Do Christians Still Think Sex is Bad? The Contagion Theory of Sexuality

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Uncategorized | 27 comments

Do Christians Think Sex is Bad? The Contagion Theory of Sexuality
Merchandise is Here!

Sheila here for a moment.

The whole time I was writing The Great Sex Rescue, and combing through the materials for terrible quotes, and becoming quite upset about how awful some of them were, Keith took it all in stride. He kept saying, “yes, Sheila, but the evangelical world is still ashamed of sex.”

And I’d fight him on it, and tell him he was wrong. We think sex is a good thing! Look how many books we have of it!

But the more he talked to me about his contagion model of sexuality, and how he thinks this is how evangelicals think of sex, the more I thought he was on to something. I asked him to write it up today for you, so here’s Keith:

 


 

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease.”

Matthew 9:35

My view of what the Bible means by “the gospel” started to change about 15 years ago when I read this verse and found myself thinking, “How could Jesus preach the gospel before his death and resurrection?”

You may find that silly, but I was honestly puzzled. Back then I saw the gospel purely in terms of the four spiritual laws:

  1. God loves us,
  2. our sin separates us from God,
  3. Christ’s death paid for our sin,
  4. if we accept Christ our sins are forgiven.

That was the gospel as far as I was concerned.  Now I am not saying any of that is wrong; I still believe all those things are true. Nor am I saying it is wrong to see these truths as essential to the Christian life or even to emphasize them above other things. Paul himself reports when he was with the Corinthians that “I resolved to know nothing when I was among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). But I have learned that there is a big difference between saying something is a very important or even an essential part of the gospel and saying something is the gospel in its entirety.

At that point in my life, though, I saw the gospel in very simplistic terms, which basically boiled down to saying the “Sinner’s Prayer” and getting a free ticket to heaven.

I saw anything and everything else as superfluous and distracting from the “true message”. But passages like the one above hounded me because they didn’t make sense in light of that interpretation of what the gospel was. I also had a very hard time with these passages about the kingdom of God.

If I am being honest, I think I basically saw the kingdom of God as the name of the club you joined once you got your free ticket into heaven.  I knew it must be more than that, but I had no idea what. Nonetheless, I went around trying to find opportunities to “witness” about Jesus. I would tell anyone I could about the gospel as I understood it, doing my best to get them a free ticket to heaven as well.  In my zeal to do a better job, I decided to study how Jesus interacted with others as I assumed that of all people, he would be the best to help me with my “witnessing”.  That’s when I ran into trouble with the Bible verse that started this post. But even worse, as I read more and more of what Jesus actually said, I found very little of it seemed to fit with a “Four Spiritual Laws” mindset. And it concerned me deeply.

I struggled making sense of this for quite some time.  Eventually, as I developed a richer understanding of the gospel, it has begun to make sense. The key to me was taking Jesus seriously about what he said. Jesus didn’t preach the four spiritual laws at people; he met them where they were and said the healing words that they needed to be truly reconciled to the Father. He was setting up a new kingdom, one that is “not of this world”, but still very real and very powerful.

I realized that the gospel really is good news!

It is the good news that the kingdom of God has arrived. God is reconciling creation to Himself.

In the evangelical church, we have adopted a mindset that God’s kingdom is far off and yet to come. Our goal is to endure this present wicked world until we eventually get away from it and get to heaven.

But Jesus said the kingdom was “among you”, it is “in your midst” and that it has “come upon you”. There is a present reality to the kingdom that we must not neglect. And of course, that makes sense. If the king has come, then the kingdom is here! Now, there certainly is a “not yet” element to the kingdom of God, but there is also a very real “here and now” element, too! Reading some of N.T. Wright’s work and listening to the “Ask N.T. Wright Anything” podcast have really helped me understand this idea about the “already but not yet”—and the whole concept of the kingdom of God in general. God is renewing and redeeming the creation. It will culminate at the end of the age, but the work is already begun. That is the gospel (of which our own salvation is a part).

But what does all this gospel and kingdom stuff have to do with sex?

Well, this expanded view of the gospel deals with more than just payment for sin. It affirms that we live in a good, but fallen, world. The wonderful good news of the gospel isn’t just that someday we will go to heaven, but that even now “Jesus is Lord” and He is redeeming and renewing the creation–and we get to be a part of that! It follows, then, if we interpret human sexuality in that light, our view of sex should be clear:

  1. Human sexuality is good
  2. Like everything else in creation, it has been marred by the fall.
  3. As members of Jesus’ kingdom, we should seek to redeem it and bring it back to the state of health which God intended (as best we can until God ultimately restores all things)

But the view of sexuality I see in evangelical Christianity does not look like this. Rather, it seems to see sexuality as an enemy that needs to be defeated. Why else would purity culture go so viral and do so much damage before anyone ever spoke up about it? Why else would books like the best-selling “Every Man’s Battle” explain that “we find another reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there naturally—simply by being male”?

The Evangelical church may give verbal assent to the idea of sex being a good thing, but it rings hollow based on how they actually talk about sex and sexuality.

Rather than having a redemptive view of sexuality, the evangelical world appears they have adopted what I call a “Contagion Response” model of sexuality.

Basically, it goes like this:

  1. Sexuality is bad.
  2. Unfortunately, God has made men so that they really want sex, so:
  3. We will at least limit this whole sexuality thing to marriage and
  4. To make sure it stays contained there we will tell women to have as much sex as their husband asks for so he won’t be tempted to express his sexuality anywhere else.

I am humorously overstating the point here, but I expect you see elements of truth in what I am saying.

Does the evangelical church believe sex is fundamentally bad? Before you answer, think about how evangelicals actually talk about sex. Especially the fact that until recently we really didn’t.

I remember once telling a matronly Christian woman that Sheila was a Christian author. She asked what Sheila wrote about and when I answered her, she responded, “Oh, why would she ever write about that?” Then I think about all the Christian radio interviews and TV shows where Sheila had to use code words. “Remember to say ‘intimacy’ instead of ‘sex’, okay?” Yes, there is a point to being modest in our speech and avoiding explicit language. But there is a difference about talking about something politely and being embarrassed to talk about it at all. It is clear to me that the evangelical church doesn’t demur to talk about sex because we are trying to be polite; it is because for most evangelicals, sex is something associated with fear and shame.

The Great Sex Rescue

Now Available!

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

But over the last decade or two, the church has experienced a bit of a “sexual reawakening” where a whole host of people have come forward to talk about sex in the Christian context.

Thankfully, some are healthy, like Sheila (or the Penners, authors of The Gift of Sex). But unfortunately, large numbers of them are brazen and disgusting, like Mark Driscoll. And the thing I find remarkable among the unhealthy teachers is how much sex is portrayed as exclusively for men. The assumption is that God made women virtuous models of sexual restraint while men are full of testosterone and desire.  We see this all over the place—from the infamous Missouri preacher ranting how “God made men to look” to Paige Patterson’s disgusting comments about gawking being Biblical. The message is clear, a real man has a healthy God-ordained sex drive. But while we relish our male libido, we are also conflicted about it. As Every Heart Restored says “Men don’t naturally have that Christian view of sex”. It would appear that we men–while we know we shouldn’t–want it anyway.

Church, it is long past time to realize that we have a messed up view of sexuality.

How did we ever get to the point where men are told that your male sexuality at its core is not Christian and that your “male hardwiring” predisposes you to sin? Or that women’s sexuality is exclusively about how they affect men? How did we get to the point where we weaponize 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 against women and warn wives that unless they put out, husbands will likely turn to porn or have an affair? Even if we thought these things were true, how could we ever have seen them as part of God’s perfect plan?

Thankfully, there is another way. God did create sexuality and it is good. Yes, we need to listen to God about how to make sex all it is supposed to be. Yes, we will be happiest in our sexuality if we follow His plan. But it is clear that not everybody out there who is claiming to speak for God really is.  You need to be discerning about what you take in.

If you read or hear things from so called Christian resources and they steal, kill and destroy your sex life, think about where they are actually coming from.

Jesus came not to steal, kill and destroy, but that we may have life and life abundantly. If something is not from Jesus, you should reject it.

It is time for a Christianity that deals with more than sin management till we get to heaven. That is milk and by now we should be on to solid food.  It is time for wholeness. It is time to reject destructive, toxic teachings and instead to honestly seek to be God’s co-laborers in building a Church where people become increasingly healthy in every aspects of our lives – including sexuality.

The Contagion Theory of Sexuality: Do Christians Think Sex is Bad?

What do you think? Do we have a “contagion” model of sexuality, where sex is bad, so let’s keep it to marriage and let’s make women make sure it doesn’t spill over anywhere else? How do we counter this? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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27 Comments

  1. AspenP

    100% well said Keith! It is a cheapened gospel that focuses on sin management.

    Reply
    • DWL

      I appreciate what you all are doing, but sex is no different a topic in Christianity as far as ministers having different or wrong views.
      Ministers – and enire denominations – differ on free will vs predestination, healing & tongues vs cessation, once saved always saved vs a person rejecting their salvation, even salvation thru grace vs works, baptism in a certain name, or taking communion from a priest.
      And surveying 20,000 women on these doctrinal views above would not be the correct way to discover “the truth” on these theological topics. And sex is also a theological topic.
      What is true is roughly 40% of women were sexually taken advantage of in their childhood or youth, and more than half of boys & men have been influenced by pornography.
      This is where most of the warped views toward sex have come from, not “ministers” who have written books on sex (which I would wager not even one such book has been read by even 10% of Christians, from my experience).
      Thank you for laboring to help couples on this topic. Just stay humble and don’t swell up with pride or arrogance — 1st Timothy 3:6.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        DWL, there’s no doubt that porn has played a huge factor and sexual abuse has played a huge role. But we also found statistically significant effects of these beliefs. These beliefs DO matter, and often the effects are compounded by porn and abuse–but they do make it worse. Conversely, when someone is abused but does NOT believe these things, they do much better. There is not always a single cause. And while we can’t go back in time and stop someone from being abused, we can stop spreading harmful messages about sex.

        Reply
  2. M

    And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” Galatians 3:8 (ESV)
    This is another interesting scripture stating the true and full good news of the Gospel.
    God loves us and wants us to be connected to Him and blessed by Him!
    It really is good news!! He preached it to Abraham! All people are included in the invitation:)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is interesting when you start to follow all these little threads, isn’t it?

      Reply
      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        You find out how Deep the Rabbit Hole goes.

        Reply
  3. Alex

    Home Run! Great article. Keep on preaching, Keith!

    Reply
  4. Hannah H

    Keith, thank you so so much. It’s encouraging to hear a couple presenting a united front on this issue where both of you are clearly so passionate about bringing the truth to others. I’ve always heard the message “sex is good, but…” with a hundred caveats and warnings about guarding your heart, etc. Of course being careful about sexuality is fine! But I’ve only ever heard discussions about it couched in delicately phrased terms.
    My parents were (and are) so uncomfortable with the topic that they avoided it at all costs. I remember my mom trying to give me “the talk” when I was a young teen and being so embarrassed and squirmy that she never gave me the full “talk”! I’d been taught that sex was a taboo thing that wasn’t to be discussed until right before marriage. I’ve noticed the same thing with the pastors counseling me and my friends as we approach our weddings. It’s “intimacy” or “marital relations”, not “sex”. Thank you for being straightforward and unashamed about something that, frankly, no one should be ashamed of. Toxic shame hurts both men and women of the church and I hope you’ll continue to address this!

    Reply
  5. Em

    Sheila, I’m glad you have this platform so that Keith could share this with so many people. 😛 This is going to be something I read again and again and think about. My husband and I have been talking about Jesus lately and this fits right in.
    It is also a good example of a way to study Scripture. First you have to actually read it. Then when a verse or concept is in your head that you can’t quite let go of, learn all you can about it. Be open to the idea that what you learn might not fit into your theology.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Dorthea

    This is quite insightful, thank you! I used to think sexuality was something I only needed to know about for my marriage, outside of building up a healthy marriage it wasn’t relevant and yes it was embarrassing to talk about so I didn’t. But I’m seeing more how relevant it is to our culture and many of the current hot topics being discussed in our headlines-daily. I think how the church has handled/mishandled sexuality has lead to many of the problems we are now seeing and how vital it is to get to a healthy view of sexuality. If we Christians won’t talk openly, honestly, and respectfully about this then who will? And is that really a good thing?

    Reply
  7. Katie Savannah

    Something I appreciate so much about everyone in the To Love, Honor, & Vacuum family is that you ALWAYS point us towards scripture instead of merely stating your opinion. This article is 100% right on the money and I have already shared it with several friends.
    When we distort the gospel, we distort everything. And if the lens through which we see the world is warped by that distortion of the gospel, how are we supposed to see the reconciliation and restoration that is happening right before our eyes, ESPECIALLY with sex? Thank you all for the language and the tools to communicate the truth of God’s word and His plan!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • WestCoast

      We have been listening to Mark Driscoll’s sermons online recently. Was dismayed to hear you think he has some bad views on sex. Could you please link to the article/sermon of his you’re referencing? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        He’s sad some quite awful things about sex–women being penis homes; having to fall on their knees and service their husbands with oral sex because they’re “repentant women”, etc. It’s been widely covered in media, but here’s one article that sums most of it up.

        Reply
      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Shiela:
        Which is why to me he will always remain “Deep Throat Driscoll”.
        He also has a THING about the other end of the alimentary canal.
        Yet another unwanted peek into a ManaGAWD’s Sexual “Proclivities”/Kinks.

        Reply
  8. Andrea

    The best caricature I’ve heard of purity culture is this: “Sex is filthy and disgusting, and you should save it for the one person you truly love.”

    Reply
      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Like South Park, funny because it’s true.

        Reply
  9. Lisa

    Maybe I missed something, but it seems the author only told us what he did not agree with concerning his perceptions of the evangelical message concerning sex. However, I don’t think I read specifically what he thought the message should be. Mostly, I heard him say what and who was wrong…but what is right? I don’t think I got that from this blog. Again, maybe I missed something. So, what does a believer do with a sex drive that would be happy to express itself outside of marriage? I didn’t hear him address that. Yes, God is the author of sex. However, He is not the author of the misuse of sex. That is Satan’s department, and sadly he has done quite well with it.

    Reply
    • Aubri

      I’m a believer with a sex drive that is happy to express itself outside of marriage . . . and I allowed it to do so. Contrary to what I had been told by all the “experts” — namely highschool youth-group leaders at girls-only Bible studies — on such things, losing my virginity shortly after arriving at college didn’t mess me up psychologically or otherwise ruin my life. I didn’t sleep around, yet I didn’t work overtime trying to avoid sex, either, and some sort of sex play just seemed to naturally go with dating. At age 29, I met met my now husband, and all is well; he didn’t have a problem with my lack of virginity (would have been hypocritical) or that my number (9) was higher than his (4). I think it’s sweet when people get married young and don’t go all the way until their wedding night, but failure to fit that fanciful standard doesn’t mean your life is ruined.

      Reply
  10. Emmy

    Very good article, thank you! Sometimes it is lovely to read a good rant!
    I have one question: what is gawking? I have never seen that word before.

    Reply
      • Emmy

        Right! Thanks!

        Reply
  11. Headless Unicorn Guy

    You may find that silly, but I was honestly puzzled. Back then I saw the gospel purely in terms of the four spiritual laws

    Four Spiritual Laws… Did you experience Campus Crusade or Calvary Chapel?
    Fun Fact: The Four Spiritual Laws are a direct knockoff of the four section headings of The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits).

    Reply
  12. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Rather than having a redemptive view of sexuality, the evangelical world appears they have adopted what I call a “Contagion Response” model of sexuality.

    Contagion as in COVID, AIDS, Black Death, or Smallpox?
    i.e. Sex as a Communicable DISEASE.
    Though in my experience, sex CAN act like a virus infecting a cell. During my time in various fandoms, I have noticed that when you introduce sex into a lot of the creative arts, the sex takes over until sex is all that’s left. Sex + Anything = Sex. Like a virus hijacking a cell to make more virii – Virus + Cell = more Virus. Saw this in Furry Fandom (where it’s a running joke), saw this in a lot of third-party fanfics, fanart, and fannish derivative works (I already know Twilight Sparkle is a mare; do you have to give me a gynecological close-up?).

    Reply
  13. Headless Unicorn Guy

    How did we get to the point where we weaponize 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 against women and warn wives that unless they put out, husbands will likely turn to porn or have an affair?

    “I’m gonna have about fifty kids. And my wife can’t do a thing about it because she’s Catholic. She gives me any lip, I take her right out to the boat pond: ‘Pope says you gotta do it — Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!'”
    — Bill “Pill” Cosby, in one of his (eerily prophetic) early albums

    Reply
  14. Tory

    I think christians went all Pharisee when it came to sex. They meant well! God set down some rules like sex should be between a husband and wife.
    But christians thought that wasn’t enough; so they added rules such as if you really want to be pure and impress God with your holiness, don’t even kiss until your wedding day! In fact, avoid touching altogether lest it causes you to (gasp) lust! And have a chaperone supervise your dates! Don’t even THINK about sex, it is forbidden! Don’t touch your body and if you do, repent of your sin at once! God set the standard and we immediately added to it. It was well-meaning but misguided. I’m glad you’re changing the narrative 🙂

    Reply
  15. Brandi

    I just found your webpage while searching for some information to help me. I am having a hard time with my Christian life and sexuality. I am currently 45 years old and single. I am in no way sexuality promiscuous. This is so hard to try to describe so I am just going to do the best I can. Why do I feel so bad for having sexual thoughts? Why does it scare me to think if I get in a relationship that does not end in marriage that sex with that person will be considered wrong and I will have sinned? Why do I feel bad for thinking I might want to have sex with a man I\’m dating and it not end in marriage? I stay in such a turmoil about this. I have been single for ten years and am now thinking of getting back into the dating world but I am so CONFLICTED when it comes to the intimate part of the relationship and how to handle it in a way that will not be displeasing to God! If I am in a relationship in which I deeply love the other person and am committed to only that person why do I feel if I have sex with them I will be a \”bad person\” because that relationship may not end in marriage. Is there anyway you could please help me and maybe give light to this subject for me!! Thank you so much!!!!

    Reply

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