PODCAST: Non-Toxic Masculinity

by | Apr 27, 2023 | Men's Corner, Podcasts | 35 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Let’s talk Non-Toxic Masculinity!

Men were not created to sin; and men were not created to be clueless when it comes to emotions and relationships.

Today we have Zachary Wagner on the podcast with his new book that I am so excited about–Non-Toxic Masculinity. Then Rebecca and I dissect another Instagram reel and look at evangelical books that used weaponized incompetence in men to excuse poor behaviour. 

Guys are not helpless. Guys are good. So let’s stop talking about them as if they’re pathetic and can’t be decent people!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:


Timeline of the Podcast

0:30 Launch update!
2:45 Zachary joins to talk about his book “Non-Toxic Masculinity”
4:30 How we view sexual sin issues & women
9:00 Hypocrisy within the community
12:10 Toxic Masculinity and Christian sexuality culture
23:00 Examples of ‘Manhood’ and illustrations from his marriage
33:00 Obligation sex and consent
39:30 Male sexuality
56:30 Reacting to IG relationship advice
1:05:40 Weaponized incompetence

Zachary Wagner takes on the ideas that men were created to be lust monsters.

He argues that the rhetoric around men’s sex drives dehumanizes women but also dehumanizes men and leaves them helpless.

He takes a look at purity culture and the every man’s battle culture in evangelicalism, and then points us to a better way.

His book is excellent for married men (and he’s very vulnerable about the entitlement that he felt originally in marriage, and how that affected him and his wife), but he also addresses how all of this affects single men, making this book great for any guy, starting in his late teens.

Passion 4 Dancing

Let’s talk weaponized incompetence!

Rebecca joins me to dissect the advice given on the Steve Harvey Show that’s in this reel (we totally agree with Laura Danger’s take on this, but we’re just focusing on what the man said):

This clip says that men only hear 25% of what women say–BECAUSE THEY’RE MEN. We then look at some quotes from Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Women Only and For Young Women Only where she describes how men can’t handle any feedback from women whatsoever, because the men are apparently so very insecure (she never mentions that maybe this is also a sign of misogyny). 

Men are capable of doing the work of being a partner. Men can handle being treated without kid gloves and being in a genuine relationship. This needs to stop!

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Non Toxic Masculinity with Zachary Wagner

What do you think? Have you seen instances of men being made out to be incompetent or lust monsters? How can we push back without sounding like we’re attacking men? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to episode 189 of The Bare Marriage Podcast. I am Sheila Wray Gregoire from BareMarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your marriage, your sex life, and now your parenting. I am joined today by my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.

Rebecca: Hello, hello.

Sheila: And we are about to have Zachary Wagner on to talk about his book Nontoxic Masculinity, and then Rebecca is going to join me again for just a little clip as we analyze another Instagram reel so this is going to be an awesome podcast. Before we get going, She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Health, and Speaking Up launched last week. We did have a podcast after the launch, but we recorded it before it launched and so we didn’t know what was going to happen. So can I tell you what happened at the point where episode 188 launched? Like last week as that episode was launching, we were sitting at #123 on Amazon.

Rebecca: Which is astounding. That’s 123 out of all books.

Sheila: That means that only 122 books were selling better than ours on Amazon, and you can probably think what some of those were like Harry Potter.

Rebecca: Like every Harry Potter book.

Sheila: Like Prince Harry’s book. But we were up there, and that is because of you guys. So we just want to say thank you. Thank you so much. We were not expecting this, and I’ve been telling myself that the reason She Deserves Better is selling so well is because people are realizing, “Hey, she deserves better.”

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: We want better. We want better for ourselves. We want better for our daughters, and I just think a sea change is happening in the church. I’m so excited. I haven’t been this excited in years. I really feel like the ground shifted underneath us. So thank you. You have given that to me, and so please keep telling people about She Deserves Better. I’ve been recording five podcasts a day for other people’s podcasts for the last month. I’m getting really tired, but it’s been awesome. But the word is getting out. Please keep telling your friends, buy it for your youth pastor, buy it for your counselors, buy it for your sister, your friends to reparent little 15-year-old you because this book is setting people free. We’re just so thrilled to read people’s reviews and to see how well it’s doing. So thank you. We’ve been talking about She Deserves Better for several weeks on the podcast, and we’re going to do some more. Coming up in May, Rebecca is going to have an awesome pajama party where we are going to read Brio magazine excerpts so there is more coming. But we wanted to do something different today and change the focus from girls to boys, and have Zachary Wagner on for his brand-new book. So will you welcome Zachary with me? Okay, everybody, I am so excited about this interview. You guys know that when I bring people on the podcast it’s because I really like them, and I really like their books. I am so excited about this book. Nontoxic Masculinity by Zachary Wagner, and Zach is an ordained minister. He is the editorial director at the Center for Pastor Theologians, and he is currently working on his Ph.D. in New Testament at Oxford University. Welcome, Zach.

Zachary: Yeah, delighted to be here, Sheila. Thanks so much for having me and great to meet you in this way.

Sheila: I am so thrilled about your book. I did endorse your book so heads-up just for everybody. I don’t know if I have to disclaimer about that, but I did read this one early and sent you–

Zachary: And you did in fact read it.

Sheila: I did. I read the whole thing. I took notes and everything so yes, I did read it because I do tend to read the books that I endorse. I feel like when I read this book I thought, “Okay, the tide is really turning.” So IVP–Intervarsity Press–I believe it is put it out. Yes.

Zachary: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: As you said in the beginning of your book, there’s been so many women writing into this space.

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: But there haven’t been a lot of men. I just feel like okay, we’ve got the guys coming onboard too.

Zachary: Yes, yes.

Sheila: Things are really going to change so I got a whole bunch of questions for you.

Zachary: Sure.

Sheila: Before I ask questions, I just want to read some quotes from the first chapter.

Zachary: Sure, yeah.

Sheila: I mean I could read the entire first chapter. It’s really good, but I did pull out two quotes that I want you to talk about. So the first is this, “The fight against sexual brokenness involves more than an individualistic fight against temptation. It is a fight for justice on behalf of the men, women, and children who have been dehumanized by a deficient and sub-Christian view of what it means to be a man.” I mean that’s just amazing.

Zachary: Yeah, I think so often in the white, evangelical Christian circles–whatever disclaimers you want to put in front of that–there has been this tendency to think about sexual sin and brokenness in this individualistic frame. This is the every man’s battle frame that I’m sure you’re going to be asking me more about where my sexual sin is not even really about the people that I might be sinning against. It’s actually just about me trying to lock it down and maintain my purity and holiness just between me and God. There’s no corporate dimension to it. There’s no systems that are in place that are forming men and women in dehumanizing ways. I just wanted to highlight just with that opening this is not the every man’s battle of an individualistic struggle against temptation that I think so often we’re taught to believe that it is when it comes to these issues. So that’s what I was trying to signal with that.

Sheila: Yeah, I love it, and I love what you just said too. I remember reading Every Man’s Battle and when they are talking about sexual sin, they really do describe lust as a sin against his purity, not as a sin against the woman that he is lusting after. It’s amazing–

Zachary: Absolutely.

Sheila: –how he is the victim of his own sin, and so he’s hurting himself. While, yeah, you’re hurting yourself, you’re primarily–there is a victim here.

Zachary: Yes, absolutely.

Sheila: Yeah, and it’s never mentioned so really good. Okay, here’s another one that I like. It sort of summarizes your first chapter. “Why is it that so many Christian men fall short of their own ideals? Why is it that an insidious, toxic masculinity has found a safe haven in our churches hidden behind a veneer of respect for women?” Yeah, so can you unpack that one? What do you mean by hidden behind a veneer of respect for women?

Zachary: Yeah, because I think so often when Christian men are–when it is brought to their attention that their ways of speaking relating to teaching about women, about human sexuality are harmful, they say something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t hate women. I respect women. I want women to be protected. I’m recommending these principles around sexual purity or whatever the case may be because God loves women, and I love women too.” But part of what I’m trying to highlight is that this respect for women that I think the vast majority of Christian men would want to say is representative of the way they think about women–I respect, I love women–is actually superficial, and it’s a veneer. It’s a façade over some deeper issues of disdain for female bodies, disdain for male bodies and their experience of sexual desire as well as the systems of power and control and coercion and guaranteed access to sex within marriage and all number of things. As well as–well, we’ll get into all of this–as well as a diminishment of male responsibility and a tendency to give men a free pass when they hurt people and all of these sorts of things. So I wanted to acknowledge and make people feel seen, like, “Hey, I get that you feel like you respect women and that you feel like you love women, but just because you say that on the surface doesn’t mean the substructure of your attitude towards your own sexuality and women’s bodies is not actually dehumanizing and sub-Christian.”

Sheila: Yeah, exactly. So you’re setting up this first chapter kind of telling what the rest of the book is about and how you are going to deal with this idea of toxic masculinity and how are our ideas of what it means to be masculine have hurt us and build an idea of how men can grow into that. I just want to mention this in passing because we’ve been dealing with this all week as we have been dealing with the launch of She Deserves Better how you say, “Well, people always point out the culture is worse so why are you criticizing the church?” It’s like, “That’s such a stupid argument.”

Zachary: It really is.

Sheila: Because okay so because the culture is really bad we can be bad?

Zachary: No, it’s nothing. I mean the Apostle Paul talks in the book of Ephesians what business is it of mine to judge those outside?

Sheila: Yeah.

Zachary: Instead worry about yourself, worry about the Christian community. I mean I think this is also a little bit of what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Judge not let you also be judged.” It doesn’t mean don’t create value judgments about the world in any way. It means hold yourself to the same standard at the very least, and for Christians, we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard so Hollywood is going to do Hollywood.  HBO is going to HBO. Porn Hub is going to Porn Hub. What is more urgent it seems to me is for Christians to address the hypocrisy within our own communities, not least because it completely compromises our ability to even say anything helpful to the culture about human sexuality. If they’re looking at us and we don’t have our stuff together, how on Earth are we in a position to say, “Well, God’s word says, and we need to be living according to…” They’re looking at us and saying, “You don’t even do that.”

Sheila: Yeah, exactly.

Zachary: So that’s one piece. Then the other piece is what I try to highlight in the early chapters of the book is like this is really serious. If women, children, and men are suffering in the church in the name of Christ, this is why church based sexual abuse is uniquely damaging because it has this veneer of spirituality over it, and it has this entire added layer of, “God authorized this person to do this to me,” or, “They are claiming God’s authority and they’re harming me in this way,” or, “They’re using Scripture to excuse or justify deep, deep harm.” That to me is far more serious than anything culture or pagans are doing out there, that we need to draw our attention first to what’s going on in the church.

Sheila: Exactly. I love it. Okay, so let’s get into your actual arguments. Toxic masculinity. What is it?

Zachary: Yeah, so you can go Oxford English Dictionary online, and you can find something along the lines of, “It is cultural values associated with masculinity that teach men to be macho or emotionally repressed or violent or aggressive.” All well and good. I think it is kind of a cultural buzzword. That’s what you’re going to get. The way I define it in my book is I say it’s a way of living out male embodiment that dehumanizes self or the other. So the word toxic–you think of toxic as poisonous, something that leads to death. Dehumanization is a way of making people less human, making them less alive, making yourself less alive. It also connects to biblically the idea of sin. Sin is a falling off of the life that we were created to live. So then toxic masculinity it seems to me is this unique way that sin fractures male embodiment and leads men to think about themselves and others in a way that is less than human and then to treat themselves and others in a way that is less than human.

Sheila: Yeah, I find it so interesting that when you talk about toxic masculinity people think that you’re criticizing men, and I (crosstalk) this. No, unless you think that all masculinity is toxic then no. There’s a word toxic there. That’s what we’re criticizing.

Zachary: Yes, yes.

Sheila: So can you give us some specific examples that you give in your book of what would be toxic masculinity? What would be dehumanizing? 

Zachary: Yeah, well, my book focuses in on kind of toxic male sexuality so it has to do with the male experience of–you could say the erotic or sexual desire or sexual intimacy or any number of things. So I think the version of toxic masculine sexuality that I’m trying to critique and hopefully help correct is this idea that men are helplessly and hopelessly hypersexual in their way of being in the world and their way of viewing the world. This is really the thesis of Every Man’s Battle it seems to me that just because male therefore hypersexual. Just because you are in a male body and have certain hormones in your bloodstream or something like that, you’re going to be dehumanizing people around you and viewing them only through this erotic lens. So I think when you have this hypersexualized vision of masculine sexuality it’s easy to see how this is dehumanizing to women. Women become sexual objects. Every woman is kind of viewed through this erotic lens. It reduces women to their sexuality rather than their full personhood. But one of the points I wanted to make is this is also profoundly dehumanizing to men. It makes men into these subhuman sex animals or machines. They’re not moral agents. They’re just brute instinctual creatures. So something that I talk about in the book is that if in purity culture women are sexual objects, then men are sexual animals. Both of those are dehumanizing ways of thinking about human beings. Animals aren’t human beings. They’re less than human beings. Machines are objects, aren’t human beings. So that’s a little bit what I’m getting at. If you’re lusting after a woman as a man, not only are you treating her in a less than human way, but you are you participate in that sin are actually treating yourself or acting yourself in a way that is subhuman. That is what it means to sin in a way.

Sheila: Yeah, I love that because this is one thing I can never understand is how can people read Every Man’s Battle and not think, “Oh my gosh, this makes men sound so terrible.”

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: When I criticize Every Man’s Battle, it’s because I believe in men. I believe in the goodness of men, that men are created in the image of God too.

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: It’s amazing. Okay, you had a really interesting conversation that you recounted when you were in college with a guy named, Jim, who wasn’t a Christian.

Zachary: Yeah. Not his real name. I should say–

Sheila: I know. I do that too. Everyone’s name is changed.

Zachary: Yeah.

Sheila: I often let people choose their names. It’s funny often what people come up with.

Zachary: Oh, funny.

Sheila: Can you tell us about that? Because I thought it was such an interesting convo.

Zachary: Sure, yeah. It was just kind of on a slow day working in a restaurant, not many customers. Me and this other guy were just kind of sitting around as you do at work when there’s nothing going on. He knew that I was a Christian and that I was going to a Bible college nearby. He just kind of launched into this random set of questions it seemed to me. He’s like, “Why are Christians so obsessed with sex?” That really caught me off-guard, and we went back-and-forth for a little bit. One of the things that I said was, “Don’t you think like the culture in general is obsessed with sex?” He said, “Well, I guess sure, but Christians it seems to me are the ones who are super preoccupied with it. Constantly thinking about who should and shouldn’t be doing it. Offering their unsolicited opinions to others about it.” I think that’s a fair assessment oftentimes. Evangelical Christians seem to have this fixation on sex. I think that was an accurate read where we’re just so obsessed with it sometimes. That again I think is connected to this hypersexualized vision of not only maleness but humanity in general where it takes up so much airtime in our discipleship materials and all of this and often not in ways that actually are life giving or ways that seem compelling or beautiful to the culture but just kind of come across as Christians saying weird, cringy stuff about sex.

Sheila: Yeah, and we’ve all seen examples of that lately.

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: One of the things I thought was interesting is that he said, “I can have sex or I can think about sex and then I can not.” It’s not like it’s all the time. What we found when we were looking in our book She Deserves Better when we were looking at the Christian literature for girls, is it was almost entirely about sex. The secular literature for teen girls was not. It was about self-esteem and boundaries–

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: –and friendships, but everything to girls was about sex. It was the same for boys. It was like the only conversation we have with young people is sex.

Zachary: I mean that’s I think what purity culture was and is to some extent. It is this narrowing of teen discipleship in particular to these questions around “sexual purity.” I put that in quotes because I actually don’t think that’s a super helpful way to use the term purity from the biblical perspective.

Sheila: I remember talking to my husband like–I don’t know, maybe a decade ago. We were trying to think of how we like in previous years had distinguished between a real Christian, like an evangelical Christian who loves Jesus and someone who’s just like a mainline Christian who they say they love Jesus but they don’t actually. We realized the way that we figured that out was whether they saved sex for marriage. So these–

Zachary: That was the litmus test.

Sheila: That was the litmus test. So these other people who are like busy feeding the poor and loving people that didn’t count. None of that counted because they may have had a sexual partner beforehand.

Zachary: Sure.

Sheila: Whereas these people who weren’t doing anything for the poor–and I’m not saying all mainstream Christians do stuff for the poor and no evangelical Christians did. I mean my goodness that’s not at all. We were evangelical Christians, and we were going to Kenya and saving the poor and everything. The whole idea that nothing mattered except sex. That was our definition, and I found that was really interesting because that was never Jesus’s definition.

Zachary: No, and I think the way that emerged after the sexual revolution in evangelical Christianity this focus on “sexual purity”–again in quotes–it actually kind of ruined. I’ll speak for myself. It ruined purity language for me in the Bible. So when I read, “How can a young man or a young person keep their way pure?” I’m immediately thinking about not having sex before marriage, not looking at porn, not masturbating when the language itself–maybe it has some relevance to those questions, but that’s not what it’s about narrowly. Or when Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God,” I think as a 15-year-old boy who read Every Young Man’s Battle stuff and is trying so dang hard to–my accountability structures and software to like not masturbate, not look at pornography, and I think–yeah, blessed are those who don’t masturbate or look at pornography for they will see God. Again, I’m not saying that has no relevance, but the biblical category of purity and righteousness and holiness is so much bigger than just our sexuality. In the early chapters of Isaiah, the people of God are told to cleanse themselves, and we in our kind of American frame are like, “Oh, they were probably having sex before marriage.” But Isaiah goes on to say, “No, this is about oppression of the poor. This is about corruption in the systems of power, and you need to cleanse yourself from that impurity.” I just think we sell ourselves short of a really rich tapestry of biblical language, and when we think purity is all about sex, that probably says more about us and our preoccupation with sex than it does about what the text is actually saying oftentimes.

Sheila: Yeah, interesting. You said that in the book there’s several different examples of manhood that the evangelical church as put forward lately. Do you want to go over what some of them are that are harmful?

Zachary: Sure. Well, we’ve already talked I think a little bit about the every man’s battle framing of men as these hypersexual creatures. I think a couple other prominent ones that we could name would be Mark Driscoll’s massive influence in the kind of late aughts, early teens, and then beyond as a muscular masculinity you might say. Jesus as this tough guy, dude’s dude. Maybe not in the same way as Driscoll commended it, but we still see that having massive influence in various kind of corners and not super, super fringy corners of the evangelical church either although it’s influential there as well this idea of Jesus fitting kind of all the cultural stereotypes of masculine identity that you might associate with–I don’t know–white 1950s America or late 19th century Victorian England or something like that. It’s this Jesus came to make men more manly narrative, and I also think–I try to be careful not to directly critique Wild at Heart because it’s been so, so long since I’ve read it, but I think it is fair to say that at least the first edition of Wild at Heart–I haven’t read the more recent one–kind of narrows men into these stereotypes around pretty superficial things arguably like hanging out in the woods and just being adventurous or this or that or the other thing. I’m not saying that’s bad necessarily, but when we make the essence of “biblical masculinity” this kind of cultural stereotype, that becomes harmful to me. Just because it excludes men who maybe don’t feel like they fit that mold, and this whole idea that y’all are a bunch of betas and Jesus wants you to be an alpha male. I read the New Testament, and I see the Apostle Paul says in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians that God chose the weak things in the world to shame the strong. So this preoccupation with power and strength, I don’t think has much of a place frankly in a Christian vision of masculinity. That’s not to say that certain exercises of power and physical strength are bad necessarily. This goes back to what we were saying. Not everything about masculinity or everything might associate with masculinity is evil. It’s not wrong to be a man. It’s not wrong to be physically strong. It’s not wrong to be six inches taller than your wife or your girlfriend. Of course not. But it’s about the vision of what that means and how you live that out that can get into some pretty harmful and dehumanizing places.

Sheila: Yeah, exactly, and we’ve really pushed the men as being in power and being strong and pulling the women along in evangelical spaces. That’s been a big problem. One of the things I do like about your book too is that it isn’t just for married men. You’ve got stuff in there for singles, and I just want our listeners to understand that a single guy could totally read this and get a lot out of it. I think even late teens could read it and get a lot out of it. So it isn’t just for married guys, but because this is a marriage podcast, I want to talk about some of the marriage stuff.

Zachary: Sure, yeah, absolutely.

Sheila: So it’s not that that is the whole book. So everyone listening you can buy this for your son who’s in his twenties or for single friends, whatever as well. But I do want to talk about some of the marriage stuff you said. I was really moved when you were talking about your wife, Shelby, and her coming forward with her story of being abused as a child–sexually abused as a child–and you went to a therapist and that whole conversation. Can you tell us that story?

Zachary: So yeah, something I talk about in the book is the fact–with my wife’s blessing and consent I should qualify–is some of the struggles that we experienced–and to this day continue to experience in our marriage and our intimate life. Through some conversations and revelations came to find and realize and come to terms with the fact that Shelby as she said is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. So once that kind of reality came crashing into our framework for the way we thought about our marriage in conversations with a therapist, we were wisely told, “You know what? Why don’t you just take a pause on your sex life as a couple? Focus on other parts of the relationship. Focus on healing. Focus on understanding, seeing what the other person needs, and what their fears are,” all sorts of things. Really, really good advice, right? So we just took a step back from that. But me then having been formed in this culture and through certain readings of 1 Corinthians 7 to expect that sex within marriage was or at least should be always “available” to me and that my needs as a man are just part of the fabric of the universe and can’t be otherwise. We worked through some of that. I was starting to undo that. I was struggling with that. I had kind of become accustomed to a certain rhythm of sexual intimacy in my marriage, and I wasn’t comfortable with just–of course just, “Well, I have other outlets.” It’s not like I can just go watch porn or I can just go masturbate and feel find about that, and no big deal. In some contexts, that might be the “solution.”

Sheila: Well, the masturbation not the porn?

Zachary: Yeah, exactly. So I was feeling pretty frustrated but also feeling terrible about that. Shelby importantly for the purposes of this story was also feeling terrible. She felt like she was letting me down, like talking to our therapist, “Hey, I know you said…but I just feel like I’m just a failure of a wife right now. We’re not engaging in that. It’s too triggering for me. I really can’t think about going there. My body is not ready for that, but I know that this is something Zach needs, and this is something he deserves as a husband, and this is something I want to give him.” Our therapist just said, “Hey, Shelby, I really appreciate what you’re saying. I can tell you love Zach so much, but this stuff is so important for you to work through. You need to realize that Zach can survive without sex.” Then she looked at me–the therapist–and said, “Zach, you can survive without sex.” I was just stunned in one sense. Of course, I knew that was true, but I didn’t realize how much Shelby and I had both internalized this idea that I needed sex on the level that I like needed food or something to survive and that I couldn’t live as a faithful husband or just as a happy, joyful person in my marriage in a context in which my sexual “needs” had been put on the shelf for an indefinite amount of time. But of course, this is just how life works isn’t it? Anybody who’s been married for a while knows–and I know you’ve interacted with some really bad advice and some books that could maybe in this context remain nameless–around things like when she’s on her period or during pregnancy or immediately after pregnancy. Women I think understand that sex isn’t always available in the same way as something that even couples that love each other and desire each other can do at any given moment, but we’ve shaped the expectation in marriage around this insatiable sexual need that men have that it would be sinful to deny them. That was something that I really had to unlearn, and I mean we’re so glad that we did. That’s some hard work honestly. As a man if you’ve been shaped by these ideas to learn how to have healthier attitudes around your sexual needs or even the experience of arousal and any number of things, but this is just part of growing up and becoming a mature individual and a loving husband frankly.

Sheila: Yeah, I love that. I think it is true isn’t it that we tend to portray men’s needs as being constant and that they must never–they cannot ebb and flow or change with the rhythms of life whereas women’s bodies are actually made to have rhythms.

Zachary: Yes, very much.

Sheila: And it’s interesting even if you look at things like the 72-hour rule which she needs to provide sex every–or release in some way–72 hours even if she’s on her period which is very much what has been taught to women is that we are not allowed to ebb and flow with our bodies because men’s bodily need is so much greater. That is actually very dehumanizing.

Zachary: Very much.

Sheila: If you think about it, that is a dehumanizing message to men.

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: Which is sad. Okay, there’s another quote that I have for you in that same area. You said, “Just because it’s not rape doesn’t mean it’s not dehumanizing. Both parties can consent to one-sided sex.”

Zachary: Yeah, I mean this is something in that same season of our life that Shelby and I–because the revelation and I think Shelby owning that so often in the early years of our marriage when she would have consented to being intimate it was not out of a place of her own desire. It was an obligatory–and I know you’ve–obligatory sex is not sexy.

Sheila: Yes.

Zachary: I think once I realized that this was out of a sense of obligation on her end–that’s not–what’s the right word? That’s not appealing from my side either. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me. I think so often there can develop this tendency in Christian marriages for a woman to make herself available–and not even just a woman, just a partner to make themselves available to the other person. Not just in spite of their lower level of desire in that moment but actually contrary to their desire not to do that for any reason.

Sheila: I like to say there’s a difference between I actively don’t want to have sex right now and–or I want to not have sex right now and I don’t want to have sex right now. Like someone might not particularly want to have sex right now, but they could get themselves into it. But then there’s times where you actively don’t want to have sex right now.

Zachary: Yes. I think that’s an important distinction. For one partner to force themselves when they actively do not want to have sex, they can consent kind of on a mental even relational level to intimacy with the other person in a way that is dehumanizing to them and really also dehumanizing to the other person. It makes sex something that’s not about communion. It’s about service. It’s about–of course, sex can be about service and mutuality in a really beautiful way, but it’s not about being someone’s slave and making yourself available to them regardless of how you feel. So I think that’s so important because Shelby and I in our relationship had some really hard, honest conversations. I was like, “Do you feel like you consent to this? Do you feel like that was a dynamic that was always present in our relationship?” She said, “Yeah, but just because I consented doesn’t mean I wanted to do it.” That’s what I mean when I say just because it’s not me forcing her to do anything doesn’t mean it’s not profoundly dehumanizing. I think that’s why we can do better even than–of course, consent is a baseline, but we can do better in our conversations around sex and what make for a beautiful experience of sex in marriage than just did you get the okay? Did you get the thumbs up before you continued?

Sheila: Right, I know there’s a lot of people listening who have been trying to get their spouse–and especially their husband–to understand this dynamic. What helped you to see it? Was there anything that Shelby said or was it really just God working in you?

Zachary: Yeah, I think it was some of those conversations with a therapist. The realization that I don’t need sex, and also the realization that I don’t want to be with somebody who doesn’t want to be with me in that moment. That seems so basic, and that can be–I mean I’m just thinking of listeners who may find themselves in a situation like that. But it’s worth asking, do you actually want to do this with me if I have no interest in it right now? I want you to feel desired as well. I can’t give that to you in this moment. I think for men and for women in general a bit part in sexual intimacy is feeling received and accepted and also desired by the other person so one-sided sex probably isn’t going to soothe whatever need for love and connection that you’re feeling. It is more akin to the kind of pornographic masturbatory orientation toward our sexuality that is just about self-soothing. It’s not about connecting with another person. So those were some of the things that came to mind for me. It was really this realization that it might be painful and genuinely sad and lonely to feel like my desire is not met with my partner’s desire coming back towards me. But that sadness and loneliness and genuine pain is not license for me to kind of push through that whatever is going on on the other side of that. That’s not really what I want from sex. There are way healthier outlets for engaging with the pain or the loneliness of unrequited sexual desire. We could call it that. Also just the duh realization that there are tons of single people out there that don’t have sex all the time that are just–deal with it like adults and live happy and fulfilled lives despite not having a sexual partner in their lives.

Sheila: That’s great. You go on to talk about the formation of men’s sexuality, and you talked about something which really makes me sad which is how often young boys are shamed just for having sexual feelings. I tend to talk about it as we’ve equated or we’ve conflated noticing with lusting so we tell boys if you even get sexually aroused or you’re feeling attracted to someone you’ve already sinned. Then boys feel so helpful because everywhere they look they see a woman’s body, and they think, “I am just going to be a big sinner my whole life.” What effect did that kind of messaging have on you?

Zachary: Oh, man, well, I’ll say different boys experience their sexuality in different ways and to different levels. So that’s an important qualifier, but for myself and for a lot of young men and boys, you kind of feel like it just takes a strong gust of wind and you’re thinking sexual thoughts and you’re feeling sexual feelings. I think so often the response with alarm and confusion around that rather than this is a beautiful part of being human. The fact that you see a person and notice that your body responds in a certain way is actually good, and God made you to feel that way. Then what you do next is the key, not the fact that you’re feeling that in the first place. I think there can even be–there needs to be–even an acknowledgement of the embodied beauty of other human beings and the way that our bodies are drawn to them in certain ways without judgment or shame around that bodily response. I can notice somebody that I even find sexually attractive and then just kind of move on with my day.

Sheila: Exactly.

Zachary: I think so much of the every man’s battle narrative is like, “Oh, no, the billboard. I know it’s there. I’m rounding the corner. I’ve got to hype myself up. Oh no, there it is. I looked.” Now I’ve got to pray for thirty minutes, and it’s terrible. I just think there it is. That’s meant to be sexually enticing. I notice myself feeling sexually enticed, and I’m just going to move on with my day and stop thinking about it. I think honestly in–I’m not saying put yourselves in situations where you’re going to be subject to a constant barrage of sexually explicit content or material or anything like that, but certainly you should be able to as an adult man go to the beach without just fantasizing about everyone around you. That’s not healthy. I think people who weren’t shaped by this kind of purity culture, every man’s battle rhetoric realize that’s not healthy and often have better habits than the Christian men ironically for how they think about the women around them.

Sheila: Yeah, we certainly found that in our surveys too. Other peer reviewed studies have found too that when you hyper focus on not thinking about something and not seeing something–

Zachary: Don’t think about elephants. Don’t think about elephants.

Sheila: Yeah, then you end up doing that all the time, right? I also find this–this is one of the funny things about modesty dress codes in church when they tell people, “You can’t wear these things because the men won’t be able to worship without lusting.” I think, “Okay, if he can’t handle a woman in a shapely turtleneck for instance, how is he supposed to handle walking through the mall?” If he can’t handle–or if the boys in youth group cannot handle girls in swimsuits without t-shirts on, how are they supposed to ever go to the beach? If a guy honestly can’t handle it without women completely covering up, then why are allowing men go out in public? I’ve never understood that dichotomy. 

Zachary: It doesn’t make sense, and I think so often the emphasis–when the emphasis lands on male nature or this or that biology study that we took to mean this thing about men which may be subject to other interpretations, but when the focus is all on men as just kind of an immovable fact are like this. When they see X, they will respond in Y way. Rather than putting the emphasis on men actually cultivating healthier ways of thinking about the people around them–when Jesus says if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away or if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart he has already committed adultery in his heart, he doesn’t say therefore men never look at women. He is telling men to look at women differently. Don’t look at women with lust in your heart. It never means never look at a woman or just avoid them at all costs, and make sure your computer is completely locked down so you’ll never see–my wife and I share a computer. She does shopping on the computer. I see ads for things and just move on, scroll past. It’s just what it means to be an adult. I could go on and on, but the responsibility remains with a man and with a young man to grow up into a more mature way of thinking, to think about women in humanizing ways without needing to control what they wear it seems to me.

Sheila: Yeah, I like this quote too. “You don’t fault a man for being sexual, but men are responsible for how they express their sexuality.” It’s like being attracted to women isn’t a problem, but now it’s up to you what you do with that.

Zachary: Yeah, and I would say not only is it not a problem, I think it’s important to say it’s a good part of being human that God made and vice versa. For a woman to be attracted to a man. That is part of the beautiful experience of a being a human being, but that natural capacity needs to be formed in certain ways.

Sheila: Yeah, and we can do that. We have the ability to do that.

Zachary: We actually can do it. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process of creating good habits and growing up again into mature expression of your sexuality, but it is something that we can do and certainly by the power of the Holy Spirit something that we can grow into Christlikeness in.

Sheila: Again there’s a lot of that in Zach’s book Nontoxic Masculinity so yes. Okay, another funny headline that you had in your book–big piece of advice was don’t get married just because you’re horny. Can you talk about that one a bit?

Zachary: Yeah, this goes to this verse in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about it is better to marry than to burn or to burn with passion as it is sometimes explicated a little bit. What I say in the book is I went to Bible college, and there were plenty of really young couples that you can tell there’s all sorts of sexual tension. Then they get married, and I’m not saying that marriage is doomed necessarily. I’m just saying your inability to keep it in your pants or feeling like you can’t keep it in your pants I should say is not in and of itself good reason to get married because you can take that to the logical conclusion of 14-year-olds can certainly burn with passion for one another. Romeo and Juliet, right? That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for them to be like, “Mom and Dad, we were talking after Spanish 2 in the hallway, and we’re really burning with passion. The Apostle Paul said that we should get married because that’s better than burning with passion.” That’s not what Paul means it seems to me. Paul is actually addressing a very specific context in the church in Corinth where people were artificially–people who were ready to get married pretty much and were in an even quasi-betrothal relationship but were artificially delaying marriage because they felt that it was a less spiritual or less holy state. We’re holding off on sex because they thought sex made them farther away from God or something like that. The extended argument in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul makes clear–he’s like, “Listen, I am single. There are benefits to being single namely you can devote yourself more fully to the work of God, but it is not wrong, it is not a sin to have sex and to get married.” So I think we have really missed the force of what Paul is saying if we think being kind of horned up with your boyfriend or girlfriend is a good reason to get married like ten minutes from now.

Sheila: Right, I like that. I don’t know if I should open the door to this one. There was one point in the book where you said, “I could go on and on about Every Man’s Battle, but other people already have.” I was just going to invite you to go on and on. Do you have anything that you want to say about Every Man’s Battle that you haven’t said?

Zachary: Yeah, I don’t know if I have much more than what I have said to be honest, and I think it is I try to leave my–I mean I will say the anecdotes that I recall and the things–honestly I go back and I read some of it and I just can’t. I can’t even get through it, and I think for my purposes because people like yourself have already done a lot of this good work, I want to focus more on that central idea of men as because you are male you are destined to hypersexualize the people around you or the women around you. That is not a man’s destiny. That is not 1) how every man experiences the world. It is not every man’s battle in the same way, and when you frame it up as such I worry it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy such that young men learn to anticipate that, “Well, I can just kind of give myself a break a little bit because this is just boys will be boys. That’s how my brain works.” There’s a half-truth there, but it’s not like it is your destiny to–I hate the phrase mentally undress the people around you. That’s not the destiny of being a man. That might be a certain immature expression of male sexuality for some people, but it is–I would be really nervous if you hadn’t grown up in your capacity to engage with visually what is happening around you in the world in a different way by the time you hit age 25 or 35 or 45. If you’re looking at women the same way as you did at the beginning of your sexual experiences, you have some growing up to do.

Sheila: Why do you think because I have noticed that when men are talking about this stuff it doesn’t tend to be younger men. I don’t know how old you are.

Zachary: I’m 32, just about 32.

Sheila: Okay, I was thinking you were about that. Do you think there’s more of an understanding of this among millennials and Gen Zed–Gen Z’s?

Zachary: I live in England currently so I’m very comfortable with the term Zed.

Sheila: Gen Zed.

Zachary: Gen Zed.

Sheila: I guess what I’m more asking give me some hope, Zachary, because I need some hope.

Zachary: I mean I want to be hopeful. I hope continuing these conversations and pointing out the problems with–because I do think it’s formational. As I already said, I do think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy so continuing to produce better resources and calling things out within community structures and changing the ways we talk to boys about their bodies instead of just framing it up–back to the beginning of our conversation–as this individualistic struggle. Actually say, “Guys, you are called to something really beautiful in respecting and honoring and humanizing all the people you’re in relationship with including all the women around you, including women that are your girlfriend, are not your girlfriend, are your wife, are not your wife. Your calling is the same–to show the world and your community and these women that there is a beautiful, honoring way of being in relationship with other people.” I think we see beautifully modeled by the Lord Jesus himself in the way he relates to women. So I’m not sure if that’s exactly where you were going with the question, but I think we’re working on it and let’s keep working on it. I do think it starts with forming young men into a different way of living out and thinking about their sexuality.

Sheila: Yeah, I think there is. I personally–I’m just going to die on this hill because I need to, but I’m going to have a lot of faith in the millennials and the Gen Zed’s because I’m feeling something has got to change the church. I know among women–millennial women–we’re just so hurt by purity culture. That’s been largely acknowledged, but what I think what is starting to be acknowledged is also how hurt men were.

Zachary: Yes.

Sheila: That’s why I am so excited about your book. I want to read–as we’re ending up I just want to read one of my other favorite quotes here which I think summarizes the whole thing. You said, “Purity culture dehumanizes women and children by oversexualizing their bodies. It dehumanizes men and boys by oversexualizing their minds.” I thought, “Yeah, that really is it.” I think for so many men and boys there is such a hopelessness about life with Christ when you feel like just by existing I’m sinning. The noticing is lusting. I can’t control this.

Zachary: Totally.

Sheila: This is such a need I have. I think that there is such freedom in here. I really do recommend Nontoxic Masculinity. It will be my go-to book to recommend for guys as they’re thinking through these issues. I really thank you for your–just your openness and your vulnerability in the book too. I think that lent a lot of credibility to it. I thought that was great so thank you.

Zachary: Thank you. Thank you for the conversation.

Sheila: So where can people find you and your book?

Zachary: Yeah, I have a personal website that is due for a couple updates. Isn’t everybody’s personal website due for a couple updates?

Sheila: Yeah.

Zachary: That zacharycwagner.com. Then I’m also the same handle on Twitter. Zacharycwagner. That’s where I’m most active. You can also find me on Instagram, but Twitter and my website–

Sheila: It’s mostly Twitter.

Zachary: –yeah, Twitter and my website are mostly where I’m hanging out.

Sheila: I will put the links to those and your book, and now I’m going to let us go, but I’m going to ask you to stick around for 15 minutes, and we will have a conversation just for our Patrons. So everybody, if you are not a patron yet, you are missing out on this great conversation, but thank you for joining us, Zachary.

Zachary: Yeah, thank you.

Sheila: I am so encouraged by his voice in this space.

Rebecca: Yes.

Sheila: Like this really is the kind of book that I’ve been waiting for.

Rebecca: Also his Twitter is great. Go follow him there.

Sheila: Yes. The link is in the podcast notes. So grateful to have men speaking up and stepping into this space and saying, “Hey, guys can be better than this.” Why are we portraying guys as incapable of being mature adults and treating women with respect? So I actually just want to, Becca, while I have you here, I want to give you a chance to react to something.

Rebecca: Yes, and you tried to show it to me before we started recording, and I asked you, “Don’t you want me to react live?” “Yeah, no, that’s what I want.” So we’re going to see it for the first time now.

Sheila: Yes, so I want to show you a clip that I saw on That Darn Chat Instagram reel. I love That Darn Chat. She talks a lot about–

Rebecca: I follow her so I may have actually already seen this so let’s see.

Sheila: Well, let’s see. She talks a lot about mental load and emotional labor. So we will put a link to her channel–her Instagram account in the podcast notes because I really do appreciate her. She had one where she–I’ll set the stage because we’re only going to listen to part of it. It was the Steve Harvey Show, and a woman stood up to ask a question. She said, “Look, I love my husband. He’s an awesome guy. We’ve been married for six years, but I have to tell him to do everything. He never takes initiative. He never thinks of anything on his own. I have to say, ‘Hey, can you give me a hug? Hey, can we go out for dinner this weekend? Hey, can we do something tonight?’ He just never makes any moves or thinks of anything on his own.”

Rebecca: I have definitely already seen this on my feed page just so you know so we will not be live reacting. Our feed pages are the same. Okay, here we go.

Sheila: But here is the advice that was given.

Reel: I don’t think you’re being unfair for wanting it, but what I would definitely say is you married a man.” “Yeah, I did.” “Hello. Hello.” “So he hears about 25% of what you say. He hears nothing that you don’t say, you know. Even of the 25% that he hears you say, he kind of gets 5% of that because we’ll be sitting–any man who has ever been in a relationship has been sitting next to a woman. ‘What’s wrong, babe?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Oh, okay.'” “Right.” “Because we don’t talk to each other. So getting used to talking to a woman and speaking your language and hearing behind the lines of what you’re saying that is so far beyond. Once you tell him what you want, he’s going to remember it. He’s going to try to give it to you and make–“

Rebecca: So first thought this idea that it’s all women’s fault because they don’t say what they want. What about all the women who told their husbands one month into marriage, “Hey, I want you to do the dishes”?

Sheila: Well, also, at the beginning of this she was saying, “I tell him I want a hug.” She has been telling him.

Rebecca: Yeah, the whole idea–people say this all the time. “I don’t want him to be a mind reader, but is it wrong for me to want that?” They’re right. They don’t want a mind reader. But they do want someone who tries because what I see happen all the time is women saying, “Yeah, but I want him to bring home flowers.” “Okay, then why don’t you tell him to bring home flowers?” Because it’s not actually flowers. It’s just I want him to do something. If you’re in a marriage where there’s this relationship where you can expect that your partner will think about you and will do little things like every now and then just make you tea without you having to ask or just do the dish that’s on the counter without it having to be reminded eight times or just ask about something that you told them about last week. “Hey, you had a dentist appointment? How did that go? Do you have any cavities?” Silly little things like that. If you’re in the pattern of actually being a partner who pays attention, you don’t also need as many of the grand gestures.

Sheila: That’s very true.

Rebecca: It’s one of those things where literally women are not actually–because I’ve been in this situation. This is before Connor and I figured out the whole mental load thing. We had this conversation where it’s like, “Okay, but just tell me what you want.” “I’m giving you examples of the kinds of things that I want. I don’t actually want this.” Then when he was like, “Oh.” I was like, “Oh,” and then we got it. So this is what we’re asking you to do is just say, “Oh,” and get it.

Sheila: Yeah, so that’s problem one is we’re just simply asking guys to be a partner and to care. But my issue is so what is he saying? He’s saying a man only listens to 25% of what you say and he only hears about 5% of that. Five percent of 25%?

Rebecca: I think he just doesn’t–based on the complete crap that this guy is spouting, I don’t think that he understands what he actually said statistically. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He means 5% of what the woman actually said from the beginning not 5% of 25% because again this man is not striking me as someone who thinks through his words.

Sheila: Right, but we’re talking about nontoxic masculinity. How is that not toxic masculinity? 

Rebecca: Especially since we know that all of us have selective hearing in a lot of areas. We actually do know this. We do not take in 100% of the stuff, but we do take in more when we actually consider it important.

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: So think about your husband and how he only hears 5% of what’s really going on. If your husband is into football, does he only see 5% of the plays? Does he only know 5% of the facts about his favorite team? No, he learns the stuff. If your husband is really into gaming, does he only pay attention for 5% of the game? No, he actually pays attention to the whole thing. If you see your spouse as important, you better be paying attention to what they say or else you’re doing selective hearing. That’s not fair.

Sheila: We only do that for things we don’t think are important.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: The idea that well he’s a man. You married a man. I remember when we started speaking at marriage conferences in the early 2000s this was so much a part of the material. Women, you need to understand you married a man. You didn’t marry a woman, and so you can’t expect him to be romantic. You can’t expect him to think of things the way you do. You can’t expect him to notice the dishes. Why not? We are just simply asking for someone to be a partner and to say that because he’s a man he can only hear 25% of what you say, that is so patronizing to men.

Rebecca: Especially since we all were dating these men before we got married. They did this when we were dating. Men do this when they are dating. They pay attention when they are dating. They send the follow-up texts. They romance you. They send the lovely, “I’m thinking of you and your pretty eyes,” texts. They do that kind of stuff. Then when you get married, a lot of people–there are so many studies on this. Again let’s just bring it back to housework because that’s what this woman was also talking about too wasn’t she?

Sheila: I don’t know if she was on this particular reel, but that’s normally what she talks about.

Rebecca: This Instagram account–well, I know her from TikTok, the TikTok account–she talks a lot about mental load is we know that when people get married, men tend to end up doing less labor and women end up doing more. All the stuff where you are in this relationship beforehand where if you are living in different places, you are both doing your own stuff, and then you get married, and all of a sudden one of your loads gets lighter and one of them gets heavier. All of a sudden as soon as men get married, they just give up.

Sheila: Well, not all, of course.

Rebecca: No, but statistically speaking when men get married, they give up on being good in relationships in at least one area.

Sheila: Because they’re told they can because of stuff like this.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: Because they’re told that is what a man is. A man is someone who disregards what a woman says.

Rebecca: I think what I find so funny is that it’s the gender essentialists who talk about this stuff, and then they also say that men are supposed to be the protectors, the heroes. Like what hero dumps a pile of dirty underwear on the heroine and says, “Your problem, not mine. I’m a dude”? That’s not a hero. That’s a complete bum. That’s the guy who she’s with before she finds the right guy. Don’t be the guy she’s with before she’s supposed to find the right guy in the rom com, dudes. Be the right guy because you’re married to her so act like it. Don’t act like the filler love interest. Act like the actual good dude. For pity’s sake, this is not hard. Watch any rom com, and ask yourself–

Sheila: Which one am I?

Rebecca: –would I be cast as the guy where you’re like, “Leave him, leave him. Dump his butt. Dump his butt”? Or would you be the guy where it’s like, “Get him. Run after him. Flag down the plane”? No one is flagging down a plane for a dude who leaves a million dishes out for his wife and forgets to put his underwear in the laundry hamper and leaves her cleaning until 10:00 at night while he’s playing videogames. Again Connor and I are both very messy people, but we are both messy, and we both clean. So that’s okay because it’s equal. It’s equally dysfunctional in terms of the mess. But we’re talking about the situation where no one is rooting for the dude who makes his wife’s life harder. No one’s rooting for him. So no one will root for you if that’s what you are doing. If you don’t know the basic questions a doctor would ask at your child’s visit, if you don’t know what’s going on in your wife’s life because you haven’t asked and now there are some women who don’t tell–we know that. But if it’s because you are not asking, if it’s because you’re not paying attention because you’re just getting to live your life while she takes care of all the stuff in the background, if you don’t even know when your kids’ last dentist appointment was, no one is rooting for you. I’m just going to say that. You are the filler dude in the rom com. Stop it.

Sheila: Stop it. Amen, and you’re more than capable of hearing 100% of what she says not just 25%. Okay, I want to take a look at another way that we see this because some people call this weaponized incompetence where we give the expectation that men are incapable of doing all of these things that women do to keep the family together so we can’t expect it of men.

Rebecca: Yeah, so men weaponize that against women. “Yeah, but I’m just a dude.”

Sheila: “I’m just a dude.” I want to show you some examples of that in Shaunti Feldhahn’s book–

Rebecca: Yes.

Sheila: –of weaponized incompetence of men and how she talks to both teen girls in For Young Women Only.

Rebecca: So remember these are teenagers.

Sheila: Yes, and adult women in For Women Only. For those of you on YouTube, you can see that on both of these books, I have these special stickers so we sell hazardous material stickers that you can put on books. They just fold right over the spine, and then they go onto the front cover. They’re really pretty on your bookshelf because you can put them on all your harmful books. Then it just alerts people, “I have this book on my bookshelf, but I don’t think it’s a good one.” So it’s a great conversation starter. If you are a counselor, this is awesome because you can put hazardous material stickers on all of the awful books. Then when people come into your counseling office and they’ll see that, that can be a great conversation starter. They can start realizing, “Hey, you know what. I read that book. Maybe that’s part of my problem.”

Rebecca: Yeah, or you’ll avoid some of the problems where someone says, “Yeah, but I saw that on your bookshelf.” Like, “Oh, no.” It was there for research purposes, sweetie.

Sheila: So these are hazardous material stickers. This book contains teachings statistically proven to cause harm. This book is for research purposes only. So we do sell these out of our store, and we will put a link in the podcast notes. But I want to talk about–we’ll start with the teenage one, eh?

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sheila: We’ll start with the one for teenagers. Okay, so in this situation, this is in a chapter where Shanti Feldhahn is explaining to girls that guys need to feel respected–unconditionally respected she says. There’s a big difference between prideful and feeling adequate, and the problem that boys have is that they just feel inadequate because they so want you to think that they are adequate, but they are so afraid of looking inadequate to girls.

Rebecca: Again she didn’t use outside statistics to show this also a very common problem among young girls.

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: Nothing about that. Nothing also about recognizing that some boys are not adequate–

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: –in some areas, and they’re adequate in others. We all have our own areas of geniuses and our own areas–anyway, this is a whole thing for me.

Sheila: We actually wrote quite a bit of this in She Deserves Better. If you’ve read it, you’ll know the story of Chantelle and Bryson that we wrote about.

Rebecca: Something like that. I don’t remember what their actual names were.

Sheila: Yes. It was a fictional couple that we made up to work through some of the things that she said in this chapter, but I want to read you a story that she says under the heading of “Hearing Disrespect.” So she says–and she’s quoting an older guy that she interviewed– “In the man world if you want to get something done–repaired, printed, or built–if you respect the man and be polite, everything will open up for you. If a woman says to a mechanic, ‘I have a few questions, but I trust your judgment. You’re the best, and that’s why I brought you my car,’ her chances of being cheated drop dramatically. But if she comes in with a princess diva, I expect bad things attitude, and makes a bunch of demands, everything will suddenly get very expensive and go in slow motion.” She acknowledges–Shaunti actually acknowledges that she’s guessing the diva was just trying to be assertive so she didn’t get taken, but she says we shouldn’t actually do that.

Rebecca: Yeah, and I think what I find so offensive about that is first of all remember this is being told to teenagers, and I will say I was advertised this book when I was 12-years-old reading Brio magazine, and Brio magazine was targeted to girls in junior high as well as high school. 

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: So this is being advertised to girls who didn’t even–I didn’t even have my first period yet at that point.

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: I was supposed to be told to unconditionally respect all men, and make all men feel like they’re the best. That first of all should already make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because what is more dangerous than teaching young girls that your job is to cater to the emotions of all men. Your job is to make men feel good about themselves. No, it’s not, especially not young girls. Young girls need to be told your job is to stand up for yourself and keep yourself safe because frankly men are not going to do that as a whole group.

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: Find the safe ones. That’s great, but your job is not to make men feel better about themselves. I think that the other thing that really bothers me is this idea that the proper woman is the one who sounds like enamored with this guy, right? The idea that you’re the best. It’s not even like, “Hey, you’re the mechanic. I’m not so give me your recommendations, and if it’s really expensive, I might get a second opinion just to make sure. But I’m sure if you’re not doing anything untoward, then obviously I’ll just come back to you.” I’ll be honest. I said that when we got our air conditioning unit fixed. We said, “Hey, give us your best quote. We are going to check it with a second opinion from someone else in the field, and if yours matches, we’ll go back with you. We won’t go with the other guy,” because I was like, “That’s fair.” Then if you’re being honest, you’re being honest, but that would have been seen as assertive.

Sheila: Here’s what bothers me about all of this. If a guy were to be assertive, the mechanic would do–

Rebecca: Well, that’s the implication because it’s a man’s world–

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: –and men’s spaces.

Sheila: This isn’t actually about men feeling inadequate. This is actually about misogyny.

Rebecca: Oh, it’s about feeling like women are just at their feet lapping up every word that they say. This is about men having their frankly their porn star fantasy right in front of them all the time. The problem is the number of scenarios in these books where what a woman is supposed to say sounds like the opening of a really bad ’80s porno.

Sheila: Do you want to do this?

Rebecca: Okay, like serious trigger warnings to people who are triggered by discussions of porn, okay? Ready? Think about this. The horrible bass in the background. I have a few questions, but I trust your judgment. You’re the best. Like seriously? Like the idea–I know that people are going to be like, “No.” No, you know what? Women have been portrayed in this society that sees men as smart and pragmatic and women as just in essence sexual outlets. Women have to always act like we would be okay with sleeping with you. Like genuinely, look around, and you won’t be able to unsee it. The way that women are told to act in almost every single scenario is one where we’re like, “Yeah, I kind of find you a little hot.” We’re supposed to have that flirty kind of mentality no atter where we are. “You’re the best. I trust you.” Why does she need to trust him?

Sheila: He hasn’t done anything yet to prove that he’s trustworthy. He’s done absolutely nothing.

Rebecca: Why does he have to be the best? There’s this whole idea that women exist to prop up the egos of men, and that is not true. Women exist. They just exist, just like men do.

Sheila: But the idea that a man cannot handle a woman who approaches him with anything other than absolute adoration and deference is very toxic.

Rebecca: And horrifying.

Sheila: This is part of toxic masculinity what is in these books.

Rebecca: Oh, absolutely.

Sheila: Because it’s saying that he cannot treat you like a human being, he cannot see you as an equal, you have to defer to him. You have to subjugate yourself to get him to take your seriously and to get what you want done.

Rebecca: No, no, no, because he’s not going to take you seriously. That’s the whole point. The goal is to be okay with a man never taking you seriously because he thinks that you are in awe of him.

Sheila: Yeah. Here’s another example of the same thing from this time it’s her adult book, For Women Only. She’s talking about in this particular thing about the same thing, how men need respect. The way that you show this is that you never, ever, ever tell him if he’s driving if he’s gone the wrong way.

Rebecca: Yes. It’s the most bizarre example. It’s so unnecessary.

Sheila: Here’s how she described it. “A man might think of it like this. ‘If she doesn’t trust me in something as small as finding my way along the road, why would she trust me in something important like being a good breadwinner or a good father? If she doesn’t respect me in this small thing, she probably doesn’t really respect me at all.’ The next time your husband stubbornly drives in circles ask yourself what is more important–being on time to the party or his feeling trusted? No contest.”

Rebecca: Can I just say there are two cognitive distortions in that one thing? There’s all or nothing thinking on the man’s part.

Sheila: Yeah.

Rebecca: So this idea–all or nothing thinking is a common cognitive distortion that people engage in. It’s very unhealthy, and when you go to therapy which the men who Shaunti is basing her books on, should seriously try some therapy. If you go to therapy, that’s one thing they work with. Okay, it’s not all or nothing thinking. If I fail this test, I’m never going to be able to get a job. No, no, no, no, calm down. Calm down. You can fail a test, and you can still get a job. You’re going to be okay. Well, she doesn’t–if I turn the wrong direction, if she says I turn the wrong direction, she’s going to think I’m a horrible father. Holy moly, let’s take this back. Holy–where did we go? So I see we took a hard left. That’s an awesome example with the wrong directions.

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: We took a hard left here at reality. So this is a cognitive distortion called all or nothing thinking or black and white thinking. No, it’s all or nothing thinking. Then the other one is this idea that this is false equivalent. There’s also this either-or fallacy that she has at the end. So the man is engaging in all or nothing thinking, and this is seen as a good thing first of all. It’s not seen as a cognitive distortion.

Sheila: Yep.

Rebecca: It’s not seen as, “Hey, women, sometimes just like how we feel like this, men also engage in all or nothing thinking. So if your husband is getting worked up about this, let’s deal with it and say, ‘Hey, I still trust you. You’re just going the wrong way.'” That’s not what she says. She then says either you shut up and let him keep going around in circles even though you’re getting late for your friend’s birthday party and you’re being unkind to your friend–

Sheila: Right.

Rebecca: –or you speak up and your husband thinks you hate him. That’s a false dichotomy.

Sheila: Yep.

Rebecca: That’s a logical fallacy where you take the two extremes, and you put them against each other. So either you say nothing, or you ruin your marriage. That’s not actually what it is. You can do something else, and you can say–or he could grow a backbone, and he could not be toxic.

Sheila: This is the essential problem is that her reality of men is that they are so insecure, and that women have to cater to this whereas is it really that men are that insecure? Some are, for sure. Or is it more likely that men just simply like not being challenged, and so we’re going to weaponize the idea of men’s inadequacy and men’s deep feelings of inadequacy so that we tell women you can never, ever, ever say anything because you will ruin his self-confidence. That’s a really nice place to be.

Rebecca: Well, because I think what actually happens is everyone–man, woman, adult, child–there are people who are incredibly healthy, and people who are incredibly unhealthy, right? The difference is we know that in the way that our North American world is structured for pretty much our entire history, men have had the power, right?

Sheila: Yeah.

Rebecca: We only had the first women in government like in your lifetime in some aspects of government, right?

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: This is ridiculous. So the idea men have always been in charge. So when you have both men and women who are emotionally unhealthy, who are in relationships with each other, and men are in charge, who is going to end up having to pick up the slack? It’s not that men are more unhealthy than women. It’s not that women aren’t unhealthy and men are. It’s just that women have not had excuses, and so when you see stuff like this where it’s saying, “Your husband won’t be able to handle being told he went the wrong direction,” it’s like wait, wait, wait. Do we expect this of our five-year-old daughters?

Sheila: Yeah.

Rebecca: If we expect it of our five-year-old daughters, we can expect it of our 45-year-old husbands. If we expect it of literal kindergartners, if my three-year-old son is supposed to be able to calm himself down after he was told he did something that hurt Mommy, we can expect that our husbands who are grown men will be able to deal with being told, “You hurt me.” These are things that we can expect of men, and we’re not saying that one is better than the other. What we are saying is one has been coddled for generations upon generations in a way that the other has not, and that is coming to a head right now because women are being told, “You deserve better because you’re giving better, and you’re not getting in return. This is unfair, and God wants better for you because God does not want his sons to be stunted by ideas like what Shaunti is saying like, ‘Well, he just engages in all or nothing thinking so he never has to be free of that.'” No, God wants men to be free of these cognitive distortions. God wants men to get therapy. Let’s do the work. Again just going back become the guy that we’re rooting for in the rom com. Don’t be the filler dude. 

Sheila: Amen, amen. So there you go. Let’s move towards a faith that promotes nontoxic masculinity, not one that promotes toxic masculinity, a faith that encourages everyone to be emotionally healthy because you know what? We are all made in the image of God. We all have the Holy Spirit, and we can totally all do it. So thank you for joining us on The Bare Marriage podcast. Thank you for supporting our book, She Deserves Better. Pick up a copy of Nontoxic Masculinity too, and we will see you again next week. Bye-bye.

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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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    • Anonymous305

      Good point that OCD intrusive thoughts exist!! I didn’t listen to the link, but saw “OCD” in it. One fact I can say from experience is that OCD intrusive thoughts are the opposite of what the person desires, while lust is something the person desires, but I see how an uninformed person could confuse them by defining lust as “thinking about sex”.

      An OCD person could have unplanned thoughts about pedophilia, but be completely repulsed and disgusted by them, and NEVER act on them. I bet most people in that situation wouldn’t admit to it, understandably. However, someone who’s actually lusting after children is dangerous and likely to abuse.

      Back to the original topic of adult lusting after adults, yes, intrusive thoughts could be the case, but probably not the most likely scenario, if less than half of males have OCD.

      • Jason

        I think that one scenario .A man could be sexually attracted to a woman and be aroused and not actually want to go after her but he is having intrusive thoughts. Because he is attracted to her and is having intrusive thoughts he thinks he is lusting or struggling with lust.
        Never been comfortable With the term struggling with lust because it sounds nebulous to exactly what is happening in the man’s mind it could be the scenario I’ve just described or he can be genuinely having a desire for a relationship that is wrong which I believe what lust really is.
        I believe a lot of guys who say That they’re struggling with lust could be just having intrusive sexual thoughts when they see a girl that they’re really attracted to. There is also research that proves that when you try not to think about something it actually causes you to think about even more and that’s what causes thoughts to become extremely intrusive.
        Also when a guy is scared that he’s gonna think something wrong if he sees a girl it’s gonna make women more overwhelming to him causing them to try to suppress thoughts even more.

    • Lisa Johns

      I think that is a very good question!

  1. April

    Thanks so much for the interview! It is eye-opening and truly needed in this church environment that is affecting us all.

  2. Noel Lokaychuk

    I just had a random thought. Thinking of the way that many of our social norms in the church are actually stemming from the mid-20th century, could the supposed fragility of men be coming from the unaddressed PTSD post WWII? And even before that, the well-documented demoralization of men in WWI? Was the feeling that we had to be careful of men’s egos and self-worth AND perhaps their overblown reactions, really a post-war issue?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ve read some interesting academic papers on this. So the Boomers’ parents were in the war–either the women waiting for the men to get home and traumatized from that, or the men in the war. So when the men did get home, the women’s lives revolved around catering to their husbands. Kids were to be seen but not heard. The Boomer generation was not heavily parented because the family revolved around dad–mom wanted to make sure he was safe and was so grateful he was back; dad had trauma and was trying to readjust.

      So the Boomers just didn’t have engaged parents. And that has all trickled down. It’s really interesting (and sad).

      • Noel Lokaychuk

        My mother-in-law’s father spent 10 years in prison for possession of a Bible (in the USSR.) When he came back, his wife told the children that the reason he was “mean” was because of the way he was treated in prison, and to make exceptions for it. I was wondering if there was a similarity here.

      • Susan

        This sounds a lot like my husband’s family. His dad was in WWII and spent his time as a radio operator with a team behind enemy lines. When he returned he married my MIL and had a family (including my husband, the oldest) but suffered severe PTSD (though not recognized then) for the rest of his life.
        He also drank heavily to self medicate for many years. I think the family clearly revolved around him and his issues, which makes a lot of sense when I think about how my husband learned to cope (in unhealthy ways) and exist in the world.

      • Codec

        So wait a second. If we are processing all kinds of intergenerational trauma does that mean that some of the movements like the incel/femcel movement is a maladaptive coping mechanism?

        How would Vietnam or 9/11 or other tragedies play into this?

      • Carla

        Born in 1963 and this checks out. I remember a conversation about the effects of Watergate and Vietnam, and I said that the event that had the greatest effect on me was WWII, even though I wasn’t born yet. All the adults were so profoundly impacted.

    • Marie

      Good thought! This is fascinating.

    • Lisa Johns

      This is a really fascinating thought! Intergenerational trauma is a very real thing and something to be addressed. This is just not a connection I have ever made before. Hmm.
      Now the next question is, how is it that the world outside the church has apparently been able to work through this stuff on a faster timeline than we in the church??

    • Nessie

      Even setting aside the trauma for a moment, just having the men back home, be they husbands, sons, etc., they were revered by many and given preferential treatment in many ways. The kids of that generation saw the reverence of the men as normal. (When I think of how much my MIL coddles my husband on a visit, I get a glimpse of that behavior.) Knowing many men didn’t make it back, there was even more appreciation toward the men that did.

      Then add in the trauma elements.

      Post Vietnam, etc., I’ve wonderd how it differed, too… the WWII men were considered heroes in UK, USA, in the “winning” countries… how different was it for the men who returned from Vietnam in places like the USA where many were protesting, in addition to not “winning” that war. I wonder if those men needed a “win” that they didn’t get, if they subconciously felt they would be welcomed home with celebrating by all as many of them had witnessed with the previous generation, so they bossed their families around more… a lot of those (of Vietnam era) men are now the ones around their 70s (or were the kids of those men) and authoring books or preaching.

  3. Angharad

    ‘The next time your husband stubbornly drives in circles ask yourself what is more important–being on time to the party or his feeling trusted? No contest.” ‘

    Am I the only person who is thinking that you probably SHOULDN’T be trusting a man who is childish and insecure enough to have a meltdown just because you point out the right route to your destination? If we wouldn’t allow this kind of tantrum from a toddler, why is it acceptable in a grown man?

    • Tim

      Not sure of the context for the quote at the start (haven’t heard podcast yet), but amen to the rest! Those ideas are so demeaning, to men and women.

    • Anonymous305

      You aren’t the only person thinking you shouldn’t trust him!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m thinking that exactly!

  4. Natasha

    Usually when talking about toxic masculinity, I find that men are a lot more receptive when you talk about “Positive Masculinity” and emphasize what they should be doing more of (which often includes being more like Jesus and by Jesus I mean the actual real life Jesus and not whatever myths they think is Jesus).

    I have always wondered if after She Deserves Better if you will come out with a book about raising sons (He Can do Much More?) because I have a nephew and sons of my cousins ranging from a baby to sixteen years old who I am close to that I want to grow up to be functioning members of society, especially since a couple of them are sort of the nerdy types that tend to get sucked into these manosphere cults the most.

    • Codec

      I agree actually. When people say toxic masculinity there are a couple of ways it is taken.

      The actual way is that men can realize that some things considered manly are actually terrible.

      The other way is anger as men do not want to be emasculated or treated as lesser.

      Yet another way is to deflect to the toxic in the feminine.

      I do think though that calling men to be more is good.

    • Lisa Johns

      As a mom of five boys, I beg for that book!

  5. Mara R

    Great Podcast, as always.

    I love the fact that Zackary brought up Mark Driscoll by name. The terrible seeds that that man has sown and is still trying to sow concerning masculinity. I think one of the reasons TGC, Josh Butler, and flannel pastor were emboldened to say the things they said was because Driscoll lowered the bar of decency.

    I’m glad for all the good push back by good men against the bad doctrine.
    Yes, women have been pushing back for a long time and it’s been easy for many men to dismiss them as bitter feminists. But as is mentioned in the podcast today and by all theses supposed bitter women in the past, this is not just bad for women. It’s bad for men. And it doesn’t represent Christ. This should have never been allowed within the doors of the church.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Cynically, I hope that now that people realize it’s bad for men too things will actually change!

      • Jason

        I was reading an article about something called the Pygmalion Effect.
        You talked about this before but I don’t if said what it’s called.
        I know this applies to men and boys being told that they are going have struggled with lust.

  6. No name today

    Okay so… This toxic masculine thinking comes out in weird ways when you unmask it.
    My husband wanted me to give him praise for not “pushing further” when I clearly said no to PIV sex. I sat there stunned. I said, “Did you just say that you want me to pat you on the back for you not raping me? I think that’s what you just said.” We both sat there stunned.

    It really was the intent of what he said. He even realized it.

    I have many many many many thoughts on this that I won’t say here.

  7. Anonymous305

    I’m glad Zachary decided “I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me,” but unfortunately, that’s not as obvious as he makes it sound. My almost-ex was perfectly capable of feeling an “emotional connection” during sex when I didn’t feel it, and he needed me to “give” him an “emotional connection” (through sex) as if it were something outside of me. Of course, the marriage counselor questioned me about whether I was doing anything to connect with him.

    That experience also taught me that sexual conflicts are more complex than, “he wants the physical without the emotional”, and the solution is more than, “he needs to connect with emotions during sex.”

    • Lisa Johns

      That whole “not being with someone who does not want to be with me” gave me a LOT to think about concerning my marriage. I’m grateful that the words were spoken.
      My husband does “not want a divorce,” but the message I have received clearly over decades is that he clearly does not want to be with me — as evidenced by constant rejection of my attempts at closeness and an absolute refusal of physical intimacy for weeks and months at a time. Do I even want to work on a way to stay with someone who does not want to be with me? Not gonna lie, this gives me a whole lot of reason to pursue my freedom.

      • Anonymous305

        ☹️❤️☹️!! Does he want you to stay because you provide free cleaning services? Only you know when it’s time to leave, but no one would want to live like you describe!!

        • Lisa Johns

          I think it’s a religious thing with him, and that he always wants things to look good on the outside. 🤬

  8. Michelle

    Last week I was in a counseling session and mentioned how I was really triggered this week because our church’s men group was doing the study “captivating” to better understand women. (I’m going to talk to the pastor about GSR) And this got my counselor and I talking about books. She’s a certified betrayed spouse counselor out of Indianapolis (who happens to also be a Christian) but I mentioned to her how I feel GSR would be better for the men and she was mentioned she has that book. She doesn’t like Love and Respect or Captivating and it bothers her when other counselors use those books. I mentioned She Deserves Better and she was so excited about it she kept mentioning she was going to get it because she feels it would help her greatly in counseling. So I just wanted to say people see what you guys are doing and love your work!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so good to hear! And I can understand being triggered by Captivating and thinking that’s what the men will hear. Yep.

  9. Terri

    Can someone define what is a “gender essentialist”? I heard it used in this podcast.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Someone who thinks that all men are like X and all women are like Y, and the two sexes are fundamentally different on a myriad of measures. In truth, there is a ton of overlap (for instance, men tend to be taller than women, but lots of women are taller than lots of men. The same is true for “men are visual, while women aren’t”, “men want sex, while women don’t”, “men don’t like talking, women do.” etc. etc.)

      • Terri

        So, a “gender essentialist” is someone who stereotypes males and females? Clearly, stereotyping is not a good thing to do, yet we can all admit they come about because there is an element of truth to them. (We laugh at comedians who do this all the time for jokes. We laugh because there’s some truth in there). But, yeah, it’s way overgeneralizing, and we shouldn’t do it. Here is one I’ve heard from a marriage book author. Women tend to cry when their feelings get hurt. Men tend to get angry when their feelings are hurt. Now I agree with you that no emotion is wrong or bad. How we behave or manifest that emotion is what can be bad.

        Do you believe it is a good thing to recognize and appreciate the different positive feminine and masculine traits God created us with, or would you say it is healthier for society if we not focus on the differences but instead minimize our differences and highlight how we are the same?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          When you are talking about a marriage situation, it really doesn’t matter what “most” women or “most” men do. What’s important is what you do. That’s why it’s better not to talk in stereotypes but to just talk about how to work out common conflicts. So, for instance, when it comes to sex drive, instead of talking men and women, talk lower drive and higher drive, or responsive libido and spontaneous libido. Because how you handle it is pretty much the same whether it’s the man or the woman who is the higher drive. So why make it gendered? Let’s just talk about the dynamics.

          Same with who wants to talk more and share feelings more. Who cares whether it’s her or him? You still have to figure out how to do it.

          Also, we know from our survey of 20,000 women that those who believe in gender stereotypes do worse than those who do not. So there’s no point in talking about things that aren’t true anyway, and there’s a lot of point in just talking about what healthy dynamics look like and how to get there.


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