Tag Archives: parenting and sex

What I Wish I Had Been Taught Instead of Purity Culture with Rebecca Lemke

Rebecca Lemke

I met Rebecca Lemke when she contacted me about appearing on her podcast, The Scarlet Virgins. Her book about her experience in the Purity Culture shares the same name. And I was impressed with how she was speaking up about her experience, both the good and the bad.

We had a wonderful discussion, which will appear soon on her podcast. But in the meantime, I asked her to return the favor and talk to my audience about what she wished she had experienced instead.

This is great information for two reasons:

  1. Even if you didn’t grow up in the Purity Culture, many churches embraced its underlying message in subtler ways, and you might need to rethink what it really means to be pure before God.
  2. We married folk often have children, who should be our students when it comes to sex, and we should think through what messages will point our kids in the right direction.

I hope you’re entirely convinced now to read every word below, because I’m eagerly turning things over to Rebecca.

Blog post title + male & female symbols on chalkboard with chalk beside them

My husband and I are currently making our way through the book Making Chastity Sexy by Christine J. Gardner. A generous friend sent it to me because of my interest and extensive work on purity culture. This book has sparked some discussion between my husband and me about the way we would have liked sex and relationships to have been approached in our youth and some of the ways in which we hope we can approach these things with our son.

A point my husband made recently is that much of what we learned was through the Christian pop culture. Yes, there was a lot of in-your-face rhetoric with the purity rings and conferences and concerts, but the fear we learned was subtle in a lot of ways. It crept in on us more through the subtext within the culture and the way people acted than what was actually said.

Which, to be sure, was fear-mongering in many respects. At least in my case, where crushes were considered an emotional STD and therefore you were to marry your first one to avoid contaminating anyone else or yourself.

The number one thing I wish there had been more of is a culture of practicality surrounding sex. One point Gardner’s book makes is that sex was sold as a product, specifically amazing honeymoon sex, if you paid the price of waiting until you were married. A virgin body on your wedding night was made into a commodity to sell abstinence until marriage.

It seems abhorrent to me that information about precious gifts of God (our bodies, our sexuality, our marriages) was spun to produce an outcome rather than just giving us the facts and the Word of God. Why, on God’s green earth, was that not enough?

Instead of trying to make false promises and add to Scripture to up to ante to gain compliance, I wish the Powers That be would have spent time teaching us about how sex and marriage actually work.

Instead of trying to make false promises and add to Scripture to up to ante to gain compliance, I wish the Powers That Be would have spent time teaching us about how sex and marriage actually work. - Rebecca Lemke Click To Tweet

For example:

1. How our bodies work.

Things like hormonal changes, male and female reproductive systems, things that impact libido, what influences attraction, etc.

Purity culture has made sexuality this big bad thing that only becomes good the moment you say “I do.” Even going so far as to say noticing beauty is inherently sinful, which has caused problems for many people in the path of this idea. The body is bad, the spirit is good (amazing how tenacious old gnostic ideas are). Except when you get married, then somehow the body is magically good.

This kind of odd rhetoric combined with lack of any education on puberty, attraction, sex, etc. makes it easy to see sexuality as this conceptually blurry, overpowered bad guy. Appropriate information contextualizes sexuality so you know and believe it is a good thing. With this foundation, you also happen to understand why it is prudent and God-pleasing to exercise it in the proper place within marriage.

2. What healthy sexuality looks like.

Numerous men and women have contacted me since my book came out to tell me that, since being fed a diet of purity culture’s high expectations, they have been extremely disappointed with the realities of sex. This is an issue compounded by exposure to pornography, which is something many of these individuals have experienced as well (oftentimes as the result of an attempt at sexual self-repression that backfired).

Sex isn’t always wild and crazy. You don’t always break a bed frame or wake all the neighbors up. Sometimes pregnancy complications arise and pelvic rest is ordered. But to hear the talk at a purity event, you wouldn’t know this! The existence of this blog and others like it helps to combat this issue, but nothing can replace having practical expectations laid at the beginning.

My husband and I have made it a point to be an open book with our son so he doesn’t have to wonder or feel ashamed or scared about sex. We make it a point not to idolize sex or manipulate its importance in his mind by downplaying or overemphasizing its role in our lives.

Instead of growing up in a subtext and culture of fear and lack of knowledge, I wish we would have had the opportunity we are trying to afford our son, to be surrounded by stability, certainty, knowledge, and respect for sex within the context God created it to be.

The Scarlet Virgins Book Cover

Rebecca Lemke was a Good Christian Girl who wanted a Good Christian Husband and a Quiverfull of kids. The sort of blessed, picturesque life promised to people who followed The Rules.

The Scarlet Virgins is a memoir of Rebecca’s journey through the ramifications of spiritual abuse and purity culture, wrestling with the temptation of apostasy, the descent of herself and others into the depths of addiction, alcoholism, anorexia, depression, self-harm, and suicide. She outlines the dangers of finding your identity in your purity or ability to follow the Law rather than in Christ and what he has done for you.

For more information about Rebecca, the book, and her podcast, visit The Scarlet Virgins.

Related posts:
Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One & Done
Is “Don’t Have Sex” Enough for Teens?

Intimacy Revealed Ad

How Moms Teach Sexual Integrity

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, observed in the United States and over 40 other countries. Many of us will sit in church tomorrow and hear a sermon honoring mothers, followed by a celebratory meal, and likely some gifts that your family’s mom would enjoy.

As all holidays go, it will be a joyous experience for many. And it will be sorrowful for others — such as those who’ve struggled with infertility, those whose mothers died in the last year or so, those who grew up with less-than-ideal mothers, those whose children have wandered away from their family.

And yet, we honor mothers — biological, emotional, and spiritual. I’ll be celebrating my mom tomorrow, expecting some show of hey-we-love-you from my own sons, and thinking about women who loved, comforted, and advised me through the years.

Mothers of all kinds have great influence, great power, great responsibility. Considering what I write about here, sex in marriage by God’s design, I got to thinking about the “moms” in my life and how they influenced my thinking.

I wish I could paint a cheery picture of me growing from girl to woman surrounded by a community of women wise about sexuality and willing to advise me about handling my feelings, my desires, my failures, and my heartbreak. Frankly, I grew up at a time when asking for a pie recipe would get me twelve church women ready to share their family’s cooking secrets while asking for sex advice would get me shocked faces and silence.

Looking back, I don’t blame these women. They didn’t have good sexual wisdom given to them either, and many believed that speaking about sex in public was just vulgar. They tried to pass on principles about being a good woman and a good wife, but when it came to sex, they got flustered and didn’t have much to say.

In my case, I strayed pretty far from God’s design for sex, got my share of wounds as a consequence, somehow found my way back, invested in learning about godly sexuality, and discovered something so much better and more beautiful that I was motivated to speak with other women about their sex lives and to write this blog. But my journey was not pleasant and I brought baggage into my marriage that I had to address. I’d rather us not raise a generation of women who don’t know about God’s plan for their sexuality or don’t know how to live it out.

Maybe that’s why I’ve written several times about how we talk to our kids about sex:

As a community of mothers, we can make a real difference in teaching our sons and daughters how God wants to bless them with the very best of sexuality in a healthy, godly marriage. We can equip them with the right perspective and strategies they can use to pursue purity, through abstinence before marriage and intimacy in marriage. We can be there to comfort them if and when they fail and let them know that there is forgiveness and hope.

Perhaps most importantly, we can model what it means to be a woman of sexual integrity. We can show with our actions that marriage is the place where sexual intimacy thrives.

We can show with our actions that marriage is the place where sexual intimacy thrives. Click To Tweet

When my sons see and hear my husband and I touch, flirt, embrace, kiss, and — quite frankly — lock the bedroom door, they are not party to our private sexual lives…but they know that sex in marriage is healthy, God-honoring, and quite the perk if they will wait for the right time and invest in that relationship.

I’ve “mothered” young ladies in this way as well, by talking to youth group girls about dating. I’ve answered a question on this blog from a teenager concerned about her sexuality. I’ve mentored a teen girl about her relationships (with the knowledge and blessing of her parents), speaking honestly about the challenges of sexual integrity.

We women have opportunities to set an example, speak truth to children in our midst, and mother a generation dedicated to swinging the pendulum the other way. Society wants our kids to give up on sexual integrity, but moms can be a positive and powerful influence for bringing about a revolution of God-honoring sexual intimacy in marriage.

Honestly, all of this spilled out of me after I looked up Bible verses with “mother” in them and saw this one I hadn’t paid attention to before:

“Truly I am your servant, LordI serve you just as my mother did” (Psalm 116:16).

Marriage Memory Verse 5-7-16

If I want my children to serve God as I do, then I’d better serve God well. In all areas, including sexual intimacy. Every day, I’m setting an example. That’s a lot of influence I have, and a lot of responsibility. But I want them to be God’s servant in their lives, in their marriages, and — one day — as parents themselves.

Let’s get our own heads right, ladies, and live into God’s plan for our sexual intimacy. Then let’s teach the next generation so that they can grow up in victory with marriages and marriage beds that honor our Father.

Happy (You Make a Difference) Mom Day

Q&A with J: Baby’s Here, But Sex? Not So Much.

Without a doubt, the time in our marriage I least felt like having sex was after my babies were born. You might think since they’re now teenagers, I’ve forgotten what that’s like, but I clearly recall the total lack of interest I had in being touched by another human being, much less fondled and sexed up in the marriage bed.

Looking back, I wish I’d handled it all so much better. Frankly, I’ve apologized to the hubster (and made up for it!), but I also learned a few things I can share with the reader who asks this question:

I am writing because I just had my first baby!! She’s wonderful and a great addition to our lives!!!  However, as I figured, things have changed in my anatomy. I don’t feel like myself physically or emotionally! We had sex for the first time at 6 weeks postpartum and it was awful! My husband was very sweet and kind about it!  He was very loving and gentle. What can I do about my brain and emotions to want to be intimate with him again? I just am looking for any advice I can find for sex after a baby! I am praying through this, but am looking for practical advice as well! Thanks!

Q&A with J Baby's Here, But Sex Not So Much.

My favorite line from this query is “I don’t feel like myself physically or emotionally!” Amen, sister. Pregnancy and childbirth take over your body like nothing else and change you. I’ve had lasting consequences from that experience, like a heightened sense of smell and new allergies. Go figure.

I’m not sure an alien abduction could rival the life-changing experience of hosting a tiny human being in your body and then pushing it out into the world. Then, while your body is still in full recovery mode, you’re supposed to figure out how to care for this baby. Welcome to Crash Course Parenting!

Now add your need to return to sexy wife status, and the pressure can feel insurmountable. Someone, send this lady on vacation, please!

But you’re not alone, and others have successfully tread the waters before. Or at least learned important lessons they can share from not doing it so fabulously.

Get a physical check-up. If sex continues to feel “awful,” there could be a physical reason for your discomfort. Tell your doctor what’s going on. Be honest, specific, and persistent. Your hormones could be so thrown off you’re not producing enough estrogen to lubricate and swell down there. You could have an infection. You could be slow to heal from tearing. Make sure your doctor does a physical examination of your body to see if something might be triggering your problems. If pain continues, check out my post on pain during sex.

Give yourself time. Most doctors prescribe 4-6 weeks to recover from childbirth before attempting intercourse. But honestly, the recommendation is built on averages. Some women can engage after 2-3 weeks, others need 8-10 weeks. Just know your particular situation may vary from the standard, and that’s okay. It’s an individual couple’s decision when to get back to making love. You definitely want to aim for it, but not push so hard that you dread the encounter.

And since I know I have hubbies reading: Listen up, guys. Want to make me madder than a plucked hen? Tell me your wife should give birth one day and meet your sexual needs within a week. Seriously? Have you ever gone through childbirth? No, you have not. It’s a beautiful experience, but it also wreaks havoc with a woman’s body. Rather than demanding sex on your terms, please dig deep for compassion and grace and help her through a difficult transition. Honestly, she’s more likely to want to make love to you if you’re helpful, understanding, and loving to her in this season. That’s how you’re supposed to treat your wife anyway. (Really. Look it up.)

Appreciate your body. Plenty of new moms do not feel great about presenting their naked bodies to hubby. However you felt about that big bulge in your belly during pregnancy, now that baby’s gone, it can look like a sagging sack. It takes a while for everything to get back where it belongs. If you’re nursing, you have the added awkwardness of leaking at inopportune times. Oops, sorry about that, hubs. Many moms have absolutely no interest in using their breasts sexually while they’re baby food factories. Which can throw off your marital sex routine.

But here’s the thing: Your body is incredible. Just look at that baby and imagine how God used your body to grow and nurture that little body with all its intricate parts. Most husbands also gain a fresh appreciation for the wonder of their wife’s body. I remember vividly feeling like a crazy mess a few weeks after my first kid, lying on the couch in my pajamas, and crying to my poor husband about my flabby, exhausted body. He shrunk back with shock and proclaimed, “I love your body even more now.” Hey, that body gave him a child.

Not only did God knit you together, he knit a baby in your womb (Psalm 139:13). Besides, you still have all those curves and fascinating places that thrill your guy. Remind yourself regularly of your beauty and embrace your self-confidence.

Rebuild your sexual intimacy. The reality is that your sex life is not the same. I venture to say it will never be the same as it was B.C. (before children). Your body has changed. Your relationship to one another has broadened. Your child is an ongoing responsibility. Your attention is more divided.

You can’t have sex anytime you want anymore, because baby’s schedule is now in the mix. As your child grows, you’ll be faced with the challenges of getting interrupted, having to take extra measures for privacy, and finding time to squeeze lovemaking between Junior’s piano lessons and parent night. None of this means you can’t have amazing sexual intimacy! All of these challenges and experiences link you together more, making sex even more meaningful.

Simply keep this in mind and rebuild your sexual intimacy from here. Find out what arouses you, how to best prepare yourself for sexual intimacy, how you can creatively carve out time, what you can do to extend foreplay throughout the day (so that when you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go). Learn to laugh about those times when you’re right on the brink of making love . . . and kiddo yells, “Daddy, what are you and mommy doing?” from the other side of your bedroom door. Or other child-specific, funny-bone moments. Just take a fresh perspective of your sex life together.

Focus your mind on sexual desire. Finally, you mentioned getting back into things emotionally. That requires getting your head in the game, being able to switch from your list of Mama to-dos to what you and Papa want to do with each other. New mommy brains tend to be full of responsibilities, worry, and exhaustion. There’s not a lot of room in there for sexy thoughts.

Make room. Make it a goal to think something sexy about your hubby and/or yourself during the day. You can use a journal to record your thoughts, align that task with another (I will remember a great time we made love every day while brushing my teeth), text your husband something romantic, plan a rendezvous. Ask for help from your husband for that mental shift, by letting him bathe the baby or rock him to sleep while you take a few minutes for a soothing bubble bath, a chance to make the bedroom nice and light candles, or slipping into something that makes you feel desirable.

When there’s so much else going on, we have to make a conscious decision to focus on sex with our husband. If you make it a priority in your mind, over time you’ll likely find your emotions following. You will reawaken love for him and your sexual intimacy.

That concludes my advice this time around. I’m curious to hear from my readers. What tips worked for you or what lessons did you learn from your own experience?

Also see A Month Without Sex?! Advice for New Moms.

Q&A with J: Preparing Your Grown Children for Marital Intimacy

Today’s question is from a concerned father:

I have 3 daughters who I want the very best for in marriage. How do I send them off when the time comes. Part of me wants to sit them down and tell them all about everything sexual and part of me says let them discover it on their own do not ruin it by telling them. I could explain oral sex for example, I am completely comfortable doing so but would it be better to let them find it on their own? I am sure the situation will vary some from one to the other but what would you do, give them your book?

I’ve written several times about talking to your children about sex. I believe those conversations need to start early and continue through the years. Sex is an embarrassing or taboo topic in too many households, but if you make your home a safe environment to discuss the topic, your children are more likely to engage and ask you questions when they need answers.

Q&A with J: Preparing Your Grown Children for Marital Intimacy

Here’s a rundown of some of these posts:

Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One & Done

How to Talk to a Teen about Sex

Is “Don’t Have Sex” Enough for Teens?

Sex: From the Skit Guys

The Oh-My-Goodness-Did-I-Really-Sign-Up-for-This? Sex Talk

What about when your kids are grown? How do you prepare them for what’s to come in marriage? Here are my thoughts on that topic:

Principles > Details. It’s far more important to teach principles for approaching sexual intimacy in marriage than provide details about what that looks like. Even grown children may not want to discuss particulars with you.

However, they would benefit from understanding the purpose of sex in marriage, why it matters so much for marriage, what standards to use when deciding what honors their spouse and God in the bedroom, and what to do if/when they have difficulties. These are issues you can address.

Share scriptures that cover marriage and sex in the Bible (like Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 5-6, Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Ephesians 5:22-32). Explain how the chapters on love and the Gospel itself apply to marital intimacy. Let them know what the higher standard is for determining what’s good in the marriage bed. You might even share with them generally about your own walk in this regard — how there have been bumps in your marriage regarding sex that had to be worked out.

Too often, newlyweds expect sex to look like what they’ve seen in a romance novel or movie and to go perfectly from the get-go. Prepare them that sexual love can unfold gradually and steadily, and there will be plenty of time in marriage to enjoy the feast of delights if they cherish one another from the beginning.

Encourage them to seek help if physical issues or emotional misunderstandings arise. Think principles more than details.

Share quality resources. The Bible is the first resource you should freely share with your children. Let them know that all those scriptures about how we should treat each other apply to marriage as well, and they don’t stop at the bedroom door. God’s truth should permeate every crevice of our lives.

After that, I have several posts specifically for newly marrieds:

How Much Should You Learn about Sex before the Wedding Night?

Wedding Night Sex

What Should a Groom Know about His Wedding Night?

Preparing for the Wedding Night

What I Wish I’d Known before the Wedding Night

What to Pack for Your Honeymoon or Vacation

You specifically asked about my book. As much as I’d love for you to buy Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Wives, that’s not actually the book I most recommend for a young bride. I believe Sheila Gregoire’s  A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex is a great primer for a woman about to enter marriage. Also good for any fiancée (and wife) is Shaunti Feldhan’s For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men. For couples I suggest The Pursuit of Passion: Discovering True Intimacy in Marriage by Jeff Murphy & Julie Sibert and Lovemaking: 10 Secrets to Extravagant Intimacy in Marriage by Dan & Linda Wilson.

Down the road a bit, Sex Savvy would help a wife develop more sexual self-confidence, while Intimacy Revealed can flesh out the connection of our sexuality and spirituality.

These are only a few of the excellent resources out there for those embarking on marriage, to get a better sense of what to expect and to understand God’s design for sex in this covenant relationship.

Give permission for passion. The final role I see for parents is to let their children know that it’s not only okay, but good for them to lean into God’s provision for sexual delights now that they will be in the proper context of marriage. Whether they’ve stayed entirely pure all the way to the altar or messed up some along the way, convey that you want the best for them in their marriage — and that includes a satisfying sex life.

Why is this important? Because I hear again and again and again from wives who struggled to make that shift into their marriage. They focused so hard on staying a virgin that it feels wrong or shameful to unleash their passions, even in marriage. Or maybe they engaged in sex before marriage, but they carried a load of guilt — however light or heavy — and this burden weighs on them in a way that they struggle to embrace what God wants for their sexual intimacy.

Even when we’re adults, we look to our parents for guidance and approval. Of course, that’s not all that matters, but you can play a positive role for your grown children by letting them know that sexual love in marriage is a beautiful thing and you want them to experience its fullness.

Do you have to get specific? I don’t think you do. Honestly, if you’ve been talking in your home as they grow, and you’ve been available for questions, and you lead them to good resources, laying out exactly how things work right before the I Do‘s won’t make much difference. You’ve already done your job, and they know where to find you if they need help.

Opening up to my fabulous readers, how do you believe we can best prepare our children for godly sex in marriage?

Sex Wisdom I Learned & Teach

I’m a member of the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association. This month, CMBA has issued a challenge for marriage bloggers to answer the following questions:

What words have encouraged you in your marriage? What wisdom has helped guide you and your spouse in strengthening your marriage?

The focus this week is on what wisdom you received from family.

Since I write on Christian sex in marriage, this is a particularly interesting line of inquiry. How many in my generation can say they received quality information and encouragement that prepared them for sex in marriage? I’m guessing it’s a small percentage. Possibly speck-sized for some people.

Blog post title

I had a few conversations with my parents, and they were okay. But my parents were clearly uncomfortable discussing sexual information with me. In fact, instead of giving me “the talk,” I was given a book to read in which the boy and girl were shaped — I kid you not! — like something between Peanuts and Precious Moments characters. (It’s a wonder I didn’t develop an unhealthy crush on Charlie Brown.)

Honestly, the most encouraging words about sexuality that my parents ever gave me . . . weren’t words about sexuality at all. They encouraged me to read my Bible. And in the long-term, that’s paid off in spades.

Because God has taught me so much about His gift of sexuality.

That said, it took me a while to get there. So as a parent, I’m trying to lay the groundwork for my own kids to have a healthy, godly view of sexuality. And what words of wisdom am I teaching them? I hope you’ll head over to Sheila Gregoire’s site, where I guest posted on Tuesday with Top 10 Things I Want My Kids to Know about Sex.

And for more tips on talking about sex with your children, here are some other posts I’ve done on this subject:

Teach Your Kids the Correct Words for Body Parts

Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One and Done

Is “Don’t Have Sex” for Teens?

How to Talk to a Teen about Sex

What wisdom did you receive from family about sex in marriage? What wisdom are you passing on to your family?