What Evangelical Women Say About Sex

What We Learned from Surveying Thousands of Evangelical Women About Sexuality

Sheila Gregoire’s The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended was a stark contrast to the teachings many Christians received in the church with regards to sex and marriage when it was published last year.

The Canadian writer uses her own research, including a poll of 22,000 Christian women, to defend women’s right to experience sexual pleasure and to detail the harm done to women, men, and relationships as a result of skewed perceptions of the role of sexuality in marriage.

Though Gregoire’s criticism of previous versions of Christian materials has placed some on the defensive, for others it represents a welcome change in strategy. 

Though Gregoire’s criticism of previous versions of Christian materials has placed some on the defensive, for others it represents a welcome change in strategy. Many women, from conservative Christians to progressive activists, have found comfort and healing in her teachings, and some clergy, academics, and counselors are beginning to change their practices in response to her research.

Many women, from conservative Christians to progressive activists, have found comfort and healing in her teachings, and some clergy, academics, and counselors are beginning to change their practices in response to her research.

Craig Flack, a pastor in Findlay, Ohio, who has used The Great Sex Rescue in his premarital and postmarital counseling, thinks Sheila’s work adds a much-needed balance to conservative church circles. So much literature downplays or completely disregards female enjoyment, and then readers wonder why female characters in those works might not take pleasure in romantic relationships.

Gregoire attacks the concept, which she sees in books like Love and Respect, The Act of Marriage, and Every Man’s Battle, that men “need” sex and their women are there to offer it. Based on the results of her survey, Christian women are taught to set limits for their sons and are expected to intervene when their sons test those limits. They believed it was their duty as wives not to deny their husbands the pleasures of sexual intimacy, and that doing so would discourage their partners from resorting to porn.

The Christian women in Gregoire’s poll who held to these views were less likely to report having fun with sex, to be honest about their sexual needs with their spouses, and to be in a relationship where they felt their partner placed a high value on them experiencing sexual pleasure.Flack says he no longer counsels couples the same manner, but instead focuses on the wife’s pleasure, genuine connection, and “how it creates reciprocal sexual fulfillment.” He doesn’t agree with “every area in the book,” but he has changed his approach.The Great Sex Rescue became popular thanks to people talking about it and tweeting about it and sharing their own experiences with it.

According to Gregoire, she is heartened by the progress she is making with Christian therapists and pastors like Flack, who are taking her findings and applying them to their work with couples.Against what she sees as an erroneous and male-focused perspective of sex that has been preached or discreetly accepted among evangelicals for years, she has witnessed Christians of varying denominations unite.Gregoire has taken a stand against purity culture teachings by naming the specific educators she holds accountable for spreading dangerous views about married sex, which other Christian authors have avoided doing. The only way to halt the pain, she said CT, is to go public with the issue. And if those writers were serious about serving the sheep, they’d be thrilled by the opportunity.

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However, her author colleagues have complained that her presentations of their work are taken completely out of context. Focus on the Family (which published Emerson Eggerichs’s Love and Respect) released a statement saying Gregoire “has grossly misinterpreted and misjudged” the book. Defending herself against what she called “inaccurate” and “planned attacks,” Shaunti Feldhahn, whom Gregoire references several times in her book, made a statement.

She has previously told CT that her current critiques apply to her whole body of work; she has deleted older blog postings because of fresh information gleaned from her studies, and she is determined to make a positive change with her forthcoming work.

Pastor Kevin Schulz of the United Mennonite Brethren (USMB) Church has bought many copies of Gregoire’s “Honeymoon Course” for his congregants. “a much-needed contrast to the one-sided and biased church doctrine” is how he described Gregoire’s writing.Gregoire cites places where she believes Scripture has been misused to hurt marriages, generate anguish for women, and prolong abuse, despite her dedication to a Christian sexual ethic.In Matthew 5:28, we read,

“Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Gregoire argued that women are instantly objectified as sexual objects when young males are taught that gazing at a woman implies yearning for her. Gregoire poses the question “Is gazing lustful?”

in her work. That, she explains, is subject to major adjustment if the response is negative. Women described a wide range of bad sexual experiences, from dissatisfaction and pain to abuse and trauma, in her interviews and reviews of the book. Courtney Wright claims that after reading The Great Sex Rescue, she realized that she had been coerced into sex, strangled, and treated “like a servant” throughout her previous nine-year marriage. ‘I’ve recovered my power and confidence to speak up,’ Wright told CT.

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The book’s coauthor, epidemiologist Joanna Sawatsky, and another contributor, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, described the harrowing experiences of women like Wright who, after being abused, rationalized the perpetrator’s actions or heard their pastors say, “Well, it’s technically not not allowed in the Bible.”According to Lindenbach, “the number of people that we talked to in these awful situations where their spouses were hooked to porn, to the extent that they were forcing them to live out what they’d watch,” is shocking. They would be thinking, “But if I can supply his wants, then maybe he’ll be able to stop,” as Shaunti Feldhahn, Emerson Eggerichs, and Stephen Arterburn put it.

But there are some prominent Christians who believe her pointed concerns merit a response and expansion. Chasing Love, Sean McDowell’s new book about adolescent sexuality, is a conservative theological treatise from a prominent speaker and author. McDowell has promoted Gregoire’s writing and even had her visit one of his Biola University lectures to share her thoughts on the topic.McDowell said of individuals that Gregoire criticizes,

“I believe they should certainly examine her ideas because I think she’s expressing some valid points and these are serious issues. “McDowell says he found her writing compelling because it made him reevaluate his views on sexuality in marriage and because Gregoire consistently refers her readers to the Bible.

To paraphrase what McDowell stated, “so much of the teaching we’ve had on sexuality is male-centric.” I fear that it has been adopted blindly within the church. McDowell believes that the evangelical culture is making progress in its sexual teaching, thanks in part to the efforts of people like Gregoire.

The new edition of his book is a part of the True Love Waits revival being led by Lifeway.Gregoire’s rebuttal is part of a new wave of authors who, like Rachel Welcher (Talking Back to Purity Culture) and Christopher Yuan, Sam Allberry, and Nancy Pearcey, hold to a traditional Christian sexual ethic while providing a critique or alternative to purity culture.Christian counselors and therapists are also fighting to end unhealthy sexual dynamics in marriage. Atlanta-based social worker Julie Hilton frequently refers her clients to The Great Sex Rescue.

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Hilton told CT that the respondents “have mentioned feeling validated, understood, and even outraged.” Her efforts, in my opinion, are healing women and fostering happy partnerships.

A therapist from Illinois named Halie Howells praised Gregoire’s method, calling it “monumental” and one of the few resources of its kind. Howells praised her for bringing “new vocabulary, new expectations, and new connection” to married couples through the incorporation of faith. Gregoire claims that the focus of Christian sex publications is on men’s sexual desire, whereas this aspect of female arousal is either ignored or played down. Gregoire made the sentence “Your wife can be a methadone-like fix when your temperature is rising” from Every Man’s Battle famous, and Arterburn wrote about it. To her, statements like these disregard women’s agency and objectify them while also denying them the pleasure they deserve in a romantic partnership.

Involuntary musculature spasms, or vaginismus, are twice as common among Christian women as they are among the general population, according to a survey conducted by Gregoire. One-fifth or more of people said they experienced pain during penetration due to a medical condition. Their research suggests that this is because Christian women who view sexual activity as obligatory tend to give up their sexual agency and engage in sexual activity despite the discomfort it may cause.

My email was instantly swamped with hundreds of messages from women who identified as “theologically conservative” and had benefited from Gregoire’s work. Both complementarians and egalitarians agree with Gregoire’s main point, which is that Christian couples have been misinformed about the value and satisfaction of sexual intimacy between their spouses. Talia Bastien Reha, a reader, said this about Sheila’s work: “I think Sheila’s work verifies what so many women feel and have felt for so many years but have been unable to describe.” She remarked that Gregoire’s art “pointers to the heart of Jesus,” which is something she found meaningful.

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