RESEARCH DEEP DIVE: Bring Back Vanilla Sex!

by | Oct 28, 2022 | Sexual Intimacy | 18 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Are we making sex more difficult than it needs to be?

This is the last post in our research deep dive series that we’ve been doing this month, as we’ve looked at what some new peer reviewed studies say about libido, how we see lust, and more.

I want to end on something that multiple studies have shown, including ours, that I think often gets lost in the shuffle.

The biggest predictor of sexual satisfaction in marriage is not how many hot things you do, but how high your marital satisfaction is.

And as we talk about in The Great Sex Rescue, we teased out which causes what, and it does look like a great marriage influences sexual satisfaction far more than orgasm rates influence marital satisfaction. Yes, the causation goes both ways, but a great sex life cannot create a great marriage when there are other issues, while a great marriage often leads to a great sex life.

When Rebecca was doing our thorough literature review as we were writing The Great Sex Rescue, looking at what other studies said about the biggest contributing factors to women reaching orgasm, do you know what one consistent one was? Kissing during sex.

Feeling like you are emotionally connected during sex leads to better sex. 

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So hear me out on this one, because this can sound different from what we often hear.

But the key to great sex is not trying a different position every night; it’s not becoming more acrobatic; it’s not dressing up or playing games or having a suitcase full of toys you lug around.

The key to great sex is not being hotter but being closer. 

I’m not saying other play or other positions are wrong–but I think we can make sex sound like so much work! Unless it’s going to be an hours long affair with multiple changes of clothing with lingerie and multiple positions etc etc etc then we’re missing out.

Again, nothing wrong with all of these things. Play is great! Play is fun! Sex is play, and adding more laughter to the bedroom is awesome (and I’ve got some Sexy Dares to help you do that!). 

But here’s what it comes down to:

Healthy play results from a safe, fun marriage. It doesn’t create one.

And it also isn’t the main thing! The main thing is a fulfilling sex life, and while some people may find it super fun to swing from the chandeliers, you do not need to.

So often when people want to fix a dead sex life, they’re told to role play, or get toys, or try new things.

Nope. Back the truck up.

If you want to fix a dead sex life, some of those fixes may result in more orgasms (though not necessarily), but it will not fix the underlying problem and could even exacerbate it.

The underlying problem is usually the lack of connection.

But let’s back the truck up even further. 

What if the reason that we misdiagnose the problem is because we misunderstand sex?

We talk about sex as if it’s a commodity–something your marriage has, that you get (or take). 

Think about how we talk about sex:

  • I need more sex
  • I need sex
  • How do I get more sex?
  • How to have hot sex

What if instead we see sex as an experience that flows out of our relationship? An integrated part of our relationship? So it’s not something separate that we get, but it’s something that grows? (Rebecca hates it when I use the word “grows” anywhere near something to do with sex, but you know what I mean!)

I was thinking of all of this when I published another Fixed it For You on Instagram last night:


Gary Thomas Bragging about Wife Sex

Look at how the insinuation is that the reason that he is happy he married her is because she knows how to give a good handjob. And note the normalization of bragging to other men about what your wife is like in bed.

In this ethos, sex isn’t something you experience that is an expression of how you feel about each other and something that flows out of what is happening in your relationship, but instead the foundation of what creates that relationship.

It’s something outside of  your relationship, rather than your relationship embodied.

There’s so much wrong with this quote from Gary Thomas, and Rebecca will be addressing some more of it in our weekly email that goes out this afternoon (if you’re not signed up for our emails yet, you need to!).

But what I want to hammer home today is this:

Research shows that what we often think of as “vanilla” sex can actually be a beautiful and fulfilling expression of your relationship.


"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

The constant quest for hotter and hotter, I think, is partly from a pornographic view of sex. When we have that way of seeing sex, we don’t necessarily experience the arousal rush that comes from connection. We see sex as depersonalized, not as personalized, and so getting turned on just with your partner is harder.

In this mindset, for sex to be hot, it has to be an entity of itself, not something that flows from relationship.

Porn is all about conquest and taking; it’s not about intimacy. And so intimacy, in this mindset, becomes a turn-off, not a turn-on.

But when we have an integrated view of sex, where it is something that flows from everything we are, then it isn’t swinging from the chandelier or becoming an expert in hand jobs that makes sex hot; it’s simply bringing each other pleasure while truly “knowing” each other.

And if what you both find works is one thing, that’s okay to do that one thing! If you guys are more playful and want to try different positions, that’s great too! As long as sex flows from your relationship, rather than something outside of your relationship that you see as a “thing.”

I’m hoping that makes some sense, because we’re going to start next month’s series on Getting out of the Pit you may have dug for yourself on exactly this.

Until we see sex as something that flows from relationship; until we have a paradigm shift about what sex is; we will never dig out of the pit.

Many of us are driving our spouses farther apart because we’re making sex seem ugly, threatening, and cheap, rather than something that shows how you feel about each other.

Instead of honoring each other through sex, we’re depersonalizing and objectifying the other.

That’s what dug the pit, and you can’t get out of it without addressing the cause. So stay tuned for that next week!

But for today, let’s remember: connection is the aphrodisiac, not gymnastics. and that’s okay. 


In Praise of Vanilla Sex

What do you think? How do we find the balance between hot and close? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Blue

    Spot on! A perfect response to both the secular pornified view of sex, and the unfortunate mirror image of this that exists in some religious circles. Also, these are great talking points for parents to give to their kids when explaining why we discourage them from participating in hookup culture.

  2. BC97

    For 21 years my husband and I had sex at least every other day; sometimes more and he had to have it every which way. He was recreating the porn he watched and expected me to do fulfill all those fantasies and, like a good Christian wife, I did. There was NEVER any intimacy. Only sex. And we both orgasmed every time.

    Fast forward to my new marriage. We’ve been married 3.5 years. This husband has never watched porn and it’s obvious. The intimacy is out of this world. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. He is content and we are happy. Everyone comments about our love. I actually told him a few months into our marriage that I was so thankful for vanilla sex, after so many years of being a performer for my former husband. It was exhausting.

    This husband tells me that sex is just an extension of the marriage. It’s a great one, yes, but he says it naturally flows out from the intimacy we share the rest of the time. He holds my hand everywhere we go; he holds me all night long (and we sleep naked; I wasn’t safe to do that with my former husband); he is a partner in the home; we talk; we laugh and tease; he is the best lover a wife could ask for. He is kind and good. He is just as good, if not better, IN the home than outside of the home. My 17 yo daughter looks up to him and loves him for his example. He is the real deal. I look forward to sex now. It’s no longer a tool to use to keep the husband happy for a couple days. That’s what I had to do before. Then even that quit working. He was just mean all the time. Even hours after having his fantasies fulfilled and my body exhausted from the use of it.

    And I can attest that there is a most definitely a pornified style of relating. There is so much more I could say but it might be TMI. Lol

  3. exwifeofasexaddict

    Absolutely agree that the pornifed view of sex and women is the cause of the pit. My ex had that view. He’s not even a bad man, but he saw sex as an entitlement, and also my appearance being pleasing to him as an entitlement. This has to end if we want marriages to last and be healthy and well.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It does need to end! And so many people see it as an entitlement because that’s what they’ve been taught. We need to stop it.

  4. Laura

    Love this! Vanilla sex is what I’m after and that’s a wonderful thing!

    In my first marriage, my ex wanted to try kinky things and we had books on Karma Sutra. I was much younger at the time and curious, but then he wanted weirder stuff which I refused. Fast forward to nearly 20 years later, I’m single and in my mid-40s and still find that men want weird stuff. Probably why I have remained celibate since the divorce. Some men I have dated or getting to know want to know what kind of things I like sexually. Seriously? I would not know because I have been celibate a long time and I don’t think asking me these things is appropriate when these men either don’t know me that well. To them, it’s like so important to know what a woman likes in bed before committing to her. But, then again, it’s that pornified view of sex. It doesn’t help that Hollywood hypes up sex and then there’s so Harlequin romance novels where the first time in bed is just perfect. Purity culture is not the only thing to blame for the devastation of sex lives; it’s also mainstream culture.

    So, I love kissing during sex and the basic stuff. Those are great things to start out with and then gradually build up to what works for both people.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  5. J

    This! This! So much this! I had such a struggle with wanting/accepting/being comfortable with the fact
    I wanted sex for years and one of the biggest turning points for me was realizing just this – sex is an expression of the relationship and feelings that are there. It doesn’t matter how or what you do (within reason) or don’t do as such, it is about expressing the closeness and intimacy you share. As soon as I realized that, the next time we were together my husband noticed a huge, YUGE difference.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that!

  6. S

    Sheila, This might be one of my favorite posts of yours. This seems like a simple post but it actually addresses so much. Thank you for putting into words things I have had in my mind. In fact, lately I’ve been explaining to my husband (after hearing friends make comments about sex that leave me unsettled) that “Sex is an experience.” And I keep explaining that I wish more people understood that. That experience is made possible through true connection and intimacy.

    I do think that even though I have had wonderful experiences with my husband due to true connection and marital satisfaction, I can still sometimes get caught up in this erroneous way of thinking.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you appreciated it! Thank you for the encouragement.

  7. Chris

    We may not realize just how much fun kissing is until dental procedures puts a moratorium on kissing for weeks at a time!

    I have also found that some of our most intimate moments flow out of times of praying together that ended with a kiss. This has brought us closer together than anything else because of the vulnerability in honestly communicating wirh the God who knows us completely. When marital intimacy comes after enjoying communion with the God who made us & brought us together for His good purpose there is an aspect of worship in it that is just beautiful.

  8. Lisa

    Completely agree. This is an excellent post. And I think this is part of why so many of reacted so negatively to “Married Sex” published in 2021. In the year 2021 we still had an Evangelical sex/marriage book telling women they need to “get creative” so that he can be happy. (Remember the cringey note about make-up brushes and silk scarves? Duly noted there was no such direction given to men.) I wonder if men often being raised without knowledge of how to grow intimacy keeps them searching for something novel. If they only experience sex as “physical release,” then it’s going to be very unsatisfying. These books (along with porn) tell them they are unsatisfied because they need novelty (Dennis Prager says they need a variety of women as their novelty). So they try to seek satisfaction with sexual novelty rather than deeper intimacy.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very true, Lisa!

  9. Tanya

    Amen! Good sex flows out of a good connection with good intimacy. You simply can’t try to do it backwards and create intimacy and connection through sexual experiences. It’s so funny because we don’t apply this logic to most other relationships. We don’t expect to have a good friendship because we enjoyed a roller coaster ride together but never spent time hanging out and really getting to know each other. Sure, the roller coaster would still be fun, but in and of itself, it doesn’t create relationship or fix any relationship problems. Some marriages seek the high of the roller coaster and expect that high to sustain the rest of their marriage. But it’s all backwards.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree.

      • CM

        So good to know science backs what we live in our marriage and seems weird to some people. We got married 2 yrs ago, best friends and both virgins. We discovered sex together. Yet I like to think we began our sex life during the engagement by hugs, giggles, fights for fun … Non Christian friends use to wonder why we got married without knowing if we had sex compatibility. That makes me laugh because sex is a relationship. We built compatibility. It takes roots in frienship and daily care to one another.

  10. Dani

    I often (because of poor conditioning) feel bad our sex life isn’t more interesting but ‘boring’ is what works for me and since my husband cares about what works for me, that’s what we do. He is fine with it but the messaging is strong!

  11. Anonymous

    I agree! I thought that sex was supposed to be creative and wild and I’m shocked how much I love plain old ‘vanilla’ intimacy. It feels wonderful to just simply connect with my partner.

    That being said I sometimes have trouble staying in the moment and I recently heard that people with ADHD can sometimes use a little novelty (it doesn’t have to be anything crazy) in the bedroom to keep them focused on their partner. I found this very helpful and validating as a neuro-diverse person. As a woman, I find it can already be hard to be present in a intimate moment when body issues etc. get in the way. ADHD sometimes just adds to that for me.
    I just wanted to share in case someone else might find this helpful!


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