Women and Pornography

Resource Review: The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Uncover What God Intended since the moment I knew it was going to exist. As a writer tackling issues of sex and sexuality in the church, I’m a fan of Sheila’s work. The conversation on sex in the church needs to change. That’s just a fact.

So, when Sheila and her daughter, Rebecca, started down this path of addressing lies women believe/are taught about sex, I jumped in support. I gladly donated a stack of old Brio magazines for their research.

A couple months ago, I reviewed Talking Back to Purity Culture by Rachel Joy Welcher, and felt The Great Sex Rescue would be much of the same. Talking Back to Purity Culture chipped away at many of the often harmful purity teachings I was familiar with growing up. I anticipated The Great Sex Rescue would be the married person’s equivalent.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I found.

To be 100% clear, from the beginning, I’m writing this as someone who fully supported the premise of this book. I took the survey, shared it with my followers, and even joined the launch team. They even share my story in the chapter on pornography. As a member of the launch team, I had access to an early copy of the book but because I was away from social media, I was unable to download it. In keeping with my personal policy on reviews, I bought my own copy and had to wait for it to arrive. Then, I took the time to read every word.

So this review isn’t written by someone who heard from someone who heard from someone about this book. The only reason it’s being written now and not sooner is because I hadn’t finished reading the book yet. It’s not in response to anything else that may or may not be going on with this book. I also have no loyalties or connections to any of the other authors who are mentioned in the book. I’m going to base this review on the book itself and answer the questions:

What did I expect?

What did I find?

Would I recommend it? 

What I expected from The Great Sex Rescue

“Expect” might be a strong word. Perhaps, “hope” would be a better way to summarize how I felt approaching this book.

I know the church has mishandled sex. We’ve approached it wrong for decades now. Layering it with fear and shame and ultimatums and robbing it of all of the beauty and intimacy it is meant to have. In many ways, the church’s approach to sex very much mirrors that portrayed by pornography – women are sexual objects, men are sex-crazed monsters, and it’s all about his release. There is no intimacy. No knowing. No connection of persons. Just a connection of bodies.

I’ve said it before but when the message from behind the pulpit is indistinguishable from the message of pornography, we have a problem. 

When I had a panic attack in the months leading up to my wedding, it wasn’t because of pornography. It was because the message the church was sharing wasn’t any different from pornography. Both told me my husband was going to turn into this maniac who demanded sex day and night and that I owed it to him as his wife. That was my job. And that was, frankly, terrifying.

No, thank you. I would rather stay engaged forever.

I grew up in a Christian culture that was filled with lies about men and sex and what Godly sexuality looked like. One example that I’ve shared before is at youth camp, where the youth pastor gave a sermon (read: lecture) on modesty. He told the story of “Big Bertha” (complete with puffed out cheeks and a dramatic waddle) who loved pies and had to walk by a pie shop every day. One day, she had had enough and she broke into the pie shop and started eating all the pies. Can you blame her!?

Yes. Yes, actually you can.

For the purpose of his message, the correct answer was “of course not.” And the parallel was drawn comparing young boys to Big Bertha and the female body to pies. Our poor, apparently defenseless, brothers in Christ were being exposed to sexual images and scantily clad women every day. As sisters in Christ, we were obligated to dress modestly to help them, but even that might not be enough. After all, between the malls and the beaches, and all the heathens in their crop tops, could we really blame them when they just off and raped someone?

(Yes. Absolutely you can. In fact the blame always has, always does, and always will fall squarely on the rapist/abuser.)

I had always been taught that if a man sees a scantily clad woman, he gets aroused, and when he gets aroused, he has to act on it. That’s why modesty was so important. As a woman, I could actually force a man into a situation where he had no choice but to sin.

Imagine my shock relief when my husband could watch me undress twice a day without demanding sex… and without dying, or being aggressive, or manipulative, or cranky, and so on. See, my husband has this nifty fruit of the spirit called self-control. This means he’s not a sex-crazed maniac and sex in our marriage is actually consensual and not obligatory in any way. It’s great. 10 out of 10. Highly recommend.

So even though I never read a single book addressed in The Great Sex Rescue, I know plenty of the lies.

I was hoping that The Great Sex Rescue would be a resource that I could give to women who may believe many of the same lies. Like the best book on sex in marriage ever. The book I wish I had been able to find before I got married (note: I have yet to find a good, not gross, unillustrated book on sex in marriage).

What did I find in The Great Sex Rescue?

As I dove into the pages, I found a book that seemed to be confused about its voice and mission. I found myself wondering, “Is this a research project? Or is it a critique of these other books? Or is it a helpful guide for women? Or is it just a beefed up 31 Days to Great Sex (another one of Sheila’s books)?”

In reality, it’s a bit of all of those. And that can be confusing. One moment you’re reading a beautiful, inspirational story, the next you’re knee-deep in bar graphs. Even as a former high school math teacher and someone who crunched data for a major medical office, I found myself scratching my head trying to understand some of the graphs that were in there. It was distracting at times. Partly because if I’m a woman who needs this information, I actually don’t care what percentage of other women do. But I understand that’s just my perspective and other women may be very encouraged by all of the graphs and data.

Basically, the book I was hoping for is in there. It’s just blended up with a couple other books making for a 250+ page book smoothie. It’s trying to address too many people in one book: talking to women who have been wounded, talking to their husbands, talking to researchers/counselors, talking to pastors, talking to couples. It becomes noisy, almost like sitting in a crowded restaurant. I personally like books that talk to me, not to me and ten other groups of people.

In the beginning chapters, the aim of the book seems to be less at the lies themselves and more at other books that perpetuate lies. That’s unfortunate, because there are women out there (like myself) who have never read a single one of these “other” books but are still grappling with the lies.

Ultimately, books and teachings don’t exist in vacuums; they exist in cultures. An author can come up with the most bizarre worldview, but without a following, he has no platform. Without endorsement from pastors, marriage counselors, and others, no one is going to listen to him. But when your culture already follows the “Big Bertha” line of logic, when an author comes along with a book supporting that line, the culture is going to endorse it and promote it. And when those cultures are run on the basis of unquestionable authority, narcissism, abuse of power, or misogyny, then yes, the messages they endorse are going to be far less than healthy.

In the end, it’s not the messages that needs changed. It’s the culture. Change the culture and you starve the message. 

The Great Sex Rescue, though, seems to start off more concerned about targeting specific lies in specific books. It cites the results of its survey as grounds for being able to do so. And I get it. I’ve spent ten years trying to advocate on behalf of women who struggle with pornography in the church. Statistically, they don’t even make up a majority, but they need to have a voice and place for grace. So I understand the desire to go trumpeting in and toppling giants.

I also know, from experience, the vehement, fire-breathing, “you messed up” approach does not work. 

When I first started speaking out about women struggling with pornography, I was angry at the church. They had gotten it wrong and had failed me and hundreds of thousands of other women. The silence of the church, their shame-filled messages about sex, all of it was wrong. And I went after it- hard. If you were reading my posts back in 2009, you probably saw that heat, that anger. That frustration.

Not surprisingly, churches didn’t want me to come speak. Magazines didn’t want me to write for them. Something about, “Let me show you how you’re doing this wrong” puts people on edge. All that did was make me more frustrated. They wouldn’t listen!

(Looking back, I can’t really blame them. If someone just busts in the front door of my house screaming at me, my first response is not going to be to invite them to sit down for a cup of tea. I’ll punch first and ask questions later.)

One day, a man came along and said, “You know, you’ll probably be more effective if you stop attacking the church and start equipping it.”

As tempting as it is for those of us who know otherwise to go for a kill shot and start chopping off heads of snakes, it isn’t effective. No pastor- not one- ever changed their tone after I was done telling them they had failed women. But I’ve had them line up at my table, tears in their eyes, when I’ve instead shown them God’s heart for the women under their care.

So the heat in the first few chapters of The Great Sex Rescue felt all too familiar, and deadly. In fact, it broke my heart. I looked at my husband and said, “I don’t think I can keep reading this” and debated picking up my copy of We Too by Mary DeMuth and reviewing that instead.

As I continued reading, the voice of the book started to become clearer. Then it clicked for me.

The Great Sex Rescue is an advocacy book.

It’s three women standing up for women who are hurt and wounded. They are standing up to the bully on the playground, so to speak, and proving their point using statistics and stories from those women. It is not a book for women who grew up in systems of lies. It is a book for women who have been hurt by these other books. It’s letting them know they are not alone. It’s coming to their rescue. Hence, I assume, the title.

I will say I love the last few chapters of the book. As the authors veer away from their bar graphs and excerpts from other teachings and begin to really address the issues and truly speak to women instead of for them, the book takes on an almost redemptive quality. The feisty warrior tone at the beginning starts to calm. It seems to shift more to addressing and encouraging the reader directly. It’s almost like they said, “Now that we’ve punched the bullies in the face, let’s take care of all the people they beat up.” And there’s absolute gold, grace, and redemption in this part of the book. I actually wept a bit reading the last few chapters because it’s there that you can see the true heart.

I got teary-eyed as Rebecca shared her post-partum recovery journey and the response of her husband, Connor. I nearly threw the book when I read the comments from some of the men on the blog complaining that their wives got to take six weeks “off” after childbirth. “Can you believe these guys?!” I said to my husband. That’s the book I was hoping to find, and it’s in there. It’s just buried alive under a pile of research and, for lack of a better word, angst. You have to be willing to comb through a hundred pages of “confrontation” in order to find the hope and the beauty tucked away.

Who would I recommend The Great Sex Rescue to?

Unfortunately, because of that, and because this is more an advocacy book, the list of people I would recommend it to is fairly short.

  • It could be very helpful for marriage and family counselors as it could help them spot underlying lies that might be causing issues in marriages.
  • If a counselor or therapist identified a couple who had been influenced by these other books, then this could be a helpful resource for them to work through together.
  • It could be very helpful for pastors to help confront lies believed in their congregations.
  • If I walked into a friend’s house and noticed they had 3 of the “other books” on their shelves, or if they were trying to endorse one of the “other” books, I might give this to them.

For women who have been directly hurt by the teaching of these other books, I’m sure The Great Sex Rescue would help them feel validated, seen, and heard. I don’t discount or discredit their stories and their overwhelmingly positive reaction to having their stories heard. 

In fact, I have friends who love this book. Many of them connect with it because they used one of the “other” books as part of their premarriage counseling or read them while they were engaged. They’re finding freedom in these pages, and that’s important to acknowledge.

But for women like myself, who do not know these other books, there’s not much that is helpful. I found myself feeling like needed to read all the other “bad” books just so I could see what they were really talking about.

Authors are more than welcome to critique the other books and include research. Talking Back to Purity Culture is a critique of books on singleness and purity, and Unwanted by Jay Stringer is based on a survey he conducted. I recommend both of those books. As far as The Great Sex Rescue, I think you could keep all the same content and just restructure it into a much more effective resource.

I’ve seen other people on the launch team buying The Great Sex Rescue in bulk to give to everyone they know. I won’t be that person. I won’t be leading a small group study on it, or handing it out to my friends who are getting married. It’s not that type of resource, in my opinion.

Overall, my issue with The Great Sex Rescue wasn’t so much the content as it was the tone. 

At first, I wondered if I was off on my perception. But, as I’ve slowly come back into social media, I’ve seen that isn’t the case. I’ve been reading Facebook posts and comments and statements issued by authors involved. There is a combative nature that surrounds this book and the defense of it. People are taking sides. Lines have been drawn in the sand and there is, unfortunately, very much an “I’ll show you” attitude accompanying much of the discussion on this book.

At the end of a recent blog post confronting teachings by Emerson Eggerichs, Sheila asks readers to share the post and, in her words, this is why: “The more people who see this, the more authors and speakers like this will understand that if they try to silence or threaten me, it will turn out badly.” (source)

Did his teachings need to be confronted? Absolutely and I do actually encourage you to go read the post written by Sheila’s son-in-law, Connor.

But, that attitude is wrong. When we see examples of Biblical confrontation, even in public, they are not accompanied by an attitude of “Don’t tread on me.” They are not accompanied with threats and personal attacks. In fact, that attitude of “don’t you dare question me” is one of the pillars of the aforementioned toxic cultures. It’s even a trademark of abusers. It is not an attribute of Christ.

Even if people are unrepentant after confrontation, we are never instructed to “teach them a lesson.” That’s not our place. We may confront, but any and all change comes from God and the Holy Spirit’s conviction, not us. I love this passage in 2 Timothy 2:

The servant of the Lord must not participate in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone [even-tempered, preserving peace, and he must be], skilled in teaching, patient and tolerant when wronged. He must correct those who are in opposition with courtesy and gentleness in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and be led to the knowledge of the truth [accurately understanding and welcoming it], and that they may come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 AMP- bold emphasis mine)

When people are hurt or hurting, it is right and good and Godly for us to come to their defense. It is right and good and Godly for us to confront lies and false teachers. It is right and good and Godly for us to call out sin. But we do that in humility for the purpose of reconciliation and seeing God glorified, not in our own strength, armed with our own data, so that we can show every other publisher and author what for. I get the passion and the desire to defend, but there is a point when passion becomes poison.

For every person wounded by a teaching, there will be five more who are in love with it, no matter how toxic. That’s why it’s a best-selling teaching. If it hurt everyone who read it, no one would read it.

The survey results don’t talk about the women who read these books and were unaffected or even encouraged. That’s something I would be interested in. What makes them different? Why did the same book affect one woman one way and another woman another? Why would it destroy one marriage while saving another? Is it because of how she views books? Is it because of the man she married? Is it because of how she was raised? Is it personality? Is it because of how she views marriage in general? Is her marriage actually healthy? Where’s the other side of this story, because I want to see that. If we’re going to do a research project, I want to see the cultures that influence these messages. Are there certain things that make women more vulnerable to be wounded by or resistant to these messages?

A Double Standard

As a final note, one of the authors quoted positively in The Great Sex Rescue also authored a book on marriage that my husband and I were gifted during our first year of marriage. We read it together and while there was some great insight and good takeaways, we disagree with several of the teachings in that book. So, when I saw his name pop up in The Great Sex Rescue, I did a double take and ran to our office bookshelf because I was pretty sure it was the same author and couldn’t believe they were pointing to his work (albeit a different book) as some great reference in a book trying to save sex and marriages.

One chapter of his book, for instance, talks about how spouses should strive to be as close as they can to the person their spouse married. If you were a fitness buff when you got married, then it’s wrong, inconsiderate, or even unloving for you to stop being that. This is a lie directly confronted in The Great Sex Rescue (chapter 11) when the book His Needs, Her Needs is called out. The language quoted from His Needs, Her Needs as a critique is almost the exact same wording as this “good” author used in his book. Yet, one author is essentially being vilified while the other is being praised simply because another of his books scored high on their grading scale.

The fact that this “good” author and his teaching is viewed in a positive way despite some questionable stances, makes one wonder, what about the “wrong” authors mentioned in The Great Sex Rescue? Is the point to call out the lies, no matter who wrote them or is the point to attack these specific books, their authors, and their ministries?

To be completely fair, I don’t mind sifting through information. For instance, even though I disagree with the aforementioned “good” author on many of his points on marriage, I still ordered one of his newer books. Why? Because I’m not expecting any author to be Jesus. Authors are not infallible. Sheila and her team– not infallible. Yet, even infallible authors can make really good points. (I’m going to write a bit about this in the next post, because I think the idea of personal responsibility and critical reading/thinking is important.)

Going after specific books or authors is not effective. People will defend their leaders and loyalties to the bitter end. Should we be fiercely loyal to authors? No, but we know that’s not the case.

We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture here. We can never forget the culture and the real war we’re fighting here:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

The message of sex in our churches is so clouded by lies and abuse and misuse. It’s so saturated by brokenness, selfishness, shame, and pain. Hearts are broken before they even attempt to bond and as long as the culture that causes this is in place, book after book will peddle the lies.

We also can never forget who the real Rescuer is. And it isn’t anyone of us.

The Great Sex Rescue misses the mark for me.

The book I hoped for is in there, but it feels overshadowed. People will disagree with me, and I’m fine with that. I know there are people out there who are in love with this book, just like there are people out there with five star reviews for every single book mentioned in it. Just like Sheila and her team feel that the aforementioned “good” author is good, even though he himself teaches some of the lies they are confronting. I know Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna’s intent is to see women find healing and freedom, and I applaud that. I just can’t personally get behind the aggressive starting position and what could be considered a “double standard.”

If I gave stars, I think I’d give it 3.

There is great stuff buried in there, but I try to never hand someone a book if it also needs a shovel.