A Review of Married Sex by Gary Thomas
One thing I get asked to do fairly frequently is to give my opinion about various marriage books and whether the material in them is safe for abuse victims. (The vast majority of Christian marriage advice is harmful to those in abusive marriages.)
This post will address the book Married Sex by Gary Thomas and co-authored by Debra Fileta. There are numerous problems with this book that I will share below.
This is the same problem I have with nearly every marriage book I’ve ever read. From the get-go, the author establishes his book as authoritative, straight from God. Right away, this puts the reader in a frame of mind that what they are reading is true. If God said it, the reader needs to what it says.
In reality, just because someone adds Bible verses to their content, that does not by default make their words absolute truth.
Here are some of the spiritually manipulative phrases that were used:
- ”We’re bringing you resources built on the unchanging truth of God’s word”
- ”God’s plan for sex”
- ”Biblical encouragement”
- ”God clearly wants”
- ”It’s clear from God’s word”
- ”We honor and obey God when”…insert the author’s personal opinions and experiences.
The author uses Song of Songs as his main proof text for all these things that are supposedly “God’s plan for sex,” but in reality the things being pointed out were specific details within that couples unique relationship.
Not every couple is obligated to incorporate all the specific details of someone else’s sex life in order to be “honoring and obeying God” with their own. If we followed that logic, every couple in the world is most likely failing to honor God in the bedroom. I mean, I doubt most couples are whispering to each other that their teeth are like a flock of sheep!
If spiritual manipulation isn’t enough to convince readers of the authority of their words, the authors add another layer by pairing “God’s truth” with “important psychological and scientific research.” You just can’t argue with this book – it’s backed by God and science! (However, the psychological and scientific research that’s used in the book is outdated and has been shown by others in the field to have major errors. [More information on that here.])
Were the authors intentionally being spiritually and emotionally manipulative when they claim they are speaking on behalf of God and science? I don’t know. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ascribe motives when I can’t see their hearts and minds.
But motivation doesn’t matter.
It’s still spiritually manipulative.
When a book begins that way, I don’t even need to know any more. It’s enough for me to put it down and walk away.
However, if you are like me and can’t rest until you know all there is to know about a topic, then read on. I will share another huge problem with this book.
Problem 2: This book enables abuse in marriage.
Although I imagine the authors would emphatically say otherwise, and though they did give a standard caveat that it’s not intended for those in abusive relationships, this book does in fact enable abuse. (These are some of the myths that authors assert when people say their work enables abuse.)
There are threads of power and control running rampant throughout the book. And where the authors have stated that mutual love and servant-hood should characterize a marriage, they have then contradicted those statements by their illustrations or with other statements that imply the opposite.
- Some of the specific examples I am not comfortable with quoting publicly because of the graphic nature in which they were phrased. But suffice it to say that it was said multiple times in multiple ways that how well a wife satisfies her husband sexually is a key to his heart. This is devastating to women who have been abused by their husbands and were told it was their fault because they haven’t kept him happy.
- Any time the book speaks to men about helping their wives around the house or doing kind things for their wives it is in the context of helping her ‘get in the mood”.
- The book gives several illustrations of women choosing to do things with which they are uncomfortable because “it makes him so happy.” To be fair, there are a couple sentences toward the end of the book where they say that a spouse shouldn’t ask anything of their partner that they know they don’t like; however, nowhere is it expressed to the uncomfortable spouse that it is okay to be uncomfortable. You don’t have to force yourself to do it anyway because “it makes him so happy.” In fact, it is very strongly implied that the uncomfortable spouse should choose not to be selfish. Later in the book, Gary alludes back to one of these illustrations where the spouse was uncomfortable (it was a situation where the husband wanted the wife to text him nude photos) and puts a spiritual guilt trip on the uncomfortable spouse, saying if the couple in Song of Songs had cell phones back then imagine what they would have done! In chapter 15 the author again brings up an illustration where he guilt trips women into doing something because “it makes him so happy.” He says “If we know our spouse would like a better sex life and we can provide that, why don’t we just do it? Any attempt to justify not choosing loving actions toward our mate is an argument rooted in selfishness. Love from God’s perspective is always about doing, not feeling.” Then he provides the argument that sex in marriage is the same as feeding a baby in the middle of the night. We don’t do it out of love, or because we feel like it, we do it out of commitment.
- Chapter 9 addresses sexual abuse in marriage, condemning it of course, but literally directly afterward an illustration is given (in a positive light) where anyone who knows anything about domestic abuse could see the warning signs that the situation might very well be abusive. Then directly after that it gives an illustration of a woman who “is all about egalitarianism in the workplace” but that the power differential displayed in the bedroom is erotic to her. How, please tell me HOW does this support the author’s claims that sexual abuse in marriage is not okay? It doesn’t!
- In chapter 11, Debra goes over some of the reasons couples may experience differences in desire. There is another illustration where there’s a red flag of a potentially abusive situation, but it is not addressed and is brushed over as if it’s a normal situation. She talks about porn use damaging a the user’s libido, but does not address how it affects the betrayed spouse. At the end of the chapter she says that those with porn and infidelity in the past need to go to counseling instead of just ignoring it. There is language here about each of them needing to see the role they play in rebuilding the chain of trust. (Nope. A betrayed spouse has every right not to trust, and has no role to play in rebuilding the trust of someone who lied and cheated on her with naked women on a computer screen.) Chapter 13 also talked about overcoming the past and the need to rebuild trust. There was nothing there about repentance and how to actually rebuild trust. It did not address the injured spouse at all and acknowledge that they are allowed to be traumatized.
- Chapter 14 deals with emotional and relational issues. Debra says that many sexual problems are relationship problems (and I agree.) She gives a checklist of how to know if your sexual issues are caused by a relationship problem. However, many of the things labeled as “relationship problems” were red flags of abuse. She talks about how when she and her husband do not have spiritual intimacy that sex feels impersonal and she has to work hard and ask the Lord to help her serve her husband. It’s like it’s a given that her husband needs her to serve him rather than addressing the underlying lack of spiritual intimacy between them.
- In chapter 15, Gary says “Sex without respect teeters on the edge of abuse.” No. Sex without respect IS abusive.
Maybe that’s a strong word, but there’s no other way I can put it. Both Gary and Debra use graphic sexual imagery from both their own marriages and that of others. None of what was shared required the language used in order to make the point. The same information could have been relayed with much more generic language. They facilitated a forum of people that they used to collect information for this book, and it really bothered me that they were not only okay with graphic, intimate details being shared in a co-ed setting, but they intentionally set it up and facilitated it, then shared graphic details from inside real people’s bedrooms to the world.
Gary Thomas believes that a man can “be more and do more as a sexually satisfied man”, that “having sex gives him more energy, more zest for life, more engagement in his marriage and parenting, more zeal to serve God, and success in his vocation.”
And what they learn is that they should choose to stop being selfish, and that their man doesn’t have spiritual zeal because he’s not getting his needs met in the bedroom. They feel guilty because they’ve had no desire for their husband due to the awful way he treats her, but now read that they’re just being selfish.
I’m tired of people pretending to be God’s spokesperson, who shall not be questioned, while a trail of broken, bloody bodies lies in their wake.