Category Archives: Current Issues in Sexuality

Do You Check Your Phone During Sex?

Stuart Tutt of Something to Stu Over recently shared a statistic with several of us marriage bloggers. He’d heard a report on the radio that “about 10 percent of couples actually check their phone during sex if they get a notification.”

This spawned an interesting conversation among several of us in which we posited why someone might do this, and what other aspects of our devices can be distracting — like the screen light flashing on or off.

Then I jokingly challenged the fabulous author of the site Christian Friendly Sex Positions, who also provides the illustrations for the Ultimate Intimacy app, to come up with device-friendly positions for those who just don’t think the notification can wait.

And wouldn’t you know it? He rose to the challenge! So peppered throughout this post are his illustrations, and you’ll just have to keep reading to see them all. (Yes, please read my words interspersed between his illustrations. Tempting as it may be to just scroll… 😉 )

Good reasons to check your phone

You can read more about the research Stu mentioned here, but I contend there actually are some good reasons to check your phone during sex. For instance:

  • Your driving-age child is on the road and is supposed to text when he arrives at his destination. A mama’s mind might relax and enjoy the sex more once she’s checked that notification and knows her family is safe.
  • You’re referencing the Christian Friendly Sex Positions website, Ultimate Intimacy App, or — best of all — your ebook copy of Hot, Holy & Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design for ideas and instructions.
  • You forgot to turn off the volume, so when it sounds at that inopportune moment, you reach over to mute any further notifications.

Not-so-good reasons to check your phone

Your team is playing.

This is your alma mater. Your fantasy football picks are riding on the outcome. C’mon, it’s the World Cup! The last time you ignored a game, the other team won — so clearly, you’re the lucky charm.

Checking the Score position — when he absolutely must see how his team is doing in the game.

I can just hear her saying, “Why did you pause? Is that clicking I hear? Wait, what are you doing back there!” Not your best move, guys.

That two to three-hour game can be put on hold for a period of time to give full attention to your spouse, showing your beloved that you value them ahead of all but God. Even ahead of … gasp! … sports.

Exception: Your team is the Astros playing in the World Series. At least, that’s an exception in my Houston area, in which case sex might look more like this:

Checking the Score Together Position

Your social media site pinged you.

Did you know that FOMO is an actual word? It’s an anagram that stands for Fear Of Missing Out and is described by Oxford Dictionaries as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Thankfully, very few are actually addicted to social media, but plenty of people have created habits whereby they check their social media sites so often that it disrupts other real-life activities. Like … for example … SEX.

12 More Likes Position — when she must check her social media site

I’ll let you in on a little secret about social media. It’s like a soap opera: You can miss a day, jump back in, and catch up really quick. If there’s a huge event, they’ll still be talking about it when your lovemaking session is done. And there’s this neat feature whereby you can scroll backward to see anything you missed!

Ignore the phone and instead give yourself and your spouse reasons to 👍 , ❤, and 😮 your sexual encounter.

A news story just popped up.

The news cycle is down to minute-by-minute, and if you don’t know what’s happening in the world, what kind of citizen are you? Not to mention that the universe yearns to hear your opinions on every latest political event — meaning you must stay on top of the news feed.

News You Can’t Use Position — when the news cycle won’t wait

Consider this a public service. I’ll summarize the news for you: The United States Congress thought about doing something, but didn’t. Your taxes are too high, and your services for that money are too low. The Middle East is in conflict. People in countries we cannot pronounce and/or locate on a map are engaged in war, famine, or hardship. Someone’s secret sins were discovered, and now they will either pay for it, use the shameful revelation to get a book deal, or both. A woman somewhere, somehow made a fashion faux pas that will give the media something to talk about for the hours they might otherwise use to cover something else just as trivial.

Okay, that’s not quite as detailed as you might like, but it should be enough to get you through your next sexual rendezvous without checking your phone. If you do decide to look at the screen, consider yourself unfair and imbalanced.

Family or close friends are trying to reach you.

“But if I don’t reply, she’ll just keep texting,” you say. After all, this is the person who:

  • nursed you back to health after your last surgery
  • was your best friend throughout college
  • shared a room with you throughout childhood
  • gave you life!

How can you ignore the people you love? And besides, it will only take a moment to type out: “Yes, I’m fine. TTYL.”

Hold On, It’s My Mom Position — when your family just can’t wait

Again, unless it’s a matter of life-or-death — like your driving-age child is on the road or your parent is dying — it really can wait. If your friends and family cannot be put on hold for the time it takes to give full intimate attention to your spouse, you need to reflect back on those vows you took to put your beloved ahead of all others. (Excepting God, of course.)

In short, leave and cleave, baby! Leave. And. Cleave.

Because Siri is secretly your best friend.

Or Alexa. Or Bixby. Whatever device you have, I understand feeling like it’s an extension of your right arm. My husband and I went on a date recently, and I forgot my phone. He was shocked: “You’re never without your phone.” Well, not never, I wanted to answer. But he had a point in that I now choose pants, shorts, skirts, and even robes that have pockets so I’ll have a spot to hold my phone while I walk around. And I wear headphones like a necklace.

But seriously, the following is not cool.

Siri Interruptus Position — when you need to put the phone down already!

Can you imagine the Song of Songs couple saying:

He
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.

She
How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.

He
Hold that thought — our phones are pinging!

(Song of Songs 1:15-16.)

Set the phone side, turn off the notifications, and focus on your beloved. Remember: I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for… his phone? No. It’s “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).

The good news about the 10% who check their phone during sex … is that 90% of us don’t. If you’ve interrupted sex for the sake of your mobile device or been tempted, however, you might want to consider how to keep that from happening again. Make a habit of setting the phone aside, turning of off the volume, and giving sex with your spouse your full attention.

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Why Abuse in the Church Makes Me Crazy

You want to know what breaks my heart and gets me angry at the same time? Abuse. That’s it: just abuse. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse.

My stomach turns at the stories of what people have endured at the hands of their fellow human being, whether it’s a prisoner of war tortured by his captors or a vulnerable child preyed upon by a family member.

It’s what poet Robert Burns referred to as “man’s humanity to man,” in his poem Man Was Made to Mourn. Here’s just that stanza:

Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Yep. Truth.

But just when I think my heart cannot break any more from the pain and heartache some of my fellow sisters and brothers have experienced, something even more awful occurs: Some in the Church—my beloved family—allow and even accommodate abuse.

for such a time as this rally

Click to learn more about the rally

This is on my mind today as the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Dallas. I know a lot of Southern Baptists, and by and large, they are great people with whom I can easily fellowship. However, they have been plagued in the last few years with issues regarding leaders who overlooked or tacitly condoned abuse (e.g., here, here, and here).

So today as the SBC meets, they will be greeted with the For Such a Time as This Rally, a protest organized by people concerned about the way women and abuse survivors have been treated by church leadership.

But let’s face it: This isn’t just the Baptists. I’ve heard such stories from other denominations, and they include such actions from church leaders as:

  • Telling a victim they must forgive their rapist or abuser immediately after the crime
  • Stating or insinuating that a victim’s dress or behavior caused their rape or abuse
  • Counseling an abused spouse to stay in a marriage; in particular, telling wives their response should be to “submit to your husband”
  • Advising that abuse be kept quiet so that we won’t hurt the abuser’s family or dilute our witness to others
  • Not reporting abuse to authorities, which is against the law in the US
  • Explaining away abuse incidents in a leader’s past and allowing them to continue serving
  • Not fully investigating abuse accusations against a leader because “I know him, and he’s a good man”

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor!

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor! #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17-18).

Jesus quoted the book of Isaiah when He came into the synagogue:

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.‘”

And as Psalm 9:9 says: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” The Church should be the physical representation of that refuge.

This is a broken world, so evil people will continue to sin against their fellow humans. Man’s inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Man's inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Click To Tweet

We are not all church leaders, but at some point in our lives, we will be faced with seeing or learning about the abuse of someone in our midst. How will we respond?

I haven’t always responded the way I wish I had. In my younger years, I sometimes felt helpless and ignorant about what to do. Which is why I want to encourage all of us to do better — to think clearly about this issue before it happens, to know which side we will stand on, to vow in our hearts and before our God that we will defend the oppressed.

But why is a Christian sex author talking so vehemently about this subject? Well, abuse has always made me crazy. But since taking on this ministry, I’ve heard from many women, and a few men, who were abused. Some as children, some by a spouse, some by a stranger.

All of them were deeply hurt by their experience, but what seems to have really made the difference between those who still feel the wounds and those for whom the wounds became scars is the response to what happened. Were they surrounded by support?

Now, of course the victim has a part in recognizing and reporting the abuse — that is, getting help — but once they come forward, the reactions of others matter a great deal in whether they will be able to find healing and hope.

As Christians, we should be the best at embracing the hurting among us. Because that’s exactly what Christ would do!

I cannot in good faith come here and talk about how to have a great sex life in your marriage without addressing that some have abuse in their past, or their present, that makes this nearly impossible. How can you open up your body to someone in the most vulnerable way possible when your body was damaged and discarded by an abuser? Yes, you can get there, but you must first address the abuse.

So here we are: With an opportunity to reach out to hurting people, to mourn with those who mourn, to be a refuge in the storm. When it’s our turn to stand up for the oppressed or look the other way, what choice will we make?

Speaker Fee Waived for 2018!

How Should Christians Respond to Past Sexual Misconduct?

When I decided to talk more openly about my promiscuous premarital past, I did so with great trepidation. What if someone from my past emerged and told about their sexual experience with me? What if someone came forward with their story and it cast me in a bad light?

What if my past came back to haunt me?

That hasn’t happened yet. I suppose it still could, but I haven’t had to address any of that so far. Over time, that worry faded away.

However, some news stories recently made me revisit this question — how would I respond if someone come forward with information about a sexual encounter from my promiscuous days?

How Should Christians Respond to Past Sexual Misconduct? + illustration of large finger pointing at person

Now let me be incredibly clear: I have never — NEVER — assaulted anyone, nor have I ever engaged in any kind of sexual activity with a minor (except when I was also a minor). I also don’t believe that I’ve ever harassed anyone.

But could someone embarrass me with a memory from my past? Yeah, I suppose they could.

Yet it doesn’t really matter if someone airs the sins of my past. Why? Because:

1. I own my sins. Yeah, I was a selfish person, an emotional disaster, and a sinner. If someone said, “You did X” and it was true, I’d respond, “Yep, I sure did.” No denials, excuses, no defenses.

2. I’m forgiven. Not only am I forgiven by a loving God who responds to confession and repentance with unfailing mercy — He made me a new creation. I’m really and truly not that person anymore.

3. I’ve helped others. By being transparent about my past, I’ve set the stage for others to do the same and thus discover what healing and beauty lies on the other side of redemption. My story has enabled me to give hope to spouses who need and want to let go of their sexual baggage — assuring them it can be done and God longs for you to have amazing sexual intimacy, regardless of your past sins.

God longs for you to have amazing sexual intimacy regardless of your past sins. Click To Tweet

It’s coming from that place that I want to talk about the current climate of sexual accusations and how we should respond.Because I know full well that I’m not without sin and don’t need to be casting stones (see John 8:7).

So what is the Christian response to an accurate allegation of past sexual misbehavior?

1. Own your sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Not you, not me. We’re all sinners. So why do people try to deny when they messed up royally, sinned against others, and left scars in their wake? You’re not fooling anybody!

You’re certainly not fooling God. As Jeremiah 16:17 says, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.” I like how the NLT translates this verse: “I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.”

Take the apostle Paul as an example. There’s a guy who had every reason not to trumpet, “Hey, I was once in a club that killed you people!” And yet, he was open about his sinful past; for instance, telling the Galatians, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (1:13). And in Acts 22, he addresses a large crowd (actually an angry mob) and recounts his conversation: “‘‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’” Yep, he owned it.

2. Apologize to those you hurt.

A long time ago, I wrote a post titled A Letter to a Former Lover. In it, I apologize for my part in a premarital sexual relationship that never should have happened. This sentence encapsulates how I felt: “I cheated myself and I cheated you out of what God desired for us sexually.”

If confronted by someone you hurt with your actions, the right response is to apologize. Too often we are concerned about protecting ourselves and our current lives. Some may even cite family as a reason not to admit your guilt and ask for forgiveness. I understand that, but are we sufficiently concerned about how our actions have affected their family? How it’s affected their marriage?

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Do everything you can to make peace with those you’ve hurt or offended. Even if they messed up too, apologize for your part.

3. Tell your redemption story.

Is there anything more inspirational than someone who used to suck at something and now they’re really great at it? It could be the story of a girl who fell on her skates over and over when she was a child, but now she’s a figure skater competing in the Olympic Games. It could be the former drug user whose habit cost him his job and social life, but now runs a nonprofit organization that helps addicts stay clean. It could be the guy who used to preach against and persecute Christians, who became one of the most vocal proponents of Jesus Christ and The Way.

Paul didn’t stop with a recitation of his past sinfulness. He used that opportunity to explain how Jesus saved him. “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). What a witness for Christ!

If someone brings your sin from last year or decades ago out in the open, your response should be that of the first stanza of “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

4. Take care of any loose threads.

Is there some tangible thing you could offer to make up for your past sin? Do you need to work on areas of your marriage affected by specifics brought to light? Do you need to forgive yourself where God has already forgiven you? Do you need to deal with any lingering temptations?

Loose threads that need addressing are situation specific. Even forgiven sins have consequences. Some may not be able to be removed, but others could be at least minimized. Take care of what you can.

Why am I offering all of these thoughts? Because sexuality has been in the news, and I believe it’s important as Christians to understand how to evaluate the responses given by those credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

And because on a more personal level, one or both spouses may have past sexual sins that need addressing. If you’re not willing to address your own sins in these ways, it will be difficult to move forward in your marriage with trust and intimacy. Your spouse may not know exactly why they struggle to feel vulnerable with you, but unconfessed sin can be a barrier to sexual intimacy in your marriage.

Unconfessed sin can be a barrier to sexual intimacy in your marriage. Click To Tweet

But remember, there is joy and freedom in owning, confessing, apologizing, and embracing God’s redemption. Trust me — I’ve lived it.

Please don’t assume I’m talking about a specific news story. It’s really not about any one thing, but rather the culmination of various allegations and responses I’ve seen.

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Are Women Meant to be “Sex Objects”?

Over the years, I’ve engaged in a few debates in the comments section of my blog. Most of the time, myself and the commenter can clarify our thoughts, find areas of agreement, and walk away feeling like we might not be on the same page but it’s all good anyway. (At least that’s how I feel about it.)

But a few topics trigger a more visceral response in me, because they’re aren’t simply disagreements but, I believe, harmful statements. Today, I want to tackle the term “sex object.”

I have been told repeatedly by men — Christian men — that women are meant to be sex objects and that this term is a compliment. Let’s take an honest look at those statements:

  1. Women are meant to be sex objects.
  2. Calling a woman a “sex object” is a compliment.

Blog post title + illustration of man with binoculars, and the lenses read "WOW"

Why some men say that yes, women are sex objects.

I’ve read articles from both Christian and secular men who argue that women are supposed to be sex objects for men. Indeed, those who use the Bible to make their point argue it’s God-given nature for a man to see a woman as a sex object.

Their case come down to these claims:

  1. “Object” merely means something that can be seen and touched, and women qualify.
  2. We use objects and people for our purposes all the time (e.g., using a stylist for a haircut or a mechanic for a car repair).
  3. Men are visual, so their “use” of people can and will involve looking at women for the purpose of sexual arousal or appreciation.
  4. Since sex is part of marriage, husbands will and should look at their wives as sex objects — something tangible used to stimulate and satisfy sexual desire.
  5. Being viewed as a sex object is thus a compliment, because it shows a woman is useful for one of her primary purposes for men and in marriage.

Here’s the first problem — you’re defining the wrong thing.

Sometimes the meaning of a term is different from the two words that make it up. Consider how “table” could mean all kinds of things (conference table, pool table, bedside table), but when I tell my son to take his plate to the “dinner table,” he’s missed the point if he sets up to eat at a ping-pong table.

Likewise, “sex object” has its own definition, separate from “object.” Here’s how dictionaries define sex object:

  • “a person regarded by another only in terms of their sexual attractiveness or availability
    (Oxford).
  • “a person viewed or treated as a means of obtaining sexual gratification” (Collins).
  • “a person regarded especially exclusively as an object of sexual interest” (Merriam-Webster)
  • “a person viewed as being of little interest or merit beyond the potential for providing sexual gratification” (Random House).
  • “someone who is valued only as a sexual partner or for being sexually attractive” (MacMillan).

These definitions focus on treating someone as their value being mostly or entirely wrapped up in their sexual attraction or ability to gratify the person looking at them.

“Sex object” doesn’t say, “I recognize you as a person apart from your ability to satisfy me,” but rather views the person through a purely selfish and sexual perspective.

Sex object doesn't say, 'I recognize you as a person apart from your ability to satisfy me,' but rather views the person through a purely selfish and sexual perspective. Click To Tweet

Secondly, we don’t “use” people all the time — or at least shouldn’t.

Yes, we make use of services and products provided by others, but we don’t walk into a shop or an office unaware that this person has a life outside their chosen vocation. I certainly hope my readers don’t think I exist merely to dole out sex advice, even though that’s exactly the role I play in many of their lives.

Moreover, to compare the way I use a fork to the way I use my hairstylist is insulting. As if I cannot distinguish that those made in God’s image are on a different level of intrinsic value. Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-26: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” We use food and clothes, but God says confirms our lives and our bodies are more valuable than that.

So yes, we can use the services and objects people offer, but we shouldn’t use them. In a marriage, you might say we make use of the sexual gifts we offer one another — for arousal and gratification — but your spouse has deeper value.

Men are visual, but sight is not their only input.

I believe it’s generally true that men are more visual, although women certainly can be visual too. So when someone makes an argument that a man is more likely to notice a women’s appearance, I buy that. What I don’t buy is that all of his other senses and his ability to think about anything but appearance flat-line in that moment.

How do I know this isn’t true? Because men see absolutely gorgeous female relatives in an entirely different way. (And if they don’t, we rightly condemn that perspective.) Now of course, this comes far more naturally with relatives. However, I’m merely establishing here that men can attend to other factors as well.

But Proverbs 11:22 advises against seeing only the physical aspect of women: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” If the Bible didn’t think men could rely on something other than the visual, why bother giving the warning?

An emotionally healthy, spiritually holy man can discern that a woman is beautiful while appreciating other aspects of her. Indeed, this is how all the wonderful husbands I know act toward their wives. Hey, it’s perfectly fine to view one’s spouse as attractive and sexy, but that’s not everything about them. Indeed, your spouse’s appeal will be greater if they are also the kind of person you enjoy being around.

Sexual desire and sexual objectification in marriage aren’t the same.

Those who argue husbands will and should look at their wives as sex objects because they are used to stimulate and satisfy sexual desire miss something big: that desire and objectification are not the same.

Objectification is “the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object,” while desire can be defined as a “strong sexual feeling or appetite.” And which one does the Bible use? “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10). Thank heavens it didn’t say, “I belong to my husband, and he objectifies me.”

Now a legitimate point I’ve heard from husbands is that when they say, “sex object,” they mean “object of my desire.” I get that, and I believe that’s what some of them intend to say.

Except that’s not what “sex object” means — see definitions above. It’s like one day discovering that it’s not “intensive purposes” but “intents and purposes”; sure, you meant the right thing, but you should still correct your choice of words to convey your meaning accurately.

“Sex object” is not a compliment to most women.

Perhaps the most iconic “sex object” ever was Marilyn Monroe. Admittedly, she played up her sexuality for the sake of her career and likely enjoyed some of the attention she received as a result. But even she understood it’s not really a compliment: “That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing!”

'That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing!' - Marilyn Monroe | Are Women Meant to Be Sex Objects? Click To Tweet

Whether it’s something a man understands or not, most of us ladies do not want to be thought of as a thing, a symbol, a sex object. While I encourage wives to own their beauty and sexuality, it’s only one part of us. We’re many-layered beings with so much to appreciate, including but definitely not limited to our sexual appeal to our husbands.

And for heaven’s sakes, men, don’t tell a woman how she should feel about you ascribing this phrase to her. That’s like slapping someone and saying, “You should like it.” Because it’s a verbal slap to many women, so of course we don’t like it.

A wife should absolutely be the focus of her husband’s sexual desire, but she is neither his nor anyone else’s “sex object.” Because she’s not an object. She’s a child a God, a daughter of the King.

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What Is Lusting?

You’d think defining lust would be a simple enough task. Just open up Merriam-Webster, read the definition, and you’re set. But it’s not that simple. At least there’s still a lot of confusion about what constitutes lusting. I receive questions about it fairly often.

Today I’d like to take a stab about clearing up exactly what lust means and what it doesn’t, as well as when lust is okay and when it’s not.

Blog post title with illustration of woman facing forward and a thought bubble coming from her head

What Lust Is and Isn’t

Dictionary definition

Let’s start with that Merriam-Webster definition. The first entry to consider is “usually intense or unbridled sexual desire,” and the second is “an intense longing/craving,” such as a lust for power. That should rule out a few things that people sometimes want to list as lust, such as:

  • noticing an attractive person
  • saying someone is attractive

Mind you, these may not be wise choices in certain contexts, but they aren’t lust. These actions are no more inherently dangerous than noticing a beautiful sunset or commenting positively about a work of art.

While God prioritizes inner beauty, our Divine Sculptor also made some rather appealing exteriors. I mean, if you can’t acknowledge that the Chrises — Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt — are good-looking men, you don’t have eyeballs. Not to mention guys named Idris. But I digress.

Biblical definition

More importantly, let’s look at the biblical definition of lust. That’s what really matters to us, right? While there are other relevant scriptures, our concern about lust mostly stems from this verse: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus says lust = adultery. Obviously, that’s a line we don’t want to cross.

Now the Greek word for lust in this verse is epithumeó. This word appears 15 other times in the New Testament. Do you know how many of those times it’s translated in the NIV as lust? None. Not a single one.

In fact, you might be surprised to see the other verses where epithumeó appears, such as:

For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it (Matthew 13:17).

And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want (Galatians 5:17).

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1).

(See footnote below.)

As you can see, the word used by Jesus to mean lust isn’t strictly negative. It can have positive connotations as well. Epithumeó simply means a strong desire (that second Merriam-Webster definition), and the problem occurs when our strong desire is in conflict with what God intends for us to have — like someone else’s spouse.

Again, with these verses it becomes clear that lust isn’t merely noticing someone, but rather having a strong desire or longing. Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you’re not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind.

Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you're not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind. Click To Tweet

Revisiting my comment above, some celebrities are rather attractive men. But it’s one thing to recognize that, and another thing to seek out shirtless photos or flip through images in your mind or talk up how that person turns you on. No, no, and no.

Lust isn’t gender-specific

Did you notice all of my examples focused on women finding men attractive? Because one other thing lust isn’t — a purely male problem.

Too often when we talk about lust in churches or Christian circles, we assume that men struggle with lust and women really don’t. That’s balderdash.

First of all, not every guy struggles with lust, and second, plenty of women have issues with lust. Although Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:28 about men lusting after women, it’s pretty clear throughout the Bible — in stories and other verses — that women also have issues wanting what they shouldn’t have.

What’s the percentage breakdown of how the genders struggle with lust? I don’t know. Maybe it’s 70% of men and only 30% of women, but if you’re in the group that struggles, does it really matter? Don’t you just need an understanding that improper, selfish longing happens with both sexes and that God wants something much better for you?

Desire versus physiology

Finally in this section, I want to touch on an issue some worry about: When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust?

When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust? Click To Tweet

Let’s go back to Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Where does Jesus say the lust originates? It is in your eyeballs? In your groin? Or in your mind and heart?

God recognizes that we are physical beings here on earth. Having eyes that see a person doesn’t make you lust. Likewise, an erection or lubrication or a tingling in your nether regions could simply be a physiological reaction. What matters is the choice you make in your mind about how to view someone.

Now some might be saying that there’s not a conscious moment when you think, “Hey, I’m going to lust.” Rather, it just happens in a split second, as if your brain is responding to your genitals instead of the other way around.

As someone who mastered rationalization in my premarital promiscuous past, I’m just going to call you on that fish tale. Maybe you haven’t yet figured out how to interrupt the communication channel between your sexual physiology and your free-will brain, but you are making a choice and God calls you to make a different choice. He believes that — with intention and prayer and even support — you can do it, and so do I.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for having an arousal reaction that you cannot control, but own the part you absolutely can control — your decision whether or not to lust.

When Lust Is Okay and When It’s Not

Surely, after reading those examples, you can see that not all epithumeó longings are bad. Some are praised! Having a deep desire for something in line with God’s will gets a golden stamp of approval. In those cases, “lust” all you want after the thing God also longs for you to have.

Which means that lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it’s good. Deeply good. Godly good.

Lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it's good. Deeply good. Godly good. Click To Tweet

Sexual desire for your husband or wife is God’s intention for your marriage. When you think about their attractiveness, when you dwell on their physical attributes in your mind, and when you look longingly at your beloved, you’re in line with God’s will.

Go read Song of Songs and how often those spouses are basically like, “Hubba hubba, I love lookin’ at you, babe!” (Loose paraphrase.) Take, for instance, just these few verses from Song of Songs 7:6-8:

How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
  my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
  I will take hold of its fruit.”

Wow, that husband clearly has a strong desire for his wife. And God made sure that’s in our Bible!

So perhaps we need to re-frame how to talk about lust. To summarize:

  1. Lust isn’t just about sex. It’s about strong desires that can be in line with God’s will or not.
  2. Noticing and acknowledging beauty isn’t lust in and of itself. It has to go further into desire, longing, coveting.
  3. Even the sexual connotation of lust can be healthy and godly when it’s in the right context — just like sex. God blesses both in the confines of a committed marital union.

A related Greek word, epithumia, is also translated sometimes as lust (most notably in 1 John 2:16) but also more often desire — because the sexual connotation that the word lust has in modern English simply doesn’t apply to many of these verses. Thus, translators moved away from translating epithumeó and epithumia as lust between the time of the King James Version (1611) and more modern translations such as the current New International Version (updated 2011). For a full list of these verses, click HERE.

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