PODCAST: New Research on Obligation Sex

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Libido, Podcasts | 40 comments

New Findings on Orgasm and Obligation sex
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Ready for some new research on orgasm?

It’s been a while since we shared some new findings in the areas of sex and marriage, and we’ve been saving new peer reviewed articles and studies to tell you about!

Today we thought we’d focus on two that relate to obligation sex and orgasm, as well as share some of our new findings–because Joanna ran the numbers in a whole new way, so we have some fun things to tell you.

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

0:10 The lowdown on our research!
6:25 Joanna joins to talk orgasm + arousal rates (new findings!)
17:30 Study on a survey of women on the topic of obligation sex
20:45 “Don’t you want to just do something nice?”
25:45 One woman’s story of abusive advice about coercion and abuse in marriage
34:30 A study on women’s emotional work that goes into sex
49:45 Thoughts on responses to Shiny Happy People

Toxic teachings have dose-response effect

For our book The Great Sex Rescue, we looked at how individual teachings affected women’s orgasm rates, libido, rates of sexual pain, marital satisfaction, and more. 

So we know that the obligation sex message is highly linked to sexual pain, and the “every man’s battle” message is linked to lower women’s libido (among other things).

Well, we’ve been working on some papers to send to peer reviewed journals, and for one of them, Joanna created a continuous variable of teachings, where she gave people scores on each teaching (how strongly they had believed it and how many different sources they had heard it from), to come up with one big number. 

And guess what? The higher the number, the worse everything is. 

Not really surprising, but it’s good to see that the model holds true.

What this means is that in churches that teach the whole package of teachings, women are going to tend to do far worse. 

What church you’re in matters! 


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

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

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

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

How does obligation sex affect sex?

Next we looked at a new peer reviewed article focused on what happens when obligation is the primary motivation for sex:

Obligation was reported as a reason for having sex by 12.4% of women and 1.8% of men; “doing something nice” was reported by 10.2% of women and 9.5% of men. In regression analyses, women who reported having sex for obligation had significantly lower relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction than women who did not report this reason. In contrast, having sex to do something nice for one’s partner was associated with higher sexual satisfaction among women. Findings indicate that having sex when feeling obligated may be associated with negative sexual and relational outcomes among midlife women.

Monika Georgiva et al.

Motives between the Sheets: Understanding Obligation for Sex at Midlife and Associations with Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction

The Emotional Labor that women put into sex

Then we turn to a fascinating study about the emotional labor that women perform during sex:

We identified four areas of emotion work present in these women’s sexual lives, including 1) faking orgasms; 2) tolerating sexual pain; 3) defining sexual satisfaction based on the partner’s pleasure; and 4) narrating sex they call “bad sex” as acceptable because of a partner’s satisfaction. Nearly all women mentioned emotion work as part of their current or past sexual experiences, as women described frequently enduring unsatisfying sex to provide their (male) partners with feelings of power, sexual skillfulness, and dominance, particularly during heterosex.


Breanne Fahs et al.

The Other Third Shift?: Women’s Emotion Work in Their Sexual Relationships

How are churches responding to women about obligation sex?

I also read a disturbing letter sent to me by a reader. She had been talking to her pastor’s wife about the abuse and marital rape in her own marriage, and her desire to separate for her own safety. She had explained in detail what was happening, and this was the response that the pastor’s wife gave her:

1 Corinthians 7:2-3 makes it plain that physical sexual intimacy is the means whereby the husband and wife are mutually protected from violations of God’s law with respect to sexual desire because it provides the proper context for the expression of these desires and the satisfaction and fulfillment that God intends that we derive from them…2 – v. 4-5 indicates that the wife and husband both are to make themselves available to the other partner physically – to refuse to do so is defrauding the other and making them more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, particularly in the area of sexuality. These are clear commands of Scripture and, like all commands, are to be willingly obeyed. However, there is no abdication of choice here. The picture is that of the giving of a gift, a gift that you have agreed and covenanted together to make available to one another. There is no right granted to the other partner to take what has been promised against the will of the other person. The Bible does not condone this type of sexual abuse within a marriage as though a husband may take from the wife or the wife from her husband. This is to be a loving act of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. This, too, is a two-way street and I, for one, do not think that it is reasonable to suggest that a woman who is still recovering physically from the birth of her child has to offer her body to her husband, at least not for vaginal penetration.

The sexual relationship is designed to both reflect and build intimacy.

It is difficult to be physically intimate when there is distance or unresolved issues in the marriage but to refuse to do so categorically is to neglect one way that the Bible says serves to build it. The issues that your husband has, however complex and sinful they are, are never going to be rebuilt neurologically until new proper sexual habits are established with you. You are asking him to change but denying him the means by which the Scripture indicates that such sin is avoided. You will have to decide if you are willing to make that sacrifice.

You keep talking about, “until he is safe, or things change.”

What does this actually look like and mean? How will you know when it happens? What steps are you willing to take as his wife to support him in this process? Do you believe that what you are doing now in the relationship is helping or hurting the very thing you want to see? You may not like to hear this, but the vast majority of what you have written is entirely focused on yourself. It is entirely understandable and perhaps even justifiable from a human perspective, but are you confident that this is how God has called you to respond to the hurt and abuse that has occurred in your life? No arsenal of self-soothing strategies is any match for the peace that Christ offered that is only available by obedience to Him.

I am praying for you. I love you.

I wanted to show that THIS is the advice that so many people get when they go to their church, and this isn’t okay. Please, see a licensed therapist, or call a domestic abuse hotline. Unfortunately, all too many churches are not safe for abused women.

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

New Obligation Sex Findings

What do you think of the concept of “emotional labor” during sex? How do you think obligation sex affects people? Let us know in the comments below!


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And this is episode—gosh.  I think it’s 196. 

Rebecca: Something like that.

Sheila: Yes.  And we are going to do a research episode.  We’re going to talk about our own research.  We’re going to talk about some awesome new findings that Joanna has found.  I mean this is the thing about our data set is it’s so huge, and there is so much more that we can figure out.  We just need to figure out the right questions to ask.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  When you have this much data, when you have surveys that are as long as ours were, that looked at different aspects of certain constructs, there really—it’s just—there’s a reason that they were excited about it at the ARDA.  The American Religious Dataset Archive or whatever it’s called.  Something like that.  I can’t even remember.

Sheila: Yes.  Our dataset is up at the ARDA where other reporters and researchers can use it.  But yeah.  

Rebecca: It has so much information.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And so we asked some new questions.  We found some amazing new stuff about orgasm, so Joanna is going to be joining us in a minute about that.  We have two other studies that we’ve been alerted to because readers send them to us.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  Readers send us great stuff especially in our Patreon group too.  A lot of people in our Patreon just say, “Hey, have you seen this yet?”  

Sheila: And so we want to share some new findings with you because this is one of the goals of our podcast, of our blog, of everything we do is we just—we want things to be evidence based because we believe what Jesus said.  We actually take Him at His word in Matthew 7 that a good tree can’t bear bad fruit and a bad tree can’t bear good fruit.  And so you can recognize things by their fruit.  And so it is good to judge the fruit.  And that is what we’re doing looking at the fruit of different ideas and how that affects women, in particular, but even men’s marital and sexual satisfaction.  So before we dive in to some of these new findings, let’s just address some of the things that have been talked about regarding our research because we have something really huge to celebrate. 

Rebecca: We do.

Sheila: We’ve been working on this for a long time.  And specifically you and Joanna.  Mostly Joanna.  And I will celebrate with her when she comes on the podcast as well.  But we finally have a paper that we have submitted to a collaborator, but it’s—the manuscript is pretty much done.  And we’re going to be able to send it in to a journal really soon.  Obviously, our collaborator is going to have some edits that we’re going to have to do, but the bulk of the work is done.    

Rebecca: Yeah.  It’s pretty exciting.  We’ve been working on it for a long time.  And our research is already pretty much been—academics, researchers, people in the field—they like our stuff.  Okay.  We’re being used.  Our research is being used as a continuing education credit for physiotherapists.    

Sheila: Yeah.  Because Joanna and I presented along with Lori Myes at the American Physical Therapy Convention last year.  Yeah.

Rebecca: We’re talking about our stuff has been deemed good enough for physical therapists which is really exciting.  The journal of Physical Therapy did a positive review of our book.  

Sheila: Yeah.  The Great Sex Rescue.

Rebecca: Which is amazing.  And so really—we’re just trying to—we’ve done all those steps.  We’ve presented at academic conference.  There are people in academia who are looking at what we’re doing and saying, “Yeah.  This is great.”  We also did have to submit a lot of information about how we got our data when we submitted the dataset to the ARDA.  And they said, “Yeah.  That looks good.”  So yeah.  We’re really just kind of—this is a crossing T’s, dotting the I’s kind of situation.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And we just heard too that there’s another man, who is working on his PhD in sociology, who is using our dataset.  Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Exactly.  

Sheila: For some papers.

Rebecca: So that’s really exciting.

Sheila: Yeah.  It really is.

Rebecca: So it’s been really nice just seeing our stuff really accepted in the academic community.  And people, who are—frankly, way more educated than I am—are looking at this and saying, “Yeah.  You guys did a good job.”  And that’s just really nice.  Of course, one of the funny things that we’ve been running into as we talk about our research online is that a lot of people have a lot of questions.  And a lot of those questions are amazing, and we answer them.  And they’re great.  And then there are other questions where they don’t really understand that they’re not really great questions.  I’ll just give you an example.  Okay.  If people are critiquing our methods, say, “I have concerns about your methods,” and then we say, “Well, your concerns are unfounded because X, Y, and Zed.”  And then they go off.  Anyway, so I’ll give you an example.  It’s like if you went to someone’s house, and—or you were hosting someone at your house.  Okay?  And you bring them out a perfectly cooked roast chicken.  And they say, “But was the oven on?”  And you’re like, “Well, the chicken is cooked.”  “Why are you dodging the question?  Was the oven on or not?”  No.  No.  I’m not dodging the question.  It’s just that the chicken is cooked.  “Oh my gosh.  But how can you possibly know that the oven was on if you’re not giving me any proof?  You’re not giving me proof.  Are you avoiding the questions?”  There is a thermometer inside the chicken.  The doohickey inside the thermometer is pointing at cooked.  The chicken is cooked.  Obviously, the oven was on.  “Oh, now you’re admitting that the oven is one.  Well, where is your proof?”  The chicken is cooked.

Sheila: Yeah.  And this is how we feel a lot especially around the question—the one that we get the most often, the accusation—Shaunti Feldhahn used this one.  Other people have as well.  That we just found 20,000 people who agreed with us.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  Or, “Well, your responses were just biased.  People just lied to give you what you want.”  No.  We actually can run things to prove that’s not the case.

Sheila: Yeah.  But also our findings are odds ratios.  For both Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better, they’re odds ratios, which means we were judging the odds of ending up in a certain group based on beliefs.  So that means we had to have people who believed things and people who didn’t believe them so that we could compare them.  If everybody believed like we did, we couldn’t have written the books.  And in fact, we had far more people who disagreed with us than who agreed with us in both our datasets.

Rebecca: Which is funny.  Yeah.  Which is really quite funny.  Yeah.  Is the chicken—was the oven on?  Well, just look at the chicken.  It’s cooked.  You cannot—anyway, that’s exactly how it feels.   

Sheila: So it is really funny.  But the nice things is, I think, by talking about this stuff and by explaining things like odds ratios—I’ve had so many people say, “Oh my gosh.  This came up in my work.  I was able to explain odds ratios.  And we were able to take a better look at surveys because of the stuff that they’re learning on our podcast.”  So that’s kind of cool.  So yes.  Research is great.  And so now I am going to bring Joanna on so that she can tell us about some really cool new findings.  Well, I am so please to invite my coauthor—one of my coauthors for The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better, our wonderful stats person, Joanna Sawatsky to the podcast.

Joanna: Hi, everybody.

Sheila: And we told everyone our great news that we have the manuscript just about finished.  Well, the manuscript is finished from our standpoint.  We just sent it off to our collaborator.

Joanna: I have a couple tiny things to fix.  Like super tiny editions.  There’s a citation or two.

Sheila: Yes.  But we’re really—we’re almost there.  And so this is awesome because we’ve been working on this for awhile.  And yeah.  There’s more to come.  So that’s great.  But as we were doing this, when we looked at The Great Sex Rescue, we looked at orgasm rates and how each individual teaching affected orgasm rates.  But what did you do this time?  

Joanna: So I took orgasm and getting aroused during sex, and I put them together into an objective, sexual satisfaction variable.  So is she enjoying sex?  And is she climaxing?  Those are the two questions for that variable.  And then I also took that, and I looked at it against all of the teachings together pooled.  So the more you believed the teachings broadly the more points you ended up getting.  

Sheila: Right.  So instead of just looking at each individual teaching, we looked at everything.  Let’s add them all together.

Joanna: All of them together.  That let me run more fancy pretty stats.  Woo hoo.  So instead of just binary logistic regressions and odds ratios, now we’re talking about just regular regressions.  Multiple regressions.  So I looked at the association between internalizing the teachings that we evaluated in Great Sex Rescue and how that impacts orgasm rates.  And it isn’t good.  The more women internalize the teachings the lower their objective sexual satisfaction goes.  And it also impacts—there’s subjective sexual satisfaction.  We’re looking at whether or not she’s feeling satisfied with her orgasm or confident that she’s going to get aroused, so that was one way we looked at subjective sexual satisfaction.  The other way was looking at intimacy, a sense that he is doing enough foreplay, a sense that her pleasure matters in sex, that she’s interested in having sex, that she’s not doing it out of a sense of obligation, all of those together.  So putting all of the sexual satisfaction variables that we looked at—no matter how we sliced it the more you believe the teachings the lower those scores get.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so here is why I think this is really interesting because we already told you that obligation sex message is bad.  Believing that a wife should have frequent sex to keep her husband from watching porn is bad.  Believing that lust is every man’s battle is bad.  All of these things are bad.  Believing that boys are going to push girl’s sexual boundaries, so she needs to be the gatekeeper is bad.  So we know all of these things are bad.  But what’s really interesting is that they’re also bad cumulatively.  So it’s not just a question of getting rid of each individual teaching, but it’s really asking what are the environments where all of this stuff is all together.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yep.  Where is it—a lot of it—at least women, right?  What I think is so interesting is seeing the evangelical authors’ reaction to Great Sex Rescue.  A lot of them have come out, and they have been very vocally anti—what they call duty sex because they don’t want to say obligation sex.  But in saying, “We don’t do duty sex.  We don’t do duty sex.  We don’t do duty sex,” that is great.  Honestly.  That’s a step.  We will take it as the W.  But if we’re only taking away that piece and saying, “Oh, well, of course, don’t have duty sex.  But also you need to be having frequent sex with him.  And also are you sending him nudes?  Because he needs to have his brain rewired so he only thinks that you’re hot.”

Sheila: Right.  This is what Gary Thomas wrote in Married Sex.  Yeah.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  At some point, we need to think about what is the whole ocean that we are swimming in, what is toxic about all of it?  Right?  The common denominator between all of these teachings is that they (a) take women’s autonomy away.  They say, “You don’t have control over your body.  Your husband does.”  And then secondly, they tell her that she just—that she doesn’t matter.  They tell her that sex isn’t for her and that she isn’t safe.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Because they point—they paint men as these lust monsters.  Right?  They paint men as really incapable of emotional health and intimacy and interested only in sex—only in sexual release regardless of how their wife is feeling which is just really a toxic way of seeing it.  And so just we’re coming out of the Shiny, Happy People documentary that a lot of people watched the last two weeks, and I think what it really shows is—yeah.  It isn’t any one thing.  It’s the whole big picture, and this is why—and we’ve been talking about this with She Deserves Better too.  Yes.  Church is good.  Church is very, very good for all kinds of things.  But as soon as you get all these toxic stuff, the benefits of church disappear.  And so the type of church you’re in matters.  Yeah.  It really does.  And this is what the new stats show too.  So I think that’s really interesting.  There was also something you were telling me.  When you look only at the women who don’t reach orgasm—   

Joanna: Yeah.  So they’re either not getting aroused or they’re not climaxing.  That score together.  If it’s low, among that group, the more that they hear the teachings in church the lower that score goes.  So it was already low, but it goes lower and lower and lower the more they heard it in church.  We do not see that relationship between being exposed to these teachings in Christian media or in the family or in secular culture.  So it’s interesting that in that particular group that’s experiencing anorgasmia or is unable to become sexually aroused they—it seems that the church situation is really driving those scores even lower driving it down.

Sheila: Which is fascinating too, right?  Because it’s like what is the environment that you are in and what is that environment teaching you about—yeah.  Your agency, your autonomy, everything about sex.  That is fascinating. And, again, it’s this wakeup call that there are a lot of churches right now that are toxic.    

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: And we need to realize that.  And for anyone who didn’t listen to my podcast with Beth Allison Barr a couple weeks ago when we talked about how to recognize a toxic church and what to do if you’re in on and how to find a healthy one, please go back and watch that or listen to that because that was super fascinating.  So yeah.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  Absolutely.  Well, I had a friend a couple years ago say, “Well, why is it that we’re so much harder on Christians?”  And I said, “Well, it’s very simple because Christians are claiming to have divine backing for what they’re saying.”  And that’s really powerful, and people believe them then because they’re saying God told me X, Y, Z.  That’s a big claim to make.  I truly believe in the transformative power of the Spirit of God.  I believe that Aslan is on the move.  And so what’s so tragic is seeing places where the beauty and the sense of grounding and hope that we can get from church, the sense of family with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the ability to build each other up, right?  All of the beautiful history of our faith.  If we’re in toxic places, that stuff gets twisted.  And that is so, so tragic.  And so woe betide those of us who have been propping up those systems.  And may we all find our way to a healthier place.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Exactly.  And I hope that’s the takeaway from Shiny, Happy People too.  Because honestly, I couldn’t see any daylight between what they were teaching and what so many of these other evangelical authors are teaching.  It still says women don’t have agency.  It still says, “Woman, you’re responsible if he lusts.  Or you’re responsible if he watches porn.  And you’re responsible even if he abuses you.”  There’s not a lot of daylight.  And so it’s not just Bill Gothard.  It’s not just the IBLP.  It’s everything with the way that we look at sex and women, and so I really hope that we can flood the healthy churches and build them up and that the toxic ones just kind of slowly melt away because this isn’t of Jesus.  And we at Bare Marriage take Jesus at his word in Matthew 7 when He said a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.  And a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  And so you will recognize them by their fruits.  And like you said, we just did a whole new regression analysis, and the fruit is really rotten in these teachings.  So let’s get back to health.  So I love it.  Thank you.  So you are working—so once this paper is in, what is next?

Joanna: Okay.  So I have—oh my goodness.  I have so many paper ideas.  Oh.  So let’s see.  I want to do one doing a deep dive into male lust.  That’s high on my list.  It’s like in Princess Bride.  You keep using that word.  I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.

Joanna: So that one.  I also really want to do one on—actually, on all these regressions I’ve been running.  So just looking at the relationship between sexual satisfaction and whether it’s objective or subjective and how that maps on to church attendance and the teachings and marital satisfaction and just all sorts of stuff.  We’re also working on one about deconstruction.  That one is coming along.  And I think that’s it for right now.

Sheila: And then we have our big survey that’s going to come out the next few—next month or two.  Our marriage survey that we’re going to be asking people to take for their marriage (cross talk).  So look for that.  Joanna and I are busy.  We’re going to start writing that next week.  And then in two weeks, just to let all our listeners know, we are going to do a webinar on new wineskins just where I’m going to present our big picture findings.  So that if you want to talk to your church leadership about this stuff because you’re feeling like your church leadership isn’t teaching on this well or if you’re in church leadership and you want to educate the rest of your staff and volunteers, that’s what this webinar is going to be for.  Is how can we spread the word about these findings so that people stop saying the toxic stuff and so that we become a healthy place?    So take a look for that webinar.  Make sure you’re signed up to our email list because we will be advertising that next week.  Or actually probably this week.  It’s already on the blog.  So I will put a link to where you can sign up for the webinar, where you can sign up for the email list, but that’s going to be coming next week.  It’s going to be super exciting.  Well, thank you, Joanna.  Always great to have you here.  

Joanna: So glad to be here.  

Sheila: All right.  Bye-bye.  

Joanna: Bye.

Sheila: All right.  Rebecca is back with me now.  Joanna has gone.  And we want to take a look at two different journal articles that people have sent us.  This first one, I think, has been sent to us—to me by at least two dozen people.  It’s really awesome.  It was out last year.  24th of May in The Journal of Sex Research.  And it is based—I love this. Okay.  It is based on a survey of midlife Canadian women.

Rebecca: 324 women and 275 men.  I’m sorry.  We need to take a second because whenever we see stuff like this we always count how many surveys we would need to get our dataset.  This is approximately 600.

Sheila: This is approximately 600 people.

Rebecca: So yeah.  So we had 20,000 in our women’s one alone.  So, guys, just think of that.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so this was a journal article with 600 people.  It, again, was an online survey—questionnaire.  So very much like what we did.    

Rebecca: And I’m sorry.  I just actually want to make—I’m not dissing these researchers.  I’m more just proud of us.  It’s perfectly acceptable to have a survey with only a couple hundred people.  That’s actually pretty standard.  

Sheila: Yeah.  That is standard.  It is standard.  

Rebecca: I just want to make sure it didn’t sound like I was saying, “Oh, they only got that many.”  No.  I wasn’t saying, “Oh, they only got that many.”  I was saying, “Wow.  We got so many.”  That’s the difference I just want to make sure I say.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Because a thousand is considered big for most studies.  Yeah.  And we had 20,000.  All right.  So here is what this one found.  And the title of this article is Motives Between the Sheets: Understanding Obligation for Sex at Midlife and Associations with Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction.  All right.  Do you want to read the abstract?  

Rebecca: Sure.  I will (cross talk).

Sheila: The abstract is just—again, we’re just going to educate people here.  So the abstract—at the beginning of any academic paper, there is an abstract.  How many words is it usually?  Like 250?    

Rebecca: Between 175 to 400 depending on the journal, I think.  It’s usually about 250.   It’s usually about 250.    

Sheila: Yeah.  It summarizes everything.  So here is the summary of this article.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And I’m just going to read a part of it.  “This study investigated reasons for sex at last sex.”  So they were asking about the last time that you had sex did you kind of thing.  “With a focus on obligation and avoidance motivation and doing something nice for a partner, an approach motivation, and their associations with sexual and relationship satisfaction while controlling for martial duration, age, and sexual desire.  Obligation was reported as a reason for having sex by 12.4% of women and only 1.8% of men.”  I added the only there.  “And 1.8% of men.  Doing something nice was reported by 10.2% of women and 9.5% of men.  And in regression analyses, women who reported having sex for obligation had significantly lower relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction than women who did not report this reason.  In contrast, having sex to do something nice for one’s partner was associated with higher sexual satisfaction among women.  Findings indicate that having sex when feeling obligated may be associated with negative sexual and relational outcomes among midlife women.”  Yeah.  That makes total sense.  That’s totally in line.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  So this is exactly in line with what we found.  As soon as you believe the obligation sex message, orgasm rates go down.  Marital satisfaction goes down.  And the biggest thing that we found was that rates of sexual pain increased to almost the same statistical effect as prior abuse because our bodies literally interpret the obligation sex message as trauma.

Rebecca: Yeah.  You can’t say no.  

Sheila: You can’t say no.  Now I want to delve into something here that I found really interesting.  Okay.

Rebecca: I want to see if it’s the same one that I think of.  

Sheila: So they’re saying that the obligation sex message makes sex worse for women but the doing something nice actually makes sex better.  And what I’ve noticed in the last few years since we’ve really began talking about obligation sex is that authors are moving away from the obligation sex message and towards the, “Don’t you just want to do something nice?”  And it is—unless you have specifically gotten rid of the obligation sex message, it is just another form of obligation sex.

Rebecca: Well, because the question is why are you doing something nice?  Right?  Is it because you have a great sex life and you’re like, “Yeah.  I’m going to treat him”?  I don’t know.  

Sheila: Yeah.  I don’t particularly feel like it right now, but it’s not a negative.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Exactly.  It’s like are you doing something nice because there is just this pattern of your relationship of giving and receiving.  Right?  I’m sorry.  I’m immediately going to go into the Friends monologue by Joey if anyone knows what I’m talking about.  “Giving and receive as we have and share.  To give what we have and share what we receive,”—anyway, if that’s the mentality that your relationship is having overall then yeah.  It might not be that doing things that are nice for your spouse makes you happier with sex as much as people who are really happy with sex are more likely to want to do just nice things for their spouse.  Right?  The question is where does the causality happen.  What’s the chicken?  What’s the egg?  

Sheila: Yeah.  But what I find—but what I want to make sure the takeaway from this is is that we don’t just change the approach.  We don’t just say—because I am seeing people do this.  

Rebecca: Yes.  That’s true.  That’s true.

Sheila: I am seeing people do this.  They’re saying, “Okay.  We’re not going to say obligation, but we are going to say this is such a precious gift.  And it’s such a great thing to do for your spouse.  So why wouldn’t you do it more?”  And I used to talk like this all the time.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  And to be completely fair, I do see a lot of very healthy people who we are know are beneficial for women’s sexuality saying this too.  Emily Nagoski.  That is her byline.

Sheila: Right.  But the difference is—there is a difference which is obligation has been specifically taken out of the marriage.  And so Emily Nagoski—yes.  She talks about doing something nice for your spouse.  But she does it—

Rebecca: Yeah.  And prioritizing sex even when you don’t feel like it in the moment and that kind of thing.

Sheila: But she does it after explicitly talking against obligation. 

Rebecca: Yeah.  Exactly. 

Sheila: And that’s the difference.  And so in the Christian community, the problem is we can’t just replace one with the other.  We have to specifically demolish the one first before we can talk about the other.    

Rebecca: Yeah.  And also genuinely making it not as much of a spiritual necessity too.  You’re a good wife if you do this, and God is disappointed in you if you don’t.  Right?  I think that’s also the added level of confusion that can happen there.

Sheila: Yeah.  Okay.  So I want to read to you a passage from the book, Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, where he says this, “This means there may be times when you have sex out of mercy, obligation, or commitment and without any real desire.  Yes.  It may feel forced.  It might feel planned, and you may fight to stop yourself from just shoving your partner away and saying, ‘Enough already.’  But the root issue is this.  You’re acting out of love.  You’re honoring your commitment, and that’s a wonderful thing to do.”  

Rebecca: Yeah.  No.  It’s not.    

Sheila: And what this study has shown, what our study for The Great Sex Rescue showed, is that it is not a wonderful thing to do.   

Rebecca: It’s not a wonderful thing to do.  It’s a thing that will just—it’s chipping away at a foundation of goodwill in your marriage.  Every time it happens it chips away at that foundation until it all just topples over.

Sheila: And as we said repeatedly in The Great Sex Rescue and I will say it again what we found is that when these five things are present, frequency takes care of itself.  You don’t need the obligation message.  What you need is these five things.  High relationship satisfaction, feeling emotionally close during sex, a wife who frequently orgasms—

Rebecca: Which means both partners are frequently orgasming because we didn’t really have men who didn’t.

Sheila: Right.  No sexual dysfunction, and no porn use.  And so let’s stop talking about obligation and start talking about those five things and then things will be fine.  And I think this is the underlying problem is that people are honestly sure that if we don’t talk about obligation women will just stop having sex.    

Rebecca: And it’s like yeah.  They might.  And then frankly, a lot of research kind of seems to be that is the bed that you made.  I don’t know.  I’m just going to say.  I think—if the only thing that’s making a woman want to have sex in their marriage is that she feels like if she doesn’t, God will smite her and that she’s a failure then maybe she’s not the problem.  Maybe there are other things that have happened.  And maybe she shouldn’t be having sex then.  We got into all this in GSR about how to get back to healthy sex.      

Sheila: Yes.  So please check out Great Sex Rescue.  Okay.  We have another study.  And this one is really interesting.  Okay.  To hone on this obligation message—and this is going to take a little bit of a sad turn, okay?  Because I am going to talk about some marital rape and abuse situation, but a woman wrote to me.  And she has been going through years of trying to get counseling.  Their relationship is really abusive.  Sex has become a big problem because it has been obligation and, at times, has even gone into coercion.  And so she’s been reaching out to her pastor.  She’s been reaching out to her pastor’s wife.  She’s considering separation.  And I think, at this point, she has.  But she shared with me some emails between her and her pastor’s wife.  And the reason that I want to read these is I want to show you how common the obligation message is that is being given to women in evangelical circles.  It’s kind of like—okay.  So the Shiny, Happy People documentary that came out two weeks ago and that took the world by storm.  We can take the wrong lesson from that.  We can take the lesson that, “Oh, wow.  Gothard was incredibly abusive and terrible.”

Rebecca: And good thing everyone knows it now, and this isn’t a problem anymore.  

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s not the lesson we should take.  The lesson that we should take is that these teachings infiltrated evangelicalism.  And when I was watching that documentary, I heard things straight from Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl.

Rebecca: Oh gosh.  Yeah.  

Sheila: Gothard talked about the ceramic mug versus the china teacup.  Gothard talked about dressing with eye traps.  And these are all things that are in Dannah Gresh’s books.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  The concepts are just—it’s all the same.    

Sheila: It’s all the same.  And so I’m reading you this email that was sent just from a normal church in Canada.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And by normal, we mean we’re not talking about the most fundamentalist of fundamentalist churches.  This is the kind of thing that is—you’d walk in and think, “Oh, these are just everyday people.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  And so this is what the pastor’s wife wrote to this woman, who has already explained the abuse and marital rape in her marriage.  She says this, “1 Corinthians 7:2-3 makes it plain that physical sexual intimacy is the means whereby the husband and wife are mutually protected from violations of God’s law with respect to sexual desire because it provides the proper context for the expression of these desires and the satisfaction and fulfillment that God intends that we derive from them.  Verses 4-5 indicate that the wife and husband are both to make themselves available to the other partner physically.  To refuse to do so is defrauding the other and making them more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan particularly in the area of sexuality.  These are clear commands of Scripture and, like all commands, are to be willingly obeyed.  However, there is no abdication of choice here.  The picture is that of the giving of a gift.  A gift that you have agreed and covenanted together to make available to one another.  There is no right granted to the other partner to take what has been promised against the will of the other person.  The Bible does not condone this type of sexual abuse within a marriage as though a husband may take from the wife or the wife from her husband.  This is to be a loving act of self sacrifice for the sake of the other.  This too is a two-way street, and I, for one, do not think that it is reasonable to suggest that a woman who is still recovering physically from the birth of her child has to offer her body to her husband, at least not for vaginal penetration.”

Rebecca: Oh my gosh.

Sheila: “The sexual relationship is designed to both reflect and build intimacy.  It is difficult to be physically intimate when there is a distance or unresolved issues in the marriage but to refuse to do so categorically is to neglect one way that the Bible serves to build it.  The issues that your husband has, however complex and sinful, are never going to be rebuilt neurologically until new proper sexual habits are established with you.”

Rebecca: They love to use that word.  Neurologically.  They have no idea what it means.  

Sheila: No.  Exactly.  

Rebecca: That’s a nonsense sentence.  Okay.  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.   

Sheila: Yes.  “You are asking him to change but denying him the means by which the Scripture indicates that such sin is avoided.  You will have to decide if you are willing to make that sacrifice.”

Rebecca: Make it.  Yep.  Yar.  Make it. 

Sheila: You keep talking about until he is safe or things change.  What does this actually look like and mean?”

Rebecca: It means until he’s safe or things change.  That’s what it means.  Oh my goodness.

Sheila: How will you know when it happens?”    

Rebecca: Well, it will happen when it’s safe, and he changes.  

Sheila: “What steps are you willing to take as his wife to support him in this process?”  

Rebecca: Finding safety and waiting for him to change.  Oh my gosh.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I will let you read this.  I’m done.  

Sheila: “Do you believe that what you are doing now in the relationship is helping or hurting the very thing you want to see?  You may not like to hear this, but the vast majority of what you have written is entirely focused on yourself.  It is entirely understandable and, perhaps, even justifiable from a human perspective.  But are you confident that this is how God has called you to respond to the hurt and abuse that has occurred in your life?”  

Rebecca: Yes.

Sheila: “No arsenal of self soothing strategies is any match for the peace that Christ offered that is only available by obedience to Him.  I am praying for you.  I love you.”    

Rebecca: No.  She doesn’t.    

Sheila: That is total spiritual abuse.

Rebecca: This is the most asinine response that I have ever seen.  An evil response.  This is terrible.  It’s not only evil.  It’s also laughable how illogical it is and how it’s just so wrong.  But this is exactly what that study is saying.  She’s saying, “It’s not obligation.  It’s a gift.  You get to have sex with a rapist.  Oh my goodness.  How lucky are you.  Have all that sex with your rapist.  You’re so lucky.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  Because essentially what she’s saying—

Rebecca: Sorry.  I went immediately to my Michelle Duggar voice.  

Sheila: Yes.  What she’s saying is it wouldn’t be rape if you were happy about it.  And so the problem is not that it’s rape.  The problem is that she’s not happy about it.

Rebecca: The problem is that she’s not consenting.  You just have to consent to the sex you don’t want to consent to.  That’s the whole problem.  Your problem is that you’re not consenting.  If you were consenting to the sex that you don’t want to have, if you were consenting to the non consensual sex, then there wouldn’t be any nonconsensual sex.  So clearly, you are the problem.  

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.

Rebecca: Because we can’t stop him from raping you, but we can tell you to shut up about it.  

Sheila: No.  And we can’t stop him from raping you because sex—having one-sided intercourse with your spouse where you ejaculate and she does nothing and she hates it and feels terrible is the means by which God has ordained that he overcomes temptation and, in this case, porn and things like that.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Which is just not at all—it’s just—  

Sheila: And you can listen to our podcast from a couple weeks ago on male centric sex to talk about the problems with that view.  But this is essentially what she’s saying is that his right to have intercourse with his wife is the means by which God gave him so that he doesn’t sin.  And it’s such a low view of men.  It’s an entirely inaccurate view of how we get over compulsive sexual behaviors.  It’s an inaccurate view of emotional wellness and healing.  Him having sex with his wife when she is being abused is only going to solidify his selfishness and her abuse.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  Him being allowed to continue to rape someone isn’t going to suddenly make him not want to rape people anymore.  He’s going to learn he can get away with it.

Sheila: Exactly.  And so, again, this is just really problematic.  And if you are in a church where a pastor’s wife would ever send this kind of an email to you or to a friend, get out.  Churches like this are doing so much harm.  And this is not the way that we should be treating abused women.  

Rebecca: No.  That’s not the way we should be treating anyone.

Sheila: No.  It really isn’t.  And it’s a total misunderstanding of what sex is too.  A complete misunderstanding.  And by the way, just—I love—I don’t love.  But I just—that whole thing about how I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a woman recovering from the birth of her child to offer her body to her husband, at least not for vaginal penetration.  So she agrees it’s not reasonable to tell a woman that she has to have intercourse, but it is reasonable to tell her other things.

Rebecca: Yeah.  It’s just disgusting.

Sheila: It’s very much a problem.  And for her to end the letter saying that she loves her— 

Rebecca: It’s like no you don’t.

Sheila: This is the opposite of love.  Love is—

Rebecca: This is hatred.  This is actually hatred.

Sheila: This is hatred.  This is hatred.

Rebecca: Yeah.  To actively enable—it’s just bad.  It’s just bad.  

Sheila: Yeah.  It really is.  Okay.    

Rebecca: So let’s go to the other one.  So that shows why—the importance of asking why in research because we have to ask why is it that giving a gift or doing something nice for your spouse is related with better sexual satisfaction.  We have to ask why because it’s definitely not the one that creates the sexual satisfaction.  It’s because it’s a natural consequence of a healthy relationship.  And so what that pastor’s wife—that crap she was spewing is absolute bananas.  Terrible.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  Because you can’t give a gift if you still also believe in the obligation sex message.  They don’t go together at all.  Okay.  So here is another one that I’ve been sent by several people on Instagram.  Super interesting.  Some research that came—I believe it’s out of the University of Arizona.  I could have that wrong.  But this article is called The Other Third Shift? Women’s Emotion Work in Their Sexual Relationships.  And I have a bunch of excerpts I actually want to read.  They’re kind of long.  But they’re really good.  Why don’t you start with the abstract? 

Rebecca: Abstract.  Sure.  Okay.  “The concept of emotional labor have been used far less often to address inequalities within private interpersonal relationships, particularly heterosexual romantic relationships.  We identified four areas of emotion work present in women’s sexual lives including, one, faking orgasms, two, tolerating sexual pain, three, defining sexual satisfaction based on the partner’s pleasure, and four, narrating sex they call bad sex as acceptable because of a partner’s satisfaction.  Nearly all women mentioned emotion work as part of their current or past sexual experiences as women described frequently enduring unsatisfying sex to provide their male partners with feelings of power, sexual skillfulness, and dominance particularly during heterosex.”  So that’s just sex between heterosexual couples.  “We discussed the implications for gendered elements of sexual satisfaction, feelings about sex that women do not expect to feel pleasurable, expectations about deserving this, an entitlement to sexual pleasure, sexual agency, and diverse interpretations of the significance of orgasm.”  So yeah.  Really interesting study.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so basically, the thesis is that women are doing the majority of the emotional labor during sex.  And we’ve talked a lot about mental load and emotional labor in other contexts on this podcast.  So mental load is when women take on the responsibility for all of the tiny decisions and details that go into the family, running the house.  When do we need to take the car in for an oil change?  When are they coming to fix the air conditioner?    

Rebecca: When is the homework due?     

Sheila: What homework do we have?  Is Johnny’s soccer outfit out of the laundry?  Where are the cleats?  All these things that are—who do we have to carpool with this week?  All these things are in her head and not his.  And so that’s exhausting.  Emotional labor is kind of managing the relationships and the emotions of everyone in the family.  So when the siblings start fighting, the mom is often the one who figures that out.  It’s the woman who figures out what birthday present are we going to buy for your mom.  And are we going to have her over for dinner?

Rebecca: It’s even thinking to remind the husband that maybe he should plan something for a really significant moment in his dad’s life.  Something like that.    

Sheila: Yeah.  So it’s the emotional.  And what they’re doing is they’re taking this idea of emotional labor and then putting it on to sex and saying, “What are some of the labors that women are doing?”  And it’s primarily women that are doing this is what they found.  In order to manage the emotions of the other person.  And they found these four things.  So here is an excerpt from later on in the article.  “Women manage their own and their partners feelings during sex.  Women’s ability to both express their sexual needs and manage their partners’ feelings frequently led to sexual ambivalence.  Women often felt distrust, anger, and fear about talking to their partners about their sexual needs all while trying to ensure that their partners enjoyed sex and felt comfortable and loved.”  So women, themselves, are not enjoying things.  

Rebecca: They’re not feeling comfortable and loved, but they’re making sure their partner is.  

Sheila: But they’re making sure their partner is.  “Elliot and Umberson describe this as emotion work within marriages around the performance of sexual desire while Breanne Fahs,”—who is actually one of the authors on this—“articulated that women perform emotional work around a variety of sexual events.”  And she lists a bunch including labeling coercion as rape—not labeling coercion as rape.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  And acting like you’re satisfied even if you’re not.  So faking orgasm, right?  

Sheila: Yeah.  “The kinds of emotion work women perform during heterosex ranged from engaging in unwanted sex in exchange for their male partner’s doing the housework to women expressing sexual desire to their partners even when they would rather not have sex.”

Rebecca: Oh, yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  “Particularly given the strong imperative for orgasmic reciprocity during sex, many women across a range of backgrounds felt obligated to both have an orgasm and to provide their partners with pleasure.  Further, women who value gender conformity often base their sexual satisfaction on their partner’s approval leading to lower sexual autonomy.”

Rebecca: Yeah.  This is totally in line with what we saw in the books.  Yeah.

Sheila: And I want to read—I want to actually get a quote from Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, For Women Only, which actually describes and tells women that they need to perform emotional labor during sex.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  There is so much of it in there.  

Sheila: In her book, For Women Only, what she is saying is saying is that what men really need isn’t just sex but to feel like you emotionally want to be there.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  They don’t just want duty sex.  They want you to enjoy the sex.  

Sheila: Right.  And so I just want to read you a paragraph.  “First, know that you’re responding to a tender heart hiding behind all that testosterone.  If at all possible, respond to his advances with your full emotional involvement knowing that you’re touching his heart.  But if responding physically seems out of the question, let your words be heart words.  Reassuring, affirming, adoring.  Do everything in your power using words and actions your husband understands to keep those pangs of personal rejection from striking the man you love.  Leave him in no doubt that you love to love him.”

Rebecca: Yeah.  “And remember if you do respond physically but do it just to meet his needs without getting engaged, you’re not actually meeting his needs.  In fact, you might as well send him out to clip the hedges.  So enjoy God’s intimate gift and make the most of it.”  I hate that last sentence.   You might as well—just using your body to get off isn’t what he wants.  You might as well do a chore.  You’re talking to women who have allowed men to use their bodies.  They thought God wanted it and experienced rape.  And now you said, “Oh, well, it just felt like a chore.”  Even just that bothers me so much because the idea that—anyway, that’s a whole other podcast.  

Sheila: But what you see here is that she is telling women to take on emotional labor during sex because our goal—our big aim is to make him feel affirmed and adored.  It is not to experience intimacy during sex.  It is not to have a mutual experience.

Rebecca: And there’s so much emphasis on the emotional repercussions to him if she doesn’t want to have sex.  Is she even allowed to not want to have sex?  And there’s so much pressure for her to perform.  Look at the kinds of things these women were doing.  Right?  The idea of they were performing as satisfied.

Sheila: Even when they weren’t.  Yeah.

Rebecca: Even when they weren’t.  They were expressing sexual desires to their partners even when they would rather not have sex.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And these are things that she—that is explicitly talked about in For Women Only

Rebecca: Oh yeah.  I think this is an A leads to B situation.  This is just—they’re the same picture.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  That meme from The Office.  It’s the same picture.      

Rebecca: It’s the same picture.  

Sheila: It’s the same picture as Pam says.  Yeah.  And this is the problem.  There is nothing in For Women Only that talks about if you’re not receiving pleasure that’s a problem.  

Rebecca: You shouldn’t have to force yourself to want sex.  You deserve to have a sex life that you want to have.    

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Because the focus in on sex here is on making sure he feels emotionally validated, that he feels—that he gets what he needs.  But there’s no talk about her getting what she needs.  And it even says if you can’t feel pleasure go see a counselor which okay.  That’s good that she at least says that.  But what we found over and over again in Great Sex Rescue is that the biggest predictor of women’s orgasm—the biggest problem is—  

Rebecca: It’s not a lack of therapy.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s a lack of foreplay.  It’s the fact that he is not tending to her needs.  And as we found in our survey of men, 72% of men think they do enough foreplay even when their wife doesn’t orgasm.    

Rebecca: Mm-hmm.  And I know a lot of people say, “Yeah.  But Shaunti was only writing for women only.  She wasn’t writing to the men.”  But that means she was writing to men who are married to men who are selfish and who are raping them.  And it’s like you owe something to those women too.    

Sheila: But also even if you’re writing to women, what is the goal of sex?  The goal of sex should be intimacy and mutual pleasure.

Rebecca: Well, I just don’t understand why she couldn’t have said, “Hey, if you’re in a marriage where you really like sex, sex is great.  But you’re just really tired make a little bit more of a priority.  But if sex is always—but if you’re in a marriage where sex is not pleasurable for you, you need to deal with that first.  And your husband being gripey about not getting enough, that’s something you guys need to deal with separately because that’s—you shouldn’t be wanting the sex.”  That’s not what she says.  What she says is, “If you don’t have sex, he’s going to be devastated emotionally.  You will have crushed the small, scared, just needing reassurance little kid inside of his heart.”

Sheila: And she also doesn’t deal with the fact that a lot of men put such an emphasis on sex because they have channeled their emotional needs into sex.  And that’s actually not healthy.  And so yes.  A lot of men are saying, “I need sex, and I need her to be enthusiastic for me to feel like I’m worthwhile.”  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  I mean wanting a great sex life is a great thing.  Wanting to be intimate, wanting your wife to feel involved, that is a good thing.  But needing that in order to feel emotionally validated is a bit of a problem.

Rebecca: Well, and I think that it’s a problem when you’re trying to separate the consequences from the action, right?  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a healthy couple being like, “I,”—the idea of a relationship does often need sex.  Right?  

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: The individuals don’t.  But relationships—if there’s not a good sex life, there is a reason.  It’s like okay.  There’s probably a reason.  Your relationship is probably going to go downhill.  Right?  But I think that there’s a difference between saying that and saying, “I need to feel affirmed through sex.  And I don’t need to do the things that would lead to that happening naturally.”  That’s the problem is that men say, “All my needs are here.  But I’m not going to put any energy into this,” right?  “So I expect to have channeled all of my needs here and have them all met.  But I am not going to channel a similar amount of my energy and focus and pursuit here.  I’m just going to sit here and say, ‘You need to do this to me and make me feel like I did a good job even though I’m not doing anything to actually make it good for you.’”  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And then the advice to women is and you need to take care of this.

Rebecca: Because his feelings will get hurt.  Yeah.  Because it’s his fault that his feelings get super hurt because he put all his needs there.  

Sheila: And there is nothing in there about women’s feelings.  And that’s really the problem.  And that’s the point of this article is that the emotional labor of sex is largely dealt with by women.  It is not dealt with by men.  And that—yeah.  That is a big issue that needs to be dealt with.

Rebecca: I mean on a weirder note—I know one of the things that—because of this job—whenever you start something with it was because of this job you know it’s always going to go a weird way.  Because of this job, obviously, I’m one of the people who a lot of people go to for sex questions and problems.  And if people don’t like something, they come to us, and they say things.  “And why don’t we want sex?  Why doesn’t she want sex?”  All the stuff.  Anyway, this is my lot in life.  But one of the recurring things that I’ve heard from people is that women will often say, “I don’t like having sex because I’m just so tired.  And then I don’t want to have to change the sheets and have a shower and get all cleaned up.”  They have to deal with the semen afterwards and stuff like that.  And he just kind of rolls over and goes to bed.  And then she’s dealing with all this stuff because he’s like, “Well, I’m okay going to bed.”  And she’s like, “Well, I’m not going to bed in crusty sheets.”  And then I talk to them.  And I’m like, “Well, then why doesn’t he just wear a condom?”  If he doesn’t want to do clean up, you could just wear a condom, and then it’s like a very quick personal clean up.  And you can just go to bed.  It’s a lot easier.   And without a doubt, every single time pretty much the man says, “Yeah.  It just doesn’t feel as good.”  I was like, “Okay.  Your wife doesn’t want to have sex because you are not wearing a condom.”  She’s like, “No.  Sex feels good when we have it.  I’m just so tired.  I don’t want to do extra labor.”  And I was like, “If both of you, there’s going to be something that dampens your experience.”

Sheila: Dampens.  

Rebecca: Ha, ha.  Dampens.  Ha, ha, ha.  That’s funny.  No.  Something that dampens your experience.  Okay?  For the man, I ask, “Do you still want to have sex if you wear a condom?”  “Well, yeah.”  Okay.  Then clearly, that’s not as bad.  We’re talking about something here where it’s like this is bad enough for her, and it’s probably because there’s a larger pattern that he doesn’t pick up his fair share of things.  And she carries a lot of the emotional labor and mental load.  But here is an area where you taking on a slight inconvenience for yourself, which by the way the majority of men around the world take on as well without it being a big deal—okay?  You have that.  Or you can just say, “I don’t want to, but I still want you to do everything that I want you to do,” and make your wife actively not want to have sex.  And so, therefore, have even more of a damage to her experience.  And it’s just selfish.  And this is what the emotional labor really comes down to.  It’s like why on earth—and I’m not saying everyone has to use condoms, or you can’t—that’s just an example of like if this is the kind of thing—there are things that make sex not pleasurable for women.  And they’re different from woman to woman.  But we, as women, have been trained to be the ones to deal with it.  And so when there’s even a thought that the man could be the one to deal with it, it’s just kind of silly.

Sheila: Yeah.  The one that I find so common is the pill.  Because for a lot of women—first of all, it’s a pain to have to get.  You have to go to the doctor.  You have to get prescriptions.  You have to remember to take it at the same time every day.  But for a lot of women, it reduces their libido because it gets rid of the hormonal spike around ovulation.  

Rebecca: It can increase mental health problems.

Sheila: It can increase mental health problems.  

Rebecca: It’s a stroke risk.

Sheila: It can cause other issues.  For some women, they love it, and it works great.  And it’s fine.  But for some women, it really doesn’t.  But the men refuse to use a condom.  And so they’re putting all of this on women. 

Rebecca: Yeah.  And it’s like there’s times—if it’s the actual choice of the couple, that’s awesome.  But I just hate it when I hear it being like, “Yeah.  I’d rather not use the pill, but he won’t use a condom.”  It’s like no.  That’s not acceptable.  It’s not acceptable. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Those are just—condoms are so much easier.  And it’s like he would rather not have a slightly diminished pleasure, but then she has to go through a massively diminished pleasure because her libido—for so many women, their libido—    

Rebecca: Well, and also just like throughout the month.  Her entire life now shifts for a lot of women.  And I’m someone for whom the pill is really quite bad for.  I actually got quite suicidal while I was one it.  And the minute I got off it it was like, “Oh, look.  The grass is green.”  That stuff is real.  And there are so many women who suffer from side effects and who don’t even consider just telling their husbands, “Okay.  Then no sex unless there is a condom involved,” because they know that he won’t do it.  It’s so sad.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so she has taken on all of that labor, and there’s this idea that he shouldn’t have to bear any of it.  So it is a really big problem.  So anyway, those are the new studies that we wanted to share with you and our new findings around orgasm.  So yeah.  Just some really interesting stuff that reinforces our fundamental things in Great Sex Rescue, which is that sex should be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.  And when we focus solely on the guy and when we focus on a kind of relationship which elevates the man over the woman and which works directly against intimacy, sex is not going to be as great.  It really isn’t.  And so we need to prioritize both, and we need to really aim for intimacy.  

Rebecca: That’s exactly it.    

Sheila: So yeah.  Mm-hmm.  Okay.  I have actually brought Joanna Sawatsky back on the podcast to end this episode out for us.   Hello, Joanna.

Joanna: Hi, everybody.

Sheila: So we recorded all that other stuff earlier.  And then something happened in the last few days, and I just thought we could comment on it at the end of this evidence-based research oriented podcast which is that a lot of the commentary around the docuseries for Shiny Happy People has been—some of the especially younger influencers that I don’t really want to name because it’s not about them.  I don’t hold them as responsible as the authors that we critique.  So I don’t want to drag them over the coals.  But there were several younger influencers mentioned in Shiny Happy People, and they’ve come out against the documentary saying, “You know what?  These teachings didn’t harm us.  We went to Gothard’s stuff, and it didn’t harm us.  And so you can’t just say that this stuff is all harmful.”  And I guess what I want to say—and maybe you can comment on is they can’t actually say that.  

Joanna: Nope.  You need a time machine.

Sheila: You can’t actually know whether it harmed you or not.  So can you explain that for us?    

Joanna: Yeah.  So if you’re going to go back on your own life and say, “Hey, this is—I know what harm,” you can, to an extent, talk about, “These are the things that affected me.  Here is the hard things I’ve had in my life.  Here is what I think contributed to them.”  Right.  That’s the work that we do in talk therapy. Right?  But to go and say, “This particular thing didn’t help or harm me,” we would have to go back and get a time machine and then have you run your life where we only changed that thing again.  And then we could measure it.  That would be the only way to know for a person in particular.  The other thing that we can do though is we can look at the population, and we can say, “Hmm.  If people share these characteristics, do they experience an outsized disease burden?  Do they experience these negative outcomes more than the general population?  What is it about this particular exposure that is helpful or harmful or whatever we’re looking at,” right?  And so the reality is that we are each one data point.  We are not a population.  We contain lots of populations of bacteria but we are one human being.

Sheila: Exactly.  And the thing is a lot of times people say, “Well, this didn’t harm me,” but you only know your own normal.  

Joanna: Yeah.  Exactly.

Sheila: You don’t know what other people are experiencing.  Tell everybody about the—

Joanna: Okay.  So we were talking about this earlier today.  And I was like, well, in my family, no one realized that my nose bleeds were abnormal because in my family a 30 to 60-minute nosebleed was par for the course.  And then I ended up seeing a hematologist, and they were like, “Oh, oh, I’m sorry.  What?  How long?  Oh.”  

Sheila: Let’s do something about that.  

Joanna: Because here’s the thing about this, right?  Let’s make sure that you have a plan.  And they gave me some very special gauze so that when I have nose bleeds I have an arsenal.  It’s great.  But essentially, the problem is that was our normal, right?  People in my family have long nosebleeds.  We didn’t realize it was outside the range of normal.  And it’s so difficult when we’re only looking at our own life to be able to tease out what is the water that we’ve been swimming in our whole life that we’re not aware of.  What is the impact of the culture that we live in, the time that we live in?  What is it even, sometimes, that we want to believe about ourselves?  This isn’t to say that these particular influencers are less able to be reliable narrators than are the general population.  This is a problem, capital P, for humanity, capital H, right?  People have struggled with this.  And that’s why fields like sociology exist.  That’s why epidemiologists study behaviors and their impact on health outcomes.

Sheila: Well, I know it was looking at the results from Great Sex Rescue, which made me realize why I had vaginismus.  I hadn’t realized it before.  But seeing, oh, when people this stuff, when they’re taught this stuff, it makes it so much more likely.  And I’m like that clicks, but I had never known that before.  And if you had asked me, “Did this harm you,” I would have said, “No,” because I didn’t realize the correlations there.  And when we look at how a lot of the teachings around the Gothard movement about modesty, about how men are just lustful beings who really can’t help it, about obligation sex, about entitlement, these things are all part of a lot of these influencers’ lives.  And a lot of the outcomes like anorgasmia, low libido, obligation sex messages—we’re still seeing them.  Not just these particular influencers although it is there but in a lot of these influencers.  And so they say it doesn’t affect them.  And yet, we’re seeing the effects in their videos.  And I guess what I just want to say is we have this idea that, “Well, it didn’t hurt me,” and that that’s a good argument.  But actually over and over again, we find that no.  This stuff actually leads to really bad stuff.  And maybe for you, anxiety is just a normal part of life, and you don’t realize, “Hey, I didn’t actually have to be this anxious.  Maybe it’s how I grew up.  Or people tend to have a higher libido than I do.  And maybe if I hadn’t gone through all this, I would have a higher libido.  And I think my libido is normal.”  And libido—I hate the words normal around libido.  So I shouldn’t maybe use that one.  But things might have been easier for you.

Joanna: The other thing is that you also may have been spared.  Right?  So for example, I actually—my first—I am now a sex researcher.  But I started my research career actually studying mycobacterium tuberculosis and doing mouse studies in a lab.  I was a little undergrad researcher.  So I did studies is putting it a bit much.  But anyway, my point is that only 10% of people who have active—or who have TB in their lungs—not active TB infection—who have TB in their lungs growing or present there will actually end up developing active tuberculosis.  So they’ll actually have the active, multiplying bacteria that’s causing the cough and the consumption that you would think of with the Brontes.  The other 90% were spared.  And so we can say, “Oh, well, I have tuberculosis in my lungs, but I have never developed TB.  Therefore, it’s not actually harmful.”  And it’s like hello.  TB kills huge numbers of people every year.  It’s an absolutely horrific pathogen.  And just because it only ends up developing active disease in 10% of people doesn’t—the presence of the 90% does not negate the 10%.  

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.

Joanna: And so I find it very strange to say, “I wasn’t affected.  Therefore, it wasn’t bad.  Or therefore, we should still allow this stuff in some way.”  It’s like well no.  Even if they were the minority, which I am not ceding that point—but even if that were true, Jesus says we leave the 99 to go after the 1.  That’s the parable.  The biggie.  Leave the 99 to go after the 1.  And so how can we say, “I personally was not hurt.  Therefore, I don’t have to care.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  We should care.  We should go after the 1.  So that is a great way to end this podcast.  So just remember.  Harm matters.  And as Christians, we should be trying to reduce harm, and we should be trying to get everyone to health and wholeness because Jesus said that He came to give us life and give it abundantly.  And that’s what we’re aiming for here at Bare Marriage.  And so keep a look out.  The announcement for our new wineskins webinar is in the link, and you can find it there because that’s happening next week.  And I hope so many people can come so that we can talk about how we can share our results with our churches and get them talking about this in a healthy way.  So thank you for joining us, and we will see you again next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.  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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  1. Mara R

    Still listening.

    But #1. I do believe that Joanna is my most favorite stat number crusher on the face of the planet.

    And #2, I’m glad that your study had so many more participants. No, it will never make the “was the oven on” people happy, because nothing will. But it will speak to other people that you are going above and beyond concerning this to shut some other naysayers.

    • Mara R

      I meant number cruncher. But I’m not hating the concept of number crusher.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire


      • Lisa Johns

        She definitely did crush it!

  2. Cynthia

    Thank you for your work in exposing toxic messages from pastors and “biblical” counselors. As you know, I’m a divorce and child protection lawyer. I hadn’t known about these teachings. I’m finding, however, that they come up in my work and that knowing this information is really important to understanding what is happening, particularly where there is abuse.
    Just yesterday, I was dealing with a file where the family’s pastor had said that the family seemed so nice and the father was so devoted to his wife and children, and he wondered what could be wrong with the wife to make her leave. He made these comments to the social worker appointed to do a report for the court. Later, the social worker got a glowing report from the husband’s counselor, saying that he attended the sessions and was eager to rebuild the relationship. If the social worker hadn’t realized that this was nonsense, it could have had serious consequences. The truth was that there was verified abuse physical and abuse abuse by the father of the children. The pastor and counselor hadn’t been given those details, and assumed that if the wife and kids left, it must be her crazy women’s issues and lack of devotion. By contrast, husband is still presenting himself as the pious and devoted family man who just wants his wife and kids back.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s so disgusting, Cynthia! Did the social worker see through it? That poor woman.

      • Cynthia

        The worker picked up on the fact that the counselor hadn’t been given a copy of a report that discussed the abuse, and seemed to think that this was just about helping the husband to deal with the wife’s issues and fix the marriage.

        That hasn’t stopped the lawyer from trying to push this as “he got counseling, everything is fine, and he is a wonderfully Godly husband and father!”

  3. Mara R

    Still listening.

    As mentioned, the Gothard model has infiltrated the church. My trip down “The Resolution for Men” memory lane made me realize that their husband asleep at the wheel analogy is just a more palatable version of the umbrella teaching. He has to be in charge or bad things are going to happen fear mongering.

    And number 2 (or 4 if counting the comment above) I think this connection of emotional labor in sex is very eye opening.

    Many other things in the podcast are so revealing. That letter from the Pastor’s wife and the Shandi writings? Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

  4. Jo R

    So I guess Josh Butler just finally said the quiet part out loud: the only thing husbands really do need to do sexually is ejaculate in (or on 😳) their wives. That’s it. If a husband does that, then he has completely fulfilled his entire marital duty to his wife.

    This begs the question of why she ought to behave in any particular way, since he’s going to orgasm whether or not she’s acting or responding in his desired manner, but yes, by all means, let’s do everything possible to improve his experience as fully as possible while continuing to minimize hers, if not actively making it objectivly worse (and even actually a net negative experience).

    What sacrifice is such a husband making? If it’s better to give than to receive, if a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body, if a husband is to show love by not being self-seeking, then how does improving his sexual experience at the expense of his wife’s experience show love and sacrifice and exertion of effort on the husband’s part?

    As for young influencers believing they’re unharmed by this stuff, yeah, well, that’s what MANY of us wounded wives thought when we were living by these ideas early in our marriages. “Oh, I’ll just give him a gift.” “Oh, sweetheart, I’m taking too long, so let’s just move on.” “Well, I am in a LOT of discomfort from my period or because I just pushed a baby out of YOUR sexy-times place, but you should never have to suffer even an iota, so let me take care of your needs.” “Yes, it is unfortunate that a condom slightly decreases your sensation and pleasure for the five minutes we’re having PIV, so OBVIOUSLY it’s much better for ME to be affected physically, mentally, and emotionally 24/7/365 by taking the pill.” The rotten fruit from all those ideas didn’t become apparent until a decade or three later. 🤔

    • Stefanie

      Yes, the rotten fruit didn’t become apparent until years later.

    • Healing

      Omg! Yes!

      When you said, “ What sacrifice is such a husband making? If it’s better to give than to receive, if a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body, if a husband is to show love by not being self-seeking, then how does improving his sexual experience at the expense of his wife’s experience show love and sacrifice and exertion of effort on the husband’s part?”

      I’ve said this so many times… I LOVE how people always say it’s better to give than receive but yet many of these (Christian) men seem to only receive… or when they frame it as “we should serve our spouse” but they only see it as the wife serving her husband sexually.

      Now, don’t get me wrong… there are many men that do LOVE giving pleasure to their wife. They LOVE serving HER sexually but considering the orgasm gap, it seems like this is not the majority. I’m sure there are other men that would WANT to serve their wife sexually and it’s the wife that says “I don’t need that.”

      One last thought I have with sacrifice. Why is it that wife needs to sacrifice her desire to NOT have sex for her husband’s desire but it’s never talked about that the husband sacrifices his sexual desire for his wife. Why is it that the sexual desire ALWAYS needs to be acted on? Like, why doesn’t self control come into account? It never made sense to me in those “do not deprive” followers. Like, just because you feel that “tingle”, it doesn’t mean you have yo act on it??

  5. Lisa Johns

    Haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but I did read the letter from the pastor’s wife to the woman whose husband was raping her. I’ve got whiplash. What the heck kind of twisted logic is this advisor advocating?! None of that woman’s reasoning makes any sense for the wife whose husband is abusive. All that letter does is to say, he has every right to your body, and you have no right not to be abused. Pardon me while I go throw up.

    • Stefanie

      Yes, and then they throw scriptures at you like “God loves a cheerful giver!”

  6. Jane Eyre

    I don’t think these people even consider how spiritually damaging their beliefs are. If God wants me to be a receptacle for my husband, then God is an evil piece of crap. There isn’t a world in which it is anything but soul destroying to have your own husband use your body. The church can either proclaim from the rooftops that husbands owe it to their wives to develop their communication and sexual skills in the bedroom, or it can align with Satan in the belief that God isn’t actually worth worshipping.

    • Saved ByGrace

      Thats saying it out load, its what I felt inside but didnt know how to give words to, you can see my comment below. I ended up in a place of feeling like the only way I could say no to abuse and sex with an abusive man was to walk away from Christianity…..Thanks be to God, He brought along sisters (one of the things He used is this blog) who helped me see that those were lies, that He grieves with me in the abuse and pain and that He is close to the broken hearted.

  7. Stefanie

    This podcast was 🔥. Here are a few questions:

    1) Loved the discussion around emotional labor and sex, and the condom discussion, and how it’s not unreasonable to expect the guy to wear it to help the woman (either with clean up or so she doesn’t have to take the pill.) Are there influencers you can recommend who would give my daughters that message so they don’t fall into the traps their mother fell into?

    2) Talking about the cumulative effects of the water we swim in, do you think it’s harmful for my children to grow up in a two parent family where their mother is not excited about sex? (Not that I would tell them that, but the emotional climate in the home is affected by watching parents be ambivalent toward each other). My therapist thinks I should divorce. I believe my marriage is beyond repair, but I stay because I don’t want my kids to grow up in a broken home. Also, divorcing might mean living in public housing until I can get myself on my feet (which might take two years as I pursue education and a new career). Also, my kids would have to leave all their friends, stop all their extra curriculars (ballet, baseball, swimming,etc) because divorcing would throw us into poverty for awhile. Anyway, my primary concern is my children’s well-being, and I’m trying to ascertain whether they would be better off if I stay or go.

    • Bekah

      I am staying in a loveless marriage for my children. We do not have sex. I will not. My husband is no longer abusive because I’m the stronger one of the two of us. Once my eyes were opened, it was game over for him. My youngest is 11, and I am staying for the kids and the money. I am living my best life going to brunches and coffees and enjoying my kids as they get older. We are polite to each other. It works for us. If he was constantly whining about not getting laid or the fact that I don’t love him, I’m not sure what direction we would go.

  8. Stefanie

    Also the pastors wives came up again!!! What gives? I was reliving my own past hearing that letter.

  9. Jen

    Great discussion. I’m wondering how we actually heal from all this crap. My husband and I are trying. (He is a recovering sex addict who abused and neglected me for 30 years.). There is a TON of bad fruit from obligation sex and the entitled, self-focused attitude men are taught in the church. However, I could always experience pleasure. I think it’s because I dissociated. A LOT.

    So if my body was reacting as if I were being raped (trauma-wise), how do I even undo that association with my husband? And because he was lying about his character and fidelity, I spent decades ignoring my gut. Plus, I was consciously aware of the almost daily neglect (even though I wouldn’t have used that word back in the day). This is a ton of bad fruit from the very attitudes you’re dissecting. How do couples heal?

    We are both in CBT and, more recently, couples therapy, but I understand that the body keeps the score. Thoughts, anyone?

    • Anonymous305

      Sorry, I don’t know how to recover from that, but I want to acknowledge that it sounds incredibly painful ☹️❤️☹️.

    • Lisa Johns

      Thirty years in, I’m amazed that he has actually changed. Please be aware of what’s happening, and be prepared to save yourself if things head south. He may have changed, truly, but I think the vast majority of men who have used and abused for so long change very little if at all. I thought my husband had changed last year — miracle, come-to-Jesus moment, all that. It lasted about two weeks, and I realized it had really ended not too long after that. My goal is to file for divorce by August.
      I’m sorry for this, but I just think you need to be very, very careful. Long term abusers and porn users are really good at playing you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Jen, I’m sorry! Have you tried EMDR or trauma therapies?

    • Isabel

      Jen, that is all so horribly painful. I can recommend therapy more focused on body recovery, such as somatic experiencing. It’s focused on re-connecting you to your body and healing what is stored there, rather than staying in logic. It might benefit you to also find out if the therapist has background in sexual trauma, because it’s very unique. I’ve found EMDR to be helpful, but it’s mainly for use in specific memories or moments, not necessarily as a long game like somatic work. I’ve also gained a lot from my training with Justin and Abi Stumvoll and they have a class opening up called Pathway to Freedom. It’s all about facing shame and reconnecting to your body through compassion and love. I highly recommend the path with immersion work, because you will get to meet online with others who are being open and honest about their pain and journey. It’s life-changing. Many couples do it together and even therapists do the class and share it changes their methods. Their podcast, the connected life, has also been a life-giver for me. It helps remove shame and offers so much insight into every topic.

      I’m so deeply sorry for all the pain. You never deserved it. I also wanted to say that it’s not bad that your body felt what it did. Our bodies are all unique and there’s no shame that you felt pleasure.

      All the best to you in this healing space!

  10. Estelle

    So if scriptural commands are to be obeyed ‘willingly,’ if one is unwilling, does that then mean one can happily disobey/ignore the command in question? After all, Jesus did say something about yes being yes and no being no.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There is no scriptural command to allow someone to use you as a masturbatory aid. Mutual, intimate, pleasurable sex is supposed to be part of your marriage. But if it’s not those three things, the answer is not to substitute it with letting someone use you. The answer is to address the issue.

    • Mara R

      Here is something to ponder concerning the original “Ten Commandments” Actually, there is a lot of things to consider. I am linking a video by a young man who grew up Christian and was paid a dollar by his parents to memorize the Ten Commandments. But after living in an Orthodox Jewish community, he learned the present day version we all know my be a little different. I recommend the whole video. But for those who have time constraints and need to cut to the chase concerning why I’m linking this under Estelle’s comment, start at the 2:36 mark concerning “Do Not Steal”. It may mean something quite different than what we have been led to believe. And if so, might be a good, solid biblical answer to Estelle’s concern about women not obeying “God” or the Bible by refusing to give their rapist husbands sex.


      It is just a little blurb. But if true, it could blow the whole, “be nice” masquerading as the old obligation sex notion to smithereens.
      And I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of men making “commands” for women that have nothing to do with the heart of God and teachings of Jesus Christ.

      • Mara R

        Footnote to add.

        More evidence that God, even way back in the Moses Ten Commandments days, was not interested in women existing to service men.

        This can be found at the 7:44 mark of the video linked above.

        But really, if you have a chance to watch the whole thing, PLEASE DO!

        It may represent another way to undermine the horrible, toxic teachings parading around as the very oracles of God.

        • Lisa Johns

          I saw this video the other day! Very interesting! I was not aware of the guy’s background. I’ll have to do a deeper dive.

  11. Anonymous305

    My husband used to say he needed me to “give him an emotional connection” through sex. In marriage counseling, I tried to explain that his words sounded like my feelings of connection or disconnection didn’t matter and his definition of “emotional connection” didn’t actually mean connecting with me. The most confusing part was that he allegedly agreed with GSR.

    Of course, the counselor (licensed) was annoyed that I wasn’t doing anything to connect with him. She acknowledged that I had trauma responses, but seemed annoyed that I wasn’t spending time with him as a way of unlearning the trauma responses.

    I cared too much about his feelings to divorce against his wishes, but I got less fake and told him when I didn’t want sex (for months!!). After months of rejecting him, I caved to make him stop whining, but I didn’t pretend to like it. I also said that he appeared self-focused for the entire marriage, and that pushed him over the edge to initiate divorce because I hadn’t come to understand his needs.

    Even though some people said that he was manipulative when talking about “needs”, I was never sure if he intended to manipulate or intended to express a genuine struggle. I put him through a lot of rejection before he couldn’t take it anymore.

    After I moved out, I didn’t want him back, but still wondered what I could have done to keep him. Why was I wondering about how to have something I didn’t want? Because I was wondering if I was capable of keeping another man in the future and wondering if I even deserved one.

  12. DaveOhhh!

    To me, obligation sex is the same as asking my wife to behave like a prostitute. “I’ve been doing my part. Now it’s time for you to do yours.”

    To me, sex is a gift, freely offered. Full-stop.

    Men need to stop being transactional and love freely, recklessly, and proactively–genuinely expecting nothing in return.

    Then men will have the moral standing to invite their wives to join them and plan beautiful sexual interludes for their future–to enhance their emotional connection.

    Then she might surprise him other times too…

  13. Sally Smith

    My question: how do we heal from years of trauma and dissociation that submitting to obligation sex has caused? I no longer feel like I ever want sex again, no matter how I try.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So many women are going through this! I think #1 is reframing sex. Read The Great Sex Rescue if you haven’t already. It might also be a good idea to get some therapy–even trauma therapy because you may have some trauma associations where you had sex but felt helpless, like you couldn’t say no. Which feels like rape.

      And then taking a moratorium on sex in your marriage for a while, so that you realize that you can be intimate without sex, and he doesn’t need it. (If he’s not willing to do that, then that’s a bigger problem!).

    • Saved ByGrace

      I feel the same way, I’m so sorry you endured that. Much love to you.

  14. Isabel

    Dear lord, that letter made me sick. How have we gotten scripture so wrong? That pastor gaslit the woman into believing that there is no such thing as abuse if she is married. She claims there are times when a woman shouldn’t have to have sex, but why does she even feel the right to say that? If you carry the scripture out the way she does, then there is literally no freedom for either man or woman, due to the potential of falling under temptation from satan. So, Satan is the winner here. Satan is the focus. He is now more powerful than the humans God designed to have authority over him.

    I have been given similar advice. Most women I know have as well.

    • Saved ByGrace

      THAT is a very good point…..I never thought of it like that.

  15. Saved ByGrace

    Thank you. I am going to share the email I was sent when I asked about if it was biblical to abstain from sex with my abusive husband…..this was from an elder and his wife, who had been counseling us and were aware of some of our issues….this email just about killed me, no joke. It sent me into a place of spiritual crisis. And they were the not the first people to tell me this. I was also told by a previous pastor and his wife that Biblically I was to make myself available to my husband regularly and not “use sex as a punishment” (my husband told me one day during an argument that this pastor felt I had issues with bitterness and unforgiveness).

    I felt like I had to choose between being a “good Christian” and being abused and used as basically a concubine or to escape the abuse and not be good enough to be a Christian….I’m sharing this here because it needs to be addressed and the woman above is not the first to get this advice in the church, and sadly wont be the last. The following is the email I was sent:

    “We understand where you are coming from, you desire a relationship where you are valued and loved, not used. We are praying for that too.
    In the mean time what is withdrawing sexualy going to acomplish?
    What if you were to try this with food. What would be the results of saying to him, could we take a break from eating so we can work on our relationship?
    Now if he were spiritually minded spending some time fasting and praying for the Lord’s work in your hearts and praying that Christ would have first place in your marriage would be a wonderful idea. But what good would forcing a fast on a carnal man do? According to scripture abstinence may be good for a brief time if mutually agreed on, but it’s not a good long term policy.

    In our prayers for you we were both led to these verses separately.
    1Pet 3:1; Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2; when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

    Before the Lord we encourage you by the grace of God to do the best you can to fulfill your role as unto the Lord. Without any expectations from your husband. Just as if he were a lost man. Expecting nothing in return is hard but freeing. Freeing because when we expect nothing in return we are truly giving as unto the Lord. We can expect great things from God. He can fill our cup to overflowing so we have to give to those who never or seldom give back. We do want you to understand though in saying this that we are not at all encouraging you to participate in sexual activities that viloate your conscience. You do not need to be a doormat in order to fulfill your role to your husband.”

    Looking back at that knowing what I know now, I feel physically ill.

    Thank the Lord, He has brought you into my life. I also have a Godly counselor who has shown me how the behavior in our marriage has a name and its covert narcissism. I now attend a church where the pastor and his wife refer to what took place in our marriage as marital rape (there are churches out there that see it, but few and far between!). I started to see that this whole teaching as written above is what was unBiblical and that I wasn’t a “bad Christian” for saying no to enabling my husbands abusive behavior.

    I am still in this marriage, praying, seeking what God would have me do, but no longer living under terror, I speak up when wrong is committed and I say no to things that are not safe or mutual, and praise be to God I can see how THAT is Biblical, not the long held belief I had of just being quiet and doing whatever I had to, to try to keep my husbands anger from overflowing on the children and I.

    This blog is powerful, much needed and I am so thankful for it.

    • Saved ByGrace

      oh this was the beginning of that email, I couldn’t edit the comment so adding it here:

      “Whether your husband is truly saved or not we do not know. But it is obvious that he is functioning as a carnal man. He probably thinks that a good marriage is something like this. He sees his role as bringing in a paycheck, taking care of the house ect.. Your respect him (no drama), provide regular sex and take care of the children.
      He feels like he is doing his part and is not appreciated or wanted because you won’t do your part at least the part he cares most about: sex. He has told us that all you want out of him is a paycheck but you don’t care about him. He is blind to your greatest need to be truly loved. But in his defence I will say that there is nothing that makes a man feel more loved then when his wife wants to have sex with him and gives herself to him.”

  16. L

    Christian marriage/purity books seem to teach men that lust is not a sin if they direct it toward their wife. Yet lust is a form of greed and a sign of undeveloped character. Do we want men to stay teenagers and not become mature adults?

    I wish they would consider the fruit of the Spirit in their teachings for men.
    Instead of expecting to be served, they would love.
    Instead of demanding or coercing, they would have joy and peace.
    Instead of harshness and coercion, they would practice patience, kindness and goodness.
    Instead of lusting and acting out, they would exercise self control.

    If these were what the church taught in the context of marriage, imagine how the world could be transformed!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire



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