It’s the podcast where we redefine sex–and talk about how it’s about more than the penis!
Today on the podcast I’m introducing the series we’ve been going through this month on the blog–how to recover when one of you, or both of you, have dug your sex life into a pit.
And as we’ve been talking about, it begins with understanding the four steps to recovery, the first of which is redefining sex. We need to understand that the presence of a penis does not bring magical pleasure, intimacy, or joy for women. Sex needs to be about both of you.
We’ve had this podcast going around the back of our minds for several months now, and we kept jotting down notes, but we couldn’t figure out what the commonality was. And then we realized it: we’re hyper focused on the power of the penis, and it really does distort how we see sex. I know that sounds crass, but I hope you hear us out, because I think that’s what’s going on here. And it needs to stop.
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
1:45 “Men have a need for sex, women have the gift of sex”
10:00 The skewed viewing of sexuality
14:00 TW: Appalling ways churches may treat rape
18:45 Sex should flow naturally from the relationship
27:10 The route out of the pit (Rebecca joins)
32:45 A reader’s experience regarding safety
39:30 Why do women leave marriages?
48:10 Ending with an encouraging email
How does this myth manifest itself?
I started by reading Keith a quote from XO Marriage (which platforms Mark Driscoll), which is quite typical:
God gave men the need for sex and women the gift of sex. Sex is the magnet God gave him to keep drawing him back to you. The way to meet your husband’s need for sex is to, first of all, communicate to him that you accept his need and you’re committed to meeting it.
Men are much more visually and physically driven than women. They want to see their wives—either naked or in lingerie (not flannel, not canvas), and they want sexual touching, not non-sexual touching.
Another way to meet your husband’s need for sex is to be more sexual than you feel. Just like I tell men that it doesn’t matter how they feel about talking, they need to meet that need for their wives, it doesn’t matter how you feel about sex. Your husband needs you to be sexual. You can’t match libidos—meaning having sex when you both feel like it—you’ll have sex about eight times before you die. That’s not just for the husband—twenty percent of women have a stronger libido than their husband—you meet your spouse’s needs, regardless.
This quote is very typical of the way evangelicalism talks about sex. It’s a man’s need that a woman provides. Sex is for him, not her. She has to make herself seem excited, when she’s not, so that he benefits. She will never understand how much he needs it.
As we showed at length in The Great Sex Rescue, this is not how the Bible talks about sex. In the Bible, sex is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. It isn’t focused on the man.
Let’s follow this logic further, though.
If sex is supposed to be a gift from God, then what gift, exactly, is she getting in this scenario where sex is for him?
And the only answer we could come up with is the penis.
It seems as if many authors and leaders believe that the penis is magical (again, sorry for being crass, but I hope you let us make our case by listening in!).
Even the way we talk about sex as a gift, and talk about how it makes you feel happier and closer and sleep better, is off, because sex has these benefits when it’s intimate and orgasmic, not when it’s one-sided intercourse. The penis alone does not bestow these things; it’s making sex holistic and for women too.
But think about how we conceive of the penis:
- We think that having intercourse changes a girl’s identity far more than it does a guy’s, since virginity is more highly prized in females.
- Former SBC pastor Nathan Jolly said that women should kill themselves rather than being raped, since another man’s penis renders her unworthy of life, apparently.
- Men send “dick pics”, thinking this will excite women, when most women find this very creepy, invasive, and abusive. Or else they just laugh.
- We assume that women enjoy giving sexual favors, because they get to be near the penis.
Remember when Gary Thomas depicted women getting aroused giving manual stimulation to their frustrated husbands while these women are newly postpartum? He thinks this will get her excited (for a minority it does; for the majority it does not, we found. And the minority that DOES get excited does so because their sex life is characterized by play and mutuality, not one-sided obligation).
We need to get over this myth and understand that most women need something other than the penis to receive pleasure.
And the penis does not change a woman’s identity. I think if we could get over this myth that puts the male anatomy front and center, and leaves women by the wayside, we could create a sex life that was fulfilling and intimate for both, as is our aim.
But if we continue to center sex around the man, then we’re going to dig that pit for our sex life, and find it more and more difficult to emerge from.
I hope you enjoy this week’s podcast–next week we’ll tackle how to rebuild safety, and what to do when your sex life has been characterized by learned helplessness.
"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.
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Our Patreon: Support us for as little as $5 a month to help us branch out and continue this movement
- The Great Sex Rescue: our book that goes into what’s wrong with the XO Marriage article
- Article by XO Marriage on the Four Needs of a Man
- Our series on our 4 step recovery plan when sex has become a major issue, including one story on what recovery looks like
- Article by Matthew Fray on Safety for Women
- Last week’s podcast featuring Jay Stringer
- Our podcast looking at postpartum sexual favors
- Nathaniel Jolly’s take on rape (major trigger warning)
What do you think? Have you seen the myth of the magic penis in action? Let us know in the comments below!
Sheila: Welcome to The Bare Marriage podcast. I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.
Keith: Hey, everyone.
Sheila: And I’m joined by Keith, my husband, and we are going to talk about a new series that we are doing on the blog this month about how to dig out of the pit–
Sheila: –when you have a dug a hole for yourself with your sex life and things are just not going well. I thought who better to have on than —
Keith: Than me. Oh, yeah, no. I make no secret of the fact that I made a lot of mistakes earlier in our marriage. We talk about that a lot in all of our books and stuff.
Sheila: We both dug some pits pretty badly, but before we —
Keith: Because we were doing it the way we were told to as good Christians.
Keith: As opposed to just being decent people. Anyway that’s a story for a different day.
Sheila: Exactly, but before we launch into that, special shoutout and thank you to our patrons who help support the work that we’re doing and trying to expand this message. We’re really grateful to all the people who have joined our community and who are dedicated to healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice. Their money helps us move beyond what we’re doing and starting some really big initiatives. We’re doing two more surveys next year. We’ve got some really neat online projects that we want to start, and so it’s that money that funds it. So thank you for being part of that, everybody. If you would like to join, the link is in the podcast notes to patreon.com/baremarriage for as little as $5 a month. It’s so awesome.
Keith: It’s a fun group.
Sheila: Mm-hmm, yeah, actually it is. It’s a great Facebook group. We really like it. Okay, babe, I want to talk about why we can sometimes end up in this pit. To do that, I have something to read to you.
Sheila: So one of the reasons I think that we can end up in this pit is that we have a totally wrong view of what sex is, and to illustrate that, I have a passage that I want to read to you from an article by Jimmy Evans, who’s the head of XO Marriage. This is from his article The Four Major Needs of a Man. So this is one of the pinnacle articles on his site. This is like one of the main ways that he talks about–
Keith: Yes, I know where this is going.
Keith: Because I was taught all this stuff when I was a young evangelical man too.
Sheila: Right, so let’s start with this sentence, “God gave men the need for sex and women the gift of sex.”
Sheila: Okay, and I’m going to keep going, and then we can talk about it. “Sex is the magnet God gave him to keep drawing him back to you. They way to meet your husband’s need for sex is to, first of all, communicate to him that you accept his need and you’re committed to meeting it. Men are much more visually and physically driven than women. They want to see their wives–either naked or in lingerie (not flannel, not canvas), and they want sexual touching, not non-sexual touching. Another way to meet your husband’s need for sex is to be more sexual than you feel. Just like I tell men that it doesn’t matter how they feel about talking, they need to meet that need for their wives, it doesn’t matter how you feel about sex. Your husband needs you to be sexual. You can’t match libidos–meaning having sex when you both feel like it–you’ll have sex about eight times before you die. That’s not just for the husband–twenty percent of women have a stronger libido than their husband–you meet your spouse’s needs, regardless.”
Keith: Okay, well, at least there was a throwaway line that sometimes women can have the higher libido because it’s very stereotypical before that.
Sheila: Yes, yes, but here’s what I got from this article especially. So God gave men the need for sex and women the gift of sex. So sex is something that she gives, and he gets or he takes.
Keith: Yeah, and he needs it.
Sheila: And he needs it.
Keith: It’s not a gift for him. It’s a need. It’s a drive. He can’t help it.
Sheila: Right, and if he needs it, then she is obligated to provide it.
Keith: Only if she wants to be a good, Christian wife.
Keith: She’s not obligated, but all the good, Christian wives do.
Sheila: But here’s what I really want to get at for this, okay? If we see sex as something which she gives to him, then sex is a thing.
Keith: It’s a commodity.
Sheila: Exactly, that’s the word I was about to use. It’s a commodity. It’s something that is outside of you that you give to someone else, and it’s kind of like it’s separate from the rest of your relationship. That’s actually what he says. It doesn’t matter how you feel.
Keith: Yes, exactly.
Sheila: It doesn’t matter how you feel.
Keith: We hear that all the time in the church, constantly. It’s like this is something you need to do. It may feel forced. That was Kevin Leman in Sheet Music, right?
Sheila: Kevin Leman in Sheet Music, yeah.
Keith: All the time we hear this.
Sheila: But if sex is something which is outside of you, something that you have to give, then sex becomes something really impersonal.
Keith: Well, it’s a transaction.
Sheila: It’s a transaction, and I think this is at the root of how we dig our pits.
Keith: I think a lot of it, yeah.
Sheila: This is really the root is that we don’t understand what sex is. So we think of sex as something which is separate from us. It’s outside of us. It’s outside of the relationship. It’s just something that I have to give you no matter what.
Keith: Sort of. We think that way for men.
Keith: We accept that women see sex as this holistic thing which is more than just physical, and that’s a weird thing that women do. But men don’t do that because men see sex as just sex.
Keith: Because that’s the way that God made men.
Sheila: It’s funny because when you look at how–when the church tries to talk about sex in a mutual way, but they still believe this, it actually doesn’t make sense.
Keith: That’s right.
Sheila: Because when you say things for instance like sex is a beautiful gift from God.
Keith: That I absolutely have to have or I can’t survive, and you’d better give it to me as an alternative to porn.
Keith: It’s a beautiful gift.
Sheila: But if sex is a beautiful gift from God and sex is something which she gives and he takes, how is it a gift for her?
Sheila: Like what is it that she is getting, and this I think is a question that a lot of us haven’t asked. A lot of pastors haven’t asked, and this is often why we end up in this pit because we’ve totally got a wrong view of sex. I think it comes back–I have something. I want to throw this out there, okay? I just want you to see if you agree with this, but I call it–ready? The myth of the magic penis. Okay?
Sheila: I think we have this idea that the gift that she is getting–
Keith: Oh, yeah, okay.
Sheila: –is his penis because the question like what exactly is she is getting in this whole thing. It’s like what she is getting is the penis. I have some support for that.
Keith: Okay. I’m going to reserve my comments until I hear the whole thesis.
Sheila: And then look at the phenomenon–I’m sorry to get crass for a minute–but look at the phenomenon of dick pics.
Keith: Right. I never understood that.
Sheila: I don’t really either. Like why do men send them? I think it is a way of asserting power over someone because you’re shocking them and making them feel whatever. But I think it’s also bragging like look at this that I have. It’s weird. Most women find this–
Keith: I find that weird too. I don’t get it.
Sheila: I don’t get it. Or we’ve shared this one before, Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta’s book Married Sex, Gary in one of his sections was explaining to a woman who was asking, “Why does my husband want a hand job when he could do it better himself?” She obviously didn’t want to do this, and he was explaining what was so great in a postpartum situation for instance when you can’t have intercourse. Some of the things that made it so great was how excited she was getting, how her breathing was getting more excited, the wetness between her thighs. So he was explaining her getting physically aroused giving a hand job when she’s postpartum.
Keith: Exactly, so it’s like the idea that men want a woman who is engaged and it’s a good experience for her is actually I think a good thing, right?
Keith: But instead of saying–what we’re seeing in the church is this crisis of libido that women don’t want to have sex. So all these kinds of articles like you need to do it even if you don’t feel like it. That’s our response. It’s not, “Hey, why is it that she’s not enjoying it?” It’s a, “You need to do it anyway,” is our mentality. Why don’t we ask the question what is she getting out of this?
Sheila: Yeah, and we have–but I actually wonder if a lot of these men think that their penis is that powerful. Now I am not saying by the way that people can’t enjoy giving hand jobs postpartum, but what we found is that when your sex life is characterized by play and mutuality, people often really enjoy giving these sexual favors.
Sheila: It makes them feel powerful. They just have fun, and it’s great. But when your sex life is characterized by obligation this is not fun. Giving a hand job postpartum is not fun, and in the context of this section in this book he’s talking to a woman who doesn’t want to do it–
Sheila: –and convincing her why this is fun and why this is a good thing.
Keith: By telling her because you’re so excited doing it, he’s going to be excited.
Keith: So again not only is she responsible for doing this for him, she’s also responsible for making herself feel excited even if she isn’t as opposed–
Sheila: That’s exactly what XO Marriage said. You need to act more than you feel.
Keith: –as opposed to saying, “Maybe our view of male sexuality is a bit skewed,” right?
Keith: We have this view that men just want sex. They don’t want all that connection. It’s like when we find that you are connected you have the best sex. This should make us rethink our view of masculinity and sex, but we’re so committed to this idol of masculinity like the magic penis. This is like phallic worship. It’s crazy, and it’s an idol.
Sheila: Yeah, you know there was this story that was shared in our book The Great Sex Rescue which was based on our survey of 20,000 women to see how certain evangelical teachings regarding sex and marriage impacted marital and sexual satisfaction. We also drew from a lot of comments and questions that had come in, and I talked about one question that a man had sent in. He admitted that he had been abusive early in the marriage, that he really neglected her, and one day she had just had enough. She said, “No more sex. I am just–that’s it. I’m done.” She wasn’t going to leave the marriage, but basically she just emotionally cut herself off and sexually cut herself off from him. A couple years into this, he had a major moment where he realized how terrible he had been and so he started doing the dishes and being really kind to her. So basically doing all the stuff he should have been doing all along. She agreed after his repeated requests to give him an orgasm, but she still didn’t want intercourse. So what would happen is he would ask for sex, and she would take a day or two to decide whether she was up for it. Then she would give him a hand job basically. He was really upset. In this letter what he was saying to me is, “I don’t understand why she doesn’t enjoy giving me an orgasm.”
Sheila: Again we have the myth of the magic penis.
Keith: The issue here is that she–there’s something wrong with her because she’s not giving me what I need as a man.
Keith: Because he’s been taught that by the Christian church.
Sheila: It’s not just that she’s not giving it. Why doesn’t she enjoy it?
Keith: I know, but the point I’m trying to say is that he’s been taught from a very young age like in the evangelical church this is a need you have. By agreeing to marry you, she is contracting to meet that need. We don’t see sex as something that flows out of a good relationship. We see sex as a transactional thing that he gets. I watched the chick flick so now you need to have sex with me because that’s the deal. Somewhere along the line if we’re Christians that should twig that maybe we’re off track. The one I think about is in Every Heart Restored. The story of the woman who said she was never going to say no to her husband, and so basically he just used her as a sperm receptacle.
Sheila: Yeah, she actually called herself a human toilet for semen.
Keith: Yeah, he just kept–every time, multiple times a day because she never said no. He just thought, “Go wild.” They’re explaining this afterward, and they’re saying, “Your sexuality was made for your husband, and your husband was made to complete your sexuality.” They realize that this story doesn’t show that. They realized their conclusion is but men just don’t have that Christian view of sex as opposed to saying, “Hey, men, if your sexuality is 100% taking, you are not doing sex the way God intended.”
Keith: That is totally antithetical to a Christian worldview. Entitlement and Christianity should not go together.
Keith: Yet that’s the message we get all the time, and what is she getting out of it?
Sheila: What is she getting out of it?
Keith: The magic penis.
Sheila: The magic penis.
Keith: That’s enough. That’s all she can expect. It’s crazy.
Sheila: There’s another aspect to this which I find even sadder that’s been in a lot of evangelical literature is the idea that once she has experienced a penis her identity is forever changed.
Keith: Yeah, and the double standards of that kind of stuff.
Sheila: Yeah, so because when we think of a girl and her worth as being in her virginity which is very much what was preached–
Keith: What’s taught.
Sheila: –during purity culture, what I think they never grappled with properly is that that also means that her identity could be stolen from her. That if she has another man’s penis inside her, her identity has now forever changed even if that was not consensual. I mean it’s problematic enough anyway that you’re saying that her identity changes even if it was consensual, but putting that on top of it–okay, trigger warning–I want to tell you about something a terrible pastor said. Okay, but this is gross.
Keith: Which involves–
Sheila: Which involves some rape so yeah. There is a terrible, terrible guy, Nathaniel Jolly. I think he’s a pastor in Alaska. He was with the SBC. I think he left them recently, but he made news. I put a blog post up about this where he was talking on Twitter about how if something is really rape, a woman would fight back and she’d be willing to be killed rather than be raped.
Keith: Right, I remember this.
Sheila: So what he is insinuating is if she’s still alive, she wasn’t really raped because a Christian woman would not want that to happen and she wouldn’t allow it to happen. But the idea that it is so bad to have another man’s penis inside you that you would be better off dead is part of the myth of the magic penis. It is so utterly misogynistic. I cannot believe that there were not–that it was women calling this guy out primarily and not any of the high-ups in the evangelical church when it went so big on Twitter. I would really like to see men come to women’s defense sometimes which is why I’m so grateful for you, babe.
Keith: Yeah, I know, but I think you’re right. I think we as men need to do a better job of standing up for our sisters in these areas. A lot of times we just keep our–I don’t see a lot of men making these arguments. To me it is a Christian argument, it’s not about men or women. It’s not about–like it gets pitched as well, you want to meet women’s needs, but you don’t want to meet men’s needs. If you think that by saying we need to get rid of obligation sex and we need to have only mutual totally non-coerced, satisfying intimate sex, if you think that’s anti-men, your view of masculinity needs to change. I mean I don’t know how to say it. I mean when the authors of Every Heart Restored—
Sheila: Which is part of the Every Man’s Battle series, by the way.
Keith: –were telling this story and so their conclusion was but men just don’t have that Christian view of sex. I mean like it’s not surprising because Every Man’s Battle says, “We see the reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there simply just by being male.” I mean this is what they believe about men that we are disgusting, lust monsters who can’t control ourselves. It’s up to women to keep us pure. We just take that. We accept that. We let women live in fear of us. Why? Why don’t men stand up and say this? Say this is ridiculous. This is not the way I am. This is not the way my God made me. I think more men need to stand up. I think it’s time.
Sheila: It is. It is. I think more men are awakening to the fact that they need intimacy as well. Yes, a lot of men have channeled their needs for intimacy into sex, and so sex feels like this big, oversized need. It’s like this big hole that can never be totally filled which is a terrible analogy to use when you’re talking about sex, but you know what I mean. It’s like it can never be filled because you put things on sex that were never supposed to be on it.
Keith: Yeah, and a lot of people preach that men need sex–like it’s a need of men that they need sex–also are the kind of people that preach men are tough and strong and don’t have emotions and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s where all those feelings are going is sex. So it’s like instead of me working on my crap and being confident in myself so that I can bring something to the bedroom for us to share together, it’s like a you need to make me feel like a man because I’m not allowed to express my insecurities. It’s ridiculous.
Sheila: Which goes along great with our podcast last week with Jay Stringer. If you didn’t listen to that, please listen to it and get his book Unwanted. It’s really great. Let’s go back to this idea that sex is something separate from us, like it’s a commodity.
Keith: Again this is Gnosticism. This is like separating the body and the mind, the body and the spirit.
Keith: Which is not a Christian idea.
Keith: Again, but it’s all through the church.
Sheila: Exactly. If we see sex as something separate from us, then we get this idea that sex should look the same no matter what else is going on in our relationship. So sex should never change, and that’s where we get the 72-hour rule where the James Dobson started in 1977 or something in a book. Everybody repeated it. It wasn’t based on anything. But this idea that men need sex every 72 hours. In the book Intended for Pleasure, they said that in the postpartum phase when intercourse is off the table, make sure that you give manual stimulation at the same rate as you did before you were pregnant so that he gets the same amount.
Keith: So it’s really important for you, ladies, now that you’ve just shoved a baby out of your pelvis to remember you got to keep your game up with your husband because you don’t want to neglect that.
Keith: I mean come on. Men, men, like when we hear that, like can we not go, “No, all right, that works for me.” Can we just say, “Holy crap, that’s ridiculous”? This is the time for me to take care of you. Can we not say that as men? Like come on, guys, we’re better than that.
Keith: Sorry, I just went off.
Sheila: This is the thing. I’m not man bashing when I talk about this stuff. I actually believe men are better than this.
Keith: Why is it that these crazy psycho people who think that sex is like this are the ones who wrote all our men’s books? It’s ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous. Anyway, sorry.
Sheila: Which is why we need people like Jay Stringer and Andrew Bauman and Michael John Cusick and great, great people.
Keith: And why you need to read The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex.
Keith: Shameless plug–
Sheila: Shameless plug for the book.
Keith: –for the book you and I wrote.
Sheila: Yes, I’m talking about all these other guys, but you know what? We’re all doing great work. I’m proud to be partnering with so many great people. But it’s not just the postpartum area where this gets complicated. It’s like if sex–let’s imagine that sex is not a commodity but instead–wait for it. I know this will be totally revolutionary–but instead that sex is actually the natural expression of your relationship. Woah. Imagine.
Keith: Imagine having a wife who wants to have sex with you because that’s something–you’re drawn to each other. This is something you want to experience with each other. Imagine it flowing naturally out of a relationship that is based upon respect, trust, all those good things.
Sheila: Yeah, so imagine that sex is the culmination of your relationship, that it’s the physically acting out of how you feel about each other, that it’s the physically acting out of everything that you are.
Keith: So that’s called holistic.
Sheila: Right, exactly.
Keith: But only women are like that. Men are compartmentalized. Oh my gosh.
Sheila: Actually they’re not.
Keith: They’re not. It’s totally ridiculous. There’s healthy and unhealthy. If we have a view of masculinity that is profoundly unhealthy and has been scientifically shown to not be healthy and moreover is Gnostic, not Christian, maybe we need to change our view of what masculinity is.
Sheila: Yeah, so we want to be healthy for both people so sex holistic expression of your relationship. But that means that it is okay that your sex life is on par and reflects what is happening in your lives and in your relationship. So for instance, if his mom died and he’s just in a grieving place, she should not expect sex to be as hot as it has been in the past. There shouldn’t be those expectations. Instead sex may be something that maybe you don’t have for a while or maybe you turn to sex out of comfort or something, but’s something far more–
Keith: It grows out of who you are as a couple.
Sheila: –profound, and how you’re both feeling. Or if she’s super stressed because there’s a major issue with the kids, and she’s getting called because the kids are getting bullied at school. She’s really stressed about how to handle this, and she’s wondering if she’s a good mom and everything. She may not feel like sex tonight, and that’s okay because her need may be more to have him support her and help her figure out how to handle the bullying at school. But instead what we’ve taught couples is no matter what is happening, the sex needs to look the same because it’s separate from you. He has these needs. They need to be fulfilled. You need to be in lingerie. You need to act more than you feel. All the things that Jimmy Evans said, and that has nothing to do with sex being intimate.
Keith: No. Well, it also really–that very quickly can lead to the person in the relationship who has the higher drive feeling that it’s not my responsibility to engage them so that they want this like I do. It’s their responsibility to provide it to me because that’s the deal. You know what I mean? That’s typically men because men tend to have the drives especially in the evangelical circles.
Keith: But it breeds selfish lovers because it’s an expectation as opposed to something that is naturally flowing out of where we’re at.
Sheila: Right, and I think this is why our sex lives often get put in this pit, and why we end up in this pit we don’t know how to climb out of it is because we see sex in the wrong way, and we need to redefine it. That sex is not merely about the penis. Even the way we think about sex. It begins when the penis enters. It ends when he finishes. Anything extra is extra. Anything else is extra. That’s not the way most women receive pleasure, and so we need to get out of this male focused idea of sex. We need to instead see sex as something which is holistic. Even those ideas–and I used to say this–oh gosh, I used to say this all the time, and I will change this line in my talk that I give–where I would say that sex helps you sleep.
Sheila: No, it doesn’t.
Sheila: Orgasmic sex helps you sleep.
Sheila: Sex alone does not help her sleep. It’s having the orgasm that makes you sleep, and if you don’t have the orgasm sleep can actually be more difficult.
Keith: Because you’re frustrated.
Sheila: Exactly. Or you feel used if you’re one of the women–I think it was 18% of women, their primary emotion after intercourse is negative. I feel used. I feel disconnected, whatever. So if sex is making you feel more disconnected, sex is actually making your relationship worse. The more we have sex like that, the more you create distance between you. Then when that distance happens assuming he’s the one with the higher sex drive, he wants even more sex to prove to himself they’re still close. So you’re getting into this terrible cycle.
Keith: Yeah, and it’s the only way he knows how to express his need is through sex. Then what we do in the church is we tell her to give it anyway as opposed to saying, “Let’s repair the damage that has been done.” So what happens is the hole gets dug deeper and deeper and deeper because we never actually deal with the underlying issue which is that we are seeing sex as a transactional thing as opposed to creating a relationship where it naturally flows.
Sheila: Yeah, exactly. I already did a Fixed-It For You on Jimmy Evans’ first sentence there that God gave men the need for sex and women the gift of sex. But if you ever hear that in your church, if you ever hear a pastor saying that, if you ever hear that in a women’s group, just realize it’s not true and speak up. Especially if you’re a guy, please speak up because we need to get back to the actual biblical way of seeing sex, mutual, intimate, pleasurable for both as an integrated, holistic part of your relationship which is expressing what is already there. It isn’t something that you have to force, to make look the same no matter what in order to keep your man happy because that ain’t going to work. That’s only going to dig the pit deeper. All right, I have brough Rebecca, my daughter and co-author of The Great Sex Rescue and our upcoming book She Deserves Better for moms of daughters, onto the podcast now because I want to continue this conversation.
Sheila: Because we’ve been having this wider conversation on the blog about how to get out of the pit, and your dad and I–I know that always sounds weird to talk about your dad and I when we were talking about sex.
Rebecca: Honestly at this point, my brain just has to be calloused.
Sheila: Right, but your dad and I were talking about the need to redefine sex.
Sheila: On the blog what I’m trying to present is a four-point plan on how you can dig out of the pit when it just seems like sex is something which is always filled with tension because one person wants it, one person doesn’t, one person is chronically dissatisfied. One person feels used.
Rebecca: Whatever it is.
Sheila: Whatever it might be, and how do we repair this. Often the answer that you’ll hear in church is you just need to have sex more. You need to prioritize sex. You need to realize that it’s a gift from God. You need to figure out your road blocks and deal with your road blocks.
Rebecca: Yeah, but all this is done–
Sheila: So that you can embrace sex because he needs it.
Rebecca: Yeah, but all of this is done with the overarching message that sex is something he needs and she does not. Sex is something for him, not for her.
Sheila: Right, so what I’m suggesting is that you can’t actually dig out of this pit without going through these four steps. This is the only route out. It really is. We heard this route over and over again doing the focus groups, which you mostly did for Great Sex Rescue. We’ve seen it in research, et cetera, and here it is. Number one is redefining sex like we talked about with your dad.
Rebecca: Yeah, you can’t have sex still be something that isn’t taking.
Sheila: Yeah, it’s not a transaction. It’s a holistic part of your relationship which means what happens in your relationship it’s okay if that’s reflected in your sex life. It should be.
Sheila: So that’s number one, redefining sex. Number two is safety.
Sheila: You both need to feel safe. That’s what I want to talk about for most of this podcast and for next week because I think it’s the big missing piece.
Rebecca: I think also when we talk about safety it’s also very important to actually define what safety means because this is something that is defined very differently among men and among women a lot of times. Because we hear from commenters all the time, from male commenters who–I’ll be honest–from their commenting background are very entitled men and very much see sex as something that they deserve even if she has no pleasure. They’ll say things like, “I don’t feel safe in the relationship knowing that I’m being rejected. I don’t feel safe to ask her for sex if I know that she’s not going to want it.” I think that we need to talk about what safe actually means.
Rebecca: Because I think for a lot of–a lot of times if you’ve been raised in an entitlement context, safe means I don’t have to experience the natural consequences of my actions. Safe is I am safe from negative experiences. That’s not safety because safety doesn’t happen at the expense of someone else.
Rebecca: If you can only be safe if something else is not, that’s not safe. That’s entitlement. So it might feel very uncomfortable to initiate sex with a wife who doesn’t want to have sex that’s not necessarily not being safe. So we need to be very careful that–you can’t just say, “Well, I feel unsafe,” and now you get a veto card on anything. No, we need to actually talk about this in a realistic, healthy way.
Sheila: Which is why the redefining sex has to come first because she will never feel safe.
Sheila: And he won’t ever actually feel safe either unless you have this proper view of sex which is that it isn’t an entitlement. It is the natural outflow of your relationship. That needs to come first. Safety. Next step is building affection. So just feeling comfortable with each other. Building that nonsexual touch. Feeling like you have a relationship to build on–
Sheila: –because sex is the culmination of the relationship and so we need to have the relationship first. So affection and then rebuilding sex.
Sheila: We’re not going to spend a lot of time on the blog talking about those latter two things because quite frankly I’ve done that so much on the blog already.
Rebecca: There’s so much content on those.
Sheila: But what really people get hung up on is the redefining sex and the safety. That’s what I want to go into. We had a really good story that was on the blog. I’ll link to that in the podcast notes of a man who’s on a multiyear journey towards this, and he had to really understand that he had totally messed things up with his wife because he had gone into marriage assuming that he was entitled. He had seriously hurt her.
Rebecca: We actually hear from a lot of men who have this kind of come to Jesus moment, and they really wake up. They do it. They do the work. They actually do save their marriages. They save their sex lives, but not just that. They actually are able to give their spouse the gift the marriage always should have had. They’re able to work back and be Christ to their spouse by pouring themselves out and doing what they need to do in order to fix the relationship.
Sheila: But this is not something that is done in five days.
Sheila: This is something which can take five years. Depending on the amount of damage that’s done, it’s going to take longer to undo it and how much damage was done. So it does take a while, and that’s why those first two-parts redefining sex and safety are so important. Let’s go into safety for a little bit.
Sheila: I want to read you an email which is an example of a woman who doesn’t feel safe.
Rebecca: Awesome. Let’s go. Well, not awesome about not feeling safe. Yeah, let’s read the email.
Sheila: “I really don’t want to have sex. I just know my husband needs it to be able to function. We have sex one to two times a week minus dragon week. Her period. So I understand that three times a month at minimum is not going to be enough. However, I have an unspoken resentment towards him for all the things he’s done wrong regarding sex for the last 14 years and before we were married. It just makes me clam up more. We can’t talk about it because we’ve tried, and it just leads to more frustration and hurting each other. If we could delete sex completely, we would be very happily married. We have no plan or desire ever to separate. I have also desperately wished that he could have a concubine, but obviously those wishes can’t come true.” She goes on to just say how desperate she is, like how do you help a wife who wants to honor her husband’s need for sex but needs to forgive him and probably herself for past and present issues and move on? So here she is. She’s just not safe.
Rebecca: No, she does not feel safe. There has been major hurt. I know we don’t have all the information, but when I hear that she can’t talk about the hurt because they just hurt each other more how–maybe she says things in an insensitive way, but I also do get a little bit concerned if he’s someone who has “sexual needs” that she feels guilty about to the extent that she wishes she could just find someone else to screw in essence. That’s what this is, right? I do wonder how much of it is that he feels hurt by being told he did things wrong because again we just see this so often that this is something we need to be able to talk about. It is not mean to tell you that you did something wrong if you did something wrong.
Rebecca: That’s just truth.
Sheila: That isn’t something that is unsafe. That isn’t being–
Rebecca: It isn’t being mean. It isn’t being a nag. It isn’t being unfair. It’s like, “Hey, you coerced me into sex. That was rapey and wrong.” That’s not a mean thing to say if it happened.
Sheila: Yeah, I had another email recently by a woman who said that she was raped on her wedding night. Basically they went into the hotel room. She didn’t feel ready. She was bewildered by what was happening. He took off her dress, and he did it. She really felt that it was rape. When she tried to express that to him, he became so angry because he would never rape her.
Sheila: How dare you think I would rape you?
Rebecca: But you did.
Sheila: But you did. As she tried to explain it, she said he’s not a bad guy. I think he was just doing what we were told we were supposed to do on our wedding night and that now you finally get to have sex. He’s not normally like this, but I am so hurt, and I don’t know how to get over it.
Sheila: I can’t tell you the number of stories that we’ve heard like that.
Rebecca: I do think that we give people terrible sex advice going into marriage. I think that a lot of men go into marriage if they grew up in the Christian church truly not understanding what consent looks like, truly not understanding what good sex looks like, not understanding the female arousal cycle, not understanding that they’re supposed to slow down and watch how their partner is reacting. However, when people say he’s not a bad guy, I do want to say if you tell someone I feel like you raped me and their response isn’t horror but is rather anger at you, that makes me think that doesn’t sound like a great guy. Like that doesn’t sound like a great guy. It just doesn’t because even if he doesn’t think he raped you, if his beloved, if his wife feels that way, that should cause him to question everything about himself. That’s not something that a good guy brushes off, and we hear this from women all the time. My husband is a great man. I do have the question of what is our metric because when it comes to safety a great man is a man who is safe. A good man is a man who is safe.
Sheila: But I think even this woman who is saying I would prefer my husband have a concubine she’s saying that outside of sex everything is really good, and I do see that a lot in Christian marriages.
Rebecca: Yeah, I see that a lot.
Sheila: Because we have taught sex so much as an entitlement and so separate from their relationship that they actually are–like for so many couples–that’s what is so bewildering to so many women is like he’s not like this, and then he’ll treat me so badly in the bedroom because this is how we were taught it. Men have internalized this message that they deserve it. Then when she is expressing I don’t feel safe he just gets upset. He takes it as an attack. Here’s another example. There was a panel with a lot of big mega church pastors and marriage leaders. The question–I was told the story by one of the panel members–and the question came up, “My counselor has recommended that we go on a sex fast since my husband disclosed his porn use. My counselor recommended that we have no sex at all for 90 days at least while we try to reestablish intimacy. What do you think of this?” One of the female panelists thought it was a very good idea, but one of the big mega church pastors said that that was absolutely not allowed because that would be depriving him.
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Sheila: That would be withholding. That is an example of still seeing sex as commodified, as separate from the relationship. No matter what is happening in the relationship, sex needs to look exactly the same.
Rebecca: And as a way to shield men from the repercussions of their actions.
Rebecca: This is what I’m talking about with the safety issue where men will say things like, “Well, I feel unsafe if I have to be vulnerable and ask for sex I might not get.” That’s not safety issue. A man is not unsafe if you don’t give him sex because he might get lured to pornography. That’s not a safety issue.
Sheila: Yeah, and also there’s just no understanding that she needs to feel safe. The reason that you do that sex fast–there’s so many reasons for it–
Rebecca: So many.
Sheila: So many–resetting your idea of intimacy, getting back to understanding what sex really is, not channeling all of your emotional needs into sex but learning how to deal with emotions in other ways.
Rebecca: Yeah, giving yourself a break from using sex as a coping mechanism so you can learn other ones.
Sheila: Exactly, there’s all kinds of reason, but one of them is also to let her feel safe in the relationship. I do not have to earn his fidelity, respect, whatever. He can show me that I am important without sex. That is so vital for women is they need to feel that, and this marriage mega church pastor was denying her the safety that she needs.
Rebecca: Oh, yeah, of course he was because it goes against their entire ethos. Of course. Power is everything. There’s a guy who went viral a while ago because he wrote a book called something She Divorced Me because I Left Dishes by the Sink or something like that.
Sheila: Yes, Matthew Fray
Rebecca: Matthew Fray. So he wrote this book where obviously his wife didn’t actually divorce him because he left a cup by the sink but it was this idea of marriages are not always–women do not leave marriages just because of one mistake. They leave marriages because you slowly eroded away the trust and the safety in the relationship to the point that she is not able to continue anymore. It really is that she has no other choice for her wellbeing. She has to leave because she’s just so unsafe even with guys who are “good guys.” This is why guys are like, “I never saw it coming.” He wrote this article that someone left as a comment on the blog, and we’re just going to read a paragraph or two from it because it really explains the idea of safety and why women can feel unsafe even when their husbands might look at their life and say, “But you’re safe.”
Sheila: Right, yes, and so he wrote a bit book about this, but this is a different article. One of my amazing commenters did leave the link to this article on the blog. I’m just going to set it up, and then I’ll let you read the excerpt from it. But what he’s saying is when men think about making sure their wife is safe, they think about, “I will take a bullet for her. I will do the finances.”
Rebecca: I will donate a kidney.
Sheila: I will sleep next to the door. I will have the baseball bat on my side of the bed or whatever it might be. I’m going to do these things so that I can physically defend her from any outside threats. But that isn’t actually how most women feel safe.
Rebecca: Well, it’s not the only way.
Sheila: Right, and this is what he says. Do you want to read it?
Rebecca: Sure, I’ll read it. “After dozens perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily or tells her she’s wrong or tells her she’s just being emotional again or tells her she’s mentally unstable or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him. No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship. He’s never going to get it. I can’t trust him. The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop have not resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop. Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage or relationship and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.”
Sheila: Yeah, and that’s really what it is. We’ll put a link to that article in the podcast notes.
Rebecca: It’s a really good article.
Sheila: Because what he’s trying to do is he’s just trying to talk to the men and say, “Here’s what women are telling you when they keep bringing up the same thing over and over again, and you’re sick of it. Here’s what you need to understand,” and so he’s talking to guys–I think it can be a really powerful article for some guys to get.
Rebecca: Especially from a man who ruined his marriage because he didn’t get this.
Sheila: Right, right, but this is what safety is. Women need to know that when something matters to me it matters to you.
Sheila: When I don’t feel loved and cherished and you tell me, “Well, you should feel loved and cherished. What’s wrong with you that you don’t feel loved and cherished?” That pushes her further away.
Rebecca: I think this is what’s so interesting to me when I hear this stuff is this is not a female need. This is just a human need. We see this in children. I know I always do a toddler metaphor because I’m a mom of toddlers, okay? But think about it in terms of the safety issue with my kid, right? If I said, “I take great care of my kid because I will always bring him to the ER if he breaks his arm, and I will make sure he has food. I will make sure he has a safe place to sleep,” but then I don’t kiss his boo-boos. I don’t snuggle him, and I don’t listen to him get excited about dinosaurs. I don’t want to spend time painting with him, and I don’t go on walks with him. I don’t take him to the park, and I don’t care about the things he cares about. I don’t enter into his experience. If I don’t help him when he’s frustrated with something he’s trying to learn, if he asks for my help and I just say I’m too busy, he’s not going to feel connected to me. I can take care of all the actual physical safety stuff I want, but if I’m not actually getting into his world and interacting with him, he’s going to start feeling that mommy doesn’t love him. I do wonder how much of this is that men are so trained to channel all of their emotional energy into sex and pornography when they get addicted to that a lot of the times that they’ve kind of lost a lot of their ability to figure out how to listen to that more subtle emotional bids. That’s not an excuse. That means that it’s something you need to learn. That is not something where it’s like okay well, wives you can’t really expect it. No, you can expect it. This is a human need. Every one has the capacity to do this. You just need to learn it, and men, you have to learn it if you don’t already know it. You have to learn it.
Sheila: If you are in a pit where sex has become totally fraught and completely filled with tension, you cannot get out of that pit by just pressuring someone, “Well, now you just need to like sex.” Now you just need to embrace sex. You have to create a relationship where she feels safe, and safe means that she feels emotionally connected to you. That means that what she feels matters to you. It has to matter to you.
Rebecca: Which is what the person who said, “I was raped. You raped me.” He just gets angry.
Sheila: Because how could you say that about me? What I think a lot of men don’t understand too is that actually if you embrace this idea of safety and if you say, “You know what, I’m going to take the pressure off. We might have to take sex off of the table for a while…while we figure out what intimacy is.” If they’re willing to do that work, their life is going to be so much more rewarding. It’s like what Jay was talking about on the podcast last week about delight and just opening yourself up to the really, really good things in this world.
Sheila: When you stop relying on sex for connection, when you stop relying on sex to fill this need for intimacy that you have, and instead seek proper intimacy through emotional connection, then you’re going to feel so much more alive and then sex once it is restored can become the real expression of that in all it’s authenticity instead of something which is just a pale counterfeit.
Rebecca: Not only that–it’s not just about sex either. If you’re learning how to actually be intimate without connecting your emotional connection to sex, that also means you’re able to have better relationships with people you don’t have sex with like your friends, like your kids, like your mom, like your sister, like whoever it is because a lot of times we do see in research that men tend to have more shallow relationships than women do. How much of that is because men tend to be emotionally connecting through sex? You don’t have sex with all your buddies, right? I think that there’s a level where if you’re able to learn these emotional skills it’s not just so you can get sex. Because first of all, if you’re doing it just so you can get sex, you’re not doing it.
Sheila: Right, she’s never going to feel safe.
Rebecca: Well, it’s not just that. You’re also just not a safe person. If you’re only doing this so you can get sex, you’re just not a safe person. But if you can learn to get to closeness without sex then you can get to closeness with other people too, and men need that. It actually increases your life span. It does. Men who have better, more intimate relationships with people who are not their spouse actually live for longer.
Sheila: So all that to say, here’s our plea to the evangelical church. Please stop talking about men having a need for sex and women having the gift of sex.
Rebecca: Just stop.
Sheila: Just stop, and instead let’s see sex as the culmination of the intimacy you have. If that intimacy is not there, that is what you work on first.
Sheila: I want to end with an email that I think illustrates all of this really well. The beginning of the email is sad, okay, I’m warning you, but then it does show at the end what we’re talking about. So here’s what she writes. “For over two decades, 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 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.” I do think that’s important to note is that–
Rebecca: Just because you orgasm doesn’t mean that it’s good sex.
Sheila: Yeah, exactly.
Rebecca: Here’s the thing if you don’t orgasm, it’s not very likely to be good sex.
Rebecca: But if you do orgasm, that doesn’t mean that it is good sex, right?
Sheila: Yeah, exactly. “Fast forward to my new marriage.” So she divorced the man over abuse. “We’ve been married three-and-a-half 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 teenage daughter looks up to him and loves him for his example. He is the real deal. I look forward to sex now. It’s not longer a tool to use to keep the husband happy for a couple of days.”
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Sheila: Isn’t that beautiful?
Sheila: That’s what we want. That’s what we want for every couple, and I just want to encourage you. We’ve had so many great stories since we began this series of people who were in the pit and where it was really hard, and they couldn’t see a way out. But they did the hard work of redefining sex, and they did the hard work of reestablishing safety. It took a while, but they did get out of it.
Rebecca: Yeah, and I think that’s actually been one of the really great things about doing this series is usually we do a series and we get only terrible stories as a result which is good–which is fine. It’s good to hear everyone’s experiences, but it is kind of nice to do a series where we’re actually getting mostly positive stories–stories of redemption, stories of rebirth, stories of just the newness of Christ and his resurrection being made live in people’s lives. So that is a really nice thing about this month.
Sheila: Yes, so please check out the series at baremarriage.com. There’s more coming, and then next week on the podcast we’re going to delve more into some of the reasons why it can be so hard to reestablish safety by looking at some really cool–and slightly unethical–psychological experiments.
Rebecca: I’m going to tell you some of my favorite experiments from my undergrad and what they have to do with sex.
Sheila: So tune in for that next time on Bare Marriage and just as a special request please remember to rate this podcast five stars and recommend it everywhere so other people can hear it. It helps us so much. Remember to subscribe and download because your download numbers as well.
Rebecca: They really do.
Sheila: Just to get sponsors for the podcast so thank you for all of your support and for being part of this community. Until next time, bye-bye.
The Sexual Recovery Series--Digging Yourself out of the Pit
- A 4 -Point Plan to Sexual Recovery
- Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not an Individual Need
- What Sexual Recovery Looks Like
- Safety and Intimacy: You'll Never Have an Intimate Sex Life without Feeling Safe First
- When Sex Has Become One-Sided, Leaving Her Feeling Used
- 2 Kinds of Marital Rape
- How to Recover from Marital Rape (if it's possible)
- Why Christians Often Don't Understand Consent
- 5 Next Steps if You Realize You've Coerced Your Wife into Sex
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that She Has No Sexual Autonomy?
- How to Regain Sexual Autonomy (coming soon)
- How to Slowly Start to Rebuild Safe Sex (coming soon)
- PODCAST: A Path forward Addressing Sexual Shame (with Jay Stringer)
- PODCAST: The Myth of the Magic Penis (and a call for integrated sex)
- PODCAST: Learned Helplessness and Sex (coming soon)