Bare Marriage

Episode 230: Why Evangelical Honeymoons Go So Badly feat. Jay Stringer

March 28, 2024 Sheila Gregoire Season 7 Episode 230
Bare Marriage
Episode 230: Why Evangelical Honeymoons Go So Badly feat. Jay Stringer
Show Notes Transcript

Recently Texas SBC megachurch pastor Josh Howerton told brides that on the wedding night, they should "stand where he wants you to stand, wear what he wants you to wear, and do what he wants you to do." Sex was presented as something that HE has been waiting for his whole life, and that she has to provide.  There was no emphasis on how she actually has greater need to be cared for sexually, if you're going to begin well, than he does. Jay Stringer joins us today to talk about how the conversation around sex often leads to couples starting off badly--and also allows men to not have to grow up or do the work of being mature, emotionally healthy people.

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Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  We’ve got a really fun podcast for you today because I’ve got someone I respect so much that I’ve learned so much from coming on to do an interview with me.  And that’s going to be awesome.  But before we get to that, I just want to say thank you to our patrons, who support us on a monthly basis and help us do what we’re doing.  I had a great chance when we were in Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago to meet up with some of our patrons.  But there are so many.  There’s hundreds in our Facebook group, and we just have such an amazing time talking about faith issues and talking about issues of sexuality in the church.  And you can join us for as little as $5 a month and get access to our unfiltered podcasts and more.  So the link for that is in the podcast notes.  And if you want to help us with more of our research and fund some of that, we are the Good Fruit Faith Initiative under the Bosco Foundation.  And you can get tax deductible receipts for supporting us that way.  So we will also put the link to that there.  And, of course, we have so many courses.  We have our puberty course for parents talking to kids.  We have our orgasm course, our libido course, our honeymoon course for those just getting ready to be married.  And you can check those out under courses on our website, and I will put links to those in the podcast notes too.   When you buy our courses or our merch, you also support us and help us keep going as well as get healthy information out there.  So thank you for being part of this.  And now without further ado, I would like to bring on Jay Stringer.  He sent me a link to a little clip from a Southern Baptist pastor talking about sex, and let’s start the interview.  And we will let you in on what happened.  Well, I am so glad to bring on the podcast again my friend, Jay Stringer, who is a licensed counselor, the author of Unwanted, and just, in general, a really smart guy about sex and Christianity and everything.  So hello, Jay.

Jay: Hello, Sheila.  It’s so good to be back with you.  So honored to be here.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s always fun.  And okay.  Here’s the set up, everybody.  So Jay sent me an email—I don't know.  A couple of weeks ago saying, “Have you seen this clip?  Because this is weird.”  And it was mega church pastor Josh Howerton, who is Lakepointe Church in Dallas, I believe.  We have talked about Josh on several podcasts.  One where I called him out for plagiarizing four different people in an eight piece of sermon.  So that was interesting.  And then we looked at how he mischaracterizes data about the fact that conservative Christians do best and, finally, about a sex talk that he and his wife gave on Instagram.  And our plea was to not make pastors give sex talks because it’s just wrong.  And now we have this clip from a recent marriage night in March.  And you know what?  I think we should just play it, Jay.  Let’s just let people here it.  So here we go.

Josh Howerton: I’d just love to give you a nugget, a gold piece of marriage advice.  Would you like this?  Would you like—okay.  Let me do this.  Okay.  This is totally free.  This was given to me years ago.  All right?  So first, let me talk to dudes.  Specifically dudes that are heading in to marriage some day.  This is what I want to do.  Okay.  So you need to know this heading into marriage some day.  When you get to her wedding day, she’s been planning this day her whole life.  She got her first little wedding magazine when she was 14 years old.  She put the blanket around her acting like it was a wedding dress.  She did the towel over the head that was the veil.  All the things.  She’s been planning this day her whole life.  So here’s what you need to do.  You just need to stand where she tells you to stand, wear what she tells you to wear, and do what she tells you to do.  You’re going to make her the happiest woman in the world.  Now applause.  Now that’s applause.  Let’s see if you applaud this.  Ladies, when you get to his wedding night, he’s been planning this night his whole life.  So what you need to do is to stand where he tells you to stand, wear what he tells you to wear, and do what he tells you to do.  You’re going to make him the happiest in the world.  Okay.  That feels like masculine laughter or clapping.

Sheila: Yeah.  So you sent that to me.  Why did you send that to me?  Why don’t you say what you thought?

Jay: Yeah.  My cousin had actually sent me that.  I mean I think my cousin is somewhat familiar with my world, familiar that I’m an author but essentially had said, “Can you believe this crap?”  And I didn’t know what he was referring to, clicked on the link.  I mean I don’t even remember the pastor’s name.  I think his name is Josh.  The name is not nearly as important to me unless you’re in that congregation as just the sentiment of what is brought there.  So there is a sociologist by the name Philip Rieff.  And he said that the best way to critique a culture is to biopsy it.  And so think about being a doctor and you get your syringe out.  You take some of the cells out, and then you examine it.  And the doctor is fairly calm, tries to honor, but is very intentional about we need to analyze what’s in this.  And you look at it and said, “Is there health in it?   Is there any pathology in this?”  And then if you don’t do anything, what’s the ramification of not addressing that?  And so I think this sentiment that he discloses is just deeply, deeply harmful, and we can unpack that.  I know you probably have your own take on it, and I have mine.  But I think the gist of what I would say is this is deeply, deeply abusive and harmful to women, but it is also deeply, deeply harmful for men.  So, for me, there is kind of the harmful aspect and then the heart breaking aspect of this for men.  And I think the harmful aspect is—I mean he’s speaking directly to people that are about to get married which are probably in their early to mid 20s when entitlement, waiting, a lot of the purity message—it’s coming to fruition.  And then there’s this sense of entitlement that that begins to build for a lot of men.  But I think the other heart breaking side to it is this message keeps men wildly underdeveloped in terms of understanding marriage, in terms of understanding sex, how to build desire, how to build romance, how to understand, how to work with your own emotions, work with how to cultivate love and collaboration within a marriage.  So it’s just one of those messages where I would—I want to just shake my head and dismiss it as if this is just an isolated incident, and I want to push it away and just be like, “Okay.  Let’s move on.  People don’t actually believe that.”  But you and I get these messages all the time, and this is just one microcosm of many that keeps a very harmful and underdeveloped message about sex operating in our world.

Sheila: Yeah.  It absolutely does.  Okay.  And I want to unpack this with you.  Can I say something about the beginning part of it before we even get to the sex part?

Jay: Please do.  Yes.

Sheila: Okay.  That whole thing about how, men, she’s been planning this wedding her whole life so just show up, stand where she says, wear what she says, do what she says, I don’t want to go into this too much.  But let me just say that women don’t want to bear the entire mental load for the wedding.  

Jay: I don’t want my wife to bear it either.  I went back to my wedding at that—to that exact point.  And I’m like, “I had so much fun planning.”  We had different typewriters where people could write notes.  And I was bringing some of my mind and imagination to the process, figuring out what I want to wear on my wedding day.  I mean it was a deeply collaborative event between Heather and I.  And one of those things—that that was almost better than the actual wedding day was the whole preparation together of getting to plan this big day.  So I felt that too.

Sheila: Yeah.  If she asks you what kind of cake you want, she doesn’t want you to say, “Whatever you want is fine.”  She wants you to care because this is your friends.  This is your family too.  She doesn’t want to bear the responsibility for all of that.  So yeah.  Join in.  And also it matters to your family.  It’s your families that made your event too.  And if the bride does everything, then your family is kind of left out of it.  It’s just so strange.  This whole idea.

Jay: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  It’s one of those early stages of is the marriage going to be collaborative or not.  And it’s that early sentiment that men are just not supposed to care about some of the domestic or event details, but they are supposed to care quite a lot about what sex looks like between the two of them.  So yeah.  It’s not a good set up.  It’s one of those classic examples of poor metaphors and poor teachings that keep all of us underdeveloped as I’m going to keep saying.

Sheila: Yeah.  It really is.  Okay.  So let’s dissect the sex part a bit.  I don’t even—it’s just so bad I don’t even know where to start.  The expectation from the very beginning is that all she has cared about is the wedding.  And she doesn’t care about sex at all.  So before we even get to what the guy wants, that is just not true.  The assumption here is that women don’t have a sex drive.  Not true.  Women have sex drives.  Women can look forward to sex and do look forward to sex.  If a woman is not looking forward to sex, that’s actually a red flag.  We both should be looking forward to sex.  

Jay: Mm-hmm.  Yes.  Yes.  And I mean, Sheila, I was—as I was thinking about this episode, just thinking through the notion of it’s set up that, as you said, women are not going to be part of bringing their imagination and desire to sex.  But for me, there is—I mean I’m a therapist.  So let me start to unpack it as I listened to it.  So on one hand, there is this notion of men needing to just be compliant.  That’s the initial set up of just stand where she wants you to stand.  Do what she wants you to do.  And a lot of times that can be the evangelical parenting motto as well is we don’t want your desires.  We don’t want your differentiation.  We don’t want your development because desire, in and of itself, is going to be disruptive.  So I think a lot of these men are coming from families that have had a lot of conditions placed upon them to look a particular way, be a particular way, say things in a particular way, and then they’re told to abstain from sex for marriage.  But then they are also introduced at some point to the world of pornography.  Pornography is not about lust primarily.  Pornography is about power.  It’s the ability that I get to ask someone to stand where I want them to stand, to kneel when I want them to kneel, to look the way that I want them to look, and to be able to have complete power and control over someone.  And I think that—we need to understand.

Sheila: Okay.  Wait.  Wait.  I’m in pain now.  You’re so right.  That is what he was describing.  He was describing such a pornified mindset.

Jay: Such a pornified mindset.  And the background of that is that oftentimes, as Christians, we are conditioned to not have desire, to suppress our desires, to not care about what we have to wear if it’s going to be disruptive.  And that isn’t neutral.  Once you begin to ask people to suppress their desire that is going to create entitlement in one realm.  So think about this as a seesaw where the more you deprive yourself of what you want and what you desire the more that that seesaw is going to go back to a place of entitlement in the future.  And so I think a lot of men are conditioned to not have many desires.  But then in the world of porn, that is about power.  They’re able to get exactly what they want when they want it on demand.  And they are able to click and put into search bars the exact thing that they want to see, the exact thing that they want the person in porn to be wearing.  And then you mix all of that in to a particular wedding day where they have been waiting.  And then it brings such a pornified view of sex to marriage which is she just needs to be available on demand when I tell her to.  She needs to wear what I tell her to wear.  She needs to be available when I tell her to be available.  And in the long run, that becomes deeply, deeply abusive.  And as you put so, so well in so much of your work, obligation sex kills desire.  So this whole sentiment that men are supposed to want sex in this way is impeding the very sex that they purport to want.  And so I think from that message but then also as a lot of your research has pointed out with regard to vaginismus with messages like this as well—I mean the debris of this type of message creates so much harm for men and women alike.

Sheila: Yeah.  And let me just zero in on that vaginismus thing for a minute.  I talked about this actually on the blog last week on a post about whether or not sex hurts the first time and how we have normalized pain instead of normalizing arousal which has actually created a lot of pain or made them worse.  Some pain disorders don’t have anything to do with that, but some definitely do.  And one of them that does is vaginismus.  And what we found is if you take couples who only ever had sex with each other and we controlled for abuse, so we weren’t looking at people who had abuse in their background and they only ever had sex with each other your chance of experiencing vaginismus is 25% higher if you wait for the wedding night.  So if you have sex before marriage, less vaginismus.  Now I’m not trying to argue that people should have sex before marriage.  But I think what is happening is that the way that we are doing the honeymoon creates the perfect conditions for vaginismus and what Josh Howerton is saying here is creating the perfect conditions for vaginismus because it’s like, ladies, you don’t have a choice.  Your autonomy is now gone.  And as soon as sexual autonomy is gone, vaginismus rates increase.  Right?  So you think about the average couple, who maybe they’re planning and waiting for marriage, right?  They’ve got this in their head.  They’re going to wait for marriage, but they don’t.  They have sex first.  Why?  If a couple has sex when they were planning on waiting for marriage, chances are they were making out.  They got hot and heavy.  Things took over.  They had sex, right?  So that’s actually the way the sexual response cycle is supposed to work.  You get excited.  You get aroused.  It eventually leads to orgasm, et cetera.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.  But when we get married, if you’re waiting for marriage to have sex and you’re told what Josh Howerton says which is that night she does what he tells her to do.  She wears what he tells her to wear, and she just shows up where he tells her to show up, whatever he said.  Now, all of a sudden, it’s not about the sexual response cycle.  It’s just about the act of intercourse.  And yeah.  You’re ignoring all of the phases that she needs to get aroused.

Jay: Yes.  Yep.  Yeah.  I mean, again, as a therapist and even some of my own experience within this is there have been so many couples that I have worked with that what happened on their wedding night and the arguments and the entitlement and the sense of not knowing what was happening and not knowing what they—both people wanted after a very long exhausting day.  And then they get to the hotel at midnight or after.  And it’s such a Petri dish for a lot of dysfunction, and you have this opening act of sex, sexual entitlement, that then begins to be carried—it shapes the trajectory of an entire marriage.  So I have worked with several couples that when we are addressing some of the desire discrepancies, when we begin to go into when did a lot of this happen, dating, there was—people were making out.  But then on that wedding night where it became you just need to be available and I have waited my entire life for this that message then gets carried out for decades in the life of the marriage.  So if you’re listening to this, there is also a sense of what does it mean to be able to go back to some of these places of entitlement and to really work to repair the ruptures that were created at that particular point.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  There’s a really interesting study.  We’ve talked about it on the podcast before.  I’ll put a link in the podcast notes to it.  That came out of the University of Toronto.  I think in 2022.  So pretty recent.  And what they looked at was the effect of orgasm on a woman’s first sexual encounter that included intercourse.  So if she orgasmed on her first sexual encounter, her chance of having the same libido as her current partner was really high.  But if she did not, it was substantially lower.  So it’s like that first sexual experience actually does set the stage.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t repair.  So we’re not saying that to those listening.  But it’s always harder to repair than it is to do it right the first time.   

Jay: So true.  Yes.  Yeah.

Sheila: And so if we can just set the stage for, hey, sex is supposed to be something which is good for both of you and which involves both of you, and it doesn’t have to happen right away.

Jay: Yes.  Well, that’s where I think if we go back to the wedding day.  That was the initial set up and what you’re supposed to wear.  I think of all of this is in the realm of desire and imagination.  So in the same way that you want both people contributing to a sense of what should we wear, what should we host, what food should we have, I think all couples can—at least for a lot of my friends, you go and—to the chef, to the restaurant before the caterer.  And you’re like, “Do we like this?  Do we like chicken?  Do we want the salmon?  What’s the,”—that’s such a fun collaborative place to be able to come together.  And sex ought to be the same way.  When you look at a lot of the models around sex that were initially being developed, they were always centering orgasm as kind of the end all be all.  And a lot of the newer models of sexual arousal, sexual desire are really centering pleasure all the way through.  So it’s not so much about who is orgasming but a sense of is there pleasure at each stage.  Or at least a willingness to have pleasure.  And so when you’re thinking about that in terms of sex, that really ought to be the same type of imagination and the same type of language that couples are able to come together to say what does sound good.  What is desirable?  What sounds pleasurable?  And then if it doesn’t work out and it’s not as pleasurable as you want, there is so much freedom and liberty and play to be able to move to a different experience.  But I think just that sense of language is so important to desire.  And so when Josh is asking men to essentially be silent and comply, he is wiping out language for men.  And then when Josh is asking people to not engage language or choice or consent or pleasure or collaboration, he’s creating a context that is going to kill desire eventually in a marriage.  So just language, play, desire is so central to a good marriage.

Sheila: Yeah.  It absolutely is.  And I’m really surprised that this is still out there.  I know that Josh knows better.  I know that he’s heard a lot of these critiques before.  And yet, he still is parroting these tropes that can get a laugh.  They get a laugh in a congregation.  But they’re deeply harmful.  And if you think back to what a lot of this stuff is based on—okay.  So even the whole idea that you have to have sex right after you were married, it—I mean it goes back to the nobility having to prove that she’s a virgin and now any children that come are his, et cetera.  So you have everybody waiting outside the door to see the bloodied sheet, right?  Which is ridiculous because so many women, first of all, that you don’t bleed when the hymen breaks.  Second of all, many women don’t even have one, or they break it earlier in life.  I mean it’s just a ridiculous trope.         

Jay:   Yeah.  It’s not medically accurate at all.

Sheila: No.  But that was the idea that you have to have sex right away to prove that you are now married and that any come are from him, et cetera, et cetera, right?  And we’ve continued that.  And I think that, as we were talking in my post last week about whether or not sex hurts the first time, a lot of the conversation around it was women were told you just have to get through it the first time.  You just have to get through it the first time, right?  Because it’s going to hurt, and the important thing is just to get it over with.  And so it’s like you’re pushing yourself to achieve penetration as opposed to it being something organic that comes out of—yeah.  Desire and play and fun.  It’s just this duty that is going to be terrible.  And then we wonder 17 years later why she has no libido.      

Jay: Yes.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Two things within what you just said, Sheila.  The first—I want to go back to that it—he does know better.  And you can tell that in the link or in the clip where he basically acknowledges some level of nervous laughter among the men.  So there’s a sense of even before the set up of, yeah, you all are cheering now, but are you going to cheer in a just a little bit?  So that, if we are using the concept of mind mapping, we have a sense that he has already mapped his congregation’s mind.  He already knows that it’s going to be disconcerting, unsettling, and somewhat playful.  So I want to call that out.  When you know that you are doing something that—whether it’s in your mind to be able to get laughs or, more than likely, knowing that you’re going to create a level of disruption in someone’s life that is not for the purpose of edification or strength or goodness, you ought to know better.  And I think that that—one of the things that I have thought a lot about—I think when I read your work, Sheila, is just a sense of—I go back to my own seminary days.  And I was enrolled to go to a—I’m not going to name which seminary.  But a very reformed seminary on the east coast.  And when I see a lot of the critiques that you and your team begin to call out in very brilliant—in a way—gutting ways, I think about myself as if I had not gone to the grad school I went to that really honored the voice of women and kind of got a sense of deconstructing a lot of evangelicalism I could see myself going to one of these churches or becoming a senior pastor that was similar to some of the messages that Josh put.  And I think that’s what we need to be able to address as pastors and as ministers and as leaders is to be able to really check ourselves with regard to what messages we are bringing and to do a biopsy on our own messages.  That yeah.  Maybe this sounds really playful.  But if this goes unaddressed, what is the implication of this?  Because I think to the witness of the church, this is one of the central reasons why people are leaving the church is because these are very underdeveloped and harmful messages that once you’re in it—yeah.  It’s maybe playful.  You share it.  But this overall, it’s a huge net loss with regard to why people are leaving.  So I think culture—we can biopsy and show some underdeveloped aspects in some of the leading work around sex that’s out there in the world today as well.  But it still—it is the healthier message than a lot of what we find in the church.  I mean I think it’s just a call to a lot of men and pastors in this position is you really have to take your own role seriously because these messages end up creating a lot of harm.  And so yeah.  For what it’s worth, it’s just one of those places where—on one level, I get it.  And then on the other hand, I get so furious because as a therapist I’m dealing with the debris of these types of messages.  And I don’t think I would have changed as much if I had not seen this firsthand in my own marriage and seen this firsthand in so many couples.  So yeah.  We need to get this message right.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And I think that’s what we try to do in Great Sex Rescue was to show you can have two totally well meaning people who both love Jesus.  But when you hear these messages enough, it does harm.  And when women hear—he was giving the obligation sex message there from the stage.  So blatantly, right?  She needs to do what he says.  She needs to do what he wants right away, and there’s nothing about her autonomy at all.  And that really does kill desire.  And so even if he’s a good guy, who doesn’t believe the obligation sex message, and even on the honeymoon, if he is not wanting her to do—to stand where he wants and wear what he wants, et cetera, she—if she has still internalized that that can affect her.  And that’s what we found over and over again is that these messages—when women hear them from their pastors, even if their pastors didn’t mean it like that, even if the husbands didn’t want that, it affects them.  And so when people say these things like they’re jokes, it’s not okay because it’s being said on top of Every Man’s Battle that called women methadone for their husband’s sex addictions.  It’s being said on top of Love and Respect, which said that you have to have sex or he’s going to have an affair and that what he needs is physical release.  He needs to let you give him physical release.  It’s being said on top of Sheet Music that says that your period is a difficult time for your husband, and so you need to give him sexual favors during your period so he doesn’t climb the walls.  There’s a context to this.  And it does hurt.  But I want to comment on the therapist part.  So one of the things I find so funny is that a lot of—many pastors have not embraced our book because we’re basically calling out their sacred—the things that they are most adamant about teaching.   And we’re saying, “Hey, that’s harmful.”  But therapists totally have.  And I think your book and my book together, Unwanted—well, why don’t you explain what Unwanted is?

Jay: Sure.  Unwanted was an attempt to try and offer a—I kind of refer to it as a via media.  In the Latin, that’s a middle path out of a lot of the evangelical Christian understanding of how do you work with unwanted sexual behaviors like the use of porn, infidelity, buying sex.  It would be pretty much just the lust management realm.  This is something that you need to get accountability around.  This is something you need internet monitoring for.  Certainly, a lot of the methadone language.  So it’s this sense that you cannot control your lust, and you just need to try and manage it and suppress it.  But as one of my friends said to me when I was writing my book—he said, “Jay, when I’ve been having the same conversation with my accountability for 15 years, something is not working.”  So I did some research into studying people’s stories, their family origin, adverse childhood experiences and trauma, what they were dealing with in the present like a lack of purpose or depression, and then we started asking people some of the specifics of what they would put into the internet.  Not just did they look at porn but what type of porn did they go to.  And we basically found that we could predict the types of porn that people were going to based on the unaddressed and then, therefore, unresolved parts of their story.  So the big thesis of Unwanted is that sexual brokenness, sexual difficulties are not a life sentence to sexual shame or addiction or entitlement.  They are a roadmap to healing and growth.  And so we’re trying to really say that sexual difficulties are not a barrier to our spiritual formation.  They’re one of the most necessary ingredients for it.  And so we try to create a very kind and curious approach to working with sexual difficulties.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  So it’s a really powerful book.  It’s one of the ones that I recommend the most because—yeah.  If we’re going to get to the root of sexual difficulties, we need to look at why people are drawn to the stuff in the first place.  You can’t just say, “Well, try harder to not use it.”  It doesn’t work because there is something going on there.    

Jay: I mean I always go back to Romans 12:2, which says, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world,” which would be some of the clip that we heard earlier is a pattern of this world.  Don’t be conformed to a pornified view of the world.  “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  And the problem for most of us, as Christians, is that we cannot renew our sexual mind because we’ve never been invited to understand what’s there to begin with.  And back to this message, men are just encouraged to say what they want, go after what they want, and women are just encouraged to go along with it.  But they’re not developing their own sexual minds as well.  So yes.  We have to understand the stories and the dynamics that shaped our sexual minds if we’re going to be able to transform it.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so I think therapists are on the front lines here because pastors say all this stuff from the stage or they give out books that say this bad stuff.  And then it’s affecting real couples, and the couples show up in the therapist’s office.  And the therapist’s office is the one who has to fix it—or address it anyway.  And I think that’s why therapists really are (distorted audio).

Jay:   And you are exactly right.  And part of the problem with regard to even being a therapist in—especially being a pastor is the average grad school, the average seminary, even as a therapist, you have had one class in human sexuality in the entire course of your training.  So the equivalent would be imagine going to see a cardiologist who has only had one class in the human heart.  You would not go to see them.  And yet, you’re exactly right.  There are so many pastors that are preaching messages to which they have had no understanding.  They have had no advanced training in.  They have maybe taken one class—not even a course but had a guest lecture for an hour on a particular topic and maybe have read one book that probably did not score very well according to your metrics.  And, again, that’s why—to the point that I was making at the beginning, to me, this is not just about Josh.  This is about the wider understanding of health of being able to say we should not be speaking into dynamics to which we have no training.  And if we do want to speak into those, we should seek out experts and PhDs and people with advance degrees that have an understanding to, at least, consult with them.  That if you’re going to give an hour message on sex, please, meet with a certified sex therapist and a PhD in attachment theory for a couple hours to say let’s midrash this together.  Is this psychologically healthy?  Is this sexually healthy?  So I think that’s that sense of we have known for generations that we are not offering a thorough and comprehensive understanding of sex to people.  And why, why, why do we let this go on?  So in the same way that you would not go to a cardiologist if they had no training in understanding the heart, we should have some healthy level of suspicion about listening and responding to a pastor’s sex message when they have had no training and likely very little therapy of their own to be able to address what’s playing out.

Sheila: I’m parachuting into the podcast to give a huge thank you to Brazos Press and their book, Forgiveness After Trauma, that is sponsoring us this week.  I don’t do sponsorships unless I really believe in it.  I’ve been sent a lot of book that I just haven’t been able to wholeheartedly get behind.  But I need to tell you.  Forgiveness After Trauma, it really changed my view of so much of what Jesus said.  And it gave me so much peace and even got me really excited about this topic.  We talked about this last week on the podcast with the author, Susannah Griffith.  And I’ve been talking about it on the blog.  Different aspects of forgiveness including lamentation.  We’re going to look anger and accountability soon and what it really means to reconcile and how it isn’t what we think.  It’s far more community based.  And so I just really want to encourage people to pick up the book.  It launched this week.  And it is a book that deserves to do well, that needs to do well because we’ve had so much bad teaching around forgiveness that puts so much pressure on victims as opposed to surrounding victims and really bringing them back into community in a healthy way.  And so I encourage everyone.  Go pick up Forgiveness After Trauma, and the link is in the podcast notes.  So one of the things that really drives me bonkers is that in evangelicalism there’s this idea that because someone is a pastor they are thus equipped to speak on everything.  And what we see here is the results of that.  We see someone who is not trained in sexuality speaking authoritatively on it in a way that can actually do harm.  And I want to play a clip.  So he’s referring—in the clip that we heard, it’s from the Sunday after the marriage night.  So he was just summarizing a little bit—a little quick clip.  And after Jay sent me this, I actually watched—not all of it.  I fast forwarded through a lot of it, but it’s a two and a half hour video on YouTube.  I played it on 1.75 speed, but I did watch a lot of it.  And I want to play another really, really quick clip here just for your reaction.  So here we go.

Josh Howerton: For her, emotional intimacy precedes physical intimacy.  You are not getting her body because you have not given her access to your heart or accessed her heart.  So you have to understand that first, and you have to serve, love, share, be vulnerable, access the heart before you get the body.  Does this make sense?  Is this true?  I need feminine clapping.

Sheila: All right.  Now on the face, that sounds healthy, right?  Guys, you need to understand that you need to have access to her heart.  You need to give her access to your heart before you can have access to her body.  And that actually is healthy.  But there’s something here though that is underlying it which is the idea that, for men, sex isn’t emotional and that, for men, sex can be purely physical.  And I think that kind of goes with what you were talking about at the beginning of this podcast on how so many men are underdeveloped, and they’re encouraged to be underdeveloped.

Jay: Yes.  Yeah.  I mean I think that’s what’s at play in a lot of this is so many—can I unpack two psychological frameworks that I think are really important here?

Sheila: Yeah.  

Jay: So the first would be this category of differentiation.  So differentiation is taken from cell biology, and it’s basically for a cell to grow the cells have to differentiate and divide in order to promote the overall growth of the organism.  So Dan Siegel talks about how the strongest systems in the world are those that are very differentiated and those that are linked together.  So differentiation and linkage are key to—if you get on an airplane, it is full of differentiated parts.  The engine needs to be the engine.  The fuselage is the fuselage.  The control panel needs to be that.  But the magic of flight is not just that these things are differentiated.  It’s that they have found a way to meaningfully come together.  And we see the same thing in a symphony.  The strings need to be the strings.  The percussion needs to be the percussion.  But the magic of the symphony is when these differentiated instruments come together.  And so one of the most harmful aspects of all of these types of teachings is that it keep both partners undifferentiated.  It doesn’t ask them to develop their own desires, their own pleasures, their own distinction.  But the point is not just to become differentiated.  It’s also to learn how do I become meaningfully linked with someone in a supportive, collaborative, consensual, and playful way.  And so a lot of these messages keep people undifferentiated.  It’s not a me plus a you.  It’s a let’s just have a type of emotional fusion.  And in that emotional fusion, that’s where the lack of desire really begins to implode is that the evangelical sex message does not promote differentiation or meaningful linkage at all.  It goes for linkage, but it avoids the critical task of differentiation.

Sheila: So what you’re saying is the evangelical sex message—let me just see if I understand this—is that he’s going to want this, but she’s not.  And so it’s like she has none of her own desire.  She’s just sort of being consumed by his and doing what he wants.  And so the sex is for him.  But then conversely, we’re also saying the emotional part is for her.    

Jay: Yes.  Yeah.  It keeps both people underdeveloped, overdeveloped in the same way because that’s where the other—the second thing that I was going to mention, Sheila, is another concept from the neuroscientist, Dan Siegel.  But he has this thing called the window of tolerance.  And the window of tolerance is basically—if you’re listening, imagine two parallel lines.  And right in the middle between those lines is what he calls the window of tolerance or the green zone.  And then above the top line would be hyper arousal, and that’s also known as the red zone.  And then beneath the bottom line is hypo arousal, and that’s known as the blue zone.  So when you are in the green zone, that is when the self state is flexible.  It’s adaptive.  It’s creative.  It’s playful.  But then in the red zone, your heart rate goes up.  A lot of stress, fight or flight, a lot of arguments between couples takes place in the red zone.  Or the blue zone is when the self state becomes kind of imploded.  You feel a level of depression.  Numbness begins to build in.  And so one of the things that I find often with the work of men is that men have such a small window of tolerance.  And I think that this is generally in culture but especially evangelical men that I work with is when things are going well and sex is happening at the level that they want it to or their job is working and their kids are being who they want them to be—when everything is good, they have a very small window of tolerance.  But then when there is friction in a marriage or there is difficulty, their window of tolerance is so, so small.  And that’s when I’m speaking—when I say small window of tolerance, I’m saying you’re underdeveloped.  And so what happens is they sky rocket into the red zone, and that’s where fight and flight are.  That’s where their heart rate goes up.  That’s where their entitlement comes in.  And so as a man, if you only know how to bring a type of regulation to yourself through orgasm, that is going to be deeply, deeply detrimental and harmful to your marriage because if you have learned that self soothing is not that I—something I receive from relationships or through my own breath work or through my own understanding of how to calm myself down.  But since adolescence, you have been using porn to be able to bring some level of calm.  You’re going to bring that into your marriage that any time you don’t get the amount of sex that you want and you feel like you deserve you’re going to sky rocket into that red zone.  And then you’re going to feel very entitled, and then you’re going to do things that make you feel somewhat ashamed of what you’ve done.  And then you’re going to dip into something of that blue zone and feel like you can’t make your life work.  You’re going to feel sad.  Depression is going to begin to take over.  And I see that dynamic over and over again.  A very small window of tolerance, setting up a spike into the red zone, and then men remain underdeveloped and feel pretty depressed and lonely within their lives.  And they stay in that blue zone until they get sex, until they get some raise or promotion that’s very temporary that is a reflected sense of self that begins to calm them back down.  So don’t know if that makes sense, but that pattern happens over and over again with men that I work with.

Sheila: And let me elaborate on that a little bit because what—there’s another aspect to combine to it too.  So you have men especially with a low window of tolerance, and they get into that red zone if they don’t get orgasm.  But at the same time, they have been taught that my only legitimate method of sexual release is my wife.  She is the one that God gave me to give me sexual release, right?  And this is what Emerson Eggerichs actually says.  Mark Driscoll called women penis homes.  This is quite widely taught in evangelical circles.  So you’ve got these guys who think God has given me a way to get sexual release through my wife that is legitimate.  Every other way to get a sexual release is not proper in the Christian context.  And so when she isn’t giving me sexual release, she is depriving me.  She is hurting me.  Even if I am pressuring her, I’m not the one sinning because God gave her to me for that.  And so she becomes the one who is actively hurting him, and he becomes the victim.  So even if he is pressuring, is coercing, is all of these things, he sees himself as the victim, and that’s really the definition of entitlement in many ways is that you see yourself as the one who is being harmed even when you are the one doing the harming.

Jay:   Exactly.  Yeah.  And then that brings women into the red zone.  And then—I mean that’s classic DARVO stuff.  But then when the women get into the red zone and they begin to critique their husband for that entitlement then the husband then begins to attack his wife for being out of control, not having desire, and then they get into a very big fight.  And then there’s some type of stonewalling that inevitably emerges after that.  So I mean I think—yeah.  We have to figure out no orgasmic ways to be able to find soothing especially as men.  That if you don’t know how to calm your body down—University of Michigan has done studies where if you get outside for 20 minutes—20 minutes only—they have done spit tests for people before and after being outside for 20 minutes.  And the reduction of cortisol is most significant after 20 minutes.  So that sense of going outside to be able to get back into your window of tolerance is such an important gift that you give to yourself but also to your marriage.  So we have to be able to invite men and women to be able to find ways to bring calm and restoration to their bodies without requiring the other person to do it.  And whether it’s happening emotionally or sexually, that’s a lot of that emotional fusion that is built in to a lot of evangelical marriage teachings is that I can’t be okay, I can’t be who I am, if you are not there with me, for me at all times which, again, is such a beautiful desire to begin with.  But if you don’t know who you are and your sense of self becomes very anxious the moment that you don’t get the emotional or sexual connection that you desire, that’s trying to highlight something of how can I develop a self.  How can I develop a way of soothing myself without asking my partner to have to come through for me in order for me to be okay?  I think that’s the undifferentiated evangelical sex message and emotional message that doesn’t really invite us to become a you and a me so that the we can come together.

Sheila: Yeah.  It is so scary.  And, again, we’ve been talking mostly about men.  But this really affects women too because our sexuality has largely been killed or made dormant or covered or whatever analogy you want to use because we’ve never learned desire or how to play because we’ve had to turn it off all the time.  As teenagers, we’re told we’re the gatekeepers because boys can’t help themselves because their desire is so overwhelming.  And so we need to be the ones to put the brakes on to make sure it doesn’t go too far.  And then we’re given messages like Josh is where it’s assumed that she isn’t going to want sex, where to want sex is somehow unfeminine.  And it’s assumed that she’s always going to have the lower libido.  And she’s always going to have to be coerced in some way to have sex.  And that assumption can just kill a woman’s libido.  

Jay: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  I mean, Sheila, again, that’s why I’m so grateful for—I mean especially The Great Sex Rescue is—I mean growing up that was the message that I inherited as well.  The point that I was trying to make earlier that I don’t think I made well is just—I think about those moments all the time of if I had not had people like you, other authors, professors, and colleagues of mine really begin to point out to me some of the ways that my current frameworks were underdeveloped and a lot of the debris of my own relational failures I would be in these types of messages where I’m just not even thinking about the implication of how this kills desire, what obligation sex does, or just being able to understand that women are not just—as a lot of the authors put out there, that they’re just—they care more about being loved and not respected.  Or they care about this.  Those messages seep in to almost everything that we’re not fully aware of.  So one of the studies that I came across in my—for my next book was this researcher had essentially given people these two word pairs.  So somebody was given the word—or the pair ocean and moon and then a bunch of other word pairs.  And then the researchers asked them to say what is your most favorite detergent out there.  And the amount of people that responded Tide detergent after they had heard ocean and moon was statistically significant in terms of a higher response for Tide detergent.  But then the researcher said, “Why did you choose that,” and they’re like, “Oh, my mom had it.  Or I think I saw it in the store last week.”  And so their desires for Tide had been built up.  But they had no awareness that those messages of ocean and moon that had been given to them were actually shaping their mind and what they were speaking to.  And I think that’s what’s at play with a lot of these messages is we’re not even fully aware of how messages go from a book into a sermon into a family system.  And we just hold these things in our bodies, and we think that they are just intuitively true.  But we have no understanding of how they have been built up in our consciousness.  And so I think when it comes to—I think a lot of the good work being done these days it’s not just to be able to deconstruct the harmful messages.  But it’s to really build language and research and an understanding of how do we develop a very healthy way so that when we hear these messages something in us is like, whoa, that is not right.  Something about this is off instead of it being like, oh, men are so different.  And women are so different.  That’s why this is funny.  It’s that now people are listening to it and being like something is deeply off in this.  And I don’t know if we would have been there 20, 30 years ago with messages like this.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And what was interesting too about this marriage night is they had another pastor in to give the talk.  And then Josh’s wife and this pastor and his wife ended up answering questions.  And I just found it really problematic because the other pastor didn’t have any training in marriage either as far as I know.  And they were answering questions about abuse, and their treatment of it was really not good.  So, again, it’s just a plea.  Please, please, pastors, understand when you’re out of your depth.  You don’t need to be—you know what you’re an expert on?  You’re an expert on the Bible and theology because that’s what you were taught.  You are not an expert on mental health.  You’re not an expert on sex.  You’re not an expert on parenting.  Just because you know theology does not make you a parenting or a marriage expert.  And just because you’re married does not make you a marriage expert.  And I just really wish that pastors didn’t feel like they had to address everything and that congregations didn’t expect their pastors to address everything.  

Jay: Yes.  Yeah.  

Sheila: I don't know if we’ll ever get to that point, but that’s my plea.

Jay: Absolutely.  Mm-hmm.  I mean I think that that’s the sense of as a pastor that’s part of the humility needed to be able to say I’m over my skis here.  Or I don’t understand what’s happening here.  And so I think just that sometimes the most deeply harmful pastors are those that don’t believe that they have a hermeneutic of the way that they see things.  And that belief that they don’t have a hermeneutic becomes deeply harmful.  And so I think it is just such a good invitation to pastors to be able to say there is so much more that we need to know.  And if you are a mega church pastor, hopefully, likely, there are some experts, at least, in your congregation that you could begin to bring in to be able to speak to some of these dynamics.  So get in.  The Jewish concept of a midrash, which is basically people coming over the text talking about it, disagreeing, trying to get a sense of what’s happening in the text.  Midrash is built in to really good study of Scripture.  And I think that needs to happen with cultural messages and sex is that pastors need to invite a holistic team of people around them to be able to understand what are the messages that I’m bringing, how are these being perceived, and to biopsy them to say if we don’t address this what’s the implication of this.  So we need to hold pastors to a higher standard here.

Sheila: Amen.  All right.  Well, Jay, thank you so much for joining us.  I know in May I will be joining for the Sexual Attachment conference.  Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Jay: Yes.  Our fourth annual conference called the Sexual Attachment conference.  Another therapist by the name of Adam Young—he has a podcast called The Place We Find Ourselves.  We have been doing this Sexual Attachment conference because we have really wanted people to understand their sexual story and to understand how their family of origin, their attachment style, their trauma impacts the way that they relate to sex and relate to their partner.  And so it’s been a really good conference for us.  But as therapists, we see things a lot from a family of origin perspective.  And one of the things that we were talking about a couple years ago is just we need more of a cultural understanding of this and how does—especially an evangelical sex message relate to all of this because it’s not just family of origin.  It’s not just trauma.  It’s also messaging.  And so we were wondering who could we bring in that could guide us.  And immediately, your name came to mind.  So yeah.  We’re going to have you come in to talk to us about—we still need to decide exactly what you feel passionate about.  But I think just something in terms of how does the evangelical messaging and obligation really kill desire, keep us underdeveloped, lead to conflict, entitlement.  So we want to address your family of origin, trauma history, get you really curious about sexual problems in your marriage, sexual difficulties that might be there.  And we want to engage those things from a no pathology based view, develop a lot of curiosity but also understand how it’s not just our family or origin but it’s also our faith of origin that influences who we are.  So you’re going to come and help lead us in that. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Definitely.  That will be great.  So I will put links to where you can sign up for that conference as well as where you can find Jay on Instagram and his book, Unwanted, and his website.  So I will put links to all of those in the podcast notes.  And thank you so much for joining us.  I really appreciate it.    

Jay: Yeah.  So good to be with you, Sheila.

Sheila: So glad Jay can join us, and I really appreciate his book, Unwanted.  Seriously, it’s one of the healthiest books talking about porn that I have found.  So please check out that.  It’s in the link in the podcast notes.  Also if you or someone that you know is about to get married, please don’t do what Josh Howerton said for you to do.  And let’s start marriage in a healthy way and set you up for success long term where you will feel seen and heard and known.  And you’ll have autonomy, but you’ll also experience pleasure.  We do have our honeymoon course that can help with that.  You can gift it to other people too that you know who are getting married.  And our books, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, do explain the sexual response cycle and just how to start well.  So check those out, and let’s not let this narrative that so many still spread—let’s not let that be the story of the evangelical church.  Let’s just stop it.  We can do better, people.  We can do better.  So thanks for joining us.  And I’ll see you next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Bye-bye.