It’s been a while since I got furiously worked up over a church sermon, so I guess it was about time. And boy-howdy, did I get worked up.
Just to bring you up to speed, I moved back to my hometown-ish area in NW Ohio in January, and I have since joined a young-adult ministry and small group. In general, this has been a great experience, but since the group is for ages 18-29, I feel quite the old-timer.
A few weeks ago they preached on sex, and I listened to it with the expectation that I wouldn’t get anything out of it. I’ve been single for all of my 29 years, I’ve attended church for most of them, and I have heard a variety of sermons about sex (and read books/articles on the topic) since I was about 15. At this point, I could give the sermons.
I was right–the sermon didn’t present anything new. But that doesn’t mean I had no reaction.
It’s been a whole year since I wrote my two-part ‘series‘ on female sexuality in the Christian church, so this might be considered a sequel, though it’s not specifically about female Christians. (If you want to know more about what God has taught me about sexuality as a single Christian female, check out those links if you haven’t already.)
Firstly, I’m really tired of hearing older, married-with-children men tell me how awesome sex is. Not only am I tired of hearing about the topic from someone who hasn’t had an experience remotely similar to mine, I’m tired of hearing that God intends for all of us Christians to have fantastic, mind-blowing sex after we get married–and all we need to do to achieve that is to avoid having sex before marriage.
None of this means a damn thing for a woman approaching 30,who has struggled with sexual temptation and loneliness all her life, with no relief on the horizon, and zero prospects for a husband.
The church needs to stop using “You’re going to have more awesome sex after you get married” to bribe people into chastity. (“Chastity” meaning both celibacy before marriage and faithful monogamy after marriage.) Maybe this “bribery” method works on some people, but to make it the primary motive is a dangerous distortion of priorities.
The messages, sermons, and discussions need to be about how chastity is important because self-control is a valuable skill/virtue to practice in all areas of our lives, sexual or not. (Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; marriage and awesome sex are not.)
The messages need to emphasize the importance of obeying God, even if it doesn’t make sense to us or is really difficult. God is worth obeying because He is holy, He is far above us and sees so much further and so much more than we do, and He has given us everything.
Encouraging chastity just by saying, “you should save sex for marriage because the sex will be better that way” only prepares people to think, “If I do what God wants, then God will give me what I want.” God is not a vending machine, nor is He paying you for your chastity in awesome sex. A relationship with God is not about economics. I have been guilty of thinking this way for as long as I can remember, and I am still dealing with severe damage from that mindset and trying to untangle myself from it.
And even if I did find this sort of motivation helpful, it’s complete bullshit.
Sex isn’t automatically better because you waited. There’s a learning curve–two people with different needs and desires and sex drives and energy levels and experiences and schedules won’t necessarily be totally compatible and in-tune right away. Then there are physical problems, such as erectile dysfunction or painful intercourse, that could make even marital sex unsatisfying. People may have psychological problems and issues with intimacy, even if they don’t have a lot of emotional baggage. People may have sexual emotional baggage even if they are technically virgins. It’s not as simple as “save sex for marriage” = “best sex ever.”
And guess what? People who have sex outside of marriage can experience really enjoyable sex. They may not even feel guilty about it! And if you have a person who grew up hearing nothing but “marital sex is the best sex,” only to learn that it’s not necessarily true, how likely are they going to trust what else the church tells them?
Oversimplified bullshit helps no one.
If you hear the message at 18 and you get married when you’re 21, great. You were privileged, and you have it easier in many ways than people who went 10, 20, 30+ years longer without getting married. But the church makes it sound like that will happen to everyone. And that is simply not true.
No one in the church seems willing to discuss the fact that some of us aren’t going to get married. This is truth. It doesn’t matter if the majority of people in the American Christian church these days do get married–there are still people who will remain unmarried all their lives. There are people who will get married, only to become unmarried through divorce or death. In these cases, “wait until marriage” is not an effective motive for chastity and sexual purity.
Hammering on the idea of saving sex for marriage just to have better sex after marriage also can imply that people who did have sex before marriage (which I am not advocating, but it happens) are “damaged goods” even with God’s grace and forgiveness, and that they have ruined their chances of having a fulfilling sex life if they do get married.
Abstinence–and then marriage–do not automatically grant a person spiritual wholeness. I have discussed this issue many times, at great length, with a friend who has pointed out that the church should do more to teach people how they can be healthy and whole, sexual or otherwise, in or out of marriage, instead of emphasizing the finding of a spouse.
Wholeness and satisfaction in all areas of our lives do not hinge on good sex, or obtaining a spouse, or any other human relationship. True wholeness is only found in Christ, and in surrendering our lives to Him.
I’m not great at coming up with practical, real-life actions to take to carry out my ideas. So I don’t have a good to-do list for how to find wholeness in Christ. But I think there’s one thing we need to understand before we can do anything else:
Wholeness can only be achieved with Christ, because any desire we have comes from God in the first place.
In fact, in a 1930 letter to his best friend Arthur Greeves, C.S. Lewis discusses sexual temptation (specifically, masturbation) that arises because of deep longings, and suggests fighting back by “turning my mind to the One, the real object of all desire, which…is what we are really wanting in all wants.”
Whether we know it or not, God is at the core of everything we want: intimacy, physical pleasure, inclusion, fulfillment, purpose.
To invoke Lewis again (in paraphrase this time), nothing on this earth can fully satisfy these desires, because they are not from this earth. If we keep this in mind, if we see God as the source of our desires and consider our temptations as opportunities to call on Him and draw closer to him, then I think we have a better chance of finding wholeness, whatever our relationship status.
3 thoughts on “Sex and Wholeness and the Single Christian”
Very well said, Em! I could never say what bothered me so much about church sex talks, but I think you’ve nailed it.
“Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; marriage and awesome sex are not.” Very well said. It’s my opinion that people who are married are not qualified to whisper one word of advice to unmarried people. That means I tune out at least 99.9% of everything that churches have to say on the subject. I’ve seen and heard a lot. I’m 54 and have been celibate 54 years.
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