Let’s wrap up my three-part series on the book, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, by Emerson Eggerichs (2004). The first part in the series addresses Eggerichs’s general premise and whether he advocates abuse, and the second part addresses the “Crazy Cycle” and his take on gender roles.
Today let’s talk about Eggerichs’s views in the area I usually write about! Sex.
Eggerichs covers sex in marriage primarily in his chapter titled “Sexuality—Appreciate His Desire for Sexual Intimacy,” which appears within the section on the “Energizing Cycle.” This part is dedicated to “principles, techniques, and common sense to help husbands and wives learn how to practice the Love and Respect message on a daily basis” (106).
For what it’s worth, he starts with chapters telling husbands how to meet their wives’ need for love and then goes on to advise wives how to meet their husband’s need for respect. Likewise, that’s where I’ll begin.
To the Husbands
In his chapter on Closeness, Eggerichs advises husbands: “be affectionate and attentive every day, not just on days you want sex. Affection should be an end, not a means” (121). Well, yeah! I’ve talked about this on my blog too:
- What Makes Sex Intimate? Try Affection.
- What Wives Are Missing in Marital Intimacy
- Q&A with J: “His Physical Touch Is Groping & Sex”
- How Do You Like to Be Touched?
In the next chapter on Openness, Eggerichs covers the importance of a husband sharing and being transparent with his wife. He finishes that chapter with this advice:
“And one more thing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that if you are good-willed and open to your wife emotionally, she will feel close to you and open with you sexually. To put it another way, you must not be open 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” (130).
I’ve done this ministry long enough to know we should not make guarantees like “when you do X, she’ll do Y.” Sometimes a spouse does everything right, and their mate still refuses sex. Sometimes, the refuser has good reasons their spouse is unaware of (e.g., past sexual abuse or pain during intercourse). My point is simply that some situations are more complex.
But overall, I agree with the advice. I’ve talked plenty about how external factors affect a wife’s willingness to engage sexually and ways a husband can pave the way. For example:
- Is Vacuuming Foreplay?
- Husbands, Help Us Feel & Be Beautiful
- If the Sex is So Great, Why Aren’t You Satisfied?
To the Wives
Eggerichs begins his chapter telling the story of a wife who delivered an ultimatum to her husband: she would not respond sexually until he met her emotional needs. The wife later became convicted that she needed to be the bigger spouse and attend to his needs first. “She didn’t have that need for sex. It wasn’t within her, but she realized that this was her husband’s need, and the Lord had spoken to her about meeting his need first” (220).
In my copy of the book, I jotted in the margin: “Is this statement about this particular couple or men and women generally?” Because it’s a great idea to be the one who takes the first positive step! As I discussed in the first post of this series, marriage should involve extravagant love, and extravagant love goes above and beyond. (See Sex and Friendship: Are They the Chicken and the Egg in Marriage? and You Go First—The Forgiven Wife.)
As I continued to read, Eggerichs made it clearer that he views sex as the husband’s need and intimacy and affection as the wife’s need: “Sex for him and affection for you is a two-way street. Just as he should minister to your spirit to have access to your body, so, too, you should minister to his body if you want to gain access to his spirit” (220).
Is that true? Does a husband, as he says, have “a need for physical release through sexual intimacy” (221)? Let’s unpack that idea.
First, nobody needs sex in the sense that they will die without it. (Sorry if that’s news to you, but it’s true.) To husbands worried about that statement, I also agree that nobody needs flowers on Valentine’s, weekly dates, or romantic conversation. That said, all of these meet a deep emotional need for intimacy.
God created us for relationship—with Him and each other. So yes, one way of nurturing and expressing that connection in marriage is sex. It gets at our emotional need for intimacy in a physical way.
Second, the longer a higher-drive spouse goes without sex, the more the desire for connection is felt in a physical way. It’s like an itch that begs to be scratched, a hunger that growls to be sated, an overfilled balloon that needs to be released. So yeah, I get the concept of “a need for physical release.”
However, the higher-drive spouse isn’t always the husband. In fact, it’s often not the husband—as in 15-30% of marriages. While that’s still a minority, it’s millions of couples. My higher-drive wife group on Facebook, with nearly 600 members, will testify they feel the itch too!
Third, God cares just as much about her sexuality as He does about his sexuality. The point of 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 is not that your spouse owes you “access to [her] body,” but that mutuality matters. If anything, God starts with the hubby meeting the wife’s sexual needs! “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” God presumes both genders want access to the other’s body, or rather physical intimacy within marriage.
And of course husbands want access to her spirit too. Most husbands enjoy their wives well beyond the bedroom. They just like who their wives are as persons.
The Problem with the Sex Chapter
Eggerichs provides some really good advice interspersed with some statements that had my head shaking as I read. But the real problem with his sex chapter is this: It includes the same erroneous or incomplete teachings that have been perpetuated throughout the Church and marriage resources for most of my life.
Emerson Eggerichs is hardly alone in espousing such ideas as:
- “…he needs sexual release just as you need emotional release (intimacy)” (222).
- “Husbands, particularly, can come under satanic attack when deprived of sexual release” (222).
- Quoting a mom who chastised her grown daughter for withholding sex in her marriage: “‘Why would you deprive him of something that takes such a short amount of time and makes him soooooo happy!?'” (222).
- “Men, especially, may smile, but the cold, hard truth is that men are often lured into affairs because they are sexually deprived at home. A man who strays is usually given total blame for his affair, but in many cases he is the victim of temptation that his wife helped bring upon him” (224).
- “[The wife] cannot comprehend that seeing some well-endowed woman at the office with a plunging neckline would ‘turn him on.'” And later: “Simply put, a man is responsive to what he sees. He needs his wife’s understanding of his struggles” (227).
- “Do your best to give him the sexual release he needs, even if on some occasions you aren’t ‘in the mood'” (227).
What comes across in such statements is the notion of a sexually driven husband who, of course, struggles with lust because he’s visually oriented, needs sexual release with his wife to avoid that temptation, and doesn’t really expect her to be that into it. In turn, wives are expected to sexually resistant, but admonished to “take one for the team” by putting out regularly.
We’ve covered some of these ideas in our podcast episodes on Lies Women Believe, Part 1 and Part 2. And more in Myths We Learned from Pop Culture. And wives can learn more about their sex drive with a replay of our recent webinar, while husbands should definitely check out our upcoming webinar on this topic for them.
But a lot of well-meaning Christians have given advice based on an understanding of sexual intimacy that sells both husbands and wives short. Husbands don’t just want a physical release; they want to make love to their wives. Men aren’t destined to lust or watch porn or cheat if they don’t get enough sex. Wives are not without sexual interest simply because their sexuality doesn’t look like a man’s. Women are not without their own sexual temptations and struggles. And, again, plenty of marriages have a wife with more sexual interest than her husband.
The Silver Lining
As you can see, there’s some good advice here from Eggerichs. However, I have concerns about statements like those highlighted above and how they could be misused to push outcomes not in line with God’s design for sex in marriage.
The good news is Eggerichs is trying to address this. He recently did a blog series on sexual intimacy:
- How Have You and Your Spouse Achieved Win-Win in Your Sexual Intimacy? (Part 1)
- Key Truths about a Husband and Wife Needing and Desiring Sex – Part 1 – Even Hollywood Gets It About Women
- Key Truths about a Husband and Wife Needing and Desiring Sex – Part 2 – Is It Just About Sex for the Man?
- Key Truths about a Husband and Wife Needing and Desiring Sex – Part 3 – Mutual Does Not Mean the Same
There’s a lot I considered quoting from those posts, but here’s just one excerpt:
“This attitude of husbands that took a one-sided position to 1 Corinthians 7 and demanded fulfillment of their male conjugal rights was contrary to Abba Father’s revelation to husbands and wives. One cannot imagine the pain many wives encountered. Or, equally depressing on the other end of the spectrum were those husbands depriving their wives of sexual intimacy.”
Still, many more people will read his book than his blog. So where I come back to is what I said in my last post: It is past time for a new edition of Love & Respect. Eggerichs could clarify his thoughts, use new examples, and include warnings against sexual mistreatment in marriage. He could better explain God’s design for sex in marriage as a mutually satisfying, intimate, loving and respectful relationship.
In a Nutshell
Eggerichs’s advice to husbands is pretty good, and much of what Eggerichs says on sex will resonate with couples who face the situation of a husband desiring more sexual intimacy and a wife reluctant to pursue it. However, his admonitions miss the mark for many couples and don’t capture the fullness and goodness of God’s design. That said, I don’t find Love & Respect to be an outlier among Christian sex advice that I’ve heard most of my life.
Ultimately, we need Christendom at large to gain a better understanding of God’s design for sex in marriage. We’re making progress, but there’s a lot more to be done. Every Christian needs to understand that God made both men and women sexual beings and placed sex within marriage for both husbands and wives to foster and express intimacy.Every Christian needs to understand that God made both men and women sexual beings and placed sex within marriage for both husbands and wives to foster and express intimacy. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Eggerichs could further that mission by engaging with Christian women with ministries in this area—me, Chris Taylor, Bonny Burns, Gaye Christmus, Sheila Gregoire, Juli Slattery, Julie Sibert, Ruth Buezis, take your pick—who could share wives’ stories that a male pastor, author, and speaker probably hasn’t heard. Then he could update his book. I suspect a new edition of Love & Respect would be well-received.