There’s a war on religion!
Relax. There’s always been a war on religion. Not fake religion—that’s sometimes quite popular. But real religion that focuses on a relationship with God, on tough choices and moral integrity, on trusting God in the midst of difficulty, on humility and emulating Christ? Well, that’s been opposed over the breadth of cultures and the course of history. So let’s not presume, or panic, that we’re in some unprecedented time in which things are worse than they’ve ever been before.
Including in the arena of sexuality. Purity Culture has not destroyed Christianity any more than the Corinthians’ pagan practices did. Gnosticism, as bad a message as it sent about the spiritual versus the physical, has not won. And harmful myths about sex are prevalent in the church but not utterly controlling.
I could point to couples from various Christian sects—Catholic, Orthodox, Mainstream, Evangelical, etc.—who have healthy sex lives in their marriage. Sometimes in spite of their church’s teachings, sometimes apart from it, and sometimes because of it.
But saying it’s not the apocalypse doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with wrong messages about sexuality spread by those in the Church.
Where has Christianity gone wrong?
When it comes to sex, we’ve had two major problems in the Church: bad theology and hypocritical practice.When it comes to sex, we've had two major problems in the Church: bad theology and hypocritical practice. Click To Tweet
Examples of bad theology include:
- Sex is sinful or selfish in any context
- Sex is mostly for husbands
- Sex is solely for reproduction
- Sex is optional in marriage
- Sex outside marriage leaves an unforgiveable stain
- Sex can and should be demanded from one’s spouse
- Sex in marriage doesn’t require consent
- Sex acts of any kind are permitted in the marriage bed
Examples of hypocritical practice include:
- Engaging in affairs
- Sexual abuse and harassment
- Use of pornography and erotica
- Withholding of sex without cause
- Habitual solo masturbation
- Extreme sex acts
The world often sees the Church as having the paradox of prudish teachings combined with sexual misbehavior. As an example, consider those pastors and priests who have engaged in perverse sexual sin at the same time they engage in rhetoric about the utmost importance of sexual purity. It’s heartbreaking to think about the witness we’ve lost through the bad teaching and actions of some in the Body of Christ.
Just in my own circle, I have two close friends who were sexually abused as minors by church leaders. One stayed in the church, one left. My heart aches for both, but especially the latter. The cost was not only to her childhood heart but her adult faith.
We as a Church, as the representative for Christ on earth, have to do better. Every call to better theology and practice is worthwhile, not because it knocks out sin for good, but because it saves that one person who is too precious to let go. (See Luke 15:3-7 and Matthew 25:34-40.)
What has Christianity gotten right?
Contrary to popular belief, some theologians throughout time have gotten it right. There really is a remnant in nearly any time period that “gets it” regarding sexuality.
Moreover, the answers proposed by secular culture are more than lacking in their approach.
Stating the truth
Just looking at the last century or so, I’ve been reading through some books from my late father’s library and delightfully discovered such examples as these two:
- In Orthodoxy (1908), G.K. Chesterton, writer, philosopher, and lay theologian, likened sex in marriage to making love to the moon. Mind you, this was more than 60 years before anyone visited the moon, so the idea of being that close to a heavenly body was…well, heavenly!
I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion’s) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman.
Chesterton goes on to point out that having many sexual partners cheapens the experience, but you can read that yourself here if you want.
2. William Barclay, a well-known minister, professor of divinity at Glasgow University, Christian author, and radio personality wrote A Spiritual Autobiography (1977) in which he says:
I believe in love and I believe in marriage. I have never been able to see or to agree that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage. In one sense and from one point of view they are far easier than marriage, because they have dispensed with the problem of living together. I know well that those who undertake celibacy or virginity may live in community, but life in community does not present the problem of living together in the crises and the trifles of day-to-day-living. Celibacy and virginity do present one problem—the problem of dealing with the sex instinct; but that is a self-manufactured problem which should never have arisen. Sex is part of life and the deliberate annihilation of it is not a virtue; it is a criticism of life as God made it and meant it to be.
Within the boundaries of marriage and with the right priority, Christianity and sexual enjoyment are entirely compatible.Within the boundaries of marriage and with the right priority, Christianity and sexual enjoyment are entirely compatible. Click To Tweet
Avoiding the lies
Speaking of boundaries, the Church has also avoided some important lies about sex. For example, the Church has never condoned adultery, prostitution, or inappropriate lust. Its members don’t always practice this well, but we have at least recognized such things as sexual sin.
Meanwhile, in a day and age that constantly declares, “Listen to the science,” I’m amazed how few secular sex therapists accept such truths as the perils of pornography. Christians have gotten it right by listening to the Creator of sex Himself, but it’s no surprise that research supports the conclusion that pornography hurts relationships long-term.
Christianity needs to do a better job of noting other sins that impact marital intimacy, such as abuse, long-term sexual refusal, and selfish demands. But while correcting the problems, let’s continue to protect marriages by addressing such issues as adultery, porn, and inappropriate lust.
But has Christianity hurt your sex life?
A teaching or experience linked to your Church, a fellow Christian (or “Christian’), a religious resource, etc. likely damaged your marital sex life in some way. Maybe it came through you, maybe it came through your spouse, or maybe you even sat in a counseling office and got bad advice. I’m sorry.
Christianity should, once again, do better. We have a responsibility to teach and live out God’s truth!
However, the problem isn’t with God’s design itself. Rather, the word Christianity is made up of three parts: Christ + ian + ity. Christ means the Messiah, specifically Jesus; the suffix -ian means relating or belonging to; and -ity means a condition or state of being. Christianity is not simply Christ—who is perfect—but imperfect people trying to follow Christ in their imperfect states of being.
In short, God makes things right, but His people get things wrong. Sometimes out of malice, but more often out of ignorance or their own personal struggles. (Looking at you, St. Augustine.)
For instance, I believe the older ladies in my church, whose sex advice to High School Me amounted to “keep your legs closed,” wanted the best for me. They wanted me to avoid the heartache and real-life consequences that can come with sexual recklessness outside marriage, so they said what they thought would keep me virginal until then. They wanted me to have a good marriage later, so they told me that sex was something I should provide to my husband. They wanted me to have intimacy in that relationship, so they suggested that sex and affection were trades between husband and wife.
Of course, that’s terrible advice! But you know what’s terrible too? That they didn’t know better. I now have deep sympathy for these imperfect Christian wives whose condition of being had not included hot and holy sex in their marriage in a way that they could speak well about that gift of God to others!
If a Church or fellow Christian messed things up for you with their words or actions, maybe it’s time to give a little grace. I’m not talking about something going on right now that should be addressed—and certainly past or present abuse should not be overlooked—but you might need to let go of anger or resentment you’ve held on to for longer than you should.
Embracing God’s design
When you let go of bad theology or practices, you need to replace it with something else—good theology and practices. I have lots of posts that touch on the Bible and sex and will continue to talk about it! But a summary version of God’s design for sex might be:
- Sex was created for procreation, recreation, and unification.
- Sex was thus intended for marriage.
- Sex should be mutually desired and satisfying.
- Sexual challenges are to be expected, given that we live in a broken world, but can be resolved with attention, effort, and unity.
- Sexual sin damages individuals and intimacy and should be avoided, repented from, and replaced with godly practices.
- Sexual oneness between husband and wife reflects God’s longing for intimacy with His people.
Where Christianity has failed, Christ won’t.
Given my difficult past and our prior marital struggles, I should not have the incredibly intimate sex life I have with my husband. But I do. I’m a firm believer that my marriage and sexual intimacy thrive because of Christ and His redeeming power.
Now I’m not saying someone can’t have pleasurable sex outside of God’s design, but that will never be all that sex could be. It is and can be more. God designed sex to be a blessing—a challenge at times too, because that can force us to grow, but a blessing as well.God designed sex to be a blessing—a challenge at times too, because that can force us to grow, but a blessing as well. Click To Tweet
Has Christianity hurt your sex life? Maybe. Probably. But it’s also the very thing that can bring you to a new and better place. Because whatever the –ian and -ity have messed up, the CHRIST part of Christianity remains the core. However Christianity has hurt your sex life, Christ can heal it.
23 thoughts on “Has Christianity Hurt Your Sex Life?”
Automatic props for quoting Chesterton.
It was not Christianity
that damaged sex for me;
much more, it wass my dignity
and longing to be free
of the earthy-hot desire,
the carnal appetite;
my pride said I must rise higher
than the sweaty night,
but I was wrong, I know that now,
and I’ve been deceived
yoked unto the devil’s plow
and thus have not received
God-given gift of intimate grace
that mirror-preening can’t replace.
J, first off Happy New Year and a belated Merry Christmas. I hope you and all yours are well and doing well. As usual, you have done your homework and your due diligence in all the sex related issues in the church you touch on.
It’s interesting, I’m kind of having to let go of the ways I’ve been hurt by Christianity (or “Christianity”). This, for one simple reason: my wife’s health challenges have kicked into overdrive and kicked every other concern to the back burner, including sex and past sexual issues. I’ll share more as appropriately discreet, but I will share what those issues were. It’s really quite simple. Judgmentalism and hypocrisy. I didn’t grow up in church, and to this day certain evangelicals’ (not all) grate on my nerves with the same.
Time to let it go, I guess, but for the above reasons I have little choice now. Anyway, it is good to see you blogging again, and pray nothing but the best for you, your husband, family, close friends, and everyone reading this.
This is a very well-rounded post. I’ve been feeling recently like many Christians have thrown the baby out with the bath water because of the bad messages they got from the church. Both good and bad have come from Christianity, not just in the sexual teachings. But it’s not about Christianity or religion; it never has been. It’s always been about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and finding our redemption and salvation in Him. People will always be hypocritical due to our sin natures, even when they proclaim to be followers of Christ. The larger the Christian institution and power it holds, the more space there is for corruption and hypocrisy. Sad, since that’s the face of Christianity the world sees.
I think the only way its hurt our sex life is because I believe my wife’s inhibitions to certain activities are derived from her view that a ‘Godly’ women would not do such things (masturbation in front of your spouse, sensual talk, etc.). There’s always been a hint of “only whores or women in porn do that type of thing”. I’ve tried many time to direct her to Christian women’s blogs, publications like this to help her understand many woman have been able to move past these inhibitions with prayer and Godly council from other woman who have had sexual ‘awakenings’ etc, but so far nothing has moved her ‘position’.
That’s sad. I hear it too often. Saying a prayer now that God’s true design for sex in marriage reaches her somehow!
I caught my husband masturbating to porn. I wasn’t having sex with him because I wasn’t going to have any more kids at my age.
Well, I could’ve just blamed him but I decided to make a change. I perused this and other blogs and they helped me be more sensual.
I hope your wife comes around.
Thanks, Tracy. And I really, really hope he stopped the porn. Blessings!
All good, but porn is a red herring.😉
Thanks. But you’ve said this repeatedly about porn, Doug, and it’s wrong. Even secular people who are really willing to look at the evidence will see that viewing porn can result in an increase in frequency and openness to experience in the short-term but damages relationships and intimacy in the long-term. But on top of that, it’s just wrong to use people that way — as objects to titillate us.
I’m going to play “devil’s advocate” to Doug’s post.
But first I want to agree with J about porn being harmful. I totally agree 100%, I wish I’d never seen anything. There are times when I can bring back a picture or two (thankfully that is all) or even be tempted to click on something that is ‘harmless’ but not appropriate. (Like a cheerleader calendar link on a sports website. It just plays into Satan’s ploy.)
The “devil’s advocate” part about porn in my case is this. My wife isn’t willing to be adventurous in our sex life partially because she will say: “what porn magazine gave you that idea?” So for us, porn can be a ‘red herring’. I’m not allowed to have a sexual imagination because it all will be tied to my past porn viewing. I hate that any attempt at variety is viewed as ‘trying to live out a porn fantasy’. Now, I’m not talking anything really out at some end of a perverted spectrum. I’m just talking about sexual playfulness with my wife, talking about sex or trying to keep sex from becoming just something to “check of our list” as many have stated. And my wife refuses to think about sex or read ANYTHING about sex. After all, sex just isn’t that important. (Yet FaceBook is. Don’t get me started there.)
I can also relate to your statements about the older ladies and bad teaching. I’ve had thought long and hard about other reasons my wife is like she is and I’ve come up with this. So many female relatives poisoned her with their comments during her childhood. “Men only want one thing.” “Men are selfish.” “Men are never content with normal sex, they want other stuff too.” But like you said, Christ won’t fail where Christians have. So I hope that someday (soon) my wife will embrace God’s plan for sex for both of us, not just me as “her husband who needs a release every so often”.
How heartbreaking. Yeah, that’s not okay. Being punished for something you did a long time (whether a past relationship, porn viewing, or whatever) and have repented from is not biblical either.
And as for those messages your wife received, I absolutely believe we should oppose bad messages about sex! It’s what I do All The Time. I just also want to feel sympathy for those who were falsely taught as well. It’s kind of like Hate the Message, Love the Messenger. Mind you, I also think that there is greater accountability for leaders who teach wrongly (“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1). Those who wish to teach should first commit to being a learner at the feet of God and His Word.
Saying a(nother) prayer for you.
RE “porn.” A few months ago I attended a workshop at a Christian workers’ conference in which a youth leader from a mid-sized church seemed to be doing a good job at developing his topic, until he started taking verses out of context to make his point. (It would be a pointless rabbit hole to comment on what this guy actually said; simply that many Christian leaders have difficulty making a good case for their positions on sexuality.)
I do get frustrated that many Christians write about porn, but leave it to an imagination that says, “I know it when I see it” to define it. I think most of us would agree that lurid depictions of people in sex acts is pornography, whether it’s pictures aimed at men and boys, or intimate written descriptions of protagonists in a cheap romance novel in a bedroom scene. But do we also consider a photo of painting of a lovely woman in non-sexual nudity to be porn? My own take on this is that for many or most women, such an artistic depiction is artistic beauty.
However, such a beautiful nude photo or painting can readily morph into an idol in the imagination of a man. I.e., actual worship, similar to that which ancient pagans experienced in their worship–the Greeks and Romans, for instance. A man may look at a nude depiction without being sexually aroused; so this would not be “porn.” But if he’s drawn back repeatedly to worship, he needs to repent of his idolatry, and he will find victory in taking it to Jesus whenever he’s tempted.
My point: there is a difference, and to battle the one with the same weapons as we attack the other is to lose the battle.
One further thought for men: envision your wife as the young woman in the Song of Solomon. Try praising her the way the lover in the S of S praises this girl–with specific positive comments re her anatomy. It may take a few months, but she’ll eventually open up like a morning glory in the sun. It worked for me, but it took me some 30 years of marriage before I figured this out. I’ve got the most beautiful woman on earth, and we’ve been married for 57 years!
I remember seeing an art exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston that featured some nudes. These weren’t photographs but rather drawings and paintings, and yet, some came across as artistic and others as pornographic. What was the difference? A lot of it had to do with the positioning of the model, the detail provided, and where the artist pointed the focus. I quickly felt uncomfortable and looked away from certain sketches of French prostitutes that struck me as meaning to titillate, whereas another sketch by the same artist of a woman at a bath didn’t have that vibe at all. Maybe it’s not always clear, but most of the time…it’s pretty clear what the intent is.
I agree that this is a fine line…while on my first mission trip in a foreign country at 19 our group encountered both public works of art and advertising billboards, which depicted men and women in various states of undress. A not-really-serious debate emerged among a few of us that became known as the infamous “art vs. smut” debate. The guys insisted that my viewpoint was a double-standard – that if the images or sculptures depicted men, it was “art”, but if they were of women it was “smut.” (Or maybe it was the other way around? I can’t remember.) I tried to insist that HOW the bodies were depicted was what made the difference – as well, works of art or as sexual objects – but in restrospect I think I lacked the articulation to express even this much, and what exactly made the difference between an artfully depicted body and a sex object I couldn’t say. I’m not sure I could say even now, almost 30 years later. I still wonder about the difference between admiring the form of a well-muscled, shirtless (but not naked) man and lusting (although I apparently prefer skinny-butt geeks as I married one). I suppose it’s where we allow our minds to take us that makes the difference – ?
Excellent post, J. It is well-researched, well-written and God glorifying all at the same time. Thank you. I especially love this quote, “ I’m a firm believer that my marriage and sexual intimacy thrive because of Christ and His redeeming power.”
Yes!! He is in the business of redeeming what’s broken, sex included. Such a hope filled message for those struggling in their sexual intimacy.
It hurt our sex life for about the first six years of our marriage. Our marriage has been the opposite of most, we had very little sex in the beginning and now after 20+ years have more sex than most. My wife was raised in the purity culture and neither of us had anyone tell us about sex other than to not have it until marriage. So the beginning it was rough but with love, grace, and patients our sex life is awesome now.
Thanks for another good post. I wonder if men and women view this differently.
As a young man growing up in an evangelical church 30+ years ago, I was taught two huge truths about sex: (1) it was God-given and great and (2) reserved for marriage. And so the lesson was overwhelmingly simple: self-discipline=reward. Sex built up for me as this huge mysterious thing that would gloriously reveal itself after marriage as long as I followed God’s rules.
But when we did get married, my wife struggled with emotional and health issues that really affected our sex life (and still do), even after counselling and all sorts of efforts. This was very hard for me to take. The clear, simple structure that had built up in my mind collapsed. I felt ripped off. It damaged my entire faith, because my understanding of sex was so wrapped up in ‘God’s plan’ and that plan seemed, frankly, unfair after all my self-discipline. That damage is still there.
Over the years I have gotten to know some non-Christian guys well enough to talk a bit about sex, and I am struck by how much more relaxed they can be about the ups and downs. I’m not talking about promiscuous people, but just ordinary long-married monogamous guys. They seem to see sex as a good thing that they might have enjoyed with a few girls before marriage, and then they settled down with one partner and sex sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m the one with all the baggage and expectations and hurts, because I had been taught so much to associate sex with God’s plan and that self-discipline would be rewarded. To be frank, I often wonder if I’d have a better attitude to sex if I hadn’t had so many expectations loaded on it.
It is frustrating to have all that build-up and then poof! it doesn’t happen as it should. I do believe we need to prepare Christians far more for the ups and downs of sexual intimacy.
I can’t say that your non-Christian guys are doing as well as they might seem to be in conversations, given what I read and hear, however. I’d rather do it God’s way, but I do agree entirely that we need to tell fellow Christians a whole lot more about this intimate experience so that they have a better sense of things. Hey, that’s why I’m here! 🙂
I had a very similar upbringing in my church. The only message ever given was “Wait for marriage and everything will work out better. Follow the rules and you will be rewarded with a passionate and fulfilling romantic relationship with your future wife.” It was a flat out lie and I have never forgiven the church leadership, or my parents, for allowing these lies to destroy any hope I had for a joyful marriage. I won’t even get to have a family now. We’ve never had enough sex to say we were ever trying to have children. Now I’m reaching the age where it’s not reasonable to raise children anymore. I don’t want my children to have to take care of an elderly parent before they graduate highschool.
I just wish that I had known enough to talk to my prospective wife about sex before we got married. If I had, I know for a fact that we would not be married now. I’m not sure about her, but I just took what I was taught on faith and believed that sex was going to happen regularly after we were married because that’s what was normal for marriage. I didn’t know that it was a conversation we were supposed to have. I assumed that all newlyweds wanted to have loads of sex whenever they could find the time. I found out how wrong I was about 4 hours after our vows.
The Church should not only have good messages about sex before entering marriage, we should be encouraging couples toward godly sexual intimacy after they get married. Yes, it should be talked about in classes, in small groups, at events, and even in the sanctuary—because God talked about it. Had that happened, maybe things wouldn’t be where they are now.
I assume you’ve talked to your wife about this? Talked about your desire for children, etc.? Praying for a breakthrough!
She wants children desperately but has no desire for me so it’s not going to happen. She wants to adopt so we can have children without needing the sex. We are at a complete impasse. I have talked to her until I’m blue in the face but nothing changes because she doesn’t want to change. She sees nothing wrong with weeks or months of celibacy. As of today, she has not shown any physical interest in me yet this year. Today is Valentine’s day and I don’t anticipate that changing.
I’m so sorry. I suspect your wife has just shut down, because the whole issues is so stressful for her too. You may want to back away for a bit, invest in many other ways of loving her, and then bring it up again down the road if/when she feels more emotionally safe. (Good article about emotional safety here: What Is Emotional Safety? (and What Does It Have to Do with Sex?)
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