When you’ve endured intimate betrayal and emotional abuse at the hands of your partner, sex can be traumatizing.
However, once you’ve established safety and healing, if you decide that sex is something that you want in your life, an intimate, pleasurable, and fulfilling sex life is absolutely possible for you. Sheila Gregoire is back on the BTR podcast to tell you how to make sex great for you (if and when you’re ready).
This article is intended for women who are not currently being abused by a partner. Sexual contact with an abusive partner is dangerous and can result in further trauma. Please get yourself to safety and begin your journey to healing before applying the principles in this article. We love you.
Great Sex is Never Obligatory
[When women] believe [they] are obligated to give their husbands sex when they want it, we know that marital satisfaction goes down, sexual pain rates go up, and orgasm rates go down. If you believe you need to give your husband sex or he’ll watch porn, the same thing. Marital satisfaction plummets, and orgasm rates plummet. Same thing if you believe all men struggle with lust. Same thing if you believe women have to be the gatekeepers.Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue
Obligatory, coercive, fearful sex is never good sex.
Real consent is an ongoing, enthusiastic yes, freely given when all information is present that is needed in order for partners to agree to sex. Consent can be withdrawn at any time without fear of negative repercussions.
Emotional Intimacy Is Necessary For Great Sex
“What we want is an emotionally healthy relationship and an emotionally healthy relationship means that you connect, not just sexually but in other ways as well.”Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue
Sheila explains that sex, in and of itself, is not intimacy. Sex cannot create intimacy. In fact, sex can leave women feeling more isolated than before when emotional intimacy is not present.
Setting Boundaries Empower Women To Have Great Sex
“Some women might be afraid to set boundaries. They might be afraid to say, wait, whoa, I have some needs here. I don’t feel safe. I’m gonna step back.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Betrayal, sexual coercion, and domestic abuse condition women to feel afraid of setting sexual boundaries. Victims may have been punished or manipulated by abusers for attempting to set sexual boundaries in the past.
Healthy, loving partners will not only accept, but encourage sexual boundaries. They want to know what makes you feel safe and loved, what you like and don’t like, and how they can help you enjoy the experience. Anything less than this is unacceptable.
BTR Is Here For You On Your Journey to Great Sex
Healing from sexual betrayal and abuse is no easy feat, but incredible sex is completely within your grasp – don’t give up and do not settle for anyone who doesn’t offer you the emotional intimacy, safety, and kindness that you deserve in order to lay the foundation for great sex.
Our BTR Group Coaching Sessions are the perfect place to process your healing journey as you work toward healthy relationships post-betrayal and abuse. You deserve healing, compassion, and community. Come join ours today. We love you.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Our daily online support group has more sessions than any other support group out there. We have over 21 sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home, you can join from your closet or your parked car in your garage. We are here for you. We’d love to see you in a session today.
Sheila Gregoire on the BTR Podcast
I have Sheila Gregoire back on today’s episode. She is amazing. Sheila is a best-selling author, speaker, and amazing advocate for women all over the world. You can find her at baremarriage.com. She has recently come out with the best sex book in the world called The Great Sex Rescue. You can just go ahead and throw all your other sex books in the garbage, and make sure you read that.
Today we’re going to talk about the new books that she has coming out called The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and a companion The Good Guys Guide to Great Sex. So, we’re going to talk about those two. Welcome, Sheila.
Sheila: Thanks so much for having me. When we have everyone listening, we have such a great time just chatting before we even recorded this, but like, hey, we’re just besties.
TW: Sex, Sexuality, Sexual Abuse & Coercion
Anne: Yes. Yes, we are. Sheila does such great work and is so involved in advocating for women and for women to have great sex. And so, I know that that’s really triggering for our audience at times because our listeners have had terrible sex because they’re married to abusive men. They are abusive in many ways. They’re abusive in terms of psychological abuse, sexual coercion, but they’ve also been abused by the common sex advice that they have received from Christian books or other places, even just clergy, even society that’s like be more sexual and your husband will love you and stuff like that. So, we’re going to go over that today, and so if when I say great sex, you get triggered and you’re like oh, I don’t want to listen. Don’t worry, this episode is for you, and we’re going to talk about how to process some of that and also the trauma that you’ve experienced from all of the bad advice that you may have received from these sex books and society over the years.
So, Sheila, the first version of Good Girls Guide to Great Sex came out in 2012. You’ve learned a lot in the last nine years. Can you talk about why you wanted to do a second edition?
A Cultural Shift in Understanding Sexuality
Sheila: When I first wrote it, I was in that culture, you know, that Evangelical culture that said men need sex and women want affection. And that it’s usually going to be the guy who’s sexually frustrated. And women, what we really need to do is understand how much he needs it. And the Good Girls Guide, the original one, didn’t say that as much as a lot of the other books did, but there was an element of it there just because I was in that culture, you know? And I was never really comfortable with it. I always knew there was something wrong with it, and I was actually one of the first people to talk a lot about higher drive wives because I did a big survey back then too and found out how many women actually have the higher drive and it’s like they don’t exist. Like they’re unicorns. No one ever talks about that. It’s just oh, he needs sex, and she doesn’t, but that’s not always true.
“This Has Major Repercussions Everywhere”
But, you know, the more that I learned, and more importantly, the more that I listened to women, the more I realized that we were missing out on a huge part of the story. And that was actually the impetus for doing that huge survey of 20,000 women last year that led to The Great Sex Rescue. We wanted to understand. Do some Evangelical teachings hurt women? Just like you said, they can cause actual trauma, and we were able to measure that. Like we can now say, hey, if you believe that all men struggle with lust, it’s “every man’s battle,” yeah, it’s no wonder you don’t feel heard in your marriage. You’re like 47% less likely to feel heard in your marriage or 59% less likely to feel like your opinions matter just as much as his. Like, this has major repercussions everywhere, and we need to change the way to talk about it.
The “Men Have Needs” Myth
Anne: When you start peeling back these layers of maybe Christian teachings that you get from sex books or just general clergy or even just societally, right. I mean, like people saying men have needs, or you know, whatever, even if it’s not coming from a Christian book. We have listeners to this podcast who aren’t Christian, for example, agnostics or atheists, and they tell us the same thing. From a movie they’ll see that men have needs or maybe a movie that you saw that was your favorite and there was a man who was cheating, and the woman was like, okay, I’m going to put on my sexy stuff and I’m going to get him back or win him back somehow. So, this isn’t just coming from these Christian authors, but I think it’s more traumatic coming from that venue because you have some belief and trust that what they’re telling you is true, and it will help you. And if you follow their counsel or their teachings that you’re living this sort of godly life and it’s God approved, and that your marriage will improve because you think their goal is to keep my marriage together. Their goal is to have us have a happy family life.
Spiritual Abuse in Relation To Sexual Trauma
Sheila: Yeah, I think one of the problems actually is that it steals our last place of safety. Like when we say, God wants you to have sex with your husband so that he doesn’t watch porn, then who do you go to now when you feel betrayed? Who do you go to now when you feel desperate? Like this is God-sanctioned now so you can’t even pray? Like you have nothing left. They’ve stolen God from you too, and I think that’s where a lot of the source of trauma comes from.
Anne: Well, and women aren’t realizing that that’s spiritual abuse. They’re not recognizing that it’s spiritual coercion, essentially saying you’re not a godly person if you don’t give sex to your husband when you don’t want to have it. And they’re also not saying maybe you don’t want to have it for a good reason. Maybe because you don’t feel safe. Maybe because he’s been lying to you. You know, there’s no talk about that. Like, maybe you have a really good reason not to have sex with someone who’s not safe.
“Intimate, Pleasurable, Mutual”
Sheila: And I think that’s the big difference. What is the aim of all of the advice? What are we actually working towards? And in The Good Guys Guide and The Good Girls Guide, what we’re arguing is that what we’re working towards is an emotionally healthy relationship the way that we believe God intended. So, we’re working towards a sex life that is intimate and pleasurable, and mutual. Okay, so intimate, pleasurable, mutual, it’s going to be emotionally healthy. And that means that you don’t do things that are emotionally unhealthy. That is going to hurt someone. And yet, if you look at a lot of the advice that’s often given not just in Christian circles and in the world, but just the advice that’s out there, the aim is not necessarily emotional health. The aim is to keep your marriage together or make sure he feels good or do this so that you will feel like a good wife, and it’s not actually about health. And then should we really be surprised when people end up hurt?
Why Do Men Feel Threatened When Women Are Empowered To Say No?
Anne: Yeah. So, if you missed it, Sheila and I did two episodes a while back, one of them is called Three Toxic Myths That Harm Women, that one was excellent. Another one was entitled Sexuality 101 for Betrayed Women. In both of those episodes, we’re talking at length about her book, The Great Sex Rescue. So, if you’re liking this interview, those are two episodes to go back and listen to. And speaking of that, it’s almost like the goal was simply to make sure that women have sex with their husbands. Like that was the top priority because I think it felt like the concern was, heaven forbid, a wife does not have sex with her husband. That is the biggest problem in the world. So why do men feel like this is so threatening to them? That women have the right to be able to say no if they are not safe.
How To Make Sex Great For Women
Sheila: Yeah, you know, one of the things that we looked at in The Great Sex Rescue is what are the outcome variables for a lot of these negative teachings? And I know that sounds like outcome burgles, super academic, but basically what we meant was, if you believe certain things, how can we measure the harm that it does or the good that it does? So, for instance, if you believe women are obligated to give their husbands sex when they want it we know that marital satisfaction goes down, sexual pain rates go up, and orgasm rates go down. If you believe you need to give your husband sex or he’ll watch porn, the same thing. Marital satisfaction plummets, and orgasm rates plummet. Same thing if you believe all men struggle with lust. Same thing if you believe women have to be the gatekeepers.
So, all of these things we know have negative outcomes in terms of marital and sexual satisfaction but, and here’s the crucial but, they also have slightly higher frequency of sex rates. So, if she believes these things, she’s also more likely to have sex a little bit more frequently. Not like a huge amount. We’re not talking like six times a week versus once a month. We’re talking like, you know, 2.8 times a week instead of 2.3, or whatever. It’s not a huge amount, but it does result in more frequent sex. And so, the question that we had was, does this mean that Evangelical leaders’ main measure of a healthy sex life is how often they have sex, rather than how good the sex is and how good the marriage is? And we would argue that yeah, that’s what it means. They think frequency is everything.
Anne: Yeah. And so, they think anything that would decrease frequency puts the marriage at risk or something as some kind of threat. However, what you’re saying is, the healthier your marriage is, the more frequent it is, but they won’t accept that?
Ugh. Gary Thomas.
Sheila: Yes. And so, healthier marriages tend to result in more frequent sex overall, and they tend to result in happier people overall, and all kinds of things, but that’s just not looked at as a viable alternative. You and I were talking earlier about Gary Thomas’s book, Married Sex, like before we started recording. Gary Thomas, who’s a really big bestselling author, wrote books like Sacred Marriage and Cherish and he’s got all kinds of bestselling books. His latest book, which just came out in the fall, he was arguing that even though we shouldn’t feel obligated to have sex with our spouses, we do need to realize that sex should be a sacrifice, at least some of the time and you should have to give sex even if you don’t want to. And so, it’s like he’s saying, on the one hand, that obligation sex is bad but then, on the other hand, he’s saying women that just in the same way that you get up in the middle of the night and feed your newborn even with your sore nipples and everything. So, we need to consider the other person’s needs. And so, it’s like he just can’t get rid of this obligation sex message.
“They Truly Believe… The Only Way To Get Women To Have Sex Is To Tell Them They Have To”
I was thinking about it, and I think it really comes down to the fact that deep inside a lot of Evangelical pastors, leaders, whatever, and probably a lot of people in the wider culture, just believe that women don’t like sex. That if you give them the choice, they won’t have it. That women are not sexual beings. They truly believe that and so the only way to get women to have sex is to tell them they have to, and that’s really what we’re arguing against in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guys Guide to Great Sex. Like we’re trying to set the record straight and say look, sex is amazing for both of you. And guys, obligation sex doesn’t feel good, and that’s not what you want. And that if you treat your wife like she has to give you sex, in the long run, you will wreck sex.
Sheila: Can I tell you the story about Bob?
Anne: Tell me the Bob story.
The Bob Story
Sheila: What About Bob? Okay. His real name is not Bob, I just like that name. But anyway, he was a commenter on my blog, and he was telling me his story. So, they’ve been married for 40 years. So, I’m assuming he’s in his 60s, and he said when they first got married, they would have sex several times a week, and she always enjoyed it. Like he always made sure that she came to orgasm, but then he would say things like, I don’t understand why we don’t do this more often. It’s so great. You like it so much. Why don’t we do it more often? And he’s constantly said this to her and over a series of years, she just started wanting sex less and less and less and she still has an orgasm, but she has sex maybe once every six weeks. And he says, you know, I would be glad to give up my orgasm just so that I can give her pleasure, but she won’t let me, and she doesn’t understand that sex is how I feel intimate.
“When You Treat a Preference Like a Problem, You Create a Problem”
And I’m reading this and I’m thinking okay, so she’s having sex several times a week with you, and she’s having a good time and she’s reaching orgasm and what do you do? You keep telling her that what she’s doing is wrong and not good enough. And then you tell her that you don’t feel intimate with her unless she’s having sex with you. So that means that all of the times that she feels like she’s connecting with you her way it doesn’t register with you. And so eventually, she’s just going to feel really cheap, and she’s going to stop wanting to have sex. It’s like, yeah, because what you do is when you treat a preference like a problem, you create a problem. And this woman simply didn’t want sex as often. It wasn’t that she didn’t want sex. It wasn’t that she didn’t like sex. She just didn’t want to quite as often and he treated that as a problem, and it created a problem.
Anne: So, this is a very interesting train of thought or a very interesting logistical problem that you’re saying because a lot of men say the same thing. A lot of abusive men will say there’s no problem with me using porn, or there’s no problem with me watching football seven hours a day, or whatever. And she’s saying it’s a problem, and then it makes it a problem. It’s a preference. I think the interesting thing about this is that what that tends to say to women is, you don’t matter as much as I do. If I think it’s a preference, it’s fine, and you’re trying to make it a problem. It’s not really a problem, and if you have a preference, it’s for sure a problem, and the one who gets to decide all this is the man, right. I get to decide how much we should be having, or you know, whatever, and whatever my opinion is about it, either way, is just more valid than yours.
Emotional Connection & Intimacy
Sheila: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it even goes deeper than that because like we said earlier, what is the goal? If the goal is emotional health, then what we want is an emotionally healthy relationship and an emotionally healthy relationship means that you connect, not just sexually but in other ways as well. And what often happens today is that many men, either due to trauma when they’re children because that’s very common, or simply due to the way that we raise boys to do with their emotions, tend to channel all of their emotions into sex, and all of their drive for intimacy into sex. So, they genuinely do not feel any drive for any kind of emotional intimacy or vulnerability because they have so walled off that part of themselves and that is not healthy.
So yeah, so they’ll play video games for eight hours a day, and then they’ll want sex because then they can feel connected, and it’s all about how they feel connected as opposed to connecting in an emotionally healthy way. And so, we need to redefine what intimacy really is. Like one of my pet peeves is calling sex intimacy. Sex is not intimacy. Like they’re not synonyms, and yet we treat them like they’re synonyms. They’re not synonyms. One of the most depersonalizing, dehumanizing, un-intimate things is to have sex with someone who is not there with you, who was fantasizing about someone else, who is obviously not thinking about you, who is using you. That is the opposite of intimacy.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.
And now back to our conversation.
“I Want To Be Motivated by an Intimate Emotional Relationship”
Anne: I’ve been on very few dates since my divorce, but I did go on a date the other night, and in the course of the date I said to him, you know, I don’t care if I ever have sex or not again. I’m good with it either way, like, it doesn’t matter to me. If I never have sex again, it’s fine. And apparently, you’re not supposed to say this on a date, Sheila, and he spent the rest of the night mansplaining to me how this was not a way to talk to a man on a date. I was going to have a marketing problem, he said. I said, well, if I’m not selling anything then I don’t really have a marketing problem, so I don’t see what the problem is because I don’t really care what you think about me having sex or not.
Anyway, it was a very interesting exchange, and the more I think about it, you know, he was trying to tell me that this was not an okay thing to say and the more I thought about it, the more I was like, I’m going to say this on every first date because I genuinely am not motivated by sex at all. I want to be motivated by an intimate emotional relationship, and then if that leads to a sexual relationship sometime in the future, fine, but sex is not my motivation. But it also led me to think that sex is this guy’s motivation, right? This is what he sees as intimacy, and that’s not really what I’m looking for. It was just more of a sign to me of the sex is intimacy quagmire that modern society is sort of said to men. Like it’s the highest form of love or it’s the way she shows me love or, you know, all that other stuff that gets women so confused because they feel like well, I really do love him. So, do I really need to do these things that I feel uncomfortable with? Or do I really need to have sex with him in order to keep him from watching porn? Or you know that type of thing that just makes women so uncomfortable.
“The Next Big Breakthrough We’re Going To Make Is Men’s Emotional Health”
Sheila: You know, John Gottman said something really interesting in his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He said that he believes the next great stage in human development, like the next big breakthrough that we’re going to make, is men’s emotional health. That right now, men as a whole, and this isn’t me man-bashing this is just simply looking at the stats. If you measure relative emotional health, emotional maturity, that sort of thing, women outscore men almost universally. And by universally, I don’t mean every woman. I mean throughout classes, throughout ages. Like different ages, different demographic groups, women tend to do better than men.
Now obviously, there are some men who are extremely emotionally healthy and there are some women who are not emotionally healthy, but just on the whole in these different segments’ women tend to outscore men, and he thinks this is what’s changing, and I actually believe it. If you look at the way millennial dads’ parent, and increasingly Gen Z. Like how Gen Zed dads, the really young ones, parent. They’re much more emotionally available and they’re much more engaged with their kids, and I think we’re going to see a big difference. But, you know, this is something that we’re really trying to bring home in both of our sex books, like both the one aimed at women and the one aimed at men, is that sex does not replace intimacy.
“Sex is the Culmination of Healthy Intimacy; It Cannot Produce It”
Sex is the culmination of intimacy, and often the reason that someone has this insatiable sex drive, they can never get enough, it’s not actually their sex drive. The problem is they’ve so closed themselves off to any kind of emotional connection that anytime they have any emotion, it gets channeled into sex. So, if they feel insecure, they need sex to make them feel better. If they feel bored, they need sex to make them feel better. If they’re worried about rejection or stress, they need sex to sort of be a salve over the wound, and they’re not turning to sex, because they have this urge to feel close to you. They’re turning to sex to soothe the wounds that they have yet to address properly, and sex can never cure someone’s wounds they haven’t addressed properly.
Anne: Well, and in that case, the partner is just being used for them to feel better about themselves. It’s not about connection. So, when you said sex is the culmination of intimacy, like you said before, I also want to say in a healthy relationship that is the case.
Sheila: Yes, and that’s what I’m saying. Like sex is the culmination of healthy intimacy, it cannot produce it.
When Sex Makes You Feel More Isolated
Anne: Right. Yeah, it cannot produce it and it can make it worse if you’ve got all the unhealthy things going on, right. So, you have sex, and it can make her feel more and more isolated. It can make her feel more and more used. It can create more and more feelings of resentment, sadness, and all kinds of other things, which are miserable for her. Also, probably miserable for him, but if he’s just thinking about an orgasm, he’s not going to notice much.
Sheila: Right. And again, you know, as I look back on the last 10 years, I didn’t understand this as much. It’s only been more recently that I’ve started really listening that I’ve understood how wrong a lot of our understanding of sex is. Because, you know, when I got married 30 years ago now, I believed that he needed sex to feel love, because that’s what everyone told me. And so, if he said I just feel like we never connect, I would feel so guilty. I would feel like he is experiencing a kind of rejection that I will never understand. I’m incapable of understanding how much he needs this because he’s a man, and I can’t understand as a woman what a man goes through. And so, no matter what I’m experiencing, what he’s experiencing must be worse because this is what we’re told, right? And you know, I played a part in teaching some of that. Not a large part, and I never taught it in the same way, but I did say some of these things, and that’s why I really wanted to rewrite The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex.
“We Just Wanted To Tell Men How To Do This in a Healthy Way”
It’s funny, Zondervan, my publisher, contracted with my husband and me to write The Good Guys Guide to Great Sex because they wanted a companion book, and we were all for that because we just wanted to tell men how to do this in a healthy way. But I begged them to let me rewrite The Good Girls Guide, and it was a bit of a fight because it was still selling really well. Like, it’s always sold well ever since it came out, but I was like, I can’t sell it in all good conscience now that I’ve listened to people with that survey of 20,000. Like I’ve really changed the way I think about libido and the way I think about frequency and the way I think about intimacy. So, it went up several committees and they finally let me rewrite it and I didn’t get paid anything to do it. I wrote an entirely new book, but I think we’re getting healthier. Like I’ve been so encouraged by the discussions that have been happening and I kind of feel like you and I are on different sides of the same discussion. You know, like, how do we get to just what is healthy and how do we acknowledge what is harmful and deal with it appropriately?
When You Are The One Initiating Sex
Anne: Yeah, I remember when I recognized that my sexual life was unhealthy and so I stopped initiating sex, but I was the one who initiated it all the time. I told my husband at the time, we’re now divorced, that I’m not going to initiate anymore. I got to figure myself out. I’m not blaming this on you. I just, I don’t know, I’ve got to figure some things out, and then he never initiated. There was nothing. He never talked about it, he never said anything. It was just like it didn’t exist, and I thought wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait. I’ve been initiating sex for seven years, and then I say I got to figure some things out because I’m not really having a good time anymore. You go ahead if you want to, and he never initiated it except for twice, and both times were just a disaster because it was in the moment where he had just like abused me emotionally or psychologically, and so I didn’t feel safe. So, I was kind of like huh? And that’s when he chose to initiate? Which was very bizarre. So, if I tell people that timeline, then you could probably say, you know, oh well, she stopped having sex with her husband, or she stopped initiating. They stopped having sex, and then within six months, he was arrested, and then they got divorced. So, was it my fault for stopping sex?
Setting Boundaries Around Sex
And you know, a lot of women might think this and they’re afraid to set boundaries. They’re afraid to say wait, whoa, I have some needs here. I don’t feel safe. I’m gonna step back. They’re afraid of this happening. They don’t want their marriages to fall apart. Their marriage is their top priority. To these women, I want to say if you take this route and you end up divorced like me, first of all, if you’re listening to this and you might be afraid of it, I do not want you to get from my story that not having sex with your husband equals divorce. I do not want you to get that impression or that feeling or that thought that it’s your fault, or that you’ve done something wrong because the problem in my case was that I was not enjoying sex because I was being abused. I stopped having sex for good reason and it was healthy for me to do so. And then I ended up divorced from my abusive spouse, which is not a bad thing. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in divorce, per se, I certainly don’t believe in being abused.
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So, a lot of people are like, divorce is the cause of, you know, all these problems or whatever, and I’m like, actually abuse is the cause. Like, abuse is the problem. Abuse is the thing that’s hurting you. So just get really clear about what is causing the problems. It’s not necessarily you deciding whoa, wait a minute, this isn’t fun for me. The problem is the abuse itself, someone that is not actually seeing you as a real person. You not having an actual relationship, but you’re in some type of exploitative dance where you have the job of cooking and cleaning and being a sexual object, but like you’re not actually being taken seriously as a human. Those would be actual real problems that need to be addressed.
Sheila and I are going to pause our conversation right now and we will continue next week, so stay tuned.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.