The Great Sex Rescue –
Challenging Harmful Evangelical Messages
By Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, & Joanna Sawatsky
Geoffrey W. Sutton
The Great Sex Rescue is an evangelical Christian approach that challenges messages in several other Christian sex books, which do not focus on the sexual pleasure of women. In addition, the three writers challenge messages that emphasize dutiful wives meeting their husband’s sex needs regardless of how she feels or what aspects of a sexual experience would bring her more wholistic pleasure. When biblical texts have been interpreted in unfriendly ways, the authors offer a more woman-friendly interpretation. More troubling are Christian sexual activity messages that may encourage men to simply use their wives for their pleasure or even abuse them. After explaining their concerns, the authors offer suggestions for better sex including addressing medical problems that can interfere with sexual pleasure.
The Great Sex Rescue Review
Who needs rescuing from sex or great sex?
I read an article about The Great Sex Rescue in Christianity Today that grabbed my attention. I am somewhat acquainted with Christian views on sex having published A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Culture a few years ago. I also noticed that they had conducted a large survey, which as a psychologist peaked my interest. And of course, as a licensed psychologist I had treated individuals and couples for sex-linked concerns. So, what were they writing about?
In chapter 1 we see their foundational concern.
“Many Christians simply aren’t experiencing amazing,
mind-blowing, earth-shattering, great sex.
We want to change that.”
Sheila notes the importance of evidence-based treatments—that’s something of great importance to psychologists as well. The authors are familiar with Christian books that offer couples advice about sex. Here’s the rescue part of their theme:
“We want to rescue couples from teachings that
have wrecked sex and put you back
on the road to great sex—
because that’s what you should be having!”
So what can readers expect to discover?
Their 7-point proposal introduces us to their concept of a healthy sex life. I’ll just offer the key words following the lead phrase “Sex should be…”
put the other first
What kind of research did they do?
I’ll just list the four methods.
1. A 130-item survey of 22,000 Christian women
2. A review of academic research studies of evangelicalism and sexuality
3. Focus groups and interviews
4. Reading and review of popular Christian books about sex and marriage and other influential books
For readers who tend to avoid research, let me say that the book is well-written and reader friendly. When they present the results of their survey, they avoid complicated statistics in favor of percentages of women who responded in many ways to their survey items. Compact charts reveal the highlights, which I think would be a great way to for leaders to encourage discussions in small groups.
What is so bad about sex that Christian women and men need to be rescued?
I like the way they attacked the problem of troublesome messages. They created a rubric to score popular sex and marriage books according to a set of criteria—just like research professors teach their students. Each of the three sections below consists of four items which the authors used to rate the 14 books on a 0-4 scale.
1. Infidelity and Lust
2. Pleasure and Libido
After the authors scored the books, they divided them into three categories:
The top two of the Helpful Books were:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner.
The lowest of the seven Harmful Books were:
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker
Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
If you are interested in the details, see the Appendix to The Great Sex Rescue and see the resources on the book’s website https://baremarriage.com/gsr-rubric/
As you read through the chapters, you find quotes from their research that illustrate the problems with harmful messages about sex and marriage. They stress the importance of considering a woman’s emotional and physical wellbeing during sex. The best relationships are mutual instead of one-sided as in the common evangelical message of men as the head of the household in an unequal relationship with his wife. Also, sex ought to be by consent rather than taken without considering the wife’s feelings. Consent is not only about having sex but it includes consenting to the type of sex. One important emphasis is a warning against messages that encourage, or fail to condemn abuse or even marital rape.
The authors report problems with beliefs that sex is a wife’s duty, which interferes with a couple enjoying great sex. They also make the point that frequency of sex is not a substitute for quality. Frequency can be a false metric when counselors find that a couple has more sex after an intervention that focused on encouraging a wife to give her husband more sex using messages aimed at creating a sense of duty or teaching that men need relief to avoid looking at porn or having an affair.
Readers will also find helpful suggestions for reasons they might not experience an orgasm during sex. Some problems deal with relationship factors and foreplay but there are medical and psychological conditions as well (e.g., vaginismus).
Who might profit from this book?
My best guess is that this book will be most meaningful for Christians who generally identify with an evangelical type of Christianity, lean toward agreement with the idea that women and men are equal, and feel uncomfortable with the sex messages from the purity culture movement and related Christian sex and marriage books daubed harmful by the authors. It is possible that progressive Christians who have not been subjected to the negative messages of purity culture may find some parts of the book helpful as well. I also think the book might be useful as a recommended reading by Christian counselors who wish to suggest an alternative approach for their evangelical patients.
How do the authors integrate Christianity and sexuality?
The integration of Christianity and their views on sexuality does not appear to be a primary focus of The Great Sex Rescue. What the writers offer evangelical readers are different views on the oft quoted biblical texts used by some conservative Christians to favor meeting men’s sexual desires and ignoring a woman’s desire for a wholistic sexual experience.
The authors refer to the familiar Genesis and Ephesians texts about creation and marriage relationships. I’m not a bible scholar yet it seems some of the authors’ interpretations go a bit too far in terms of the meaning of select biblical texts that have been misused to the detriment of women. For example, when referring to the biblical translation of know for having sex the authors use it as a springboard for a tripartite approach to knowing as intimacy to include spiritual, emotional, and physical dimensions. I also do not find it useful to think of God as a designer of sex though I do not doubt this notion would be appealing to some readers.
The authors present the evangelical view of sex framed in traditional creation language suggesting a literal view of the creation story as God creating people in his image, although they do not elucidate the concept of God’s image. They claim God designed sex to be pleasurable. This approach to the Bible would be familiar to evangelical readers but is not consistent with scientific approaches to human evolution in general or to sexual selection in particular unless the writers intend for their biblical references to be taken as metaphors or other figures of speech.
In contrast to the authors’ views, the official position of most Christian groups does not interpret the Bible in a way that supports the equality of women and men. Obviously, only a small number of groups allow women to become ordained clergy or be in authority positions over a man. And many groups refer to the male-head-of-household texts to assert that men and not women are the head of the household. Frankly, although progressive writers have argued from various biblical texts to justify the equality of men and women, such arguments have yet to alter the prevailing view steeped in centuries of tradition and bolstered by many texts that limit women’s roles in the church and the home. Unfortunately for healthy marriages and good sex, the idea of equality of men and women in the home remains rare among Christians.
Previously I mentioned the quality of their rubric for rating Christian books about sex and marriage. I think it worth mentioning that none of the 12 items in the tripartite rubric mentioned anything about God, biblical texts, or Christianity. And the best sex book at the top of the list was a secular work by John Gottman who really has done excellent work when it comes to evidence-based approaches to relationship health.
How do the authors present an evidence-based approach?
As a psychologist, an evidence-based approach may mean something a bit different from the authors’ views. In general, evidence-based psychotherapies are those that have been tested and found to be reliably effective for a specific purpose when compared to control or comparison groups. I do not see experimental studies that document the validity of their recommendations for great sex.
However, in a broad sense, the authors could mean that they have relied on evidence from their survey to reach various conclusions and they have identified strategies from the literature, which they include in their chapters. They also challenge the recommendations of several books as either lacking evidence, causing harm, or both.
Having supervised clinicians, it is certainly not unheard of to find clinicians relying on experience when suggesting ways to help patients cope more effectively. The best clinicians will collect data from their patients to determine the efficacy of their suggestions. In this context, the copyright page offers a disclaimer as follows:
“This publication is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed. It is not intended to replace the advice of trained health care professionals.”
Respectfully worded readers’ comments that correct errors in this review, offer suggestions, or another point of view may be published. Hostile comments and advertising or links to personal and business websites are not published.
Cite this review
Sutton, G. W. (2022, September 23). The great sex rescue—a review. SuttonReviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2022/09/the-great-sex-rescue-challenging.html
Gregoire, S. W., Lindenbach, R. G., & Sawatsky, J. (2021). The great sex rescue: The lies you’ve been taught and how to — recover what God intended—. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. On AMAZON
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