What if the sex that is being described by many male authors is actually male-centric?
What if the way they’re talking about sex actually hints that it’s not about her pleasure at all, but is simply focused on his climax during intercourse?
That’s what we think is going on in many books and from many authors, and today we’re going to evaluate two: Emerson Eggerichs (author of Love & Respect) from a podcast, and Joshua Butler from his book Beautiful Union.
Here’s the thing: Women deserve to be central in sex too. Sex is supposed to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. When we picture “sex”, and the thing we’re picturing does not actually lead to her pleasure or focus on her pleasure, then we’re missing the boat entirely.
And it’s time that we no longer accept men ignoring women’s experience during sex.
This is a good one!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
2:30 The Female Sexual Response Cycle
14:00 What happens with sex is viewed as Male-Centric
19:20 An illustration of this using Emerson Eggerich’s podcast clip
25:20 These illustrations from Josh Butler’s ‘Beautiful Union’ break Rebecca
35:20 Laura Robinson’s take on ‘Beautiful Union’
43:10 Do these men actually understand female orgasm?
1:00:00 Qualifications to teach on sex + explanation for this podcast viewpoints
Let’s start with the sexual response cycle.
Basically, there are two different timelines, or templates, that we can use for sex. One is the male-centric one, and one is a couple-centric one. In the male-centric one, the aim is to get her willing to let you have sex with her. In the couple centric one, the aim is to have sex which brings both of you pleasure.
The two look like this:
Often what happens is pastors/authors mix up “arousal” and “excitement” with “she’s willing to let me have sex with her.” So they use the language of arousal, but all they really mean is that she’s willing to let you go ahead.
That’s what you’ll hear from Emerson Eggerichs, and it’s also partially what you’ll hear from Joshua Butler.
The bigger problem with Butler’s book, too, is that the male climax is everything.
It symbolizes God penetrating us with his word, and so many other things (there are lots and lots of rather questionable analogies given to ejaculation, which features prominently in his book. Seriously, if you read the reviews on Goodreads, there’s an early one where someone simply copied out all the sentences that refer to semen–and there are a lot.)
But meanwhile the female climax is (maybe?) mentioned once in the book, and it’s really ambiguous. So the male climax is everything, while the female climax is an afterthought. This isn’t okay.
There are many, many other issues with Beautiful Union, but I’m only going to touch on the one that is our area of expertise. I’ve got links to other critiques in Tuesday’s post on pastors who aren’t actually experts.
We’re simply asking that, when we talk about sex, her experience counts as much as his does.
We’re asking that sex not be thought of in male-centric terms. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask!
Oh, plus we go into a lot of detail about the sexual response cycle, so this one’s really fun! And if you want more information about the sexual response cycle, it’s all in our books The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Our Patreon community! It’s super fun, and it helps fund our research! Join us for as little as $5 a month.
- Our book The Great Sex Rescue, plus our two books that look into the sexual response cycle in detail: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex.
- The Orgasm Course! If you find it difficult to reach the Big O, this evidence-based course can help!
- Emerson Eggerichs: His podcast where the clips were taken from, plus the podcast where we analyzed his advice to the woman crying the shower; the post where we went into this in detail; and the podcast featuring the woman who wrote in to Eggerichs.
- Dr. Laura Robinson’s critiques of Beautiful Union. Here’s Part 6 with links to everything (so go here, but then start at post 1 that is linked at the top and work your way through). In this podcast we focused on parts 3 and 4.
- My original Twitter thread about the visceral reaction that women have to sex advice.
- An article earlier this week about how pastors aren’t necessarily the experts; lots of links to other well thought out critiques of Beautiful Union by Joshua Butler.
What do you think? Have you noticed this phenomenon of mixing up “arousal” with “willing to let me have sex with her”? 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 marriage and your sex life. I am joined today by my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.
Sheila: The weirdest mother/daughter duo because we talk about sex all the time which is just odd.
Sheila: But we hopefully do it with class, and today—you are looking at me funny, but bear with me because today on episode 194 of The Bare Marriage Podcast we are going to ask the question—and it’s an awkward question—so this is just an awkward podcast.
Sheila: What if some marriage authors don’t actually know the difference between women’s arousal and women’s willingness to have sex?
Rebecca: Yeah, what if there’s a real lack of knowledge here?
Sheila: Yeah, and so that’s what we’re going to be looking at today. Before we go into that, a couple of things. If you’ll notice, I said episode 194, and 194 is very close to—
Rebecca: Two hundred.
Sheila: – two hundred, which is coming up. Two hundred is going to be our last episode of the season before we take a month off mid-July, but episode 200 we want to make it a really fun one. So we are going to do a Brio magazine pajama party. So for any of you who grew up with Brio magazine just like Rebecca did because who bought you the subscription, Becca?
Rebecca: You did.
Sheila: I bought you the subscription—
Sheila: – to the magazine that told you that you are a walking temptation—
Rebecca: To be used by Satan.
Sheila: – to be used by Satan. All right, and so we are going to read some gems like that for you in our flannel pajamas and invite you to do that. We’re going to have some Facebook Lives on it so we’re going to have more information about that coming soon. If you want to stay informed about all this stuff, please sign up to our email list. The link is in the podcast notes. We’d love to have you there. Another big announcement—just as always a special shoutout to our patrons who have helped us fund our research. Have helped us fund the research for She Deserves Better and just create the most fun place to hang out on the internet where we get the weirdest questions, the weirdest memes shared and some honest discussion.
Rebecca: Yeah, every now and then there gets to be a meme thread where everyone just shares random stuff they’ve seen around the internet that somewhat pertains to what we talk about. They get pretty entertaining.
Sheila: Yes, it really does. So you can join us for as little as $5 a month and get behind-the-scenes access while you help fund what we’re doing. So that is at patreon.com/baremarriage, and you can find us there. Okay, so there’s been a lot going on—
Sheila: – on the internet over the last few months, and the question that appears to me as I look at a lot of different people who are talking about sex is do they see sex almost exclusively from a male perspective, from a male centric perspective? To figure that out, I thought what we could do first is to talk about the sexual response cycle—
Sheila: – and how it might look if you’re trying to see sex as something which is mutual, intimate, pleasurable for both as we talk about in The Great Sex Rescue versus sex as merely intercourse.
Rebecca: Yes, as in do you get it or do you not?
Sheila: Right, and a little bit of a disclaimer, we’re going to get really graphic in this podcast. I mean we talk about sex all the time so we’re usually graphic, but we’re going to get super graphic because we’re going to be talking about some sex advice given by Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love and Respect, and some very graphic stuff given by Josh Butler in his new book, Beautiful Union.
Rebecca: Ironically euphemistically, you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Sheila: Yes, just a disclaimer for this podcast. Okay, so here is what—and for those of you watching on YouTube, we do have a graphic of this that we have created. I did not actually create this. I created the words, and another wonderful graphic designer created the graphic.
Rebecca: It’s fantastic.
Sheila: It’s fantastic, and some of you may laugh at it, but we want to show the two different scenarios that sex can go. So let’s talk about the different sexual states that women can be in. So where do we start?
Rebecca: Well, the first thing is that you can be actively in a mood where want to be not having sex. Like you want to actively not have sex.
Sheila: Yeah, because some people, “Well, I don’t really feel like having sex right now,” but that’s different from, “I want to not have sex right now.”
Rebecca: Yes, like, “Oh, I was going to watch eight episodes of a soap opera in a row while I eat popcorn by the handful. That’s what I want to do,” but like, “Maybe we could get funky with it.” There’s that mood, and then there’s the, “No, I need to watch my show. I need to eat my popcorn, and I need to be left alone right now.” Those are two different things.
Sheila: Yes, so the first one is someone might actively want to not have sex. So let’s call that anything there is the consent line. So that is do not even try. Let them say no.
Sheila: Now we’re going to list a whole lot of other things, and of course, at any point, consent can be revoked.
Rebecca: Yeah, at any point, you can say no.
Sheila: But if she actively—or he actively—does not want to have sex, then you’re not going to try. Okay, but here they haven’t said no. They’re just kind of neutral. They’re just neutral.
Rebecca: They just haven’t thought about it.
Sheila: They haven’t thought about it.
Rebecca: They’re like turning on the Netflix, but they haven’t actually considered and been like, “No, I don’t want to have sex.” They’re just like, “I’m going to watch Netflix.”
Sheila: Right. Or maybe they’re putting the clothes away from the laundry, whatever. They’re neutral. So when someone is neutral, it is okay to say, “Hey, can we work on some relational connecting?” So to get to the next step which is when you’re like willing to try something, willing to start affection, then yeah, let’s talk. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s connect relationally in some way, whatever that might look like for you. So then you get to this interesting state, and this is where our lines start to diverge because you can have a woman who might—and we’re going to use women here because we’re talking about male centric sex but obviously there can be some men who are more hesitant to have sex.
Rebecca: We’re really talking about the typical, Christian marriage advice that’s given which presents a woman with very receptive libido or responsive libido and a man who is very spontaneous libido. So that’s what we’re going with because that’s what the advice is all about so we’re trying to figure out what’s going on here.
Sheila: Okay, so you have someone who is neutral, and then you have this relational connecting so that they are willing to start. The question is what are they willing to start? This is where things get tricky. So we’re going to talk about what it’s supposed to look like first, and then we’re going to talk about what it actually—
Rebecca: What it actually does look like.
Sheila: – does look like for a lot of these authors. So she’s willing to start affection. So now what you’re going to have is you’re going to have some kissing, some touching.
Rebecca: You need to not make eye contact with me while you’re talking about this, like seriously.
Sheila: Okay, so we’re going to pretend there’s a plexiglass screen here. Then you get to some kissing, some touching, just basic touch stuff, and that can get excitement going where the breathing starts to get a little bit heavier, starting to get tingly.
Rebecca: You’re getting the physiological signs of arousal.
Sheila: Exactly, and then you get to the desire to have sex. Now for some people the desire comes before excitement, depends whether your responsive or spontaneous so whichever way it comes, but whether you’re spontaneous or responsive, excitement and arousal still are two different things.
Sheila: So excitement is like you’re just starting to get the physiological signs. Once she’s actually excited, then you can go for the erogenous zones, all right? Don’t touch the erogenous—don’t go straight for the clitoris. I’ve said this so many times. You go straight for the clitoris when she’s not even excited, it feels like a pap smear. It is not a fun experience, and a lot of women think they don’t like foreplay. I’ve heard from so many women who say, “I just don’t like clitoral stimulation.” It’s like, “Yeah, because he’s going for it when you’re at zero.”
Rebecca: Yeah, there’s a lot of situations where we hear from people where it’s like, “Yeah, if that were happening, that does not sound pleasant. I’m going to be honest.”
Sheila: No, exactly.
Rebecca: That does not sound great.
Sheila: So you get excitement, and then from excitement then you can start more intense stimulation. Then you get to arousal, and then from arousal, you can do lots of teasing, changing things up, lots of stuff. Then you get to a plateau where you’re almost at orgasm. At plateau, you just want the same stimulation, same depth, same speed, same everything so that you can go over the edge. That’s what you’re looking at. So you have excitement, arousal, plateau, orgasm, and then resolution, recovery, whatever you call it after that. So that’s what it’s supposed to look like. So she’s neutral, willing to start affection, to excitement, etc. At any point of course, she can say, “You know what? This isn’t working for me. This isn’t really working for me. I’d like to stop,” and she can stop. The more she feels able to stop—this is what you found in the focus groups actually—is that is the key to a woman’s orgasm and libido—is if she knows she can stop at any point, then it’s much easier for her for things to work.
Rebecca: Yeah, a lot of women that we talked to sex was not a pleasurable experience until their husbands gave them explicit permission, like, “You can say no. I want you to say no if you don’t want to do something,” and because these women had heard messages like we talked about in The Great Sex Rescue like, “Wives, you can’t say no to your husbands. If you turn your husband down, then you’re sending him to the arms of another woman or to pornography,” whatever it was. So their husbands had no idea they believed this and so when they said, “No, no, no. I only want you if you want me. I don’t want a begrudging you. I don’t want a pressured you. I don’t want anything like that. I just want us to have a good time together so I’d rather just not have sex as much.” They said that, and that was a really big difference for them. That’s why this is so important because a lot of times what we’re about to talk about now is talking about the other side of it where it’s like what happens when we don’t see sex as something that a woman actually does but rather as something that she allows him to do to her.
Sheila: That’s a big problem.
Rebecca: There’s a difference.
Sheila: I want to say too that these states are physiological states. They’re not mental states.
Sheila: The mental state is there. The desire to have sex, but these are actually physiological states. Orgasm is a physiological thing that happens.
Rebecca: Yeah, you can track these. You can physiologically track these.
Sheila: Yes, so these are all distinct phases. So during excitement, her heartbeat is starting to go a little bit faster. She might start to feel some tingling. During arousal, her clitoris actually gets erect. So women get erections too. The areola swells. Your nipples get erect, etc., and then during plateau the clitoris actually retracts flat against the body so that it can get more stimulation directly from intercourse, whatever, or any other kind of stimulation. Anyway, but these are distinct physiological things so different things happen to the body—lubrication, etc. I talk about this a lot in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. We talk about this at length—more so that in The Great Sex Rescue. The Great Sex Rescue we were trying to fix—
Rebecca: We’re rescuing people from the bad teachings, right? Helping people see where has this gone wrong.
Sheila: Right, but in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex we actually explained how sex works, and so these are all distinct phases physiologically, and you do not get to orgasm except through these phases.
Rebecca: Yeah, and some people get through them faster than others.
Sheila: Yes, for some people, they’re really fast.
Rebecca: Yeah, and sometimes even the same person can take lengths of time based on where she is in her hormonal cycle, based on what’s been going on, based on her stress levels, based on the relationship, based on what type of activity they are doing. There are some women who can orgasm in under a minute in some ways, and it takes over 45 minutes another way, or something, or depending on the time. So this stuff can vary, but the thing that doesn’t vary is that you do have to actually go through the phases. You’re not going to orgasm unless you’re aroused.
Rebecca: You may only need to be aroused for 20 seconds, but you do need to be aroused first.
Sheila: You do need to go through that physiological stage. So that is what the sexual response cycle looks like for women.
Rebecca: The other really important thing to say is this isn’t actually just for women. This is the exact same cycle that men go through. The only way that men and women are different in this is that after the orgasm phase women can go right back to the plateau or have rapid orgasms in a row whereas men are just done.
Sheila: Yeah, they have a refractory period where stimulation of the penis becomes very uncomfortable, and you normally can’t get a full erection. Some men can keep their erection after orgasm for a time, but normally it takes between 30 and 60 minutes to recover.
Rebecca: Yeah, and so that’s the only difference. So this idea that women and men’s sexuality is just totally different is not true in terms of the experience of arousal. We actually both go through the same phases.
Sheila: For women, excitement and arousal actually do look quite different. For men, you kind of get that erection right away, and it doesn’t automatically look different. But you will notice that the penis does get larger, it gets harder, as you go through these phases. So these are all separate physiological phases. They are not mental phases. So while the mind is involved in it and obviously she needs to be willing to have sex, and she needs to want to have sex, and if she doesn’t want to have sex because you can be aroused and not want to have sex.
Sheila: That’s called arousal non-concordance. So obvious she does need to be mentally there, and if she’s not, if she says, “No, you need to stop,” but these are physiological stages.
Rebecca: What we’re saying is that it’s not in her head.
Rebecca: Things actually have to happen.
Sheila: Yes. Now what happens though if you see sex not as something which is supposed to be pleasurable for both and mutual, but as merely intercourse because remember that we found in our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue followed by our survey of men for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex that we have a 47-point orgasm gap where 95% of men almost always or always reach orgasm in a given sexual encounter compared to just 48% of women. Of the women who do reach orgasm, only 40% can do so with virtually no foreplay. Most women who reach orgasm actually find other routes to orgasm easier, and many women cannot reach orgasm through intercourse at all even with a lot of foreplay. So for women there are other routes to orgasm that are more reliable, and many women prefer those other routes.
Rebecca: Yeah, and other studies have found too that the most successful couples in terms of sexual satisfaction do a lot more than just intercourse, and intercourse is not the main event for their sex lives. So that’s because when we’re talking about heterosexual couples, right, because I think when we’re talking about sex in this context often, it becomes this idea of green light, red light. It’s like, “Can I have sex or can I not?” Okay, but we’re talking about an experience here that’s for both of you. So I think that’s why it makes sense that more sexually satisfied couples are likely actually doing more than just the thing that is easiest for him but are actually making sure that she is orgasming as well.
Sheila: Right, but because we tend to see sex as just intercourse which by the way is a very male centric way of seeing sex then we can start to think that the way sex should go is not necessarily through those stages, but that all you really need to do is get her willing to have intercourse.
Rebecca: Right, because the only thing that matters is that he gets through the stages.
Sheila: Right, and so if that’s the way you’re seeing it, then what we’re really working at is getting her willing to let him have sex with her.
Rebecca: Exactly, she’s the gatekeeper.
Sheila: Right, and so the main aim for a guy is to get her willing to have sex so that he can have sex. So it’s not about all those stages for her if it’s really a male centric thing which it is in—
Rebecca: Like every single—it’s bad. The situation is bad.
Sheila: – a lot of couples then the only focus is willingness to have sex. So I want to show you what this sounds like.
Rebecca: Yeah, so if you’re watching this on YouTube or something, just go back and look at that graph again because it’s on the screen now. So instead of going through all these different phases where she’s actually getting aroused and this is all seen as part of sex, the focus is, “Okay, she said yes so I get to go have sex now.” So we go straight from willingness to let him have sex to intercourse and orgasm for him. Remember that the average time that a man takes to orgasm is less than three minutes through intercourse. The average time a woman takes to orgasm is 20 minutes or more. So this is why we’re saying it’s male centric. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy intercourse. It’s not that women don’t enjoy intercourse. It’s just that women take longer and so if it’s just about letting him do his thing statistically speaking she’s incredibly unlikely to orgasm.
Sheila: Right, and we know from our stats that it actually isn’t expected that she should orgasm because 72% of men whose wives don’t frequently orgasm say that they do enough foreplay.
Rebecca: Answer the question what’s enough? We would find this ridiculous if we were like 72% of chefs whose chicken comes out raw and frozen on the inside say that they cook their chicken for long enough. We know that’s ridiculous because we know what the metric is. The metric is you can’t say that you cooked chicken if it’s still not cooked. Same thing. You can’t say that you’re satisfied with how much foreplay you did if she didn’t orgasm or something. Something is wrong then.
Sheila: Right, but we still have 72% of men saying they did enough foreplay and so do 51% of women. We don’t even necessarily expect to orgasm, and I think a lot of the reason is because of the way we talk about sex. I want to put the spotlight on two different authors today just as examples to go along with our thesis here that the way that we talk about sex in the evangelical church is very male centric. First of all, I just want to play you a clip from a podcast that Emerson Eggerichs did. We actually played this clip or referred to it—
Rebecca: A while ago.
Sheila: – I think about a year ago where we talked about how he didn’t understand marital rape because he had a letter from a woman who really sounded like she was being coerced and he said—he praised her for being so obedient.
Rebecca: It was disgusting.
Sheila: Yeah, and then this is part of what he said.
Emerson Eggerichs: Here’s the classic illustration that you turn on a woman sexually by not having anything to do with her sexually. The irony of it all is that what turns a woman on sexually are the nonsexual things. This is a classic truth, an axiom, a basic principle. Gentlemen, if you’ve never learned that, I want you to trust me here. Don’t listen to Hollywood that they’re drooling and so and so-forth. Every three days a month there’s going to be that peaking of sexual interest because she can become pregnant. There are these sexual appetites, but we say 27 days out of the month, it’s the relationship with you that excites her not just raw sex. So notice the things that turn her on. It’s so easy to do. Reading a book together, praying together, helping her with the household. Why is it that your wife wants you to vacuum? It isn’t necessarily because she’s this domestic engineer who has a whip in hand and wants you to abide by every command she gives to you. Maybe she realizes that it’s a sexual turn on to her, and so I want you to just be reminded here that it’s the nonsexual things.
Rebecca: We’re really playing fast and loose with the word turn on.
Sheila: And then here again is how he ended the podcast.
Host: – this week. Any kind of final comments today?
Emerson Eggerichs: Best way to turn your wife on sexually is not to try to turn her on sexually.
Host: Okay, well, we’ll see you next week.
Sheila: So that was his big advice.
Rebecca: That was his big advice is don’t try to turn on your wife.
Sheila: Now here’s my question when you listen to what he’s saying, is he mixing up the stages?
Rebecca: Oh, I mean unless a woman is starting to literally have her pupils dilate and be able and have heavy breathing and increased heartrate and all these things when she’s watching her husband read a book beside her—I mean we talked about this already, but what really seems like is happening is that what we’re seeing is—take water. We’ll consider this water. Let’s go back to the arousal chart idea. The I don’t want to have sex right now is ice. You want to get to steam eventually, right?
Rebecca: That’s the steam. We’re boiling. We’re at steam now, but what’s happening is, “Oh, he’s being—he’s not yelling at me as much. Oh, look he cleaned. Oh, look we’re spending time together. Oh, we’re praying together. We’re melting now,” and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a little bit of water. We can have sex.” We’re not realizing wait a second. There’s still a lot farther to go, and it’s just that little tiny bit of melting is not the same thing as being turned on.
Sheila: Right, because there’s three different words that we are using synonymously here that are not synonymous. He’s using arousal and being turned on as being synonyms.
Rebecca: First of all, those are not even synonyms in the same way. They kind of are.
Sheila: I mean I do turned on, excited, but that’s debatable. But what I think he’s really talking about is something else which is just willingness to let him have sex.
Rebecca: I think what’s really happening is that—from what I’ve heard in my focus groups and just looking at the research and all the different stuff—what I really think it sounds like is happening is that these are husbands who are “putting in deposits to be able to make a withdrawal” where it’s like—the wife is thinking, “I don’t really want to, but he’s been nice tonight, and he’s done the dishes so I guess we might as well.” I think that’s what it really more sounds like, and I think that if you have never—the idea that women are really only going to want sex three days a month because they could get pregnant. We do know that women’s sex drives raise around ovulation. We do know that. That’s been pretty proven over and over again. That does not mean that women don’t want sex the rest of the time. The other thing too is remember other research has found that if she has an orgasm the first time that she has sex like intercourse her rate of having a high libido is just as high as a man’s. So if you are married to someone who didn’t orgasm for the first bit of marriage, who didn’t experience that, and their libido is way lower, that isn’t because they’re a woman. It’s because they didn’t orgasm from the get go. It’s because their brain learned this isn’t something that is really pleasant for me so why would I put energy towards pursuing it?
Rebecca: So this is something where we learn—our bodies learn, our brains learn. So if you’re in a situation where you’ve learned that if I have sex he kind of treats me properly, it becomes less about actual arousal, and it becomes more about this feeling that he did X so now I have to put out Y if I want to keep having X happen.
Sheila: So what we have here is we have a man who has written the most used marriage material in North American churches, who really seems to not understand the female sexual response cycle because there is no way that you can equate willingness to let him have sex with arousal. Those are two entirely different things, and yet he’s using the words. Okay, let’s use another example. This is from a huge controversial book that came out in April called Beautiful Union and there’s been a controversy around it online since March for very good reason.
Rebecca: Yeah, very good reasons.
Sheila: We’re going to talk about some of that in a minute, but I want to jump into where he talks about the sexual response cycle. So do you want to read—why don’t you read this—this is where he introduces the subject.
Rebecca: Okay, Josh Butler says this, “This doesn’t mean women are less sexual than men but rather that their sexual desire tends to work differently than men. To borrow language from Dr. Emily Nagoski men’s sexual desire tends to be more spontaneous while women’s tends to be more responsive meaning husbands generally don’t need much prodding to be in the mood. While individual experiences vary, on average men initiate sex more often than women do. Wives on the other hand usually prefer to be romanced toward the bedroom.”
Sheila: Okay, so what step in the timeline is he talking about here?
Rebecca: Well, we’re really talking about before—we’re talking about excitement a little bit, but even before then.
Sheila: Yeah, I think what he’s talking about is going from neutral to willing.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. You might be able to talk about excitement maybe, but really more it’s just about the idea of having sex.
Sheila: Yeah, exactly, so we’re going from neutral to willing. Willing to start affection. Then I’ll read the next paragraph. “Why did God make it this way? Christian sex blogger Sheila Gregoire—so he’s quoting me—has a theory observing how men can often climax quickly through intercourse alone while women generally require foreplay and external stimulation.” He quotes me saying, “That means for women to feel pleasure men have to slow down and think about their wives. Sex is best when it isn’t just animal style where you simply have intercourse with no foreplay because that won’t feel good for her. Men have to learn to be unselfish is sex is going to work well for both partners. God deliberately made our female bodies so that if we’re going to feel good during sex, men have to take time to serve women.” Okay, so right here what step am I talking about?
Rebecca: You’re talking about both excitement and arousal.
Sheila: Yeah, and even into orgasm.
Rebecca: Yeah, like the whole thing.
Sheila: So I’m talking about all of that. But right after this, this is how he frames it. “A wife’s desire points to the gospel in other words. Her desire to be romanced is iconic of the church which has had the flames of our desire stoked by the passion of Christ’s sacrificial devotion towards us.”
Rebecca: Yeah, and once again, he’s talking about Christ’s devotion, his sacrifice, and this is—first of all, one of the reasons why Butler’s book is getting so much controversy is because he’s making everything about sex about Jesus which I find—I will be honest—I’m probably going to look pained the rest of this podcast because I actually find this very viscerally difficult to do, to even talk about things in the way that he does because I actually find it very, very offensive because what he’s—and I’m going to say something because I’m using his analogy that I actually find very difficult to say. He’s talking about how women’s sexuality mirrors how Christ fanned the flames through affection and romance, but that’s not actually where his analogy would go. If he actually thinks that this is the analogy, the analogy is that sex and specifically how women experience arousal during sex mirrors us and Christ then it should be that Christ is performing foreplay. I find that really hard to say, but Butler—this is why Butler’s book is getting so much backlash. He talks about rivers of semen—he talks about rivers of life but insinuating that there’s semen. He talks about how the Holy Spirit is Christ’s ejaculate. It’s really quite—
Sheila: No, we’re getting into that.
Rebecca: I do want to say I find this really offensive just as someone who—I find that really difficult, but this is the problem. They talk about this—I think the reason that he mixes it up is because his metaphor is so bad that it’s so offensive to say Christ is performing foreplay. That’s just not okay, but instead of saying, “Maybe my metaphor isn’t right.” He just changes it and once again erases women’s sexuality and makes it all about romance again. This happens every single time. We start talking about women and sex and, “Oh, flowers.” We start talking about women and sex, “Oh, read a book together.” Women and sex—no, women are just allowed to be sexual. Sex is not always about romance. Romance is something that happens in the relationship outside of sex. It happens during sex too, sure. But it isn’t just how women get aroused. It’s not like you can just—
Sheila: Well, I think the way they talk about it is like romance is the price that men pay to get her willing to let him have intercourse.
Sheila: So it’s like her actual sexual experience is not part of the equation.
Rebecca: I think that they get mistaken with the whole swooning thing for arousal. Swooning is not the same thing as arousal. You might get your wife to swoon by giving her chocolates and roses. I don’t know. That’s not the same thing as being rawr I want some.
Sheila: This is what I want to talk about with Josh Butler’s book is the central problem that he is making—and this is the thesis that I want to talk about for the rest of this podcast—because Emerson Eggerichs does this too to a certain extent and so do many, many authors.
Sheila: Because this is a broader problem in the evangelical church is that Butler is seeing sex as an icon of the gospel.
Sheila: But when you look carefully at what he means he doesn’t actually mean mutual intimate pleasurable for both sexual experience that men and women share.
Sheila: What he means is male centric sex.
Rebecca: He means a man is having intercourse, and he’s using a woman to do it. That’s like the gospel.
Rebecca: Genuinely, genuinely that’s what it is.
Sheila: So I want to read you a couple of quotes that kind of summarize this. I won’t belabor this too much because it will make Rebecca’s head explode.
Rebecca: My blood pressure can’t.
Sheila: Just so that you all know what we’re talking about because this is why the book got so—
Rebecca: Sorry, I can see the quotes that we’re about to read.
Sheila: So just take deep breaths. Here we go. Do you want to do it? I’ll do it.
Rebecca: This is such a bad quote.
Sheila: “And what deeper form of self-giving is there than sexual union where particularly for the husband he pours out his very presence not only upon but within his wife.”
Rebecca: So we’re saying here that the best form of self—so women—
Rebecca: – what he’s saying is the most sacrificial thing a man can do is ejaculate on top of and inside of you.
Rebecca: Am I crazy?
Rebecca: That’s what that means.
Sheila: That is what he is saying.
Rebecca: “He pours out his very presence not only upon but within his wife.” It’s like I’m not only going to ejaculate on you. I’m going to ejaculate in you, and that’s me being giving. What the—
Sheila: I know. This is the whole problem is that he’s defining sex in terms of generosity and hospitality so those are the two aspects of sex. Men are generous as they orgasm so they are generously giving their ejaculate to their wife, and she is being hospitable—
Rebecca: In receiving the ejaculate.
Sheila: She is receiving it. So here is a description of that, and again quoting Butler, “Back in the wedding suite, the bride embraces her most intimate guest on the threshold of her dwelling place and welcomes him into the sanctuary of her very self. She gladly receives the warmth of—sorry—she gladly—
Rebecca: “She gladly receives the warmth of his presence and accepts the sacrificial offering he bestows upon the altar within her most holy place.” Can you—no, no, no, no—can you imagine going to get a pap smear and having the gynecologist be like, “Okay, I’m about to enter the speculum into your most holy place. We’ve almost reached the altar. Right now my Q-tip is scraping the altar of your most holy place so we can see if there is any—not regular cells on your altar.” It’s disgusting to—
Sheila: It really is.
Rebecca: It’s really bizarre. The best part though is with him calling the vagina the most holy place—
Sheila: Well, we’re not even sure. Is it the vagina, or is it the cervix?
Rebecca: No, no, it seems like the cervix is the altar. I do think it makes sense with the cervix being the altar, but the funniest thing is everyone—a bunch of people on Twitter were saying, “Does he realize that the priest was only allowed to enter the most holy place once a year?”
Sheila: Yes, exactly. Okay, people have written a lot of critiques about Josh Butler’s book for many reasons—theological critiques, the fact that it really does sexualize God in a not okay way, the fact that—
Rebecca: It’s not that it sexualizes God. It’s that it fetishizes God.
Sheila: Yes, yes.
Rebecca: Because talking about sex and God, that’s perfectly fine. We have stuff like that in the Bible, but it’s the fetishization of weird parts of both male ejaculate and the Trinity that I find very, very uncomfortable.
Sheila: Yes, because the Holy Spirit is equated with—
Sheila: – ejaculate. It’s really problematic. People have said the actual metaphor is not sex itself. It’s marriage. The marriage relationship, and so this is—anyway, it’s all very—
Rebecca: The metaphor in the Bible is not sex. It’s actually marriage and the consummation of marriage, but not just like getting—yeah.
Sheila: There’s just been a lot of critiques. I’m going to link to some of them. They are very thoughtful. A lot of people—this actually is quite offensive to me because a lot of people have bemoaned the Twitter mob which has gone after Joshua Butler, and they haven’t realized the Twitter mob is filled with women with Ph.Ds. who are very, very learned in these areas.
Rebecca: People way more educated than us even in these areas.
Sheila: We have New Testament scholars. We have history scholars like Rebecca (inaudible) who has done a lot of work on post-colonialism and on a lot of sexual metaphors throughout history that have been used in domination. There’s been some wonderful stuff written. I will link that. Today I want to focus on Laura Robinson’s critiques, and we’re going to be reading a lot of Laura Robinson’s critiques. She wrote—
Rebecca: If you like this podcast, you need to subscribe to Laura Robinson’s Substack.
Sheila: I want you all after you’ve done this, go get a glass of wine, a cup of tea, whatever is your cup of tea. Snuggle up on a chair, and she has written 15,000 words on Beautiful Union so no one else has to read it. That was her goal.
Rebecca: That was her goal.
Sheila: I will read the whole thing. I will critique the whole thing so no one else has to read this.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s what she said. We’re not going to critique the whole thing. Laura said, “I will critique the whole thing so no one else needs to read it.”
Sheila: Yeah, but do want to read to you some of what she said specifically about male centric sex because I find this very problematic that we are seeing sex from such a male lens. Interestingly Josh Butler who’s critiques his critics saying that we’re just afraid of using—that we’re prudes.
Rebecca: It’s so funny. Yeah, he says, “They’re just prudes. They don’t like talking about sex.” We’re like, “No, no, no. You’re calling the vagina the most holy place.” We’re like, “Just say vagina, buddy. Just say vagina, cervix, clitoris, uterus, refractory period, orgasm. I don’t care. I’m sitting here doing this with my mom for pity’s sake.” Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Sure, but you can’t call me a prude. I did an orgasm course with my mom. Oh my freaking goodness, okay? The only other people who are as comfortable talking about sex with their parents that I know are the people who moved here from Europe. I mean let’s be honest here.
Sheila: Yeah, shout out to all the Europeans. So the critique has been that we are uncomfortable with real words. No, what we’re uncomfortable with is—
Rebecca: Calling the Holy Spirit ejaculate for pity’s sake. Again this is a hard point for me.
Sheila: And we’re very uncomfortable with the idea of rivers of semen, and of swimming, rivers of life, anyway—
Rebecca: And I do want to say as we’re getting into some of this, I think—one of the things that bothers me about the whole Beautiful Union thing—one of the many things—is just this emphasis on semen, which may be because this guy maybe he is just really innocent to a lot of the stuff around that that often happens in the world. Maybe he doesn’t actually know anything about the role of semen and how it’s used to degrade women in pornography, but it’s pretty common. If he’s that ignorant about what the current state is of the world, then he shouldn’t be writing a book on sex in case he accidentally makes issues like this. But the idea that it’s sacrificial to ejaculate onto a woman—the idea that it’s, “Oh, what a good man that would ejaculate onto a woman.” There’s nothing wrong when you’re having sex. Of course, you’re going to ejaculate. That’s not a problem, but to fetishize ejaculating onto a woman and to fetishize that part of it. Again fetishizing means something different than just enjoying as it’s happening. We’re talking about this man wrote a book and compared it to Christ releasing his Spirit.
Sheila: And this book was widely promoted by the Gospel Coalition. They have tried to step away from it now, but it was originally promoted by them. It was put up on their website. It was part of the Keller Center for Apologetics, the organization that Tim Keller founded. It is put out Waterbrook Multnomah. They paid a lot of money for this book so this is major evangelical establishment book. It’s really bad. I want to read something that Laura Robinson wrote.
Rebecca: Yes, we’ll get to Laura.
Sheila: We will put the link to her series because it just is excellent. But here’s what she says, “Generosity at its highest point is here described as giving your penis to a woman by putting it in her vagina. It is also defined as giving your semen to a woman by ejaculating it into her vagina. The role of a woman is not defined as generosity. It is described as hospitality. It is joyful and happy reception of the gift which is semen. This is analogous to Christ sending the Holy Spirit which the church receives and the Spirit of God filling the temple to be with his people. The obvious thing to point out here is that male ejaculation is completely divinized in this. Women are treated as buildings or communities, but men are treated as divine. This inflates the importance of male bodies and male pleasure, subtlety insists on hierarchy, and erases a role for women during sex beyond receiving the sacralized penis and semen. This is all utterly bizarre and probably disturbing for most readers.”
Sheila: And then later she says this, “By associating penises and semen with gifts, divine inspiration, the presence of God, and sacrifices, this has the effect of making inhospitality, i.e. women not wanting sex, seem more or less irrational.” And I actually want to read the passage—
Sheila: – from Josh Butler’s book here. Here’s what Butler says, “Hospitality on the other hand can turn inward to an unwelcoming posture, refusing to receive the other’s presence.”
Rebecca: And remember that presence has been constantly used as the euphemism for semen in this book.
Sheila: Right. “Declining to prepare a space for them, shutting the door on intimacy, and locking the bolt behind you. Over the time, the warmth from the honeymoon can become a churlish, cold shoulder. Women are known for having a stronger tendency to struggle with this one.” So he’s setting up women to be critiqued for not wanting to have intercourse.
Rebecca: His presence upon and within her.
Sheila: And remember if we go back to that original diagram that we showed you at the beginning of this podcast of the two different models of sex, which model are we talking about when we are focusing on his climax being an act of generosity?
Rebecca: Which one are we focusing on when the focus for her is hospitality? Again you’re having to convince her to allow him to have sex with her. That means she’s not aroused. The thing is—okay, this is one of those situations where I want to say things, but I am jus so acutely aware that my mother is in the room. But here’s the thing. Okay, men who have experienced very aroused women are aware that you don’t have to convince them to have sex, okay? Let’s be clear here. Women who are highly aroused do not need to be warned, “Please don’t be churlish. Don’t be a cold shoulder.” They’re like—they’re not cold. They’re hot. They’re ravenous, okay? Women who are aroused want to have sex. So the whole focus on how men generous. They always want sex. Men are always willing to have sex. Look at how generous the man is. The man is willing to ejaculate on top of his wife. He’ll ejaculate anywhere. He’s so generous. Then the woman she needs to be hospitable because she can be not hospitable. We know that women don’t like sex.
Sheila: As Laura says, there is a footnote that consent matters. But he doesn’t really delve into this much, and so let me just read her summary of this. “By framing semen as a gift or a sacrifice, women’s agency in sex to say nothing of pregnancy and birth is eliminated. Women are the spaces where sex happens. They are not framed as participants in sex. They are the temples where sacrifice happens.” I love this one too. So again, here’s Laura, “The primary problem in these passages is the generosity at least for men has been cleverly redefined as not generosity. Generosity in sex is having your own orgasm. Sacrifice is the act of doing something extremely fun. Giving is stimulating all your nerves that feel terrific when you stimulate them. Hospitality for women is willingness to receive a gift which is their husbands having fun.”
Rebecca: Yes, exactly. It’s like he’s such a nice guy for having an orgasm.
Sheila: Okay, then we go on to something a little bit awkward where Laura starts to ask the question. This is an awkward question. Does Joshua Butler actually understand female orgasm? Because when you look through the entire book, there is so much about the male climax.
Rebecca: There’s so much.
Sheila: The male climax literally is the icon of the gospel, but is there a female climax? He does talk in that section where he quotes me he does talk about the importance of sex feeling good for women, but—
Rebecca: But remember he goes right back to romance. As soon as it’s in Joshua’s words and not in your words, it goes back to women need to be romanced. It goes back to the idea of once again women don’t want to have sex. They have to be romanced into it. They have to have the flame stoked versus the idea of the flames are stoked so now what do we do. It’s like we never get past the flames being stoked. We never get to the point that we actually do something with the excitement.
Sheila: Okay, so in the book which I have as well. I’ve taken a look at it. Laura has massively read this. This is the only place that we can find where female orgasm might be being talked about. Again it’s difficult to tell because he does use all these euphemisms, but—
Rebecca: Because I would actually argue, he’s actually more prudish when it comes to women.
Sheila: Yeah, so do you want to read this part then?
Rebecca: Sure, I’ll read it.
Sheila: So this is Butler’s words.
Rebecca: “Orgasm ideally occurs at the height of physical union. Its ecstasy is shared between lover and beloved.” I’m sorry. Can we just take a pause? Lover and beloved. So the one who is doing the action, and the one who is receiving it.
Rebecca: I had never realized that one before. That could be a whole other podcast. “Its ecstasy is shared between lover and beloved at the climactic point where they can bring forth love. The unitive and procreative dynamics of sex are most powerfully charged in this consummation of one flesh toward the generation of flesh and bone. All three persons are proleptically present in the moment of union with the second ready to proceed forth from the first, carrying his life within her, and the third ready to proceed forth from them both, conceived from their union.” I’m sorry, but okay first of all, there is just a basic misunderstanding of how conceived if he thinks that the baby is present.
Rebecca: Like first of all, we all know that you’re most likely to get pregnant having sex before you’ve even ovulated. We all know this? Right? Like it’s the 24 hours before your ovulated? So there isn’t even an egg available in the fallopian tube yet. This is just—there are so many—
Sheila: The little sperm has got to swim, and they take a while.
Rebecca: But see this is what happens when we try to make things poetic that are like that are just basic facts of life. He’s focusing on things he likes. He’s not actually focusing on what’s true, and because of that, he’s totally erasing women.
Sheila: Okay, so here is Laura’s conclusion to this because she’s looked at this in detail. This is the only place that it seems to talk about a woman’s orgasm in this entire book. An entire book about sex—
Rebecca: If you’re listening, I don’t even remember hearing. You didn’t hear it. There’s nothing really there.
Sheila: So here is what Laura says, “So the moment of orgasm here for the man is figured accurately as the moment where he ejaculates. The moment of orgasm for the woman if it is figured at all is also figured as the moment where the man ejaculates. That tricky ideally is extremely confusing because it suggests this is not always exactly what happens, but it seems like the most plausible reading of the image is that usually during sex a woman has an orgasm when a man has an orgasm.”
Rebecca: Yeah, exactly.
Sheila: That’s not what actually happens.
Sheila: If you look at our sexual response cycle again, the most common way—if a woman is going to have an orgasm, she’s usually going to do it before the man does. The reason is because after the guy has an orgasm, you know what happens? All of the hormones, and all of the nice dopamine things, they’re all—
Rebecca: They’re sleepy.
Sheila: – saying, “We want to go to sleep now.”
Rebecca: “You did it. Good job. It’s time for bed.”
Sheila: So a lot of guys will figure, “We’ll do the intercourse thing, and if she doesn’t reach orgasm, then I’ll finish her later.” But then what happens is he’s obviously tired, and she’s like, “No, it’s okay, don’t worry about me.” This is the common thing and how women are often left hanging. So if the woman is going to have an orgasm, she’s supposed to go first. That’s the most common way that it happens. I’m not saying that it has to happen that way. But we’re just saying that statistically if it’s going to happen, it is most likely to happen that way. Also spontaneous and Laura quotes us at length from The Great Sex Rescue talking about how many Christian sex manuals really made spontaneous orgasm—or sorry—
Rebecca: Simultaneous orgasm.
Sheila: Simultaneous orgasm the ideal and even though that isn’t actually what is common.
Rebecca: It isn’t even necessary. I will also say. I’ll be very honest. What a lot of people have found too is that—because I’ve read so much literature on orgasms at this point. I’ve read so many studies on orgasm, but the idea of focusing on simultaneous orgasm also often means that she only has one, two. A lot of the time if you’re focusing on simultaneous orgasm and she doesn’t reach, then you’re always left hanging versus if she just gets a couple and then you finish while she’s kind of riding that wave down—
Sheila: Things works well.
Rebecca: Not only that, you actually have more orgasms per sexual encounter which I think is a pretty good metric.
Sheila: It’s just a very strange paragraph. Laura spends a lot of time on this. She goes into then the history of how the clitoris hasn’t even been researched until the last 20-30 years. Women’s route to orgasm has largely been ignored in most literature. She goes into this in great detail. Then this is her conclusion. “The best-case scenario is that no one noticed that women actually don’t orgasm at the same time as men during sex, and no one involved in bringing this book to print thought that an entire half of the population’s experience of sex was not worth getting correct because they’re not the important half. But I just keep getting stuck on that little word ideally. Ideally unless something is going wrong, unless there’s a problem, the way this is supposed to go is that women orgasm through penetration just when their male partner does.” And that’s just not what happens.
Rebecca: I will say that Laura’s theory of what’s happening makes a lot of sense. We’re going to get a little graphic here for a second. But what often happens—if we go back to that sexual arousal chart—is that women get excited, and more and more aroused. What we’ve heard from many, many women is that end up getting aroused and then never actually get over the edge. So what often happens is that if a woman is aroused and a man is approaching climax, and he’s starts to go a little bit more intensely because he’s almost ready, then she might start to kind of get more into it and moan a little bit more, and then he’s done. He’s like, “Was that good?” She’s like, “I guess, yeah, because I was aroused,” but she doesn’t get the flood of happy hormones. A lot of women—a lot of women fake orgasm. When is she going to fake it? She’s going to fake it right as he does so that he doesn’t feel disappointed. Also there’s other things where maybe she knows. She doesn’t want to lie, but he’s—she loves him. She wants to make him feel good so yeah, yeah, “I got there.” She kind of fakes it. There’s just a lot of options about why a woman might seem like she’s having a really good time and orgasming always exactly as he ejaculates. That all really come down to a lack of sexual education which is really common in this area, but does preclude someone from being qualified to write a sex book.
Sheila: Yeah, and that’s the problem because when you look at this book women’s experience is largely missing. I wrote a long thread on this based on our research, but I don’t think you can write a sex book without mentioning the orgasm gap. How can you write a book that’s focusing on how a man ejaculating is iconic of the gospel and never mention that in over half of Christian couples she’s not orgasming regularly?
Rebecca: I think the only way you could do it is if you presented such a good example of what healthy sexuality should look like that the couples that have that orgasm gap would realize it and open their eyes and be like, “Oh, wait a second. She’s supposed to enjoy it?”
Sheila: But that’s not what happened here.
Rebecca: That’s not what happened here. I think if you’re someone who you don’t mention the orgasm gap because you’re just talking about what sex should look like, I think that’s fine. If you’re giving enough information where you’re like, “Here’s what female sexuality is and if this isn’t happening, then figure out how to unlock this.” I think that kind of thing, that could work. But this is so far from that, it’s not even funny.
Sheila: Yeah, and he also doesn’t mention sexual pain.
Rebecca: No, of course, he doesn’t. That’s very inhospitable.
Rebecca: How dare women? It’s very inhospitable.
Sheila: About 23% of women experience vaginismus—primary sexual pain. I believe the overall number is 35%—again Joanna needs to be here because I memorize certain stats, but I’m not the stats person.
Rebecca: Honestly the—
Sheila: Thirty-five percent of women have had sexual pain in our survey because for a lot of them it’s postpartum. So it’s not necessarily vaginismus.
Rebecca: Hey, that’s me.
Sheila: So this is something which affects over a third of women, and it’s not mentioned.
Rebecca: No, except to chastise women for being churlish, which when you don’t mention pain but then you tell women don’t be inhospitable, you know what happens? Women in pain grit their teeth and bear through it. That’s what happens.
Sheila: Yeah, because no one said, “Hey, pain is an actual thing.” Evangelical women suffer from pain at a much higher rate than the general population. If you’re having pain, that’s not normal. That’s not okay. Please seek help. Go see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Read The Great Sex Rescue. Figure out some of the reasons why evangelical women have higher rates of sexual pain. You know what one of the biggest reasons is is the obligation sex message. When you tell women, you need to have sex or else you’re not—
Rebecca: Being hospitable.
Sheila: – being hospitable, guess what? Vaginismus rates go up. So this is a big problem. I think this is what I have found so disappointing about the conversation around the book Beautiful Union is that when women started to point out that this wasn’t okay—and we were all coming at it from different points of view. There were the people coming at it from the theology point of view.
Rebecca: They had a lot to say.
Sheila: The difference between allegory and metaphor, and how you can’t—
Rebecca: You can’t combine the two.
Sheila: – mix them up. Rebecca (inaudible) was coming at it from a historical perspective. We were coming at it more from a women’s actual experience.
Rebecca: A what the heck perspective.
Sheila: We were coming at it from a women’s experience of sexuality—
Sheila: – perspective, and all of these perspectives are really important. It’s not that our critique is the only one that matters.
Rebecca: Oh, gosh, no.
Sheila: So again I am going to link to more of the theological critiques.
Rebecca: It’s just that we can’t do the other ones because we aren’t experts in that.
Sheila: Because we’re not theologians, but we have studied this. You said something in an interview with Baptist News for something else that I thought was really good. Do you want to read your words?
Rebecca: Sure, they’re my words. “What I’ve been thinking over is how all these cases—and where Twitter gets mad about things because men overlooked women—women were crying out that they were being hurt. The “Twitter mobs” were chastised for not having the ability to be reasonable and unemotional about this, but that’s a privilege men have that women simply don’t. These issues surrounding male centric sexuality and leadership are cerebral for men. They are visceral for women. It’s easy to debate differing opinions when you’re not the one bearing the cost of those theological differences. It’s easy to debate modesty when you haven’t had a fully grown man find you a stumbling block before you even got your first period. It’s easy to overlook abuse coverups when you yourself are not at risk of systemic “God sanctioned” abuse. Men are not more reasonable than women because they are able to disconnect emotion from these discussions. They are able to disconnect emotionally from these discussions because they are not affected by the outcome. The ease with which they can have these debates without it causing distress rather than being seen as evidence of intellectual actualization should be recognized for what it is—privilege of not having to experience the real-world ramifications.”
Sheila: Yeah, and I think that is what’s happening here. When you think about sex as entirely about his climax and that is the way that we are going to talk about sex and focus sex, that is going to affect women. When your whole way of seeing sex is as generosity/hospitality and how rape is a—
Rebecca: You’re not being generous. You’re being selfish, and that’s why it’s—the disgusting kind of hoops that have to get jumped through. It’s really gross.
Sheila: It’s really, really a problem. Women reacted to this viscerally because we’ve been written out. Sex is something which happens to our bodies, and yet our experience is largely written out. That one paragraph seems to be the only place where her orgasm seems to be talked about. He does talk about orgasm in other places, but it looks like it could just be his orgasm. It really is so euphemistic, and he’s criticizing people for—
Rebecca: Not wanting to talk about sex, and we’re like, “No, we just want you to say vagina. Please just say vagina.”
Sheila: And we’re prudes. No, we have a problem because we’re looking at the book, and we don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. We don’t know whether you’re talking about female orgasm here. We don’t know if you’re talking about—we don’t know because everything is euphemistic. I dare anyone to listen to this podcast and tell us that we’re prudes who don’t like—what is it he said? He actually says that we don’t like direct language.
Rebecca: We are saying can you please not call my vagina the most holy place, Josh Butler? Hey, Josh Butler, please don’t call my vagina my most holy place.
Sheila: I actually had a lot of sympathy for Josh.
Rebecca: I did too.
Sheila: I did a number of Twitter threads where—
Rebecca: I did too where we said, “Hey, guys, Josh had a lot of people who failed him on this.”
Sheila: Yeah, including the Gospel Coalition. They were throwing Josh under the bus when really what Josh was teaching was very much in line with what the Gospel Coalition does. It’s just he got called out on it, and they cut him loose. I didn’t think that was okay. I thought this was bigger than Josh Butler. I felt like he was being made a scapegoat. The problem now is that he’s going on all these podcasts defending his book, and he’s not listening to the critiques.
Rebecca: Yeah, if this was truly a case of he didn’t have the checks and balances in place, then he should realize, “Okay, I just need to kind of ride this one out and just let this one go and just not talk about it. Let my publisher do what they will, but I’m not going to do much.” But instead he quit his job at his church to become more focused on this book. He’s going everywhere talking about it.
Sheila: It’s a problem.
Rebecca: At what point do you not—Josh, you’re allowed to not be the Holy Spirit semen guy. You’re allowed to be like, “That was a weird time for me. That was a weird era in my life, and I’m moving past it.” We’re all like Josh. Please just leave the semen talk. Just please do. This is all everyone wants is for us never to have to think about Christ’s penetrating spirit upon and within us ever again. That’s all any of us want.
Sheila: Please, please. It would do the world a whole lot of good, but he’s also saying that this book was written—and I think he describes it as, “For your average college student who listen to Ariana Grande and watches Netflix and isn’t a Christian but wants to talk about sex in direct language and direct ways.” He sees this book as ministering to younger generations who may be really involved in hookup culture, but they want something more meaningful. So he’s trying to show them something which is more meaningful. I do think sex is more meaningful than that. I think there’s a lot that we can say about how sex is meant to be sacred and how sex is meant to be intimate. That’s a beautiful thing to talk about. This is not the way to do it.
Rebecca: No, appealing to pornographic tropes to make God seem sexier and seem kind of pornographically shocking.
Sheila: I don’t think he was trying to do that to be fair.
Rebecca: I don’t think he meant to. I think he did.
Sheila: I think he did.
Rebecca: I don’t think he meant to. No, I fully agree he didn’t mean to.
Sheila: But that’s actually part of the problem, and I don’t think that he understood that what he was talking about with semen was a pornographic trope. Maybe I’m being naïve. I truly want to give him the benefit of the doubt here in that I actually don’t think that he did realize that.
Rebecca: No, I hope he didn’t.
Sheila: But you know what you can’t write about sex without realizing that. This is something which we’ve encountered a lot in the last little bit is we’ve talked to men who spend their life teaching on sexuality and talking about sexuality who don’t know what vaginismus is.
Rebecca: Yeah, who don’t understand even the most basic parts of women’s sexual experiences growing up.
Sheila: There has to be a level where if you’re going to talk about sex you need to talk about it well because this stuff really matters to women. And I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter to men. It’s just with men 95% of men are going to orgasm. They’re not going to experience sexual pain in the same way. They don’t have the same issues. Women are very vulnerable during sex. We can experience sexual pain. And we do experience sexual pain at very large numbers in the evangelical church. We don’t often orgasm. We’re commonly victims of marital rape. These things matter. And when you don’t get them right, that impacts women. And so we’re just asking for men, who are going to take it upon themselves to write about marriage and sex, to not do so unless they’re going to be educated in it first, and they’re going to humble themselves to realize just because I have had sex doesn’t make me an expert. And let me tell you. For years, I did this too. Full disclosure. I mean when I started to write about sex I was mostly doing it for my own experience. Back in 2008, 2009, 2010, and it was from listening to people in the comments. It was from reading more and more peer reviewed literature that I realized that my response—my responsive libido does not mean that every woman has a responsible libido. My experience is my experience. But it is not everyone’s experience. And so if I’m going to write on this, it is really important for me to educate myself on other people’s experiences. And you know what? I did that. And we’ve done these huge surveys, and I have taken stuff out of print that I wrote before when I wasn’t qualified. And we need to recognize that this stuff is important because real people are getting hurt. And this isn’t something you can just take lightly. Let alone what this does theologically. But please. If you’re going to take it upon yourself to teach on sex, do it well. Educate yourself.
Rebecca: Now I do want to address something that I’m sure some people are going to be feeling. Okay? Some people are going to be saying, “Doesn’t it seem a little bit mean to talk about whether or not these guys actually understand female orgasm?” And I do understand that sentiment. I fully do. This is uncomfortable. And it’s uncomfortable as a person who is talking about it too. My question is just this. What is worse? Critiquing the natural and logical conclusion to be drawn from someone’s writing or writing a book that completely ignores an entire half of the population and coerces them into sex they don’t want to have? We have to be honest here. I will just say one thing is that when I was doing my research for The Orgasm Course, which again brought me to all sorts of very interesting peer reviewed studies—goodness gracious. But there was one thing. I was just so curious. And so I went, and I actually looked at the sex advice on places like Men’s Health. The secular sources where guys get sex advice. You know what it’s all like? It’s just random dudes bragging about how many orgasms they can give women. They’re all things like, “You want to make your woman have an orgasm? Well, I made mine have seven. So here’s how mine had seven.” It’s all stuff like that.
Sheila: And we do not recommend going there.
Rebecca: No. Some of it is generally very good. No. If you’re looking for sex advice to help your wife, we have our orgasm course for women and for men. And if you’re looking for me other specific things, I actually don’t not recommend places like Men’s Health. They often will promote things that I find—that we think are very damaging like watching pornography together. But in terms of the actual techniques, a lot of their stuff was pretty—it’s in line with the research stuff that I was reading from sex therapists and from PhDs. Right? Because they’re getting their stuff from actual peer reviewed sources unlike the Christian world.
Sheila: Yeah. Because in the Christian world when you read sex advice, what you hear is, “You know she’s not going to want you. But here is what you can do to get her so that she is willing to let you.” And what kind of a view of sex is that?
Rebecca: We need to get to a point where men in the Christian world don’t think it’s acceptable to write sex advice that makes it sound like they don’t know how to bring a woman to climax. Because when we accept that kind of advice that erases women regardless of what their actual experience or actual knowledge is—when they write advice that erases women and discounts their orgasm and makes it likely that they won’t reach it, we’re damaging women. And it’s ridiculous that this is understood in the secular world, and it’s completely looked over by the Christian one.
Sheila: Yeah. We are normalizing women being erased. We are normalizing women not reaching orgasm. And please, church, please, let’s get to the point where that’s no longer acceptable, where it isn’t acceptable to talk about sex without talking about what women experience. And it isn’t acceptable to talk about sex where we focus it entirely on a man’s climax during intercourse because sex should be something, as we talk about in The Great Sex Rescue, that is mutual, that is intimate, that is pleasurable for both. And that needs to be the baseline. And it’s not the baseline right now. Right now we have this phenomenon of male centric sex across almost all of our resources. And we’re just asking that to change, and that shouldn’t be an unreasonable request. And I hope that the Christian world will listen. And why don’t we end it with our own piece of advice here? Okay?
Sheila: So if you want to turn a woman on sexually, then you should actually learn how to turn a woman on sexually.
Rebecca: Yeah. Just figure out how to do it. You can do it guys. Just do it.
Sheila: You can do it. And thank you very much for joining us on the Bare Marriage podcast. And we will be back next week for another edition that hopefully will be a little bit happier, a little bit less controversial, and with even—actually, I know what we’re doing next week. I think we’re going to be sharing some more of our orgasm findings. Some really cool stuff that Joanna found.
Rebecca: So yeah. So if you’re hearing us say, “Just do it. Just figure it out,” and you’re like, “Yeah. But it’s difficult,” well, tune in next week. We’ll talk about orgasm.
Sheila: Because we’ll have some more for you. Okay. Bye-bye. See you later.