4 Lies the Church Taught Me About Sex

Girls don't care about sex and three other lies I've had to unlearn.

I’ve heard people say that growing up as an evangelical meant they never talked about sex. This wasn’t my experience. I grew up in the thick of evangelical purity culture and we talked about sex A LOT. We just spent all of that time talking about how and why NOT to have it.

As someone who waited until I was married to have sex, I was assured that 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.

I started to wonder if maybe the expectations themselves were wrong. Maybe what I’d been told or inferred about post-marital sex simply wasn’t true.

Here are four of the biggest lies about sex I believed before marriage

1. 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!”

I heard similar things from parents, teachers, church leaders and books. In my church 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 me that any physical contact was a slippery slope straight into the jaws of fornication.

Despite what Hollywood says, clothes do not take themselves off and bodies do not magically and effortlessly fit together.

On this side of things, I can honestly say that there are SO many conscious decisions you have to make between kissing and having sex. 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.

2. If you wait until you are married to have sex, 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 sex. 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 just 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. I felt like an utter failure, both as a wife and a woman. And while we did (eventually) get things working, this was hard, frustrating, embarrassing and a huge blow to our confidences.

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.

3. Girls don’t care about sex.

As a teenager and young adult I cannot count the times I 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 has been 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. 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.

Many girls (yes, even Christian girls) think about sex. Many girls (yes, even Christian girls) like sex. This doesn’t make you a freak.

4. 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.

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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, but 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 these regardless of whether they feel easier or harder. In the meantime, we in the evangelical church has a lot of work to do correcting the distorted ways we talk about sex and sexuality, especially to our youth.

Editor's Note: This story was originally posted in June 2014.

Top Comments

Jett Farrell-Vega


Jett Farrell-Vega commented…

Wow, I could stand up and applaud for this article. I've actually wanted to write something like this ever since my wedding night four years ago, and I never got around to it. What Lily says here is absolutely true, and it's important for couples heading into marriage to be aware of this, as well as couples who waited only to find more frustration and disappointment than they expected on the other side of the honeymoon.

I was very surprised at the negative backlash in the comments. All I can say is #1 Each person's experience with sex is different. There are people who insist that because they had a great wedding night, that women who claim sex was painful or difficult their first time were just "doing it wrong". The truth is, that's ridiculous, and its the type of stuff that 90% of churches don't have the faintest clue how to address. Each couple is wired different. What the Bible says about waiting is solid truth, and I think the author did a fine job sticking to that truth while addressing difficult realities.

#2 I didn't get the impression at all that the author was knocking chastity before marriage or that she was simply bitter. Honestly, having been in her exact position, she has good reason to be upset. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to well-meaning misinformation that is proliferated through evangelical churches that devastates many young women who waited for marriage. The sense I got is that she's being honest about an issue that is important: over-simplifying staying pure. There is no surefire formula, and without the Holy Spirit, it's a difficult and frustrating game before and after marriage. It's definitely full of rewards and well worth it, but it's not a golden ticket to reckless nights of passion like some of us were taught.

My husband and I waited for our wedding night. To this day, I'll stick by it-- it was one of the best decisions we ever made. The benefits are numerous, and there certainly are many... However, its not without hardship. Our wedding night was a disaster too. Same thing, bodies wouldn't cooperate. Over the course of four years, we've learned a lot, but there are still so many things that we realized we were taught incorrectly (by loving, well-meaning teachers) when we were growing up in church. I'm now a youth pastor, and while I remain sensitive to being appropriate, I take it very seriously making sure that both the young men *and* the young women are better prepared to understand what sex, intimacy, and marriage mean.

Lily, I know you've gotten some negative comments. People have their opinions, and that's to be respected, but frankly, I think a lot of the people knocking this article don't understand what its like to be in this situation. I do. Thank you for having the courage to make this subject known, and thank you Relevant for publishing it. This is important, and I encourage other readers to not be offended by this information, but to consider it carefully and seriously, keeping in mind those who would be greatly encouraged if these four items of misinformation were addressed with greater care.

Niana Marie Santana


Niana Marie Santana commented…

Has anyone figured out how to have a healthy physical relationship leading up to marriage? As someone who is engaged to be married with a history of sex in the past, how can we keep our commitment to wait until our wedding day without creating that reflex of guilt? Any advice from you marrieds who waited?


Kaleigh Stromp


Kaleigh Stromp commented…

I too am surprised by the negative comments. When I read this I was so happy because I could finally show and express to my husband what I have been going through. He never understood why I had a negative outlook on sex or what I was going through to over come my struggles with opening up. This article finally said what I have been trying to say for years. Everyone's experience is different and unfortunately I was raised in a very similar religious setting where holding hands or hugging to long was frowned upon. Thank you so much for writing this article it is so refreshing and is so nice to know I am not the only one who felt this way. Bravo!

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

Thank you! These are excellent words of caution. Another matter that is not adequately covered is the fact that sex always makes the top list of sources of marital conflict. Why is this? I wrote a brief piece about this here - https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/sex-and-marriage/

Ricki Lee Brooks


Ricki Lee Brooks commented…

Perhaps the article should have been titled "4 Lies I Learned During My Church Experience." While I am sympathetic to your plight and agree with you on some points, painting the Church with such a broad brush is just not right. Not every pastor, parent, or whatever teaches abstinence in the context of biblical truth in this way. Your concern about the over-the-top teaching you received about relationships, physical and emotional activity, and marriage has been matched by your equally over-the-top remarks. I am looking forward to the day we will see the editors of so many of our Christian publications bring an end to this style...and require more balance from their writers. Right now it's epidemic. Praying. And thank you for allowing me to comment.

Marty Pena


Marty Pena commented…

Check out this article about the battle for purity at: https://my32cents.wordpress.com/

Greg Johnson


Greg Johnson commented…

There are so many comments I could make related to this! I do agree that this doesn't fit ALL churches, but it certainly describes some, and there are many that are even worse at imparting a warped and worldly view of something that God created and meant to be pleasurable and bonding.

Seeking to add some new "skills" my wife and I attended a weekend-long tantric sex workshop once, and although the leaders weren't Christians, it was kind of embarrassing that their viewpoint about sex was so much more spiritual than anything I'd EVER heard in any church context. Things like real intimacy, soul-level bonding, and spiritual communion during sex were taught with great passion. Honestly, it felt like a seminar the church should be doing for all newlyweds! I think in general we have a very shallow and humanistic view of sex, even as Christians.

Secondly, there is a ton of immorality happening in the church, even among the married couples. No, not just in MY church... in YOUR church too. Stuff like you see in a Showtime movie.

Thirdly, I was taught that sex outside of marriage isn't truly fun. Obviously, this is a huge lie. It's incredibly fun! The point shouldn't be whether it's pleasurable or not; it should be about the natural destructive consequences of engaging in such behavior.

Lastly, I think we exalt virginity to a ridiculous degree in the church. I understand why we do, and the motivation behind it may be noble and all, but I think it often makes those who haven't grown up religious feel impossibly stained and unwelcome. I think in our self-righteousness we forget that someone who's "kept themself pure" is exactly zero degrees more righteous than a street prostitute in the eyes of God. I've seen churches practically bow down and worship at the Altar of Virginity, which reminds me of some pagan idol worship that was popular in the days of the early church.

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