Other than my fantastic books [wink], which books about sex would I recommend or not recommend?
Well, once upon a time, I had read almost every Christian sex book you could find in the bookstore, but there are many more resources available now. Christian publishers loosened up some restrictions on books addressing sex (like being able to call it sex instead of just intimacy), and self-publishing allowed many authors to enter the field without gatekeeping. So, even as much as I’ve read, there’s no way I can read everything out there.
Yet, I want to offer thoughts on various books I’ve read lately.
How to Judge a Book
First, however, let me remind you of a few important aspects when judging a book. Some books are truly terrible, and we should stay away from them. But when it comes to the good ones, we should still use discernment. The question is not simply: Is this a good book? Rather, ask questions like:
- What is author’s purpose for this book?
We should judge a book on its own terms—that is, what is the author trying to do. It’s not fair to label a fantasy novel bad because what you really wanted to read was a sweet romance.
Likewise, what is the author’s intent for their sex book? Examples include laying out a theological foundation for godly sex, providing how-to techniques and tips, or addressing a specific sexual issue, such as recovering from abuse. Once you understand the purpose, you can judge the book on how well it met that goal.
- Who is this book written for? And who is it not written for?
In a book proposal, an author is expected to identify a “target audience”—that is, who is this book for. As much as writers would love to say, “My book is for everyone!” and then sell to everyone, publishers know that’s unrealistic. Not every book is for everyone, and that’s especially true about a sex book.
For instance, my how-to guide for wives (Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design) is a great choice for most wives! However, it would probably be the wrong choice for a wife who’s been through deep sexual trauma and needs to heal from that painful history long before hearing specific sex tips. I would send that wife that to a different resource altogether.
- Are the main concepts consistent with the Word of God?
Anything I or anyone else says about sex needs to stand up to the scrutiny of God’s will. This is why I rarely find secular sex books I agree with—their underlying values are so different from God’s calling for His people. But some who claim to be Christian also speak in ways inconsistent with Scripture.
Now I think it’s the main concepts we have to pay attention to, because we’re human and make errors. You will find a line or two or twenty that you could argue with in nearly every book, but what beliefs undergird the book’s message?
- Are you learning some good stuff?
That may seem like an obvious question, but too often, people criticize a whole book based on a few not-great-Bob phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. I take the approach that if a book is 80–85% good and I’m learning some good stuff from it, I can take those gold nuggets and leave the dross behind.
Now, you have to show discernment and really think about what’s being pitched at you. But you can do that. Though the more you’re in the Word, the easier that will be.
- Does this book help me become a healthier person?
By healthier, I mean spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. If you’re reading a book that’s supposed to help you, it should actually help you. If it doesn’t, then it’s either not the book for you or a bad book. Like I said, some books I’d recommend widely, some I wouldn’t recommend at all, and plenty have helped one spouse or couple but didn’t help another.
However, if the “help” you’re getting simply hardens your heart, leaves you feeling hopeless and desperate, and/or makes you feel unworthy of a good sex life, then that book isn’t helping! You need a different resource to discover what God desires for your life, your marriage, and your sexuality.
See also: How to Read a Marriage Book
Disclosure of Material Connection: This post includes one or more affiliate links, meaning if you click on the link and purchase an item, I receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.
Sex Books for Couples
When someone asks for a book that covers sexual intimacy in marriage generally, I tend to point them to:
- Pursuit of Passion: Discovering True Intimacy in Your Marriage by Julie Sibert & Jeff Murphy. See more about that book here: Pursue Passion in Your Marriage: Interview with Julie Sibert.
- Lovemaking: 10 Secrets to Extravagant Intimacy in Marriage by Dr. Dan & Linda Wilson. I wrote up a review here: Fine Chocolate Sex: A Review of Lovemaking.
I still highly recommend both. In the last several months, I’ve read four other sex books for couples, three of which I’d add to my recommendation list and one I would not.
The Language of Sex: Experiencing the Beauty of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Dr. Gary Smalley & Ted Cunningham
Dr. Gary Smalley was a prominent Christian marriage author and researcher, and he wrote some wonderful stuff. In this book, he paired with pastor Ted Cunningham to address sexual intimacy. They did a beautiful job, particularly in the beginning chapters, of showing how honor and security in a marriage create the atmosphere in which sexual intimacy can thrive.
There are whole sections of this book well worth reading, but ultimately, I cannot recommend this one. Certain blanket statements, gender assumptions, or specific-scenario advice felt so off the mark, I couldn’t square them with other excellent concepts in the book.
Now, the book was released in 2008, so it could be that an update would resolve some of those issues. But sadly, Gary Smalley passed away in 2016. Perhaps Ted Cunningham or Gary’s son Greg, who works in the same field, will someday pursue a second edition.
Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimagining Your Love Life by Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta
The first song on side two of U2’s Under the Blood Red Sky album is introduced this way:
There’s been a lot of talk about this next song, maybe, maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song.Bono, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
Somehow, those words remind me of Married Sex. Whether you know it or not, there’s been a lot of talk about this book, maybe, maybe too much talk. This book is not what some say it is.
Married Sex is a cowritten book that brings together the perspectives of a husband with a theology background and a wife with a counseling practice. That breadth of experience means the reader gets both a male and female perspective, but also spiritual grounding and therapeutic practicality. Moreover, Gary and Debra weave in the words and stories of married couples who have learned to have deeply intimate sex lives.
Their insight is so good in so many places, and they cover so much ground. I highlighted more in this book on sex than any other I’ve read so far! You can find everything from a solid theology to an emotionally healthy perspective to specific tips for sex in marriage.
If I had to pick a primary focus, I’d say that it’s how much sex should be a mutually satisfying experience—with a lot of ideas on how to get there. Throughout, they turn to biblical principles as the proper guide for how to create a healthy and holy sex life.
Married Sex is best for couples in the 75–80%—that is, those marriages with spouses who are equally matched in sexual desire or with a higher drive husband. Although there are clear mentions of higher drive wives, more often than not, a higher drive husband is presumed.
Even so, I (a higher desire wife) got a lot out of reading the book. But I would give a heads-up to fellow higher desire wives about chapter six. It’s a fantastic chapter for equal or lower-desire wives concerned whether they still capture their husband’s eye. But because Gary goes to such beautiful lengths to reassure such wives that they turn their husbands’ heads, it could be a hard read for wives who don’t get that response from their husbands. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to this issue, given my ministry that includes a higher desire wife community, but such stories can prick at the already present doubt and disappointment a higher desire wife feels. Just know that going in.
I’d happily gift this book to many couples I know, including newlyweds. It’s focused on lovemaking more than just sex, and it encourages both intense pleasure and deep intimacy.
If you’re not aware of Dr. Juli Slattery, I encourage you to head to her website, check out her podcast, and/or pick up one of her books. She’s one of the best voices out there speaking about God’s will regarding sexuality.
Her most recent book goes into God’s design for sex in marriage. (Sound familiar? It should—that’s my tag line.) But rather than deal with technique or tips, Juli addresses the meaning of sex—what it represents, how it challenges us, and what genuine intimacy looks like. For instance:
“Just because you are married doesn’t mean that sex will automatically become a vehicle for intimacy. For some couples, sex is just a sanctified hookup.”God, Sex, and Your Marriage, p. 89 & 90
“Sex without intimacy is perhaps the sneakiest counterfeit in marriage, gutting the gift of sexual intimacy of its true joy and significance.”
The book calls Christian couples to pursue something higher, deeper, and ultimately more satisfying and suggests four pillars of true intimacy. If these are being pursued, sex within the marriage can be Song of Songs delightful for both husband and wife.
God, Sex, and Your Marriage would be a great read for most couples, but especially those who have struggled to believe that sex is a gift from God and/or those who don’t see its spiritual aspect. Couples in crisis over sex would also benefit from this paradigm shift.
Of if you’re just that spouse who feels like sex is going pretty well in your marriage, but it’s missing something, this book might fill in that gap for you.
To get a teaser of Juli Slattery and this book, check out this podcast episode with her as our special guest: Episode 147: God, Sex, and Your Marriage, with Dr. Juli Slattery – Sex Chat for Christian Wives.
Secrets of Sex & Marriage: 8 Surprises That Make All the Difference by Shaunti Feldhahn & Dr. Michael Sytsma
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher and author, while Dr. Michael Sytsma is a pastor, Christian sex therapist, and head of the Institute for Sexual Wholeness. Together, they embarked on a research project to define what sex is really like for married couples and how it can become better. (If you’re curious about the methods they used for this study, you can find more details here: Research | Secrets of Sex and Marriage.)
They identify eight takeaways that give a clearer picture of how to pursue and appreciate healthy sexuality in your marriage. While there’s an upbeat tone to the findings, this book doesn’t deny that some sexual struggles are far more serious. By sharing what’s typical and reasonable challenges couples can expect, they also help spouses identify when problems are outside those bounds—thus requiring additional help.
One last thought on the research: This project includes the best study I’ve seen about how many higher desire wives there are, and—believe me—I have searched far and wide for this information. I’d like more studies, but with other sources I’ve consulted and this new study, I feel confident saying that higher desire wives constitute about 20–25% of marriages.
What I particularly appreciate about this book is that it’s short, jam-packed with information, easy to read, and filled with practical wisdom. Even don’t-read-books-much spouses could get through this one.
While couples married any length of time could benefit from learning these “8 surprises,” Secrets of Sex & Marriage would also make a great gift for an engaged couple so they can start marriage with realistic expectations and know how to seek mutually satisfying sexual intimacy.
A Last Word on Other Books
As I said, I simply cannot get to every book out there on sex by Christian authors, much less those outside my faith. So if there’s something you want me to read that I haven’t, it’s likely on my list!
But one last shout-out to a book that isn’t about marriage but is about sex. I recently listened to Theology of the Body (in Simple Language), which “paraphrases 86 of Pope John Paul II’s talks on the theology of the body in easy-to-understand English.” To my Catholic friends specifically, I want to say: Ah, now I get it.
Some may wonder: What does a celibate priest know about sexual intimacy? To which I would say that my best gynecologist was a man. I had varied experiences in between, but it’s more than possible to be empathetic and insightful without having gone through someone else’s experience.
Pope John Paul II calls us to a high view of our bodies, as made in God’s image, and speaks to how we can and should treat them in sexuality and beyond. I found myself reflecting deeply on his points and looking at sexual intimacy from fresh angles.
If you’re interested in a deeper theological dive, this book would be a good choice.
I’ll keep reading and suggest resources as I can! But quick reminder… [wink again]