Sex & Singleness

Does God Really Want Me to Save Sex for Marriage?

Let’s close out this Does God series with a zinger. I actually don’t know if it’s a zinger, but it’s a question that is being asked and one that we really need to be ok trying to answer:

Does God really want me to save sex for marriage?

It’s a fair question. A common question. And for some reason, a hard question to tackle. I thought I had a decent post on it and then literally just deleted the whole thing and started over… three times now. I’ve actually lost sleep over this post, wanting to be sure it contributed to a culture of grace and goodness and not shame. There is a whole can of worms that comes with this:

What is marriage, technically? Is it before God, before the court?

What is sex technically? Does it include kissing? Does it include any physical contact?

This is why there are countless (some controversial) books on the topic.

Please hear me when I tell you I have given it my best shot to try to condense my heart on this into a blog post and not a doctoral thesis.

I can’t answer all the questions here. All I can do is share my heart.

And I know there are people reading this who have made mistakes. I hold no judgment. None. I may have gotten married a virgin, but I spent years watching pornography. I’m no better than anyone. My circles include those who have gotten pregnant outside of marriage, those who have lived together before marriage and those who have “experimented” but not quite crossed “the line” before marriage.

So, before you read one point further, I want you to hear me say that no matter what you’ve done, you are not chewed up bubble gum, chipped pottery, a flower missing its petals, or whatever other horrible, shame-inducing analogy you’ve heard. Between your last mistake- whatever that may be- and today is grace. Please read my last post if you haven’t already. 

If you’re struggling with pornography, lust, or some other sexual struggle, this question is important. Because, it’s what “started” everything.

If God wants me to save sex for marriage, then what on earth am I supposed to do with this sex drive? I know. I’ll turn to pornography/fantasy/masturbation. Then, I can have my sexual appetite satisfied without technically having sex. It’s a win-win.

What? You’re telling me I can’t! You’re telling me that pornography isn’t an acceptable outlet, and that fantasy isn’t an acceptable escape. Then what am I supposed to do with this sex drive? Does God really expect me to wait?!

What if I don’t get married until I’m 30? (Been there!)

What if I never get married?

This is a question I honestly asked as I approached my late 20s, early 30s. For years, I had just believed that God wanted me to save sex for marriage without really understanding a reason why other than the fear that had been drilled into me as a teenager.

The Battle of the “Sexes”

There are a few ways our cultural circles tackle this topic. In the church, you’ll often find arguments that stem from the so-called “purity movement.” This movement was huge back when I was in youth group. It wasn’t uncommon for youth conferences, church groups, or even camps to have a teens sign “pledge” cards, committing to remain abstinent until marriage.

Even within this movement, the message was twisted. For women, more often than not, sex was presented as something wrong, dangerous, sinful. It’s how you could get STDs. It’s how you could get pregnant. Sex was like gluing two napkins together and if you didn’t wait for your husband, it would be like ripping those napkins apart. You would be damaged, irreparably.

On the other hand, for men, sex was presented as something powerful, awesome and amazing, and if you just held on long enough, you would reap the reward for your patience. Your sex drive should motivate you to find a Godly wife, marry her, and then you would be free to sleep with her as you wish. She would satiate your longing. In the meantime, watch out for women in general because they’re dangerous, because… sex.

Then we expect men and women to get married and somehow overcome all of that and have mind-blowing honeymoon sex and make lots of babies.

How!?

And even though “survivors” of this movement have come straight out and said, “This isn’t the best way to do it,” many churches still hold onto the methods.

Unfortunately, this approach is flawed. Abstinence is not a guarantee of a happy marriage, mind-blowing sex, or even children. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise that waiting until marriage will guarantee… anything actually.

We get people mad at God because we make promises in His name that He never made, and we get people scared of God because we make threats in His name that He also never made.

Church Culture vs. Hookup Culture

Meanwhile, outside of the conservative Christian church culture, exists a different culture- hookup culture.

While the church shares illustrations of chipped china and torn tissues, hookup culture casts sex as casual. Like a pair of jeans. It’s no big deal. It’s not really like that. You don’t have to get emotionally attached. There is no glue.

In her book Talking Back to Purity Culture, Rachel Joy Welcher shares about the sexual ethics of hookup culture.

“The typical rules of hookup culture are to avoid emotional attachment, relationship, and exclusivity… Enjoying multiple sexual partners without getting emotionally entangled means learning how to separate what you do with your body from what you do with your heart.”

I’ve been there. When I sent my nude photos to a man at the age of 17, I felt what it was like to separate heart and body. I became a thing.

He didn’t care about my dreams or aspirations. He didn’t care about me. I was a body. A body that someone else had some sort of control over. I had given him access to the most intimate parts of my body without granting similar access to who I was as a person, and in order to cope with that, it felt like part of me just shriveled up. In an effort to find some sort of value, I instead walked away feeling like my value didn’t matter. I was worthless.

This “heartless” approach to sex is the same model for sex presented in pornography. What happens when we consume pornography? We’re using another person for our sexual pleasure, treating them as disposable with no regard for who they are as a person. There is no emotion. No attachment. No relationship. Sex is just about recreation, entertainment, fun, and pleasure.

What God Says About Sex

So the church, it seems, robs sex of its fun and freedom while culture embraces the fun and freedom while robbing sex of its beauty and glory.

And where does God stand in all of this? Whose side is He on in this battle of the sexes?

Can I be honest with you? Probably neither.

I truly believe that God’s view and image and intent for sex far transcends the arguments we have here. In His image, there is fun, freedom, connection, beauty, love, glory, no guilt, no shame, commitment, relationship, intimacy, and we don’t have to exchange some of those for the other. It’s not a menu that we choose from (“I’ll take the freedom, glory, and love with a side of shame, please. Can you make that a large?”). We can have all of them.

What if I told you that waiting for marriage isn’t about fear. That it isn’t about fear of STDs, or unwanted pregnancies, or having your heart broken? What if I told you that waiting for marriage is really about glory?

In the Bible, there is no clear verse that says, “Thou shalt not have sex before marriage.” What we do have are verses like this:

You shall not commit adultery – Exodus 20:14

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 {NIV}

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. – 1 Corinthians 6:13 {NIV}

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. – Hebrews 13:4 {NIV}

It’s clear from these verses that we aren’t granted complete sexual license to do whatever we want sexually whenever we want with whomever we want. There is a place for sex and that is within a covenant, exclusive marriage.

At first glance, it may very well look like it’s just a lot of God telling us no. Sex is this beautiful shiny thing that we can’t have and God is constantly batting our hand away until we get married, then we can have it. It’s like the video where the dog has a treat balanced on his nose and isn’t allowed to eat it. Sex is right in front of us. Our culture is saturated in it and God is the mean, manipulative pet owner torturing us with it.

But that’s not it.

Let me draw your attention to Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:28-32 {AMP}

 Even so husbands should and are morally obligated to love their own wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own body, but [instead] he nourishes and protects and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members (parts) of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined [and be faithfully devoted] to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh32 This mystery [of two becoming one] is great; but I am speaking with reference to [the relationship of] Christ and the church. 

This is the argument I hung my hat on as I entered my 30s and was still single. Because, let me tell you, after a while, just a quick romp in the sheets feels tempting. A risk-benefits analysis makes you think, “Is the risk of getting pregnant/sick worth going the rest of my life without ever once experiencing sex?”  Even for “good”, God-honoring Christians, it can start to feel like we’d rather take the risk.

But as I dove into this, I realized all of those arguments from church culture and hookup culture are wrong because they make sex about me- about my desire being satisfied. They even make abstinence about me- about my dreams coming true about protecting my heart about me getting good sex after I get married.

This passage has a completely different message. An entirely different view of sex.

This passage uses sex- the image of a husband and wife coming together as one flesh- to try to describe the love of Christ for the church. Paul is single and he still choose to draw a parallel between the sexual union of marriage and Christ’s love.

If sex weren’t something God was thrilled about. If sex weren’t something that happened in a committed, covenant, sacrificial relationship, would it be an appropriate image?

Forget the torn napkins and ripped flower petals or “other lovers” who will “haunt” my wedding night- forget all of that. If I engage in casual sex, connecting myself with body after body, attempting to divorce my heart from my body, reducing sex to nothing more than an animalistic impulse, I am missing part of what sex is meant to be.

My husband will lead single retreats for Christians and non Christians and pose a challenge to the group. “How many of you would be willing, for the sake of the other person’s heart, to go without sex for 90 days?” (He got this from Steve Harvey.) The number of people unwilling to say “I’ll go 90 days without sex” is astonishing.

Occasionally, though, someone will say, “Yes, I’m willing to go 90 days without for the sake of getting to know this person better and pursuing their heart.” They go back and inform their partner and then their partner leaves because their partner is unwilling. Just 90 days. Unwilling to delay sex just for a little while in order to pursue someone’s heart. That’s revealing, and it’s sad.

Here’s the reality… sex isn’t about me.

It never has been, never should have been, and never should be. Sex, by its nature and design, is always about an “us” and that “us”ness is so sacred and so powerful and full of so much glory that a single man uses it to illustrate God’s love for us.

It goes beyond the physical connection of two bodies and taps into a faithfulness, a relationship, a connection that we cannot divorce from the experience. Hookup culture may try but our own bodies are wired against that mission. It’s interesting that one of the verses above even says sexual sin is sinning against one’s own body. The hormones sexual pleasure releases are bonding hormones. It’s meant to connect us.

Sex didn’t have to be this way. It could have been animalistic. It could have been nothing more than an impulse, a drive to procreate, and we could get no pleasure out of it at all- no bonding hormones, no orgasm, no sense of release. Instead we have this experience that is unique to humanity, where a person can experience another person. Where a person can intimately know another person, where two people can be unbelievably vulnerable with each other.

That’s a privilege we get to experience as humans.

It’s not something to be afraid of or something that we’re supposed to try and kill off just so we can sleep with whoever we want. That is an intentional design by a good Creator God. It’s sex in all its fullness- the faithfulness, the fun, the freedom, no guilt, no shame, vulnerable, connecting, strengthening, powerful.

(And real talk: that intimacy is so much better than an orgasm.)

The fact is the only way we can enjoy sex as God fully intended is within a loving, covenant marriage. That’s the only place it brings Him glory and the only place we can experience it in all its glory. 

But, this is important: not all exclusive married sex honors God.

Too often, as Christians, we treat marriage like our “right” to enter the mindset of the hookup culture. It’s our ticket in and now we can have sex whenever we want.

For years, books on marital sex have promoted this mindset. After all, this is what the young men were promised- their own private porn star to meet all of their sexual needs and who also happens to make sandwiches.

It is completely within the realm of possibility to dishonor God in the way we engage sexually with our spouses. 

It is completely possible to get married a virgin, save yourself for married sex, and absolutely destroy God’s image of sex in the process.

God’s design for sex isn’t “white knuckle it until you get married and then go to town whenever you want using your spouse as a sexual punching bag to take out your years of pent-up sexual aggression.” Marital rape is absolutely a thing, absolutely possible in Christian marriages, and absolutely wrong.

As a married woman, I can tell you that sex is such a small part of marriage. It’s important; don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the most important thing. Rather it’s the outcome of a healthy and good relationship.

Too often, we get that wrong. We’ve spent so long outside of marriage idolizing and idealizing sex that we’re at great risk of abusing it and placing it wrong in our list of priorities once we’re in marriage. I truly believe that also misses God’s design and intent for sex. It’s wrong. Put frankly, it’s sin.

As I’ve written this post, I’ve come to realize maybe sex isn’t the only area where our vision needs redemption.

Our vision of marriage needs redeemed too.

We have generations of people who have grown up in homes with horrible, misogynistic, abusive, or even broken marriages, and we’re telling them that this is the “price they must pay” in order to “have sex God’s way.”

No wonder we have them walking away in droves saying, “No thank you!” We haven’t exactly presented a better alternative to the hookup culture model of “numbing your heart.” In fact, in homes full of broken hearts, the hookup culture model looks remarkably safe!

You’re telling me I don’t have to get my heart involved? Sign me up!

When we reduce marriage to “permission to have sex” we tarnish both God’s plan for sex and for marriage.

When we reduce the value of people to their sexual experience (or lack thereof) or making virginity some gold standard, proof of Godliness, or ticket to the front of the line of blessings, we’re gravely missing the point.

Does God want me to save sex for marriage? I believe the answer is yes, because that’s the only place where it can be everything He wants it to be.

But is marriage only and all about sex? No. Absolutely not. And we have to stop reducing it to that. We have to stop reducing people to sex objects and reducing relationships to ways by which we achieve sexual pleasure.

If we make sex the one and only reason we get married, then we’re in trouble when illness strikes or vaginismus makes it too painful, or childbirth makes us have to take a hiatus.

If I’m “waiting for marriage just so I can have sex” then all of my self-control and selflessness ends at the altar. Instead of bringing those beautiful qualities into my relationship, I exchange them for “what was promised me.” That attitude, that character, that idea that this is something owed me will be toxic and damaging to a marriage relationship.

On the other side of the altar, I can tell you that it’s equally as important that I continue to honor God in my marriage in how I love my husband, not just sexually. It’s equally, if not more important, that I show my husband grace, pursue his heart, encourage his spirit, pray for him, support his dreams, communicate with him clearly, and that I help him keep his focus on God.

My favorite part of our wedding vows was the line, “…and will join with you on the mission God has entrusted to us.” That’s what it’s ultimately about.

I think so much would change if we would regard marriage as a relationship with Kingdom significance instead of a more “Godly” pursuit of orgasms.

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