What Sexuality Looks Like if You're Single

It's more than just 'wait for marriage.'

The Church has a lot—a lot—to say about healthy sexuality within marriage. But what about sexuality beyond the scope of marriage?

Our knee-jerk responses to any questions about sexuality have been reminiscent of purity culture, with slogans like “save yourself”, “flee”, and the like. With a strong emphasis on conjugally expressed sexuality, it becomes easy to believe that anything and everything else is inappropriate.

It is almost as if we believe that true Christianity means living as an asexual person until your wedding day (and after that, we mistakenly promise sexual nirvana.) And with the broader culture adopting an almost a-marital view of sex, singles in the Church are left in an awkward spot.

Debra Hirsch, author of the Redeeming Sex, is on a mission to encourage Christians toward a more integrated—and biblical—view of sexuality. She helpfully distinguishes between "social sexuality" and "genital sexuality."

Social sexuality constitutes all the relationships in our basic social network and friendship circles. Since God created humans as male and female, all our relationships with other people are intrinsically sexual in that we relate as men or as women. Social sexuality, then, reflects the basic human need we experience as men and women for intimacy and connection.

The other is a much narrower expression of our sexuality, specifically referring to our longing for connection on more erotic levels, ranging from a purely physical act (if there is such a thing) to all the stuff of romance, wooing, chemistry and so forth.

Every relationship we have encompasses our social sexuality, while only spouses share a certain kind of sexual relationship. Sexuality, then, is much bigger than just sex and what happens in a married couple’s bedroom.

Everyone Needs Sexual Relationships

As Christians, it’s important to understand this, not least because not everyone will experience the actual act of sex, but because everyone can and should experience meaningful relationships within their social sexual friendships.

Every relationship we have within the church family, for example, is not just with “fellow believers,” but with brothers or sisters: gendered, healthy expressions of familial connection.

So for single people, what does it mean to experience and express our sexuality appropriately?

There is certainly great truth in the comfort that we can and should find fulfillment in God. Where life brings loneliness or insecurity in our identity, the Gospel promises that we are loved, accepted and made complete in Christ. Our fullest and truest selves as men and women are found in our being divine image-bearers. God promises that He draws near to those who take refuge in Him. When you’re in the awkward place of “waiting for marriage,” these words can be both balm and anchor to loneliness.

But I don’t think that’s enough.

Sexuality Isn’t Just About Sex

I believe it is not enough to tell Christians to redirect all their sexual longings in a spiritual way, since spirituality and sexuality express distinct and different elements of our lives. While spirituality is oriented around our longing to connect with God, sexuality has to do with our longing to connect meaningfully with people.

Understood this way, sexuality is not the enemy of our spirituality, but the complement. And spirituality in itself was never meant to be the complete “answer” to our sexuality, for as Rob Bell eloquently explored in Sex God, we believe God made us both sexual and spiritual beings.

In response to our human longings (both spiritual and sexual), God has given us more than Himself, He has also given us His people. “He places the lonely in families,” says Psalm 68:6.

The Christian community, far from being a place where our relational longings should be suppressed and ignored, is uniquely positioned to meet those needs. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, we have spiritual fathers and mothers: our relationships in the church as men and women with other men and women should be an expression of the warmest and healthiest gendered relationships.

Dispelling the Cultural Myth

If sexuality, at its core, expresses our longing for love and our desire to connect intimately with others, we need to reclaim the words “love” and “intimacy.” Just like we tend to think of sexuality immediately and mistakenly as only the act of having sex, so too our language of love and intimacy needs to be rescued from the clutches of a highly eroticized world.

You’ve heard the culture’s throwaway line to those struggling with being single: “You need to get laid.” But the truth is that when we experience sexual longing, it may not be actual sex that we need.

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We may need to be listened to, we may need someone to laugh with, we may need company. These are needs—sexual needs, broadly defined—that the Church should be ready to meet with joy. We should be able to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (or a more culturally acceptable hug) without such physical and relational contact being viewed with suspicion and fear.

Sexual addictions are frequently touted as being the scourge of the modern church, and our answer to people struggling has too often been a simple, “flee from immorality!” Instead of this, maybe we need a more robust answer that acknowledges that there are legitimate and good longings we experience, even though we often seek to meet them in broken and eroticized ways. Denying our sexual longings is not working for anyone.

The Church needs to make space for healthy and positive sexuality. God created us with bodies, and our longings and leanings are not something we should treat with abhorrence or shame. I, for one, would love to see us explore open conversation with our brothers and sisters, courageously identifying what our deeper longings are, and how we can meet those in community.

Whether married or single, our sexuality reflects part of God’s good design in creating us as relational beings. Let’s love each other holistically, and well.

Top Comments



Grace commented…

You've just nailed why I hate the Christian 'side hug' so much! It's always bothered me and now I get it. When (usually married) men do it to me, it seems to be saying, 'I can't touch you oh-single-person or I might combust into a ball of flaming lust'.

For me, as a person, who, outside of family, is very rarely touched, I'm shouting inside, 'JUST GIVE ME A HUG'.

It's not a sexual thing at all. It's just that craving to be touched/hugged in a non-sexual way by another human being. It's a legitimate need and the 'side hug' somehow dehumanises me. Or at least that's how I feel.

Great article - bit of a lightbulb moment.

Michael Johnson


Michael Johnson commented…

This is probably one of the most confusing posts I've read on relationships on Relevant.

You said: "We may need to be listened to, we may need someone to laugh with, we may need company. These are needs—sexual needs..."

I can't even begin to imagine how defining needs like that as sexual clarifies anything. Those are needs for intimacy.

To be sure our need for intimacy is FAR BIGGER than sexuality. I think that's what you're getting at, but to write an article encouraging singles to express their sexuality in a hyper-sexualized culture... and then say, "I mean laugh with people" is misguided.

No one in our culture needs to be encouraged to express their sexuality. We instead need to be awakened to our greater need for intimacy (to know and be known), of which marital sexual expression is only a shadow and non-marital sexual express is only a cheap imitation.




Eliza commented…

The information in this article frustrates me. I mean, it's all good. Yes, we all need intimacy and connection; yes, all kinds of physical touch are important; yes, you acknowledge that we are all sexual creatures. But is this really all we have to say to single people? I was single till my early 30s, and remember feeling sexually bereft. "The truth is that when we experience sexual longing, it may not be actual sex that we need." Huh? No, I'm pretty sure I needed sex. I'm very glad for the moral values I was raised with; I'm glad I 'saved myself' for my husband, but I wasted so much energy feeling guilty for masturbating. Why do evangelicals deprive single people of even this simple pleasure? If I could speak to my twentysomething self, I'd say Love God, love your neighbour, buy a vibe and quit worrying.



Juan commented…

so many words to end up in the same place....

edgar fishbine


edgar fishbine commented…


I am old, so maybe I should be banned, because what I want to say is not relevant. Our Father created us with desires, without desire we would not move or engage with other people. We were created with a body, soul, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

In Ephesians 5:31-32, we are given a picture of what the coming together of what a man and women in marriage. The sexual relationship within marriage is a foretaste of what we will encounter with the Trinity in heaven. The desire for sex is for connection greater than with another person, it is pointing us beyond ourselves to The Trinity and living in their love. To have sex outside of marriage or to masturbate is to totally miss the design of sexual intimacy. Being Known and loved unconditionally without any shame is what we are invited to through Salvation through Jesus Christ. I know many men because of illness of their wives are not able to be sexually engaged with wife and they see no need to masturbate even though they have strong sex drive. They know that their body belongs to their wives and in no way would they want to dishonour the meaning of sexual intimacy and settle for the thrill of orgasm with out connecting to their wife. Love is truly greater than sex, if you haven't come to encounter the love of the Father, then sex is a right which you will choose for your own satisfaction, alone and disconnected from it's original design.



J replied to edgar fishbine's comment

Hey age has nothing to do with wisdom, or sharing wisdom, or with singleness, or sexuality or intimacy. So go for it, keep sharing your wisdom.

I appreciated the article. It made more sense to me to hear it put this way: social sexuality and physical sexuality.

I just had a night dream this week (I see these as God speaking in parables to me about me). And the dream was a rebuke and warning for myself, regarding my conscious behaviour with various Christian men from a few ministries I am involved with. (Oh nothing serious happened but it is not always helpful behaviour if sustained)!

I still am seeking Him for the final interpretation and application of this night dream, but the essence is about how I am going to choose to spend my time with others particularly men and especially while I am waiting for a new season to open for me. The social sexuality I was seemingly expressing or they individually were sharing with me, was brought to my attention through my conscience. It was at that stage I began to wonder, was it okay social sexuality and what is blurring on the edges of not okay social sexuality - especially as I reflected each of these men in ministry were married. Some older than me and others younger than me.

So I am in the phase of learning where and what about the boundaries of fun-loving and freedom... yet staying safe in my heart and desires, during each interaction. What is that space that keeps us from crossing into the blurred boundary of 'enough'. What are the behaviours, the nuances, the intentions, the motives??? that would get us over that boundary I question. (so that I DONT cross that boundary but stay WITHIN the safety and freedom of God's design for human relations, without fear).

I am very grateful for the night dream inspired by God. This is a serious area of learning that I WANT to become aligned with.

I want to be a blessing to God, to my self, and to the body of Christ, not wasting time worrying if I have done something wrong or been a temptress, or been led astray by another even in fragment of a minor way etc.

I want to be a joyfilled single, with or without any hopes of marriage. I want to enjoy my life on earth before I meet my Lord face to face. I want to be living without regrets. So I want to learn how to align with my Maker's plans for my personality and fun-loving-ness, His talents and perfect will.

But regarding marriage... what is the value of marriage when you hit the mature aged end of the spectrum of life (to which I am heading). Surely there is more social and intimate sexuality than sex-sexuality. If there is marriage planned by Him in the future, in these later years of life, then I want it to be as Edgar F. has noted. I want to experience such sexuality that imitates the intimacy the trinity has. Towards knowing a oneness that the union of a man and woman can bring.

Surely ALL our life this side of heaven is about growing our intimacy with Jesus, who is to be our Bride Groom, as we are the BODY of Christ, His Bride. Growing in our sexuality socially and (if married) sexually.

This is my goal and day dream, to be intimate with the Intimate one. With or without a sex-sexuality partner (marriage).

I want to be ready with oil in my lamp when my Lord, the Bridegroom comes.
This is my heart's desire.
This keeps my heart seeking.
This does not take away my tactility and fragility in that.
But I have to resist as I got burnt from many regrets associated with this before I gave my life to Christ over 25years ago.

I hope this is helpful for some at least.

Blessing to all singles - be true to The Lord, our Bridegroom and ensure you have oil in your lamp when he arrives. That's my prayer for every person.

Hennie la Grange


Hennie la Grange commented…

I like this. In response to one comment: it will be a talking point for some time yet. And so it should be. It's worth the effort. What the article does, is seek to find new ways to talk about sexuality. We Christians don't talk about it nearly enough (and when we do, we seem to start by admitting sheepishly that we all "fall short" - read: do as I tell you rather than do as I do). At the start of such openness, there is bound to be confusion with definitions as we try to find language that works. And while some of that new language will entail reclaiming words like "love" and "intimacy", we may need to find wholly new terminology to remain distinctively Christian. I applaud the author's statement that there are "needs—sexual needs, broadly defined—that the Church should be ready to meet with joy."

Michael Murphy


Michael Murphy commented…

We live in a fallen world. Sexuality is hardly understood to be a family thing or a gift from God. I flew from immorality because it makes me intensely aware that I am entering into temptation. I don't like sexual temptation because it's something I refrain from and desperately seek to satisfy desires that I couldn't get filled the healthy way. You are correct about needing something else and filling it with sex. There is much danger in this method for stress relieving. Like smoking cigarettes we train ourselves to relieve our stress by turning to sexually gratifying ourselves and ignoring our real longing for a relationship with God and waiting for his heavenly blessing. Be careful with using ROB BELL as a credible source or reference. ROB BELL denies the existence of an eternal hell. Peace be with you. The church is the bride of Christ. Marriage is the reflection of Christ and the church. Be like your Father in heaven for he is perfect. We have an advocate with the Father if we ever mess up and sin. He who says they have no sin is a liar and makes God a liar. Take heart and have courage beloved! Or savior is never changing.

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