The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky
March 2021, Baker Books
5 stars (out of 5)
Like many books, The Great Sex Rescue opens with a dedication.
Joanna Sawatsky and Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach share beautiful hopes and blessings for their children.
But it is Sheila Wray Gregoire’s dedication to “The Act of Marriage’s Aunt Matilda and all the women like her” that is most curious.
“We see you. We hear you. And we are so, so sorry,” Sheila states.
Who is this Aunt Matilda? What is her story? And what is Sheila apologizing to Aunt Matilda for?
The reason for Sheila’s apology is the entire subject of the book: evangelical teachings about sex and marriage as revealed in the top best-selling Christian sex books. From the beginning, Sheila’s dedication and apology to Aunt Matilda show us her (and her co-author’s) commitment, heart, and passion for the message of their book.
Many readers will be familiar with Sheila’s personal and blunt style from her popular blog, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum. For over 17 years, Sheila has shared her wisdom about Christian sexuality and marriage in her numerous books, podcasts, blog, and speaking engagements. She is a champion for equality between men and women in the bedroom and advocates for sexual pleasure and enjoyment as part of a Christian marriage.
Now she is joined by her daughter Rebecca, who brings a fresh and fiery perspective on gender equality, and Joanna, a statistician who no doubt serves as the brain behind the book’s research.
Sheila is a role model and inspiration to me. I even had the opportunity to write an article about teaching children shame-free sexuality for her blog! What I am trying to do with my writing and research on purity culture, Sheila has done on ALL evangelical Christian teachings about sexuality.
The Book’s Message
In The Great Sex Rescue, Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna ask the question, “Do our evangelical resources for sex and marriage point readers to healthy relationship dynamics or unhealthy ones?”
To uncover the effects of evangelical teachings, the authors surveyed over 20,000 women. Then they followed up their survey with focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Next, they analyzed secular peer-reviewed research on what leads to healthy marriages and healthy sex lives. From these findings, the authors developed a rubric to rate harmful or helpful messages in three areas: infidelity/lust, sex as pleasure, and mutuality. Finally, they applied their rubric to the top 13 best-selling evangelical sex and marriage books to uncover problematic teachings.
The Great Sex Rescue calls Christians back to a healthy, biblical view of sexuality. Each chapter is organized around a problematic teaching paired with a part of the authors’ definition of great sex—that sex should be personal, be pleasurable, be pure, be prioritized, be pressure-free, put the other first, and be passionate.
And they don’t just leave you with the problems—they give you a path forward.
The book provides ample opportunities for readers to apply what they learn. There are check-ins and practical conversation starters for couples, as well as application exercises to correct faulty thinking. At the end of each chapter, the authors provide a rescuing and reframing section which gives the Church a better way to talk about these issues without causing harm.
Gender Equality in Sex
“When a couple makes decisions based on who God created them to be versus who gender roles say they should be, it allows them to live in God’s plan for their lives while feeling known and valued.”–The Great Sex Rescue
The Great Sex Rescue provides a refreshing, egalitarian view of sex missing from most Christian resources. Yet Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna present it in a way that even more traditional couples and churches can accept.
Many of the myths and harmful messages that the authors uncover are aligned with the Gatekeepers Myth, one of the five purity culture myths that I have identified. Evangelical books repeatedly command women to have frequent sex with their husbands to keep them from watching porn. They teach women that it is an obligation and “wifely duty” for women to give their husbands sex whenever the men want it. And most shockingly, Every Man’s Battle advises women to “be like a merciful vial of methadone” for their husbands’ sex drives.
“Sex has been taught primarily through male lens mostly by male authors and by male speakers at marriage conferences. Women’s experiences have been largely overlooked or ignored, while women are seen as tools to help get men what they want.”–The Great Sex Rescue
Women are people too, The Great Sex Rescue implores, and women’s sexual pleasure and needs matter just as much as men’s. The key to sexual pleasure is not a wedding ring, the authors argue; it is a corrected view on sex, accurate sexual education, and a focus on mutuality in marriage.
My Review of The Great Sex Rescue
As a psychologist and a sex and couples therapist, I appreciate so many things about The Great Sex Rescue.
The authors’ attention to evidence-based treatment and empirical research is commendable. Frankly, empirical research is largely ignored in most Christian non-fiction books. Unlike other Christian resources, this book is not just based on anecdotes, personal experience, and opinion; it is based on data and research.
I also applaud the authors’ nuanced approach to sexual values. They both embrace orthodox Christian values about sexual purity and fidelity while criticizing the extra-biblical messages about sex that we have taken for granted. The authors suggest ways for Christians to talk about sex in a much healthier way that still affirms biblical teachings about sexuality.
Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna don’t want to challenge a biblical sexual ethic. They want to encourage us to take a deeper look at the books and the messages that have become ingrained in our belief system, and to examine the damage caused by those beliefs.
The Great Sex Rescue is a long overdue correction to Christian books on marriage and sex. With both biblical truth and evidenced-based research on sexuality, Sheila and her co-authors tackle the myths that keep many Christian couples from enjoying true passion and intimacy.
Sheila knows she will make some enemies by taking on the evangelical machine of books and teachings about marriage and sex. The criticism she has already received on social media for this book is appalling to me.
But she does it for Aunt Matilda—a woman described in the book The Act of Marriage who was raped by her husband on their wedding night. Aunt Matilda then goes on to tell her niece “as far as I’m concerned, marriage is just legalized rape”. The author of The Act of Marriage chastises Aunt Matilda for filling her niece with bad advice about marital sex and refers to Aunt Matilda’s husband (her rapist) as “equally unhappy.”
The authors of The Great Sex Rescue have a different interpretation of this story: “there is a shocking callousness displayed toward Aunt Matilda, while the moral or legal ramifications of marital rape are never mentioned.”
The Great Sex Rescue is a book that sees and validates the pain caused by so many misguided and abusive Christian teachings about sexuality. It is a book that provides hope and healing for Christian couples looking to correct their faulty beliefs and experience true sexual intimacy as God intended it—pleasurable, mutual, respectful, and uniting.
We cannot thank the authors enough—especially Sheila—for their courage to speak out against evangelical sex teachings and speak up for women. They are a brave and powerful voice in the Christian world. I now have a Christian sex book that I can wholeheartedly recommend to my clients, friends, and readers.