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.
Good point. In order to masturbate, a person usually must imagine having sex with a specific person. That then is an act of lust and psychological adultery, unless the person whom you are thinking of is your spouse. IOW, a married person, who is away on a business trip, can "self-stimulate" when thinking about his/her spouse, but not when thinking about somebody other than his/her spouse. And of course a single person should do not it at all.
The Bible says that we are to think unselfish and pure thoughts. This kind of psychological intercourse/adultery only makes it easier for us to be tempted to do the real thing. Sex, like our other actions, starts in the mind. We are to "take all of our thoughts captive to the cause of Christ." (2 Corinthians?)
Personal story. Back in 1979-80, I dated a really cute and fun Christian gal for about 18 months. We had lots of fun, but I never even held her hand or kissed her, although we had lots of good hugs. I intentionally tried to help her grow in her faith. In the years since then, I have never even been tempted to think of her in a sexy way, even though I am single. It was just a good clean relationship in which I wanted to go good, even though at the time I had to battle my desires. The relationship was not about sex. Masturbation is about wanting to fulfill our own needs. Instead, people might try to think about a very satisfying time when they did something good to serve and fulfill another person's needs. Just a thought.
Speak for yourself.
I'm not a hypocrite or have my head in the sand..
And most people that have a Holier than Thou Attitude are usually the worst sinners and or hypocrites...
Another good point. And masturbation can be said to be like "personal porn."
Baggage??? What do you mean by that...
Indeed most Christians aren't virgins when they marry, for the very simple reason that a great many of them don't get saved til their late teens or early 20s, by which time most of them have had plenty of opportunities to fall. I hold nobody's REPENTED PAST against them, either during dating or in any other context. For the record I once seriously dated a woman from my Bible study who was an EX-prostitute who'd been with over 400 men and a fair number of women as well. The keyword is EX-; she wasn't still doing it.
My complaint is about those who have allegedly gotten "saved", go to church regularly, and even give public lip service to Christian morals, yet WHILE CLAIMING TO BE CHRISTIANS are engaged in the PRESENT-DAY, UNREPENTED activity of premarital sex. They speak in tongues, thump the Bible, sing hymns, and talk a good game, yet secretly sleep around:
"LOL.... Won't have to wait even with a christian girl...."
LOL? That's nothing to laugh at.
LOL. Which culture was that the standard in? It might have been the ideal in many cultures (and then mostly for women, rather than men) but it was certainly not the standard.
I'd also add that, unless a person had sex before becoming a Christian, I would doubt the sincerity of their walk with Christ.
I.e, if the person, as a self-described Christian, chose not to obey God before marriage, why should we expect he/she will obey Him afterward?
Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, 10thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers--none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. 11There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away,[c] and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you. 12You may say, "I am allowed to do anything." But I reply, "Not everything is good for you." And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything.
Not 100% sure I am following you.
In my city a large evangelical church has an adult singles group supposedly to allow Christians to meet Christians for the possiblility of finding a mate. They meet on Wednesday evening.
It's referred to as the Wednesday meat market in the secular world. The standing joke is if you want easy action, go to the Wednesday meat market. Some divorced friends of mine went and they scored.
Yes....Go look at some of those Holy Baptist Preachers that you can find at the local watering holes with women other than there wife??? SEX is a very complex issue Biblically, ADULTERY is a forgivable sin as sex before marraige NO I don't condone either of those but I realize people have fallen into them even when saved, that is why Jesus and Prayer is never-ending because you don't stop sinning because your saved but you try and do better by asking for forgiveness in Christ...
What you call baggage, others consider to be a normal part of a person's emotional development.
Paul tells the chruch (the faithful) in Cornith if you are any of the listed, you will inherit the Kingdom of God (heaven bound). Now with our modern understanding of grace, how could that be. Why would Paul admonish those that they are risking heavenly eternity if they had nothing to worry about.
Your wrong my dear...A Christian does not stand in Judgement....YOU cannot judge anyone's walk with Christ...Only your own...