A podcast for new atheists, lifetime atheists, ex-evangelicals, truth-seekers, and free-thinkers
Just doing an initial Google search on this subject taught me something significant. Not that it really was a surprise, just that it confirmed what I already knew – this is a topic that Christians find important, not from the enforcement angle, but from the angle of personal wants and desires. They are both curious about this thing called sex and also scared to death of offending their god with how they manage it. Here are just a few of the related searches that popped up when I typed “single christians and sex” into Google:
is it a sin to explore your body
how to stay pure while single
what does the bible say about arousal
if you're burning with passion
celibacy in christianity
The fact that these topped the list of related searches tells me without a doubt that Christians want to know more about their own sexuality and that they lack education and objective viewpoints on these and a lot of other related subjects.
The indoctrination starts during early childhood and reaches a fever pitch when children hit puberty. The idea of controlling people's sexual behavior is an integral element to evangelical indoctrination. They take this subject seriously and there are few things that rain down shame on an evangelical than perceived “sexual sin.”
We're taught to treat our sexuality as something from which we need protection and that we MUST learn to control if we want our lives to reflect the newness of being born again and the transformation by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus as referenced in Rom. 12:2. If we fail to keep this part of us under wraps, it is indicative of a false profession of faith and a failure to let the Holy Spirit have reign over our thoughts and deeds. You can't claim to be a “new creation” while still adhering to a way of thinking and behaving that you did before you got saved.
So... if you have sex outside of marriage, you are living in a state of unconfessed sin and, in many evangelical circles, that leaves you either backslidden or having never been saved in the first place. That also leaves you in danger of going to Hell even after accepting the “gift” of God's salvation for yourself. There are few things used to judge Christians more widely, more harshly, or more critically than sexuality and sexual behavior. You're guilted if you don't tithe. You get a passive-aggressive greeting card if you don't show up at church for a couple weeks. You're mercilessly outed, shamed, and practically dehumanized if you “fail” sexually.
Lies we're told about ourselves and our sexuality:
You have to be married to have sex
You have to suppress your urges until you're married
And that means not masturbating either
Physical contact of any kind with a member of the opposite sex (we won't even get into the alternative lifestyles end of this right now) WILL lead to sex and you'll regret it
Sex outside of marriage will damage you physically and emotionally
You have to settle on one partner for life, unless your partner dies while you're still young enough to have another and then the contract somehow resets
Sexual attraction to someone you don't necessarily want to marry is wrong
Strong sexual attraction to someone you don't know well and don't look at as marriage material is an indicator of sinful tendencies or unconfessed sin
You can commit adultery/fornication through nothing more than lustful thoughts
Birth control is wrong in or out of marriage
Using birth control while single is indicative of an intent to sin
Accidental polyamory biblical sexuality (Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, Gen. 29)
Gay love we don't want to discuss directly biblical sexuality (1 Sam. 18 and Ruth 1)
You know what is never examined, outlined, or taught in the bible (just mentioned in a few unrelated verses)? The marriage model we adhere to today and call “biblical marriage.” There is more specificity about owning slaves in the Bible than there is about what a marriage or acceptable sexual relationship is. Heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman and lifelong fidelity between them isn't a concrete biblical model by a longshot. The bible showcases such a diversity of relationship dynamics, it is IMPOSSIBLE to whittle down the definition of “biblical sexuality” to a single set of features, rules, morals, ethics, or even acceptable guidelines.
Think about it... David killed Bathsheba's husband so he could have sex with her. He succeeded on both counts and, yet, he was called a man after God's own heart (and yes, it's alleged that he repented later, but still...). There are consequences in the old testament for everything from sassing your parents to picking up sticks on the sabbath, but having sex with your father? No lightning bolts there. Amassing a harem that's bigger than most church congregations? That's A-OK with Yahweh. You raped a girl (or just had sex with your girlfriend) and got caught? God's gonna stay out of it. No smiting here. Just pay off her father and MARRY HER.
And there's more here... oh, there is SO much more. Let's look at some of the more stupid assertions made by the author:
1. “[God] intentionally created our sexuality to be a metaphor that teaches us of His covenant love.”
I guess the point is that the sexual bond between two people is a metaphor for god's bond with humanity? Well, what about things like divorce? What about when a partner leaves or dies? What part does sex play in those scenarios? Then there's this...
“Think of it this way: Everything God created on earth was intentionally designed to express something about His character and nature. The Bible refers to physical things like trees, water, wind and animals to communicate spiritual truths to us. Likewise, our experiences of hunger, thirst, fatigue and illness are metaphors demonstrating our spiritual needs and condition.”
Um... no. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, and illness are indicative of physical needs and conditions. If my body is starving, it demands food. If my body is dehydrating, it demands water. If my body is sick, that isn't spiritual. There's no such thing as spiritual cancer regardless of what any psychic surgeon would like you to believe.
All this does is set the stage for an argument that lust and sex drive are also spiritual concepts. We start by spiritualizing our need for food and water and follow through with spiritualizing sex. Here's the thing: I can live without sex. I can't live without food and water.
There is no spiritual discipline that negates those very physical needs and there is nothing I can learn by not seeing to them other than that denying my body these things will result in a slow, painful death. And there is nothing that I can learn from denying myself sexually besides how shitty it feels and how it drives my thoughts and emotions into places I may or may not be equipped to manage before they turn self-destructive or start doing damage to others.
Then, to qualify the whole covenant aspect of the argument, there are these three bullet points:
Sexual desire invites you to pursue covenant
Sexual intimacy within marriage is the celebration of covenant
Sexual faithfulness is the promise of covenant
Oh, she sets this up well. Now our ability to save sex for marriage and keep it in marriage is indicative of the depth of our commitment to Christ. Translation: if you don't do things this way, you will never understand God and you will never be a good Christian.
2. Our sex drive exists to teach us spiritual discipline.
Ok, there is a lot to be said for having restraint. For some, jumping from encounter to encounter can skew their view of sex, damage their self-esteem, and make forming strong bonds with their partners difficult. But for others, those kinds of bonds might not even be what they want. Some people actually want a less-involved, less-intimate experience of sex. They don't have to be in love or even care that much about the other person or people they're with. There is NOTHING wrong with this if everyone involved has the same motives and understandings of what the relationship is (if one even exists – one-nighters are still, and will always be, a thing, too).
The point is “restraint” means different things to different people. For some, it means thinking twice before sleeping with someone and having clear goals and objectives for what they want the encounter or relationship to mean. For others, it means inventorying things about a potential partner over time and deciding if it's a good match. Whether or not you decide to sleep with someone is not a matter of spiritual discipline. It's about personal wants and ethics. It's a matter of what you know about you and determining to make choices that empower you while not damaging the other person or people involved.
3. Our sexuality is designed to trick us into getting married. So we can understand the concept of a covenant.
“For most Christians, sexual desire will eventually lead us to the covenant vows of marriage. Largely because of sexual and romantic longings, we will sacrifice time, money and our vocational goals to pursue love. This is a good thing! In one respect, sexual longings “trick” us into making a lifelong promise that will ask far more from us than we anticipate. But in working out this covenant promise over a lifetime, we relationally and physically live out the metaphor of how God loves His people and how Jesus loves His bride.”
The basic sentiment here is that our understanding of God and our relationship with him is the culmination of a lifetime of learning how to manage our sexuality. In the mind of the author, it all hinges on that. Our level of sexual discipline indicates how well we understand how much God loves us. Is there a more toxic way to see ourselves and our very natural urges that may or may not revolve around one person forever? If God is capable of loving more than one person, why is it a bad thing for us? Having multiple partners is not indicative of a lack of ability to understand the concept of a covenant. It's indicative of having individual wants and needs that should be explored in safe, healthy, and positive ways.
I think I can only handle one more quote here...
“As a single person, you are invited to give yourself away through self-denial and service to the family of God. Your unmet sexual longings and needs are a physical reminder that you were meant for intimacy — ultimately intimacy with God.”
I can't think of a single verse that conveys this sentiment in this kind of concrete way. The only one I can think of is Eph. 5:25 and even that says nothing about how we reciprocate that love when it's directed at Christ. It certainly doesn't say anything about our relationship with Christ being intimate in any sexual context.
This is an incredibly manipulative way of dealing with this. Chastity is an act of self denial. It is a decision NOT to explore our sexuality, not a way of expressing it. Again, there is nothing wrong with this level of self-denial if that's how you're wired. Most of us simply are not. Ask anyone who has ever been abused by a priest how good HE was at managing this. You can make decisions and take vows, but that will not change who and what you are. Being forced to make those decisions as part of a spiritual mandate can be VERY detrimental to how we start looking at sex and how we manage our own urges.
The author of this article asserts that “single sexuality” has “unique features:
1. It is Christ-centered in that abstinence outside of marriage is sanctioned in the NT and remaining chaste is a testimony to one's commitment to follow Christ.
2. It is a denial of self and an exercise in putting others before ourselves. If we don't sleep with someone who winds up marrying someone else later, we ensure that this person we love doesn't enter into marriage as “damaged goods.”
3. It involves protecting your own emotions from all the “bad” things that come from sleeping with someone and eventually breaking up with them because when you sleep with someone, you become “one flesh.” When the relationship ends, a part of you dies or disappears with the other person.
Also, engaging in sexual activity pushes aside your relationship with god because you're doing things he doesn't want you to do, favoring your relationship with a person over your relationship with him.
4. It frames self-discipline within the confines of sexual behavior as an act of worship (offering our bodies as living sacrifices - Rom. 12:1).
5. Being chaste and being sexually active are equal states of our sexual being
Except that they aren't. In one instance you are experiencing things and cataloging emotions and learning how to manage and not manage intimate relationships. In the other you're taking cold showers, getting more frustrated by the day, and becoming less and less capable of managing your urges in a safe, therapeutic, and mature sort of way.
Those emotions and urges cannot mature without both examination and exploration. Does that mean you have to have sex to mature emotionally in your sexuality? No. It means that you need to be in charge of how you manage your sexuality and not leave it to a book, a pastor, or someone else's opinion of what YOUR sex life should look like.
“Godly unmarried sexuality exalts Jesus, puts others before self, is good, and reveals Christ to others.”
Apparently Jesus doesn't want me to be happy. Or make adult decisions. And, really, this falls in lock-step with the concept of childlike faith. I mean, we already know that god doesn't give two shits if we're happy. He only cares that we're obedient. But how does not sleeping with someone exalt Jesus? And how does not sleeping with someone put others before ourselves? We talked about the damaged goods aspect of it but are we not sleeping with that person to protect them from being labeled “used” or “refurbished” after they repent, or are we abstaining to build confidence in our own faith? If it's the latter, it's about us every bit as much as it is “protecting” other people from becoming “damaged” by us.
Then he says that abstinence is good. For who? This might be true if you're asexual or really don't want to deal with the responsibilities of sex, but for the rest of us, how is this particular area of self-denial good? We can observe the damage it does.
Lastly, not having sex outside marriage somehow reveals Christ to others. How, exactly? Never once when I was witnessing to someone did I use my own decisions about my sex life as a means of convincing them to believe the gospel. And no one ever walked up to me and said, “Your faith is really strong. You MUST be a virgin!” It never happened. Not even once.
The last bit of divisiveness in the article comes in the form of the assertion that God provides “escape routes” when we feel tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). This comes in the form of his own protection and counsel and the placement of people in our lives who can run interference on our urges by simply being there.
“These brothers and sisters are his kingdom community for you on earth that he gives to teach, counsel, comfort, guide, and love you.”
That's great. Now tell me what to do when I fall for one of my “sisters” in the lord.
The next point in the article is that basically chastity is practice for heaven which, oddly enough, is the one actually truthful thing in this entire trash fire of an argument. For more on that, see our episode on the true nature of heaven. We're all going to be asexual automatons with no sense of self just mindlessly worshipping for eternity. So let's practice for that now!
Finally, we get this: “Women, you need to know your hormonal cycle and be aware of what times of the month you may be more prone toward sexual desires being stirred up. Men, you need to know as well how your bodies react to certain visual, tactile, and audio stimuli.”
Seriously, I can't even... but I'm going to. Two more hellish quotes here:
“Godly unmarried sexuality is lived out as a person seeks to live life fully given over to Jesus and his kingdom purposes...”
“The unmarried person is called to depend upon Christ, not enjoying the sexual pleasures of marriage, but finding pleasure in abstaining that aligns his or her will with that of God.”
This is the same god who puts his stamp of approval on all the behaviors I listed earlier and gives all of them his endorsement by way of not correcting or punishing the people who engage in them. Listen to me and listen carefully: if we are to assume that this god is real, he cares NOTHING about how people interact with each-other. He ONLY cares how people interact with HIM and whether or not they do what he tells them to do. One thing that most of the people in those stories have in common was an attitude of obedience to god. Let god control you and you can treat people any way you want. There are no stories or verses in the bible that corroborate ANY of the opinions in these articles. All of them are extra-biblical and reflect the attitudes of the authors, not the AUTHORITATIVE “word of God.”
And don't bring up Sodom and Gomorrah because if you do it proves that you've never studied the story and subsequently don't know what it's about. God didn't destroy these cities because they were full of “sexual deviants.” He destroyed the city because the people had a sense of autonomy and were living life on their terms. He couldn't control them so he killed them. Period. The definition of a “righteous” man in that context was someone who gave two shits what god wanted. And god wanted those people to stop worshipping the flesh and notice him. They didn't so they died. And let's just be real here: hedonism is way more fun than prayer circles and the people of those cities chose lives of personal empowerment over ecclesiastical slavery. That's what happened. God didn't care what they were doing. He cared that he was being ignored. Same thing with the flood. Moving on...
Now for a viewpoint from someone who learned better...
I found this article on catapult.co called “True Love Waits: How Saving Myself Made Me Lose My Faith and I think some of the points here explain the dangers in this kind of thinking better than I ever could.
“When you are told not to cross a line, your life becomes defined by the line. The rule becomes a cage. You can see between the bars. You can reach out a toe, a finger, a whole arm. You know, even if you can’t articulate it, perhaps because it defies articulation, that you are meant to fly. But you have been told that flight is only safe when you tether yourself to someone stronger.”
So the point here is that pushing the notion of “sexual purity” on Christian singles is a form of both physical and emotional bondage. Your mind is your enemy and your body is a weapon with a hair trigger. You need to hand both over to this invisible entity to manage. Only one problem. That entity is imaginary and things just keep getting more difficult until you “fail” and sacrifice all of your self worth for momentary bliss. It makes you afraid of sex to the point where, even when it's finally allowed, it's difficult to justify. Shelle and I (mostly I) had issues with this during our honeymoon. My brain could not – COULD NOT – fathom how something that was a sin less than a day ago is now somehow not only allowed, but expected. Those shackles are heavy and they are tight. And they keep some people from looking at sex in a healthy way even when they have a trusted, committed partner with whom to experience it without judgment or scrutiny.
The forbidden fruit principle
You start cataloging your behavior and assigning yourself “damage points”
You start making deals with yourself and re-defining what “virginity” is
We are made to see ourselves as flawed for having a sex drive
Girls are shamed for how they dress because it entices the boys too much
Marrying the “first [person] who touches you” - the “last photo as virgins”
The inevitable divorce
The re-imagining of what sex is and NOT waiting to get married AGAIN
The long-term scars
Ok, bottom line time. Let's make a few things very clear here. For starters, your body is yours. The only one who can decide what to do with it or what is done to it in a sexual context is you. You will not find yourself feeling empty and alone forever if you break up with the first person you have sex with. You are not damaged goods if you decide to marry someone after sleeping with someone else years earlier. Your feelings, desires, and impulses are natural and they are good. They indicate that nature has done its job: given your brain a sense of urgency to procreate. They also indicate the intricacy of your mental and emotional makeup since making babies is probably the last thing on your mind when the heat is on. We have sex for a lot of different reasons. Some are good, some are bad. None are anyone's business but yours and, when applicable, your partner's.
Good reasons involve things like : Establishing and maintaining a close connection with someone with whom you want to be closer
Good self-esteem and the desire for gratification (giving and getting)
It increases your sense of self-worth
You are in love or at least head over heels in like (FWBs can be fun too)
Bad reasons involve things like:
It's my wedding night
My husband is demanding it
You gain personal empowerment from collecting “notches on the bedpost”
You only consider what you stand to get, not what you are able to give
But even in those instances, you have to grapple with your own conscience, understand your motivations, and decide whether or not you want to define sex this way or not.
Please keep in mind that you DO NOT have to wait for marriage. You just have to wait until you're ready. And even if you think you're ready, you might make a few mistakes early on. You might get a painful education about what happens when “fools rush in.” And while it may bother you that you let those things happen, you then have the opportunity to do something that most evangelicals avoid at all cost: learn. You learn why those decisions were wrong for you and you develop a suit of armor that keeps you from making some of them over and over again. Not all, but some.
And if you do find yourself loving and losing, please understand that you are not going to be scarred for life just because you slept with someone and now they're gone. You are not damaged. It won't hurt forever and it won't keep you from having other healthy relationships later. Even in secular circles, sex can be vilified with terms like “slut” “whore” and “walk of shame.”
Let's also be clear about these things: enjoying sex isn't slutty. Enjoying sex with a lot of people isn't slutty. It's simply an indicator of your wants and how they manifest. If you have the emotional fortitude to be able to handle the hello-goodbye aspect of having multiple casual partners, fuck on. That's your business. And there is NO shame in making clear-headed, conscious decisions about who you sleep with even if you only intend for it to happen once. I will caution against mixing things like alcohol and casual sex, but that's also up to you. Protect your body, protect your emotions, and protect your self-esteem. Sometimes that means ordering one appletini, not four.
Lastly, as we've said before, it's important to live your life on YOUR terms. And that means every facet of your life. Because that's what it is. It's yours. Live it in a way that reflects who you are, not what other people tell you it should. Make your own decisions about your body and your emotions because, at the end of the day, you're the only one who has to live with both. Your pastor doesn't and your imaginary god doesn't care. Purpose to enjoy learning about yourself and to learn about and enjoy sex as the natural, affirming, and not at all sinful thing that it is. Be responsible, but be happy. It's just one more step you can take toward getting and staying unbound.