Category Archives: Current Issues in Sexuality

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.

Sex Chat for Christian Wives logo + forchristianwives.com

5 Sex Words I Really Want to Change

I don’t know who gets to name sex acts, but whoever was in charge did a poor job. If you don’t use crass terms, an approach I recommend, you’re typically left with either the scientific term or common slang. Oftentimes, neither of those is appealing.

Now I’m also a believer in symbolic language, a la Song of Songs, but forgoing talk of fruit and gardens for the moment, let’s talk about five sex words I’d really like to change.

Number 5 on top of a bouquet of flowers + blog post title

1. Intercourse

Intercourse literally means to run between, meaning a message conveyed back and forth. It was originally used to talk about trade, then social communication, and finally some misguided person in the 18th century coined the term “sexual intercourse.” Of course, that got shortened to intercourse, and now we’re stuck with it. Even though it sounds about as clinical as one can get.

Oh, I take that back. There’s also coitus and copulation. How do these people manage to make a sweaty, sexy, super-fun experience sound like a boring professor’s lecture? No wonder people have coined other phrases for this act — everything from “make love” to “the mattress mambo” to “the beast with two backs” (thanks for that one, Shakespeare).

One other option to refer to simple intercourse would be to talk about marital congress. Which is actually a nice phrase, given that congress is a compilation of roots that mean “to walk” and “together.” Unfortunately, as an American, I’d argue that our Congress has put at risk, or even ruined for some, the positive connotations of that word altogether. Alas, we shall move on.

2. Blow Job

Who knows where we got this term! There’s certainly no blowing involved. Unless you’re talking about that final moment when your husband ejaculates, and you could yell, “Thar she blows!” Actually, don’t do that — his penis is neither a whale nor a she.

Also, I object to the word job, as if I got hired to do this task or have to roll up my sleeves and put in 9-to-5 on this goal.

Other names for this act don’t strike me as any better: giving headknob job, and the oh-so-scientific fellatio. I recently suggested to my podcast partners that we call it “giving popsicle.” I mean, who doesn’t like a popsicle? And what husband doesn’t want to experience being treated like his wife’s personal popsicle? Just sayin’.

3. Doggy Style

I’ve both written and talked about how terrible this name for a sexual position is. What wife wants to be compared to a dog?

But when I try to get around this, I end saying stuff like “rear entry,” which can get confused with something else that I definitely don’t mean. Not to mention that rear entry doesn’t sound appealing either.

What should we call this sexual position where a husband inserts his penis into his wife’s vagina from behind? I’m kind of at a loss. (And do not Google this. I foolishly did, and immediately clicked away from three sites that were not good. No visuals, just words, but trust me on this.) Maybe we could try the kneel & squeal, since that’s what could happen with husband and wife when you try this position.

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4. Erection

The etymology of this word is just fine, with it meaning to set up or erect — exactly what happens to the penis when it’s aroused. But it also sounds unnecessarily formal. Perhaps because the most common occurrences of the word erection these days is in commercials for erectile dysfunction drugs (“If your erection lasts more four hours, call your doctor”).

Of course, there’s the tried-and-true hard-onas well as boner (usually considered a crasser term), and stiffy. Or you could get creative with full salute or pocket rocket. Yeah, despite my issues with the clinical sound of the term erection, I’ll probably keep using it rather than adopt any of these terms as my go-to word.

5. Vagina

I also considered revisiting the word penis, but it’s not such a bad-sounding word and there are a gazillion other words for that body part. Meanwhile, we’re all stuck saying vagina to name that canal wives use for marital congress. Indeed, vagina literally means sheath, like the sheath of an ear of grain; that is, hull or husk. Guess that makes the husband’s part the sword or an ear of corn. Weird.

Regardless, vagina isn’t a pretty-sounding word for an area the Bible refers to in its talk of a garden. Not that I’m suggesting we suddenly all call women’s vaginas gardens. If I tried that on this blog, I’d have to explain the meaning nearly every time.

Instead, when referring to sex, I vote for calling it the tunnel of love. You know, like those old amusement park rides where lovers sat in a two-person boat and entered a dark tunnel to experience private, intimate interaction. I can already hear all the husbands saying, “Oh yeah. Best. Ride. Ever.” What do you think? Would tunnel of love catch on?

And what other ideas do you have for words you’d like to change or synonym suggestions for the ones I mentioned?

Note: No R-rated comments. Some of the words I used here are probably uncomfortable for some readers already, and I want us to be lighthearted but also responsible in how we talk about God’s creation.

Q&A with J: Imagery & Arousal, Tantra Sex, and Devotions

Last week, I covered three reader questions that didn’t warrant an entire post, and today I’m back at it with three more!

Blog post title + illustration of a bed with three question marks above

1. Imagery & Arousal

To say my husband and I have never viewed porn would be a lie, but we never have together. I’m ashamed that I ever did, but to be honest I think it has allowed me to be more open to things that I would’ve considered “taboo”. The question I have is a tricky one and I can’t tell if I’m trying to justify something or if it’s alright to do. I’m the low sex drive of the two and sometimes don’t want to even bother with sex and I’m trying not to be that way. I know that one of the fastest ways for me to be turned on is if I find a VERY up close picture of male-female penetration (no faces, hardly even a body, just the parts) and then imagine my husband doing that to me. It’s usually something we have done and I’m recalling it, but it’s something I didn’t see, shall we say, because of position. I’m never thinking of anyone else and in my mind that picture is us in the act, so much so I can practically feel when we’ve had sex like that. I had an epiphany that if we re-created it with actual pictures of us that it wouldn’t be an issues but so far it’s so sub-par in quality it’s not quite the same (maybe with time we can get it to be). Am I on a slippery slope?

I’ll get right to the point: “Am I on a slippery slope?” Yes. Yes, you are.

Studies actually show that viewing pornography or reading erotica can have benefits in the short-term by arousing you and releasing inhibitions. But in the long term, it’s damaging because it’s false intimacy. (See It’s True: Porn Can Kill Your Sex Life.)

While I can’t say it’s wrong to take a picture of yourselves to get aroused, it’s unwise to attach your arousal to an image rather than your spouse. And it’s definitely not okay to expect another couple to snap a picture of themselves (paid or not) for you to get turned on. That’s using people and their sexuality, which doesn’t comport with God’s commands on how we treat others.

Really, I think your question should be how can I get turned on? That’s what you ultimately need to figure out. Not with shortcuts, but really figuring out how to tap in your sensuality, your stimulation, your sexuality, and your satisfaction. Honestly, I give a lot of ideas in my book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design.

It’s possible to find your “inner sex kitten,” so to speak, with Christian-based resources like mine and others (check out our podcast too!). I pray that you’ll go there first and find what you need to make your marriage bed an exciting and fulfilling place.

2. Tantra Sex

Minus the Hindu aspects would it be possible to write a post or a series of posts on “tantra”. Also would it be possible either on your blog or on the sex chat podcast to talk about “energy orgasms” (if thats “beneficial “)

For those who don’t know, tantra is broadly methods and practices developed in Hinduism and Buddhism that attempt to tap into the divine through the tangible. Tantra sex has an underlying notion of the partners being embodiments of deity; thus, through breathing techniques, prolonged touch, and various rituals, you connect more deeply to one another and your divinity beyond the oft-prioritized orgasm.

Meanwhile, energy orgasms are presumably whole-body orgasms that release sexual energy throughout the body. These are achieved through a series of deep breathing techniques and clenching of specific muscle groups. This “orgasm” can be had with your clothes off or on. Knowing what I know about physiology and psychology, I believe these are not orgasms, but reactions to an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide and to tension release in the body. Think of it like when you’ve overexerted yourself for a long time and feel both happy, light-headed, and shaky. Of course, you can feel this way with regular, or real, orgasms too.

Although I’ve had requests to write about tantra sex, I haven’t written about it or energy orgasms, because neither really appeal to me. Prolonged lovemaking certainly has its place, but the goals of these approaches don’t line up with how I view godly sexuality in marriage.

For one thing, sex is a piece of marriage — a very important piece — but some couples who regularly practice tantra sex seem to put too much weight on the sexual aspect of their relationship. Moreover, it strikes me as chasing a high in the same way that couples adding more and more kink to their bedroom seem to do.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have tantra sex or to aim for energy orgasms. But I’m not compelled or motivated to talk about it on my blog, so that’s probably about all you’ll hear from me on the subject.

3. Sex Devotions

After my husband and I are intimate, we often spend time cuddling and just chatting. Do you know of any “365 days a year marriage life sex meditation” books that could increase intimacy and sex relations? If not, ever consider writing one?

Actually, I don’t know of any that have 365 meditations. But I have two recommendations for devotional books that revolve around sex in marriage:

  1. Songs in the Key of Solomon by John & Anita Renfroe has devotions with action items for you to do as a couple. There are 60 of them, and they don’t all revolve about sex. But they are about physical closeness and intimacy, and some are sexual.
  2. My book, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions for Sex in Marriage, was written for wives. However, I’ve had spouses write and tell me they went through the devotions together and it spurred both great conversation and increased intimacy. These chapters include a Bible verse, thoughts on the passage, questions (which you could ask each other), and then a prayer.

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As for whether I’ve considered writing one, I haven’t thought about a 365-day meditation book, but I have considered writing a book with discussion prompts for couples.

I receive a fair number of emails and comments from spouses who need to communicate better about the sex in their marriage but don’t know how to get that conversation going. I’d be curious to hear from readers whether they believe such a book would be helpful.

Next week: Three more Q&As!

On “Pigs,” Good Men, and the Difference

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times in this era of #MeToo: There are many good and godly men out there.

Unfortunately, guys, some of your gender have done such a terrible job representing that various women wonder at times whether all men are pigs. Or at least a high majority of men.

Blog post title + four pigs mucking about in a muddy spot within a field

Apparently it seems that you could stand in Hollywood, Corporate America, or Capitol Hill; yell, “Pig!”; and within earshot there would be a sexual harasser or assaulter who deserves the epithet. Our human tendency is to notice what’s askew in our environment rather than what’s normal, so we can end up focusing so much on the stink of the sty in our noses rather than the aroma of goodness from all the other men in our presence.

I know this is true, because when I walked out of the movie Blade Runner 2049, I was really glad my husband was walking beside me as a reminder of honorable masculinity. Otherwise, I might have fallen prey to a general rant about “men!” with a disgusted snort every minute or so.

Now I rarely see R-rated movies anymore. I just don’t want to be bombarded by all the filth along with the other stuff. So maybe this is the new standard, but the amount of female nudity shown in close-up was utterly appalling to me. It was not done in a particularly titillating way; however, it was as if they thought nothing whatsoever of saying to an actress, or rather several actresses, “Hey, strip down, and we’re going to show off your body.” And there was no story reason why private parts had to be shown. Every single point they wanted to make could have been made with strategic hints and better filming.

I emerged from the darkness of the theater with my muscles clenched, nausea in my stomach, and my head reeling. I went off for a full three minutes or so—bless my patient husband—about how the film was written by men, directed by a man, had starring roles for men, and what did they do? They treated women like sex objects, to be displayed and used in whatever way the men wanted.

Yes, the actresses went along with it, and that does not make me happy. Plenty of times I’ve wanted to say to some woman, “Please stop! Your willingness to be treated purely as a sex object makes things worse for the rest of us.”

And in a world that consumes porn like air, I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked by a flesh-filled, R-rated film. But I’m still regularly shocked by blatant mistreatment of women.

I'm still regularly shocked by blatant mistreatment of women. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, too many “pigs” exist, who belittle women as little more than a collection of sexual body parts. Who watch porn daily with no remorse, who argue with me on my blog or Facebook that lusting after women is just what men do, who harass and assault women for their own jollies, who blame women for their willingness to go along with the sex object fantasy, who expect their own wives to be their personal porn star. Yeah, there are plenty of men mucking around in the mud of the pen.

But like I said, I walked out of that theater with my good and godly husband. So I kept my post-movie rant directed at the “pigs” out there, not men in general.

I am blessed to have amazing men in my life! My husband and my sons don’t treat women poorly. I have male friends who are upstanding husbands and fathers and spiritual leaders, for whom respect of women is given. And many men out there are just as bothered by sexual harassers and assaulters as many of us women are.

Have these men never struggled with lust? Have they have never responded viscerally to an unclad woman on screen? Has porn never been an issue for them? No, some have struggled with these issues. But they have overcome or continue to improve, because they get it — they understand that the difference between a “pig” and a good man is this:

“Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?'” (Luke 7:44)

Jesus knew Simon literally saw the woman. Before this verse comes this passage:

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39).

Jesus is asking if Simon really sees her—sees beyond the “kind of woman she is” to the woman God created her to be. Does Simon really see the person there? A person who deserves, just by being made in the image of God, to be treated with gentleness and respect.

Good men use their unique gifts to protect women, as Jesus spoke up for this woman in the presence of other men. Good men really see the women they interact with.

As I once said to my son, “Look, I get it: Women have very interesting parts. But remember that they are more than their parts.”

Want to stay out of the pig pen? Treat women like Jesus did. You can find some great examples in these passages:

Mark 5:24-34
Luke 10:38-42
John 4:1-26
Luke 7:36-50

And if you’re ever struggling, men, ask yourself Jesus’s question: Do you see this woman? 

Q&A with J: What about All the Sexual Misconduct Allegations?

Last week, I answered a specific question posed by a reader about sexual misconduct and modesty, and how they might or might not relate. Not surprisingly, there was some disagreement in the comments section. A few times, I found myself defending against charges that I wasn’t siding with victims. Which, for those who’ve been around me lately, was surprising — I’ve been ranting quite a bit to people I know personally about how thrilled I am with this whole #MeToo movement.

In hindsight, I probably should have explained my whole take on the situation before answering last week’s question, so when a related question landed in my inbox, I decided it was worth tackling:

I was writing to ask just now about your thoughts on the plethora of sex abuse allegations….

Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?

… I get the feeling that distrust of men has escalated with each new report or allegation. Not that I have been accused of anything even verbally. It’s more a sense of malaise taken to a new level.

I have a LOT of thoughts about the plethora of sex abuse allegations. How much time do you have?

Since you probably have other things to do than read a thesis-length treatise on sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, I’ll keep my thoughts to the highlights and trust readers to understand that I cannot cover every aspect of this topic in a single blog post.

Blog post title + man covering face with hand and many fingers pointing at him in accusation

In short, I’m 100% behind victims coming forward and telling their stories, others believing and taking them seriously, and harassers and assaulters paying a price for their inexcusable behavior.

As someone who advocates for sex in marriage by God’s design, I’ve been involved in many discussions, read many resources, and heard many stories about where married couples are sexually. And I know with absolute certainty that spouses who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused have a more difficult time embracing God’s gift of intimacy.

Spouses who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused have a much more difficult time embracing God's gift of intimacy. Click To Tweet

But I want to look at this issue biblically, so let’s take two stories from the Bible that deal with this topic.

Joseph. After being sold by his brothers into slavery, Joseph was taken to the home of an Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Then Genesis 39:7-12 tells us:

And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

Definitely sexual harassment.

Now, Joseph didn’t report her actions. As a slave, to whom would he have complained? Who would have believed him? Indeed, we find out that, despite being promoted to a high position in Potiphar’s household, he wasn’t believed when Potiphar’s wife claimed that Joseph was the one doing the harassing. Instead, he was thrown into prison, where he remained for more than two years.

Yes, God redeemed that situation (see Genesis 50:20), but sexual harassment wasn’t God’s doing. It was an injustice done to Joseph.

Tamar. Tamar was King David’s daughter by one wife, while Amnon was his son by another. Amnon declared that “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister,” but it wasn’t love. Rather, “Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.”

Just think about that: He was upset because he thought he couldn’t “do anything to her” — a completely selfish perspective. Yet he did do something: He pretended to be ill and asked for food to be brought to him by Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:7-14 explains:

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

“No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Amnon used deceit, verbal pressure, and finally his physical strength to sexually assault her. Then Amnon’s obsession turned to hatred, and he threw Tamar out.

Later, verse 21 says, “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” That’s it. Their father, the king, was furious, but he did nothing. Nothing whatsoever! The outcome was that an even more furious Absalom determined to get rid of both his brother and his father, thus becoming a thorn in the kingdom for several years. And Tamar? She lived out her days in her brother’s home, feeling utterly ruined.

What if the people around Joseph and Tamar had responded differently? What if Potiphar’s wife had been caught harassing him and Potiphar had sided with his servant instead? What if King David had held his predator son responsible for his sin against Tamar?

God worked His sovereign plan in spite of these bad events. But these incidents took a toll on their victims.

If these events happened today, what side would we be on? How might we intervene? And what does our answer tell us about how we should respond to the current slew of sexual misconduct allegations?

1. We cannot ignore sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Ignoring what’s happened won’t make it go away (just ask King David), and we need to be squarely on the side of the victims.

This problem didn’t just start happening. It happened to Joseph and Tamar thousands of years ago. And it’s happened throughout history in various ways. Sometimes, the misconduct was more overt, sometimes more secret … but it’s always been with us.

What’s new is the public airing of accusations, spurred on by the #MeToo movement that began with stories about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a man who was clearly disliked by many. But as I write this, the most recent powerful man to face consequences for sexual harassment is Matt Lauer, a TV anchor long beloved by his audience. You see, perpetrators run the gamut of people we might have known to be bad to people we really thought were good.

But sin that is obvious and sin that isn’t aren’t different to God. He sees it all.

Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord(Jeremiah 23:24)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).

We have to be willing to believe accusations, whether the sinfulness comes from someone we expected it from or someone we didn’t. Yet in the wake of many revelations, some people don’t want to believe certain allegations despite credible witnesses and corroborating evidence.

Let’s face it: To each story, we bring personal baggage, prejudices, and politics. But we have to intentionally set those aside and let our Christianity outweigh our biases or longings for truth to go one way or another.

Consider that Potiphar wanted to believe his wife. So he did. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t a sexual harasser. Let’s not make the same mistake.

2. False accusations will also happen. Among the many credible victims, there will be some opportunists who make up allegations. Joseph was wrongly accused of being a sexual harasser, and it cost him dearly. Being labeled a sexual harasser, assaulter, or abuser can carry serious negative consequences, especially in our current climate.

It’s terrible when resources and good will are wasted by the deceit of someone claiming a violation or crime that never happened. For example, if law enforcement are tied up investigating a fabricated “rape,” that’s less time they have to spend investigating a real rape. Not to mention the damage to the person wrongfully accused.

However, false allegations aren’t as common as one might think. I did a bit of research and took a rather skeptical approach, leaning toward “yeah, some people lie.” Even then, it’s maybe 1 in 10 accusations that are false. And false allegations tend to be personal, like an accusation of abuse that accompanies a child custody battle. When repeatedly rejected and left with Joseph’s cloak in her hand, Potiphar’s wife had a reason to lie about what happened. But most accusers don’t. What would be the payoff that’s worth the cost?

But let’s take our cues from the Bible again. You’ve probably heard about the “two witnesses” standard in the Bible:

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15).

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).

Clearly, God doesn’t want people to go down for something they didn’t do. And this is why allegations with more than one accuser, or several, are more credible. Most harassers and assaulters don’t target a single person; they repeat their misconduct.

However, it’s interesting that a few chapters later in Deuteronomy, sexual assault is dealt with this way: “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:25). In this scenario, there are no witnesses but the young woman herself — “for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her” (v. 27) — and yet she is apparently to be believed.

Regardless, Deuteronomy 19:16-19 also says:

 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.

Our responsibility is to make sure there’s a “thorough investigation.” Most allegations are not false, but an accuser could be lying and we should take that into consideration.

3. We have to draw distinctions. Joseph’s story and Tamar’s story are not the same. They were both victims who deserved compassion and justice, but Joseph getting harassed was not as bad as Tamar getting raped. In fact, despite the horrible jail time, Joseph came back, got married, and had children (Genesis 41:45, 50). Meanwhile, Tamar lived out her days with her brother Absalom, “a desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:19-20).

Some of what’s gotten lost at times in all of the current revelations is understanding that sexual misconduct exists on a continuum. We cannot lump everyone in categories of “predator” and “victim.” Yes, those are accurate labels in many ways, but equating one person’s verbal harassment with another person’s sexual assault is ignoring degrees that matter. It’s like slapping and stabbing are both violence, but we intuitively understand that the latter has a greater impact on the victim and deserves a far worse consequence for the perpetrator.

Romans 5:6 says, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’” Likewise, our treatment of the perpetrator should be equal to the crime.

That said, our treatment of sexual harassers, assaulters, and abusers has historically been unequal to their misconduct in the sense of being far too little, and the current movement to stir up tangible consequences for those who have behaved so poorly is long overdue. For the vast majority of those getting a bit of comeuppance right now, my response is “About time!”

Yet, I’m also cognizant of the need to avoid what my father referred to as “falling off the other side of the horse.” That is, when you’ve leaned too far to one side, it’s tempting to over-correct by leaning too far to the other side. I haven’t seen much of this happening yet, but we should guard against it by making truth and justice our guiding principles.

4. The antidote to bad sexuality is good sexuality. The questioner in particular asked: “Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?

I can’t speak for my readers, but I haven’t sensed anything different. What I do know is that I have no reluctance to say what’s on my mind. (Which is probably what gets me into trouble sometimes…)

But I firmly believe that the antidote to Satan’s terrible messages about sexuality is God’s truth about sexual intimacy.

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If we want a world in which fewer people sexually harass and abuse and assault others, we need to proclaim what God says about our bodies and our hearts and our sexuality. God says that we have intrinsic worth and are not to be used or abused by anyone for their power or pleasure. God says that sexual activity belongs in the covenant bond of marriage. God says sexual intimacy is to be consensual, mutual, and intimate.

When more of us understand what sex is supposed to be, as created by our Heavenly Father, we’ll be better able to spot those times when someone is behaving outside of His will. We’ll know when we’re being harassed or abused, recognize that it’s not the victim’s fault, and take steps to stop it. We’ll have courage to pursue the best of sexual intimacy and oppose the worst behavior in the sexual realm.

And yes, questioner, we’ll know it’s not all men. It’s nowhere near all men. So many good and godly men exist. For me, one of the best outcomes of the #MeToo movement has been watching my two sons, high school and college age, respond with just as much disgust at creepy men who harassed and assaulted women. They don’t understand why any man would do that.

We women would be wise to remember that, even if the men in our lives sometimes don’t fully understand all the ways in which we’ve been impacted by sexual harassment and assault, most of them would never do what the harassers/assaulters have been accused of doing. Let’s keep our perspective that too many men are behaving badly, but it’s still a small minority.

Like I said, I didn’t cover everything I could say (even though Leo Tolstoy himself would be proud of my wordiness). Perhaps you can summarize your thoughts more succinctly in the comments!

So what’s your take “on the plethora of sex abuse allegations”?