Our theme for the month of June is “sex and the church.” To read posts from our first pass at this theme, check out our June 2018 archives.
During high school, I kept up with a Christian YouTuber named Katie Gregoire. Her lifestyle videos about books and fashion were delightfully mixed with humor and wit. However, the thing about Katie that intrigued me enough to subscribe to her channel was her honest critiques about purity culture and modesty. Katie recognized the double standards often originating from youth group discussions and the implications that misguided or even harmful teachings can have. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
I continued to watch Katie’s videos until she became somewhat inactive on the platform. At some point I also followed her on Instagram. And that’s where I discovered her mom, Sheila.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is a speaker, marriage blogger, and author of several books. She also hosts the Bare Marriage podcast, a show that takes a deep dive into marriage, parenting, and sex—the same topics she writes about on her blog, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum. In her work, Sheila is determined to provide healthy, biblical, evidence-based help for Christian marriages.
According to a critic, Sheila is also the “patron saint of sexually unfulfilled women.” This unintentional compliment is perhaps the best way to describe her mission, as her conversations are a far cry from most Christian perspectives on sex. Based on her own experience as a former newlywed diagnosed with vaginismus, Sheila is quick to debunk the idea that waiting until marriage automatically results in a wonderful sex life. From the orgasm gap to unmet expectations to the “mental load,” Sheila addresses a variety of ways in which real-life experiences and a lack of preparation from the church don’t match up with empty promises.
While Sheila tackles some shortcomings with men’s teachings, like the typical overemphasis on “every man’s” struggles with lust and temptation, women tend to be her primary focus. Most of her blog readers and podcast listeners are women who share their experiences and seek her advice. Sheila readily tackles their questions and supports her conversations with research studies as well as her own survey of 20,000 Christian women that she conducted for her newest book, The Great Sex Rescue. Perhaps most importantly, Sheila frequently calls out Christian leaders and marriage books that promote harmful or abusive messages, like obligation sex or lack of consent in marriage.
As an engaged person, Sheila’s teachings have served as an enlightening resource for me. Though I didn’t grow up entrenched in purity culture, I still can discern ways in which my views on sex have been influenced by unhealthy messaging. I appreciate how Sheila recognizes the nuances of such a complicated subject and handles difficult or explicit conversations with tact and grace. I also appreciate how she strives to eliminate feelings of shame and regret and contribute to a healthier perspective of sex. Though she believes sex is best enjoyed within the context of marriage, she never condemns or criticizes anyone for their own unique experiences.
While I think there is a lot that Sheila does well, I will note that her resources for marriage and sex are solely focused on heterosexual Christian relationships. Though she is trying to move the church in the right direction, there is something missing in her work when it comes to acknowledging anything besides a straight male-female relationship. Yes, the church has failed in many ways when it comes to purity culture and women’s sexual experiences, but if recent events have taught us anything, it’s not the only way the church has failed when it comes to addressing sex and sexuality. Sheila’s work may be one snapshot, but it isn’t quite a complete picture.
Going forward, I hope Sheila will work to become more inclusive in her teaching and resources. I also hope she continues to push back against harmful viewpoints and reshape the way in which we talk about—or, in many instances, don’t talk about—sex within the church. I now understand why Katie wasn’t afraid to speak her mind about harmful teachings. With a mom who is the patron saint of sexually unfulfilled women, a desire to change the narrative must run in the family.
Photo credit: sheilawraygregoire.com
Kayleigh (Fongers) Van Wyk (’18) graduated with a degree in writing and resides in West Michigan. She works as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine while also making time for freelance writing. When she’s not behind a screen, she enjoys going for walks, eating ice cream, and buying more books than she’ll ever read.