Monday, July 28, 2014

The Harmful Teaching of Wives as their Husbands' Porn Stars

A few weeks ago, I wrote about pornography and the gospel after an elder at my church shared of his lifelong struggle with pornography. This elder's testimony helped me understand the destructive teaching on sex that I and many others sat under at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mars Hill's teaching on sex has been well exported nationally and even internationally, particularly since 2012 by way of Mark Driscoll's Real Marriage book. I believe addressing this might be widely helpful to the many readers of this blog who were previously exposed to this teaching at Mars Hill.

I have personally experienced a spectrum of teaching on sex in Christian circles. I grew up in churches and Christian ministries that, based on how they talked about sex, believed that sex was dirty and embarrassing. NOBODY ever talked about it in positive ways. As I approached marriage, I appreciated Ed Wheat's Intended for Pleasure which was the first time I heard from a believer a Biblical defense for pleasure in sex (or really any frank talk about sex at all). When I got to Mars Hill in Seattle, I valued the pleasure aspect of sex as a good gift from God to married couples. But Mark Driscoll's teaching was like Ed Wheat's on double batches of steroids. Of course Ed was writing to a different audience, more to those who had not previously experienced sexual freedom. Mark was speaking to men and women with much sexual experience. As my husband said in Our Review of Real Marriage, Mark is his target audience.

It's clear from Real Marriage that, in Mark's view, sex is the key, central element to a good marriage. And this would be consistent with everything I heard while attending Mars Hill as well. In Real Marriage, while there is mention of the gospel in a few paragraphs in Grace Driscoll's chapter on sexual abuse, probably 3/4 of the book deals specifically with sex in marriage. I noted in our review that if something happened physically to Grace, then, from Mark's own testimony of his sexual frustration in marriage, he would personally be sunk. Frequent sex with his wife without restraint saved their marriage, at least as he presents it in Real Marriage.

I felt dissonance in my heart with this teaching. I loved sex and valued pleasure in marriage, but the expectations Mark set up felt crushing – a standard I couldn't live up to. Then my pastor who taught on this subject this summer used a phrase that finally set me free – that pornography sets up a society “with crushing expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance.” Things clicked in my head at that moment. The weight of crushing expectations that I felt as a result of Mars Hill's teaching on sex wasn't a result of what the Bible said but of the pornographic background from which they stemmed. But was this just me?! Was this just my own personal, prudish reaction? 

Recently, many others have shared (unsolicited, by the way) with me the same insight. Here are testimonies from a few people particularly affected negatively by the crushing expectations presented by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill's teaching on sex. One wife, who came from a background of horrific sexual abuse by her stepfather, shared how this teaching affected her when she came to Seattle as a newly married 21 year old.
“I'd never been treated with respect, and my body had been violated and abused constantly for years. I felt dirty and worthless as a person, because I was a female. 
I felt beaten down and further humiliated by Driscoll's view of women. The more I unpack the horrific things he said, the more I become convinced that (his teaching) is just the Christian-ese version of the evil perversion that I experienced being prostituted. Some of the things he said that have harmed me: it's the wife's fault if the husband looks at porn if she "lets herself go" or isn't skilled enough at sex, his obsession with talking about wives giving blow jobs and strip teases, the crass jokes, the frequent references to women being gossips and the dripping faucet/nagging wife thing, his descriptions of his marriage (Grace didn't read her own emails or have male friends or get to make decisions with him as a team) as the model for a great marriage, and his insistence that women existed exclusively as helpers to their husbands without the value to have passions/careers/opinions/etc. 
I'm an outspoken, feisty person. My husband is gentle and kind and easygoing. After I heard about the "shut your wife up or I'll shut her up for you," I spent years stifling my voice, afraid I'd get my loving husband "in trouble" with church leadership. All of this destroyed me because ... it was coming from a pastor in the pulpit. I trusted him because he kept preaching about needing to blindly trust your pastors, and I didn't want to disobey God. I feel like his teaching targets women from abusive backgrounds and screws them up further by insisting on trust and then spewing a skewed view of women. 
There was good healing that happened for me during my seven years at Mars Hill, primarily from my two beloved pastors (who are both no longer there). But all the love and care and good they poured into me didn't negate the damage done from the pulpit. I have a loving husband who treats me as an equal partner in our marriage. But somehow Driscoll's voice was louder. My husband has the ability to listen to any teaching, take the good, and brush off anything he thinks is wrong. I wish I had this ability, but I don't. When Driscoll says these things, they stab me in the heart, and I think I'm wrong, dirty, and a second class citizen in church and the world. 
My husband put it well - he said that the biggest pain point for him ... is that Driscoll claims to have a heart for hurting people, particularly women who have been sexually abused and raped. On the surface, Mars Hill is initially welcoming to people from my background. My husband thought we were going to be in a church that could help me heal from my childhood. But then Mark takes his access to a vulnerable population and exploits them by his crass view of sex, marriage, and gender roles. In my case, coming from a background of abuse, I didn't have the ability to realize that he was wrong and lying to me about how my God created me and sees me.
I found another comment, from a man, particularly helpful. His insight into himself helped me to understand how this teaching negatively affected men as well.
I was addicted to pornography for many years which was defiling to me, distorted my view of women, and ultimately defiled my wife. This is (part of) my sin. Mark’s teaching in many ways supported this view as women as sexual objects by using the same ‘construct’ of what a porn star, prostitute, or stripper does but applying it to the marriage bed. There is obviously a mix of my family history, spiritual oppression, some deep emotional wounds, and my own self-enslavement to sin. However, Mark’s distortion and perversion of the gospel, sex, and gender roles were almost a perfect support for enabling and justifying aspects of my selfishness while doing great damage to my marriage: 
- I was still embroiled in my sin during the first years of our marriage which deeply injured my wife and almost ended our marriage. 
- The expectation that my wife believed and I readily agreed to was that she was available to me for whatever, no matter what I did, whenever, and if she wasn’t I would probably end up doing worse
- Sex was often empty and emotionally painful. So Mark’s recommendation and my sinful silent agreement with the concept of your wife being your personal porn star was apt. Dead, meaningless sex 
- I did not take into account my wife’s opinions. I did not ask and she did not speak because she thought she should be silent and only encouraging like Mark taught.
Notice how in both of their testimonies, teaching on gender roles gets tainted by association with the wifely porn star view of sex. This is why I want to strongly call on my complementarian brothers and sisters in Christ to rouse themselves up to correct some of this stuff. Good teaching gets slammed when we ignore the taint of the bad.

Let me end this post with hope, with the beautiful, better way to approach this subject that I noted in my pastor's recent lesson on pornography and gospel community. While my church had previously learned in a different lesson about free, loving, pleasurable sex between a husband and wife, that was not brought up in the lesson about pornography at all. My pastor didn't present the solution to his lust as his wife becoming his own personal porn star. The answer for him was gospel community, and he focused on the care he had received from other elders at our church when he was struggling.

My pastor did not project onto his wife the responsibility to lessen his lust. A wife who pursued him sexually was not the answer to his struggle with porn. The gospel was the answer. And his wife's great contribution was ministering gospel grace to him as he struggled. His responsibility was finding other men who could encourage him and hold him accountable in loving ways when he was experiencing temptation.

This is a much healthier dynamic for both husbands and wives. The crushing expectations that accompany an addiction to pornography need to be dealt with separately from the marriage bed lest it taint the intimate, covenantal, pleasurable thing the marriage bed is supposed to be.

Tim Keller has some good teaching on the difference in lust and love. Check out this sermon.
Description: Lust exists, it is powerful, and we must respect its power. The Bible rejoices in sex and sexual desire, but lust is an impersonal, inordinate desire and an idolatrous search for meaning. Lust can be overcome if you esteem Jesus as your bridegroom and the lover of your soul.


  1. thank you so much for this. there are some pretty confusing teachings out there about sex and marriage and relationships...saying I do and instantly going from virgin to porn star is a lot of pressure. For men and women both.

  2. Amazing how many IFB churches would consider Driscoll a heretic, and yet their teachings on gender roles and sexuality sound just like his. I remember many ladies Bible studies (dare I call them that?) where we were encouraged to act like porn stars - everything from greeting him at the door wearing nothing but Saran Wrap to calling him at work and talking dirty.

    I always wondered how I was supposed to accomplish all this without traumatizing our four children! ;)

  3. Thank you. This teaching is of course harmful to women, but it doesn't do anything positive for men, either. Women become the means/tools/instruments by which men get certain needs met.
    I was able to shake off these ideas only when I came to a more egalitarian view of gender relations. My wife is first and foremost a person, not a partial-person designed to "complete" me by performing certain functions. Any ideology that focuses on function (instrumentality) above agency (personhood) tends to reduce people to objects.

    1. Absolutely! Talk of roles breaks down the moment that it starts if you haven't first discussed in depth what it means that male and female are created in God's image. I've been strongly recommending Hannah Anderson's Made for More for this reason. I remain a committed complementarian, and I think the thoughts presented in Hannah's book are the missing pieces in the complementarian position.

  4. I was not a part of Mars Hill, but received *exactly* the same "Porn Star" marital teachings, as well as the "submit to everysinglething" theological pretzel. Thank you for sharing this. I'm not going to try and convert anyone to an egalitarian position, but I did leave the Complementarian camp about two years ago, and am "exploring" egalitarianism. Here's my story out of darkness: <3

  5. was considering an opinion of a Seattle paper that the ‘anonymous’ word was the spark that lit the latest vitrol… thinking it likely too is equally the offer of attempt for mediation and reconciliation with any and all about anything and all

  6. Thank you for addressing this.

    I love the Songs in the Bible.

    I love that book from an allegorical (gasp!!!) standpoint while still respecting that it is also sexual (yes, the Songs is big enough and deep enough for both to exist within. won't get into how and/or why I believe this except to mention that Christians have a tendency to look at everything from a black and white, two dimensional pov).

    The Songs has brought great healing to my soul. Also, my husband got the benefit of the other parts.

    In a search for teaching on the Songs, I stumbled upon an article concerning Driscoll's infamous Scotland sermon. It hit me like a bucket of pig's blood thrown into the Holy of Holies.
    Driscoll had so pornified the Songs it was nauseating. In his Peasant Princess series he mocked and scorned anyone who might dare see an allegorical side to the Songs. In these two things, he has completely shut down the Songs to anyone else who might benefit from the healing side (marrieds or singles) because all they will see is pornographic sex under every rock and tree... literally.

    I am glad people are speaking up against Driscoll's version of what Christian marriage and sex should look like. Because his version is nothing more than oppressive, degrading porn with a label stamped on it claiming that it is Christian and healthy.

  7. Sex is play and lifelong within marriage. There will be ebbs and flows based on physiological aspects, outside events, personal strengths or weaknesses and growth. If a husband leads his wife to try some new things, she should try in love (she might like it). If she is hesitant or has moral qualms, he should be patient (and definitely not force her to do anything against her will or what she considers immoral--that is decidedly unloving and not being a good leader or husband).

    Driscoll is just shifting the Law ("you should/should not") from prudishness to the other extreme. The reality is somewhere in the middle, and in a marriage between real people, it will move around, based on where they are in life. Biblically, this all should be dealt with love and understanding, from both sides.

    Usually a husband's drive is higher than his wife's. I found myself in the opposite predicament, and its difficult to adjust and talk about. I found myself wanting to try harmless things I always associated with porn (I haven't viewed), and thought my husband previously wanted those things because he used to watch porn earlier in our marriage.

    Porn viewing/addiction is actually feeding a desire different than just a natural sexual need. It's a dopamine rush that actually lowers normal sex drive (and any drive to do anything, really, like marijuana)

    Marriage has a spiritual element because it is a metaphor of Christ and his Church. But God gave marriage to the believe and unbeliever, and I think biology and natural philosophy about the sexes can take one far to explain the man pursuing, pushing boundaries, the woman receiving, responding, "guarding the garden."

    Btw, me and my husband are very conservative and don't use bc, I'm not a feminist, I'm not downtrodden or without personality, we have 5 kids under 8. But I want it 5-8 times a week, all sorts of ways. But I don't compare myself to others' frequency: just as a marriage which God has chosen not bless with children is still a marriage, so a marriage where the spouses must abstain for whatever reason (and necessarily, Biblically, accompanied with prayer), perhaps (hopefully not) permanently because of a medical or physical tragedy, is still a marriage. Because God said so in their marriage ceremony.

    Kind of rambling, but I'm glad godly women are talking about this!

  8. I just listened to Tim Kellers sermon that you linked to and really appreciated it. I have rarely heard good teaching on sex in the church and found this very helpful.

  9. Its honestly bizarre to me to read reactions like this to the same sermons and books that I read, but experienced so completely differently. I too came from an abusive childhood and abusive first marriage with lots of porn, even being pressured into orgies and three-ways as part of our lifestyle in the 'goth" scene. But, I experienced healing and freedom at Mars Hill from both the Redemption group process and Mark's teachings. My new husband (who I met at Mars HIll) has never tried to make me into his personal porn star and if he ever suggests something I am uncomfortable with I have no problem telling him so, with my conscience clean as a result of my understanding of my role as a biblical wife- one largely based on Mark's teaching. I can't therefore believe that it was Mark's teaching alone that explicitly caused the women who have been hurt to think what they do about those teachings. Somewhere along the way the message that I got and that they got was received differently. I have been on guard against deception from the start of MH because of my abusive past, but also self-deception because I experienced that as well. And we have an enemy who deals in deception, twisting scripture even to turn our minds from God's will to our own. God's word is constant, He never turns or changes. But we subjectively experience life. Let's try to fix our eyes on Him and keep from being turned by inner and outer confusion to see the truth.

  10. by the way, the anonymous above is me, Jenny Halsne. I don't have a problem sharing my name, I just don't use those other accounts.

    1. I'm glad that you were not harmed, Jenny.

  11. When my husband confessed his porn problem to me he stressed that nothing I had done or not done contributed to his problem.

    1. I'm glad, Anonymous! That's how it should be. God bless you both as you face this struggle head on.

  12. Headless Unicorn GuyOctober 10, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    "Driscoll claims to have a heart for hurting people..."

    I would like to point out that the phrase "heart for hurting people" can be taken two ways. As a "heart to heal those who were hurt" or a "heart to hurt them more".


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