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October 14 11a (ET) 2021

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Larry Doornbos:

Well, welcome everyone. Glad that you're here today. As we think about important issues that are facing the church in this particular moment, I'm Larry Doornbos, I'm director of Vibrant Congregations. And we sponsored these along with some wonderful partners, Center for Church Renewal, Pastor Church Resources, Luminex, Resource Resonate Global Mission, Resonate Church Planting, Pillar Church and the Women's Leadership Ministry of the Christian Reformed Church

Larry Doornbos:

And we do this month by month and next month we will have Jeff Weimer with us as he talks about the seven churches of the revelation. For those of you who had any exposure to Jeff, you know he just has amazing insights into that. He just finished a commentary on the seven churches. And so he's going to talk about that with us and give us some insights to that.

Larry Doornbos:

Today though, we're happy to have Sheila and Rebecca with us. Written a book called The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You've Been Taught and how to create a bright and good way of seeing sex and sexuality from the perspective of the scriptures. And so we're really excited to have you here. Sheila and Rebecca, thanks for taking your time today. Appreciate it.

Larry Doornbos:

And just a couple of quick notes. We ask that during the presentation that you remain muted and we will have a time for Q and A. And if you put your questions into the chat, we will go through those and we'll pass those onto Sheila and Rebecca and we'll go from there. But with that Sheila, Rebecca, I'm just going to turn it over to you and let you dive in with us.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Perfect. Well, thank you so much. It's good to see all of you here. And this is probably going to be one of the weirdest, Vibrant conversations that you've had so I just want to warn you right now. I write about sex all the time. I have been blogging at [sullivanandvacuum.com 00:01:52] since 2008. I started being a typical mommy blogger but I found the more I wrote about sex, the more my traffic grew. And so I kind of became the Christian sex lady.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

In 2012, the Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex was published. I wrote 31 Days to Great Sex. I traveled all over North America, giving sex talks. And so, because I talk about this all the time, things that most people find weird, I don't find weird. And so I'm probably going to say words that you don't normally hear very often in your daily conversations but they do, they do relate to our research. So just mourning that if there are kids around, you might want to put headphones in or something like that, that is the warning we want to give at the beginning. The other one I want to give this is my daughter Rebecca who works-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Hello.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

... with me. She's 38 weeks pregnant.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

And I've been having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions. So at one point I just started frowning at you really hard, it's not you, just give me a minute and I'll be fine. [crosstalk 00:02:51]-

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

... right now.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Wanted to give you guys a little bit of a warning there.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

What we want talk about today is a big project that we recently did to try to figure out if the way that the evangelical church, the church as a whole is talking about sex is actually hurting women's marriages and well people's marriages in general but we were looking at specifically from the woman's standpoint. And I'll give you a little bit of background on that and then Rebecca will tell you about the study.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

But as I said, I've been blogging since 2008, writing specifically about sex since 2010. And I've been putting out a ton of good advice. I think it's good advice anyway, I've done a ton of research, I've written how people can do better in this area and yet I found people were still having the same issues. No matter what I wrote, people came back to me with the same roadblocks that they just couldn't get over. And we were talking about this as a team, trying to figure out what the root problem was.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Then in the winter of 2019, I sat down and I actually started to read some of our best selling Christian sex and marriage books. It may sound strange, but I had never read them before because I always was so scared of plagiarizing that I shied away from reading other books. But when I read them and I saw what was actually being taught, I started to think maybe this is the problem. Because much of what's being taught in our books, isn't necessarily healthy if you look at it from an evidence-based standpoint. And that's where we decided to do something about it. I'm going to share my screen here, get our PowerPoint on and I will turn it over to Rebecca.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Yes. We wanted to ask whether or not what we are teaching in the church actually makes women's marriages and sex lives better or not. So what we did was-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

What we did was we actually together myself who has some training in psychometric practices together with Joanna Sawatzky, who is an epidemiologist, who is a wizard with statistics. And then obviously my mom, who was the expert in this particular field, we put together what is now been the largest ever study on evangelical women's marital and sexual satisfaction to date. We had over 20,000 respondents, which is unheard of for the length of survey that we had. It was over 137 questions for the shortest option. If people had been previously married, it was longer. And so it was pretty, it was a behemoth. It's pretty intense.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We did this survey to really assess three different things. We wanted to know what's marital satisfaction like? What's women's sexual satisfaction like? And then what do they believe? And we wanted to see how they all interacted. And the way we did this was by comparing and contrasting women of different beliefs, they're marital and sexual satisfaction.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We had a really wide range of respondents. We had some who were incredibly progressive, some who were incredibly conservative, some who had a mix of both. So what that means is we were able to actually tease apart what the real differences were for their sexual satisfaction and actually see which teachings have measurable impacts and are doing measurable harm on the women in our congregations.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Our study was not only a survey. We actually did four different kinds of research. We did a really thorough literature review of the current peer reviewed research in the field. That actually helped us develop our survey because that's how best practices work. Then additionally, we did focus groups and interviews with many women as a follow-up from our survey to tease out some of the intricacies behind these trends that we were finding.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Then we did a series of followup surveys as well, to get more into very specific questions that we had after we had analyzed the statistics from our original 20,000 person survey. I will say, we are so incredibly impressed with this work that we've done just to be like, you know we got to be proud of ourselves. We did a really big thing.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Currently our data set has been accepted into the ARDA, which is The Association of Religion Data Archives which is run by Andrew Whitehead. And it is the large database of all this religious research so that other researchers can use our data in their own peer reviewed research as well, which is just amazing. Overall, some of our big findings were that, the good news is Christianity is protective. Christians tend to have good marriages. Christians tend to be happier in their marriages, more satisfied in their marriages. Religiosity was really quite protective.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

However, it's more protective for marriage than it is for specific sexual satisfaction outcomes. For example, we have known since I think the 1960s that highly conservative Christians tend to have double the rate of vaginismus, which is sexual pain, double the rate than our non-religious counterparts. And so our survey also found this, that our religious women who took our survey were actually more likely to experience some negative sexual effects, even if their marriages as a whole were helpful. And so we were going to talk to you about some of the teachings and what exactly they did. But we don't believe that following Jesus should lead to worst sex.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay. So let's get back to basics because this is one of the big issues that we were to deal with in our study, is maybe we need to reframe all of this and get back to what the Bible intended, because somehow in our teaching we've gotten off track. Like Rebecca said, if you follow Jesus things shouldn't get worse, they should get better. If I were to ask you all to type in the chat box, which I will not do. But if I were to do it, if I were to ask you to type in the chat box, what is sex? I can almost guarantee that most of you would type some sort of version of man puts A into part B and then moves around until it climaxes and what we would be describing is intercourse.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

The problem with that definition is that she could be lying there, making a grocery list in her head. Okay. And some women do do that. All right. So she could be lying there, totally not engaged in the process. She could be lying there in emotional pain or she could even be lying there in physical pain and it would still count as having sex. And so when we talk about the importance of sex in marriage in our churches, when we tell couples that sex is so vital in marriage, if what they're hearing is intercourse is so vital in marriage, we're really missing out on her experience. And we're really talking about something which is really focused on his experience. And that's not the way the Bible talks about sex.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

If you look at biblically, when it's doing teachings on sex, there's three different things that I believe the Bible clearly says. First of all, it's mutual. In 1 Corinthians 7, everything that is given to the husband is also given to the wife. Okay, it's completely mutual. It's intimate. Genesis 4. There's that weird verse where it says, "Adam knew his wife Eve and they conceived a son." And those of you who are Hebrew scholars will know that the Hebrew word for know there, yadah is the same word that David uses later in the Psalms when he says, "Search me and know me oh God." It is this deep longing to be connected.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

God is telling us that sex is mutual, sex is intimate and we know from Song of Solomon, that sex is pleasurable for both. Okay, she's having an awfully good time to there. It's this mutual, intimate, pleasurable thing, it is not one-sided intercourse. And yet the way that we have often talked about sex has been about one sided intercourse, and that has impacted how our books have framed sex.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Because as pastors, you probably don't preach on sex that specifically from the pulpit. And I would say, thank you for that. That's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a time and a place for everything and that's not necessarily the time and the place, and it's not appropriate when there's young children when they're single people, et cetera, for some of these messages. And so often people turn to books and in our books, we're getting very strange messages.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

We're going to look at four specific teachings that we found were harmful for specific things that are often taught to couples and especially women that hurt sex. But in Lord of the Rings terminology for any [inaudible 00:12:00] king fans, you know how there's one ring to rule them all and one ring to bind them.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Well, the one ring, the one teaching that binds everything together is it can be summed up in this line by Emerson Eggerich in the best selling book, Love & Respect where he says, "If your husband is typical, he has a need you don't have." In other words, sex is for men. It isn't for women. And that is the way that it is often portrayed. We define sex in male terms and we leave her experience out.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

So the first teaching that we found had some demonstrating really negative effects for women was this teaching we see quite frequently that said, "Boys will push girls sexual boundaries." We have a lot of stats on this page. I'm going to tell you right now, we're going to give you a handout. I think Daniel has the link to a PDF that if you'd like to download it, you can see all of these stats in detail as well. If you wouldn't mind putting that into the chat that would be fantastic. Great. There it is right now. So anyone who wants to go and check that out, I'm not going to be reading through all of these as we go through.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And I do want to say too, this is just a summary-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Yeah.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

We have way more status than-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Yes.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

... this for each teaching that we're giving you. This is-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

This is-

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

... the book has tons of charts. If you're a chart person, you're going to love it.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

This is really quite a sneak peak. First of all, we see messages like this. That boys are going to push girls sexual boundaries. Told even as young as 12-year-olds. Shaunti Feldman's book For Young Women Only warns girls that 82% of boys have little ability and feel a little responsibility to stop and a makeup situation. Later in that same chapter, she tells girls that if you don't want to go all the way, it's better to not even start. These kinds of messages, if you grow up believing this, that makes sex a really scary thing. And we did talk to women in our focus groups as well [crosstalk 00:13:56]-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We talked to women in our focus groups as well, who had been victims of date rape or victims of other forms of assault, who because of messages like this, it took them over a decade to identify that what had happened to them had been assault and had not been their fault, for letting a boy go too far. This is toxic. And we see some really negative results in terms of women are less likely to orgasm when they're married. They're 59% more likely to only ever have sex because they feel they have to. I hope we can all agree that that sounds like a really bad sex life. Where you feel forced and it doesn't feel good.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Something we do in all of our chapters for this book is we take these negative messages that we've found have demonstrable harm, and we reframe them something healthy. Instead of saying, boys will push girls sexual boundaries, we should say it is natural to have sexual feelings. But you must decide with God what your personal boundaries are and make a plan to stick to them. But even more important than that, you must honor the boundaries of the person you're with. If the person you're with does not honor your boundaries, that is a red flag, that the relationship is not safe. Let's put the responsibility back where it belongs.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay. Here's another teaching that is very familiar. Many of you will recognize this. All men struggle with lust is every man's battle. Okay. Whole book series have been written about this. And it gain was one of the most problematic things that we found that women could believe. Here's an example, Stephen Arterburn in the book Every Man's Battle when discussing the problem of lust says, "Even apart from our stopping short of dog standards, we find another reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there naturally, simply by being male."

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

I'm not quite sure why men haven't gotten up in arms complaining about this, because this is a very low view of men. This is saying that God made women better than he made men, and he made a mistake when he made men. Another book in the same series, Every Heart Restored says, "Men just don't naturally have that Christian view of sex while women apparently do." And so it's saying that God made men to objectify women, and that is simply not biblical and it's not true and it is such a low view of men. And I hope that that men themselves will start fighting against this message because it isn't a good one.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

When women believe this message, they are, again, far more likely to have sex only because they feel like they must. They're far less likely to be aroused during sexual activity. Far more likely to be afraid their husbands will watch porn. And so this really impacts marital satisfaction as well. And what's interesting too, is this has implications, not just for a woman's sexual satisfaction but also for a marital satisfaction. And we have lots of charts for that in the book, but here's just one example. If you believe that all men struggle with lust year, also 51% less likely to report that your opinions are just as important as your husband's in the marriage. So it sets up a strange power dynamic in the marriage, too.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

There's something else interesting about this one. This is the one message that affects women, even if they never believe it. If they grow up in a church culture which teaches it, even if they never believe it, it impacts their sexual satisfaction and their ability to trust their mate. And if you think about it, if you grew up in a church culture where you're constantly told that all the men around you lust and that it's impossible for men not to lust, even if you know that it is possible for men not to lust, you start really distrusting the men around you. Because you're told you can't trust the men around you.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And the number of girls as teenagers who were told you need to be careful what you wear. My girls were told when they were younger, that when they were on praise teams, when they were 15, they needed to watch their skirts because the men in the front row might look up them. The men in the front row were all elders. Okay. So imagine how a teenage girl feels. Is she going to feel safe in church when that is the message that she's hearing. And what we know, this is now the long-term implications of that. When you hear this as a teenager, this is what happens to you once you get married.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

What do we say instead? Because a lot of guys might be thinking well, yeah, but guys do lust. Well, here's how we would change it. Instead of saying all men struggle with lust, you can say lust is a battle that many people struggle with. Let's not make a gendered. Okay. Men may frequently struggle with it more than women but many women struggle with lust too. And I think we often forget that picture when we talk about lust. Okay, many women can struggle with it too. However, in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin but we are slaves to the spirit and when the son sets you free, you are free. Indeed. You can learn to honor others as whole people made in the image of God.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

The third teaching that we found was this. A wife should have frequent sex to keep her husband from watching porn. Okay. I want to say something before I read the quote, because we were discussing this whole mentality, the three of us Joanna, my mom and me about how we can explain how offensive this idea that if your husband's watching porn, women should just in essence give up more sex so that he can stop watching porn, you're saying, that it's such an offensive message to women.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

And I said, as we were talking, "It's almost like you're treating women like sexual methadone. It's not the real thing but it's a good enough substitute that they'll be able to resist what they really want." It's like we're sexual methadone. And we thought, ooh, that's so good because that's so offensive. That'll get the point across. That'll that'll get people to understand how bad this is. We wrote posts on it and then later we read Every Man's battle and we saw this quote, "Once he quits cold Turkey, meaning porn be like a merciful vial of methadone for him."

Rebecca Lindenbach:

And methadone was actually advertised as a very positive thing that women can do for their husbands. And we were blown away because that is what we are being told as women. Is your husband wants to watch porn, but he'll settle for you. Your husband wants to watch porn but if you give him enough sex, he'll settle for you. Here's what happens when women believe this message, they're also 19% more likely to experience significant primary sexual pain.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

That means sexual pain to the point that when you have intercourse, it is either so painful you're not able to enjoy it or penetration is even impossible. That's how much pain that these women are in. That is a really big deal. They're also much more likely to be frequently afraid their husbands will look at porn or other women, which makes total sense. If you feel that your body is the only thing, holding your husband back from a computer screen, that's not a humanizing intimate mutual pleasurable experience.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And I want to jump in here too. I just want to say that porn and sex are not substitutes for one another, they're polar opposites. Okay. Sex is a mutual intimate knowing. It's saying, I want to experience something with you. Porn is saying, I want to use you for my own sexual gratification. Porn is inherently objectifying. And so they cannot, they cannot substitute for one another because they're actually polar opposites.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

When you've retrained your brain to develop a pornographic style of relating to women or to men, because women can get porn addictions as well. Sex cannot cure that because the problem is how you see sex and how you see the other, it is not that you weren't having enough sexual release.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

So what do we say instead? Instead of saying, women should have more sex to keep their husbands from watching pornography, what we should say is it is not your spouse's responsibility to keep you away from pornography. We are each to put to death sin in our own life.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Now this is actually the most dangerous teaching and the most common teaching. And it's that a wife is obligated to give her husband's sex when he wants it. We hear this often as the do not deprive message which is a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 7. And I'd be happy to talk about that in the Q and A how we see that passage If anyone has questions, we weren't going to do it right now. I can't actually see this whole quote because it's covered. But let me just sum up what Kevin Leman is saying in Sheet Music. He says oh, I now I can see it-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Okay. [crosstalk 00:22:47].

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Yes. There may be times when you have sex out of mercy, obligation or commitment and without any real desire. Yes, it may feel forced. It might feel planned and you may fight to stop yourself from just shoving your partner away and saying enough already. But the root issue is this you're acting out of love. You're honoring your commitment and that's a wonderful thing to do. And this is how it's often framed in our books.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Kevin Leman also talks about how, when a woman is postpartum or having heavy periods, she should help her husband out with what he calls a hand job, in order to help him so he's not climbing the walls. He's saying that women, when they aren't feeling well or postpartum, their concerns should be to help their husband get sexual release as opposed to being cared for themselves when they have legitimate physical needs. This is a really dangerous one. Women who believe this message are far less likely to reach orgasm and less likely to be satisfied with Humana foreplay that a husband does. But here's what I really, really want you to hear.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

We've been talking about how for years it's been known that Christian women have higher rates of primary sexual pain than the general population. Now it's funny because we don't tend to talk about women's sexual pain. Everybody knows erectile dysfunction. We all know that if you watch any game show, you'll hear about erectile dysfunction. We never talk about vaginismus and yet among couples under the age of 40 vaginismus is far more common. And again, it's the condition where the muscles of the vaginal wall contract, and it makes penetration very difficult if not impossible.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

We found that about 22% of women have experienced this, again, far higher than the general population and about 7% to the point that penetration was impossible. Now, when women believe the obligation sex message, that she is obligated to give her husband's sex when he wants it, her chances of having vaginismus increase almost to the same statistical effect as if she had been abused. Okay. So you can imagine that if a woman has abuse in her past, vaginismus is far more likely to occur.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Well, the obligation sex message our bodies interpret it almost the same way, because both of them are interpreted as trauma. Because abuse says to a woman, you don't matter, he has the right to use you however he wants. And the obligation sex message says the same thing. You don't matter. He has the right to use you however he wants. And women's bodies interpret this as trauma.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

When we did our study, one of the things that we did was we took a look not just at the teachings that harm, but we read the 10 best-selling marriage books and six iconic sex books. And we created a 12 point rubric for healthy sexuality so 12 markers of healthy sexuality teaching. And then we applied that rubric to our best sellers. And if you want access to that rubric and to the scorecard of how our best-sellers do, Daniel can put another link in where you can download that rubric. It's very helpful and you can see how the different books do on that rubric. But as we looked at these, one of the 12 markers, the one that did the worst was the obligation sex message. This is routinely taught in our books.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Think you're going to get the answer for that.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

So I have a question for you. What do you think, and I'm going to ask some of you to put... I hope someone will answer in the chat box. But what do you think is the missing word in our evangelical best-sellers? There is a that we could not find in any of the best sellers that we looked at and it relates to the obligation sex message.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We're going to give you a minute, there's often a lag with the Zoom.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Probably no one will know what to guess here.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Especially with the content matter is probably a little bit dangerous.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Yes. Okay. I'm going to let you think about that. I'm going to show you what the word is. Are you ready? It's the word consent. That is not in our evangelical best-sellers. In fact, in many of them rape is treated like it's not a big deal or it doesn't exist. Willard Harley and His Needs, Her Needs said, "Many men tell me they wish their sex drive weren't so strong as 132-year-old executive put it, I feel like the fool, like I'm begging her or even raping her but I can't help it. I need to make love." And then there was no discussion on how raping your wife is not okay.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

And if you feel like you're raping your wife, you should stop.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Yeah. And this is actually quite a key. And this is the one big thing that we would like people to change is to understand that when we do not allow a woman to say no, then she can't truly say yes. The ability to truly consent to sex means that you need to be able to say no. And we constantly give the obligation sex message, we can actually become spiritually abusive and become spiritually coercive towards women.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Instead of saying, a wife is obligated to give her husband sex, we can say sex is an important part of a healthy relationship and sex should always be mutual, intimate and pleasurable for both. Now what'll what people will often say to me is okay, but Sheila, if we don't tell women they have to have sex, they'll stop having sex. And this seems to be the concern that's in a lot of our bestsellers.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

I think this is why obligation is stress so much is because there's this fear that women don't really like sex and unless we tell them they have to have it, they'll stop. And to tell you the truth, I used to teach a lot of that. And this was the big mind shift that we made. I didn't have a lot of surprises in our survey data except for this.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And what we found, this is a big way that I have changed how I teach things, is that frequency is not a problem, frequency is not the problem when we talk about sex and yet that is what is often addressed. Come on people, you really need to have more sex, he really needs sex, he's getting frustrated. Frequency is not the problem, frequency is a symptom.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

When women frequently orgasm, when they feel emotionally close with their husbands during sex, when they have high marital satisfaction, when there's no porn involved on either part and where there's no sexual dysfunction frequency pretty much entirely takes care of itself. It's very rare in a marriage with all five of those things for sex to become infrequent. So when we focus on frequency, we're focusing on the wrong thing.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Women especially do not just decide to up and not have sex for no reason. They really don't. And so, we need to change the way we talk about this. The other big thing that we need to realize is that quite often it is not women saying no, it is men. We have the idea that women always have the lower sex drive. That's not true, and so we need to stop talking about sex in such gendered terms that men are visual, women aren't. Men want sex, women don't. In reality, it's only about 58% of marriages where he has the higher sex drive. In 19% she does and in 23%, it's shared. We need to stop talking in such gender stereotypes and gender essentialism and start seeing this as a more holistic approach.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

As we're talking to many of you who are church leaders and pastors, what I wanted to share was where are women actually getting these messages? Because like my mom said earlier, it's not exactly the case. That there's a lot of sermons going on about orgasm techniques in churches or all these very intense things about pornography.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

What we found in our survey was women reported that they were receiving these messages mainly from parachurch organizations, from the media, from Christian books, but also at their women's Bible studies and conferences that the churches were hosting. How should pastors respond then?

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

First, ask for evidence-based advice. We need to start asking, does this stuff work? And we need to recognize that not all books are equal. I used to think, they love Jesus, I love Jesus, we're all teaching the same thing. That's actually not true when we've proved it. On our 12 point rubric of healthy sexuality, for instance, Love and Respect literally scored zero out of 48. But, Boundaries and Marriage scored 42 out of 48. There is a big difference in how books handle this and we need to be aware of that.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Then watch what organizations you recommend because a lot of organizations are not doing a good job of this. Doctrine is not the only consideration when we recommend books and I think been the primary consideration, is do they teach about marriage in the same way that we do? But Jesus said that you can't put new wine into old wineskins. When you realize something is wrong, when you realize that we have to do things differently, then we have to change the way we talk about it.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

He told us that it's okay to judge the fruit. A good tree can't bear bad fruit. If we're seeing really bad fruit from a teaching, then the chances are that teaching is not of Jesus, because something from Jesus cannot bear bad fruit in this area and that should be a clue for us that we're doing something different.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Now, one of the things too, is we often hear, yeah, but these authors didn't mean to cause any harm. They were trying to help. And we totally agree. They were just trying to help. But we need to understand the difference between impact and intention. Because you can intend to do good and still do harm and the harm still matters, even if you didn't mean to do it.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Additionally, this is not merely a theological disagreement. The same way that, maybe we can have small quibbles or we disagree on this or that, but at the end of the day, women are not being assaulted as a response if it's a disagreement, but women are literally being assaulted in their marriages because of these messages. I will say every single woman that we have talked to experienced marital rape says the obligation sex message was a very, very, very big reason why she was raped so often in her marriage.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

This is not merely disagreements and it doesn't matter what the intention was. We need to care about the outcome that these teachings are having on the sheep and recognize that the impact and the harm needs to be the focus.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay, quick test for you. This is just something that I like teaching people how to do, to tell if a book is healthy. Because we need to know this, not just in marriage and sex, but in parenting as well. There are so many advice books out there that we can recommend, but we want to make sure that the advice that they're giving is healthy. Because a lot of the parenting, a lot of the marriage stuff, it's not necessarily based, while they might base it on the Bible, the truth is the Bible doesn't talk about a lot of the specifics. And so we are making a lot of inferences.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Here's a quick way, quick three-part way to check. First of all, look at the footnotes and there should be academic studies cited. If a book is healthy and if it's based on actual evidence and research, there should be academic studies cited. Those academic studies should be within the last 10 years. Check the Amazon one-star ratings for the book, because often if there's a big problem with the book, you will find it in the one-star ratings.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

If the one-star ratings for of the book are all stupid, chances are in the book is amazing. Then Google the author and the title of the book, along with the word abuse or controversy or review, all of this takes about three minutes and it's a good way to find out quickly if there might be some red flags. It will never tell you completely if a book is healthy or harmful. It's always good to read the book, but if you just don't have time, that's a quick way to see if a book is more likely to be healthy or harmful.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

And then our final call to you as Christian leaders is to enable and encourage your congregation to be Bereans in what they consume. The current church, your congregants for the first time in a very long time are getting, the majority of their teaching is not coming from the church. We found that in our survey. They're hearing things on the internet through radio broadcasting, through reading books. And so you don't have time to go through everything. We know that.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

But what you can do is your influence as the spiritual leader, as the pastors, as the leaders to teach people how to question, how to test it against scriptures, how to look for the fruit. And give them the bravery to stand up when things are not lining up with how Jesus wants them to be treated. Additionally, raise the bar for what counts as safe teaching. We can't simply slap the label Christian on it anymore. Purge your own church resources and libraries. You may very well not even know what's in the church library. A lot of times people just donate to church libraries and we don't check, so take the time.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We have a handy rubric that already has some bestsellers and their scores that were quite a bizmore. There is no reason to have them in your church libraries anymore because research has shown, they demonstrably harm marriages and sex lives. But also, when people are promoting a book study in your church. When people are wanting to start a small group study of a certain book or a certain video series from an author, make sure you're checking what they're doing.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Because women's Bible studies especially, are one of the places that were most cited as where our respondents got these harmful messages. It might seem very innocent and lovely, but it's worth taking a look.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

But then finally, our biggest call is please listen to women. Women, we have talked to so many who tried so hard for so many years to go to their pastors about what was happening in their marriage or about the harmful resources and some pastors handle this so well and some pastors figure they're overreacting. We just really want to encourage you to stop, really listen and consider the fact that for a very long time women's voices have been ignored.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

One of the reasons that we specifically surveyed women was that their experiences were nowhere in these books. It was so focused on the man's experience. It was a man's experience and the woman's obligation. We wanted to write the balance a little bit and what we're hoping is that all of you will help us in that fight to give both men and women a voice when it comes to these kinds of issues.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay, I will stop sharing my screen now and we can turn it back over to you, Larry.

Larry Doornbos:

Great. Put your questions in the chat. That'd be marvelous. But Sheila and Rebecca, I'm wondering as pastor deal with this kind of history of trauma and so on, you've mentioned a few things to do. But are there a couple of things that pastors and church leaders can do to get the ball rolling, if you will, for people to think differently about the way that we viewed this, the way that we've understood it?

Larry Doornbos:

And usually our space to do that right is the pulpit. But that's a very... A place where you are careful, as you said earlier, Sheila, with what you say. But are there a couple ways that a healthy culture can be more inculcated into a local congregation in a way that pastors can say, yeah, we can do that.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Obviously, we want people to buy our book, but I [inaudible 00:39:10]. I think encouraging women's ministry leaders to read the book. Because what we have found is that a lot of people who attend the Bible studies or the book studies are aware of these issues, but often the leadership is not. And so then the attendees are trying to get the leadership to change what books are studied, and they're not getting very far.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

So I think encouraging, especially the women who do mentor other women to read this and to just be more discerning about the books that they recommend. I think that's important. I also think having a culture where we really value trauma therapists and where we do refer out when people come, where it's acknowledged that the church is not always the expert. Because I think that's why we've gotten into this mess, to be honest. Is we think that we need to get parenting and marriage and sex advice from Christians because Christians know the Bible and therefore they're right.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

When actually, by ignoring real research, we've really done some significant harm. I think that there needs to be some acknowledgement of where we're out of our lane. And so I think referring out when someone comes to you and says, "I've got sexual abuse in my past." Saying, okay, you know what you need as a trauma therapist. I would be happy to walk with you about the spiritual implications of that, but I can't solve that for you. We need to send you to a trauma therapist who's changed an evidence based therapist.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

If that becomes more the culture of your church, where you really network with some very good... and they can be Christian, for sure, wonderful if the Christian, but people who are actually licensed and trained in this. As opposed to just thinking that we just need to give you a book.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I would say that this is not going to be the case for every single church either, but right now, the standard, the default that Christians have, that your congregants will have is if it's Christian, it's safe, for the most part. Even from the pulpit, you don't necessarily even need to talk with the nitty gritty parts of what's going on. But even just modeling that we can note that not everything that calls itself Christian is Christian from the pulpit might even just create a different atmosphere where, again, that Berean mentality is encouraged and supported.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Can I just say, that's one thing that CRC's really good at. One of the things I've always laughed at, this is just an aside, but like I said, I've spoken all over north America. I speak at all kinds of denominations. I happen to sell the most books at CRC things. You guys seriously read and you think. So you guys are really good at this, so maybe you guys can set the stage for everybody else.

Larry Doornbos:

Someone is wondering the role of menopause in sexual drive and satisfaction in those kind of things.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

This is really, there's a bit of a myth around this. And honestly, it varies so much from, from woman to woman. Some women actually find sex better after menopause because they're not worried about the period anymore, they're not worried about getting pregnant. They just feel better about themselves in general. And some women have a terrible time for like 10 years because they can't sleep. It can certain affect lubrication, it affects arousal, it affects all kinds of things.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

But I would just encourage women to go see a doctor or some other healthcare professional if they are having issues. But the idea that menopause is always bad is simply not true. For some women it is and for some women it's the opposite. And so I think we need to stop portraying into something which is always bad and just encourage people, hey, if it's bad, let's get you some help.

Larry Doornbos:

One of our folks on call, they serve seniors. And so they're saying, are there good resources out there to talk about healthy sexual relationships in the senior kind of community?

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

I know there are in the secular world. I don't know any in the Christian world per se. Carol Turski has written a good one, I think. But again, I really like her. It's secular, there's nothing wrong with it. But I can't think of anything in particular that's Christian. No.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We got a quick question I see. Someone's confused, what do we mean by be Berean? That's a biblical a story where-

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Acts 17, I think.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I think it's Acts 17. You guys can fact check us. Where Paul was praising the Berean group for testing the messages against what they knew to be true. And in essence, they were not just lapping up whatever was given to them, they were saying, "Okay, that's interesting. I'm going to go back and make sure." So we want to encourage.

Larry Doornbos:

Paul mentions, most young people get their ideas of sex from friends and social media and porn. In most conservative churches, including [inaudible 00:44:28] churches, the CRC doesn't talk about the topic of sex. What do you recommend for church leaders and pastors to do to respond to your excellent presentation for their churches?

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

I do think there needs to be a wider conversation, especially with our youth ministers and our campus pastors and our singles pastors, about how to talk about this in a good way. Let me tell you the story of a young man I know. He grew up, dated a lot, was very popular with girls because he was just a good looking nice guy. And he really did not struggle with porn.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

But he went to youth group every week and the youth group message was guys really struggle with porn. You can't watch it, but it's going to hook you. Because this is something which just, it objectifies women but it does it in a way that that just goes along with how men were wired and so men are wired to watch porn and he never felt drawn to porn and so he started feeling, "I am not a man. I am obviously not masculine enough." And so he started why watching porn so that he could be masculine because his youth group was telling him that masculine guys are tempted towards porn.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

We really need to change the way that we talk about porn, especially in youth groups and in singles ministries. It does need to be talked about. It is very serious, but I would talk about it as a temptation for both, but not something that everybody gets into because the stats just are wrong there. It isn't everybody. It isn't 80%. It is not everybody. Lots of people don't watch it.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Also I think the biggest message we need to be giving about porn, which is something which young people really, really will relate to is this is a sex trafficking issue. This is a human justice issue. When you tell people, when you watch porn and masturbate, you are masturbating to people being raped, they listen to that. I think instead of talking about how much of a temptation it is, we need to bring the social justice side into it because young people are really open to that message. As they should be. We all should be, but young people are especially open to it. Can I answer Jason's? Because I really like this question.

Larry Doornbos:

Yeah, go ahead.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay.

Larry Doornbos:

I haven't read it, so if you would say what it is, that'd be great.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Yeah. He's asking, what is the difference between lusting and noticing? This is really key, because I think so many men have been fed a lie which has caused hyper vigilance and shame. Because we have basically told young men that lusting means that you're attracted to someone and you're going to start imagining them naked. And so we have pathologized male sexuality. We have pathologized heterosexual males.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Jesus said, "Whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery." So we have a deliberate action paired with a deliberate mindset. He did not say, whoever notices a woman has a nice body has lusted. He did not say whoever sees a woman with a good body has lusted. He didn't even say whoever looks at a woman has lusted. He said, "Whoever looks with lust."

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And the solution to lust is not to stop looking at women or to avoid women. It's to choose to see women as whole people. Because even if you bounce your eyes so that you don't look at women, which is what's been suggested to men, you're still treating women like sex objects. Jesus did not refuse to look at women. Jesus chose to truly see women and that's the difference. We need to equip our young men to truly see women because they can. They are completely equipped for it.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I think from talking to a lot of men and from just frankly also from my own personal experience growing up in this culture, what I've seen happen quite frequently is these young men are in a youth group where they're trying to so hard to be chased. They're trying so hard to follow Jesus. They want to respect the women around them. And then they're told in essence, if you ever think about a woman's body, you have lusted.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Thinking about a woman's body is not lust. Thinking about hands doesn't mean I'm lusting after hands. It's just that we need to not pathologize it. But what happens then is you have these boys are going through puberty and then, you know what happens with boys in puberty and they get the unwanted erections that add absolutely everything by the way.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I think it can become this anxiety response where the smallest amount of physiological arousal creates this intense fear that they're about to objectify. Intense fear, they're about to do something wrong. Rather than just allowing all of us to recognize, you know what, you're going to find people attractive. Your body might even respond. Just move on. It's not a big deal. Because you can move on. You're not a slave to this.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

This is not some automatic brain wiring that's going to force you to start picturing some woman in a sexual position. That's not what's going to happen, but that is what our boys are being told. And as the mother of a young son, I'm quite passionate about this and I want this to change because I don't want to see the next generation of young men and grow up with shame about simply being male. And we need to be able to have a more nuance conversation about it.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

If I were to say to you all, don't think about pink elephants, what's the first thing you're going to think about? Pink elephants, and that's basically what we're doing to our young boys. Is we're creating this hypervigilance and shame that doesn't to be there. And we're also ignoring the fact that in the younger generations, if you look at gen Z girls, they are just as visually stimulated as men.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

It's a misnomer that guys are more visually stimulated than women. Increasingly brain studies are coming out and saying that's far more cultural. And in the younger generations it's become culturally acceptable for girls to stare at guys' bodies as well. And so when we present this as only a male problem, we actually pathologize girls who have real sex drives and so that can become a problem later too.

Larry Doornbos:

Rebecca, I'm guessing you're laughing because you said gen Z. We were having conversations earlier about the difference between Z and Z depending on which side of the border you're living on. But so if you were living in a semi perfect world of a youth group and you wanted to teach guys to see the girls holistically and gals see the guys holistically, what are a couple things you'd do to really build that holistic vision into that youth group?

Rebecca Lindenbach:

First thing I would advise is leadership should have strong men and strong women for the teens. Having people that you can go to and respect that are both sexes, I think can be a really good and healing experience, especially for kids who may not have a strong father or a strong mother figure at home. I think that can be really helpful.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Additionally, we talk about sex so much with teenagers and I'm not actually sure how necessary that is. I think we need to have the information of course, but when we're currently... I'll tell you, we're currently working on our next project which is to talk to mothers and daughters about these kinds of messages.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

What we've just found is, especially in the materials that are geared towards teenagers, the idea of following Christ is almost synonymous with sexual purity and our teenagers deserve a bigger faith than just whether or not they've seen something on the internet or whether or not they've had sex. I think that the hyper focus on sexuality has in many ways actually created the problem.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I'll tell you, I married a man who did not grow up in the church, grew up in a very secular atheist family. And I have had a very similar experience as many other women in my shoes where, when we started dating these guys, we were expecting them to be so hyper focused on our clothes or bodies or we ran by modesty checks by them and stuff and they just didn't get it.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

Because they had not been raised to think about is that woman showing too much skin for me? Am I going to be tempted by her. Is she being a temptress? Is she dressing like a seductress? Rather, they just kind of grew up with women wear clothes because it's comfortable and of course they're going to notice. But because it wasn't a big fear tactic that they grew up with as they were hitting puberty, it just doesn't affect them in the same way.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I think that by creating all these really strict rules in their youth groups, in some ways we're actually putting our, especially our boys at a disservice because they then can't function in the real world. Because they're not used to this kind of environment.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Here's one interesting word picture, literally. We ran the words that we saw in the books written to teenage girls words in the New Testament through a program, so that we could figure out which words were far more likely to appear in one than the other. When you look at them, the biggest word that was in the mother daughter, that was in the books to teenage girls was the word sex.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

It was so big that you couldn't read any of the other words that were different, and so we had to remove the word sex so that you could then see what all the other words were. It was huge. Basically the only thing we talked to our teenagers about is sex. We should also be talking to them about how they spend their money, how they treat others. About justice, about all kinds of stuff. This is not the only thing and I think we would do a lot better if we stopped talking about sex so much and started talking about just loving Jesus. Because if you want kids to follow a biblical sexual ethic and to follow Jesus in their sex lives, they need to be following Jesus first.

Larry Doornbos:

Besides your excellent book, what are a couple three other resources, books, podcasts, whatever it may be that you would say, this would really be helpful in shaping and forming.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Oh gosh. It's not that we haven't thought about this question.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

We've thought a lot about this.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

There's a remarkable lack of how this sounds. The Gift of Sex by the Penners scored really well. We really like that book, Gift of Sex by the Penners. In terms of podcasts, there's some really good podcasts looking at the impact of purity culture on people. The Where Do We Go From Here podcast is really good. There are two women with a biblical sexual ethic, but trying to navigate how to talk about sex or think about sex in a healthy way when you grew up in purity culture. Their guests do not always adhered to a biblical sexual ethic, but it's-

Rebecca Lindenbach:

It's always an interesting conversation.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

It's an always interesting conversation. Lot of good books written about the effect of purity culture. I'm saying this word. Does everyone know what purity culture is? Maybe I should define it. People-

Larry Doornbos:

Go ahead and define it. That'd be marvelous.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Okay. It was really big in the '90s and the odds up to about 2010. It was epitomized by Josh Harris as, I kissed Dating Goodbye. The idea was that it's not... because we do believe in a biblical sexual ethic. But it became more than that. It became that it was highly legalistic and people's worth was defined by their purity, which was defined by virginity, which is a horrible message for sexual assault victims, by the way.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

But just to give an example of how toxic this was, the book, When God Writes your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, had an anecdote where a couple that were both virgins started dating and they ended up having sex. And then the conclusion of it was that she had given up her most precious treasure and now she had nothing to offer. But they had both been virgins, but it was only her who had given up her most precious treasure.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

And so we were defining girls by their virginity. And thankfully, that has gone. We've largely seen the danger in pathologizing dating relationships in general. But we're still trying to navigate what then is a healthy message and I don't think the church has completely figured that out. I don't know a lot about Esther Perel.

Rebecca Lindenbach:

I don't either.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

I know that she's quite controversial and there's quite a lot of wondering about whether, I think she pays a lot more attention to the cheaters in the relationship rather than the person who has been betrayed and there's some concern about that, is that she gives a lot of the people who've committed infidelity, the last word on what's up with their relationships. I know that's one critique of hers, but I honestly have not read her book so I could not say if that critique was correct or not. I have just heard that. Anything else? I don't know what-

Larry Doornbos:

No, but just thank you. Thank you both for being with us today. Appreciate it very much. Really insightful and helpful. We look forward to how this begins to play out in the congregations and leaders and so on that have heard the message and hopefully many more will hear it as we go along. Thank you so much.

Sheila Wray Gregoire:

Thank you. It's been great being here.

Larry Doornbos:

Good. We are going to be back again next month, as I mentioned with Jeff Weimer. And also in the last couple of months, Vibrant has begun something new called Vibrant Leadership Devotionals. You can sign up for those. They come out every Tuesday morning. But we look forward to seeing you all next month and have a good rest of your day.