The All About Obligation Sex Podcast

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Podcasts | 18 comments

The obligation sex podcast

It’s time to debunk obligation sex once and for all.

The most common question I get on social media is how to respond to obligation sex messages–“But what do you say about 1 Corinthians 7, do not deprive?” “But what do I do if pastors tell me it’s a sin to withhold sex?” “How can I help my husband see that his pressure is killing my libido and making me not even like him anymore?”

I have answers to these across a ton of podcasts, because it’s a theme I talk about a lot. But we decided that, given how frequent these questions are, it’s best to dedicate one podcast to going over all the salient points, so there’s one place to point people to.

So here we go–everything to know about obligation sex!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Timeline of the Podcast

0:25 What’s on the agenda today
2:30 Obligation sex overview
8:00 The ‘1st Corinthians 7’ Passage
28:45 The body keeps the score
42:00 Will sex leave the relationship if we give up this message?
59:00 Closing notes

Obligation sex is really destructive in marriage.

But as we point out in this podcast, it’s also unnecessary. When sex is good, and when the relationship is good, and when there isn’t trauma or betrayal, libido takes care of itself. You only need obligation when you’re trying to force sex without being willing to address the real issues.

So how about if, instead of preaching obligation, we approached lack of libido with curiosity? What’s going on? How can we listen to each other? What does lack of libido say? What changes do we have to make? 

Pressure, obligation, and especially coercion are destructive, not life-giving. And real sex is life-giving. So let’s get back to an ethic that looks more like Christ’s approach to relationships.

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Everything to know about obligation sex podcast

What do you think? Anything we missed? How can we stop this obligation sex message? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your marriage and your sex life.  And this is episode—gosh.  What is it?  I think it’s 207 of the Bare Marriage podcast.  And I am joined by my husband, Keith.

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: And this is going to be the definitive, the absolute obligation sex message podcast.  It’s one of the things that I get asked for the most is questions about obligation sex, about withholding sex, about, “But what do you say about the do not deprive verses”.  And this is something we talk about constantly.  But whenever people say, “Do you have something I can show my husband or my pastor,” I have like, “Okay.  Well, have them listen to these five different podcasts.  And read these six different posts.”  And so what I’m trying to do this month on the blog as we are working through our obligation sex series is to have a couple of posts where they’re just stand alone.  This is everything you want to know, and that’s what this podcast is too.  So this is everything that you want to know about obligation sex and how we talk about it and how we think about it.  So are you ready?

Keith: Yeah.  Sounds good.

Sheila: Okay.  But before, of course, we jump into that.  I just want to say a big thank you and shout out to our wonderful patrons, whose money helps support everything that we do including especially our research.  And we’re going to be starting a huge marriage survey coming up that they are funding, and you can join our patron group for as little as $5 a month.  You get access to unfiltered podcasts, to our book club, which is really fun.  We just started that looking at Shannon Harris’ new book this month.  And so much more.  So go ahead and join our patron.  It is at  And another way that you can support us—can you pass me that, babe?  Is by buying our merch.  This is my water cup that I use all the time.  It’s an insulated mug.  You can use it for coffee too, but I love it because it keeps water cold.  And this is our biblical womanhood.  Prayer and tent pegs and prophecy and leadership and preaching the Gospel to all who will hear that is biblical womanhood.  We have another biblical womanhood design.  We have our she deserves better.  And we even have a biblical manhood now, so check out our merch.  It’s super fun.  And when you buy it, it helps support our blog and podcast as well.  Okay, baby.  Are you ready for obligation sex?

Keith: Well, that’s funny because you are talking about how this is our obligation sex podcast.  I’m like, “You mean the anti obligation sex podcast”, right?

Sheila: All right.  So first of all, what is obligation sex?  

Keith: Well, obviously, it’s bad.  And everybody agrees it’s bad.

Sheila: Yeah.  Unfortunately, all too many don’t.  And they use these messages.  And when we were looking at our research for our book, The Great Sex Rescue, we surveyed 20,000 women to find out how certain evangelical teachings affected their sex and marriage.  And we also did a huge review of 13 of the best selling sex and marriage books in evangelicalism.  And we marked those 13 books on a 12-point rubric on healthy sexuality.  You can download that.  I will put the link in the notes where you can download our rubric and see.  But of those 12 points, the one that the books scored the worst on—I think they scored 1.2 out of 4.  So that’s really bad on average.

Keith: Right.

Sheila: Was the obligation sex message.  So this is everywhere in Christian literature.

Keith: But nobody teaches it.

Sheila: Right.  But they all say, “But we don’t teach it.”

Keith: This is the thing.  Writers all the time, “Oh, well, obviously, obligation sex is bad.  But women should have sex more often.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  So let’s give you an example.  Obligation sex is a woman needs to have sex every 72 hours, or a man will get really uncomfortable.  And he might look at porn.

Keith: Yeah.  Exactly.  So I don’t preach obligation sex.  I just tell women if they don’t have sex with their husband for 72 hours he’s going to be tempted to do porn.  That’s not me preaching obligation sex.  That’s just me telling her facts.    

Sheila: Exactly.

Keith: Come on.

Sheila: Obligation sex is doing what Jimmy Evans from XO Marriage does where he says, “God gave women the gift of sex and men the need for sex.”

Keith: I know.  I find that terrible.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.    

Keith: What it’s saying is that men need sex.  And it’s like they can’t go without it.  That’s the beautiful thing that God has given men a need for something that women can satisfy.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Crazy.

Sheila: Isn’t that beautiful?  Obligation sex is when Emerson Eggerichs says that a man will come under satanic attack if he doesn’t ejaculate.

Keith: So we don’t preach obligation sex.  But if you don’t, then he’s going to be a sitting duck for the devil.  And it’s kind of your fault.  But we don’t preach obligation sex.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I have a couple of other examples that I just want to use.  Okay.  First of all, the book, Love Dare.  We haven’t talked about this book much.  I’m actually going to do a one sheet on it pretty soon I think because it’s—it just sells so well.  I think people use this a lot as a devotional or premarital—it’s probably the best selling marriage devotional.  And it’s got some really problematic stuff in it too.  But let me read you this because here is an extended passage that just is obligation sex.  “This same oneness is a hallmark of every marriage.  In the act of romance, we join our hearts to each other in an expression of love.  We are not to share the same experience with anyone else, but we are weak.  And when this legitimate need goes unmet, when it’s treated as being selfish and demanding by the other, our hearts are subject to being drawn away from marriage, tempted to fulfill this longing somewhere else.  To counteract this tendency, God established marriage with a one flesh mentality.”  And then they go on to quote 1 Corinthians 7, which we will be talking about in a minute.  “Sex is not to be used as a bargaining chip.  It is not something that God allows us to withhold without consequence.  Though there can certainly be abuses to this divinely designed framework, the heart of marriage is one of giving ourselves to each other to meet the other’s needs.”  And they go on to talk about this.  So, again, sex is framed as this need.  If you withhold, you’re in sin.  And if you withhold, the other person will go looking elsewhere.  

Keith: Yeah.  Instead of saying, if one person is not interested, what’s going on?  What’s wrong with the relationship?

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Here is another example from Kevin Leman from Sheet Music.  He says, “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.”  So having sex when you feel forced like you want to shove someone away is wonderful.  Okay?  And then he says, “If you’re not willing to commit yourself to having sex with this person two to three times a week for the rest of your life, don’t get married.”  Right?  So those are all examples of the obligation sex message.  And I know a lot of people listening are saying, “But that’s true.  That’s what the Bible says, and we should be doing that.  So why are you criticizing it?”  So let’s jump in.

Keith: Sure.

Sheila: Let’s look at where the biblical support for obligation sex actually comes from.  So Love Dare quoted it.  Most people, when they’re talking about this, quote it.  They talk about depriving.

Keith: But I want to say something before you go on to this is what they’re doing is they’re using a Bible verse to prove something they’ve already decided is true.  Right?  So they make it sound like I go to the Bible, and the Bible tells me this is the way things are.  But as we talk about this verse, you’re going to see that’s actually not what the verse says.  They’ve got the mentality in their mind already that sex is this need that men have.  That women have to give to them.  And then they see in the Bible something that proves that for them as opposed to saying, “Hey, if someone doesn’t want sex in their marriage, what’s going on?  How do we fix that?  How do we make this something that both of us can enjoy?”  So anyway, so go ahead and tell the proof text verse that they use to prove that women have to have sex when they don’t want to.

Sheila: All right.  So here we go.  1 Corinthians 7.  Holy cow.  Do I ever need reading glasses?  All right.  We shall try this without them.  So it says, “The husband should fulfill his marital duties to his wife, and, likewise, the wife to the husband.  For the wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to the husband.  And likewise, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to the wife.  And do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer.  But then come together again so that no one will be tempted by your lack of self control.”  Okay?  So that is 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.  And this is the verse that people use to say, “See?  You’re not supposed to deprive each other.”  But let’s take a look at this verse and ask what is this actually saying.  So first of all, think back 20 years.  And you have two little girls, eight and six.  And they come to you at 4:00 in the afternoon and say, “Daddy, can I have an ice cream sandwich?”  If you say, “No,” are you depriving them of food?  

Keith: Yes.  I know.  No.  You’re not.  That’s not appropriate.    

Sheila: Right.

Keith: That may be a request, but it doesn’t—it’s not a right.  Now you can’t—you have to feed your children.  But that doesn’t mean you have to give them whatever they want whenever they want it.

Sheila: Exactly.  Because the need is not for ice cream sandwiches whenever you want.  The need is for nutritious food.  It’s not to eat any time you want.  It’s to have this nutritious food.  And so the need here—and we’re going to go on in a minute to talk more about what biblical definition of sex is.  But the need here is for a relationship where sexual intimacy feeds it, where you’re feeling united, right?  That is what you’re not supposed to deprive each other of is this feeling—this unitive aspect.  Right?

Keith: Right.  Whereas people who preach the obligation sex message, they really believe it’s an issue of a biologic release.  Right?  And so when they read Corinthians, they see, “Do not deprive each other of physical release.”  And Eggerichs does this all time all through Love and Respect.  

Sheila: Yeah.  He actually calls sex physical release.  And not a woman’s physical release.  A man’s physical release because he actually says women don’t need physical release.

Keith: Yeah.  So it’s about physical release, and that’s what sex is.  So they see this verse, and they go, “See?  Women, you can’t deprive him of this need he has for physical release.”  But if you read the whole verse, it says the woman can’t deprive the man.  But it also says the man can’t deprive the woman.  So it’s like, at some level, you’ve got to realize maybe this isn’t saying what I think it’s saying.  Because in my mentality, men have this need, and women don’t.  And women need to make sure that need is met for the men, and the men need to make sure the need for the women that they don’t actually have is met.  At some point, you should go, “Maybe I’m understanding sex in a way that the Bible doesn’t talk about sex.”

Sheila: Yeah.  Because the book, Every Heart Restored, actually—and part of the Every Man’s Battle series written by Fred Stoeker and Steve Arterburn—when they talk about this passage, they say, “This passage guarantees sexual release to men just as 1 Peter 3 guarantees honor to women.”  So they actually say this passage doesn’t give women anything even though this passage is completely and utterly mutual.  Everything that the man gets she gets too.  And the expectation is that she will want it in the same that he does.  Okay.  The other thing is what is the context in which Paul is writing this in Corinth.  And we often miss that.  Because what was happening in Corinth at that time—because you need to remember that letters are written to specific people at a specific time.  And so if we’re going to understand what Scripture is saying, we need to know what that context was.   And in this context, people, who were married in Corinth—they all thought Jesus was coming back tomorrow.  Right?  Jesus is coming back any minute.  And so they thought it was holier to abstain from sex and just go about serving the Lord wholeheartedly.  And so this was the proper thing to do.  And so married people were saying, “I’m not going to have sex anymore.”  And they were leaving their spouses really in the lurch.  And so Paul is saying, “Hold on a second.  Hold on a second.  Don’t deprive each other.”  So he’s not saying you get to have sex any minute that you want.  He’s not saying as soon as the urge comes upon you you should be able to have sex and get release.  He was just saying, “Don’t vow abstinence forever.  And don’t vow abstinence for that long.”  And then he’s saying, “Okay.  Sure.  If you want to—yeah.”  

Keith: For prayer for awhile.

Sheila: For prayer.  For fasting.  Go for it.  But don’t do it forever.  That was the context.  It wasn’t like, “Hey, you know what guys?  Every time you feel the urge for sex you should be able to meet that urge.”  Does that sound like God at all?  Does that sound like what we know of the Bible at all?  That as soon as you feel an urge for something you are entitled to see that urge fulfilled.

Keith: Mm-hmm.  I know.  It’s crazy.  See?  And this is the thing is the Christian virtue is chastity.  Right?  And so what’s happened in evangelical purity culture is this idea that you don’t have sex until you’re married.  And then once you’re married, it’s great because now the release valve can go off.  And it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to control your sexuality.  And that is not Christian.  The Christian mentality is, “I am in control of my sexual desires.  Sexual desires are a good thing, and they’re a part of being a human being.  But I don’t just let those run me.  I have to be in charge of that.  So before I married, it means I divert that energy into other things.  And when I’m married, I only engage that in a mutual, respectful relationship with a willing partner.  I don’t just expect it out of her because otherwise I’m going to sin,” right?  And this is the whole thing.  The purity culture view out there of sex is great because now you don’t have to worry about temptation anymore is so ridiculous.  And this is what was happening in the first century.  In the first century, they were saying, “Okay.  Chastity is great.  So therefore, the ultimate chastity—I’m married.  But I will never have sex anyway, that’s even better.”  And Paul is going, “Whoa.  Chill, dude.  You’re married.  It’s okay.  If you want to pray for awhile and take it off the table, so you can devote yourself to God more, by all means go ahead.  But just for a time.  Because it’s unwise to vow you’re entire life that you will not ever have sex again.  And you don’t have to do that.”  That’s the context.  Not you get to whenever you want to, and the other person has no say in that.  That’s crazy.

Sheila: It absolutely is.  Okay.  Something else from that passage.  Imagine someone reading this letter in Corinth.  Okay?  And it says, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.”  And by this time, people are falling asleep because they all know that.  And then Paul says, “And in the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him but also to the wife.”  And all of a sudden everyone wakes up, and they’re like, “What?”  Because in those days, husbands literally owned their wives’ bodies.  So to say that the wife’s body belongs to the husband—whatever—

Keith: He would sleep through that.

Sheila: But he says, “In the same way.”  That was revolutionary.  So the revolutionary aspect of this passage is the mutuality.  And so when we use this passage to stress men have a right to use their wife’s body, we’re actually missing the point that Paul put that on its head.  And he was saying, “No.  Men don’t have a right to the wife’s body.  It’s completely mutual.  And this needs to be—they don’t have a right to just use their wife,” because that’s what they did in Rome.  No.  This is mutual.  You each are with each other.  But you don’t have a right to just use her because she also has claim on you.  And so she can say no.    

Keith: Well, and you’ve had people argue with you say, “It’s very clear the husband has authority over the wife’s body.  And so the wife doesn’t have any option.”  Right?  But it’s like okay.  If that’s the case, then—this is the theoretical conversation that happens.  “I want sex tonight.”  And the wife says, “No.  I don’t.”  And the husband says, “Well, I have authority over your body, and your body is having sex tonight.”  And the wife says, “That’s okay because I have authority over your body.  And your body is not.  So go ahead.  Make me feel good.  I have authority over your body.”  But they don’t believe that.  They think the thing is really just about women doing what the husbands’ need.  Because it’s typically that, right?  Are you going to talk about women?  The other way.  Because sometimes it happens the other direction where it’s like she wants to, but he doesn’t.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  Because that’s the whole point is that this is mutual.  It isn’t about—we frame this as men get sex because they want it.  And women need to provide it.  But really this passage assumes that both genders are going to want sex and that both genders have a say.  That’s what this passage is saying.  Okay.  Next question from this passage is what is it that you aren’t supposed to deprive each other of.  Right?

Keith: Right.

Sheila: And we already said.  It’s not the ice cream sandwich at 4:00 in the afternoon.  When we think of this as just I get to have an orgasm whenever I want one, then we think that this passage—that sex is only about me getting my orgasm.  That’s not biblical sex.  So let’s just look—    

Keith: Yeah.  It’s a very selfish.  A self focused view of sex.  As opposed to seeing sex as something that comes out of the relationship that the two of you share, it’s very one sided.

Sheila: Exactly.  So biblically, what is sex?  Okay.  I’m going to take you quickly through three passages that show us.  All right.  Genesis 4:1.  “Adam knew his wife Eve, and they conceived a son.”  And I remember being in junior high and hearing this verse and laughing in the pew with all my friends thinking, “Isn’t that funny?  Because God is embarrassed of using the real word there.”  But when I got older and I took a look at it, you realize the Hebrew root for the word to know is the same root that is used in the Psalms when David says, “Search me and know me, O God.”  And I believe God put that word there deliberately to say to us that sex is more than just physical.  It is a deep and intimate longing to know each other in every level.  So it isn’t just us physically baring our bodies.  It is us emotionally baring our souls.  It is coming to the table with everything that we are.  And if you’re going to put obligation on that, what you’re really saying is you don’t matter.  So it’s not a knowing.  It’s an erasing of a person.  Because if you don’t matter, if your needs don’t matter, if your desires don’t matter, if I get to use you whenever I want, then it’s no longer a knowing.  And obligation and intimacy cannot coexist.  So biblically, sex is something which is intimate from Genesis 4:1.  It is pleasurable for both from Song of Solomon.  Okay?  So the expectation is that both will have fun.  If you count the words in that book, she says more words than he does.  She wants sex.  She likes sex.  And then from 1 Corinthians 7, we know it’s totally mutual.  This is something that they both want.  So biblically, sex is not just a man’s physical release.  It isn’t something that a man needs, and a woman gives.  Biblically, sex is intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both.

Keith: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: And I think obligation sex just erases the beauty of sex.  Because if sex is supposed to be these two people and everything that we are together, we are expressing because sex is this expression of who we are at every level.  Sex is play where we get to laugh and just have fun together and relax.  Sex just brings so much good to the table when it is life giving.  When it is those three things.  But as soon as we create an obligation, it’s no longer life giving.  It’s a taking from someone.  And that’s not okay.  And anyone who thinks that God wants that has a very distorted view of God.  And it makes me wonder what they think God is like.    

Keith: Well, and I wonder what it’s like—so a person says, “Well, sometimes you don’t want to, but you should anyway.”  It’s like, “Well, do you really want to make love with a person who is really not into it?”  If she doesn’t want to tonight, then why do you still want to?  Why don’t you want to figure out what’s going on?  Because if your relationship is good and things are great, you’re both going to be desiring this.  Sometimes one of you is going to be tired and one of you is not, all that kind of stuff.  And those kinds of things happen in life.  But if it’s like you want to and she doesn’t, if the answer, “Well, she better,” how is that a good relationship?  I think a good, caring husband would be like, “Oh, well, why not?  Are you just tired?  What’s going on?  What’s happening?”  Why is there no curiosity explain that?  Why is it coached always as a, “Well, he needs it, so he better get it”?  That’s such a terrible way—I think men are better than that.

Sheila: Yeah.  Men definitely are better than that.  And in our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue, we did find that 18% of women said that they—that their primary motivation for having sex was guilt.  And that afterwards, their primary emotion was feeling used.  So in those cases, sex is not something which brought that couple together.  Having sex made her feel more distant than not having sex.  And this is the problem.  When we use the word sex to encompass so many different things—like sex can mean something which is intimate, pleasurable, and mutual.  Or sex can mean he uses her for what he wants.  Or she uses him.  Those are two very different things, but we use the same word.  And so when we say, “Well, you’re not supposed to deprive each other of sex,” okay.  But if sex is something which makes her feel used, how is she being deprived by not having it?  The truth is she is being deprived by having it.  Right?  You cannot deprive someone of something which hurts them.

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: You cannot deprive someone of something which is bad for them.  

Keith: It’s not called deprivation then.  It’s called rescue.

Sheila: Right.  Exactly.  And if she is never reaching orgasm, if she feels distant when they have sex, if she feels used because he is using porn and then he just acts out on her and she feels completely disassociated from him, she is already being deprived.  And those verses don’t even apply in that case in that way as we normally use them.  She is the one who is already being deprived.  Okay.  Another thing is that obligation sex sees sex as something which is separate from the relationship.  And I’ve got a great example of this.  All right?

Keith: Okay.  Sounds good.

Sheila: So Intended for Pleasure told women that after you give birth, okay?  So postpartum period where you can no longer have intercourse, you’re supposed to provide the man through manual stimulation the same level of ejaculation, climaxes, et cetera.

Keith: Release.  They usually say the word release as a euphemism.

Sheila: Yes.  As you did before pregnancy.  Okay.   So your main goal after you have pushed a human being out of your hoo-ha and you’re exhausted and milk has come in and you still have those huge pads that feel like diapers—and if you had C-section, you’re still healing from that.  And your womb is still contracting all the time.  Your main goal is to make sure that he still gets the same number of ejaculations as he did before.  So what this is saying is no matter what she is experiencing or feeling, sex needs to look exactly the same.  So no matter what is going on in your life, sex can’t change because sex needs to look exactly the same.  And another example—

Keith: Which is the exact opposite of what we teach, which is that sex is something that grows out of the health of your relationship.  And it’s an expression of the love you have for each other in that relationship.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think this is also—

Keith: So if your relationship changes, your sex life is going to change.  That’s reality.  Right?

Sheila: Yeah.  I think there are a lot of couples—especially you have babies, right?  Let’s say you have three kids under three.  And you’re only having sex maybe once a week.  Or maybe even—not even that, right?  And you start feeling like there’s something wrong with us because we’re not having sex the same way we did before we had kids.  And oh my gosh.  We’d better get back to that.  And you start feeling like there is something wrong with your marriage.  When really, both of you are fine with just having sex once a week because you’re both exhausted.  But instead of seeing that once a week as being, “Oh, isn’t this great that we can connect,” you feel like failures because sex is supposed to look the same no matter what because this is what we’re taught, right?  No matter what goes on sex needs to look the same.  I heard about a panel discussion.  A bunch of mega church pastors were on this panel after a marriage conference.  And the question came up, “My husband just confessed to using porn.  And I want to do a 90-day sex fast,” which is often—a lot of counselors recommend this.  This is actually quite a normal treatment when porn has been disclosed is that you take sex off the table for at least 90 days to learn how to reconnect.  So that he can reset, and you can figure out what intimacy is.  So that’s a very normal thing.  Most counselors will do this.  And it was asked, “Is it okay if take sex off the table?”  And she was told, “No.  Because that’s depriving him.”  So even when he has betrayed her, even when she feels betrayal trauma and grief, and all these horrific things, sex must look exactly the same because he cannot possibly be expected not to get the sexual released that he needs.  Yeah.  It’s really crazy.

Keith: Even though Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 does say that it’s okay for—to take it off the table for a time to devote yourself to prayer which you might want to do after you’ve just come clean on a massive porn addiction.  A time of prayer would be a good idea.  But strangely, that verse never gets quoted in those contexts.  Right?  And it’s just like—they actually quote the opposite.  They say, “Well, if you want to help him with his porn, you need to have sex with him more,” because the church equates porn and sex, which is a hideous, hideous lie right out of hell because porn is not the same as biblical sex.  Porn is personal gratification.  I don’t care about the other person at all.  Right?  If they’ve been trafficked, if they’ve been whatever, I don’t care.  I want to look at this picture, and I want to get my jollies.  That’s what porn is.  And you compare that to sex?  

Sheila: Yeah.  Because they see her as a masturbatory tool because they see masturbation as wrong.  And I mean I have my own theories on that.  They’re very nuanced.  Anyway, we won’t get onto that in this podcast.  But because masturbation is a sin, he can only ejaculate if she lets him.  And so what he needs to do instead is use her as a masturbatory tool.  

Keith: Yeah.  Otherwise, he’s going to fall into temptation.  Right?

Sheila: Right.  And he’s going to sin.  So it’s better to use her as a masturbatory tool and make her feel used and make her feel disgusting than it is—  

Keith: And so basically, we’re putting a gun to women’s heads all the time.  We’re not saying you have to.  But if you don’t, he’s going to fall back into porn.  Right?  And we expect that to be romantic and sexy and feel great.  And when it doesn’t, people blame women because they’re not doing it enough.  It’s like it’s crazy.  It doesn’t make any sense.  

Sheila: I was talking about obligation sex on Twitter this week.  And a guy said, “Well, I mean if she’s not going to have sex then why should I be expected to take her out on a date night.”

Keith: Yeah.  That’s the transactional nature of it.  I was wondering if you were going to get on to that next.  Yeah.  If she expects me to be there for her emotionally, I expect her to be there for me physically.  That’s the mentality.  Right?  And it’s very transactional.  And I just think is that the kind of relationship you want to have.  Right?  Where you buy sex with your time.  Is that what we consider a good, Christian marriage?  That is just disgusting.  But that’s what’s taught.

Sheila: Yeah.  Well, you hear this a lot too.  Women will be told, “You can’t expect him to talk to you if you don’t have sex with him.  Or how do you think you would feel if he didn’t talk to you for a week?  That’s how he feels if you don’t have sex with him.”

Keith: Yeah.  But nobody ever asks the question.  Okay.  If you are the kind of person who can be in a relationship where you can emotionally disconnect from your partner because of something they did or said and you are able to completely do that and you feel you have the right to completely do that, why are you not surprised when that partner doesn’t want to have sex with you because you’re a terrible person.  Right?  As much as—you and I get mad at each other, right?  And I sometimes want to just emotionally disconnect from you because I’m mad with you today, right?  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.    

Keith: But I can’t because I love you.  I can’t emotionally disconnect from you.  But if you’re that kind of person who can get on Twitter and go, “Well, if she’s not going to give me what I need, I’m going to totally disconnect from her,” well, then you are the kind of person that no one wants to have sex with.  And it’s your own fault.  You’re the one that needs to change.  Not her.  

Sheila: Yep.  Okay.  So obligation sex, what it really says is that God values a man’s ejaculation over a woman’s spiritual, emotional, relational, physical safety.  

Keith: Yeah.  Ultimately.  Yeah.

Sheila: Does that sound like God?  People, do we know what we’re saying?  That God cares more that a man ejaculates whenever he wants than He does that she feels safe.    

Keith: Mm-hmm.  So the rule that God has, if you are a single man is no matter what your feelings are, you have to control your sexuality.  No matter how you feel about it, you have to control your sexuality.  But once you’re married, you can do whatever you want to the woman you’re married to without her needing to want it or do it.  And you can just do that.  Do we think that that’s what God says?  Right?  That is ridiculous.  What kind of God would say that?  I expect you to control yourself.  But once you’re married, just—she’s there.  You can—forget about her thoughts.  Forget about her feelings.  Forget about whether she’s in the mood.  You get it.  And if she doesn’t do that, then she’s sinning, and I’m not pleased with her.  Is that the God we believe in?  Does God really love His sons that much more than He loves His daughters?  I mean that’s ridiculous.  

Sheila: And how is that even living out what Jesus said the two basic things are?  Love the Lord, your God, and love each other as you love yourself.  And men are actually told to love their wife as their own body.  So you need to care about what your wife’s body is going through.

Keith: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Sheila: And so to say that I get to use it is just really problematic.  Now, again, please understand.  We’re not saying you’re not supposed to have a good sex life.  But we’re saying this message will ruin it.  

Keith: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Sheila: Because you’re missing the whole point of what sex is.  And that’s why I think obligation sex affects the body.  And that’s one of the big things we looked at in The Great Sex Rescue was just how this message affects women long term.  And it is the most dangerous message that we looked at.  Think about its effect on libido.  When women grow up hearing, “You are obligated to give him sex,” when we hear, “He has a need.  You have the gift,” right?  When sex is turned into a male entitlement and a female obligation, why do we think women would want it?  You’re told growing up, “You know what?  You’re probably not going to want it, but he needs it.  So do it anyway.  And you need to act excited about it, or else he’s going to feel bad.  So even if you’re not enjoying it, you need to moan so that he thinks you’re enjoying it.  You need to give him great heart words,” like Shaunti Feldhahn says.  “Even if you can’t respond physically and you’re not feeling good, make sure he feels good about what he’s doing.  And don’t correct him in the middle of sex.”  This is crazy.  Okay.  So when you give her the obligation sex, you’re saying, “You don’t matter.”  So you’re saying to the woman you don’t matter.  That’s a traumatic message.  And you know what our bodies do when we hear traumatic messages?  They try to protect us.  So even if your mind is like, “No.  You know what?  I’ve got to do this.  I love him.  He needs it,” your body is like, “I am scared of this, and I need to keep you from this because this hurts you.”  Because every time you think about having sex, you think about how you don’t matter.  

Keith: You just don’t have agency over your own body.

Sheila: Right.  And even if your husband isn’t threatening you, this is what we found with this message.  Even if your husband isn’t the one giving you this message, even if it’s all these terrible books you’re reading—    

Keith: A lot of guys out there would never, ever think that in a million years.  But they don’t realize that their wives feel that way.

Sheila: Because they haven’t read the books that their wife has.  They haven’t read The Love Dare.  They haven’t read Love and Respect.  They haven’t read Sheet Music.  They haven’t read For Women Only.  They haven’t read all of these books that say these things.  Okay? 

Keith: So if you’re a guy out there and I would challenge you to say to your wife, “I don’t expect this out of you.  I want this to be something that we do mutually because we both want to.  And I don’t ever, ever want you to feel like you have to no matter what preacher or Christian author or podcaster or whatever ever tells you.  That’s not the case for me.  I don’t ever want you to feel obligated ever.  No matter what.”  Tell your wives that, and let them know.

Sheila: Yeah.   Because when she grows up with this message, when she internalizes this message, sex is something which is automatically threatening to her even if you don’t feel that way about it.  Even if you don’t want her to feel that way about it because she is feeling, “This means I don’t matter,” because that’s what she’s been told.  And our bodies don’t like things that tell us that we don’t matter.  Our bodies don’t want to do them.  And so her libido is going to tank.  She is not going to want sex.  People, do you realize this?  When you preach the obligation sex message, you basically make it that she will not want it.  Because why would she want something which is constantly telling her you don’t matter?  And not only do you not matter, you need to act totally contrary to what you’re feeling.  So you can’t speak up during sex because it might make him feel bad.  You have to act like you’re really into it no matter what he’s doing to you because his needs matter.  And his feelings matter because his ego, as we talked about last week on the For Women Only podcast, his ego is so fragile that he can’t handle it if you don’t want this.  So you need to throw yourself into it and act like you like it even if you don’t.  And our bodies don’t like that.  And so women’s bodies, women who believe the obligation sex message, they want sex less.  And our bodies interpret it as trauma because this message is one of the biggest reasons that evangelical women suffer from vaginismus at twice the rate of the general population.  Maybe even two and a half times the rate of the general population.  So 22.6% of evangelical women suffer from vaginismus.  And that’s a tightening of the vaginal wall, the muscles of the vaginal wall that makes penetration really painful, if not impossible.  7% have experienced this to the effect that they can’t even have penetration.  And if that is you, please read The Great Sex Rescue.  And please, please, please see a pelvic floor physiotherapist.  Okay?  That’s the best way to help get through that.  But this is affecting women’s bodies.  This message is affecting women’s bodies because it shows women that you have trauma.

Keith: And I think that we, as the conservative evangelical church, need to grapple with this because I mean this is something that happens twice as often with our women than outside of our walls.  Right?  So this is something we need to own.  So Sheila’s idea is that at least part of the problem is this obligation sex message, right?  So if you disagree, okay.  Well, then what is the cause?  If it’s not this, what is it?  Why—

Sheila: And you’re going to have to do a study to show it because our study of 20,000 women showed that it did.

Keith: But nobody is even researching it.

Sheila: No.  But I mean people can’t just say, “I disagree.”  That’s what I’m trying to say.  You can’t just disagree.  This is what the study showed.  And we spoke at the American Physiotherapist Convention last year because physiotherapists are so excited about this research.  You can even take our course from that as continuing education credit for physiotherapists because we are explaining why evangelical women suffer from this.  And so this is big in the physiotherapy community.  So you can’t just discount this.

Keith: And if you agree that this could be the cause but you still want to preach obligation sex, then what you are in effect saying is that, “We don’t mind women experiencing sexual pain twice as often as the general population because it’s more important for men to not be deprived than for women to hurt.”

Sheila: Yeah.  And not just for men to not be deprived.  But for men to ejaculate any time they want.  That’s the big thing.

Keith: Yeah.  Men’s comfort is more important than women’s pain is what you’re saying.  And I don’t think anyone would ever want to say that, but that’s what you’re doing when you preach this message.

Sheila: Exactly.  Okay.  So vaginismus is terrible.  Low libido is terrible.  What’s even worse though is how much the obligation sex message is correlated with marital rape.  Because the obligation sex message does a lot of harm to women when they believe it, but their husband—even if their husbands don’t.  But when the husbands believe it, it can very quickly turn into rape.  Because if she has to have sex to prevent something bad from happening, that is coercion.  And that is rape.  So if she has to have sex or else he’s going to give her the silent treatment for a week or else he’s going to embarrass in public or else he’s going to yell at the kids, so if she has to have sex to emotionally regulate him so that he doesn’t yell at her or the kids, if she has to have sex so that he doesn’t yell at her until midnight about the 1 Corinthians 7 passage and do not deprive, if she has to have sex so that he will give her spending money or give her access to money, these things are rape.  Rape does not always look like someone holding you down although even in our focus groups for The Great Sex Rescue we heard a lot of stories of that, of men physically holding women down.  But rape happens when men feel so entitled to sex that when she doesn’t do it, they see her as the problem, and that gives them permission to treat her badly.  And so if she has to have sex to stop that, that is coercive, and that is rape.  And please remember that rape is illegal—it took a long time, but rape is illegal in all 50 states, I believe.  It’s certainly illegal in Canada and the UK and Australia and New Zealand.  I’m not sure about other countries.  And so if you feel like you are a victim of marital rape, please call a domestic violence hotline.  This isn’t okay.

Keith: And the reason why marital rape was not considered illegal for a long time in many places was because of this idea.  Because the logical extension of the obligation sex message is that there can be no rape in marriage.  And that is a hideous thing to think, but that is the logical extreme of obligation.  If truly you are obligated, then if I take what you’re obligated to give me, I’m not taking anything that I’m not already owed.  And that’s horrendous, and it needs to stop.

Sheila: Yeah.  I did a fixed it for you on Instagram.  And if you’re not following me on Instagram, please do.  I’m SheilaGregoire on Instagram.  I did a fixed it for you from Nancy Wilson, who is Doug Wilson’s wife.  Doug Wilson is an extremely fundamentalist cult leader pastor in Moscow, Idaho who is still liked by people like John Piper and others, who still quote him.  But she wrote that—and I’m going to paraphrase because I’m not going to get this exactly correct.  But she was talking about a wife’s garden as being about him having sex and how a husband can’t trespass in his garden.

Keith: But he can be made to feel like a trespasser.

Sheila: He can be made to feel like an intruder, but he can’t trespass because it is his garden.  And it’s like okay.  This is the whole problem.

Keith: That’s disgusting.  Disgusting.

Sheila: And marital rape only exists because of the obligation sex underpinning.  And so even though not every man who believes in obligation sex will punish his wife if she doesn’t give him sex, some will.  And some will who wouldn’t otherwise had they not been indoctrinated with this message.  And so please, pastors, when you preach obligation sex, realize that there are some women in your pews who will be raped because of that who wouldn’t have been raped otherwise.  Because by teaching these men that this is something that they are owed and that they deserve and that they are entitled to, you are giving them permission to take.  And some men will.  Not all men will, but some men will.  And so you are causing rapes to happen when you spread this message.  We did a podcast probably about two years ago now.  I’m not sure how long ago where Emerson Eggerichs received a letter from a woman who said she has to—she goes in the shower, and she cries every time before she has to initiate sex with her husband.  And the reason she does this is because he’s so abusive, if she doesn’t have sex.  And he told her what a gold mine she was and what a wonderful wife she was.  And we did a long podcast on that.  And then the woman who actually wrote the initial letter contacted us.  She’s now divorced and told us her story of how she endured years and years of marital rape, and she did it because she read Love and Respect.  And she thought she had to.  And then she wrote to Emerson Eggerichs, and he told her how she was obedient and how she was a gold mine.  It’s not a gold mine when a wife endures marital rape.  And the obligation sex message is what causes it.  Okay.  So that’s all the heavy stuff.

Keith: Heavy.

Sheila: I want to move on to the bigger picture stuff now like what do we do.  Okay?  So we talked about the problems with the obligation sex message.  Here’s one thing I really, really, really want people to understand.  Getting rid of obligation sex does not mean you will never have sex again.

Keith: Yes.  This is what I wanted to talk about.  I was thinking earlier.  People are worried if they give up the obligation sex message that sex is just going to go away in their marriage.  They don’t ask the question why am I fearing that.  They’re just afraid to give it up.  So do you have hope for people who want to give this up that it’s going to be good?

Sheila: Yeah.  Okay.  So let me give you the data.  All right.  I’m going to list five things, everybody.  Okay.  So here we go.  This is from The Great Sex Rescue.  Here is what we found, surveyed 20,000 women.  When women frequently reach orgasm, when they feel emotionally close during sex, when they have high marital satisfaction, when there is no porn use in the marriage, and when there is no sexual dysfunction, frequency takes care of itself.  It’s not like the couple isn’t having sex.  They actually do have sex because guess what?  Women like sex too.  I know this is really radical.  But when sex is good, women want it.    

Keith: Right.

Sheila: Because women were created to be sexual beings as well.  Now sometimes the reason that they may not feel emotionally close during sex does not have anything to do with the husband.  It could be that they grew up, and they were a victim of child sexual abuse.  And he might have been a victim of child sexual abuse too.  And that could be some of the reason they’re not feeling emotionally close.  And so a lot of us have trauma that we need to work with with trauma therapists.  It doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong in the relationship.  She could have grown up and heard all these terrible obligation sex messages, and that makes her not feel close.  So then she needs to read The Great Sex Rescue.  Okay?  But in general, when those things are present, sex isn’t a problem.  And so this is what I want people to understand.  When there isn’t sex happening, sex is not the issue because women enjoy great sex too.  Okay.  Chocolate cake.    

Keith: Right.

Sheila: I love chocolate cake.  

Keith: Yes.  You do.

Sheila: No one needs to say to me, “Hey, Sheila, you should eat the chocolate cake.”

Keith: Why aren’t you eating more chocolate cake?

Sheila: Right.  They need to say, “Hey, Sheila, let’s not eat it all before breakfast.”   Okay?  Because my biggest problem is not eating the chocolate cake.  Because if something is good, you’re going to want to do it.  So what we need to start asking isn’t, “Okay.  How can I get her to have sex more?”  It’s, “Wait a minute.  Why is she or he,”—because it could be him too.  It’s just the obligation sex message is overwhelmingly given to women.  But as we’re trying to deconstruct this, we can make it more gender neutral.  All right?  But why aren’t either of them wanting it?  Because this is supposed to be something good.  And so instead of saying, “Hey, don’t deprive each other,” let’s say, “Oh, there must be something going on.”

Keith: Right.  And this is the issue.  This is the difference between curiosity and dogmatism.  Right?  So if sex is not happening at the frequency you want in your relationship, why is the attitude not curiosity?  Why is that?  What’s going on?  What’s the issue here?  I honestly want to learn.  Instead what we do is dogmatism.  You are owed sex.  She needs to give it to you.  Get her in line.  That’s terrible.  If we ask the question honestly, maybe there is something that I could do differently that would make her want it more.  And why are we not open to learn that?

Sheila: Yeah.  I have a blog post.  I’m not going to go into them all now.  But ten questions that you can ask if your wife doesn’t want sex just to start—like okay.  What is the curiosity?  I will link to that in the podcast notes.  But just think about those five things.  Which of them is it?  

Keith: One of the things that I find interesting is a lot of guys say, “Before we got married, my wife was all over me all the time.  And then when we got married, we could actually have sex.  She doesn’t want it anymore.”  Have you heard that before?

Sheila: Oh yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Keith: Yeah.  So that’s a big thing too.  And that’s one of the reasons people preach obligation sex because they’re like, “Hey, you were like that before marriage.  And now you’re not.  You need to smarten up, woman, and get back to,”—that kind of thing.  But the thing is, dude, think about it.   Okay.  So if you’re talking about a Christian couple who are stopping—they’re not going to have sex before they get married.  What were those—she was all over me episodes like?  You were emotionally close.  You were trying to hold back from each other.  You were teasing each other.  You were kissing.  You were holding hands.  You might be making out, and it went on for a long, long time because you couldn’t do anything else.  And then now you get married, and you expect to just jump in and cannon ball right into the deep end of the pool.  And that’s the same.  It’s not the same thing, dude.  She didn’t change.  You did.  Right?  So have the curiosity to go like, “Hey, you know what?  Yeah.  You’re right.  Before we got married, she was all over me because we were very intimate.  And now I’m expecting sex to be like that.  And that’s a problem with me, not with her.  And I need to change and slow down.  And be a bit more attentive.”  That curiosity allows you to get to that point.  And then you fix the problem.  And now guess what?  You’re both having awesome sex that you both love as opposed to her feeling obligated.  And you’re both having obligation sex which you both hate.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  Sheet Music opened with the story of Mark and Brenda.  That’s how Kevin Leman opens the book.  And they have two kids.  And Brenda is working, and she’s just so busy with the kids.  And Mark is just feeling really neglected, and he tries to book a date night.  And she complains because it’s really hard to get a babysitter.  And why didn’t he think of this first?  And so he pouts, and he goes, watches porn.  And now his porn habit is getting worse.  And after telling this whole story, Leman’s takeaway is, “What Brenda doesn’t realize is how much this sexual drought is going to cost her in the long run.”  He never says what Mark needs to realize.  And it’s like, “Mark, dude, why are you watching porn when your wife is busy with the kids?  I mean why are you watching porn at all?  Why don’t you just get—if your wife is so exhausted because she’s so busy with the kids after working all day, maybe if you were as busy with the kids as she was, you wouldn’t”—    

Keith: You wouldn’t be so worried about sexual stuff because you’re—

Sheila: Yeah.  “They’re your kids too, Mark.”  And maybe what Mark needs to realize is if he keeps watching porn while neglecting his children, why does his wife even need him?  She’s already a single mother effectively.  She could do this a lot better on her own.  

Keith: This is one of the things that bug me about the obligation sex message especially around babies and stuff.  It’s like you need to make sure that he feels like a man.  Give him sex all the time when you have small kids so that he doesn’t feel jealous of the baby.  I’ve heard that.  Jealous of the baby.  At what point—

Sheila: Yeah.  Gary Thomas talks about having an affair with your baby.  Yeah.

Keith: Yeah.  So we don’t want the man to feel jealous of the baby.  At what point did we, as Christian men, hear that kind of stuff and not be incensed?  I’m jealous of my own child.  You think I’m jealous of my own child.  What kind of disgusting person do you think I am?  This is my child.  I love my child.  How is this considered to be a normal way of looking at a father child relationship?  And a husband wife relationship?  It’s crazy.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Exactly.  Okay.  I want to read you an email that came in.  Okay?  So here is an email that I got just today because I’ve been talking about obligation sex a lot on the blog.  That’s been our series.  So every Monday I have had posts on obligation sex.  We’ve run through a lot of the themes today but not all of them.  And there is a lot more stuff there, so you can go look.  I’ll put a link to the first one, and then all the other ones are linked.  But after this thing, he wrote this.  “The awesome love life we used to share is gone.  She used to be the one who initiated, and I always tried to make sure she finished first.  You have made women feel that it’s all about them and their pleasure.  Good husbands are getting dumped for no reason.”  And so he’s talking about how his wife no longer wants sex and has just given up.  

Keith: Yeah.  Because I read that post when you said that women should strike their husbands and never have sex.  I remember that post.  When was that?  Oh, never.  Come on.  

Sheila: I just love this.  So here is what he’s assuming.  He’s saying, “We used to have an awesome love life.  She initiated all the time.”  That’s actually a red flag.  If a wife initiates all the time, that usually means that there is some—

Keith: She feels obligated.

Sheila: She feels very obligated.  And there is some weird emotional dynamics where he is pressuring her to do this because he wants to feel—anyway.

Keith: She always initiated.  But now that she’s not initiating, he’s incensed.  He’s really angry.

Sheila: Yeah.  And—  

Keith: So there was an expectation of her to initiate.

Sheila: And she was reaching orgasm, but she stopped sex altogether.  And he’s like, “And she did it for no reason.”  

Keith: Yeah.  Absolutely.  It reminds me of The Emperor’s New Groove, right?  You heard The Emperor’s New Groove?

Sheila: Yeah.  

Keith: When was that—did it come out?

Sheila: I don’t know.  We quote this line all the time in our family.

Keith: So The Emperor’s New Groove is a story.  It’s an animation cartoon about this emperor from Inca.

Sheila: Cuzco.  

Keith: Cuzco.  The Incan Empire.  And he was the most self centered, egotistical, horrible person, and everybody around him brought about his downfall because they hated him.  And that was his line.  “I was the nicest guy in the world, and they ruined my life for no reason.”  Because zero insight.  Zero insight.  And so that’s what this guy sounds like.  Okay?  So sex does not suddenly dry up one day.  What happens is you’re being given a message repeatedly.  You’re being given a message repeatedly over months and years and decades by your wife.  I want to be valued.  I want to be cherished.  And you ignore it because you feel you have a right to things.  And then finally, one day she goes, “That’s it.  You’re never going to get it.  You’re never going to value me.  So I’m done.”  And it’s—and the man says, “Well, it’s all her fault.”  No.  No.  No.  No.  You ignored.  You ignored.  You ignored.  And now you’re reaping the consequences of your actions.  It’s time for you to go back and make it right.  It’s not about time for you to give her more obligation.  I mean she clearly was feeling obligated.  This guy’s response should be, “Did you feel obligated?  I am so sorry.  I don’t ever want you to feel obligated again.  How can I prove that to you?”  Right?  And if he had that attitude, I don’t think that she would be shutting him out.

Sheila: Yeah.  What he’s saying, she always initiated.  He made sure that she reached orgasm.  

Keith: He didn’t even say that.  He said I always tried to make sure she reached orgasm.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  That’s true.  A lot of abused women could write that same thing.  Just because you’re abused doesn’t mean that you don’t reach orgasm.  But the dynamics can still be very abusive.

Keith: Some marriage too, it’s like he—

Sheila: Requires her too.

Keith: – requires her to have an orgasm because that shows that he’s done a good job.  And she’s like, “I’ve got to orgasm because otherwise he’ll feel like he’s a bad lover.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And if you’re trying to rebuild, I have a great series on four steps to rebuild after something like this.  But just to sum up what I would say is if obligation has been in your marriage and if sex just isn’t happening or your marriage is all messed up because of it, take intercourse off the table for awhile.  Take his ejaculation off the table for awhile.  His orgasm.  And let’s just work on where she’s comfortable because her body needs to know I’m not under threat.  Because right now, likely, her libido has tanked.  She may have sexual pain.  All of these things are happening.  And you can’t just make your body turn on.  It takes awhile to reset.  And so we talk about this in our Orgasm course too.  But you might need to take stuff off the table for an extended period of time so that she knows I am safe because her libido cannot get turned on until she knows I am safe.  And we talk to so many women whose husbands—when they realize that their wives felt obligated, they said, “Wait a minute.  I never want you to do anything you don’t want to do.  Ever.  Even if we’re in the middle of something and you change your mind, I want you to speak up.”  And that’s what helped so many women finally become orgasmic was when they realized, “Wait a minute.  I really am allowed to say no.”  And so you may need to do that.  Take sex off the table for awhile.  Or maybe it’s not that level and just have that conversation about how if you ever feel like you don’t want to do it, please stop.  And then show your wife and follow through that yeah.   I can kiss her.  I can roll over and go to sleep without punishing her because she needs to know there aren’t negative consequences for this.    

Keith: Right.

Sheila: But, again, the big message that I really, really want people to hear is sex is the symptom.  It’s not the problem.  People do not give up sex for no reason.  The way this guy is talking in this email it makes it sound like he thinks she’s crazy.  Right?  Oh, you just can’t believe those women.  They’re just nuts.  They just give up sex for no reason, right?  People don’t do that.  People don’t stop doing something, which is good, for no reason.  And so if someone isn’t having sex, there is a reason.  I heard a woman—

Keith: Well, can I just say something about that too?  So this guy—okay.  If she’s giving up sex completely, where is his, “Why?  What’s wrong with her?  Is she okay?”  There’s no concern for her whatsoever in this because he thinks it’s all about him.  And that’s the problem.  And they don’t realize that that’s a problem because we teach men it’s all about you.  It should be about you couple.  Not you man.  I don’t know.

Sheila: Yeah.  And here’s another example.  This is flipped.  But a woman was saying, “My husband withholds sex.”  Sometimes people do withhold just out of selfishness because I was arguing that people don’t do it out of selfishness in general.  That’s such a low number.  People keep talking to me about how many women withhold out of selfishness.  No.  They are just bearing all the mental load.  They’re exhausted.  Jump in there with the kids.  Jump in there with the housework.  Take some of the mental load away.  Let her not feel so exhausted, and maybe she’ll have some margin so that sex can grow again.  And desire can grow again.  But, anyway, so this woman was saying, “Well, no.  Sometimes men do withhold just out of selfishness.”  And she said, “My husband watches porn, and then he withholds out of selfishness.”  But even there sex isn’t the issue.  Porn is.  Okay.  When you ask, “Why is my husband withholding,” I mean yes.  He’s selfish.  But he’s selfish because of the porn.  It’s the porn that is the issue.  So it’s not sex that needs to be dealt with.  It’s the porn.  And this is the thing.  When sex isn’t happening, let’s start asking why.  Whether it’s the man or the woman, why?  Okay.

Keith: And really want to know the answer even if it means that I have to change my attitude.   

Sheila: Yeah.  And so let me just reiterate.  If you’re listening and you’re a victim of obligation sex, you do not need to consent to one sided sex where you feel used.  

Keith: Mm-hmm.  And what good Christian man would want that?  Right?

Sheila: Yeah.  You do not need to consent to one sided sex where you feel used because that isn’t sex.  Sex is something which is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.  And it is okay for you to say, “Let’s work on how to create a marriage where we can have something which is intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both.”  

Keith: And if you need any sense of obligation to make sex happen in your marriage that means you’ve got issues you need to work on.  Because if the idea of giving your spouse, your wife, complete freedom, yes or no, if that terrifies you, there may be a reason for that.  And you may need to do some soul searching yourself to find out what the issue is.  If you’re afraid that if you say to your wife, “I don’t want you to ever feel obligated,” that sex is going to dry up in your marriage, that should be a big siren in your life that maybe I have been entitled.  Maybe I have had internalized a lot of these mindsets that we’ve been talking about through this podcast.  And maybe I need to break those strongholds.  And maybe I need to humble myself and get back to this being about us and not about me.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And you know what?  We have surveyed men as well.  And let me tell you.  The couples that have the best sex are the couples who do not believe in obligation sex.

Keith: Absolutely.

Sheila: So you need to let this go.  Sex is something which is supposed to unite you.  And you cannot have a knowing if there is also an owing.  Sex is a knowing, not an owing.  So we are going to have the resources for the obligation sex series in the podcast notes for my series on four steps to recovery, if this has been your story, and also for the ten questions that you can ask your wife if she doesn’t want sex.  So if you need to go deeper, those are ways.  We also have a great resource.  If you want to talk to your church leaders about obligation sex called The Great Sex Rescue toolkit.  We put together some amazing handouts of each of our individual findings for the different teachings.  And we have one specifically on obligation sex that talks about all the data.  All the outcomes from obligation sex, how to talk about this differently as well as our handouts on modesty and on porn and on all the other messages that we’re given.  And I will put a link to it.  It’s a pay what you want.  So we don’t even really have a price on it.  I think it’s $3 in the store.  But we’re just asking people to give what you can.  So if you can’t give anything more than that, that’s fine.  If you want to give us a gift, you can even pay more than the $3.  Anything we’d be grateful for.  But we just want to get this in people’s hands.  So show it to your pastor.  Show it to your small group leader.  Show it to your women’s ministry leader.  But let’s get rid of the obligation sex message.  It doesn’t work.  It’s untrue.  And it’s not biblical.  So we need to let it go.  

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: So thank you for being here.  Thank you for doing this podcast with me, hon.  I always love it when you’re here.

Keith: My pleasure.

Sheila: And thank you for joining us on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Remember that you can help us by wherever you listen to this podcast please rate it five stars and tell other people about it.  Just the more you rate it the more it helps other people find us.  So that’s something simple that you can do to help us.  If you’ve read The Great Sex Rescue or She Deserves Better, if you can leave a review for that on Amazon or Goodreads, that helps us immensely too.  So thank you for joining us.  Thank you for being part of this community.  And we will see you again on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Bye-bye.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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. TLB

    Thank you!! Thank you for this whole series, I don’t feel like I’m losing it anymore! So many books & marriage conferences over the years telling us this is “our duty” it’s not ok!!! Thank you for putting this in one spot, now to try & share it with my husband because anytime I try to talk about this he literally talks over me! I’m so over this 😡 same question again this morning that I get every 3 days (because giving me 2 days in between is my “gift” from him 🙄) “can we have relations tonight” 🤮 where is the “relation” in any of this! so exhausted, angry & overwhelmed from all of this 😢

    • Healing

      I feel your frustration. My story was similar except instead of every 3 days, it was every other day… and if I didn’t want “relations” then I better be prepared to give favors instead. If on that second night I didn’t initiate the act or favor, I would hear a loud “huff” and eventually a “I GUESS WE’RE JUST GOING TO SLEEP.” It didn’t feel intimate, loving, etc. it felt like I was just being used.

      Luckily, after reading the Great Sex Rescue, I realized why I didn’t like sex anymore and had to have a long talk with my husband. Even though I had stated my “case” numerous times before, this time he listened, he absorbed and was CRUSHED by how selfish he was being. He has put in the work to change. It’s been nearly 2 years now and we’re still healing.

      I hope that your husband will listen. Talking over you is no way to communicate. So his feelings matter and yours don’t?

      Made me think- when talking about your sex life, if a Barf emoji is used, it’s probably not a good thing. Like, if sex is such a great gift, no one would use a 🤮. Things need to change. Hope you can get through to him.

  2. TJ

    Thanks so much for this series this week. I’ve really appreciated all of it!

    One thing that’s been rattling around my brain lately is the people who ask the question you addressed in the podcast. “What if sex stops completely without obligation?”. I appreciated your rebuttal to the question, that:

    A). Any decent man shouldn’t want obligation sex anyway, and should instead be curious about why there’s a lack of libido in the first place and how he can step up to repent, be a better man and work on the relationship.

    B). Only after eliminating obligation can the relationship grow in trust and safety to reach a place of healing.

    But I also found myself wondering, what if there are cases where sexual intimacy legitimately does (and maybe even should) stop indefinitely once obligation is removed? Specifically if a lack of libido, both physical and mental, is due to physiological reasons?

    My wife, for example, has dealt with depression and anxiety for most of her adult life. She’s on medications that greatly help with this. But one of the common side effects of some of those meds is often a suppression of libido and desire, both physical and mental. To the point that some people have anecdotally expressed that they felt functionally asexual on them.

    In our case, we took steps several years ago to make sure that external obligation messages no longer had any foothold in our marriage. That is, she knows, and feels secure that she doesn’t “owe” me anything, and should never feel pressure to do anything she doesn’t want. I do not initiate anything that she doesn’t explicitly express a desire for first, or initiate herself first. And I do not initiate any discussions about sex or “needs” other than to check in occasionally to make sure she’s still feeling safe, secure and not pressured.

    She says she feels safe, loved and supported. That I pull more than my weight in terms of chores and load. That she loves us being close, laughing, talking, cuddling, etc. But that she just never thinks about sex or is comfortable responding except on the very rare occasions, a handful of times a year, when she’s spontaneously in the mood.

    All that to say, getting rid of obligation sex is a great, crucial and necessary step. Having her be free of feeling those messages is worth any sacrifice. So I’m left wondering whether there really are cases where sexual intimacy legitimately just needs to end indefinitely, in the (wholly right) absence of obligation. And if perhaps the best path forward is to try to put entitled desires to death in oneself and work towards acceptance.

    • Bernadette

      Reading your post made me think of another story I’d once read. A woman who blogs about marriage described that her marriage had been sexless for 5 years.

      A pregnancy would have killed her AND her husband valued her life more than his pleasure.

      She also spoke of a horrible, horrible year they’d had. He loses his job and they go bankrupt. One of their children dies. House burns down. Her mother dies.

      Couples have divorced over less stress than this. Not these two.

      They stayed together.

      When someone asked her why, she said, “I knew that he loved me.”

  3. Jen

    Excellent discussion. Thanks for doing this series.

    I’m so glad you have brought much needed awareness to the horrors of vaginismus. May I suggest an area for further research? I’m learning the hard way that vaginismus isn’t the only pelvic floor problem directly related to the obligation sex message. My doctor referred me to a pelvic floor therapist this year, and I wasn’t afraid to go because of your work (slam dunk for Bare Marriage!!).

    The major issues I’ve had for decades (can’t lay on my left side, terrible bloating, ongoing back pain, etc.) are rooted in the trauma I was experiencing in my marriage where secret sex addition, neglect, attachment issues, and the obligation message were destroying me.

    I mentioned to my therapist that with all of the horrible teachings and the abuse in my marriage, I’m shocked I didn’t experience vaginismus. She said that vaginismus is just one of the ways sexual trauma and abuse come out in the pelvic floor. When we are protecting ourselves, sometimes for decades, from the people we experience on a daily basis, what else can the body do but tighten up to protect itself?

    At the time when my husband confessed, I’d been living with this abuse for over 30 years. He was addicted to orgasms, so he masturbated, visited prostitutes, and guess who got to give him his drug the rest of the time? It’s not surprising that after he confessed my back pain evolved into crippling pain that had me hobbled every morning (hence the prescription for therapy). Now, as I’ve been working with a therapist twice a week for months, the back pain is easing, but I still bloat and I cannot sleep on my side (bloating is not a food issue – it’s a confirmed pain response) and now I’ve developed sacrum and coccyx pain.

    Not to worry, though! I’m confident that I’m getting the right help AND I’ve told my husband I’m NEVER having sex unless I want to (and of course he can refuse as well). He is also doing work to recover from his many issues. It’s horrifying to think of all the work I did to “help” him with sexual self control when he’d been completely out of control before I even met him. I also never got the promises the authors tie to the obligation message – no emotional intimacy, no fidelity, no happy husband. All obligation sex did was make it easier for him to use me as his drug fix.

    I’m no longer carrying his baggage or being responsible for his sexuality, so that right there brings a great deal of relief! His issues are his, and he’s responsible for the consequences of his choices. He knows that now, too.

    In summary, I think there is more to the pelvic floor story than only vaginismus. Thank you for all you do!!

  4. Lisa Johns

    “What happens is, you are being given a message, REPEATEDLY, over months and years and decades, by your wife: ‘I want to be valued, I want to be cherished.’ And you IGNORE it, because you feel you have a right to things. And then finally, one day she says, ‘That’s it. You’re never going to get it, you’re never going to value me, so I’m done.’ And the man says, ‘Well, it’s all her fault.’ No. NO. NO. NO. You ignored, you ignored, you ignored, and now you’re reaping the consequences of your actions.”

  5. Amy

    As always, so good! I hope sometime you might talk more about Jimmy Evans’s view that sex is a need for a man/gift from a woman. In context of the teaching where I heard him say this, I get where he’s coming from, and he is very clear that both spouses need to be servants to one another in this area. But now that I’ve learned so much from your material, it drives me crazy when people keep teaching this need/gift way of viewing sex!

  6. Amy

    This is one Jimmy Evans sermon where he mentions this need/gift idea:

    I’d also like to hear about “compartmentalization” in regards to men and sex. I agree that compartmentalization is easier for men, but instead of thinking this is a normal and expected thing, it is actually a big, huge sign of an unhealthy person — an unintegrated life.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      EXACTLY! It’s like, it’s not that men are made like this. (Although I do think that because women bear far more risks with sex, we do have a harder time compartmentalizing simply because of safety).

      • Amy

        Oooh – good point about the safety issue!

        I’m on the fence if God made men like this (high ability to compartmentalize); but if he did, it was to be used for good purposes. (I am convinced utilizing compartmentalization in regards to sex was NOT one of the purposes.) I wish spiritual leaders would stop normalizing this unhealthy idea!

  7. Lisa Johns

    And speaking of safety….
    I have been pondering much lately about the issue of abortion “rights,” and why people would fight so hard and so loud in favor of allowing a practice that is so harsh, and what I keep coming up against is the teaching that “women’s bodies are not their own.” Let’s face it, for centuries, women have been told that they are second (whether they were seen as “the insatiable sex” as in the Middle Ages, and men needed to guard against them, or seen as the “giving sex,” as in modern evangelicalism, and men have all the rights to them) — and they have no autonomy with their own bodies. Now let’s say you have a surprise pregnancy, and you feel that you are being demanded to give yourself over to another — AGAIN — well, what feels more vulnerable and scary than being asked to carry another human being for 9 months and a lifetime? And what might bring more relief to your vulnerable emotions than being able to stop the progression of this?
    Don’t get me wrong. I am pro life, and I believe that abortion kills a baby. But when we constantly teach women that their bodies belong to others (and let’s face it, this is not confined to church circles), is it not reasonable to understand that the trauma of this mentality is going to lead to such acts as aborting a pregnancy in order to preserve a sense of dignity?

    I know a pro-life ob-gyn who counsels with women who have medical reasons for seeking abortion (and there are those). She will not provide the service, and all those who work with her know why, but the women who come to her for counsel are guaranteed a kind and sympathetic ear, and the best information she can provide as they make their decisions. She tells me that the current legal situation has actually caused delays in necessary care (ectopic pregnancy), because AGAIN, women’s bodies are less important than someone else’s ideology.
    She also remarked that women in certain situations will do ANYTHING to get a child if they want one, and ANYTHING to obtain a termination if they want one. So while laws may change some people’s minds, they won’t change others.

    Perhaps if we want to address the abortion question, we ought to address the woman question. When women are clearly devalued and considered to be secondary to a man’s lust or a political ideology, it is always going to be a desired option to terminate a pregnancy in order to continue to be human.

    • Nessie

      That’s a really interesting connection!

  8. Attempting Anonymity

    What happens when you’ve done “all the things” and your sexual trauma and disgust has only become entrenched?

    4 years of creating sexual autonomy; counseling (individual and couples – THOUSANDS of dollars); EMDR and ART; SRT (sexual reintegration therapy); reading your book and loving it (basically our memoir); becoming an armchair expert on sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, recovery, and abuse.

    There are some more details that I don’t want to share publicly. But I’m both desperate and hopeless.

    I’m really hopeful for a response from the Bare Marriage team. I would post this on social media but want to remain (publicly) anonymous.


    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You know what? I’ve gotten this question so much, and I’m at a loss. I’m a researcher, not a counselor. I think this is a question or a counselor.

      I think for some poeple, the trauma may be so great that desire just doesn’t build again, even after trauma treatment. If you’ve given it a lot of time and desire isn’t building, then that’s something you may have to face together. And I don’t think I can make pronouncements on that. I’m so sorry.

      What I would normally tell people to do is seek trauma therapy (which it sounds like you have) and then seek couples therapy to make sure that you’re connecting in other ways (which it also sounds like you have). I’m so sorry you haven’t seen real breakthroughs, but I have also heard from so many women in the same boat this month. I think desire, once lost through repeated trauma, does not automatically come back, even with healing. And I’m truly not sure what to do about that. I wish I had a better answer. if you want to comment more and explain a bit more, I am planning an article on this and I’d love more perspective.

      • Lisa Johns

        I’ll be awaiting that article. I have realized that my desire has pretty much tanked, and even though I’m headed toward singleness anyway, I don’t like the thought. It’ll be interesting to see what discussion comes from this when you write that article!

      • Anonymous

        Excited that you’re writing more on this!! I’ve read basically everything you’ve written because you’re about all we’ve got (and it’s so good!). I so often think “this would have been so helpful 20 years ago”….

        It’s interesting that it’s rarely named here as a “sexual aversion”, but that’s what many of us have due to the trauma of repeatedly having (often initiating) sex we didn’t want to have due to the Christian messaging and/or emotionally manipulative husbands.

        We, too, have done all you’ve suggested, but it’s not enough to heal the trauma. Seeking trauma therapy this week with EMDR as “regular therapy” didn’t accomplish any change with the aversion (though it’s always good).

        Thank you for this series!!! I’ve read each one and shared, LOVED the podcast (your husband’s words to men are so impactful!!!). A couple of years ago my body finally started spasming when there was a hint of sexual touch and he was willing to finally “hear me” – but TGSR is how I began to really understand the “why”.

        Please share anything you’ve got on healing when the frustration becomes a full blown aversion, because there’s really nothing else out there!!

        Thank you!

      • Attempting Anonymity

        Thank you for your response – sorry I took so long to reply (I didn’t realize I wouldn’t receive a notification if my comment had responses 🙃

        I’d definitely be happy to chat more about it (if I’m not too late), if that would be helpful. It would probably be easier for me to respond to some questions/dialogue.

        I really appreciate that you took the time to respond, even thought you’re not sure what direction to give.

        I haven’t given up yet – though it’s quite exhausting. I have *just* met with a new trauma therapist 🙏🏻

        I really, really don’t want this aversion to be with me (or our marriage) for the rest of my life. It’s awful.

  9. Nessie

    So many thoughts.

    1 Cor. 7- let’s say you interpret it the way a comp person does. It says *tempted* to lust, not *will sin* in lust. Even in temptation, God provides a way out. Goes back to that slippery slope another commentor mentioned (in a post around this one.)
    Of course, that is if you’re choosing to ignore the cultural and historical context.

    Speaking of- many porn-abusing husbands are not always able to engage in PIV. So the advice to “have more sex” is fallacy anyhow for many couples.

    Love Dare: “but we are weak.” Yes, and in our weakness, God’s strength is made perfect. Are they implying that God is too weak to help a man control his ejaculations, particularly re: porn or affairs?

    Keith’s point of taking a sex-fast (specifically while trying to give up porn) to devote oneself to prayer was amazing!

    I’m also curious- what part of Himself did Jesus withhold from sacrifically giving to us? I recall many times He wanted to rest but took pity on the people and took care of them, talked to/with them. Obviously He sacrificed His very life! So… what part did He not sacrifically love and give of Himself? Because if men are called to sacrifically love their wives as Christ did, I think it’s only fair if they get to withhold sacrifice in the same way that Christ did… oh, wait…

    That last letter, “You have made women feel that it’s all about them and their pleasure.” Pot>kettle much? Sounds like he doesn’t think one gender should make it all about them… 🙄


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