Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is. That it should be “saved” for marriage. That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging. Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.
Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event. Separate sessions for boys and girls.
The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12. The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.” He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged. The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).
The girls were told “God wants His best for you. He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.” They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.” The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them). The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.
This was at an event that happened in 2015.
In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex. What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.
If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.
Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue. From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex. At all. Until “she’s a wife not a sister.” The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”. The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity. Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.
Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal. Rarely is this talked about. When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.
I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married. We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship. From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband. Much of the abuse was sexual. I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant. All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated. And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.
At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more. He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.
Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways. Except that sex was generally difficult.
Marriage has been awesome for us. Sex not so much. And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did. We’re not alone. So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.
Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful. How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame? The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.
My husband and I are doing good now. But stories like ours must be told. Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them. And it’s not. There’s loads of us out there. Welcome to crap Christian sex! We’re not getting much. But hey, it can get better!
I would tell 12-14 year olds that…
- Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t. Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits. God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!
- Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people. Only God does those things. Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours. God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.
- Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship. There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it. Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important. Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage. But there is help available and healing is possible!
- You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.
And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!). Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness. Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.