Pastor, let me ask you a question. How do you talk about sex in church?
Better yet, do you talk about sex in church?
The longer I am at this, the more I am convinced that how we, as Christians, talk about sex matters.
We idolize virginity.
For decades, the church at large has adopted a mindset solely focused on purity. When I was a teenager, purity pledges and purity rings were all the rage. But purity was really just a Christian way to say “abstinence.”
Our message about sex was “don’t you dare do it before you’re married. If you do, you are forever marked. Your spouse will be disappointed. God will be disappointed. Your virginity is a gift you give your spouse.”
I cannot express how damaging, not to mention, unBiblical, this argument is. Even when confronted with women caught in sexual sin (ie. the woman in adultery) Jesus did not label women has damaged goods. He viewed them as people. People He loved. People He came to redeem. He didn’t assign their worth or value based on their sexual history or lack thereof.
We do a grave disservice to the cause of Christ when we tell men and women that they are worth less because of the choices they have made. I’m all for abstinence. My husband and I were both virgins when we were married. Even if we hadn’t been, it would fly in the face of grace for us to hold it over each other’s heads, or to be “disappointed” in each other. In fact, that didn’t factor into either of our decisions to marry the other.
But that is the fallout when we idolize virginity as if it is some sign of holiness.
It isn’t. For whatever reason, over the years, we’re more concerned with someone’s sexual history than we are with whether or not they have Godly characteristics like self-control and gentleness.
Since this is a series on pornography in the church, let me draw a connection here.
When we idolize the physical state of virginity and make that the sole aim of our discussion on sex and purity, we actually create doorways for pornography.
When we don’t talk about the goodness and beauty of sex, we allow pornography to control that narrative.
When we equate “purity” with “not having sex” (they are not the same) we leave loopholes and room for “technicalities.”
I cannot begin to count the number of women who have shared their stories with me and said, “I thought it was OK because it isn’t technically sex.” I was one of those women. If the whole point was virginity, then I would be a virgin. Pornography didn’t affect that. I could be a virgin and watch pornography. I could be a virgin and masturbate. I could be a virgin and fantasize. I still “qualified” to wear white. (Fun fact: I actually did not wear white on my wedding day because I looked better in antique lace with a gold underlay).
Have you had people ask you how far is too far? That’s because we’ve drawn a line in the sand and idolized that line. Stay on this side of the line and God and your future spouse will love you. Cross it and you are doomed.
That’s not God’s message. Purity in the Bible has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with worship.
Purity isn’t about worshiping sex. It’s about worshiping God.
We idolize marriage.
Another way we miss the mark with our messaging is by idolizing marriage. This has been a huge topic of discussion over on my Instagram page recently and will likely be the subject of a future book.
We have to stop treating singleness like it is some “pre marriage” stage. Marriage is not the be all end all. I say that as a married woman. However, my husband and I met and married in our early 30s. We had decades of waiting and wading through churches where the messages often made us seem like we were somehow less than because we weren’t married.
Is marriage great? Yes. It is. Is it next unto Godliness? No.
How does this create a pathway to pornography? Well, it keeps unmarried people in a state of discontent. Honestly, the only difference between the day before I got married and the day after I got married was my last name changed, and I had sex. That’s it. I didn’t crawl into some cocoon and bust out a completely different person. I kept all the same friends. All the same likes. All the same evil, selfish tendencies. Just now I got to wake up every morning next to my best friend. That’s it.
Repeat after me: Marriage does not make you more holy.
When we treat marriage like some access card to some country club, it causes frustration among the unmarried who are just as sexual, just as prone to temptation, and just as worthy of community as any married person.
On that note, please stop promoting marriage as the cure for sexual struggles. It is not.
We idolize sex in marriage.
Sex in marriage is not a cure for… anything. It is not the answer for someone’s porn problem. It is not the cure for a struggle with masturbation. It will not fix a person’s problem with lust.
Whatever problems exist before marriage will be carried into marriage. Marriage will not fix them, but they can and will damage the marriage.
Yet how often do we promote messages that say sex in marriage fixes things. We tell wives they need to sleep with their husbands so the husbands won’t watch pornography. We use sex as a motivator for marriage. We use sex as a motivator for abstinence. The promise of mind-blowing, life-altering, knock your socks off sex is the carrot we dangle in front of teenagers and young adults to convince them to wait.
Really, we make marriage all about sex, when it isn’t. Sex on demand is not marriage. It’s porn.
And when reality hits and sex isn’t that great, or it hurts, or it isn’t happening twice a day, we’re left with frustrated, disenchanted spouses who now feel they can blame the other person for their moral failures. Now, a husband can turn to pornography because his wife isn’t putting out. Now a wife can turn to pornography because her husband doesn’t care about whether or not she orgasms.
We’re shepherding people right into the wolf pack. I’ve said it before but when the church’s message on sex and pornography’s message on sex are the same, we have a problem.
What if we changed our messaging?
What if, instead of making virginity the most important thing about a person, we emphasized Godly character?
What if, instead of assigning value based on someone’s sexual past, we preached the message that all of us are created in God’s image?
What if we started preaching purity the same way the Bible preaches it, which is about your heart’s condition before God, not the condition of your body before your spouse?
What if we started celebrating sex and our God-given sexuality and equipping both married and singles for how to honor God with it?
What if we started preaching about marriage as more than “a place where you can have sex whenever you want” and instead as a place where you daily have to die to self and put into practice the love Christ has for the church?
What if we started telling people to get their sexual struggles under control before they drag them into marriage?
What if we recognized that same sex attraction is a thing among Christians?
What if we started preaching singleness not as a place you’re stuck in while you’re waiting to have sex?
Pastors, how you preach about sex matters. Leaders, how you talk about sex matters.
When we have unhealthy messages about sex, we inadvertently push people toward unhealthy understandings and expressions of sex and sexuality.
We open the door for things like pornography and even abusive marital relationships. We drive people away from the church. Much of the “exvangelical” movement has to do with abandoning the church’s approach to sex and sexuality.
If we want to see a sexual culture redeemed, that won’t happen by screaming louder and throwing down more rules, insults, and shame. If we want to see a sexual culture redeemed, it starts with redeeming how we talk about sex. Pornography has taken over the narrative, even in the church. It’s time to take it back.