New Book Challenges Evangelical Narrative on Sex and Marriage
While you might get a few strange looks reading a book with a title like The Great Sex Rescue in your local coffee shop, the new book on sex and marriage within the evangelical church is both a helpful corrective to poor theology and a challenging call for the church to do better.
The book project was spearheaded by author and speaker Sheila Wray Gregoire, who with the help of her two coauthors, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach and Joanna Sawatsky, surveyed 20,000 women on their current sex lives. They were disturbed by some of the responses they received, which indicated that the bestselling Christian resources available on sex and marriage are actually contributing to the troubles these women found themselves in. What is needed, they concluded, is a view of sex more in line with the biblical witness.
The authors preface the book by defining what sex is and what it is not. It is not simply a physical event in which one or two people climax in the sex act. It was designed by God to be a mutually loving activity between two people who have both chosen each other, chosen to place the other’s good before their own, and know each other deeply. This is why sex within a marriage in which both the man and woman love each other self-sacrificially is so important—the emotional and spiritual connection is what safeguards the physical, while the sexual intimacy fortifies the marriage as a whole. Even though I read this book as a single man in my twenties, I would recommend anyone who grew up in conservative evangelical spaces to read it. It just may challenge and refresh your understandings of sex and marriage.
According to Gregoire and her team, many of the evangelical books on sex and marriage are at shocking variance with the biblical view. One major example they cite is Every Man’s Battle, by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. This book enjoys a near canonical observance among evangelical Christians. It was the one I read as a teenager, and its assumptions were more or less shared by many of the peers and pastors I grew up around. While the authors had good intentions, and while the book’s many readers wanted to approach sexuality in a God-honoring way, many of its teachings are problematic, to say the least. The title itself speaks volumes. The “struggle” is “every man’s struggle,” and apparently, it’s going to be a lifelong struggle too. In The Great Sex Rescue, Gregoire takes issue with this view. The phrase “every man’s struggle” suggests a very low view of men and can spell disaster for marriages. Why? It makes it seem like men can’t help but struggle against a sinful desire they’re eternally destined to have, and that if they can’t have sex with their wives, well, they’ll look to porn or an affair for the physical release they’re being denied. In turn, women increasingly approach sex as an obligation rather than a mutual choice. They have to “give it to him” or else he’ll act out in unhealthy ways. This is all due to a view of sex as a predominantly male need that women are expected to satisfy without calling attention to their own emotional and physical needs.
Both men and women want more than that. We desire intimacy and spiritual connection, which is why God commands us to safeguard such intimacy within the bonds of marriage. The authors write,
“Whether intentionally or not, by describing sexual need in terms of physical release instead of intimacy, many women ‘let’ men have intercourse and feel proud of themselves for doing their wifely duty, while their lonely husbands are left desperate for connection.”
Instead of teaching that every man unequivocally struggles intensely with unwanted lust, making the problem seem unavoidable, Gregoire recommends saying something like this to young men in the church,
“Instead of saying, ‘All men struggle with lust; it is every man’s battle,’ say, ‘Lust is a battle many people struggle with. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin but to the Spirit. When the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”
We do not have to view the boys growing up in churches as lustful monsters in the making, and we can do better by acknowledging that both men and women want intimate, relationally meaningful sex. Both men and women deal with pornography addiction. Men and women also vary in levels of libido. This area is more complicated and nuanced than we have treated it. So many of the resources within and without the church insist on sexuality as mechanistic and merely about pleasure; it is not.
For the sake of our marriages and our churches, we would do well to heed Gregoire’s word: sex is not about duty or power dynamics, but about love, and being open to the possibility of new life. It’s about trust. It’s about knowing and being known.Peter Biles
Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is now Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/the-great-sex-rescue