then, Joanna and I work through some new stats Joanna has run with our dataset to answer the question: how does church attendance affect the outcomes we measured?
I want to say that there are a lot of voices in this space that ridicule and berate people who are deconstructing or currently spiritually homeless by just saying “Go to church, the Bible says so,” or “You’re just being bitter, get back in a church because it’s good for you.” That’s not what we want to do here.
We have to hold in tension two things that are both true: First, some people have been very, very harmed by the church and are in a period of mourning and healing. That may be done best in seclusion right now, and that is for no one to decide but that person and God. But secondly, church as a whole is a protective factor for a lot of life’s struggles. Going to church is related to having happier marriages, better sex lives, and higher feelings of equality in marriages, according to our research. Other studies have found that church attendance increases mental wellbeing, lowers the rate of substance use, increases overall health outcomes, and also just generally gives you a sense of hope and purpose that is less present among those who do not attend a congregation (reference).
So hear us say: if you are in a period where going to church is not an option for you because you are working through grief or trauma from church hurt, you will get zero condemnation here. This podcast is not really for you, since you’re dealing with something different.
But to those of you who are in the same boat as people like me, where we’ve deconstructed a lot and need to be reminded of the big picture as we wade back into church community, I hope that this evidence-based look at church attendance can help you ground yourself, give you hope, and encourage you to keep working to not just go to church, but to find people in your community who are really following Jesus and joining Christ where He is already working. I know that data is always what I fall back on when I lose sight of my “why,” and church is no exception. This has been such a good reminder for me personally, especially for how it affects my kids who I want to be able to grow up in an intergenerational faith community.
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- The Great Sex Rescue, our book based on findings from our 20,000 women survey!
- Last week’s podcast on the Instagram Live by Josh and Jana Howerton
- Our Rubric of Healthy Sex Teachings, plus the checklist for pastors!
That’s all we have for today! I hope you enjoyed this podcast and that it encouraged you. I’d love to hear if you’ve ever used our rubric to score a book or a sermon–and if you ever do use it to score something, you can always send it to us! We love seeing people use it, especially if something scores really well!
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!