Have we missed the boat on sexual integrity?
I was hoping to do a series on honoring God with a new sexual ethic, but I overpromised. Keith and I have our marriage book due in March, and I’m frantically trying to write it, and I spent so much of Monday and Tuesday of this week on the phone with Joanna going over some super cool new findings–so I’m not getting a lot of blog writing done!
And I’ve realized this series was going to have to be super in-depth and well thought-out to do it justice, given the number of comments over the last week.
So I’ve decided just to summarize a few of my thoughts in this post instead. Hopefully I’ll have some bandwidth back once our book is in! And I’m sorry about that.
Here’s an example, though, that sums up the problem that I see in how we’ve been talking about sex.
You can believe that sex remains in a covenantal relationship (as I do believe) and still see that there are other things that are actually more important.
Here’s another example of this type of messaging, this time from a young man writing to teen girls for Brio magazine. Telling the story of being on safari and coming upon a pride of lions, he explains how male sexuality is like a lion’s instinct to hunt. Christian girls may just want to get out of the jeep and hug the lions because they’re so cute (just like they want an affectionate relationship with Christian boys), but when they dress immodestly, it’s like hanging fresh raw steaks around their necks and then approaching the lions. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that you would’ve ended up on their breakfast menu!”
He concludes the lion analogy with this:
That’s not to say we don’t have a responsibility to live self- controlled, pure lives. But a lion is a lion, and a guy is a guy; I don’t care who he is. So, help us out. I was the most “godly” young man a parent could ask for. I was truly head-over-heels in love with my Lord and Savior. I prayed at least an hour every day, read and studied my Bible, and felt I was being used by God in my school and community. But I was still a lousy example of what God wanted me to be in my dating life. Give me an inch, and I’d see it as an invitation to go a mile.
Let that last line sink in for a minute. He says, “Give me an inch, and I’d see it as an invitation to go a mile.” And whose fault is this? Girls, for putting steaks around their necks and forgetting that boys are lions.
At the end of that article, the author announces proudly that he managed to make it to the altar, at age twenty-eight, as a virgin. But given what he’s admitted about himself, does he have reason to boast? Personally, we would much rather that our daughters one day marry men who had had enthusiastic consensual sex with willing partners than that they marry someone who had taken a mile from a girl who had wanted to give only an inch. We’d rather they marry someone who wasn’t a virgin than someone who technically was—but who also was a predator.
If we make the definition of sin merely about what our bodies do, I think we miss the bigger point. Sexual integrity is not primarily about our bodies; it’s about how the things we do with our bodies affect other people.
Reading that Brio article as a mom had a very different effect on me than reading it as a teen likely would have. A teenage girl might look at that and think, “yes, I need to protect the boys!” But a mom of girls reads that and is horrified, because it’s talking about a guy taking a mile from your little girl–when it’s a mile she did not give willingly. And then he praises himself for being “pure.” If that’s our definition of pure–technically didn’t put his penis into a vagina but may have sexually pressured or coerced girls to engage in sexual acts against their will–that’s a massive, massive problem.
When we look at Scripture, Jesus (and Paul!) reserved their angry outbursts for people who hurt others, and tended to show compassion for people who hurt themselves or fell short. I think in our talk about a sexual ethic we’ve missed that, condemning the young couple in love who went further than they wanted to with greater vehemence than we do the young man who pushes a girl further than she wants to go, or the husband who pressures the wife to send him nude pictures.
In talking about sex for fourteen years online now, here are some common pitfalls of the “virginity-first” ethic that I’ve seen:
- Teenage girls who have sex then feel like they have no right to say “no” to future boyfriends, since they’ve been taught that you abstain from sex so you give your husband the gift of your virginity. When that ship sails, they feel there’s no turning back. Many report feeling coerced or forced into sex because they felt no legitimate reason to say “no” anymore.
- Rape victims who didn’t realize that what happened to them was assault, because in their mind, what had happened was just that they “lost their virginity.” There was no nuance. Or even if they had heard about consent, the shame at no longer being a virgin was so great that they couldn’t disclose.
- The couple who has sex right before their wedding day and feels horrifically guilty and doomed because they’ve “ruined their chances at a good marriage” and “handed their marriage bed over to Satan” when, statistically speaking, if they weren’t so freaked out by the fact they had had sex they’d likely be fine.
- The woman who married as a virgin not knowing that her husband had violent sexual fetishes due to a long-standing pornography addiction who now regrets not having any sexual experience before she said “I do” so that she could have seen the red flags.
- The red-light-green-light approach to the wedding night that told women, “now sex has to happen,” increasing rates of sexual pain and decreasing women’s arousal by making sex happen in a very unnatural, almost coerced fashion.
- The couple who gets married where one has a past and one does not, and the one who was a virgin cannot overcome the fear of comparison, the insecurity, and the feeling of having been “cheated” of their partner’s virginity because of the emphasis on “saving yourself,” and the scare tactics about how you’ve “created a soul tie” with the first person you sleep with.
- The woman who is married whose husband is coercing her into degrading sex acts who is told by her pastor that “all things are permissible,” and she feels trapped like she can’t say “no.” They’re married, after all, isn’t this OK?
You can likely think of many more.
A sexual ethic that defines sexual integrity as virginity has nothing to say in all of these scenarios. It’s why we simply must incorporate kindness, respect, and dignity into any sexual ethic we have, and stop making virginity the end-all and be-all.
I do personally subscribe to the belief that sex is best in marriage.
We talk about it in She Deserves Better, including how to talk to your daughter about saving sex without it being about fear tactics or manipulation.
But I also personally believe there are so many more important character traits than saving sex for marriage, including treating each other with kindness and respect–and I think this is in line with how Jesus treated people too.
Christian sexuality is not only about virginity. It’s about acting as Christ to each other, and it’s about entering into the experiences of others and having compassion for them. Like when Jesus saved the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery, or when he talked with the woman at the well, or when he touched the lepers, and healed the bleeding woman.
If a Christian sexual ethic creates “untouchables,” then it isn’t a Christian sexual ethic. And any “Christian” sexual ethic cannot encourage people to brag about the letter of the law while completely missing the Spirit of it.
I wish I had more bandwidth right now to flesh this out more, but the good news is that I’m just super busy with this new book and all this new data–there is so much good content coming your way, and I can’t wait to tell you about what we are finding (we’ve got awesome interesting in-depth stuff on the Love & Respect thesis too!).
But for now, that’s what I want to leave you with–if the way we talk about sex forgets about those who are hurting, if it dooms people to afflictions and anxieties, or if it promotes selfishness and entitlement it’s not a Christian sexual ethic at all. Even if it churns out a lot of virgins.
What do you think? Can we combine an ethic of chastity and love for one’s neighbour without becoming legalistic? Let’s talk in the comments!