The Iowa “Monster Study” and Every Man’s Battle

by | Aug 23, 2023 | Parenting Teens, Research | 36 comments

The Iowa Monster Study and Every Man's Battle
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What if our advice actually triggers the behaviour we want to prevent?

One of my favourite places on the internet is our private Patreon Facebook group, where the people who support us financially hang out. For just $5 a month people can join our Patreon group, and in that group we support one another; talk about faith; talk about relationships; share new studies that have come out, and more.

So much of what I write about I bounce off the Patreon group first! Or someone starts a conversation there that gets me thinking in a new direction, and so they “birth” a lot of our posts and podcasts.

And we’ve been able to celebrate with a few Patreon members who got married, and commiserate with others.

Last night, Jonathan King, one of our Patreons, left a really interesting story up on the group, and I asked if I could share it. He said yes–and I think you’ll enjoy it too.

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When a study goes wrong

In 1939 in Davenport, Iowa, psychologist Wendell Johnson and graduate student Mary Tudor conducted an experiment on 22 orphan children to learn more about the causes of stuttering.

Tudor’s job was to tell the children who stuttered, “You will outgrow your stuttering and eventually be able to speak fine, so don’t worry about what other people think.” But to the children who didn’t stutter, she said, “You’re showing early symptoms of becoming a stutterer, so work as hard as you can to stop yourself from stuttering. Don’t even speak unless you know you can do it without stuttering.”

The results were immediate and disastrous.

Students who had never stuttered before suddenly began stuttering, or they became so afraid to stutter that they refused to talk. Their self esteem, mental states, relationships, and schoolwork deteriorated, and some even developed physical tics like snapping their fingers to keep themselves from stuttering.

Tudor felt so bad for her part in the study that afterwards, she became heavily involved in the aftercare provided to the children to help them recover from the harm done to them. The study was never officially published, but it eventually led to a lawsuit, a sizeable settlement, and a public apology from the University of Iowa.

It became known as the Monster Study, and the most important thing we learned from it was never to do it again.


Except when Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn led a whole generation of Christians to tell their young sons, “You are showing early signs of struggling with lust. You need to use all your willpower and work hard to fight that lust. Don’t even look at a woman unless you can do it without lusting.”

And we’re seeing the fallout of that behavioral conditioning today, when men conflate noticing with lusting, when they believe their behavior is part of their biology, or when it develops into an addiction.

Believing that they are lustful by nature, as part of their identity as men, has had disastrous results on teen boys’ self esteem, mental states, and relationships, to say nothing of every woman who has ever been objectified and harmed by one of these boys or men.

And there has been no restitution or apology of any kind from those responsible for evangelicalism’s own Monster Study.

Jonathan King

I thought that last line was so key: there has been no apology or restitution of any kind. No matter how much research shows that telling teen boys that being lustful is part of being male hurts men, they keep doing it and they double down.

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And, of course, our book She Deserves Better that refutes so much of this teaching!


I thought that comparison with the Monster Study was so interesting!

And, again, I’m so grateful to Jonathan for bringing it to my attention (and to our patreon group for having a way to do that). 

I’m wondering when we will hit a breaking point. When will people realize that too much harm has been done to keep spreading these messages? I hope it’s soon, but in the meantime, keep speaking up! And let’s hold Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, and those who have promoted the book, accountable. 


Who has endorsed the Every Man’s Battle books?

We have a crisis in the “Evangelical industrial complex” where people lend their names to books and their credibility helps sell those books–even harmful books. And often we aren’t discerning. This will only stop when people are challenged about their endorsements.

Endorsers of Every Man’s Battle

  • Max Lucado
  • Les and Leslie Parrott
  • Josh McDowell
  • John Maxwell
  • Jack Hayford
  • Gary Rosberg

If you know any of these people, why not write them a note and ask if they still stand behind the book? And ask if they will rescind their endorsement, given the research coming out about how harmful this message is?


How the Every Man's Battle books resemble the Iowa Monster Study

What do you think? Have we done our own “Monster Study”? How do we fix it? 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. Robin

    We were all born into Adam self seeking and self centered. Lust and our sexuallity came from Adam . Every man is going to struggle with lust unless they are born again. And born again is not just saying a prayer so you go to heaven. There no transformation in that thinking. Any kind of an addition comes from not knowing who we are in Christ. They are trying to fill a need only God can fill. That need can’t be filled through a spouce but through Jesus. WE NEED TO TEACH PEOPLE WHO THEY ARE IN CHRIST. Every man needs to be born again and be come like christ which is love and put their sexuallity to death. Not manage it or control put it to death.

    Colossians 3:5 Says Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

    • Angela

      That teaching actually came from Augustine, who had a big lust problem, not from the early church. And our sexuality came from God and is good when not twisted. Lust involves nursing wicked thoughts and planning to act on them, not mere random thoughts or desires. Secular men are able to relate to women without objectifying them, so we need to stop saying it’s impossible without some kind of miracle. It’s not.

    • Nathan

      We also need to stop saying that sexuality itself is bad (along with desire, attraction, etc.). Lust is as Angela said, and it’s also wallowing in and lingering on thoughts. Most (not all) people have random thoughts, feelings and attractions hit them every day. That’s not lust.

      And sex and sexuality, when it’s oriented in the correct way, is a wonderful and beautiful thing.

  2. Donald Johnson

    Along those lines, gaslighting is a way to try to subvert the confidence that a person has in their own perceptions of reality. In a way, these authorities were/are gaslighting those in their charge by saying what they did. Stage magicians often use the power of suggestion to get their subjects to do what they want.

    Confidence in actually being able to achieve your goal is essential in setting goals, even small ones such as walking. As I get older, I realize that I really do not want to fall, so I increase my confidence in not falling by using a walking stick when appropriate and by taking smaller steps. When I was younger, I might bounce right up on the rare time I might fall and toddlers fall all the time when learning, as the distance is not too far.

    One time, I purchased a dribble glass and showed it to everyone in a small group. Someone then joined the group and someone else offered to get him a glass of water (and secretly used the dribble glass to do a live test of it). He used it and every time he drank, he dribbled some. He even commented on his continued dribbling. Finally, another person decided to show him mercy and got him a normal glass of water without mentioning the dribble glass. He dribbled using the normal glass anyway, as his confidence to not dribble had been so shook up. So we immediately explained the prank we had done to him.

  3. Phil

    Really? Someone had to do a study to find out that when you give negative messages to people it breeds negative behavior? Duh? Come on people! How do we teach common sense? The ONLY method to teach common sense that I know of is Jesus.

    • Phil


    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  4. Jo R

    So, people live up, or down, to expectations?

    What a shock.

  5. Codec

    Quick don’t think about pineapple.

    • Jo R

      Context: Ray accidentally saw Debra naked the day they first met (long story). Now Ray is discussing with his brother Robert whether or not he should keep a date with her.

      (I wish I could find a video clip of this scene…)

      Ray Barone:
      I can’t go out with her now. The whole time she’s gonna know that all I’m thinking about is her breasts.

      Robert Barone:
      So don’t think about them.

      Ray Barone:
      Okay. Don’t think about Zebras. Go.

      Robert Barone:

      Ray Barone:
      What are you thinking about?

      Robert Barone:
      A Zebra with breasts

      • Nessie

        I both loved and hated that show, haha.

  6. Nessie

    Reading about the U of Iowa study, I immediately knew it was going to end badly. Even knowing the topic of today, knowing how horrible EMB is, etc., I still didn’t anticipate that being SO well connected to that terrible study! That study is just unconscionable but at least they had the decency to feel bad and want to try to help the kids afterwards. How much more awful is it that the “Christian” writers of EMB don’t even acknowledge any conviction if they ever felt it for doing so much harm? Absolutely disgusting. And heartbreaking.

    I used to really admire Max Lucado, but after learning a long time ago that he supported EMB and never retracted it, I stopped purchasing any of his stuff.

    • Laura


      I liked Max Lucado too. Now, I’m just not sure. I think a lot of people who endorse someone’s book probably haven’t even read the whole thing. They just endorse to support their friend and because if the book is written by a “Christian” author, that must mean it’s of God. That’s why we need to use discernment when it comes to choosing Christian resources. As a former writing tutor at a community college, I would tell my tutees that just because you find something on Google does not mean it’s a reliable, scholarly resource.

      • Boone

        If you look closer I’ll bet you’ll find that a lot of these authors use the same agents and/or publishers. It wouldn’t surprise me if these endorsements weren’t pressured by same or even part of the contract.

        • Nessie

          Boone, you’re probably right about that and it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I just think Christian circles should have far more integrity than that. I’m vastly more selective on what “Christian” resources I chose to spend my money on these days.

  7. Jim

    I would say that popular culture is as bad if not worse. Look at any movie depicting men that are pursuing/dating, they are often lustful, insecure, and will chase anything with a skirt. You will also see that women will use their physical attractiveness to take everything that they can from men with no regard for the damage or harm that they cause.

    It is turning a wonderful gift from God into a transaction. This disgusts me every time that I see it.

    My wife and I are very careful with the media that our 4 sons consume.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, popular culture can be really bad too (although popular culture can also be very good at calling out this type of behaviour).

      But regardless, Christians should be better than this! And it does seem that evangelicals have a harder time quitting porn than others, likely because of the messaging they’ve been given about lust/porn.

      • Tim

        I assume that last sentence is a reference to a study you’ve read or something like that. Do you have more information on it?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Samuel Perry has written a lot about this in his book Addicted to Lust. Fewer Christian men watch porn than the general population, but for those that do, it seems to have a greater hold on them.

          • Tim

            I guess that makes some sense. In the wider culture where porn is largely destigmatised you’ll have a range of people using it, from casual users to full blown addiction.

            Where a subculture (in this case Christians) has a collective conviction against it, the people who would have been the casual users mostly just won’t go there, and only the ones for whom it’s a significant temptation or even compulsion will be using it at all.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, I think that’s a lot of Perry’s thesis.

      • John

        I think the messaging we evangelical men received about lust/porn primed us to have problems with it – yes, but I think the reason evangelicals struggle to give it up so much, is the shame experienced and the resulting isolation. For non-Christians there isn’t the shame around lust/porn, some even speak quite positively about it. As porn & masturbation is a solution to negative emotions (Matt Dobschuetz), shame pushes the “addict” (some debate about that term) back into acting out to relieve the very negative emotions. The shame experienced by evangelical men creates a downward spiral that is much harder to break out of, than the shame free actions of non-Christians. The secrecy and isolation we evangelical men practice, due to a perceived lack of grace we will experience from the church, just makes this all worse.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, this is exactly what Samuel Perry found in his book Addicted to Lust, and what Carl Thomas talks about in his book When Shame Gets Real. Both great books!

  8. Carla Eble

    “I’m wondering when we will hit a breaking point. When will people realize that too much harm has been done to keep spreading these messages? ” Sadly, I believe that the breaking point will come when these messages are no longer financially lucrative for the publishers, authors, and those who platform them.

  9. Viva

    I am responding as a woman whose intimate partner of 27 years has used terminology of “struggling with lust” and has embodied sexual betrayal for our entire relationship.
    I hope that you can receive my experience and observations as I have had an eye on comments on the blog and Facebook.
    My partner admitted that he “struggled with lust”, as he defined it, YEARS before Every Man’s Battle was published.
    Three decades ago, when he made the admission, I did not understand the difference between admission and repentance.
    Since then, I have experienced and observed behavior and words that exhibited a willful pursuit of self gratification from “looking”, “noticing”, “attraction”, to outright sexual betrayal and bold faced lying. This is chronic unfaithfulness. His betrayals have negatively impacted multiple generations at this point.
    I hope that my experience adds nuance to the conversation and raises awareness that some people will twist words and redefine terms to cloak their destructive choices. I am concerned for all of the (mostly female) victims of sexual betrayal that includes psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse, that they not experience these discussions as minimizing or gaslighting when statements are made, for example, that there’s a difference between noticing and lusting, and their experience is that they are continually being harmed by their partner’s objectifying gaze, and when they object, are told, “she’s attractive, I couldn’t help but notice”.
    Maybe there’s a way to discern and support those who have been lied to and betrayed and know that the arguments that are being used here for freedom, but have been twisted for use for oppression due to arrogance and idolatry.

    • Angharad

      I’m so sorry for your experience. And you are so right that there is a huge difference between admitting and repenting.

      I don’t think anyone would argue that NO ONE struggles with lust. For some, it is a major, ongoing issue. But there is a huge gap between saying that no one struggles with lust and saying that everyone struggles with it. The issue with telling young boys that ALL normal healthy boys will find lust a constant temptation that they need to struggle against continually is that a) it sets them up to behave that way and b) it makes them feel there is something wrong with them if they don’t constantly lust!

      As for those who use words like ‘noticing’ to excuse their lust – there is a huge difference between ‘noticing’ and staring/commenting. We have a neighbour who claims he ‘can’t help noticing’ attractive women, but no one is fooled by that phrasing, and we all know he’s a creep.

    • John

      Viva that is a very valid perspective, that you are brave to share with us – thank-you. I think it is very hard, and maybe impossible, to find language that speaks to young people about God’s great design for their sexuality, but also speaks into situations like yours, whose partner is clearly a sex addict. For a sex addict, there is a very short journey from looking, to acting out, like you say. Much like for an alcoholic, there is a very short journey from a sip to a days long binge. A sex addict needs professional help, group therapy (e.g. 12-steps) and an extended period of abstinence from all sexual activity (including a bounce-your-eyes approach to not looking) – as well as a very strong willingness to do all it takes to get well. Anything short of that and they are not going to get well.

  10. Taylor

    It’s telling that in both cases, children are targeted for horrific messaging.

    Makes me think of Jesus’s reference to millstones.

  11. EOF

    These teachings are so harmful. I used to have literal panic attacks whenever a woman in skimpy clothes walked by because I “knew” my husband was lusting over her in his mind right next to me. I later found out he hadn’t been exposed to those teachings and didn’t struggle like that, the way I was taught he naturally would.

  12. Lisa M

    I wrote to the Parrots last year about their endorsement of EMB (they also endorsed Mark Driscoll’s marriage book). They replied with a non-answer and have not rescinded either endorsement.

    I’m left with three impression that they don’t care at all. I highly doubt they read ether book.

    • Lisa M

      **Parrotts, my phone auto -corrected their name

    • Lisa Johns

      I’ve never been impressed with what they’ve written anyway. So I won’t buy their materials and here are two more authors who can quietly fade into oblivion. 😁

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      In a way, I hope they didn’t read the book. But it’s still an awful look. And we saw what endorsers who didn’t read the book did for Josh Butler’s Beautiful Union!

      • Lisa Johns

        It seems to me that it’s downright dishonest to endorse a book that you haven’t read. Another ethical mis-step in “Christian” author circles…

  13. Alissa

    I must say that lust is not about attraction or even a desire to have sex but an evil desire to act out a sin. like there may be this attractive married person & lust would be wanting to do adultery & not the arousal at the through of the person. also, it makes no sense to allow teens to kiss while forbidden them from pleasuring themselves to the thought of kissing. i hope the church learns to appreciate sexuality and sexual energy with all the socially uncomfortable parts because it is a good creation. my experience is that these truths helped me overcome a lot of sexual problems. the truth sets us free.


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