Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This is an honest book review of The Great Sex Rescue, which I purchased on my own. Read my disclaimer page for more details.
Earlier this year I decided to buy a bunch of new Christian books to rotate into my quiet time routine. It’s hard for me to do a proper Bible study when I’m traveling or when I’m not feeling well, but I still want to spend time with God. Reading a chapter or two from a nonfiction Christian book is an easy way to do that.
The first book I finished was The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire. The co-authors of this book are Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach and Joanna Sawatsky. Rebecca is one of Sheila’s daughters.
Sheila is the founder of To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: For Your Marriage, a website devoted to sex and relationship advice from a Christian perspective. Rebecca and Joanna both work for the company.
I’ve been a subscriber to Sheila’s mailing list for a few years now, which actually led to me helping create this book! I’m far from a co-author, but I participated in a survey that became the foundation of The Great Sex Rescue.
I Took a Survey About Sex
Late in 2019, I opened an email from Sheila, asking women to take a survey about sex. I’ve been pushing back on toxic ideas about sex for a long time, so I was eager to help Sheila collect data. After I took the survey myself, I also shared it with my own audience.
The survey included at least 130 questions. (Additional questions popped up depending on your answers). Over 20,000 women completed the survey. Here are the demographics of the respondents (and how I fit into those demographics).
- 18-19 years old: 0.2%
- 20-24 years old: 4.1%
- 25-29 years old: 12.0%
- 30-39 years old: 37.1% (me!)
- 40-49 years old: 25.3%
- 50-59 years old: 14.1%
- 60-69 years old: 5.9%
- 70 year old or older: 1.1%
- 51.7% attended church more than once a week.
- 23.6% attended church once a week.
- 8.7% attended church a few times a month.
- 8.1% attended church a few times a year. (at the time, this was me)
- 7.9% attended church once a year or less.
- 64.6% currently identified as evangelical.
- 12.9% no longer identify as evangelical, but used to.
- 22.5% do not identify as evangelical and never have. (me!)
- 70.9% were raised in a home where both parents were Christian. (me!)
- 13.7% were raised in a home where one parent was a Christian.
- 15.3% were raised in a home with non-Christian parents.
The Great Sex Rescue Survey Questions
The survey asked questions in four distinct categories:
- beliefs about marriage and sex
- sexual satisfaction in marriage
- marital satisfaction
I am unable to find a list of all the questions from the survey. However, these categories reflect both the research shared in the book, and what I remember from the survey. I will update this section if I can find The Great Sex Rescue survey questions.
From what I remember, most of the questions were good and not leading. However, all of the questions about pornography assumed that pornography is always harmful, both for the person consuming it and for their romantic relationship. This assumption skews the data.
Research on pornography is mixed, and even the negative findings don’t prove causation. I think The Great Sex Rescue survey data would be stronger if the questions about pornography hadn’t been so leading.
The Problem with Christian Marriage Books
When my husband and I got married, we received many amazing wedding gifts, often accompanied by thoughtful cards. One of my Christian friends, who is more conservative than I am, gave me a few Christian marriage books. In her letter to me, she shared why she chose them.
One, they were books that had personally helped her and her husband.
Two, the books didn’t talk about wifely submission.
My friend knew that I wanted an egalitarian marriage. Even though she has chosen a complementarian marriage for herself, she respected my own approach to marriage.
Many Christian marriage books are problematic, and I’m not saying that just because I disagree with them. Just like my friend could respect what I want in marriage and marriage advice, I can respect books that offer advice from a different perspective.
However, sometimes we can agree to disagree, and other times we need to push back against toxic, harmful teachings. Too many Christian marriage books are either a result of Purity Culture or even a direct cause of Purity Culture.
The Great Rescue is a response to bad theology commonly shared in Christian marriage books.
Sex Teaching Rubric
Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna put together a 12-point rubric of healthy sexuality, looking at:
- Sex as Pleasure
Each point on the rubric can earn a score of 0-4.
- 0-1: it actively promotes teachings that damage sex lives
- 2: it did not address the issue
- 3-4: it promotes healthy teachings
They used this rubric to evaluate bestselling Christian books on marriage and sex.
To choose which books to review, they started by looking at the top ten Christian marriage books as rated on Amazon. They excluded three books because they didn’t spend much time discussing sex. These are:
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
- Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Les and Leslie Parrott
The writers also chose the six most influential books about sex (excluding Sheila’s). However, I could not determine their criteria for “influential.”
Finally, they chose the bestselling secular book marriage book to serve as a control. (I actually just ordered The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver, but I haven’t read it yet).
Overall, they reviewed fourteen books using the sex teaching rubric.
Sex Teaching Results
The authors scored five books as helpful, two books as neutral, and seven books as harmful. Considering the popularity of the harmful books among Christians, the results are disconcerting.
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver
- The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner
- Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
- Sacred Marriage (2015) by Gary Thomas*
- Intimate Issues by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus
- The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller
- Intended for Pleasure (2010) by Ed and Gaye Wheat
- Sheet Music by Kevin Leman
- The Act of Marriage (1998) by Tim and Beverly LaHaye
- His Needs, Her Needs (2011) by Willard F. Harley Jr.
- The Power of a Praying Wife (2014) by Stormie Omartian
- For Women Only (2013) by Shaunti Feldhahn
- Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker
- Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Several of these books have multiple editions. The Great Sex Rescue looks at the specific editions indicated in parentheses.
*A recent email from Sheila includes this caveat:
Despite its high score on teachings on sex, we cannot in good conscience recommend Sacred Marriage. In our dedication to academic honesty and in our efforts to be as unbiased as possible, we only scored this book on its teachings about sex and did not allow our views on the marriage teachings to bias its results in regards to sex. However, the marriage section of Sacred Marriage is highly concerning and has encouraged women especially to stay in abusive marriages through using spiritual language to essentially gaslight abuse victims. This rubric is ONLY about teachings about sex, and is quite generous, in an effort to be as fair as possible to the authors we were critiquing.“Have you seen this scorecard for all the evangelical best-sellers?” August 5, 2022
The Great Sex Rescue Book Review
I am not the target audience for The Great Sex Rescue. This excerpt identifies readers and why they picked up this book.
Maybe you’ve been married for ten years and you still don’t know what an orgasm feels like… Maybe you’re tired of feeling rejected and unloved by your wife… Whether you’re confused, disappointed, frustrated, or hurt, we want to help you discover what’s holding back your sex life… Ideally, we would love it if couples read this book together.How to Use The Great Sex Rescue, p. 17
None of that is me. However, as a Christian feminist who participated in the survey, I wanted to read this book. I wanted to know if I could recommend The Great Sex Rescue to other Christians.
The short answer is yes, I recommend this book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
What I Liked
I love the story behind this book. Sheila started to notice blog comments and emails from women who were struggling in their marriages, at least partly due to harmful teachings from the Church. What started as just a critique of Love & Respect turned into so much more.
I love the extensive research that went into this book. Asking 20,000 Christian women about sex. Rating fourteen books with a sex teaching rubric. Reviewing academic research. Conducting focus groups and interviews.
The book is organized well. Each chapter is focused on a specific topic within the broader topic of healthy sexuality. Subheadings, quote, and charts break up the text so it’s easy to read.
I’ve often observed the widespread belief in secular culture that it’s easier for women to “get laid” than it is for men. Emily Heist Moss pushes back on that in her article “What Does ‘Getting Laid’ Really Mean?”
…Let’s unpack the semantic knot of what it means to “get laid.” Take a moment and do a little thought experiment with me. Find a piece of paper and write down your own definition of “getting laid.” If you wrote, “having sex,” now parse that further; what does it mean to “have sex?” Did you write something along the lines of “penis in vagina” or “vaginal penetration?” … What a low bar! Is that really something that [women are] so lucky to have access to?
Let’s take this thought experiment a little further: What if we redefined “getting laid” to mean “having an orgasm” or even more broadly “having enjoyable sex?” What happens then? How easy do you think it is for [women] to, as the commenters put it, “get laid without even trying?”Emily Heist Moss
Well, this attitude is a problem among Christians too, and The Great Sex Rescue explicitly calls it out. In the very first chapter, there’s a heading that discusses the definition of sex. It reimagines scripture in a pointed way.
Do not deprive each other [of a husband penetrating his wife until he climaxes] except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. (1 Corinthians 7:5)The Great Sex Rescue, p. 12
Yeah, that sounds like fun for one person and not so much for the other.
The entire book pushes back against this selfish, one-sided perspective of sex. If you believe that God created sex to be this beautiful, intimate encounter between two married people, then you should also believe that sex is more than just intercourse with male orgasm.
Each chapter ends with advice for couples to improve their sex life. These are practical tips to try out. For example, there’s an entire list of ideas for a couple to discover their turn-ons and turn-offs.
Rescuing and Reframing
Each chapter also ends with a section to transform your understanding of sex. Instead of saying “this,” say “that.” These take negative messages about sex and reconstruct them as positive messages.
What I Disliked
I already mentioned the leading questions on pornography, which skewed the survey results. The book uses the survey results to write about pornography and its negative effect on marriages.
To be clear, I am not dismissing anyone who has suffered due to pornography use. The authors share multiple stories about men who choose porn over sex with their wives. They share blog comments from women who felt used by their husbands because the men were imitating what they saw in porn.
However, I still feel like the data tells an incomplete picture about the effects of pornography.
I also wish the book hadn’t been so heteronormative. I realize all the Christian books on sex and marriage are heteronormative, and The Great Sex Rescue is a response. Still, an acknowledgement of same-sex relationships would have been nice.
In addition, I wish that the authors hadn’t perpetuated the (admittedly common) belief that premarital sex is a sin. While they do address the issue of treating girls as gatekeepers and guys as sexual aggressors, they ignore the sexual consequences of teaching premarital sex as a sin. This belief, especially with how it’s taught in Christian circles, contributes to sexual issues in marriage.
Which leads me to my final critique…
Feminist Writers Did This First
Finally, I wish the authors had acknowledged the Christian feminist writers who came before them. I feel like they sidestepped this by only looking at Christian books on sex and marriage instead of including Christian books on dating. Sheila’s blog covers topics on dating, so it would have been natural to include those books in their analysis.
Honestly, I feel like this was a deliberate choice because these Christian feminist writers also push back on the belief that premarital sex is a sin.
Sarah Moon wrote the blog series “You Are Not Your Own: Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent in Evangelical Christian Dating Books” in 2013. She analyzed and critiqued four popular Christian dating books:
- I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris
- When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy
- Dateable by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco
- Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll
The Great Sex Rescue has an important chapter on consent, sexual coercion, and marital rape. It would be stronger if it had referred to Moon’s work.
Dianna E. Anderson published Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity in 2015. Throughout this book, they quote from different Christian books on dating, sex, and marriage. They also share firsthand stories from women hurt by these books–stories not dissimilar from those shared in The Great Sex Rescue. Here are some of the books quoted and critiqued:
- When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy
- I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris
- Sex God by Rob Bell
- Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is) by Joshua Harris
- Dateable by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco
- Fidelity by Douglas Wilson
The Great Sex Rescue indirectly addresses Purity Culture, particularly in their chapter “Let Me Hear Your Body Talk.” The authors even quote from When God Writes Your Love Story in that chapter. Again, I think the book would be stronger if it had referred to Anderson’s work.
Final Thoughts on The Great Sex Rescue
I’m glad I read this book even though it didn’t help me personally. The data from the survey confirms much of what I already believed about the negative effects of harmful teachings about sex. I’m grateful that Dan and I both escaped the worst of Purity Culture!
If you’re a married Christian, and sex is a problem in your marriage, check out The Great Sex Rescue. I honestly believe it can help a lot of people!
Note: Normally I use an author’s last name to write about them, but Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna all use their first names in their content.