Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Eikon.
Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky. The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2021.
According to the authors of the book, The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended, evangelical Christianity needs a new understanding regarding sex. Writing primarily to Christian women, while also periodically addressing men, the authors repeatedly state their goal to “deconstruct harmful ideas” from the prima facie view of marital sex (36). Using sociological data, the authors “want to call Christians back to first principles about sex the way God intended” (13). By seeking to redefine definitions, interpretations, and expectations, the book’s focus is to give Christian marriages greater intimacy, sex, and marital satisfaction.
Sheila Gregoire joins her daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach, and epidemiologist Joanna Sawatsky to ask the question, “Are Christian women having great sex,” and if not, why not? To answer these questions, the authors surveyed over twenty thousand evangelical women “about their sex lives, their marriages, their beliefs about sex and marriage, their upbringing, and more” (11). The goal of the book is to determine if evangelical teaching is the culprit for marital dissatisfaction. To make this determination, the authors selected the top thirteen rated Amazon books on Christian marriage (and a secular bestselling marriage book as comparison) that discussed sex and evaluated them as either harmful or helpful. The assessment found the great majority of Christian marriage books to be inadequate (and explicitly labeled them as harmful) due to their teaching in the categories of infidelity and lust, pleasure and libido, and mutuality. Popular books such as “Love & Respect,” “His Needs, Her Needs,” and “Every Man’s Battle” were especially rated as harmful.
The authors address various aspects of sex and sexuality in the book — everything from mutual pleasure, understanding spousal preferences, lust, and obligation intimacy. Potential readers should be wise to the fact that although the book is not sordid, it is blunt about sex. Throughout the book, the authors share personal anecdotes from women who participated in the survey regarding their marital intimacy. These often-heartbreaking accounts involve marital dissatisfaction in intimacy, selfish husbands, and internal strife regarding sex. Though Scripture is periodically mentioned, the primary authority for the book’s teachings derives from the testimonies and sociological data. Each chapter contains copious amounts of graphs as proof for various marital assertions. The book concludes with encouragement for women and admonitions to both men and ministry leaders.
The Great Sex Rescue is a classic example of highlighting a problem without sufficiently contributing to its solution. While the authors helpfully critique some problematic teachings, they fail to provide a biblical remedy. Faithful Christians will appreciate the exposure of sinful behavior in marriage, such as the demand for sex. Christians ought to be the loudest proponents condemning marital abuse and rape, as the authors make plain — “marital rape and sexual assault, whether by physical force or coercive threats, are real and wrong” (186).
This book also excels in arguing against selfishness in marital intimacy. God did not design sex to be a manipulative tool used by spouses for personal gain. Marital satisfaction comes from reflecting Christ to one another. Recognizing the necessity of kindness in marriage, the authors contemplate, “what would happen if we saw sex as an opportunity to mirror Christ’s servanthood to our spouse?” (201). In a culture transfixed with sex as a machination for self, The Great Sex Rescue clearly calls for sex to be mutually beneficial, desirable, and pleasurable. Though I personally have not read the critiqued bestselling Christian marriage books, I found the authors’ assessments of ill-advised anecdotes and marital tropes to be refreshing.
In my assessment, however, the helpful points in The Great Sex Rescue are outweighed by some significant errors. My concerns begin with the book’s authority — the sociological data. While this data may be helpful, it cannot be considered definitive. Bias in data analysis is real precisely because no one impartially reads data. When sociological data becomes the definitive authority, preconceived notions shape how we interpret the data. Correlation does not always equal causation, and survey questions ascertaining women’s preconceived beliefs regarding marital intimacy often miss outlying context that shapes their experience. Marital dissatisfaction could result from unbiblical teaching, but it could also be exacerbated by unfulfilled expectations, felt needs, or identity crises. Though the authors present their sociological findings as authoritative, similar studies directly contradict the conclusions in The Great Sex Rescue. A 2019 World Family Map sociological report finds, “highly religious traditional women being significantly more likely to be sexually satisfied than women in all other groups – including highly religious progressive women.” Many factors shape data, making sociological studies helpful but insufficient for final analysis. Applicable parts do not justify a whole argument. Discerning readers should cautiously evaluate sociological data as part of the issue, rather than the coup de grâce of the argument.
Data interpretation also varies based upon one’s theological worldview and framework. The authors’ presented worldview raises concerns for those committed to biblical complementarianism. The authors make a critical error in conflating biblical gender roles as causative for abuse and marital dissatisfaction. “When we set up marriages where a husband has decision-making power, we create marriages in which his opinions, by definition, matter more than hers…sex suffers and marriages crumble” (33). This conclusion is based upon preconceived ideology rather than objective fact. The 2019 World Family Map found a contrary conclusion, “Our analysis of shared decision-making patterns proved to be more balanced across relationship types and gender ideologies…traditional women in highly religious couples reported similar levels of shared decision-making as their secular progressive counterparts.” Consequently, the authors of The Great Sex Rescue commit a red herring fallacy when conflating biblical male headship as determinative for male dominance. The two are not the same. Paul clearly defines gender roles in Ephesians 5:22-33, calling husbands to lead selflessly like Christ and for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. While the authors admonish husbands to be kind to their wives, the book is conspicuously silent on calling wives to biblically submit to their husbands. More troubling is the authors’ recommendation to abandon biblical language in lieu of an acceptable alternative — “Instead of saying, ‘You do not have authority over your body; your spouse does [1 Corinthians 7:4],’ say, ‘God wants sex to be a mutual, loving experience’” (178).
The book, then, not only wrongly bases its conclusions on inconclusive sociological data, but it wrongly assumes that complementarianism — the Bible’s teaching on gender roles — leads to abuse. The book lacks balance regarding the roles of husbands and wives and therefore points readers away from consistent biblical teaching. Faithful Christians must be clear — the answer to marital abuse is a return to biblical complementarianism, not an overcorrection to a caricature of the biblical teaching.
However, my greatest concern with The Great Sex Rescue is the lack of clear, biblical explanation of God’s purpose for sex. The book’s emphasis regarding sex leans toward a humanistic understanding of intimacy. Rather than setting the focus of sex on its ultimate end — to glorify God — the book prioritizes sex as a subjective, self-focused feeling. “You is the key word. You are the focus. Sex is not just about me; it’s about me knowing you and building us” (22, emphasis original). This emphasis leads to conflating Christlikeness with kindness: “…it all starts with acting in a Christlike way toward your spouse. And that boils down to kindness” (213). While Christianity certainly calls Christians to marital kindness, reducing marital intimacy to kindness falls short of the biblical vision. God designed sex to be a gift freely given to one another as a spiritually symbolic icon. The physical union between a husband and wife is an experiential, emotional, and spiritual representation of the nourishing and cherishing of Christ to his church (Ephesians 5:29). Christian spouses freely and fully give themselves to one another in marriage, representing the fullness of Christ’s reversal of sin’s curse of shame (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). Simply put, the ultimate meaning and purpose for marital sex and sexuality is to please Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:9) by glorifying God (Colossians 3:17). The Great Sex Rescue fails to illuminate this beauty of the Gospel in marriage.
The Great Sex Rescue rightly identifies troubling statistics in Christian marriages, and faithful Christianity should heed its concerns. I’m thankful for the book’s information and warnings, and evangelical Christianity would be wise to listen to the voices of those hurting silently in marriages. In this regard, The Great Sex Rescue is helpful in giving a voice to those often neglected. But discerning Christians would be wise to find resources that provide answers from a consistent and thorough biblical framework which point hearts to Christ alone as the answer. Marital motivation must first be Christ, not spousal satisfaction. It’s not enough to get parts of the problem right, we must confidently provide the right answer — Solus Christus. Marriage is simply too important to not get right.
Jeremiah Greever is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Sedalia, MO. He also serves an adjunct professor at Missouri Baptist University and is the committee co-chair for the Founders Midwest Conference.
 Institute for Family Studies and Wheatley Institution, World Family Map 2019: Mapping Family Change and Child Well-Being Outcomes. https://ifstudies.org/ifs-admin/resources/reports/worldfamilymap-2019-051819.pdf, 26.
 World Family Map 2019, 27.
 See Jonathan Leeman’s recent and persuasive rebuttal to the argument that complementarianism leads to abuse: Jonathan Leeman, “Does Complementarianism Lead to Abuse?: A Response to Mimi Haddad, ‘Helping the Church Understand Biblical Equality’ and Kylie Maddox Pidgeon, ‘Complementarianism and Domestic Abuse’” Eikon: A Journal for Biblical Anthropology 5, no. 1 (Spring 2023), 106–125.
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