Hot, Holy & Humorous

The Church on Sex: We’re Not There, But We’re Doing Better

When I first started this ministry (over 13 years ago!), there were few resources available for Christians wanting sex advice that was both biblical and practical. Yes, they existed, and I’m so grateful to those forerunners! But given the need, the supply wasn’t nearly enough. Nowadays, I can point to resources that provide quality information and wisdom for fostering healthy and holy sexual intimacy in marriage.

And yet, local churches have typically lagged behind in this area. Some marriage ministries will cover the topic, at least for a class or two, but most churchgoers won’t hear a sermon on sex. And if they do, it’s more likely about avoiding sexual sin than building a God-honoring sex life in marriage. Just where the need and opportunity are greatest, we fall short.

Rather than attack the Church for not doing better, my goal is to encourage and empower those on the “front lines” to engage with their parishioners in positive ways, thus building stronger marriages, stronger families, and stronger congregations. So let’s talk about it.

Churches Speaking Boldly

My husband and I recently settled into a new church, and you can probably imagine my excitement when the preacher stood up one Sunday and his sermon title, displayed on the big screen, included the word “sexual.” Yay, this church felt comfortable going there! And indeed, it was a great sermon about sexual integrity that didn’t mince words and reflected Scripture (2 Peter 2 and Jude, specifically). I can’t imagine a sermon like that being preached when I was growing up … or in my 20s or in my 30s.

And my church is hardly the only one. I can name several preachers who have addressed God’s design for sexuality from the pulpit (or stage) on Sunday morning. While I’m sure they get pushback, the vast majority of people appreciate the church speaking into an area that they struggle with in their lives. Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting past the hump of that first, and maybe second, awkward sermon. Once congregants realize this is something we can talk about because God talks about it, most acclimate to it being mentioned as part of a life lived well in Christ.

After all, marriage reflects our relationship with our Lord (Isaiah 54:5, Ephesians 5:31-32).

But it doesn’t have to happen in Sunday mornings if a church isn’t ready for it, and it shouldn’t happen there exclusively. Rather, marriage ministries can incorporate more content about sexual integrity and intimacy, through classes, special speakers, and conferences or retreats. Church libraries can stock quality Christian books about sex and let people know they’re there. (Hey, I will send your church library FREE books if you’re in the contiguous US and email me the request!). Churches can provide counseling services through their own congregation or underwriting Christian therapists to help couples who need counseling about sexual issues in their marriage (see One Way Churches Could Really Help Marriages).

Women’s ministries and men’s ministries can get involved as well. I’ve spoken at several women’s events, and my content has always been well-received. MOPS groups also welcome real-life insights on how to make sexual intimacy work while raising children and beyond. Other women, including Julie Sibert and Ruth Buezis, have presented to these audiences. Meanwhile, men’s ministries often address pornography use or other sexual sins, and support groups for men have proliferated in the last several years.

To all those churches addressing sex well, or even just starting to address it at all, THANK YOU! Sex isn’t everything, of course, but it is something—something God clearly cares about because it’s addressed throughout His Word.

Churches Speaking Barely

Many churches have good reasons why they don’t address sex much. The most common one I hear is criticism from the congregation.

  • “That’s not an appropriate topic.”
  • “My children shouldn’t learn that word in church.”
  • “You should stick to preaching the Gospel.”
  • “We shouldn’t be sex-obsessed like the world.”
  • “Sex is about having children, nothing else.”

Yes, ministers hear such things from their members, often with harsh tones and even threats to quit the church if it continues. Sometimes members don’t have to say anything; the minister just knows addressing sex from the pulpit or even a class would not go over well with certain people. Anticipating an earful and worse, they stay silent on the topic or resolve to deal with the subject of sex on a couple-by-couple basis.

Other times, ministers don’t feel qualified to talk about sex, either because they don’t have sufficient knowledge or wisdom in that area or because their own sex lives aren’t great. Maybe they’ve struggled with pornography or sexual intimacy in their marriage is tepid at best. Without having figured it out themselves, how can they teach others?

Still others can’t figure out when and where to talk about sex. If children are in the Sunday service, they don’t want to deliver a sermon that might stir curiosity too early. (“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4.) Bible classes or small groups may involve both singles and marrieds, and they worry about having relevant messages for each. The structures and calendar of their church don’t easily allow a quality conversation about the topic, so they just don’t incorporate it.

While I feel compassion for these situations, the problem is that Christians are struggling in this area. God has answers, and we need to equip ourselves to deliver them and figure out how/when to make it happen. In fact, if you read the New Testament letters, it’s amazing how often the authors provide instruction about sexuality. Rather than shying away from it, they leaned into the topic, knowing that it mattered. And it wasn’t just about avoiding sexual sin, but having healthy, “one flesh” marriages.

As noted before, we have more good Christian resources about sex than ever before. If a ministry or church staff don’t feel qualified to teach on this, they can invite qualified guests to speak and/or go through a book or course about married sex. They can start with an event outside church to help people get used to the idea, such as a marriage retreat or home-based small group. Once you have others on board, it’s easier to get the full congregation to support other efforts to encourage godly sexual intimacy.

Churches Speaking Badly

Sadly, for every church doing a wonderful job addressing sex, I hear of at least two churches speaking badly on the topic. These are congregations that don’t avoid the topic, but instead teach erroneous or even dangerous messages about sex in marriage. Stated plainly or implied, they promote such myths as:

  • Husbands need sex, and wives owe it to them.
  • If a wife doesn’t give her husband sex, she’s (mostly or partly) responsible when he cheats/uses porn.
  • All husbands want sex more than their wives.
  • Sex is a transaction: he gets sex, she gets romance or conversation.
  • If you stayed pure until your wedding night, you’ll be rewarded with great sex.
  • Spouses can never say no to sex or they are “depriving one another,” according to 1 Corinthians 7.
  • Spouses in sexless marriages should just put up with it, because sex isn’t that important to God.

Recognize any of those?

While I expect many of my readers to have encountered those messages somewhere in their past, I’m still astounded to discover they are widely taught today. As much as I want churches to speak up about sex, those who speak unbiblically should heed the age-old advice that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.

Not that they can’t ever say anything about sex. Christians are called to speak where God speaks! And He does speak about sexual integrity and intimacy. But we get into big trouble when we say things God never said and put burdens on God’s people that He never intended them to carry. Matthew 23:4 warns about church leaders who “crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (NLT), and in Matthew 22:29, Jesus warned, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

James 3:1 puts it plainly: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Believe me, I take that verse very seriously.) If we desire to teach, we must learn what the Scriptures actually say and always remain open to correction.

If you haven’t deeply studied the Bible for what it says about sex—apart from what you heard or learned elsewhere before—then it’s time to revisit the whole counsel of God. And if you studied a while back, you should probably go back through Scripture to see what’s there, having (hopefully) grown in the last several years in your faith and understanding.

If you’re in a church that teaches myths about sex, ask the leaders about their viewpoints, where they got them, and how they interpret certain scriptures. Be genuinely curious, rather than critical, and open up a dialogue about what the Bible truly says about sex. You could also volunteer to teach a marriage class that reflects what God truly says about sex in marriage–including redemption from past sin, the importance of mutuality, and what love and respect look like in the bedroom. Sometimes, when one person steps up and says the right things, those hungry for that message flock to it and change the perspective of the whole body.

Churches Speaking Biblically

I celebrate the progress so many Christians, book publishers, and churches have made in addressing the topic of sex more authentically, helpfully, and especially biblically! If you’ve been involved in that, give yourself a pat on the back. If you know others who have, pat them on the back.

But let’s not stop there. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go!

Of course, our calling will never go away. God summons every generation, every church, every individual to be faithful in spreading His truth in love. Meanwhile, Satan and his forces continue to attack in the area of sexuality, perhaps because it is a place of such vulnerability and intimacy. In this life, we will never be completely free from sexual temptation, struggle, and sin, but we can make a difference in the lives of so many by speaking biblically about sex. May the church pursue righteousness, boldness, and God’s truth in the area of sexuality.

If you’re interested in having me speak at an event, please contact me! This is one of my favorite things to do, and I have well-developed presentations for both wives and couples. I’m eager to help churches in whatever way I can.

1 thought on “The Church on Sex: We’re Not There, But We’re Doing Better”

  1. Well said. I can see why pastors are reluctant to address sex too deeply from the pulpit, because you’re speaking to a general audience and people will filter whatever you say through their particular expectations and comfort zones. But I agree there is lots of potential to integrate it elsewhere, both in specific seminars/events but also just integrating discussions of sex more general men’s and women’s programs for example.

    I also think there’s pressure on pastors from people that basically just want to hear sex presented in terms of dos and donts and with some of those false assumptions you mention, as opposed to a more positive message.

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