What Church You Go To Affects Orgasm Rates!

by | Jun 16, 2023 | Making Sex Feel Good | 31 comments

Impact of toxic church on orgasm rates
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We’ve got some new findings from our survey of 20,000 women!

Behind the scenes, for the last year, between running new numbers for blog posts and podcasts, and presenting at conferences, Joanna Sawatsky (my amazing co-author for The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better, our stats person) has been working on a paper to submit to a peer reviewed journal (well, she’s actually been working on three papers with different people!). And one is now pretty much complete, sent off to our collaborator for edits.

In the process of writing that, she ran the numbers from our Great Sex Rescue dataset in a new way–and found something interesting.

For The Great Sex Rescue, we looked at how each individual teaching affected orgasm rates:

  • A wife is obligated to give her husband sex when he wants it
  • All men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle
  • A wife should have frequent sex to keep her husband from using porn
  • Boys will push girls’ sexual boundaries

We also had two other beliefs that we measured result in really negative outcomes, but we didn’t have room to talk about them in The Great Sex Rescue:

  • Adultery is the only reason for divorce (so you can’t divorce for abuse)
  • If you have sex with someone outside of marriage, you form a soul tie with them

Joanna put all these together into one aggregate toxic teaching score.

Instead of looking at each individual teaching, she come up with a “toxic teaching score”. You give each respondent an aggregate score based on how strongly they believed each of those things.

Then Joanna took findings about orgasm and getting aroused during sex, and put them together into an objective, sexual satisfaction variable: Is she enjoying sex? Is she climaxing?

These two aggregate scores allowed her to do what’s called a regression analysis, looking at how increases in the overall toxic teaching score affected objective sexual satisfaction.

And guess what? It’s not surprising, but the more toxic teachings you believed, and the more strongly you believed them, the lower your sexual satisfaction was.

She also factored in the subjective component: whether or not each respondent is feeling satisfied with her orgasm rate or confident that she’s going to get aroused; the intimacy she feels during sex; whether the husband is doing enough foreplay, a sense that the wife’s pleasure matters in sex, that she’s interested in having sex, that she’s not doing it out of a sense of obligation, etc..

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.

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What does this mean for us?

At Bare Marriage, we stress that harmful teachings on sexuality need to be examined at a deeper level; 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. Believing that boys are going to push girl’s sexual boundaries, so she needs to be the gatekeeper is bad.

All of these things are bad. But what’s really interesting is that they’re also bad cumulatively.

We can’t fix things just by getting rid of one individual teaching (though that will help). These things go together, in bundles, and we need to look at the culture that produces all of this toxicity, because it often goes together.

In other words: some churches are really toxic messes. And if you’re in a church that teaches all of these things, you’re going to do worse.

Let’s zero in on the effects of churches on orgasm rates.

Okay, here’s another test Joanna did. When you look at women who don’t reach orgasm, and then you look at WHERE they hear the toxic teachings, there isn’t a big difference between the women who don’t reach orgasm and the women who do when women hear the teachings from family, from society, from media.

But there is a statistically significant difference with the women who hear it from church.

In the particular group of women who are experiencing anorgasmia or are unable to become sexually aroused, it seems that the church situation is really driving those scores even lower driving it down.

It’s hearing this stuff from church that has the strongest effect.

So let’s take toxic churches seriously!

This has been a big week with church news. More abuse crises in the PCA denomination. The SBC officially kicks out churches that have female pastors.

It’s been demoralizing for many people.

And what we find, again, is that toxic churches make things worse for women (and for men!). Not all churches are equal. When churches teach bad stuff, it does affect the women who grow up there.

We each, individually, need to decide what we’re going to do about that, because I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer.

Some people likely need to leave their churches. Others need to stay as missionaries to the people in their churches. Others may need to stay for a season to get others ready to leave. Others may need to speak up because things really can change!

But if you want to be part of that change, whether it’s speaking up to your pastor or women’s ministry leader, or speaking up to your friends, please register for our FREE webinar next Wednesday, June 21, at 9 pm, where I’ll walk you through how to talk to other people about toxic teachings.

It’s going to be awesome and I hope to see you there!

Impact of Toxic Churches on Orgasm Rates

What do you think? Why do churches seem to have greater impact on women’s poor sexual satisfaction that hearing the messages from other places? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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. Jo R

    So let me see if I grasp the stat meanings…

    If believing each individual bad teaching is worth, say, -10 points, then believing four of those bad teachings doesn’t give you simply a -40 score (i.e., 4 times -10). Instead, it’s more like a -80 or -100?

    The whole is more than the sum of the parts?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I mean, yes? Technically the numbers are the sum of the individual parts, but here’s how I’d say it: We know that believing the obligation sex message lowers your orgasm rate, and believing that you have to have sex to keep him from watching porn lowers your orgasm rate. If, however, you believe BOTH of these, plus a whole bunch of others, your orgasm rate will go even lower.

  2. Phil

    I see this factor in my 12 step group for sex addiction. It is actually harder for the men I have watched for the last 20 years who are clergy or have a strong faith background to stop acting out sexually than for folks who have weaker or no faith tradition at all. The theory? This is what me and my sponsor have discussed – Its 2 fold. First the shame and guilt of letting God down As a leader or even devoted church believer/participator. The second – they believe God should strike them “sober” and or aka God should remove their problem because they are God and Jesus believers, participators, and in some cases even preachers in/of their church. I wonder if the same thought process could be applied to your question? Do people in church’s have more shame over their sexual problems than those who dont go to church? …God expects more out of a Christian than a non Christian? Or the community expects more out of a Christian than a non Christian? Do those in church believe that God will fix their sex problems for them and they dont have to do any work? God should just strike them fixed…because they are Christian. I wonder if there is any validity to that…

    Have a great weekend everyone.

    • Mara R

      If only we could get surveys and studies on THESE questions because they are excellent and would be amazing for our favorite number cruncher to process.

      Too many neglected study-able things. Too little time.

      • Jo R

        Number CRUSHER! 🤣 🤣 🤣

        • Phil

          Jo you know it took me all day yesterday to realize why your comment was so funny. 1st the obvious – Joanna is a number crusher but 2nd we did fun with numbers here back in February and that was a real hoot..I didn’t think we were going to do it again so soon. However this time I think letters are involved too. Let us see – I choose FBA or FBM as the two options. 😂😊. Wish Becca was here to play. 😜

    • Jane Eyre

      Phil, that’s really sad to hear.

      A guess: a lot of churches teach that once you get married, it’s a sexual free for all. So you have nothing, often not even kissing, before marriage, and then it’s all the sec that men want, in any way they want it, whenever they want it.

      If you grow up hearing and believing that, you don’t have any internal model for moderating your sexual desires.

      • Mara R

        Jane: “any way they want it, whenever they want it.”

        Reminds me of that old Journey song. Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want it.”

        That song can be very triggering to me because the ex used it against me. And I like Journey a whole lot less than I might because of this stupid song.

    • Lisa Johns

      My experience living with a “Christian” guy is that he wants things to change but he simply doesn’t want to do the hard work required to make things change. I think there is a lot of validity to your theory — he would like God to just strike him fixed, but there’s also the laziness factor: he doesn’t want to have to exert effort.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Super interesting, Phil. I don’t doubt it; I think you’re on to something. Samuel Perry’s work on porn addiction has also found that religious men tend to have a harder time stopping if they want to stop. I think it’s also the compounding of shame?

  3. Nessie

    Could someone explain in layman’s terms (or maybe for a 7 year old?) what “statistically significant” means? I see it a lot, and realize how little I grasp what exactly that means.

    While I’m disappointed but not surprised the SBC kicked out women-pastored churches, I am thankful the SBC will no longer receive financial contributions from those churches. I hope those churches will examine how best to use those redirected funds. Maybe they can put more into programs that include women using their God-given gifts. 🙂

    • Lisa Johns


    • CMT

      Basically, a statistically significant result is one that is not likely to occur by random chance. For example, if I told you a study showed that people who get vaccine A are 15% less likely to get the flu than people who got vaccine B, and the result was statistically significant, you would have a reasonable basis to ask your doctor to give you vaccine A instead of B when flu season rolls around. But if the study showed that same 15% difference, but the result didn’t pass the statistical tests for significance, then you actually couldn’t conclude that A was better than B, because the study wasn’t well enough designed to be sure that the result wasn’t due to chance. That happens when the sample size of the study isn’t well matched to the actual size of the difference the researchers are looking for. In the vaccine example, if A is actually 5% more effective than B, but you only had 20 people in your study, you wouldn’t be able to detect that difference because your sample size is way too small.

    • Jane Eyre

      Let me give explaining statistical significance a go.

      Let’s say you’re trying to figure out if a pair of dice are fair or weighted. The best way to do this (absent some sort of measurement device) is to roll them a lot and see if, say, 6s come up more than you would expect.

      Let’s say you roll this pair of dice twelve times each (for a total of 24 rolls) and 6s come up five times. That’s slightly more than the expected four times; however, it’s actually pretty rare for every number to come up the exact same number of times over so few rolls. It could just be chance that sixes came up five times instead of four.

      So you roll the pair of dice 300 times each (for a total of 600 rolls). You would expect each number to come up about 100 times each. 6s come up 125 times. That could be chance! It’s not impossible. But it’s far more likely that the dice are weighted.

      • Nessie

        Thank you CMT and Jane Eyre, that does help! I took classes that involved stats at a university but I think I blocked it out because of how bad I was at it, lol.

        • CMT

          👍👍 I’m not going to pretend I remember all the MATH or anything, either!

          Another key thing is that statistical significance isn’t the same as importance. In the flu vaccine example, 1% greater effectiveness for A over B makes no practical difference (on an individual level anyway), even if it’s statistically significant.

          Also, everything published in an academic setting has to have some statistically significant results; otherwise nobody would bother with it. A study could be poorly done in other ways (did they massage their numbers? Did they have biased data or uncontrolled variables that weren’t accounted for?), that would make the results unreliable even if they are “statistically significant.”

          This is not a knock at Joanna et al btw! I’m in the healthcare world, where you encounter people (eg, drug and device reps) who throw around statistical terminology to boost their credibility but definitely have a bias.

    • Boone

      Please believe me when I tell you that there a whole lot more involved in both of those expulsions than women pastors. A lot of small and medium sized SBC churches never wanted Saddleback in the denomination to begin with. This was due to the train wrecks that Warren’s “purpose driven” methods caused back 15 or so years ago. The Executive Committee wanted Saddleback in the SBC for the money they could bring. A lot of the average members have been waiting to take a shot at Warren ever since he got in. The other church allegedly had a rather casual attitude in the LBGT department. The women pastor thing was just the issue that unified the vote.

      • Nessie

        Thanks, Boone. I’ve learned enough of the world to know there is rarely ever just one reason a decision is made, whatever is claimed about it publicly. I was mostly just trying to specify based on how it was presented.

        For a belief system (Christianity) based on truth and the love of Jesus, there sure are a lot of smoke, mirrors, and ugliness of hearts. I get so tired of people sometimes. Give me animals- I’ve never had an animal lie to me!

        • Boone

          Nessie, I like my horse and my dogs much better that most of the people I know. The older I get the more I feel that way.

  4. Lisa

    OK, I’m going out on a limb here (knowing that I’m relatively anonymous!), and I have a question: according to what I understand about the arousal cycle, I don’t think I have ever actually been fully aroused during sex. Yet I have climaxed most of the time. Not hugely, but it happened. (It’s actually hard work to get there. I don’t know how to explain, but I *work* for an orgasm.)
    So is this a thing — that a woman can climax (in a minor way) without really being aroused?

    • Consolidarity

      I work for it too. I often think how it’s just so much work, and the results are not worth the effort. I can force myself to climax sometimes, but it’s exhausting. My husband thinks of it as rest and relaxation, and I’m like, you’re kidding.

      • Oksana

        Yup. I work hard for it too.
        H says he wants me to orgasm bc it makes sex feel better for him. So he insists on it. So I have to either orgasm or endure his moping that I am not into it enough. I refuse to fake it. I don’t think I could do it convincingly anyway. It is unsatisfying and the orgasm itself is painful on top of the vaginismus.

        I have recently decided to stop feeling guilty for not wanting sex. Hopefully that will help me not feel so resentful.

        I have told him lack of emotional connection is what killed my libido. I have asked for 5 minutes a day of pleasant conversation to keep my libido on life support. He has refused saying he doesn’t have the time for that and he doesn’t feel like it. I suspect he is on the spectrum and can’t understand my need for emotional connection before I can feel desire.

        • Lisa

          On the spectrum is no excuse for refusing to try! Goodness!!

          • Angharad

            I agree – being on the spectrum is no excuse at all. I know a few marriages where one partner is on the spectrum but still puts the work in to provide emotional connection for their partner because they realise it is important for their partner even if it is pretty meaningless for them.

      • Perfect Number

        I personally use a sex toy (like a vibrator magic wand) to make this easier so I don’t have to do so much “work”. I know some people don’t want to use sex toys because they feel the overall experience/intimacy/etc is better without the sex toy, but for me, it’s been really helpful. For me, it’s not worth the amount of work it would take to reliably learn how to orgasm without a sex toy.

        So I just want to mention it here as an option. I think everyone should think about what their priorities are for sex, and communicate with their partner about how to make it a good experience for both of them.

        Also, with a sex toy, it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”- it could be like, you and your husband do stuff without the sex toy for a while, and then when you want to finish, then you use it (this way you don’t have pressure that the other stuff is supposed to lead to orgasm, so you can just enjoy it for what it is). It could be, your husband uses the sex toy on you, while you instruct him about how you want him to do it. And so on. Many options.

        • Lisa

          A sex toy might be fun if the guy cared, which he doesn’t. I’m no longer interested in saving the relationship. I was just curious.

    • Anon

      🙋‍♀️ uhh I think I have this question also…

  5. Nathan

    Phil’s above post has a lot of insight. The sex message from some churches is very messed up and irrational in addition to being wrong. Many people are taught to feel shame for even having sexual feelings and thoughts in the first place. That doesn’t bode well for either partner once they get married.

    • Phil

      We also have another theory that it is even more harder for women on the shame factor due social stigmas. I would say this is easily applied to the church stigma as well. So in my 12 step room for sex addiction woman population is like 99men to 1 woman. So not only is that intimidating but the shame stigma for a woman is much higher as well. Think about it. If you are a woman and you like sex your a whore. If you are a woman and you have sex problems you are a prude. For men yeah you are a pervert. The shame factor is different. I truly think the social stigma stems from the fall…He will want to rule over you…anyway I think there is truth in the thinking that the shame for a man is like 70 and for a woman its like a 189. 70/189 sucks.

  6. Lasta

    Hi Sheila,

    I’m a Christian man in his 40s with 20 years of marriage. Over the last six years I:

    — Quit porn and masturbation for good after 25 years of addiction
    — Took charge of my emotional health such that, for all practical purposes, I went from being a boy to a man
    — Spearheaded the transformation in my marriage of a dead bedroom to a place we both love
    — Lead an intense “special forces” men’s group in my church for men to go on a similar journey
    — Hired to coach men trying to quit porn and save their marriages in the (non-Christian) coaching program that changed my life

    On paper, I shouldn’t agree with you here. I’m passionately excited about developing emotionally healthy masculine leadership in churches, which should put me more in the “complementarian” camp. I love the sexual differences between men and women; I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about being human. And yet, somehow you are absolutely right: the teachings you describe are not only terrible for women, they almost *prevented* me from becoming the man I am.

    Take the first:

    1. A wife is obligated to give her husband sex when he wants it

    After quitting porn, I got some really solid guidance on what I needed to do: to become a man that my wife *wanted* to have sex with. It’s icky for women to have obligatory sex, but it isn’t so great for the man either: knowing she doesn’t want you inside her makes your soul die a little bit each time. Women have a responsive sex drive, and I needed to accept that she was reflecting back to me what she was being presented with (as well as her own body agenda). Far from being an obstacle, this safety for her to say “no” and not be judged or afraid that I’d emotionally spiral actually set her free to start genuinely wanting me. For myself, it spurred me to deal with the sexual neediness in my own soul, to treat her no longer as the tit I needed to suck to be soothed, to find that need satisfied by the love of God within me and radiating outward with power and passion, and then find my own freedom to approach her with an energy that wanted to give from the fullness I had.

    I could easily unpack the other three. Each one has a parallel side that pulls men from manhood (as well as harming the women). If two people on opposite sides of a pitched tribal battle find themselves in enthusiastic agreement, my gut tells me that they are on the verge of a third way that’s going to transform the intellectual landscape.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good! And I absolutely totally agree with you. There are big differences between men and women biologically, and these affect our experience of the world. Yes!

      So glad you’ve done the work.


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