Skip to comments.Sex and the Unmarried Christian
Posted on 04/28/2005 12:03:24 PM PDT by Recovering_Democrat
Lauren F. Winner started a lot of conversations when she published her 2003 memoir, "Girl Meets God," about her journey from Orthodox Judaism to evangelical Christianity. Now, with the publication of her new book, "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity," Winner, a former Beliefnet books editor, again is turning heads with her frank arguments about Christian sexual ethics. Winner spoke to Beliefnet about everything from why masturbation is a "separation from reality" to how she and her now-husband reined in their sexual impulses while they were dating.
What is the sexual ethic of "Real Sex?" Is it as simple as, "just say no?"
I think capturing the core message of the book in the phrase 'just say no' is problematic. Whenever I speak with youth groups or college student groups about sex and chastity, I often start by asking them, what does the Bible tell us about sex? Every single time, the first person who speaks says you shouldn't have sex before marriage.
Starting with that negative doesnt make any sense. So I start from the positive point that sex was created by God, our bodies were created by God, and they are good. Sex was made for marriage, and therefore sex doesnt belong any other context than marriage. The second reason I wouldnt want to summarize it as 'just say no,' is that I think that catchphrase puts us into a place where we resist strong bodily urges like sexual desire solely through the will. And while I think the will is certainly a part of Christian living, it's the will that is empowered through God's grace. The catch phrase of 'just say no' places too much burden on our will and doesnt acknowledge the crucial place of God's activity in our faithful living.
In the book, you share a lot of personal information and personal stories. Have there been moments when you wished you could re-write history?
Sure. I wrote this book because sex and chastity have been such huge issues in my own life, and I didnt feel that any of the books that people were giving me, or any of the seminars that I was attending, were quite fitting the bill.
Sexual sin in my life is something that I feel real shame and discomfort about. This is not something about which I feel cavalier.
It is also something that I think God forgives. Finding the balance between beating ones breast but also appreciating Gods forgiveness is difficult. Theres part of me that of course wishes I could re-write history. If theres a part of me that doesnt wish that, its the part that knows that I couldnt have written this particular book were it not for my particular life experiences.
Can you explain the concept of "on the steps of the Rotunda?"
Its the story of how the man that Im now married to and I navigated sexuality when we were dating. We got this advice from a very good friend of my husband Griffs, a man whos a campus pastor at the University of Virginia, which is near where we live. He said, what you can do sexually with each other in private is whatever you would feel comfortable doing standing on the steps of the Rotunda, which is the architectural capstone of the university's campus.
There were two really important pieces of wisdom in that. One was simply the fact that we had a conversation partner, it wasnt Griff and me in the throes of passion trying to make this decision for ourselves. It was a decision made in community with someone who knew us well and was able to give us guidance that took our particular stories into consideration. Second, the pastor recognized that there are public dimensions to sexuality and private dimensions to sexuality.
Weve heard about college students at Christian colleges who are sexually active but also very religiously committed. What is the disconnect there?
While a large percentage of college-aged Christians are not having sex, a lot of them are. Then theres the sort of equally large category of unmarried Christians who are having oral sex and saying this doesnt count, Im still a virgin because Im not having genital intercourse. Part of whats going on is that the society in which we live is ever more sex-saturated, and people get married later. Its obviously easier to stay chaste if you think youre going to get married at 19 than if youre getting married at 35. But, though the church is often accused of being too obsessed with sex, and while I think people in the church are very well-meaning about wanting to help unmarried Christians stay chaste, some of the tools that the church gives unmarried Christians are a little thin.
Is the True Love Waits pledge program one of those?
I don't want to pick apart a particular program. Recent studies have come out to show that abstinence pledge card programs tend to delay sexual activity in teenagers by 18 months. So the average non-pledge-card-signing teenager has sex at 18, the average person who signs a pledge card has sex at 19 and a half.
But these programs also don't do college-aged or teenage girls any favors in basically denying that women have sexual desires and saying that their job in remaining chaste is to fend off the walking ball of hormones who takes them to the movies and tries to have sex with them.
One of the things I talk about in the book is in particular how we talk about womens sexuality. So many Christian books that Ive read on sexuality really dont acknowledge that women have libidos. I dont think that we have to say that men and women are identical, or that men and women experience sexuality in identical ways, to recognize that women do have libidos. We would better serve unmarried women in the church to instead say, look, women also feel sexual desire, and here are some ways that you can discipline that desire rather than saying, eh, youre not really going to have to worry about this.
What do you suggest that women do with their sexual needs if they find themselves in their 30s and havent met the right guy yet?
I dont necessarily suggest that women 'do' anything. One of the questions that constantly comes up in this discussion is, how can I be sexual as an unmarried person and a Christian? And that question always means one of two things. Its either a coded question about masturbation, or its a question which invites some answer like, just take a bubble bath and drink a glass of Chablis, and that will be a sensual experience for you.
People keep asking that question hoping that theres some third answer. What we have to recognize is that the Christian life is full of loss, suffering, and difficulty, in addition to being full of joy, contentment, and peace. Part of what unmarried Christians cope with is that stark recognition that chastity is sometimes really difficult. You have sexual desires and longings that are not fulfilled, just as married Christians sometimes do. The answer involves recognizing that this is a discipline of abstinence, and sometimes it is really difficult and doesnt feel good.
You write that masturbation, if its done frequently, can become a substitute for reality. What do you mean by that?
One of the guidelines or benchmarks that I use in thinking about sex, and here again this is where its important to start with a positive vision of sex, is that sex was created to be relational. In Gods vision, any sexual activity that takes sex outside of a relational reality is something to worry about. Now, there are Christians who think that any masturbation, ever, is horrible and should be avoided at all costs. I would not say that. The Bible doesnt have anything to say about masturbation. A lot of Christian ethicists today would agree that masturbation falls into a gray area.
I would get concerned not with the occasional masturbating experience, but rather with habitual, regular masturbation. I dont have some magic number in my head, for how many times a month crosses the line into habitual masturbation, but if someone is masturbating really frequently, I would worry about how that is forming youre his or her expectations and thoughts about sexuality, and what it's teaching about sex being instantly gratifying. I would also wonder if there were something going on emotionally, such as taking emotional refuge in masturbation the same way people might take emotional refuge in porn or promiscuous sex or whatever.
What is your advice to couples who get married but who come from different sexual backgrounds from each other?
Speaking from my own experience, marrying someone who was a virginand I wasntit has not been easy. My mother died right before I got married, and comatose libido tends to be associated with bereavement. But thats how real sex works, there are added layers: youre stressed out because of things at work, your mother has died and your libido is in a coma, or whatever. One of the major themes of this book is community. Chastity is a community discipline and we need to be in conversation with our brothers and sisters in Christ about sexuality. But Im well aware that its not easy.
Its not just sex but marriage that we need to be open with our community about. Marriage is hard, and married sexuality is only one of many aspects of married life that is difficult, and you feel like youre not doing it right. I have innumerable friends whove said, I felt like on my wedding night or my honeymoon, I was supposed to be rarin to go, wanting to have sex 24/7, and I didnt feel that way so I felt like a failure. We have so many expectations coming from so many different places. Its crucial that you try to be reflective not only with your spouse, but with some wise friends who can walk with you.
Can sex ever become too big a part of someones marriage? Would you use the language of chastity to talk to a couple that was in that situation?
Certainly I think sexual brokenness can manifest itself in marriages just as easily as it can manifest itself outside of marriage, and I can imagine marriages where sex becomes too all-consuming. Some couples might use sex as an escape from some other issues. In the book, the way I talk about marital sexuality has more to do with wanting to suggest that our contemporary society has started defining good sex in a marriage as that sex which parrots unmarried sex as much as possible, that its always swinging from the chandeliers, and that it is not grounded in domesticity. Flipping through contemporary magazines and talk shows, I think we get the message that domestic routine is at odds with what sex is.
The Christian message would actually be the opposite of that. We would say, if sex was made for marriage, we must learn from that something about what good sex looks like. That doesnt mean its not exciting--of course married sex can be exciting--but rather that it is part and parcel of married life and ones domestic economy. In general in the book, I try to remember that there are lots of disciplines of abstinence in the church, like fasting and simplicity and tithing and so forth, and that what these disciplines have in common is that they clear out a space to allow us to attend to God in a particular way. I wouldnt suggest that everyone has to adopt a Lenten sex fast like some of my friends did. But sex does require discipline--the discipline of fidelity, along with figuring out the discipline of having sex when you dont want to, or refraining from having sex when you really want to.
What are your views on sexual education? When, and wherepublic schools, churches, families?
I would say, from the womb. I imagine that when one has kids, these are not soundbites were trying to impart to our children, but ways of faithfulness that were trying to form in our children. Its not going to work if you wait till theyre 13 and sit them down and have one conversation about the birds and the bees. Rather, that should be a process that starts from day one. Its unfortunate that socially were in a situation where we have to have curricula about these things. You dont form character by having experts come in and teach a seminar to 9th graders.
I would hope that schools, churches, and other groups would think about sexual education in pretty broad terms, as part and parcel of fostering good character. It might somehow be something thats integrated into the life of a school and not something thats taught in PE class one month a year. That sounds like a pipe dream, though.
Clinton was a married man what he did with Monika to some Christians would be immoral if it was with his wife...
What is 'good people' according to Scripture?
BTW do you ever read the Bible?
I'm not sure how much my success has to do with courtship and how much it has to do with my wife and I being best friends with high sex drives.
That is what courtship entails.
I think there is lack of wooing often on both sides. Something else I've noticed. I've seen couples who live together 5, 10, 20 years decide to tie the knot to become honest couples. 6 months to a year later they divorce. Can't get along. Why could they do it before the ring and not after?
I do tell my married cousin her husband is scum for sitting on the Internet in the Middle night looking at Porn,
but my friend who is having sex with a wonderful guy and does not want to get married Nah, she's A-Okay in my book...
1 Cor 6:9-10. You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God.
I do... not lately I will admit I have my own struggles that I deal with..One thing I will say is that I don't want to be a hyoocrite and because I don't I will not pretend to fool GOD which I know I can't anyways when it comes to his word....
I dunno. Maybe they expected the marriage to fix what was wrong, but didn't let it change them enough. Or maybe it changed one of them and not the other.
Naturally, in ancient times - both Biblical and Vedic (my especial field of study) polygamy was often practiced. But it wasn't easy lays - it was marriage, just more than one wife. And in Vedic times, it was mostly royalty who practiced polygamy.
I'm not making the claim that all our historical forebears were living saints. But, generally speaking, most cultures had the same or similar standards of sexual morality that we're talking about here. As far as barbarian cultures like Papua New Guinea aborigines, I'm leaving them out entirely. I have zero interest in emulating primitive aborigines who ate their grandfathers' brains and sodomized the youth as a universal practice.
I'm not sure about that. Seems to me that for a marriage to work, the focus has to be first on each other. Even if someone proved to me that God did not exist, I think our marriage would still stand.
As I just mentioned in my post above, many cultures practiced polygamy, but it wasn't random fornication. It was still marriage, between a man and a woman, but more than one woman.
As far as aboriginal cultures, I'm not including them at all. No hunter gatherers. I'm talking primarily about monotheistic cultures, which includes ancient Vedic culture. I don't know so much about Chinese history, but then they have never been monotheist.
As you admitted, the standards were there even if followed imperfectly. What we have now culturally, is no standard whatsoever.
If someone doesn't judge between good and bad behavior, between right and wrong, between beneficial and malign, he or she is an ass.
It is a tenet of liberalism that no one should "judge" anything. That is a total lie, and not even possible. Those who are against "judging" are always condemning (i.e. judging) those bad people who "judge".
If you're against judging, then you shouldn't judge. OK?
Only a demented fool doesn't make judgements about good and bad.
Morality and fornication are 2 different things IMO...
Not sure what you mean here. The Bible is very clear that fornication is immoral.
Okay not to be blunt but here goes..I am sure not going to condemn someone for engaging in premarital sex, when I have done it myself and if I was in a situation where I was with someone I cared for I would proably do it again under all the right circumstances which does not include marraige...
I'm pretty sure I disagree with missyme over condoning Christians shacking up because they don't want to be married. The Bible is also very clear on this.
Fornication is Sexual Intercourse right? Speed up 2005 we have sex people can engage in without the sexual act itself that would be morality...
If a Christian, whether you or someone else, engages in premarital sex but later repents of it, the Bible says he is forgiven. Of course, that's no license to go out and do it again if one remains unmarried.
Morality doesn't just include sex, though. Morality includes everything that involves right or wrong.
I think maybe what you're trying to distinguish between is different types of sex: physical sex, phone sex, porno sex, etc.
It's double-standard, "sexist" time and my apologies ahead of time, but...
The God in Gen. made them male and female, only he made them different; with different sexualities and different desires! And men have the higher urges--that's why God gave women a hymen (the only mammal with one), the capability of saying "no" and expected them to be virgins until marriage.
It well portrays the conflict between hard theory and practical reality. It doesn't weaken the Bible, IMO. It makes it more encyclopedic and realistic.
But the one standard, through all the sexual variations, that seems to make relationships work is keeping one's word. Like you say -- marriage with more than one wife, but a marriage kept. Most of the penalties for sexual misadventure were based on broken promises. An unbetrothed, unmarried woman and man caught together merely have to marry.
That is the standard missing. Promises made; promise kept. Promises made among partners. Promises made to and before God.
Anything else -- hey, Sarai told Abram to sleep with Hagar and God apparently wanted it that way. In that light, I worry that interfering with any modern day, consensual, arrangement, may be interfering with God's plan, working through unconventional means.
Okay so what would you call people that look at naked women and fantasize? we know many men in the world like that? are they commiting fornication?
The hymen comment aside, you're not saying unmarried men should be able to have sex while unmarried women shouldn't, right?
As a parallel question, what about married men and women, who look at porn with their partner's approval? Or married couples who look at porn together?
JMO, that's not fornication, but it is engaging in pornography/pornographic sex, which is immoral.
Who the heck knows I am already the token Heathen on this thread....I did some funky things Unmarried and Married.
Personally I would not marry someone until I had Sex with them, but that's just me...
YOU said Fornication and Immorality is one in the same...
Um, can you read?
He was killed for pulling it out before going...
He was killed for shirking his responsibility. He wasn't masturbating....
No, I said fornication is *immoral*, not immorality. Adjective versus noun.
And the Bible speaks of Fornication only...Concerning Sexual Behaviour...
I do believe masturbation to be wrong, but that is only because it is not a Scripturally ordained manner of releasing sexual urges.
The way of God is to have sex in marriage, not to do yourself.
I am not going to have sex until marriage, nor masturbate. Sometimes it is extremely, extremely difficult to stay chaste, particularly as a college student, but I thankfully do a pretty good job of not failing to honor this most of the time.
Well, masturbation is something you can control. Sometimes it is not easy....not even close. But, you can control it. You can't control night emissions.
Obviously those are part of how God designed us. If we won't release it in Biblical sex, it will be released naturally during sleep...and it feels good.
But, that is not something we can control. It does not provide an excuse to masturbate just because it happens without our control in sleep.
You are way to hard on yourself..you need that release or you can end up with some physical problems....
Men are not designed to carry a ocean load of Sperm to save for a rainy day.....
Throughout history men (and women) have sublimated (or transcended) the sexual urge as monks and nuns, renunciates of various faiths. It is possible to be celibate or chaste without harming the health. In fact, according to health traditions familiar to me, it is more detrimental to the vitality to squander one's sexual energy than it is to conserve it.
Of course, if a person stimulates the sexual urge by, for instance, viewing pornography or meditating on the sex act, it is virtually impossible not to be forced to seek sexual release.
I am sure monks and nuns have there own sexual releases..Hormones dictate sexual urges that is what causes every living thing the desire to procreate it's natural created by GOD to populate the world...
Wow a christian woman would be happy to meet you!
This has to be one of the most interesting threads on FR.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of unmarried middle-aged Christian women who agree with you. I won't have sex outside of marriage, but you can bet it will be discussed, in detail, early on in a relationship.
As for funky things within marriage; as long as it doesn't involve pain, pornography, or other people, ANYTHING is permissable as long as both partners are in agreement.
I think you need to read your Bible a little more closely.
Also, if you are a Christian and believe the Bible forbids fornication, why would you decide to engage in it anyway, as per your #329, in which you state, "Personally I would not marry someone until I had Sex with them, but that's just me..." ?
Especially since masturbation typically involves the counterfeit intimacy of fantasy.
Sexual encounters conjured in fantasy never involve the risk of rejection. "Partners" are there to satisfy every whim with no needs of their own, they exist only to please, not to require anything in return. However, in fantasy there is also never a possibility of our being truly accepted in our brokenness .. which is what we are really longing for.
God wants us in community with other broken people. It's only in the context of community that our own brokenness and weaknesses are revealed. Once they are exposed and we acknowledge them, God can and does move in our lives to reveal His strength, grace and mercy by healing them. Paul understood this when he said:
And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me
Medicating our pain via the temporal pleasure masturbating does nothing to meet our true need for spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy with someone outside ourself. In fact, it reduces our capacity to experience it.
Oh please you can get by with that crap with a high school boy but please don't try to push that on a man. Wont work baby, at least not with a man with any testosterone running through his veins.
No...if I said that, I would be guilty of hypocrisy, because obviously the other partner would be a willing woman. What I am trying to say (though admittedly not very artfully) is that I believe it is incumbent upon women to keep men in line...
I believe women are mentally better suited to do that (when it comes to sex); they are the more rational thinkers because men are not going to be the ones who may have to carry the result of sexual contact for the next nine months. I believe women handle passion better...
Yes, thank you, very well.
I will just say that when your married for awhile or if you have been married awhile and it breaks up by the time you end up in your late 30's 40's or beyond I think Christian Women and proably most women in general are no longer interested in the Big Barbie Doll Wedding they might of once had and realize that being with a man entails many things before you jump right into another marraige...
Unforunatley DIVORCE happens quite a bit even in Christian Marraiges which is also forbidden in the Bible.
You tell me...What if you marry a man without being intimate and realize that there is a big problem in that department??? You are now Married you have a unsatisafying no passion sexual life, I guess you can go to therapy or have an affair or divorce...
that is not actually the case. There are circumstances where divorce is pemitted. Physical abuse, abandonment, and infidelity are a few situations. Withholding of sex falle under the abandonment category.
that is not actually the case. There are circumstances where divorce is pemitted. Physical abuse, abandonment, and infidelity are a few situations. Withholding of sex falle under the abandonment category.
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