Sheila Gregoire – Expert Contributor
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

On our first episode in this season on the Safe to Hope podcast, I spoke with Anna about the abuse she endured in her marriage. Anna’s childhood memories are that of a loving home. However, there were several dynamics in her growing-up years that seemed to have contributed to her inability to recognize an abusive teenage relationship, which then resulted in an abusive marriage we’ll pick back up with Anna story in our next episode, but for today, I am excited to have Sheila Wray Gregoire on the podcast because of her extensive research, and resources that relate to the dynamics and a spoke about in her story. Sheila’s most recent book, She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Self and Speaking Up specifically addresses raising daughters who are encouraged to make good choices, trust their own discernment, and to avoid those typical evangelical messages that literally prime girls and women for abuse. Sheila is the author of 11 additional books, including the Great Sex Rescue. She is the host of the Bare Marriage podcast. As an award-winning writer, Sheila calls the church to more than just pat answers by conducting original research to find out what advice works and what really doesn’t. Sheila and her husband Keith have been married for over 30 years. And together they have two adult daughters, one son in heaven, two sons-in-law, and two adorable grandchildren. And if you wonder what she does in her downtime, she knits even in the line at the grocery store.

Welcome, Sheila.

Sheila
Thank you. It’s so good to be here.

Ann Maree
Yeah, great to have you. Besides that introduction, maybe tell us a little bit about your work, something that maybe we don’t know, or whatever else you want to say. And perhaps the reasons that you got started talking about sex, intimacy, and purity culture.

Sheila
Well, first of all, no one grows up thinking you know what I wanted to when I grow up, I want to be the Christian sex lady, because that’s just weird. I started blogging in 2008. And I was in the mommy blogging space talking about parenting and housework and marriage. But the more I talked about sex, the more my traffic grew. And so it kind of morphed into this. And over the years, I was writing a lot about how to have healthy sex life, how to have a healthy libido. And I just found that people still had a lot of the same issues. And the one thing that I hadn’t done was read other Christian books. I was always afraid of plagiarizing. So I was just going by research, by what I knew was true. I was scouring academic journals and writing these great articles. And people still had these roadblocks. And then in 2019, I started reading evangelical bestsellers. And I was horrified by what I saw about how bad the sex advice was. And that’s really what prompted us to start doing our research and figure out okay, let’s actually measure these teachings and see what effects they’re having on people long term.

Ann Maree
Yeah, great approach, very helpful approach it really enlightened us to what we were reading and what was wrong with it. Do you have any statistics regarding girls who end up in high-control abusive relationships after coming out of the teachings that we’ve been reading or from purity culture?

Sheila
What I can tell you is that it is far more likely. So whenever you teach girls that their voice doesn’t matter, that they need to stay smaller, that they pose a threat to boys by what they wear, by allowing the boy to go too far. When we teach girls that they are somehow responsible for boy’s sins, which is largely what purity culture does and did that, you see girls much more likely to end up in abusive marriages. And just to give you one stat, when girls believe that they are at least partially responsible for boy’s lust They are 68% more likely to marry an abuser.

Ann Maree
Wow. Yeah. Those are devastating statistics. But again, just so very enlightening to what we were taught or even I think what my generation taught our kids without even knowing what we were doing.

Sheila
Oh, yeah, I think the intentions were very good. You know, I grew up in the 80s. And I think people forget how bad the 80s were. Teen pregnancy rates were through the roof, rates of drug and alcohol abuse were really high. We always think that things are steadily getting worse. And actually, if you look at most metrics for teenagers, they’re getting better – mental health is getting worse – but a lot of other metrics are getting better. And so a lot of purity culture grew out of this desire to protect kids from these horrible things that were happening in teenage culture. But we didn’t do it the proper way. And we didn’t do it in a gospel-focused way. We did it in a very legalistic way. And it ended up backfiring. Big time, big time.

Ann Maree
Yeah, it’s our default mode, isn’t it to go to legalism versus graciousness?

Sheila
So, yeah, absolutely. And when you combine that with the church’s emphasis on male leadership, and on men being in charge, then you end up making girls feel like they are the problem.

Ann Maree
Right. And that’s what we’re hearing a lot. I want to play something that Anna said when I interviewed her, and then I have a question for you. So let me let me cue that up.

Anna recording
I met Alex when I was a sophomore, and he was a senior. He stood next to me in the choir. And as the school year went on, I noticed him constantly staring at me. His lingering gaze would be frankly, creepy and objectifying to me today. But at the time, I was not only deeply insecure, I was also craving attention and affection from a young man. I think it’s important to highlight how much my low self-esteem contributed to my vulnerability. I believe that Alex recognized my insecurity and saw it, saw me as an opportunity.

Ann Maree
So you asked a really good question in your new book, She Deserves Better regarding this issue of self-esteem. I’m a little bit older than you are, but when we brought up our kids in a similar world, as your daughter described in the book, I know I often heard how detrimental it was to encourage self-esteem for our children because society was already doing a good enough job of that. And in much of an overemphasis of it like with everyone-gets-a-trophy kind of idea. But the question you posed in your book was, why is self-esteem important? And I’d love for you to answer that for our audience, as well.

Sheila
We often hear in Christian circles, you don’t need self-esteem, you just need God-esteem. And I think that’s a very big misunderstanding of emotional health. Self-esteem simply means, I know that I matter. I know that I am important. And isn’t that true? I mean, God created us in His image, we are defacto important, we do matter. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared things for us to do before the very foundation of the world, you know, we are all uniquely important. And self-esteem simply means that you know that to the very fiber of your being you know that you matter, nothing you matter more than anyone else, but that you do matter as much as anyone else. And when researcher is looked at self-esteem as a construct, what they find is that it is universally good. It is very, very, very good. So people who feel that they are as important as others, they’re far more likely to have good relationships, they’re far more likely to have better mental health, they’re far more likely to have and keep a job and have higher incomes, they’re more likely to enjoy their life, to rate themselves as happy, like self-esteem has no negative side effects. On the other hand, low self-esteem is highly correlated with making bad marriage choices. So marrying an abuser because you don’t think that you’re worth anything else. So this idea that we need to make sure that kids know they’re dirty, rotten sinners, and that they don’t deserve anything, and that they’re only here by the grace of God and everything good is by the grace of God. I think that’s a misinterpretation of Scripture. God is often –  the way we talk about God is like, He loves you despite everything about you. You are horrible, and yet God loves you anyway. And isn’t that wonderful? And why can’t we instead say, Hey, you were made with a purpose. You’re made in God’s image, that doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but you matter. And when girls know that they’re far more likely to make choices that are going to benefit them long term,

Ann Maree
What you’re describing too, I think, is probably the more accurate way to bear God’s image. Low self-esteem, in other words, I think is a poor way to represent God as His image bearer to the rest of the world. Yeah. Another topic, stereotypes. We’re talking about that a lot in the church today. Talk to us about the small, self-focused faith that can become so prevalent when we categorize a young woman or any woman as the one predominantly responsible for purity in any relationship.

Sheila
Now, one thing that we did in our study for she deserves better. So we surveyed 7000 women, and we asked them about their experiences as teens in church, and with dating and with sex ed. And then we were looking at how that affected them long term. And in that 7000 women, we had women of all different generations. So we had boomers, we had Gen X like me, we had millennials, like my daughter’s, including my co-author on the book, one of my co-authors, Rebecca Lindenback, and our other co-author, Joanna Sawatsky, who ran the stats is also a millennial. And we even had some Gen. Gen z’s, I’m Canadian. So I will say Gen Zed, but I guess it’s Gen Z for Americans. And you can really see the difference when you look at the generations in how much they were taught period of culture and how this impacted their view of Christ. So when I was in youth group, for instance, in the 80s, we were really focused on evangelism. How do you share your testimony? How do we create a safe Christian space in high school where we can talk to others about our faith? How can we create neighborhood groups where we can talk to our neighbors about our faith? How do we pray for missions, we spent so much time praying through the 10:40 window, that the unreached people groups, and somehow that all changed by the time my daughters got to youth group. And I hadn’t even realized it until I looked took a look back later. But they weren’t talking about that. Basically, all they were talking about was purity. And sex became the main focus. And so your main identity was not in how you share the gospel and how you live your life. It was simply are you a virgin? And the way that you showed that you were a Christian was that you didn’t have sex before you were married. And that’s a very small faith. And I’m not saying that sexual ethics don’t matter. Not at all. But but having sex before marriage, or saving sex for marriage is not the way we prove we’re a Christian. It is an outflow of our relationship with Christ. And we got everything backwards. We were requiring kids to prove that they were Christians to prove that they ticked all the right boxes, instead of actually teaching them what it meant to know Christ. And as to girls, especially because it was far more for girls than boys. We defined their Christianity in terms of their purity. And in terms of their modesty. You know, interestingly, in that clip that you ran just a minute ago, she was talking about how looking back, she would see his behavior as creepy and objectifying, but she didn’t see it that way at the time. And I wonder if that’s because of the messages that we have given girls about boys. You know, boys can’t help but lust. If you’re dress like you’re trying to incite it, that’s one of the beliefs that we measured in our survey. Boy, all boys struggle with lust, it’s every man’s battle. Now, there’s a whole book series written on that that sold 4 million copies. Boys can’t stop and make it a situation. And so it’s your responsibility to stop the sexual progression. These are things that we’ve told girls, and when you tell girls that, what you’re really saying is, you can’t expect anything out of boys. They’re all terrible. horndogs you know, you’re the one who has to be the responsible one. You’re the one who has to rise above that, because God made boys to be objectifying and male sexuality and the objectification of women are one in the same thing. And they’re God-ordained, so how dare you expect anything else? And so why should we expect girls to see red flags? When a guy is being creepy and objectifying? He’s not being dangerous, he’s just being the guy. Right? Because that’s what we’ve been taught guys are.

Ann Maree
Yeah, normalizing that, I think, is what happened in that era, in that timer. And in that teaching, and those teachings. Yeah, and, and I don’t know if it was in this episode or not, but she does. She does talk about that. Her her inability to recognize that, you know, the dynamics and why she does so maybe she’s connecting it maybe because she read your book. But yeah, now she can. She can see it more clearly. But that’s great. I mean, She’s still young woman and when she has children, you know, when she has daughter, she’ll be able to play it forward a little differently. So alright, so I know you ‘love Jay Adams’, as much as very sarcastically and biblical counseling. But that’s that’s where I grew up. So I just those are thoughts that I’m constantly remediating, if you will. So anyway, he from the biblical counseling movement taught that if we, as counselors encouraged counselees, to, quote, do the right thing, our emotions will follow. You write in the book about a female youth pastor’s philosophy of ministry, and hers was, quote, the order of the order is belong, then believe, then behave, can you relate this to the gospel?

Sheila
So what we’ve essentially done to teenagers is we’ve told them, hey, if you want to be considered a Christian, you need first of all, you need to be pure. So we have all this purity culture stuff, you also need to only vote for one particular political party or support one particular political party, you need to believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago, in, you know, however many days, you need to believe all of these different political things. And this is what makes you a Christian. And if you don’t do any of those things, then you’re in the outgroup. But also, if someone does believe all those things, then they’re really a Christian. So it has nothing to do with your character. It has nothing to do with your actual behavior. It’s just all virtue signaling. And what that means is that we can start to think someone is a Christian, even if they treat others horribly, even if they’re a bully, because they know Bible verses, and they vote for the right political party, and they have all the right views on Calvinism. And that is not ever what Jesus said. He said, Whoever loves me will obey my teachings. You know, He says that even the demons believe, and shudder, like, believing isn’t the issue. It’s important. But if you believe but you don’t act it out, you’re not a Christian. And so, we need to believe yes, but we also need to see character, but we can’t. But those things have to flow first, from a relationship with Christ. And what we’ve done is we’ve reversed the order completely. So we’ve said, Hey, believe these things, then behave this way. And that proves that you can belong and have a relationship with Christ, instead of saying, Hey, have a relationship. And from that, you’re going to believe and from that your behavior is going to flow. But it’s the relationship that has to come first. We have to let kids ask questions. We have to let people come who don’t necessarily see things the same way. Instead of say, Hey, if you don’t see things 100% the way we do, you’re not welcome here.

Ann Maree
I thought that was such an excellent point. Eye-opening point. I’m doing a little research right now for some of my schoolwork and started with Genesis 1 in the beginning. Elohim. And Elohim is a term that denotes community, and relationship. It was in the beginning. And so yeah, in Christ, yes. relationship, but image-bearing relationship that’s first. So you really got me thinking on that one. So another kind of thing that’s happening right now. And I’m sure you’re familiar with Amazon’s wildly popular Shiny, Happy People, and the fallout from Bill Gothard’s teachings. And so several of us are now noting the similarity of one of those teachings, ‘the umbrella of authority’ with what we were taught outside of the Gothard’s world, it seems to have permeated many of our worlds. And our storyteller also brought up the idea that that was a dynamic in her own upbringing. What type of dangers are becoming apparent due to that type of authority structure that you’re witnessing now?

Sheila
So the umbrella authority basically said, – well, first of all, it made no logical sense – I mean, let’s just think about it. So you have this really big umbrella that represents God. And then under that you have a smaller umbrella that represents the father/the husband, and under that a smaller umbrella that represents the mother or the wife, and under that you have the children, then there’s presumably the dog or something. But and the theory was, if you get out from your proper umbrella of authority, that Satan can now attack you. So what that is actually saying is if women get out from the authority of their husbands, they’re now vulnerable. But remember that if women get out from the umbrella of their husbands, they are still under the umbrella of God. Because the umbrella of God is bigger than the umbrella of the husband. So what that whole philosophy is saying is that the husband’s umbrella is more important than God’s umbrella. It’s idolatry. Pure and simple. It is idolatry. And when you teach women that they must follow men unquestioningly, then you teach women to silence their emotions. Remember that God gave us our emotions as a way to signal what is going on in our outside world. So when we’re fearful, there’s usually a reason, it’s because there is something that we need to pay attention to, that could be a danger, so that we can act to avoid that danger. Or if we’re nervous about a test coming up, we feel that in our stomach in order to motivate us, Hey, maybe I should study. Like our emotions, tell us what is going on in our environment and what we should do about it. But if we tell girls, ‘you cannot trust your emotions, you need to trust with the people in authority over you tell you’, then we systematically tell girls to ignore their early warning signs, to ignore all the red flags that they see. You know, we tell them the heart is deceitful and wicked, above all things, who can trust them, your quote that verse from Jeremiah to them. And so they start to think, Okay, I may not like this guy, because even our storyteller admitted, she didn’t like the guy. She was dating him. She was engaged with them. She didn’t want to be anywhere near him. But she had been taught that her emotions lie. That they can’t be trusted. And you should go along with what the people in authority over you think. And we need to raise girls and boys, but especially girls, to know that no, I need to listen to my emotions, because this is God’s way of signaling to me, something needs to be paid attention to here. There is some action that you may need to take to make your life okay and tenable. And when we silence that in our girls, we put them in great danger.

Ann Maree
Yeah, that was evident in the story. And the little clip that I’m gonna play right now, actually, is her talking about that.

Anna recording
But there was also a lot of restrictions in Christian culture at this time, and a lot of focus on fear of outside influence. I concluded that if I never question my male and spiritual authority, if I always question my own, quote, female emotions, and if I remained in Christian circles, that I would be remaining in the will of God, and I would be safe. I believed and was taught, it was actually sinful to cultivate godly confidence, or speak up for myself when I felt uncomfortable.

Ann Maree
Yeah. So again, she’s just pretty much reiterating what you just said. And I think I said to her when I was interviewing, or it’s I wish that that protection was that was a, you know, a rule that if I did all those things, I’d be protected, but we know better. But also, I want I heard this in her in a lot of her Anna’s descriptions of her life, in that just shoving down those emotions also took away consent. Yes. So maybe if you could speak to those couple of things.

Sheila
And I do want to reiterate, I mean, there are a lot of problems with our secular culture to teenage girls with the social media culture, with sexting, with the way that girls are reduced to body parts, you know that I’m not saying that there’s nothing wrong with the outside culture. But what our book did is we asked the question, but is church necessarily safe? Because let’s just police our own. That’s what the Bible tells us to do. Judge those inside the church. So let’s look at what the Church’s teaching. And what we found over and over again, is that a lot of the things that we’re teaching do demonstrable harm when you look at girls’ outcomes long term. And let me give you two examples of specific things in some books that are marketed to teenage girls. Shaunti Feldman and Lisa Rice wrote a book called For Young Women Only, which was based on a small survey that they did of teenage boys, not Christian boys, but just teenage boys in general. And one of the things that they said to girls is that boys need unconditional respect, which means you must defer to them, you must prop up their ego because boys have such a fragile ego. You must always make them feel important. And then they explain that it can be difficult to know if you’ve crossed that disrespect line. And so here’s what you do. You watch for anger. So if a boy is angry at you, you have disrespected him. Now, blaming a girl for a boy’s anger is so problematic. This actually makes me angry, because the rates of abuse among teenage relationships are even higher than among adult relationships. And to make girls feel like if a boy is raging or angry at me, I have done something to cause it is so problematic. And yet over and over and over again, that’s what you see, in the advice given to girls. If a boy does something bad to you, you must have done something to cause it. Another example in the same book, and I’m about to quote a statistic, which I don’t think is accurate. I don’t think their survey question was accurate. I don’t think their potential answers were accurate. And I don’t think the way they organized their answers were accurate. But here’s what they said, 82% of boys feel little ability or little responsibility to stop in a makeout situation. And the conclusions that draws they quote, one of their survey takers, who was saying if you want to stop, it’s safest to not even start. So if you don’t want to go all the way, it’s safest to not even start. Now, to be clear, 100% of boys have the ability to stop and 100% of boys have the responsibility to stop if she says no. In fact, they have the responsibility to stop if she does not give an enthusiastic yes. But that is not what we were taught. And we interviewed so many women who didn’t recognize they had been date raped for decades. Because they’d be in this makeout situation. And his hand would wander and they would say no. And he’d stop. And then two minutes later, he’d do the exact same thing. And she’d say, No, and he’d stop. And he’d keep doing it and keep doing it. And eventually they realize they’re no meant nothing. And so they stopped saying no. But that was not consent. And they felt they were to blame. Because what did they expect when they started to make out? And that phrase, ‘What did you expect?’ that’s even in the book, Every Young Woman’s Battle. What did you expect making-out with him like that?

Ann Maree
One of the things that Anna also had said, as it relates to your example, with the anger issue, is that she thought she could fix it. That was something that she thought her behavior would change his anger. So she tried to appease him and tried to, to, you know, calm him and help his feathers get unruffled. So another way that teaching kind of permeates. Let’s talk more about those quote-unquote, female emotions. Our storytellers said she learned early that girls are just too sensitive or too emotional. And I thought this was profound when she said it – I don’t think she said it on the podcast – She said, “we’re too emotional to be leaders, even the leader of ourselves”. How does this impact a woman’s ability to recognize and respond the way she can protect herself if she sees red flags in a relationship?

Sheila
Now, I always think this thing about women being too emotional is so funny, because it’s only true if you don’t define Anger is an emotion. There you go, right. Think about how much so many men show anger. And yet, we don’t define that as being too emotional.

Ann Maree
Good point.

Sheila
But when, when women show compassion, when women get upset, even when especially when women get angry, oh, boy, that’s definitely not allowed, then we’re too emotional. And yet is being emotional, such a bad thing? One of the biggest problems that has been identified in terms of what is keeping us from relational and emotional health is the fact that so many men can’t identify their emotions. And just because a man seems to be more logical, does not mean that he is more emotionally healthy. It could be that he is not able to be vulnerable with anybody. And he won’t admit any problems, won’t admit any weaknesses, because he’s too ashamed of that. And he’s actually hiding from his emotions. You know, being unemotional is not a good thing. God created our emotions. And if you read the Bible, God shows a full range of emotions, as does Jesus, over and over again. And so this idea that because women have more emotional health, which, again, is not biological, this is cultural, but it has been shown again and again in surveys is that women are more in touch with our emotions, that therefore we can’t be trusted with leadership. Whereas it’s actually the opposite. Because women are more in touch with our emotions, we actually do tend to make better leaders. And multiple studies have also been finding this too. But in the church, we’re told that that women can’t be leaders. That that’s not the way that God designed it. And I just want people to know if you’re listening, and if that’s what you’ve been taught that yes, that is one interpretation of the Bible. But it is not the only one, nor is it the most faithful to the personhood of Christ and the actions of Paul. And so I just encourage people to look into that more, and look into some other authors on it. Because there’s so much evidence that God calls, God gives gifts liberally to all of us male and female. And he wants us all exercising those gifts, He doesn’t want women to stay small.

Ann Maree
Right. Agree with you. I think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done on several of the doctrines that we’ve been talking about. And also that we’ve lived by in our lifetime, at least. And in particular, what women can do, versus the conversation that we keep having, which is what we can’t do. Yeah, I could go on about that.

Sheila
When churches are set up as authority structures, and we do talk about this, I think it’s in chapter four of She Deserves Better of how to recognize toxic people. Because when you are in a church with an authority structure, and you’re told you aren’t allowed to question authority, then it’s very difficult to recognize toxic things. And you want more than anything else, for your daughter, to be able to say, ‘Hey, that’s not right.’ Because if she can’t say that in your home, there’s no way she’s going to be able to say it when she’s 22 and dating an abusive person. If she can’t say it in your church, there’s no way she’s going to be able to say it when she’s in a workplace situation that is abusive and bullying. And you want her to be able to recognize when things are toxic, and to say, I don’t need to stay in this. But we have taught girls know, no matter how bad it is, those above you have the right to treat you how they think you should be treated. And know we need to let our girls know, you don’t need to consent to being treated in a way that God would not want you treat it.

Ann Maree
And that message doesn’t always come across from outside to us as blatant as that I think I hear it more often. And just that simple phrase, trust your leaders.

Sheila
Yeah, that’s right.

Ann Maree
Yeah. Which, you know, we do want to trust godly leadership. But what does that encompass? How far does that reach? Another thing, Anna talked about what was that girls are supposed to be positive and encouraging, which she said had a self-silencing effect. She couldn’t bring up bring up anything that was hard or disturbing, so in her story, she didn’t talk about what happened in her home with her brother. There are no categories for how to mediate that type of situation, except an keep sweet, pray and obey. And we want to encourage looking for the positive. So how do we balance that type of teaching?

Sheila
We can never balance it until we feel in the very fiber of our being that you matter just as much as others. And that is not what we have taught. We tend to teach the joy acronym, Jesus first, others second, and you last. And so whatever someone else wants, they get to do to you. And if you speak up, it means that you’re being selfish. And so having any kind of boundary is seen as being selfish. I mean, Jesus gave his everything for you. Why would you want to not give to other people. And this is often the kind of message that we hear, you know, “you don’t want to hold back, you don’t want to be selfish, you need to give, you need to take up your cross, you need to not complain”. But Jesus gave us everything for a reason. He gave it to reconcile us to God. And He did not always allow others to walk all over Him. In fact, most of the time He did not, He had very firm boundaries, because He had a very firm understanding of what His calling was. And He wouldn’t let other people derail Him from that calling. So He actually lived His life loving people, but within boundaries, and we need to do the same thing. In fact, that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Love one another, as you love yourself. So we don’t have to love each other, love others more than we love ourselves. And we don’t have to love ourselves more than we love others. But we do get to matter. And that means that if someone is making you uncomfortable, if someone is abusing you, if someone is telling you that you don’t matter, it’s okay to speak up. And that needs to be what is taught in our homes. Because if it is not, we will tend to silence especially our daughters,

Ann Maree
So much to think about. I’m just convicted most of the time when I hear you, I mean because of how I raised my daughters, they’re now 30, 30 something and boy, they got the wrong end of this conversation.

Sheila
So I you know, I my girls are 28 and 25. And we often laugh about how badly I did some things, you know, like, 26 She’s turned 26 Well, anyway. We often laugh about how badly I taught them about sex or how we let them go to a toxic youth group for far too long. And that’s okay. You know, you don’t need to be perfect. And a lot of us have regrets, especially when we were raising our own kids. But when you can go back to kids and say, ‘you know, I’ve been thinking about this, and I so wish that I hadn’t done X, or I still wish I hadn’t said why. And I wish I had said this instead, you know, do you think that would have made a difference for you?’ I think most kids would love that. I don’t think they need us to be perfect. I just did the need us to be humble. And most people would just relish conversations with their parents like that.

Ann Maree
And I appreciate you saying that, because I am seeing a bit of fallout, even from people, like I said, who have been impacted by the same type of teaching from Gothard, who feel like oh, my gosh, I did that and the conviction that they feel. So I appreciate, thank you for sharing that. And you’re right, you are right. My kids would love that conversation. And they always have and they feel like adults, they feel like their their opinions matter when we have those conversations. Anna had many questions while we were working together on our story, some of that didn’t come out in the podcast. But she said the books and devotional materials, materials at that time when she was coming of age had no positive discussion about sex. And I think you just mentioned that at the beginning of our podcast here, or intimacy on any level, including the intimate relationship with God. And the fear seems to be that even talking about sex might wake up emotions, like we hear in Song of Solomon, can you share some of your most important nuggets of wisdom, perhaps even addressing that tension?

Sheila
Hmm, you know, um, one of the things that really surprised me was seeing that there were no downsides to sex education. So we gave in our survey, we gave women a list of 10 Sex Ed terms. And we said at the point that you graduated high school, how many of these could you define, and the more you knew, the better you did on every scale, the higher your self-esteem, the less likely you were to have multiple sex partners, you know, the more likely you were to get into a good marriage, the less likely you were to marry an abuser, like there were no downsides. And yet, 40% of our respondents did not know that the female orgasm existed until they were adults. So that means that when they were taught about sex, you know about the male orgasm, because that’s kind of needed to make a baby. But they never realized that women were supposed to feel good, too. And so they didn’t know that until they were an adult. And so you’re seeing sex with a very male-centered standpoint, this is something that he does to you. Which is kind of a threatening message to begin with. It’s not something you do together. It’s something he does to you. And you’re supposed to save it for marriage, because if you have it early, you will ruin yourself and you will lose your main identity. Because for girls we’re taught your identity is in your virginity, which is so terrible in so many ways. Probably the worst is that that means your identity is something which can be forcibly taken from you. Which is a horrible thing that we did to a whole generation, you know, to millennials, especially, and Gen Xers as well for those of us who were in super hyper-conservative churches, but it became mainstream for millennials with purity culture. But that’s not even what purity is like, virginity is not purity. That’s the way that it was talked about in the book. So Elizabeth Elliot said in her book, Passion and Purity that this was a book about virginity. So she was writing a book about virginity. Equating virginity and purity. And that was never the way that it was talked about in Scripture. virginity is not purity. Purity, is simply choosing to live in alignment with Jesus. If we define purity as virginity, then the way that that we tell whether or not someone is right with Christ is based on something they did in the past. Now your relationship with Christ is based on your relationship with Christ now, today. And there are lots of people who are virgins who are not pure, because they are not living under Christ. They’re watching porn, they’re bullies, whatever it might be. And there are plenty of people who are not virgins and who are single but who still are pure because they’re following Jesus today. And our purity is not based on what we do with our bodies. Our purity is based on what Jesus did with His and any theology, which tells you that your purity is merely about not having done something is missing. What is said in Scripture. You know, when Jesus or when Paul did his missionary journeys, and he traveled to places like Ephesus in Corinth, those were hotbeds of like sex problems, okay? They had temple prostitutes, they had everything. And when people became Christians, Paul didn’t tell them they weren’t pure because they weren’t virgins? No, he just celebrated that now they were because they knew Christ.

Ann Maree
Which is such a confusing message if you play it forward to the married woman in that while we’re not virgins anymore. So how, how will we ever be pure? Right?

Sheila
Yeah. So we know that that’s one of the reasons you know, so many people got married, and then they felt like I lost my identity, because my identity wasn’t being this virginal girl for God, and I’m not a virgin anymore. So where’s my identity?

Ann Maree
So we need to be having discussions about intimacy and sex. All the way through, I think, too. I was just interviewing Darby Strickland the other day. And we were talking about the fact that we don’t talk about sex, and therefore some women who are in a relationship that’s abusive like this, where sex is being used against them, they won’t bring it up, because that’s been a taboo topic since they were young.

Sheila
Yeah, I think too, when we don’t talk about sex acts other than intercourse, a lot of girls are abused in other ways, and don’t realize that this is actually a thing. You know, that other people do these things. And so what has been done to her as abuse, because I’ve talked to women who’ve said, oral sex was forced upon me, for instance, but they didn’t, they thought this was something that only they had ever done. And so there wasn’t words for, they didn’t know how to talk about it. But if they had no, no, this is a thing that people do. But it is wrong without consent. And this isn’t something that you should be preparing now, then they may have been able to talk about it, but they didn’t even have words for it. And so the more words you can give your kids, the more they are protected. And the more that we actually found that in our survey too, the more sex ed words, people knew, the younger they were when they knew what a female orgasm was, the less likely they were to be abused or harassed in church.

Ann Maree
That just blows me away every time you say it. In every way you say it. Anna said she had a lot of confusion in regards to intimacy they did engage in, and this is that silencing thing, she felt the lack of education opened her up to being further manipulated in the situation. Do you have words for a young woman who has struggled this way with having had relationships prior to marriage? And I heard a little bit of that in the last answer. But do you have anything else that you would say to that woman?

Sheila
Just please understand how widespread abuse is. And if you did not enthusiastically consent, this may have been an abusive situation. So I think a lot of women have a lot of guilt over things and a lot of shame over things that they may not realize weren’t consensual to begin with. And even if you feel like they were, if you did not have the emotional strength, or even the spiritual permission to break off a relationship, as was evident in Anna’s story, then you need to question if it really was consensual too. And if it wasn’t consensual, then please, you know, talk to someone about trauma. Even if you feel like I don’t know if it actually crossed the line into assault, but I just don’t feel good about what I did. You still may need to talk to someone about this. Just simply to ask like, how did I, How did I get to the place where I let someone treat me that way? Where I thought that was all right, because those are important questions to ask, you know, how did I get to the place where I didn’t see the red flags, where I ignored them. And if you can identify those things, it doesn’t mean that you sinned or did anything wrong doesn’t mean that you’re going to engage in that process of blaming. That’s not what I mean. But if we can understand, then it’s far less likely it’s going to happen again. And you can empower yourself to say, No, this is what God really wants for me. This is how God actually wants me to act in these relationships where I don’t feel safe. You know, this is it’s okay for me to prioritize my own safety over someone else’s momentary pleasure over over someone else’s demands. It is okay for me to prioritize my own safety, even if it’s just emotional safety. And when I don’t feel right, when I do stuff I don’t really want to do that’s probably a sign that this relationship is not a good one. And I don’t need to settle for a bad relationship. But those are actually hard things for people to understand. I don’t need to settle for a bad relationship. Oh, that that one hurts because what if you never get a good one? You know, I really need a man and what if this is the this is the only one I can ever hope that I’m going to land? You know, that’s a hard question for a lot of women to ask. And so talking these things through with someone can help clarify some of these things can help help you clarify okay, why am I running after someone who’s bad? Why am I running after someone who’s treating me badly? And how can I surround myself with the kind of people who will support me in making good decisions and who will value my safety rather than people who might support these kinds of bad relationships?

Ann Maree
That’s good. Yeah. Just asking good questions from yourself. Good point. Well, I really appreciate that you’ve answered all my questions. And I just thought, I’d love to open it up. If you had anything else that you want to add, that would be important for like, our audience, which I’m, from what I can see, we are getting a lot of counselors tuning in, both from the licensed field and also biblical counselor. So if you have anything else, you know, that you would like to share, I’d love to hear it.

Sheila
I think if I can just give the really really big picture, bird’s eye view of our findings from both the first book we wrote The Great Sex Rescue, and She Deserves Better, because we found similar things in both. And that’s there’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is that church attendance and belief in Jesus helps, it’s a positive thing. And so many studies have found this, it’s not just ours, this is so prevalent in the literature that religiosity is beneficial. So you know, girls who go to church as teenagers, they end up they tend to end up in better marriages, they tend to make better decisions, they tend to have better self esteem, they have better sex lives, etc. But, and this is a really big but, as soon as you internalize toxic teachings, the benefits of church disappear. And women and girls would actually be better off if they hadn’t gone to church at all, at least if you measure relationship health and self-esteem. And so what that tells women to me is that your community matters. It isn’t enough just to go to church, you gotta go to a safe one. And if you’re in a church that is trying to keep you small, that is telling you that you shouldn’t have a voice that is telling you, you’re more easily deceived, that is teaching you that men can’t help themselves, it’s going to be very difficult to get healthy in that church. No matter how many friends you have, no matter how fun it is, and how great the worship is, it’s going to be very hard to get healthy in that church. And it, I think what it says to moms is, even if the youth group looks amazing, even if there’s a fog machine, even if there’s, you know, high budgets for super fun events, you don’t want your child growing up in a place that’s going to tell her toxic things about herself. In the long run, it’s not healthy. And I think my word to counselors about that would be you know, we want obviously you want to get your, your the people that you’re counseling into a good faith community. But please remember that not all faith communities are healthy. And sometimes the best thing that the people that you’re counseling can do is leave. And don’t fault them for that. Because I think a lot of women get chastised if they need to drop out of church for a while. But sometimes people are leaving church, not because they’re leaving Jesus, but because they’re desperately trying to find Him. And maybe leaving is that first step to truly finding Him in a safe faith community. Eventually,

Ann Maree
Many of the women that I work with have to step away for a time. And you’re right, it’s because they’re desperately seeking the Lord. And sometimes what they’ve seen in their churches has gotten in the way from them seeing Him, sadly. So thank you, I am honored that you would have even considered being on this podcast. And I learned so much from you from this, but also from your books, your tweets and all your other resources. And we will be sure to highlight them in the show notes. And you’ve honored Anna as well. She was blown away that you would accept this and you’ve given credibility to her voice and her circumstances. So we are both very grateful to you for being here today.

Sheila
Well, thank you and I hope that I hope She Deserves Better – reading that just helped Anna reparent herself to talk to that little 15 year old Anna that should have been told this in the first place. So that’s that’s great.

Ann Maree
Yeah, it has it has done just that. Um, that’s all we’re going to discuss for today. Next time on the Safe to Hope podcast, I will be talking again with Anna as she continues to share her story. Sheila’s resources are found on her website, Sheila Wray Gregoire.com. And I’ll put that in the show notes so you know how to spell it and Bare Marriage.com for her blog and podcast.

___________

If you want to know more about the dynamics of domestic abuse, I suggest you go to Called to Peace.org or Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse? is excellent for both victims and church leaders to identify the patterns of abuse.

And in addition, I recommend Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts and that’s particularly helpful for church leaders.

[closing]

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

[disclaimer]

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Sheila’s resources are found on her website, Sheila Wray Gregoire.com and  Bare Marriage.com for her blog and podcast.

If you want to know more about the dynamics of domestic abuse, I suggest you go to Called to Peace.org or Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse? is excellent for both victims and church leaders to identify the patterns of abuse.

And in addition, I recommend Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts and that’s particularly helpful for church leaders.

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