29 Dec Church and Sex – What We Keep Getting Wrong
The church’s inability to handle the topic of sex appropriately continues to leave many Christians ill-prepared to handle sexual desires and temptations and is putting at risk many marriages before they even get started. The church is hurting itself through the many individual Christians that need proper guidance and aren’t getting it from the appropriate sources. We (the church) continue to get this sex thing totally wrong from start to finish. I don’t have all the answers on how to do it perfectly, but I think we need to talk about it – figure it out. I have some theories as to the why and how we keep getting it wrong – below you will find some of my thoughts on the topic and some suggestions on ways we could improve how the church handles sex. If you have read many of my other articles you will know that I write the way I think and it is pretty scattered, so I apologize, because I am confident that this article follows that same pattern and is probably three times as long as usual.
I also try to avoid a lot of disclaimers when I write, but you can consider this my disclaimer for this article to make it easy for you to know where I stand and whether or not you should continue reading… DISCLAIMER: Sex is only to be had between a man and a woman who are married to one another – ONLY – it’s what I believe the Bible says, I think it is clear, and won’t bother arguing that point. The rest of what you read is my opinion – many of these thoughts have been spurred by my own experiences, thoughts, and frustrations as well as thoughts I am expounding upon that have been expressed by others.
The church’s response to our culture’s interpretation of sex and it’s misuse and abuse of sex is to treat sex as evil and sinful. I believe that is the wrong way to approach it. I believe we need to rescue sex as it was meant to be used according to the scriptures and return it to the beauty that it was created to be. We need to be the examples to the world, instead of shying away from it and not dealing with it and allowing the world to be the ones that dictate how sex should be viewed and enjoyed. We need to be examples (light) of what healthy, appropriate, beautiful, and Godly sex lives should look like.
The world is attacking God’s people on every front and sexuality is probably one of the strongest fronts – but for some reason it is the one thing that is taboo for us to talk about as a church or one that we are least equipped to do battle against. We need to get past or inadequacies or fears and start dealing with sex – because we are losing the war!
We spend so much time focused on all the negatives or sex, the abuses of sex, the misuses of sex and we don’t spend enough time on the natural beauty of sex and how to handle it right.
Debra K Fileta in her book True Love Dates says this, “’Say Yes to Sex,’ because you know what? Sex is awesome! It’s time for Christians to stop treating sex like a ‘say no to drugs campaign’ but rather take the time to bring balance to the truth that sex done in God’s way is totally worth saying yes to. It’s time to hear less about why it’s wrong and more about why it’s right.”
What We, the Church, Have Been Getting Wrong
The following list has in it some of the key areas that I think the church needs to improve upon when dealing with the topic of sex. Some of these points will be further expounded upon later in the article – some are just points I feel need to be made. The church’s messages that are failing us, whether conveyed expressly or unintentionally through silence…
- Sex is nothing better than a utilitarian function. Sex as a married couple is more than a utilitarian function. We teach more along the lines of… God said to be fruitful and multiply – sex is meant as a means to an end – fill the earth with people – so you have to have sex. Husbands probably want it, because they are animals and wives have to do it even if they hate it, because that’s what God tells them to do. Have you ever heard something like this in a sermon… “The purpose of marriage is not pleasure. Sex is just a utilitarian function like eating or sleeping.” I have heard things very close to that if not almost word for word – we may not say it exactly like that all the time, but it is the message that we portray. Sex is just a physical urge devoid of any human emotion or intimacy. Do it if you have to.
- You must avoid sex or anything that could lead to sex at all costs. You hear from the time you are old enough to pay attention during the sermon that sex is dirty and sinful. This is the message we hear more often than not – our whole lives. Sex is dirty and sinful… until your wedding night. Now it’s supposed to be awesome and perfect (if we even mention the last part about it possibly being good). We treat sex like drugs or getting drunk or smoking – it is to be avoided at all costs. Avoided at all costs – until the moment you say, “I do.” You think it is horribly sinful and then you have to flip the switch in your mind, in an instant, once you get married. You are expected to take your sex life from zero to hero in an afternoon even with all the sexuality, desires, and thoughts that you have spent years masterfully repressing. You have had nothing but feelings of guilt about any sexual desires for too long and now you are expected for those to disappear once you put the ring on your finger – good luck with that.
- Problem solved – Just stop looking at pornography and lusting. Pornography is a problem – we get it, but what do we do about it? We know that pornography is a problem, in fact it seems to come up in about every other sermon – but we aren’t making any strides towards fixing the problem. We are simply told to stop doing it. Stop looking at pornography, its bad. Stop lusting, it’s bad. Are there any other sexual issues or temptations in marriage that we should be addressing – it seems like pornography is the only sexual sin in marriage any more. Men are trash – that’s the message I keep hearing. How about addressing the right ways to go about dealing with sexual sins like pornography, besides – just stop doing it? We never really seem to have anything to say about how to make it less of a problem. It is a tough subject to cover in a 45 minute sermon sitting there with the whole family, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing better at it. We are failing miserably.
- We teach guilt instead of abstinence. We teach purity instead of control and discipline. Any sexual desire you feel is 100% sinful! We spend our unmarried years being ashamed of sexual desires rather than learning how to be good stewards of those desires and disciplining those desires. We think that having sexual desires are wrong and sinful. This can have some horrible consequences once we do get married. We don’t teach how to handle our natural sexual desires and temptations – and we wonder why we have problems handling sexual desires even after marriage?
- Christians are all virgins when they marry. Wow – that couldn’t be much further from the truth any more. All Christians that are getting married – all virgins, so no one will have any sexual baggage that they bring into the marital relationship. Virgins will marry virgins and everything will work out just fine. Wait, what? How likely is that to happen in our current society? Should we teach people how to handle situations where there might be some sexual baggage being brought into a relationship? What about a virgin marrying a non-virgin – no problems there, right? We need to equip young couples with the ability to deal with sexual baggage.
- Sexual sins are worse than other sins! Which is worse – lying to your friend or having premarital sex? Which is worse – looking at pornography or stealing? Our small groups can talk openly about lying or cheating or stealing, but we don’t talk about sexual sins. We have elevated sexual sins to such a high level that no one would ever admit that they are struggling with something like lust or pornography or no longer having any sexual desire for their spouse. I get it – we all tend to do the same thing. Maybe, because we know that sexual sins have lingering emotional consequences. I am not sure why we do it exactly, but I feel that even as a church we do the same thing. We emphasize one over the other – even though we consciously know that all sins separate us from God.
- All pastors make good marriage, relationship, sex therapy counselors. We rely on people that generally have no expertise in or formal training in the area of relationship therapy or counseling – and then we throw at them the hardest, last-minute, dire circumstances for them to give advice about. They are many time required to save a marriage that is probably already past the point of either party really wanting to save it. I think pastors and their wives may be a good starting place, but most are probably not qualified to rescue a marriage and talk a couple through sexual sins and problems. We need to be careful about how we deal with counseling on sex and relationships.
- Sex is boring. People of the world are the only ones that get to have crazy mind-blowing sex – Christians have the missionary position. We make sex such a sinful act before marriage and repress so many natural sexual desires that we can’t possibly fathom a good Christian couple having amazing sex. Do the deed and be done with it. Don’t talk about it, don’t improve it, just do it and move on. Married Christian couples can have good sex – even great sex.
- Married couples are not strong enough to have friends of the opposite sex. I think this is one that I am getting really tired of hearing. This goes back to the whole notion of not teaching control and proper avenues for personal discipline. I don’t think I should be best friends with a woman and confide in her all of the intimate details of my sex life with my wife or maybe the struggles I am having in my marriage, but I think it is healthy to have friends of the opposite sex. I think it is fine to call or text or even hang out with someone of the opposite sex. I have enough confidence in myself and my wife that I feel comfortable with it. I think the more I avoid someone of the opposite sex, the guiltier I feel when I talk to another woman. If you keep telling me I am not strong enough, that I can’t avoid temptation – I may start believing you.
- Sexual incompatibility isn’t a problem if you love God. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a close intimate sex life as long as you both love the Lord – that will get you through anything. We need to be careful when teaching something like this. If our relationship with God were 100% all the time what it should be – then it might be true. But, there are some things that we need each other for in a marriage. I know there will be times when I may have an incompatibility problem with my wife sexually and just praying and reading my Bible isn’t going to be enough.
If We Don’t Talk About Sex With Our Kids – Someone Else Will
We need to talk about sex with our kids. Nobody wants to – kids don’t want to hear their parents talk about sex and parents don’t want to talk to their kids about sex, but it is a must. We as a church need to figure out how to help foster this communication. We need to address it before they get to the point that they are afraid of it, dread it, think all sex is sinful, and before they make up their own minds about it based on what they hear and see from friends, classmates, advertisements, TV, or movies. There are a lot of people who would be more than happy to teach our children about sex. Hollywood does a great job of sexualizing just about everything they put out and they would be thrilled to be the ones that “teach” our kids about sex. If you don’t think your kids have heard about sex already – you are probably wrong.
If we don’t talk about sex with our kids, we are actually conveying a message through our silence. That message is that sex is not something we should be talking about, we shouldn’t even be thinking about it. Our silence on this topic starts to shape what our kids are going to learn about sex. They will start to think that it is a bad think to think about, talk about, or even mention and we don’t give them the positive balance that we should be giving them and they will seek answers from other sources – probably not the ones we want them to hear about sex from either.
Those of us that grew up going to mainstream churches in the 80’s and 90’s never talked about sex – it was something dirty. The church continues to make it a dirty subject. We can argue all day about this point, too, but I believe the church’s lack of teaching on sex, for me, as a child / young adult, crippled my ability to handle sexual temptations later in my adolescence and adulthood. I’m not playing the part of the victim, I take full responsibility for any sins I have committed, but I think the church could have done a much better job at preparing me for sexual temptations through education, communication, positive role modeling, and openness.
I have noticed, positively, that some of the younger generations are talking about sex more. I believe it is being done with proper intentions, but I still don’t think it strikes a healthy balance. The sole focus seems to be on purity – taking vows to the Lord, promise rings, etc. We have gone to the extreme where we are actually even encouraging young couples to not even hold hands and kiss before marriage. In fact I went to a college where handholding and kissing were prohibited. We need to strike a healthy balance with our kids and talk to them about sex.
I think we need to set expectations a little better. God created us as both spiritual and sexual beings. God created sex for a married man and his wife to enjoy, to connect, to bond, to grow closer. It’s a good thing, don’t be afraid to talk about it and encourage it and make it something positive in light of God’s intended purposes.
Sex is Special and Should Be Saved for Marriage
I am fed up with people talking about and advocating for not waiting until you are married to have sex like it is the norm and the best thing you could do for your relationship. You absolutely should wait! We need as a church to continue to push the whole – “you have to wait until you are married” agenda. There should be no hint of the “try it before you buy it” philosophy in our collective stance or individual teachings.
Holding hands and kissing before marriage is not sinful. Kissing is not the gateway drug to having sex. Lack of control – a control which we don’t teach appropriately – that’s the gateway drug. We compare holding hands, hugging, and kissing to marijuana and tell people that they are going to be on crack right after the holding of hands starts. You are going to have sex for sure if you kiss your girlfriend. Come on – let’s work on this approach a little.
I personally think that you need to figure out if there is some chemistry there. But, just like in chemistry – there are dangers and precautions needed. A marriage without chemistry will make for a poor sex life. A poor sex life will make for a strained marital relationship.
I have a young daughter and the idea of an arranged marriage sounds tempting to me, but I think attraction is an important component. It may not always be important as you continue to progress through your relationship, but it’s what gets the couples started down that path of intimacy that can be a strong building block of any marriage.
I am not arguing that there shouldn’t be any limits while dating – there should be boundaries for sure. But, we shouldn’t be afraid. Sexual desires are another area of our lives where we need to learn discipline. If we don’t teach and learn that discipline now – we just ignore it or suppress it, how will we be able to suppress those urges and feelings or discipline ourselves the instant that we are married? It’s foolish to think that we will be able to do so.
Sex and sexual expectations need to be talked about between couples before marriage as well. Ideally as Christians we are all going to be virgins marrying virgins, but according to pretty much every recent survey you read, that isn’t the case. I saw one recently which suggested that even among evangelical Christians, 80% will have had sex before they are married.
One thing most of these people and surveys never get around to telling you though is that there are so many negatives that come with premarital sex. GUILT being one of the primary consequences of sexual sins! Another is that sex before marriage especially for someone that has had sex with multiple partners has always been done without the permanency or commitment that marriage is supposed to bring. So, how do we expect that permanence to be felt when we finally enter into the marriage relationship – we shouldn’t.
The emotional intimacy is so powerful. Sex is meant to amplify that intimacy. Sex before marriage is usually used to mask that lack of emotional connectivity. When the emotional connectivity between a dating or engaged couple starts to wain – that’s usually when one or both of the partners lower their inhibitions and give into premarital sex to mask the lack of emotional connectivity and trap the other into what they believe is a committed relationship.
We have a long way to go on teaching how to save ourselves for marriage.
Sex must be saved for marriage!
Set Sexual Expectations Appropriately
We need to set expectations about healthy married sex with those that are about to wed. There is a lot of disillusionment about sex for those that are thinking about getting married… the problem is that we don’t talk about sex and then expect men and women to work it out and for it to be awesome on night #1. On your wedding night you are expected to go from not touching and not thinking about sex, to… perfect sexual union and satisfaction. It ain’t gonna happen – it’s gonna take some practice after you are married. From negative and not talked about to… good, holy, and special – all in the span of an hour – set those expectations appropriately.
Couples need to talk about sex together before they even get married. I am not suggesting that a couple get together on the couch, at night, in a dark room, while watching a romantic movie and start talking about what they would like to experience sexually once they are married with each other – bad idea – great way to totally fail on the whole waiting until you are married thing. This can be done partly through appropriate conversations (maybe with other older more mature married couples). Maybe it would be helpful to talk to a couple that has just gone through their first year of marriage. Talking about sex and expectations before marriage can actually lead to conviction, and compassion, and even a greater bond between couples.
Too many Christian individuals have entered into marriage terrified of sex, or worse, struggling with how to no longer view it as sinful and shameful when they suddenly are expected to enjoy it with their spouse. We also need to help Christian couples understand that sexual intimacy is more than just a purely physical act – there are incredibly important emotional and spiritual aspects to it as well.
Poor, naive, young married couples expect to have good sex and lots of it after they are married – probably for the duration of their marriage. Please, help set the expectations that sex is going to have it’s ups and downs – good times and bad.
I forget exactly where I saw this, but I think it is important to remember… “Saving sex for marriage is not a guarantee that you will have great sex or that sex will be easy. All it guarantees is that the person you fumble through it with will be someone who has already committed to love you forever.”
You will be sexually incompatible at first. Just like playing the piano – it takes a lot of practice to get good at it. But, the harmonies that come after practicing are beautiful!
Talk to couples who have been married for some time. Set expectations appropriately. Night #1 may not be all that great – but there are good times ahead!
Address Sexual Problems in Marriage
I think I can safely assume that most marital problems begin with a lack of physical and emotional intimacy. We may blame divorce on growing apart, or irreconcilable differences, finances, or 1,000 other things, but I think it is safe to assume – those couples probably stopped having sex a long while before they decided to divorce.
Most married couples don’t feel that they have anyone they can safely talk to that would be a good sounding board when it comes to struggles with marriage or their sex life. If I talk to my guy friends about sexual issues with my wife, they will side with me and just say that she needs to crave sex as much as I do. If my wife talks to one of her girlfriends about sexual issues we might be having – who do you think they are going to side with and what advice do you think they will give?
The church can help. Yes, we need to address sexual sins like pornography, even from the pulpit from time to time, although that is probably one of the least effective means by which we teach any more, but the church needs to help build a community of small group bonds where couples can feel the freedom and confidence in confiding in other couples, together.
Pornography is a problem – we need to figure out how to deal with it. We need to address problems like pornography from two perspectives… usually it is a problem that a man has, sometimes women do, women are sexual beings, too – but on the whole, men are more visually stimulated than women. But, sometimes the problem could be exacerbated, because a wife is not “fulfilling her sexual duties to her husband.” You know exactly what I mean by that. A man that desires to have sex with his wife that does not have an avenue with which to fulfill that desire is going to get frustrated. Again, I don’t want you to think I am making the wife a scapegoat in this situation, but the wife not sexually pleasing her husband is going to tempt him further and may even cause him to sin – yeah that’s in the Bible, too. We need to teach the responsibilities that men and women have to each other in the sexual relationship between a husband and wife.
Men, we may turn our wives off too, to the point that sex is purely physical, that it almost makes the emotional and spiritual connection even worse between you and her. A wife wants to feel desired, she wants to have connections, not just sexually, but spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. We need to fulfill our wife’s desires and give her what she needs in this relationship or else sex to her may not be all that it should be either.
I’ve been in church related classes where the answer to struggles with pornography were relayed to the class as being as simple as… “Stop looking at it. Change!” Well, thank you for your wisdom! Problem solved – I am no longer addicted to pornography. And you wonder why we don’t open up to other men about our struggles?
Men and women need to be able to open up to others – not just feel shame. Do you ever wonder why no one comes forward at church asking for prayers with their sexual sins or problems? We judge them so harshly, because even if we are dealing with those same problems we wouldn’t ever admit it to anyone out loud. Sins of a sexual nature or even just problems with our sex lives and relationships are off limits with church folks – and it shouldn’t be that way.
When we are not having sex regularly as a married couple we may begin to fantasize about it – maybe even having sex with someone other than our spouse, because they are no longer exciting to us or don’t seem to care about our “needs.” We may start to plan who our backup spouse would be if our current spouse were no longer in the picture. We need to work on our relationships and talk to each other about them. We need to have avenues within our church, relationships with our church, to be able to deal with these types of issues when we are struggling. We need to have an outlet to talk through these difficult times. We shouldn’t be made to just feel guilt and suppress our feelings and desires. We need healthy channels to turn to that can help snatch us out of a moment of weakness.
I think part of our problems even as married couples within the church, too though is that we still teach guilt over controlling natural desires. Do you think that when a man is married he no longer notices other beautiful women? Hopefully even as a single man he could appreciate the beauty of a woman and not sin – we make men feel that once they are married if they even notice another woman then they are going straight to Hell. I don’t think that is true. I know all the arguments about this, I know all the “bouncing the eyes” kind of teachings on this, but I don’t think looking at a woman and thinking, she is beautiful is a sin. That doesn’t mean you should stare at her and start thinking about having sex with her, but that’s what we tell men they will do – so it makes them feel guilty for even seeing and noticing someone that is attractive. It’s no wonder men won’t admit that they are struggling with anything related to sex.
Why do men cheat? In the context of this article and the topic at hand – they aren’t having sex with their wives or maybe the sex is just a utilitarian tool like sleeping and eating – it has just become routine, there is no connection between he and his wife any more. Men want someone that makes them feel like a man again. They want someone that pursues them. They want to pursue someone – believe it or not, they really even want to pursue their wife.
Why do women cheat? For much the same reason. They are looking for a bond with their mate – on all the levels that we already discussed. When they don’t feel that bond – they start to look elsewhere for someone that provides that same exhilarating feeling they had when they were dating or especially when they were first married. Why do you think romance novels, Twilight novels, <fill in the blank kind of books> are so popular? Women think about those bonds intimately and desire sex, too.
We have a strong need for intimacy! We need to help provide avenues by which couples can deal with times when there is a lack of this intimacy and connection to one another.
Communication is key!
Married Sex Isn’t Horrible – It’s Actually Pretty Stinkin’ Awesome – Keep Working On It
You know – I think the way most conversations go when talking to married friends, you would probably think that sex between a committed husband and wife is one of the worst things that a couple has to endure. The wife just puts up with it, because she has to and the husband does it, because it’s just what men do – they are supposed to want to have sex, a lot of sex. We have to be careful as married couples to give the proper perspective to young married couples or couples that are about to enter into marital “bliss.”
It’s foolish for us to expect the current or next generations to even consider waiting to have sex until marriage if the example we continue to set is that marriage is the best way to kill a sex life? Marriage does not kill your sex life. Believe it or not – sex between a committed married couple is actually pretty stinking awesome. It actually continues to get better and better with time, commitment, and investing in it!
We need to be cognizant of the fact that marriage – your sex life – will have its ups and downs. There are a lot of distractions – work, church, kids, moods, school – the list could go on and on. Sex might even have to be scheduled for a season. We go from not being able to keep our hands off one another to… “not tonight, I’m not in the mood.” Isn’t that crazy – it’s hard to imagine how you could so quickly go from not being married and think you will have sex every day, multiple times a day to… now I am married and I think we had sex this month – maybe – ah, who cares?
Men may go through periods where they don’t desire sex as much as they used to and they shouldn’t feel weird about it even though our culture has conditioned them to think that all normal men want sex all the time. You will even have times in your lives together where sex drives are reversed – be ready for it. Know that sometimes you just need to do it, even if you aren’t in the mood. It will help get you in the mood real quick and you will be glad you did. Husbands and wives need to have sex.
There will be times you don’t want to, there will be times you can’t, there will be times you are too busy, but for all intents and purposes – have sex regularly when you can – even if you don’t feel like it – especially if your partner does want to. You will be drawn closer together. You will reestablish that intimate bond.
What can help make for a healthy sexual relationship? Again, communication is key! Talk to your spouse, tell them what you need. Tell them what you desire. We need to be open and honest about what we desire or what we think we need in marriage and sex. Marriage between a husband and wife is not sinful, it is not something to feel guilty about. Talking about sex is good for a married couple.
Marriage is permanent and knowing that helps your sex life, too. The writer I referenced earlier, Debra K Fileta in her book True Love Dates says, “Even though I’m married and have two children, I’ve yet to even begin to wrap my head around this part of sex. Marital sex is spiritual in the sense that [it] is an experience that reflects a transcendent Love. It is fueled by selflessness, love and service—three things that by their very nature call for the promise of permanence.”
Sex is something that needs to be focused on and worked on. Turn your phone off – have you ever been tempted to check a text message during sex when you hear your phone go off? Turn off your phone! I can tell you as well that if you want to improve your sex life… make it about your spouse. When you focus on them – it will probably work out for you, too.
Invest in your sex life. Why? We need to work on the whole married sex thing, we need to keep it interesting, 60 years is a long time, physical attraction and connection is so strong – such a great way to stay intimately connected. When you don’t have sex – it is very difficult to connect. Invest in your marriage – spend money getting away for a night or two if your sex life has been cramped by work and kids. It’s worth the “investment” – go reconnect physically, sexually, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally away from everything and everyone else. Yes, you may have to schedule sex, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting.
Enjoy the process of learning together. Learn to laugh at yourselves. You’re going to take an elbow to the head. You’re going to fall off the side of the bed. Learning together is half the fun.
Sex, by far, is not the be-all-end-all. But, it is important. There is an indescribable depth of intimacy that a husband and wife will feel together when they have sex. Those bonds are important.
“In marriage, good sex is even more than just sex. It’s about cultivating the exclusive, deep connection you have together and enjoying the passion and fun that comes with figuring it all out along the way.” 
The church plays such an important role, whether we like to believe it or not, in cultivating healthy sexual relationships and can shape the future of so many overall spiritually healthy marital relationships, but we have work to do when it comes to teaching about sex. Let’s make it our aim to help each other figure it out, to teach future generations, and to bring proper Godly sexual relationships back into the positive light that they were intended to shine.