3 Toxic Sex Myths That Harm Women | BTR.ORG

3 Toxic Sex Myths That Harm Women

by | Abuse Literacy, Sexual Coercion


How can women find safety from sexually abusive marriages when they are constantly barraged by toxic lies about marital sex?

Movies, TV shows, clergy, therapists, and even Christian self-help books enable marital sexual abuse. What are women to do with such toxic, degrading messages?

Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to deconstruct three toxic sex myths that enable men to abuse, control, and harm women. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

We’d love to hear from you. How have you found safety from a sexually abusive marriage? Help other women by leaving a comment below.

Toxic Sex Myth: “Sex Is A Need” (Nope, It’s A Drive)

The toxic myth that sex is a “need” implies that women are “depriving” their husband if they refuse to engage in unsafe, disconnected sex.

This toxic myth is perpetuated by likening sex to actual physical needs, as Anne explains:

He’s going to die if you don’t have sex with him. It’s like air and food.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Here’s The Truth

Sex is a drive, not a need. We all have a sex drive, though abused women may experience a much lower sex drive. This is a natural and incredible protective instinct that exists to help women keep themselves safe from abusive, disconnected sex.

Your husband’s sex drive is not your responsibility. If your husband is creating a reality where sex is a very real need, like air, water, food, or shelter, he is manipulating you.

Toxic Sex Myth: Wives Owe Their Husbands Sex

Abusive men will use phrases like, “Sex to me is like emotional connection to you. You won’t exactly die without it, but you really need it to be happy. I need sex to be happy. Why won’t you give it to me?”

This is problematic because it implies that sex is intended for men. It also implies that men are entitled to sex. It further implies that women don’t benefit from sexually healthy relationships. It ignores the issues of safe sex and consent.

In short, this toxic myth is one big, fat lie.

Here’s The Truth

Sheila Gregoire explains how her team studied obligatory sex for their book The Great Sex Rescue:

What happens if women have sex when their primary motivation is: because I have to? It leads to all kinds of terrible things in terms of marital and sexual satisfaction and it drives the couple further and further apart. So having that as your motivation? It’s just terrible. It’s not biblical. It’s not life-giving.

Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue

Toxic Sex Myth: Other Women “Tempt” My Husband & It’s My Job Keep Him Faithful

Victory means that he’s able to look at women as whole people, and that means that he needs to stop blaming women for his porn use and for his lust. The reason he’s lusting is not because of what she’s wearing. The reason he’s lusting is because of how he chooses to see women, and it is not her fault.

When we are making women the problem, then we’re actually reinforcing the issues.

Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue

He uses pornography because he wants to.

He rapes and sexually assaults you because he wants to.

He masturbates and has emotional affairs because he wants to.

He emotionally and psychologically abuses you because he wants to.

He lies, gaslights, and manipulates because he wants to.

It isn’t your fault. It’s not another woman’s fault.

You are not responsible for averting his eyes. You are only responsible for keeping yourself safe.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Is Here For You

Deconstructing toxic sex myths and internalizing empowering truths is work best done with other women who get it. That’s why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets every day in every single time zone – so that you can get the help you need when you need it.

Join today and begin your healing journey.

You are not alone.

We’d love to hear from you. How have you found safety from a sexually abusive marriage? Help other women by leaving a comment below.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Many of you heard the first part of my interview with Sheila Gregoire last week. If you haven’t heard that yet, please go there first and then join us here. Before we get to her, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is our daily online support group. We have multiple sessions every single day in every single time zone. We’d love to see you in a session today.

 Thank you to all of you who have rated the podcast on Apple podcasts for your other podcasting apps. If you haven’t already and you’re so inclined, I would really appreciate a review of yours.

Sex Is A Drive, Not A Need

Anne: Can you talk about these popular Christian resources and some of the main themes that you saw that were really unhealthy for women?

Sheila: Yeah, well overall one of the biggest ones is summed up in a book called Love and Respect, where the author says, “If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have,” and that says so much. Like first of all, it says sex is for the guy – it’s not for the woman. It phrases sex in terms of his need rather than just a drive. You know, I don’t believe sex is a need, I think we all have a sex drive, but it’s not a need. And when we talk about sex as a need, then we frame it as something which she would be depriving him if she ever said no.

Anne: He’s going to die if you don’t have sex with him.

Sheila: Yeah, exactly.

Anne: It’s like air and food.

Women Do Not Owe Men Sex

Sheila: So that’s highly problematic. That was really typical that framing of sex is something which is about him, not about her. And then the other one, I think, which was really big, which goes throughout most resources, is that you’re just not allowed to deprive him. So, sex is an obligation that women owe. Kevin Leman and Sheet Music said, you know when you get married, realize that you’re signing up to have sex at least two or three times a week for the rest of your life, and sometimes you might have to force yourself and you might want to shove him off of you. But you have to do it anyway as an act of obedience.

So, we actually measured that. We said what happens if women have sex when their primary motivation is because I have to. And it just leads to all kinds of terrible things in terms of marital and sexual satisfaction and it drives the couple further and further apart so having that as your motivation, it’s just terrible. And it’s not biblical. It’s not life-giving.

Sex Without Consent Is Rape

Anne: Yeah, I really appreciated how you brought up marital rape, which to my knowledge, is not mentioned anywhere in any of these popular Christian resources. They never say, if you don’t get your wife’s consent, then it’s rape. I love how you brought that up. Were there any questions about marital rape in your study?

Sheila: We couldn’t specifically ask about it for ethical reasons. We’re planning on getting this study peer-reviewed and in some journals, planning on creating lots of different articles for it and one of the problems is as soon as you ask, are you a victim of marital rape then we are obligated to provide help and we just weren’t in the position to do that for 20,000 people so we couldn’t specifically ask. What we did do is we talked about it in some focus groups and in some follow-up surveys, and what I can tell you is that of the women who left their email addresses, which was about 20% of the women who took our survey, about 20% of them said that they had stories of marital rape to share with us, which is a very high percentage and very scary.

Marriage Is Not Implied Consent

Now obviously that was a self-selected group, and so we can’t say how prevalent it is. But the idea that none of the evangelical resources that we looked at even said the word consent. Now I do you want to say my sex books do. But my sex books were part of our study for obvious reasons, but John Gottman’s book, which was a secular book, the best-selling marriage book on the secular market which we used as our control book (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). That one spoke at length about consent, and so this is something which is talked about all the time in the secular world, which the Christian world has no idea how to talk about it.

Anne: Yeah, I really appreciated you’re discussing that. Many of our listeners have experienced marital rape and so that number does not surprise me at all because we talk about it all the time. I don’t mean to make light of it but it’s just something that’s common around here, so that’s something that I’m really glad that you brought up.

Dehumanizing Women Kills Healthy Sexuality

So, can we talk about Every Man’s Battle for a minute? I recommended Sarah McDugal’s Facebook expose on it, which she took a lot from this chapter of yours, and talking about this is bad, but one of my favorite parts of your book, and I found it to be so hilarious and I think you intended it this way is DEF CON five. There is a woman. This is on page 82. DEF CON four you notice her, right. DEF CON three and then goes to DEF CON one which is lust, and then you talk about how noticing is different than lust right, or just seeing someone is different than lust. I think this is so funny, where you have this other graph that’s like there is a woman, just go on with your day like that’s it no big deal. You know, I love how you’re trying to tell men the answer to your lust problem is not thinking of women as objects and trying to ignore them or whatever. The answer is seeing them as people and treating them with respect. This is like fodder for stand-up comedy. I love it.

“Every Man’s Battle” Enforces Toxic Sex Myths That Harm Women

Sheila:  Okay. So, Every Man’s Battle basically says that men are going to lust, and the book is really strange. Okay, because it’ll give a lot of lists of things that men do like maybe you find yourself opening the door for her but not out of honorable means just so that she can go first and you can stare at her behind. You know, maybe you find yourself looking across the room at a woman where a button has come and done. Maybe you find yourself masturbating in a gym car parking lot to see the women exiting the gym, and it’s like, excuse me, like one of those things is not like the other.

Anne: Well, also it’s a crime. It’s a crime.

Lust Is A Sin Against Women, Not Just A Sin Against Himself

Sheila: Like masturbating in the car, that is a crime. They’ll combine these things that, okay, yeah, the first two aren’t nice, but they’re not awful. Okay, so he wants to look at her butt; I’m not pleased with that but it’s not horrible. But then they’ll have this masturbating in a car parking lot. Or they’ll tell a story about this guy, they’re watching TV, he and his sister-in-law, and his sister-in-law is lying down on the floor on her stomach and she falls asleep and she’s got really short shorts on, and so he masturbates out there while she’s asleep on the floor. They portray that as a sin against his purity. When really, that is a sin against her, and this is the problem throughout that book. Every time he lusts it is a sin against his purity, and she never entered the equation.

Toxic Sex Myth: Lusting After Your Wife Stops Sexual Addiction

Whenever they talk about women they talk about women in sexual terms. They give this really gross discussion of this jogger at the very beginning of the book – her glistening flesh and her ample bosom and her skin-tight tie-dyed jogging suit. It’s just gross, and that’s how they treat women and then they say that the solution to lust is to bounce your eyes and not look at women and then to transfer all of your sexual energy to your wife. So, the solution to lust is to stop lusting after everybody else and just lust after your wife. But, you know, lust is a sin, even if it’s after your wife. Lust is just simply using someone else for your gratification. That’s what lust is, and so you shouldn’t be lusting after your wife either.

Lust Has No Place In Healthy Relationships

You should be loving your wife and enjoying an intimate experience with her not just using her. But they think it’s okay to use her because she’s just your wife, and the way that they talk about lust and quitting lust is exactly the same way that porn does. Like you can’t defeat lust when you agree with the lust definition of women, you know, lust definition of women is women exist as sexual objects. So, the way that I’m going to defeat lust is to never ever look at a woman because she’s a sexual object, and then to treat my wife like a sexual object so that I don’t want to treat all these other women like sexual objects. How about just simply learning how to respect women as whole people?

Trauma Mama Husband Drama Can Help You

Anne: I’m going to take a break for just a second to talk about my picture book for adults, Trauma Mama Husband Drama.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book and so it really helps get through all the complex concepts very quickly in a way that you can visualize. So, it’s a different mode of learning. It’s a really good book to show other people what you’re going through. You can be like, this is exactly what it was like to live in my house, and not that it would be exactly the same, but the patterns are very similar. In the back, it has a bunch of infographics that people have found to be really helpful.

Okay, now back to our discussion.

Toxic Sex Myth: Men Are Naturally Lustful & Prone To Infidelity

One thing that you state over and over, and I love it, is that you keep saying really, we set the bar this low for men? Right, it’s not only a disservice to women, it’s also a disservice to men to say, “Yeah, you can’t expect to treat women with respect. You’re some kind of low animal that just can’t function, so you have to just like what, shut your eyes and you know, Mr. Magoo through life?” It’s crazy.

Sheila: I have a book called Through a Man’s Eyes and in the first chapter it’s describing how totally stressful this man’s life is because he’s trying to remain pure for his wife. So, his entire workday is stressful because what if one of his co-workers is sitting across from him in their meeting, and her button is undone? Or what if another co-worker’s skirt is too short? What if the barista at the coffee shop, what if she’s wearing something that’s tight? And what if he sees these billboards, and he’s trying not to look at anybody all day and then he gets home and he’s just so happy that now he gets to look at his wife. I read that, and I’m like, are men really that stressed their entire life? Like is it that difficult to be a man?

Healthy Men & Healthy Sex Exist – Don’t Let Your Abusive Spouse Fool You

So I asked my husband, who’s a pediatrician and he works in an all-female environment, so all the other doctors are female. The nurses tend to be female, the parents who bring the kids in are female. So, I thought if life is really this stressful, he’s going to have a terrible time. So I said, “Are you stressed all day because a woman might have a button undone or she might be too attractive?” He laughed at me; he didn’t think I was serious. I said, “No. I am serious. Is this difficult for you?” And he still laughed at me.

But the book had told me that men will not confess this to you. Men will not tell you the truth, and so your husband won’t tell you the truth. So, I’m wondering, is he just not telling me the truth? And then when he realized I was serious, he’s like, “Wait, no, there are guys like that? No, there’s not.”

I don’t want to share too much information, but my husband is not a low drive man. Okay, like he’s got testosterone and everything and he thought this whole idea was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. Because my husband respects women, and he was really offended. He was offended that people would think that a man can’t just respect women, and I just wish more men would get upset at the demeaning horrible way these books treat men.

Toxic Sex Myth: Wives Must “Guard” Their Husband’s Purity

Anne: Yeah, I thought that was a really important part of your book. I mean, I talked to my sons about that often. Like, when we went to a water park and one of my sons was like, “Mom, I don’t know if I want to go there because there are so many girls who are in bikinis and it kind of bothers me.”

I said, “Well, what do you think would happen if they didn’t have a stomach? These women?”

He was like, “Oh.”

I’m like, “What is their stomach for?” I’m like, “Is it for you to look at, or is it so they can eat?”

He was like, “Oh, so they can eat.”

And I was like, “And what are their legs for? What if a woman didn’t have legs?” You know, I’m trying to help him realize that women, regardless of what they’re wearing or doing, are people. She’s not wearing a bikini to ruin your day. She’s just wearing a bikini because she wants to go to the beach and have a good time. So, so many women when they find out about their husband’s porn use they go into this mode where they’re like, we can’t go to the beach, we can’t go swimming, we can’t watch the Superbowl because, you know, there might be women dancers or we can’t do this, we can’t do that. All of a sudden, the things that they’re able to do just narrows and narrows and narrows.

Toxic Sex Myth: Other Women “Tempt” My Husband

I’m not saying that people should do things that are unethical or immoral or anything like that, but I like going to the beach, you know, I want to go to the beach. I want to go to a water park with my kids, I want to enjoy activities. Regular wholesome activities with my children. Can you talk about women who sort of go into this, which I have a lot of empathy for because that’s pretty much all of our listeners? Can we empathetically talk about women who are in this stage where they think, my husband is this low bar, so I now have the weight of his inability to just treat women with respect on my shoulders. What would you say to them?

“You Are Not Responsible For Making Sure That Your Husband Never Looks At Other Women”

Sheila: Well, first of all, I’m so sorry because that’s such a tremendous burden to bear. You should never have to bear that. But in terms of how to handle that, I think what I would say is, you should not curtail your life just because he can’t handle things. If he can’t go to the beach, you can still go on the beach with your kids. Like, don’t wreck your own life. But the other thing is to remember what victory should look like. You are not responsible for making sure that your husband never looks at other women. If your husband is still unable to go out to dinner in case a waitress is really good looking or to go to the beach or whatever, then he still has a lot more work to do. Victory means that he’s able to look at women as whole people, and that means that he needs to stop blaming women for his porn use and for his lust. The reason he’s lusting is not because of what she’s wearing. The reason he’s lusting is because of how he chooses to see women, and it is not her fault.

It’s Not Your Problem – It’s His Problem

When we are making women the problem, then we’re actually reinforcing the issues. What I would really recommend is that he start getting some intense counseling with a licensed counselor or go to a really good group where they can talk about how to respect women. If you have to take like, you know, a month-long hiatus where you don’t watch Netflix movies that’s fine, but that should not turn into a two-year or three-year hiatus and if it does, it means that he’s not really doing the work.

Anne: Yeah, absolutely. We see that type of behavior and disrespect for women as an abuse issue here at BTR. That we’ve got an emotionally and psychologically abusive man who is unable to view women as people, and that’s going to include you. If he’s still not seeing women respectfully, it’s also going to be towards you as his wife.

I’d like to conclude here with your chapter six, which I just thought was perfect. Your wife, you say your spouse but I’m going to say your wife. Your wife is not your methadone. You’re saying: don’t use your wife as a drug. Around here I say alcoholics abuse alcohol, drug addicts abuse drugs, and porn addicts abuse people. They use people as drugs. Can you talk about why you chose this analogy, and just go ahead and conclude with your final thoughts?

“Women Are Not Methadone”

Sheila: Yeah. Well, there’s a good story behind this. When we first read the book Love and Respect in January of 2019, I was absolutely floored. Up until that time I had never read a lot of evangelical sex and marriage books or Christian sex and marriage books because I was always so scared of plagiarizing. So even though I’m in this I hadn’t read them. So I read Love and Respect. I read the sex chapter, and it said that men need sex in a way that women don’t. If men don’t get a physical release, they’re going to have an affair and women need to understand men’s lust problem, and that’s really all it said. It was terrible.

I wrote up a blog post about this and I was trying to convey how awful this was. Like how absolutely abhorrent this was. I was talking to my daughter, who’s one of the co-authors of The Great Sex Rescue and she said, “Well, it’s almost like he’s talking about women like they’re methadone.” And I thought, yeah, that’s the perfect analogy. So, we said: women are not methadone. And then, I’m reading Every Man’s Battle for this project, and they actually think that’s a selling feature. Like they use that line twice. They said: once he quits cold turkey be like the merciful vial of methadone for him.

Anne: Wow.

Women Are Human Beings, Not Objects Or Products To Satiate Men’s Lust

Sheila: They did it unironically. We were saying it ironically. They did it on unironically like they thought this was a good line. They have no clue. Let’s think about what that’s really saying. Okay, methadone is a substitute. So, if you’re addicted to opioids what you really want is the opioid, but you will settle for methadone. It satiates you just enough that you don’t feel the need to go after the opioid. So if we’re talking about this in the context of marriage and pornography, what we’re saying is what he really wants is to masturbate to that really hot woman doing something on the screen. But he will settle for having sex with you because that will satiate him enough that he won’t go for the porn right now. That’s disgusting. Women are not methadone.

“We Are Precious”

Women are whole people made in the image of God. No one should treat us that way. It’s absolutely unconscionable that that book series sold 4 million copies. Where is the discernment? Where are the leaders saying women are worth more than this? That’s what I want to get out of this book. I want people to read it and to understand women are worth more than this. We are precious and sex was never meant to be reduced to, hey, let him ejaculate inside of you so that he doesn’t watch pornography. That is abusive in every way.

“God Wants Wholeness”

Anne: I am so grateful that you wrote this book, that you have shed light on these really dangerous ideas that many Christian women have had as the foundation of their understanding of what sex is and what their “role” is in it. Thank you so much for all of your hard work on behalf of women everywhere.

Sheila: Well, thank you. And thank you for what you’re doing too, because my heart really is for those whose husbands have betrayed them. I pray that this message will get out there and that will be a message of real freedom. Just to know that God wants wholeness. He wants real intimacy and it is never, ever His heart that any woman feels used.

Anne: I’d like to thank Sheila for all of her amazing work. She is incredible. I cannot recommend this book enough. Again, The Great Sex Rescue.

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We’d love to hear from you. How have you found safety from a sexually abusive marriage? Help other women by leaving a comment below.

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  1. Debra Guenterberg

    My husband of almost 30 years led a double life. He was into porn and cheated with other women. For the last 12 years I thought he was in recovery but he wasn’t. On April 2, 2020 he was going to shoot me because he didn’t want me exposing him. Law enforcement (SWAT team) protected me but he refused to surrender and killed himself. I still feel numb.

    • Anne Blythe

      I am so so sorry. The trauma and shock must be overwhelming. We’re here for you!

  2. LMJ2

    I thought this episode had a lot of great info and agree with everything but one part.

    There is a disconnect with Shelia, which I think does harm to betrayed spouses. It is her lack of education/experience with sexual addiction. She has a husband who just doesn’t think “that” way. That’s awesome much of her audience does!
    ( Anne, I knew you got this because you said for her to talk about ‘it’ “empathetically.”)

    However, she dismissed and minimized how hard SA and decades worth of unhealthy thinking are to treat. Also, how hard is to find the “right” help.

    Like when she says, “ If you have to take like, you know, a month-long hiatus where you don’t watch Netflix movies that’s fine, but that should not turn into a two-year or three-year hiatus and if it does, it means that he’s not really doing the work.”

    It is really naive to say “month” and to say that and leave listeners with “he needs to go get help.”

    Yes, that’s true but she really simplifies this and sexual addiction is not as simple as “a month.” It’s not as simple as “well, just see them as a whole person.” I wish it was!

    There is much inner work to be done, childhood issues to be addressed, stress handling, immaturity, selfishness. It runs the gamut.

    This takes A LOT longer the a month.
    And it can takes years with the right help for a man to be the person God called him to be. After all, the devil has been ruling them for a long time!

    Believe me. This is NOT an excuse for unhealthy men and I am the first to tell my husband that he is betraying me if he is determining attractiveness in another women (truly that is still a betrayal). He should just notice, “man, women, child.” I require all the work to be done and more with strict boundaries to protect myself.

    But it is minimizing and makes a betrayed spouse feel completely hopeless to say her spouse who has been unhealthy for decades to then look at women as a whole person in a “snap.” Without first using some strategies to get to healthy thinking and time. He may need to refrain from any “drug” for a year. It doesn’t mean he isn’t doing the “work.” Some may not be but some are.

    Her statement also could make a betrayed spouse feel not only hopeless, but stupid for staying with a man who is working hard at recovery but it is taking longer than “a month.”

    This healing stuff is a lot more complex and takes a lot of time. It is not for the faint of heart.

    God give us all the strength to do what is best for ourselves and our children no matter the path : stay or go!

    • Anonymous

      Having just read the article, I feel your summary is good and agree with what you wrote … that being said, my husband is not in recovery and still refuses to admit his SA. To him, it’s a vulnerability and he only goes there because I don’t give him what he needs. He has absolutely no idea how abusive that is. He thinks I should applaud him for the times he’s been sober.

      I’m slowly starting to heal myself and I’m so grateful to God for the progress I’ve made.


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