If you grew up in a conservative Christian community, you might not even realize you need rescuing from your beliefs about sex. But you probably do.
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By Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky, Baker Books, March 2021, 272 pages.
Growing Up Conservative and Christian
I grew up in a family that didn’t talk about sex. But growing up on a farm, I knew the basics of reproduction. At an early age, I decided I would have to really, really, love some man to let him do THAT to ME.
I also grew up in a conservative Christian community that didn’t talk about sex. In fact, society was just starting to allow controversial programming such as The Burning Bed in the late 80s. And in 1991, the fictional character Doogie Howser rocked the world when he chose to have sex at 18. This episode aired three years after I got married.
Talk about sexuality in the 80s and early 90s had come a long way from the Victorian era, where young English women were counseled to ‘lay back and think of England,’ on their wedding nights. But much of the misinformation lingered in conservative Christian circles. Especially the notion that women can’t enjoy sex, therefore, husbands have no obligation to ensure their wives enjoy it, too.
Before I married, I devoured Dr. Willard F. Harley’s book on marriage, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. The only other option I remember seeing in the bookstore at the time, God Invented Sex, seemed too shocking to even touch. Did I mention I grew up in a conservative Christian community?
The Problem With Growing Up Sheltered
My experiences left me woefully unprepared and uninformed. The steamy Harlequin romances I hid under my bed told me both men and women enjoyed sex. Dr. Harley’s book told me I needed to make myself available for sex whenever my husband wanted so I could affair-proof our marriage.
I also felt unprepared for conversations with other Christian women. A friend told me about a mutual friend whose husband wouldn’t give her grocery money unless she had sex with him. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just shook my head. Over dinner at a restaurant, a new acquaintance shared with me her husband ‘could get a little rough.’ I had no idea what she meant, nor what I should say. Other good Christian friends wore heavy makeup at times which scarcely covered bruises on their faces. I always assumed the best and never asked them about their black eyes. After all, they had Christian husbands.
The fallacies that Christians don’t sin and all sex between married people was pure permeated the atmosphere of my upbringing.
While Christianity and sexuality have been uneasy bedfellows for centuries, the headship movement in evangelical Christian culture has brought out the very worst of the relationship. Gregoire, Lendenbach, and Sawatsky surveyed over 20,000 Christian women to discover why some Christian marriages sizzle and others fizzle. Gregoire runs the largest single-blogger marriage blog (To Love Honor and Vacuum). Comments and questions from readers alerted her to the great disparity in Christian marriage experiences.
Why We Need The Great Sex Rescue
The authors discovered a correlation between women’s beliefs about the ‘duty’ of a wife and her happiness in marriage (and the bedroom). The word duty says it all. In marriages where women believed they have the duty to save their husbands from porn and lust by always making themselves available for intercourse, women reported despair, depression, and a lost sense of self. In other words, this philosophy doesn’t work. It doesn’t fulfill the biblical mandate of ‘two becoming one.’ If one person finds pleasure and the other one feels depressed, they aren’t one. No matter how many times they have intercourse.
The authors differentiate between intercourse and sex (or making love). Intercourse means, ‘a one-sided sexual encounter that’s focused on his climax (13).” Sex, on the other hand, “is the fulfillment of a longing for intimacy, for connection, to be completely and utterly bare in every way before each other (13)” that brings intense pleasure to both parties involved.
In addition to surveying thousands of women, the authors created a rubric for popular Christian books on marriage to see WHY women believed the way they do. Two of my former favorites, His Needs, Her Needs and Love and Respect scored very low on the rubric. What they discovered shocked them—and me, too. The low-scoring books perpetuate the trope of the lustful, uncontrollable man and the wife who must save him by submitting to intercourse. And doing it as often as he desires in order to keep the man from sinning.
This theory exonerates men from responsibility for their behavior. It also puts the burden of salvation on women to endure something they find demeaning, uncomfortable, or downright painful in order to ‘save’ their husbands. The theory kills intimacy—a basic human need for both men and women.
Why I Love This Book
I love practical guides that lay out the truth and help us improve. The Great Sex Rescue does this.
Through surveys, focus groups, research, and interviews the authors help us understand not only the problem but the solution to help couples discover what the Bible really says about sex and how couples can trade intercourse for intimacy.
Throughout each chapter, the authors include check-ins for individuals or couples. They state they would love it if couples read the book together and used it as a conversation starter. The rescue and reframing exercises help readers apply new knowledge. For couples who journey together through the book, the authors provide exercises at the end of each chapter to help build intimacy in the “Explore Together” sections.
Whether you’d rate your sex life as fizzling or sizzling, or something in between, this book can make sex better.
Throughout the book, the authors call out abuse and guide women to where to find help. Abuse in the church happens far more often than we’d like to believe. But because of the church’s stance on women’s duty to never deprive their husbands, the abuse gets overlooked, or even worse, the men get named the victims.
The authors use clinical terms, but the book never reads like a science textbook. They use the Bible to show how generations of Christians have misinterpreted key texts about married relationships to justify intercourse rather than sex.
Above all, they point out how the misunderstandings about sex hurt both women and men. The authors challenge everyone to learn, do better, and find increased fulfillment in their relationships. Pastors, counselors, young adults, old people, married couples, and women’s ministry leaders need to read this book.When we learn to view sex the way God intended, we can have happiness, intimacy, and pleasure for all. #bookreview #Christian #TheGreatSexRescue Click To Tweet
I’m linking up with Lisa at the Grace and Truth Linkup this week.