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.
Agreed! Lots of Judges on this thread...
If God is so against masturbation why are there wet dreams? That isn't something you can control, but it is essentially the same as masturbation. In some ways it is better. As one of my friends pointed out, "If you have had a wet dream you can't even call yourself a virgin anymore, it is just like sex."
Learning to dissociate sex from commitment is not normal or healthy.
This thread is about Christian behavior. In the interest of full disclosure, you ought to mention that you aren't a Christian, and your sexual ethics are not consistent with the clear teaching of the New Testament ... as you've made clear before.
Matt 23:25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Indeed, I fear for them. Although I do know that one of them (one who broke up with me because I wouldn't have sex with her!), later was convicted by my example and changed her ways.
I will tell you this about so called christian single's group, One of my best girlfriend's had a crush on her Lutheran Preacher, she decided to have a christian group at her house so he would come over, well he did they slept together on the 2nd group meeting after drinking and smoking now they have been married 20 years and have 2 kids and he Ministers to a Huge Congregation in Toledo Ohio..
Hmmmm.... I agree that, for some people, sex before marriage leads to "baggage." However, you cannot claim that everyone who engages in sex before marriage ends up with such baggage.
To answer your question -- Some people have waaay too much time on their hands...
Who says that is what happens when people engage in pre-marital sex?
I agree with your post. I think this once saved always saved stuff has gotten out of hand.
I wonder if that's part of their testimony.
True, but in defense of such people: those who have bad habits ingrained, have a tough struggle quitting. Some folks fall off the wagon even after getting saved. The test is, do they get up and try again? A righteous man falls 7 times and gets up. Heaven knows (literally) that even though I didn't go all the way, heavy petting was a hard habit to quell completely, even after salvation.
If someone, even a Christian, fell sexually years ago but is ashamed of it and has been clean ever since, I'd be inclined to believe the repentance was real. But if they did it LAST WEEK, and show no remorse, I'd be very sceptical.
God has given me a brain to think and to make judgements. If someone doesn't show any interest in following God's commands, then I do make the observation that he is not interested in submitting his will to God's will.
It's quite simple, actually.
Matt 7:17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
I believe in God and all, but in this post-Clinton era, telling teens not to have sex is like telling your dog not to $hit on the carpet; He's not listening either.
Your question reminds me of a question a liberal friend once asked me, "If God is so against abortion, why are there miscarriages?" Do you buy into that logic too?
I'm sorry if you fail to see the moral distinction between a voluntary act (masturbation) and an involuntary act (nocturnal emission). Since the former is something that you can control, the two acts are not "essentially" the same, as you claim.
I don't believe one can lose his salvation. The real issue is whether or not one received salvation in the first place. But we are warned not to judge folks in this way.
Christianity isn't about guilt and dramatics it's about loving your neighbor as yourself helping others loving Christ before you love anyone else it's not about feeling guilty because you had the HOTS for Betty JO and slept with her on a camping trip...
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