There’s a common misconception that Christians never talk about sex. But that wasn’t the experience of many who grew up in the thick of evangelical purity culture.
Many churches talk about sex a lot. They just spend all that time talking about how and why not to have it.
Teaching about abstinence and the sanctity of sex is certainly worthwhile and biblical. But the way churches are going about it isn’t working. According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 80 percent of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 have had premarital sex.
In a study of Christian Mingle and JDate users, over half of the respondents said they would consider moving in with someone after dating for a period between six months and two years.
Even those who waited until marriage to have sex may have picked up many misleading lessons from youth group sex talks.
For me, many of those lessons started to unravel after I got married. As someone who waited to have sex until marriage, I was assured that if I just waited, I would be guaranteed an easy and rewarding sex life. When reality turned out to be different, I was disappointed and disillusioned. Only through gradual conversations with other married friends did I realize I wasn’t alone.
Here are four of the biggest lies about sex many of us have picked up from church.
Any and all physical contact is like a gateway drug to sex.
Once, in high school, I attended a big Christian youth conference. One night, one of the chaperones addressed the girls: “Girls, we have noticed some very inappropriate touching going on.”
The inappropriate touching she meant turned out to be two high school couples in the youth group holding hands. This woman was deadly serious. “I know it may not seem like a big deal to you,” she said. “But hand-holding leads to other things!”
Many of us heard similar things from parents, teachers, church leaders and books. In some churches, it was not unusual for people to pledge not only to save sex until marriage, but even to save their first kiss for their wedding day. “Don’t start the engine if you aren’t ready to drive the car” and other similar metaphors warned that any physical contact was a slippery slope straight into the jaws of fornication.
In reality, there are so many conscious decisions you have to make between kissing and having sex. There isn’t a lot of truth to the idea that it might happen “accidentally.” Despite what Hollywood says, clothes do not take themselves off and bodies do not magically and effortlessly fit together.
If you are committed to waiting until you’re married to have sex, there are many valid reasons to set boundaries on your physical relationship, but the fear of accidentally having sex shouldn’t be one of them.
If you wait until you are married, God will reward you with mind-blowing sex and a magical wedding night.
Before my wedding night, I had been told that honeymoon sex isn’t usually the best. I had heard that good sex takes work. I knew that it would probably be uncomfortable at first. But what nobody ever, ever told me was that it was possible that it might not work at all at first. On my wedding night, my mind and heart were there, but my body was locked up tighter than Maid Marian’s chastity belt.
I entered marriage with the firm conviction that God rewards those who wait, only to find myself confounded by the mechanics. It was frustrating, disappointing and embarrassing. I felt like an utter failure, both as a wife and a woman. After all, there are 14-year-olds getting pregnant every day. How hard could it be? And while we did (eventually) get things working, this was hard, infuriating, humiliating and a huge blow to our confidences. And losing confidence in the bedroom before we even found it is not exactly what we had in mind when we imagined our honeymoon night.
Saving sex for marriage is not a guarantee that you will have great sex or that sex will be easy. All it guarantees is that the person you fumble through it with will be someone who has already committed to love you forever. And fortunately, when it comes to sex with someone you’re in a lifelong commitment with, practice really can make perfect.
Boys are visual and sexual, but girls don’t care about sex.
Most women who grew up in the Church cannot even count the times we heard something to this effect: “Boys are very visual and sexual, so even though you aren’t thinking about sex, you need to be careful because you are responsible for not making them stumble.”
Let’s disregard for now how degrading this is toward men and focus on the underlying assumption that boys are sexual and girls aren’t. For years I was told that “girls don’t care about sex.” Well, as it turns out, I do.
This was a deep source of shame for me. For a long time I felt like a freak, until I started to realize that I wasn’t the only one, not by a longshot. As it turns out, most of my friends thought about sex, found things to be sexy and—contrary to youth group teaching—were very “visual.”
But I never knew it because no one would admit it.
Many girls (yes, even Christian girls) think about sex. Many girls (yes, even Christian girls) like sex. This doesn’t make you a freak. It doesn’t make you unfeminine or unnatural. God created us, both men and women, as sexual beings. Enjoying sex makes you a human being created by God, in the image of God, with the capacity and desire to love—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and sexually.
When you get married, you will immediately be able to fully express yourself sexually without guilt or shame.
Many Christians have spent years—from the day they hit puberty until their wedding day—focusing their energy on keeping their sex drives in check. Then, in the space of a few hours, they are expected to stop feeling like their sexuality is something they must carefully control and instead be able to express it freely. And not only that—but express it freely with another person.
Many of us have programmed guilt into ourselves—this is how we keep ourselves in check throughout our dating relationships. And that “red light” feeling we train ourselves to obey doesn’t always go away just because we’ve spoken some vows and signed some papers.
It took me several months to stop having that sick-to-my-stomach guilty feeling every time I was together with my husband. Not everyone experiences this, but for the many people who do, it’s terribly isolating. Once again, we’re experiencing something our churches and communities never acknowledged as a possibility. We feel alone and broken and filled with a profound sense that this isn’t the way it’s meant to be.
I don’t regret waiting until I was married to have sex, and I’m not advocating that churches stop teaching that sex is designed for marriage. But I do think there is something seriously wrong with the way we’ve handled the conversation.
If our reason for saving sex until marriage is because we believe it will make sex better or easier for us, we’re not only setting ourselves up for disappointment, we’re missing the point entirely. Those of us who choose to wait do so because we hold certain beliefs about the sacredness of marriage and about God’s intentions and wishes for humanity, and we honor those regardless of whether they feel easier or harder. In the meantime, we in the evangelical church have a lot of work to do correcting the distorted ways we talk about sex and sexuality, especially to our youth.