For years XXXchurch.com founder Craig Gross has been passionate about helping Christians struggling with pornography addiction and evangelizing men and women working in the porn industry. Now he has a new passion: to break Christians' silence about sex.
"When you come into marriage, there still seems to be this off-limits talk about sex where I haven't told my wife this is what I like or I like to do this," Gross shared with The Christian Post.
In his interview with CP, Gross explains why some Christians feel uncomfortable talking about sex and how couples can make sure their sex life progresses at the same pace as the rest of their marriage.
Here is a transcript, edited for length and clarity, of part one of the interview.
The Christian Post: You said that Christians should be having the best sex ever. That's a really bold statement. What led you to put that statement out there?
Gross: I think for a number of reasons. Mainly, I deal with people obviously caught up in pornography, caught up in affairs, caught up in all that the world offers and I feel like what is portrayed in movies and magazines is like this 50 Shades of Grey. All this stuff portrays sex as this great thing and then I see Christians in marriage struggle with conversations about sex, struggle about all these things surrounding sex – the shame, the guilt, I don't know how to talk about it, I don't know how to approach it – yet I feel like it's all around us. The conversation is all around us but yet inside marriage, those of us who are doing this as I think God intended sex to be should be experiencing sex on a greater level than somebody who is doing this out of God's will. But the sad part about this is I feel like people are not.
I waited 22 years of my life to have sex and then I think we've sold people in the church, not a lie, because I think it can't happen, but it just doesn't happen automatically that you get married, you fall in love, you follow Jesus and you have great sex. Everyone has a different upbringing so when you come into marriage, there still seems to be this off-limits talk about sex where I haven't told my wife this is what I like or I would like to do this or I would like when. I mean even simple things like we talk about in the series like 'hey, we should have sex with the lights on.' Why is that off-limits? Why is that uncomfortable for … a husband and wife to talk about?
That's what we're trying to do in the series; like 'hey, let's talk through this.'
My wife and I went to a marriage conference, you know, just to check out what's out there. [It was a] Christian marriage conference, the leading marriage conference that's out there. The guy talked for a little, brief time about sex and what he brought up about it was, I thought, my expectations going into marriage is my wife would shave her legs every night before we got into bed. Everyone laughed and I kind of just thought, wait, that's your expectations?
We're in a marriage conference, we're all Christians, everyone's here, you can go a lot deeper than that and I was just like that's it? A couple giggles, a couple of thoughts? Man, I feel like the people I talk to today have worst expectations of what sex is and what to expect and maybe for 1984 that might of worked but to me in 2014 [I'm thinking] we got to talk about what pornography, what role that's played in your expectations.
So that's what we try to do in the series: like really practical, what are people thinking, what could we force people into having a conversation about that maybe their partners wanted to [talk about] but they never knew how to bring up.
CP: Why is it that outside of Christ everyone feels comfortable talking about sex but inside of Christ, few want to talk specifically about sex?
Gross: Sex has made its way into everything and you know when you've got 50 Shades of Grey as a major movie that's coming out only because of the books were so popular, and I think it just shows you that men and women are drawn to sex. I would argue men more visually and women more emotionally, but either way we're both interested and the world's talking about it and the world realizes this is how you get people's attention and then the church I think has come along. We get invited to church after church these days which never happened early on in our ministry but you know they're doing series on sex. You had Ed Young talk about having sex for seven nights in a row with your spouse.
You have a lot of conversation, but I still feel like it's once a year and when you do it, then people think you're trying to shock somebody rather than trying to talk through it. So my approach has been the more you can have these conversations, the less awkward they are; the more you can talk to you kids about it, the more you can talk to your spouse about it. But why is this conversation off limits? I have no good answer.
I'm 39 [38 at the time of the discussion], my dad died two years ago now and my mom's visiting and we're talking in the van with my kids, and we're driving by the house that she grew up at. My parents weren't Christians when they got married and I just starting asking her a bunch of questions… I said something like they got married very quickly and I just brought up the question about living together. (She answers) no, we didn't live together and I said did you guys have sex and she goes no, we didn't have sex and she's super embarrassed, she didn't want to talk about and she's like your kids are in the car and I was like mom, it's fine, why didn't you have sex? You didn't know anything about Jesus, your parents didn't raise you (in the church), and I was super intrigued and then I said to her, mom I'm 38 like it would have been great to know this when I was like 12 or 11 or 13. Like (it would have been great if) you and dad sat me down and said 'hey, you know what, we didn't know anything about it but we chose to do this.' I'm like pushing her and she's like just get me out of the car. She's still so uncomfortable talking about it and I'm like you have nothing (to be ashamed of) you did this the right way and ... I feel like we don't share our values and we don't share our stories.
For me, I didn't have sex before marriage; my wife did --she wasn't raised in the church – and so my kids know both of our stories and my wife can add a whole different conversation than I can and I feel like a lot of us have never talked through it with … our kids and then let alone with each other like how did your dating life or sex life prior to marriage how's that going to affect your marriage. We're scared and we're shameful so we just shelf it and then we get married and then sex isn't what we thought it would be – no wonder – it's awkward and then you don't do it and then you're roommates.
After years of doing this ministry, I met a guy this summer and he says, 'Craig, you know what, there's nothing out there for couples to have great sex.' I go, 'what do you mean; there's Cosmopolitan and 10 ways for this,' and he goes, 'no, I'm talking about my wife and I disconnected after basically our first year of marriage so I went to porn and then I went to strip clubs,' and his story just progressed downward and he's not blaming it on that, but he goes 'man we didn't have the counseling, we didn't have the help whereas if we would have figured this thing out, maybe I wouldn't have gone that way.'
There were a number of those conversations where I finally said to my wife, who never goes on camera, didn't want to do this, isn't a public person, is very private, 'Jeanette, I think we can offer something.'
CP: Why is sex so important?
Gross: I think it's physical and it's spiritual.
My wife jokes, I think on the series, if you're not having sex, you're just roommates and joking aside, I think there's something there. It's a benefit of being married but I think it's something that bonds you and bring you closer and it's something that's shared and obviously the most intimate thing you're going to do.
I'm convinced – I've heard it for years, people tell me our marriage is great but our sex life isn't, and I would really push into that like 'I don't think you can use those words and say we have a great marriage we just don't connect here.' But I would say this: I haven't met somebody who says my sex life is great, but my marriage is on the rocks. Most people I meet they go 'man, we've really worked through the sex stuff and we're connecting on a level there,' and those people I know, when I look at their marriages, [I see that the rest of their relationship] that's clicking as well because women aren't going to have sex with you when their marriage isn't going right. Men are probably open on that than women, but I think it's a real good indication there of how your marriage is really going and so without [sex] I think you're just selling your marriage short. You're missing out on not just a physical element but something that I think is going to connect you like nothing else.
But it is something that you don't just arrive there and go, 'oh, this is amazing.' I think it takes work, it takes time, it takes years sometimes but conversations will help you get there.
CP: You say that just as a couple's marriage should progress from where it started when you were newlyweds, their sex life should also be progressing. How does a couple do that?
Gross: I look at it as when you start, whether you've had sex or not prior to marriage, when you start having sex with your spouse for the first time, there's still [unrealistic expectations] as close as you are. My wife and I dated for three years and we hadn't had sex and I felt like we're not going to have any problems here. We talked through this and still though, guys probably have more of an unrealistic expectation of it's going to happen all the time, she's going to wake me up, you know all this stuff and when you realize, not walls go up but I feel like when things don't get talked about or when there's disappointment, or when I thought that would happen more or I thought it would be like this, frustrations in the bedroom come from people just not being willing to talk through likes and dislikes.
It is about being comfortable in the most intimate level kind of with your spouse.
I talked to a woman and her husband and she said 'I've never reached orgasm in nine years of having sex,' and she told me that with her husband there and it's like the first time that [she's said that]. And now it's like you're faking it, and two, you're embarrassed. That guy is obviously going 'I'm enjoying this,' she's not; she doesn't want to do it; she feels disappointed and now it's just frustration rather than let's work, let's work to figure out what do you need here and that's the part, especially in the Christian world, where just those conversations feel dirty. Well I would like it if you did this or what about if we tried this, and for some reason I feel like Christians especially, we shut that down like 'ew, I can't talk about that' or we feel like that's wrong.
The joke I made [in the series] about having sex with the lights on. I don't know many guys that aren't visual (no matter what their) wife looks like. They don't care at that point that their wife might have insecurities and so that's a hard thing. Most women, whether they're a model or not, everyone has insecurities and so it's easier to have the lights off and go under the covers. So when you just explain that and you watch the video and we talk though it, then a wife can go to her husband and say would you like to have sex with the lights on and he goes yeah and she goes that's uncomfortable for me but let me work on that for you.
Those are things that now I feel that you can start going 'I did this and that might help you and I would like this' and not feel dirty or gross and feel OK to have those conversations with each other.