“All the boys sat on one side, and the girls on another. Then they passed a rose down the aisle of boys. By the time it got to the end, the petals had fallen or been picked off, and all that was left was a broken stem. They held it up in front of the girls and told them that this was what it was like when you have sex before marriage.”
Recently, someone shared that story with me as an example of an “effective” sex talk given at their church’s youth group.
A lot of us were raised with illustrations like this one, and most of us have heard similar analogies. The overall takeaway is that when it comes to our sexuality, we all fall into one of two categories: we’re either a picture of beauty and perfection, or we’re damaged goods.
There are a lot of lies about sex and relationships making the rounds in our culture and in our churches. Sometimes, we hear a message repeated so often, or by a trusted leader like a pastor or teacher, that we begin to latch onto ideas that are not only untrue, but that can do some real damage to our view of God and ourselves in the long run.
The Baggage We Carry
In reality, it’s not as black and white as “have sex before marriage and you’ll be like this battered rose,” which implies that when you wait for marriage, you’ll be spot-free and in perfect shape. Everyone, virgin before marriage or not, carries some sort of baggage.
We were created with a natural, God-given desire for connection, relationships and intimacy. But we are flawed people who are born desiring connection in a broken world. We’re likely going to make a misstep, internalize an untruth or two, pick up an expectation here and there, and wind up carrying some baggage or false beliefs along with us on the road to relationship.
There are virgins who go into marriage with a sense of guilt about sex or unrealistic expectations for their spouse. There are people who made all the right decisions outwardly who secretly foster a porn addiction, or who idolize the idea of marriage and family. There are men and women who have been hurt, lied to or mistreated in a past relationship who will carry those wounds with them into marriage.
The truth is, we’ve all got something in our hearts that probably needs to be addressed. We all have an issue, a hang up or an expectation that could stifle our personal growth or prevent us from entering into a relationship like marriage as a healthy and whole person.
We all, without exception, need a Savior to step in, help us overcome our pasts, our messes and our shortcomings, and teach us how to love. Regardless of our current or future marital status, it’s worth taking a look in the mirror to see if there’s a speck or two in our eye that needs removing.
Examining the Lies
When it comes to undoing the lies we’ve internalized about sex, a great place to start is with the messages that we’re surrounded by day in and day out. The people we spend the most time with, the places we go and the media we consume all have something to tell us about ourselves and about sex. We are influenced, even if subtly over time, by the people and voices that we allow into our lives.
So, does our inner circle of friends affirm God’s high value placed on sex? Do the shows, movies and music we gravitate toward reflect respect for our bodies and souls? Does our church recognize we’re all sexual beings craving intimacy, needing accountability and grace while striving for obedience to Christ in this area?
Once we’ve established who we can lean on for truth, the next challenge is being honest with those people.
Let’s face it: It’s awkward to admit to weaknesses and struggles when it comes to our sexuality. Whether an addiction to sexual images or behaviors, a relationship we know deep down isn’t healthy, or even a few deep-seated insecurities we’ve just never voiced aloud, it’s tough to be that real and vulnerable with other people.
Yet, the Bible tells us, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16).
God never qualified this encouragement with, “confess some of your sins” or “share what you feel comfortable.” He tells us simply to confess our sins to other believers, not because they’re better than us, but because they understand. They have sins too. And together, we can offer each other truth and grace and put those sins at the feet of Jesus, rather than foster them in privacy or cover them up in shame.
Lastly, we might benefit from setting aside a few days or weeks every so often to re-set our minds in this area by focusing in on what the Bible has to say about love, sex and who we are, while shutting out the other voices that compete for our attention.
It might even be helpful to take a break from our favorite shows, to put down the books, podcasts or blog posts and simply sit with God and His word.
We might find that His voice speaks louder than the subtle lies we’ve picked along the way, even the ones we didn’t realize we were carrying with us. Ultimately, we don’t fall into categories like “pure” or “damaged goods.” We were created with good desires, but we seek to express them in a broken world. None of us get by without picking up a bump or a bruise along the way.
Yet Jesus offers us a chance to set aside the lies, the shame, the self-righteousness and the misconceptions that we carry. He gives us a chance to renew our hearts and minds. It starts by setting our affections on Him first. He welcomes us, inviting us to come to Him again and again in our weakness and in our misunderstanding. He offers us an eternal perspective that far exceeds our limited earthly view.
And we find, in Him, no categories, labels, false expectations, baggage to carry, disappointment or jadedness. Simply a Savior who knows and understands us better than we could ever know ourselves, and invites us to walk with Him in truth.