Evangelical blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire doesn’t care if her critics want to brand her a feminist. She wants the Church to know that “sex is for women too,” and ignoring that point can ruin sex, orgasms and marriages for women.
New research shows that many evangelical women are unsatisfied in the bedroom due to some evangelical beliefs, and that’s the big takeaway Gregoire wants readers to get as she stages a scholarly intervention in her new book, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You've Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended.
“I just want people to know that sex is for women too and that it’s supposed to be something that’s mutual. The big thing that I say is, God made sex to be intimate based on Genesis 4. He made it to be pleasurable, based on Song of Solomon, and he made it to be mutual, based on 1 Corinthians 7 — so intimate, mutual and pleasurable. And that’s a beautiful thing. What we’ve done in the church too often is we’ve reduced it to something which is only physical. It’s only about a man, and we’re missing out on what God meant for intimacy,” Gregoire, the founder of the To Love, Honor, and Vacuum blog, said in an interview with The Christian Post.
The book highlights how some evangelical teachings have affected evangelical women's sex lives and marriages by looking at the results of a comprehensive survey of more than 18,000 Christian women who identify predominantly as evangelical and highly religious.
“We measure a number of things [evangelical teachings], and there were four in particular that were very harmful,” Gregoire said.
“We don’t use sex to manipulate our husbands. We don’t deprive our husbands sexually. We give it to him willingly and freely because we love pleasing our husbands. So women, rid yourself of that matriarchal spirit today. Just give it to the Lord. It’s an idol in your life. It’s hurting your marriage, could potentially destroy your marriage,” Alexander, who has been married to her husband since 1980, warned in a video shared on YouTube last month.
The matriarchal or Jezebel spirit, according to Daughters of Promise, “uses seduction, womanly wiles, or sexual means to control men. If those don’t work, it uses shame and sarcasm, scorn and arrogance.” This spirit, says the ministry, “specifically targets the weak and the wounded, the hurt, rebellious and rejected. It uses flattery, smooth words, ‘prophecies’ and tears to seduce these targets out from under authority.”
“Most women,” Alexander argues, have the matriarchal spirit.
For Gregoire, however, the Jezebel Spirit isn’t a biblical concept.
“Jezebel Spirit is not a thing in the Bible and what she’s really doing is she’s giving her opinions, but she doesn’t have any research to back it up,” Gregoire said. “She (Alexander) has said things like there’s no such thing as rape in marriage, and really denies emotional abuse in all of these things and just tends to blame women for marriage problems.”
When asked why some Christian women don’t believe in marital rape, she framed it as a misguided interpretation of the Bible.
“There are a lot of women who believe in hyper-complementarianism where submission means you do whatever your husband says no matter what, and that he literally owns you and you have to obey. And if that’s what you think, then there can’t be such a thing as rape because he owns your body. But again, that’s not biblical,” she explained.
Gregoire said the study conducted by her team found obligated sex to be one of the biggest factors behind vaginismus among evangelical women. Vaginismus occurs "when the muscles of a woman’s vagina squeeze or spasm when something is entering it, like a tampon or a penis," according to WebMD. "It can range from mildly uncomfortable to quite painful." Doctors don't know why it happens, but it's usually linked to anxiety or fear of having sex.
“We said, 'Do you believe a wife is obligated to give a husband sex when he wants it?' And that particular belief was implicated with the biggest cause that we could find of the increased rates in sexual pain that evangelical women feel,” Gregoire, who has graduate degrees in sociology and public administration, said.
“Christian women have twice the rate of vaginismus as the general population," she added. "That’s been well known in gynecological research for 50 years, but no one has known why. So we were able to flesh it out, and one of the really big causes is this obligation sex message. … It also lowers orgasm rates, lowers arousal rates, lowers marital satisfaction, all kinds of really difficult things.”
The results of the survey, conducted from Nov. 1, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020, and published earlier this year, showed, for example, that in Christian marriages that ended in divorce, women experienced orgasms less frequently than those in current marriages. Almost 50% of women reported as currently married said they almost always or always orgasmed during sex with their partner, while just 20% of women reported the same for marriages that ended in divorce, showing a correlation between a sexually satisfied wife and a sustained marriage.
“If you take women who have really high marital satisfaction who regularly reach orgasm and feel emotionally connected to their husbands during sex, that marriage is hardly ever going to become sexless,” Gregoire argued.
“When people tell women you need to have sex more, they’re addressing the symptom and not the problem. The problem is not frequency, because frequency is a sign of what else is happening. I just believe that if we, as a church, if we address the orgasm gap, if we address how we talk about sex — because we talk about it and make it seem really ugly to a lot of women.
“When you tell women, if you don’t have sex he’s going to watch porn or if you don’t have sex he’s going to lust after other women or you need to satisfy him during your period or when you’re post-partum or else he’s going to lust — which are all things that our evangelical bestsellers say — is it any wonder why women don’t want to have sex?” she asked.
Gregoire, who has been writing about sex and marriage for 13 years and has written several books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex,said she decided to research the sex lives of evangelicals after reading Christian books on marriage and sex.
“I hadn’t actually read a lot of Christian marriage books or Christian sex books because I didn’t want to plagiarize anybody, so I hadn’t read a lot of the bestsellers. And then, two-and-a-half-years ago, I was looking at a debate on Twitter and they were talking about the book Love & Respect, and I have it. I had just never read it. So I pulled it out and I read the sex chapter, and I was really concerned and I started texting my team at my blog because in that chapter, Emerson Eggerichs said if your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.
"He said women don’t need sex, but men do. He said a husband needs physical relief through sexual intimacy, so he made sex entirely about a man’s climax. There was nothing about intimacy in that chapter. It was only about a man’s climax and he never once mentioned that women could feel pleasure, and he said women can’t say no. That you’re not allowed to refuse sex except for … prayer and fasting,” she said.
“I started thinking, if that is what we’re teaching about sex in the evangelical world, no wonder we’ve got issues. So we decided to do a really, really big survey to find out if typical evangelical teachings around sex are affecting women’s orgasm rates, women’s libido rates, sexual pain and marital satisfaction,” she explained.
Gregoire said the study recently received ethics approval through Queen's University in Canada to submit their data set to peer-reviewed journals.
“We are currently working on three different papers, collaborating with pelvic floor physiotherapists and sociologists for different ones,” she said.
Gregoire and her team, which includes her daughter, Rebecca, an author and psychology graduate, and epidemiologist Joanna Sawatsky have had to fend off criticism about their research, but she said she believes it's being attacked because “a lot of people are uncomfortable with what we found.”
“It goes against what they believe, but … we have different people working with our data set to get it peer-reviewed,” she said.
“People may think our research isn’t good, but that is a conversation that should happen in academic journals, and that’s why we are submitting our research to academic journals. Which so far, no evangelical research that has ever been done has done that in the big marriage world that we know of,” she said. “We’re spending the next 10 years ... we’re paying for people. We’ve got research assistants, we are taking our data and we’re going to be publishing a lot of academic papers because that’s the rigor to which we did our survey.”
She insists that the investment is worth it because this is a conversation that is “way too important” not to have.
“I don’t really care how people see me. I think the message that sex is mutual, pleasurable and intimate should not be a controversial one. I think that that’s biblical. I think that’s what everybody wants. And I think the only reason that it’s controversial is that I’ve pointed out that a lot of really big named authors have not been teaching that. … I don’t think it’s feminist to point out that God made sex to be mutual,” she said. “I just think that’s life. It’s kind of obvious. He gave women a body part where the only purpose was pleasure. It’s kind of obvious that’s what God wants. So I don’t know why we’ve forgotten to talk about that.”