Relationships

A Review of Love and Respect: How the Book Gets Sex Horribly Wrong

sex

What happens when a bestselling Christian marriage book, like “Love & Respect”, treats sex as if it’s just for the husband?

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the emails and comments on this blog from desperate people. I’ve been trying to address these things on a case by case basis, writing posts about very specific marriage issues.

But when the same things keep popping up, time and time again, I start to ask myself: “How can I address the root cause?”

A few months ago, I started wondering if maybe the reason that so many of the same issues kept recurring was [that the] Christian teaching in a particular area was faulty. So I thought I would review some popular Christian books on marriage for couples to see what they say about sex. And I thought I’d start with a review of the book “Love & Respect”, by Emerson Eggerichs, since it’s consistently one of the best-selling Christian marriage books. I’d never actually read it all the way through before, but I thought it was time to take a look.

There’s a lot that I could say about how “Love & Respect” approaches marriage.

His premise is that women desire love, but men desperately need respect. And both must be unconditional.

I know that many people have read this book and found it very helpful in their marriage. I do believe that if you are in a good marriage, with two well-meaning people, the main message you’ll take away is “don’t be selfish”, which is beneficial. I think that’s why so many people like the book, and have gleaned a lot from it. But if one partner is not well-meaning, the advice can make the marriage worse. Beyond that, the underlying premise of a book can change our expectations and our conversations about marriage, even if it doesn’t hurt our marriage in particular.

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And that latter part is what I want to review: How has “Love & Respect” shaped our conversations about sex?

I’d be happy to review “Love & Respect” more broadly if people want me to (just leave that request in the comments), but I really want to focus on the teaching about sexuality that is found in the book, since that is the cornerstone of what I write about. So let’s dive in:

In “Love & Respect”, sex is only given its own chapter in the section covering husbands’ needs

Eggerichs divides his book up into two main sections:

  • What love looks like for women, and what women need;
  • and what respect looks like for men, and what men need.

In the section of the book that talks about women’s needs, sex is never mentioned as a need (helping her feel good during sex is never mentioned as a need, either). Sex tends to be mentioned as an afterthought in chapters about other things that women need, such as this quote from the Openness Chapter:

“When she believes there is a problem, when she feels hurt, lonely, or neglected, she definitely has no interest in responding to you sexually.” (p. 137)

And then there’s this:

You must not be open [emotionally] to ‘get sex’. A wife sees through that and is turned off sexually. But when you authentically meet her emotional needs, she’ll be empathetic to your sexual needs.” (p. 144)

Sex is portrayed as something that men will get from empathetic wives if they meet her other needs, and not as something that women may want or enjoy, in their own right.

Here’s what Eggerichs’ “Love & Respect” Includes in the Sexuality Chapter

When Emerson Eggerichs does explicitly address sex, it’s in the wife’s section of the book on how she can meet her husband’s needs. I don’t want to be accused of taking him out of context, so I’ve written a synopsis of this chapter. However, it’s quite long, so for brevity’s sake, I’ll summarize here:

The book talks about sex on pages 250-258.

Page 250: He can’t respond to emotional needs until he has physical release.

It opens with an anecdote about a couple where she wouldn’t respond sexually until he met her emotional needs, but he was withdrawing. So God asked the wife,

“Who is supposed to be the mature one here? He is a new believer and you’ve been in Christ for many years.”….She decided to minister to her husband sexually, not because she particularly wanted to, but because she wanted to do it as unto Jesus Christ. She just didn’t have that need for sex….

Page 250: Sex is symbolic of his deeper need–respect

“A husband has a need for physical release through sexual intimacy.” (250)

Page 251: The Two Keys of Understanding Your Husband’s Sexuality

  1. His sexuality is different from yours, because he is visually stimulated.
  2. “He needs sexual release just as you need emotional release.”

Page 252-255: “Husbands…can come under satanic attack when deprived of sexual release.” (252)

This section includes several stories about how women’s lack of sex led men into affairs: “The cold, hard truth is that men are often lured into affairs because they are sexually deprived at home.”

Pages 256-258: Men Are Tempted By Other Women, and Need their Wives to Understand

Men need to be able to talk to their wives about their temptations with other women’s bodies. Women need to accept that husbands will be tempted by other women, and not be hurt if a husband shares this. If a woman can share her deepest issues, then men need to be able to share their deepest issues. If a husband should empathize with a woman struggling with body image issues, then a wife should also empathize with a husband being tempted by other women. (256)

“If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have. When you shame him, punish him, or deprive him, he feels dishonored for who he is. If your husband feels you do not respect his struggle, his desire for you, and his maleness, he’ll pull back from you.” (258)

That’s a very quick synopsis, but you can see by the page numbers how much space is devoted to each topic.

No author can say everything they want to about sex in just one chapter. When they only have a little bit of space, then, what they do choose to say is indicative of what they consider to be the most important lessons. If people hear nothing else — then let them hear this. If I were to summarize “Love & Respect” on the topic of sex quickly, then, here’s the information Eggerichs appears to feel is most important:

A husband has a need for physical release. A woman does not have a need for sex; her need is only for emotional connection, which she won’t get unless she gives him sex. Men experience respect through their wives giving them physical release. If wives don’t meet their needs, husbands will be tempted to have an affair, and affairs tend to be caused by women not having sex. Men are visual and will be tempted by other women; when we don’t allow a husband to confess that he finds other women attractive, he will clam up and will cut himself off from us emotionally.

My response to the “Love & Respect” sexuality chapter:

I  have much I’ll say below about what Eggerichs omits from the book — and about how he portrays women’s sex drives. And I do agree that when we make love, we tend to become more affectionate towards one another (that’s the hormonal effect of oxytocin). But I want to comment here on the overarching theme that men will stray and be tempted if they don’t get physical release.

When Christian teachers repeatedly and consistently say that all men lust and that temptation is normal, this paves the way for dysfunctional marriages and normalizes sexual sin.

When a young woman who is seeped in this teaching is dating a guy who is checking out other women in public, watching porn, and trying to pressure her into having sex, she won’t necessarily see these things as red flags. Since this teaching is so rampant, she assumes that all Christian men treat women as commodities. And she doesn’t think that she deserves more, because she doesn’t realize that more even exists.

I have written at length about how the idea that “every man lusts” hurts marriages, traps men in a sin cycle, and is faulty theology.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire
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Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store. See more from her at To Love, Honor & Vacuum.

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