How the Book “Married Sex” by Gary Thomas Objectifies Women and Perpetuates Abuse
A Review of Married Sex by Andrea Aleksandrova
Please note: All citations are from the Kindle edition.
On September 10, 2021, Gary Thomas posted a blog post entitled, “My Wife Can’t Cure Me, but She Can Help Me,” where he implied that women can help their husbands overcome their pornography addictions by giving them more sex. The backlash in the online abuse survivor community was almost immediate.
After reading this blog post and witnessing Gary’s subsequent mistreatment of survivors on his Facebook page, I decided to read his new book, Married Sex, co-authored by Debra Fileta (Zondervan, 2021).
Before I begin, let me give a trigger warning: This post is sexually explicit. Please proceed with caution.
Throughout Married Sex, Gary sexually objectifies women. The advice given is dangerous for women who are married to porn addicts. Gary encourages wives to be personal porn stars for their husbands and advocates for a male-dominated power and control dynamic in bed, while Debra shifts blame onto women for their husbands’ bad behavior.
To be fair, it isn’t all bad. There are some good parts, especially the parts written by Debra. Debra often speaks to both men and women, frequently treats sex and marriage as something that requires mutuality and reciprocity, is respectful to women, and does not usually objectify them.
She gives some great communication tips in chapter eleven and some helpful sexual techniques in chapter three. She says things like, “. . . I invite you to open your heart and mind to taking inventory of your relationship and getting to the bottom of the well-being of your spirit, the condition of your heart, the state of your physical health, the depth of your emotional connection, and, ultimately, the accuracy of the beliefs and expectations you’re bringing to bed with you. Good sex is about becoming a better person just as much as it is about becoming a better lover. And more often than not, this process begins from the inside out” (34).
This all sounds very good until it is almost immediately contradicted in the next paragraph or chapter by Gary’s blatant objectification of women.
The Objectification of Women
Gary objectifies women throughout the book and obsesses over their naked bodies. Women are blamed for their inability to orgasm and for pain during sex. These are viewed as her problems and her responsibility (160).
This directly contradicts the research done by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky in their book, The Great Sex Rescue (Baker Books, 2021), where they surveyed over 20,000 women and concluded that the obligation sex message (which is what Married Sex teaches) is actually a major contributing factor to the orgasm gap between men and women and to vaginismus. (Natalie interviewed Sheila about her book on the Flying Free Podcast HERE.)
Gary says that wives are supposed to view sex with their husbands as the highest possible pleasure. A wife is supposed to always be available for sex, is encouraged to sleep naked, and is told to revel in her husband’s kisses all over her body (1, 5-8).
Gary is clear—men need sex. Sex makes them better people. Without sex, men cannot thrive and their very identities are shaken (8-10).
A husband is to be enthralled with his wife’s body. Not with her. With her body. She is to allure him with her body because men’s minds are wired that way.
Gary says, “God clearly wants a wife’s body, specifically her breasts, to enthrall her husband. . . . This gives wives an influence over their husbands that can reset any power balances that occur because of other issues. Many young women have learned how one quick flash of their breasts can change the climate in the room for their husbands like nothing else ever will” (12).
Yes, he actually says that.
Men are visual creatures, Gary says, so wives need to get naked!
“A majority of husbands are motivated by sight in a way many wives will never fully understand. A husband is enthralled with his wife’s beauty and form and can’t get enough of seeing her naked. A quick flash of her breasts or the beauty of her bare back as she gets dressed can make many husbands swoon . . .” (54).
Gary says that men need lots of sex and tells wives to give it to them (60). After all, a man’s desire for sex works in her favor. His propensity to be selfish after marriage is fixed by sex. His desire for sex drives him to be kind and respectful so that he can get more sex (61-62).
Gary tells women to be very, very careful about how they say “no” to sex. He says that when a wife says “no” to sex it shakes her husband’s very identity. Women are encouraged to say “no” in a way that turns “no” into an act of sexual foreplay (64-66).
Not only do wives need to get naked, give their husbands lots of sex, and never really say “no,” but they also need to do all of this while having a great time.
“When a man can leave his wife panting, spent, and smiling after a particularly satisfying orgasm and then say to himself, I brought her to that mountaintop, thank you very much, you both win!” (67)
In other words, she needs to have fun so that he can feel good about himself.
And what happens when she can’t give him sex? Why, give him a hand job, of course. (68-71)
And how do single men survive being visual creatures who need sex? Well, says Gary, single men aren’t sleeping next to scantily clad women every night, so it really isn’t even a problem for them. (63)
Destructive for Wives of Porn Addicts
In addition to continually objectifying women, Married Sex completely ignores the wives of porn addicts while directly addressing porn-addicted men multiple times.
The book mutualizes pornography use and infidelity into a couple’s problem: “At some point in marriage, every couple struggles with something, whether it’s premature ejaculation, the influence of pornography or infidelity, pain during sex, lack of desire, feelings of rejection—you name it, someone is experiencing it. Ben had to understand that every combination of two people leads to a specific set of sexual problems. His difficulty was really their difficulty” (29).
In chapter six, Debra says:
“Men, it’s not ‘your job’ to make your wife wet.
“Women, it’s not ‘your job’ to make your husband hard.
“Blaming our sexual atrophy on our spouse can be so easy: ‘He just doesn’t know how to turn me on.’ ‘She’s just never in the mood for sex.’ But as a professional counselor, I (Debra) know one thing to be true: when you have no role in the situation, you also have no control. The moment you start blaming your spouse for your sexual struggles is the moment you begin to fracture the foundation of your marriage. But when you see your role in the situation, you can begin to take back control. When each of you takes responsibility for your own sexual pleasure, you can both breathe a sigh of relief” (84).
To be fair, they do give a caveat: “* A disclaimer about taking ownership of and responsibility for your sex life: we’re referring to the average healthy married couple and the importance of seeing your role in your personal arousal; we’re not referring to broken or abusive relationships, and in no way are we implying that one spouse is responsible for another spouse’s sins and struggles. In cases of addictions, adultery, pornography use, deceit, and the like, your personal responsibility is not to make your sex life better but to set clear boundaries and limits and take care of your emotional, physical, and mental health” (253).
That’s a really good caveat. However, it’s also tucked away at the back of the book on page 253, accessible in my Kindle only by clicking on a lone asterisk.
If I’m the wife of a porn addict reading this book, especially if I’m early on in my journey of figuring out how to respond to my husband’s betrayal, I’m going to miss this caveat entirely.
Here’s what I will hear instead: Pornography and infidelity are not his problems; they are OUR problems (28). I need to get naked for my husband a LOT and have TONS of sex with him. My inability to get sexually aroused is my own fault.
Talking directly to men who use porn, Gary says, “Porn actually trains your brain to find less satisfaction and interest in your wife. If we preserve a faithful and loyal mind, however, the exact opposite happens. When we make love to our wives, we get a huge hit of oxytocin. When the oxytocin is released, our wives become more attractive to us, while other women become less attractive in comparison. By remaining mentally faithful and regularly making love to our wife, we are training our brain to view our wife as the most beautiful woman in the world. And we are cementing our sexual satisfaction in the way God intended” (97).
This is some good information. However, if I’m the wife of a porn addict reading this book, I will hear Gary telling me, “Wives, your sexually-addicted husband needs to have sex with you in order to rewire his brain.”
In this book, Gary and Debra join the ranks of countless pastors and counselors who do not understand that pornography use is abuse.
They acknowledge that more than half of the men in their audience use porn, yet they entirely ignore the wives that these men are abusing (249). This is profoundly ignorant and unsafe.
Porn use and abuse are interconnected. If a woman’s husband is using porn, he is also abusing her—psychologically, emotionally, sexually, and possibly physically as well (for more, see https://www.btr.org/are-porn-users-abusive/).
Nothing is said about abuse or betrayal. Nothing about establishing safety for her other than a brief mention about boundaries and seeing a therapist (166). Nothing about her right to make her own choice on whether to stay or to go. Nothing about biblical grounds for divorce.
Only a message about “her role” in rebuilding trust, a problem that is “theirs,” and a requirement to give him lots and lots of sex.
To make matters even worse, men (including those who use pornography) are encouraged to solicit nude photos from their wives, and wives are told that this will help their husbands not look at porn (125).
Gary even advocates for a male-dominated power differential in bed as an example of safe sex (more on this later) (140).
The negligence is truly profound, both for porn addicts and their wives. This advice will not bring freedom or healing to either spouse. Instead, it will drive men deeper into pornography and women deeper into abuse.
The Personal Porn Star
In a Facebook reaction to Married Sex, Kyle J. Howard writes that current Western Christian literature teaches that “once a woman is made a wife; she should aspire to be her husband’s own personal porn star” (https://www.facebook.com/214715738998724/posts/1303796886757265/).
This is exactly what Married Sex teaches: Wives, be your husband’s own personal porn star! Here are a few quotes from chapter four to illustrate:
“At certain times, her nipples were like superpowered, high-octane sexual excitement boosters. Twenty-four hours later, if my hands reached within ten inches of those nipples, it was like splashing cold water in her face” (54).
“My wife hates her body, but she knows I love it. Thankfully, she’s not afraid to be naked around me. I love her breasts. Even after breastfeeding two kids, her breasts are just amazing to me. I could stare at them for hours. I also love her short little legs. She’s not tall, and she thinks her legs are fat, but every time she wears a dress or shorts, it turns me on” (58).
“In short, when you take charge, you can offer a full-body, 3D extravaganza. His brain is registering emotions, sounds, touches, smells, and tastes in a glorious mix that is unlike any other experience he has. To him, it’s not ‘just a hand job’; if his wife is into it, it can be a five-course meal” (69).
“Growing in your understanding of how his penis responds to your touch is a key to his heart and will often create a husband who is so happy he married you it will be difficult for him not to brag to his friends about why” (70).
“Let her know the ‘competition’ is over. You chose her. You want to see her. You look at her in a way you will never look at another woman” (58).
Gary also encourages women to text nude photos to their husbands:
“Abby’s husband, Kyle, loves to receive provocative body shots texted to him. ‘I’m careful about where I open up any text from Abby,’ he says, ‘and when she sends me a picture in the middle of the day, I can’t wait to get home to her. I’m thinking about her all day.’*
“Abby was at first reluctant to do this. What changed her mind? ‘It makes him so happy,’ she said. ‘He works really hard for us, and if I can sweeten his day a little bit, I didn’t want to unnecessarily deny him something as long as God is okay with it.’
“She took the question to her women’s Bible study where the opinion was mixed. The most common objection was, ‘What if it leads to him doing porn?’
“Consider the Latin philosophical dictum abusus non tollit usum, which roughly translated means ‘abuse doesn’t negate the proper use.’ Just because something can be abused doesn’t mean it can’t be used. In Abby and Kyle’s case, the texting is creating intense desire for his wife, not for other women, and it hasn’t led him to seek out porn. It also becomes all-day foreplay, so that when Kyle comes home at night, he’s ready to go.
“Shortly after they got married, Izzy did a boudoir photo shoot for her husband, Scott (the photographer was a woman). Scott calls the photos ‘awesome’ and says they draw him toward Izzy again and again. With those pictures seared in his mind, his sexual interest is centered on Izzy, and neurologically he’s less likely to be drawn to other women.
“* Note that some counselors strongly object to this advice, insisting that it’s too dangerous for a wife to put photos of herself like this anywhere, lest they fall into the wrong hands. There are ways (and apps) to guard against this, but husbands, if your wife isn’t comfortable with this, please don’t pressure her” (125).
While I do appreciate the caveat, the pressure Gary puts on wives to become their husbands’ own personal porn stars is palpable, especially with the added (absurd) claim that men who look at nude photos of their wives will be less likely to look at porn.
The caveat also gets entirely lost later on when Gary implies that the couple in the Song of Songs in the Bible would have texted nude photos to one another if they had had cell phones (146).
Power and Control in Bed
Gary directly advocates for a power and control dynamic in bed, citing secular psychotherapist Dr. Esther Perel:
“Elizabeth was a woman who lived a hyperresponsible, take-charge-of-your-own-life existence, which her therapist, Dr. Esther Perel, discovered was hindering her sexual enjoyment. Elizabeth’s husband, Vito, an Italian, prided himself on taking charge in the bedroom. Initially, that was a challenge for Elizabeth, who saw herself as always in control in all of her relationships, especially the romantic ones. When Vito introduced a different dynamic, a man taking charge, Elizabeth was shocked by how much she liked it and how much it turned her on.
“‘Because sex is a place where you can safely lose control?’ Dr. Perel asked.
“‘Yes,’ Elizabeth answered.
“‘It is the one area where you don’t have to make any decisions, where you don’t have to feel responsible for anyone else.’
“‘For me, it’s like a vacation . . . I don’t have to be in charge. It’s like being on a wonderful, distant island, far away from my ordinary life. I can just step out of my world and be somebody else, sexy and a little wild.’
“If your spouse lives a hyperresponsible life with many people depending on them, your taking charge in the bedroom is like giving them, in Elizabeth’s words, ‘a vacation.’ And vacation sex is often the most enjoyable sex. You can be all for egalitarianism in the workplace and yet in private let yourself revel in the thrill of losing control and letting someone else take charge. Dr. Perel writes, ‘The power differential that would be unacceptable in her emotional relationship with Vito is precisely what excites Elizabeth erotically'” (pages 139-140).
This is pure evil and has no place whatsoever in a Christian marriage book.
Gary also parrots Doug Wilson and makes sex into a complementarian, male-dominated act of power.
He says, “The very act of sex speaks of profound differences in gender: forcefulness that requires gentleness, initiation that requires receiving, control met with surrender. The complementary acts of sex reflect the divine truth of two becoming one, each partner adding something the other lacks in a gorgeous physical symphony” (55).
Compare this to Doug Wilson who says, “However we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts” (https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/books/flatter-my-heart-three-persond-god.html).
Gary even tells selfish men to concretely demonstrate change to their wives by giving them more sex. If this gets hard for the selfish man because he is not getting anything out of it, Gary tells him to focus on how awesome he is because he made his wife orgasm (197).
Debra shifts blame onto wives for their husbands’ bad behavior:
“From the very start of their relationship, Edward and Janice fell into their default roles. As the oldest of six and the most responsible child, Janice always found herself in the caregiver role. Naturally, when she met Edward, she carried that role into their relationship as well, which was easy to do, because Edward was the youngest in his family of origin, and he loved to be taken care of. . . .Fast-forward twelve years into their marriage when they came to see me, and they were struggling in their sex life. . . .
“I discovered that Janice found herself ‘caring’ for Edward in more ways than she bargained for. Because of her take-charge nature paired with Edward’s laid-back personality, she ultimately became responsible for managing their finances, running the household, organizing their family schedule, and being the primary caregiver for their two children—all while holding down a part-time job. It was easy and natural for her to take charge, but over the years, she found herself slowly feeling burned-out and resentful that Edward got to have all the fun while she assumed all the responsibility for the household. Edward had in effect become like another child in her eyes, just another body she was responsible to feed, take care of, and motivate.
“It’s important to understand that when a husband gets put into the category of ‘child,’ the power dynamic in the relationship changes, and ultimately so does the level of sexual attraction. When we constantly care for someone in the form of giving and giving and giving in the relationship—losing our expectation of receiving anything—we will find that our desire and affection toward that person begin to fade. We become the caregiver instead of the lover. We become the parent instead of the partner.
“And that was exactly what had happened in Janice and Edward’s marriage over the years. And now their relationship dynamic was preventing Janice from feeling excited and aroused by Edward in the way she used to feel at the beginning of their marriage. He couldn’t help her get to climax, essentially because she wasn’t allowing him to get her to climax. She had been carrying so much responsibility in their relationship for so long that she didn’t even realize how much of the struggle stemmed from underlying bitterness, resentment, and control issues. Edward had to learn to step up to the plate of their marriage, and she had to learn how to begin expecting him to—and then allowing him to” (202-203).
Yes, she blames Janice—not Edward, the overgrown man-child.
If Janice finds herself in the unwanted role of mother to her husband, she should not be blamed. Instead, the blame should be on Edward (who, quite frankly, is being selfish), and we should ask why he is okay with being an immature man who is making his wife take care of all the responsibilities to the point of exhaustion.
We should not shame Janice for feeling bitter and resentful. Of course she feels that way! She didn’t sign up to marry a man-child. She signed up to marry a partner.
The dynamic of the wife taking care of everything while the husband plays the role of the child is actually a red flag of abuse—a red flag that Debra not only misses but makes even worse by putting the lion’s share of blame on Janice’s shoulders instead of where it belongs: on Edward.
I do not recommend this book to anyone. It is not even for healthy marriages unless healthy husbands and wives want to learn how to objectify women and turn their healthy marriages into unhealthy ones.
I am honestly baffled that books like this are so easily written by Christian authors, published by Christian publishers, endorsed by multiple Christian marriage leaders, and then readily consumed by thousands of Christian readers.
There is nothing Christ-like about the objectification and abuse of women, and giving destructive, uneducated advice to porn-addicted men and their wives is downright dangerous. However, as a Christian culture, we have somehow reached the place where pornography use and the abuse of women is so commonplace that we do not even recognize it.
This should bring us to our knees.
Women (and men) are worth more than this! I’m not entirely sure how we got here, but we’re here. This realization requires massive, wide-scale repentance on the part of Christians everywhere and a commitment to unlearning toxic teachings that have been so internalized to the point that we do not even recognize them.
May God help us and guide us, and may he rescue the women who will be harmed and abused through the reading of this book.