There are no lack of posts these days about how the Church has misled entire generations when it comes to sex. It is a stark example of the best of intentions gone wrong. What began as a reaction to an increasingly sex-obsessed culture has unraveled into an avoidance of the obvious (at best) or a guilt-laden, shame filled diatribe (at worst).
Plenty of articles have been written to expose those lies in an effort to help us let go of misguided thinking. Until you understand where your beliefs have gone astray, you won’t see the need to change them.
But then what?
I had a professor in college who would often complain that politicians who merely criticized their opponents position without giving an alternative idea were merely creating straw men. It’s easy to point out where the Church has failed, but what ideas should replace the misguided thinking and damaging teaching?
Here are a few cornerstones that need to shape the way the Church should talk about sex going forward.
1. There is No Limit to Grace.
When did we start ranking sins on a scale of lesser to greater? Often, we tend to categorize having sex outside of marriage as a worse sin than lying on your tax returns but not as bad a sin as murder. The consequences of sex outside of God’s best may be more noticeable than other sins, but in the eyes of God, sin is sin. All of it offends and all of it impacts our relationship with Him.
But Christ’s blood also covers all sin. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy estimates that 80 percent of unmarried 18-29 year olds who identify as evangelicals have had sex. And 64 percent have done so within the last year.
Church, that is your audience: an imperfect group of people struggling to practice holiness and failing at times. All of us wrestle with how to live out our sexuality in a holy way. What is heartbreaking is what the Barna group points out in their book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, that many of these same young Christians wonder how many times they can be forgiven before grace runs out.
In our conversations and attitudes about sex, we are underestimating the power of both sin and grace. Rather than focus on shaming, blaming and everything we are not supposed to do as Christians, what if we emphasized what Christians can say yes to: stunningly beautiful extravagant and endless grace bought for us when none of us was worthy.
2. Sex is Spiritual, Physical and Emotional.
Sex feels good. Really good sometimes.
But great sex is not just about the body getting it on. The best sex is both sacred and sensual.
As Ann Voskamp so beautifully writes, “Your skin is the outside layer of your soul.” As Christians, we can offer a perspective that embraces the whole person: mind, body and soul. One that does not sever us into different pieces to be compartmentalized but allows our hearts to fully embrace and be embraced while our bodies are also enjoying the pleasure for which we were designed.
The Church has done well elevating the spiritual aspect of sex, but often to the exclusion of the physical. Too many Christian individuals have entered into marriage terrified of sex, or worse, struggling with how to no longer view it as sinful and shameful when they enjoy it with their spouse.
On the flip side, our culture often teaches that sex is purely physical, ignoring the emotional and spiritual aspects that are incredibly important.
We need to be taught how to hold ourselves in the tension of body and soul, to be able to applaud sex in all of its glory without idealizing it.
3. If You’re Married, Invest In Your Sex Life.
How are we supposed to get the next generation excited about waiting for marriage if the example we show is that marriage kills your sex life?
Of course, sex is not the primary focus of marriage, but it is an important part of intimacy and connectedness. Generally, married couples should be having vibrant, rich sex lives. If they’re struggling with that (and there are plenty of legitimate reasons they might be), then the Church needs to encourage, equip and come alongside to help make that happen. We need to be honest about the fears, insecurities and faulty thinking that may be hindering our intimacy and not be afraid to ask for help.
But it may be that our expectations are smothering our sex lives. The world says that sex is about you and your fulfillment. The result: an understanding of sex that is shriveled by selfishness. We are like Hollywood when we expect marriage to make every sexual experience passionate and pleasurable. As Christians, we need to be reminded that the purpose of sex is best realized when it involves not simply taking what we want, but giving of oneself to another—giving of body, emotions, insecurities, fears and expectations in loving adoration, wonder and service. Sex for the self can just as easily be satisfied in masturbation. But that misses the joy, the unity, the self-giving and unconditional acceptance that are inherent to a sexual ethic that is both sacred and sensual.
We all live with unmet desires, which can either be a tool for drawing us closer to Christ or a reason for us to pull away. God cares too much about the eternal person we are becoming to allow us everything we want here, never needing Him or reaching out to Him to complete us and strengthen us.
When we fail to pursue and promote a vibrant sex life that embraces the whole person, we miss the opportunity to present the best position on sex. “Great sex is a parable of the Gospel—to be utterly accepted in spite of your sin, to beloved by the One you admire to the sky,” writes Tim Keller. As Christians, we should be the most sex-positive people in our culture because we have a glimpse of its purpose: to refine our eternal radiance even as we enjoy physical pleasure.
Based out of Los Angeles, Joanna Hyatt is an international speaker on dating, relationships and sex, and the author of The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents. She blogs at joannahyatt.com and tweets @JoannaHyatt.