Let’s set aside our inhibitions and have a real conversation about sex, relationships, and abstinence.
Despite biblical teachings (1 Thessalonians 4:3), tons of people would argue that, in today’s society, it’s almost unrealistic to think that anyone would wait to have sex until marriage. The world we live in today tells us that abstinence is an antiquated practice or that no one in their right mind would marry someone without determining whether the sexual chemistry is there first. The list goes on and on, but luckily, some people out there still advocate for waiting until marriage to share something so intimate with their future spouse.
Before we really dive in, I would first like to point out that there is, in fact, a distinction between abstaining from sex and just not having sex. A person might not be sexually active for a variety of reasons. However, abstinence is defined as an intentional and deliberate action to refrain from sexual activity; it is making the decision to save all sexual acts until marriage.
In her book The Naked Truth: About Sex, Love and Relationships, abstinence advocate Lakita Garth says that “abstinence is the art of self-control, self-discipline and delayed gratification.” I get it. You’re probably thinking, Who wants to work that hard for something that is supposed to bring you pleasure? But Garth reminds her readers that there is, in fact, a wonderful reward in the end.
“The fact is, the happiest sex lives are found among those who wait until marriage to have sex,” Garth says. “Those who wait are richly rewarded.”
Waiting to have sex has so many benefits, but here are a few points to start:
Abstinence is more common than you think.
Studies show that only 3%, or 1 in 30 Americans, waited until marriage to have sex. Sure, this number sounds a bit disheartening, but if you stop to think about just how many people that is, it’s not too bad. In fact, that figure means that about 10 million people in America, as we speak, have abstained until marriage. And of course, these stats are even greater within religious groups.
Secondary virginity is a real thing.
Yes, secondary virginity is “a thing.” More and more singles have made the decision to rededicate their lives—and bodies—to God by abstaining from sex. Regardless of their past, they made the decision to start over and choose abstinence even though they initially made the decision to be sexually active in the past. It’s no secret that having sex before marriage has its own negative consequences, including unplanned pregnancy, higher chances of being a single parent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the list goes on and on.
In fact, studies show that 40 percent of children were born to unwed mothers, with nearly two-thirds of those mothers under the age of 30. Nine million new cases of STDs are reported among teens and young adults each year. And regardless of whether you have experienced these negative consequences, making the decision to be a secondary virgin means you can look forward to a future free from exposure to these previous hazards. After all, who has time to stress about an unplanned pregnancy or STDs?
“The Wait” is so worth it.
Making the decision to be abstinent is so much deeper than the physical. It provides the opportunity for your relationship to become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the beauty in sharing something so intimate with your spouse and the idea of knowing that you are both truly committed to one another.
Hollywood couple Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin wrote an entire book on the power of abstinence in The Wait. In addition to being more spiritually and emotionally grounded, the couple is open about how amazing sex can be with your partner after making the decision to abstain until marriage. “There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality,” the couple says in a recent interview with Essence magazine. “God created both for the enjoyment of married couples.”
The intimacy that happens within one’s marriage is much greater knowing that sex is something that is only shared between you and your spouse. It’s definitely the icing on the cake.
Can you think of a better option?
Let’s face it, you might have already tried other options besides abstinence, and none of them have worked. Then again, you might be one of those people who made the decision to be abstinent from the very beginning and chose to stick with it until your wedding day. Meagan Good actually chose the former and initially opted to do it her way instead of God’s way. “God had let me make my mistakes,” she says. “Now it was time to do it [His] way.”
In a society of instant gratification, abstinence certainly doesn’t seem ideal for today’s couples, especially people who are seriously attracted to one another. However, I think we all can agree that waiting to have sex until marriage just might be the best decision of your life.
Did you catch Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday? Check out what they had to say about the benefits of abstinence below:
Is it unrealistic to expect people to wait to have sex before marriage? Share your thoughts below.
For a single Christian, what to do about sexual intimacy can be tough and confusing. You harbor physical urges that God gave to you, but to have sex outside of marriage is a sin. The church’s response has generally been pithy and poor – “Just say no”. Meanwhile, the enemy has seized the void by providing a counterfeit of the sexual love God intended. Through R-rated movies, raunchy music and advertising, we are inundated with it. What in the world is a single person supposed to do?
Minister Pamela Bell, founder of Serenity Pastoral Counseling and Consulting
Minister Bell recently hosted a Valentines Day engagement ceremony for her single clients in the Baltimore area. They celebrated their love affair with the Lord. The ceremony offered the participants an opportunity to renew their vows to God and to increase passion in their relationship with him throughout the year. “Being physically alone does not necessarily equal loneliness”, Bell said. The church needs to reclaim the truth that we are never alone when we are in relationship with God. Being single is actually an opportunity to turn your full attention to your relationship with God. Being married, in fact, can bring complications and opportunities to worship your mate instead of the Lord.
Bell, who has been married 26 years to the same man, says “God allows us to have mates to be able to show our love for him onto a living breathing human being. That mate presents a physical way for us to express our love for God. Whether you’re single or married, what we all have in common is an inseparable relationship with God.”
Humans are spirit first. We are made in the image of a triune God, who is spirit. Our physical bodies are vessels for us to journey on earth until it’s time to return to God. Certainly, we want to express ourselves physically with another human being, but the object of that expression is still God, Bell said. If you understand this, your single status is not a negative, it just means less distractions to God. “It might sound like a cop out to a single person, but a mate is not your source to fulfillment. God is our source,” Bell said.
Ok, that sounds good, but let’s keep this real. What do we tell the single person who is struggling with their sexuality? Bell said she counsels her clients based on what they reveal they are struggling with and yes, many people are struggling with issues such as pornography and fornication. “God gave us the ability to imagine and create,” Bell continued. “What we entertain in our minds is important because we are creators. Fantasizing about sexual acts that are against God’s will, creates sin in our lives and sin, whether it is physical or mental, causes us to turn away from God.”
Bell teaches her clients that they can master their bodies through physical exercise, eating healthy and getting proper rest. She also suggests, professional massage, meditation and relaxation techniques to release pent up tension in the body and of course there is prayer. “I often suggest that my clients start a private prayer journal in which they’re writing letters to God about their intimate thoughts and feelings,” Bell said. “David demonstrated the power of prayer journaling. He wrote about his struggles, desires and his victories in what has become the Psalms. He gives us a good example about being in a relationship with the Lord and God referred to David as a man after God’s own heart. We tend to keep our sexual frustrations separate from our relationship with the Lord but He made us and is not uncomfortable talking about sex. By keeping a journal, people can learn from their own experiences and in the future they can go back to that prayer journal and remind themselves that ‘this too shall pass.’”
My wife, Rita, has begun reading the first volume of the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy with her book club. Fifty Shades has been wildly popular because it features scenes of an unmarried couple’s explicit erotic sex that also includes elements of bondage. Published reports say the book has gotten a lot of wives excited about sex and their husbands are reaping the benefits. So, of course, that’s what grabbed my interest.
As my wife cuddled in bed reading her iPad, I asked her about the book. She was tight-lipped, as she shifted her body so that I couldn’t see the screen.
“It’s just what the club is reading now. I’m not really into this sort of thing,” she said. Then she cited some “confidentiality agreement” among her book club sisters, effectively ending our conversation.
Hmmm, more on that later …
The exchange reminded me of a talk I recently had with a Baltimore-based licensed pastoral counselor (who also happens to be my sister). Minister Pamela Bell of Serenity Pastoral Counseling & Consulting recently hosted “Teach Me How to Love You,” a conference to teach Christians how to develop healthy relationships. One of the topics included God in your sex life.
God and sexual intercourse?
Bell’s point is that God clearly created us to have and enjoy sex. One of the reasons why so many Christian marriages are in trouble, singles are fornicating, and pedophilia, adultery and homosexuality are common in churches, is because leaders aren’t teaching forthrightly about godly sex. Natural urges are suppressed and hypocritical and deviant behaviors are covered up. The church has allowed the world to turn into “the nasty” what God intended to be beautiful.
“According to most Christian teachings, sex is referred to in the context of procreation or as a marital duty,” Bell said. “I talk to people about making love and bringing God into the experience, instead of having some gymnastic event where orgasm is the finale.”
WELCOMING GOD INTO YOUR SEX LIFE: “While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” says Christian counselor Pamela Bell to married couples. “Making love is an expression of gratitude.”
At the conference, Bell, who has been married for more than 25 years to the same man (they have three children), said attendees seemed surprised when she asked how long they thought the average orgasm lasted?
“Oh, they got real quiet,” Bell said.
The answer is about 18 seconds for the average woman and 20 seconds for a man. Once intercourse begins it takes the average women about 12 to 14 minutes to reach an orgasm and about 2 to 3 minutes for a man.
“So we spend so much time and often make bad decisions about our sex partners over a few seconds of pleasure. When we talked about sexuality within the confines of marriage, that’s when people got comfortable and we got a lot of questions.”
Like, what do you do when your husband or wife wants to have more sex than you do? Singles asked question like, what do you do when your urge for sex is high?
“Particularly when you look in the King James Version, the word ‘know’ is used to refer to sexual intercourse,” Bell said. “God intended sex to be about intimacy.”
But for many people it’s hard (no pun intended) to think about a holy God, while having sex. Intellectually you know that God created and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. But is a man supposed to be thinking about Jesus while he “knows” his wife?
Bell said it’s about a paradigm shift, adding that she often refers couples to passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:4.
“While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” she said. “Explore how your mate’s body is made. Each aspect complements the next. Making love is an expression of gratitude. You’re thanking God for the person He gave to you. Take your time, be present in the moment, and enjoy your spouse. Remember, love is patient according to 1 Corinthians 13:4.”
For singles, there are ways to feel God’s love without a physical partner, she said.
“It’s a better experience than conjuring up some dude or woman in your mind that you were with back in the day, or that you want to be with and having some counterfeit experience,” she said. “You can have an ongoing spiritual orgasm rather than a five-second deal, followed by feeling unfulfilled afterwards because you’re relying on a fantasy to give you pleasure.”
Bell said she felt led to host the conference because she sees too many Christians who are having major sex-related problems tied to church. As the church fails to deal honestly with sexuality, it is effectively leaving lambs to be slaughtered.
“It’s heartbreaking what is happening,” she said. “Many pastors simply don’t teach this.”
Not all pastors are afraid to “go there,” Bell said. There are Christian books on the topic. There’s even a biblical response to Fifty Shades called 50 Shades of Black and White. But in general, churchgoers seek information elsewhere, such as on cable TV, the Internet, or in erotic literature.
As for my wife’s reading of Fifty Shades, she’d rather not fantasize in that way — but she won’t judge others who like it.
And if I reap some added benefits from this month’s book club selection, I won’t complain.
A few more passages from Scripture related to godly sexual love:
With the annual hype surrounding New York’s Fashion Week winding down, I’m reminded of a news story from the beauty and fashion industry from earlier this year. Back in July, Seventeen magazine editor Ann Shoket announced the implantation of a “Body Peace Treaty” in which she and the her magazine’s team pledged to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” in published images, explaining that they will “leave body shapes alone, reserving Photoshop for the stray hair, clothing wrinkle, errant bra strap or zit.” She also promised that they will only feature “real girls and models who are healthy.”
The treaty came in response to the campaign of Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old activist whose online petition against the magazine’s use of airbrushed images garnered more than 84,000 signatures. In the petition, called “Give Girls Images of Real Girls,” Bluhm implored the magazine to keep it real. I consider this to be very impressive and it shows some of the influence of online networking and social media, not to mention the grit and character possessed by many of our young people today. (Julia’s pro-Real Girl movement inspired a separate campaign targeting the publishers of Teen Vogue.)
Frankly, though, I doubt Seventeen will stick to its promise.
My cynicism is based on the magazine’s response in the article and my knowledge of the image-making industries (like the ones we’ve seen out in full force during Fashion Week). Here are a few quotes from a Washington Post article about the issue:
A 14-year-old Maine ballet dancer who led a crusade against altered photos in Seventeen magazine now has a promise from top editor Ann Shoket to leave body shapes alone, reserving Photoshop for the stray hair, clothing wrinkle, errant bra strap or zit.
According to the article, a promise was made. Great.
“Shoket’s promises are included in a “body peace treaty” that also commits the magazine to always feature healthy girls and models regardless of clothing size.”
Okay. The editor may have submitted some promises to the “Body Peace Treaty” but the above promise mentioned in the first quote is not in there and neither are any that require Seventeen to do anything.
“Shoket did not identify Julia by name in her full-page declaration, which also denied the magazine ever changed the shapes of bodies and faces.”
Whaaattttt? So the editor promises to leave body shape alone yet denies ever changing the cover models’ body shapes and faces? So, is Seventeen really admitting to anything?
RED CARPET REALITY: In July, teen protesters demonstrated in front of the Times Square headquarters of Teen Vogue, demanding that the magazine’s publishers use real girls, healthy looking models, and unaltered images in its pages. (Photo: Richard B. Levine/Newscom)
My first job after graduating college was as a graphic designer at an international relief and development organization. Back then, Photoshop was used only by designers because it was expensive and had a huge learning curve. This organization received a photo from the field that included an adult male with shoulder-length hair. The group was concerned about its conservative donors’ reaction to the hair length, so my supervisor asked me to give him a Photoshop haircut. I was happy to oblige, just to show off my skills.
Well, I scanned (who scans anymore?) the photo, altered it, and placed it in one of the org’s publications. The young man eventually saw the photo and became upset. He felt we had no right to alter his appearance. That was my first foray into the ethical issues of altering photos of people for publication. Although magazines have been airbrushing for years, and have professional contracts with its models/celebrities to do so, Photoshop allows for detailed retouching that pushes it over the boundary of reality. Consequently, I stopped trusting the images I see in magazines.
Also, the “Body Peace Treaty” on Seventeen’s page is good but most of it does not mention what the magazine itself is willing to do.
If the quotes from Washington Post article are true and the treaty is more of a therapeutic “love-myself” list for girls (which is not a bad thing), my concern is that Seventeen’s editor is not being completely honest. It sounds like all the heavy lifting will still be done on the reader’s part. The disturbing thing about this is that many of these magazines know they are selling an illusion but won’t admit to it. They portray it as real life with article titles layered over the photo (“Get This Body in 5 Days,” “The New Grass and Twigs Diet,” etc.). Over time, as the young activist said on a morning news show, these words and images are harmful. I can tell my daughter not to buy the magazine, but there is a larger issue at stake here.
A few questions to ponder:
• Why is the sexualization of girls not an issue in our society?
• Beyond getting girls to love themselves, what does it look like for the image industry to feature healthy girls and models regardless of clothing size?
• When we laugh at the way celebrities are exposed in tabloid magazines, have we bought into the illusion that every body must look the same way?
SUDDENLY HOT: Author E.L. James at a New York book signing. Her ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy is a bestseller, but its erotic content has sparked controversy. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)
You ever see a trailer for a movie starring one of your favorite actors and get super excited? You mark the date on your calendar, find as many sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes pieces you can and plan to see it opening night. The day arrives and you take out a loan so you can afford the overpriced buttery popcorn, Tropical Skittles, and calorie-packed soda. You sit through the previews, the reminder to turn your cell phone off and you anxiously wait for Will Smith/Hugh Jackman/Emma Stone to appear on the screen.
And then … the movie sucks. Not in the “it was OK” kind of way, but in the “B.A.P.S.” or “Soul Plane” kind of way. You feel duped by your favorite actor, the previews, and all the critics who failed to warn you.
This horrific feeling is EXACTLY how I felt after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling book that everyone’s been talking about. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of my turmoil. Optimistic idealist that I am, I read the sequel and was disappointed again. At this point, I was two-thirds through the trilogy and it seemed that God had forsaken me. But I read that weeping only lasts for a night and that joy comes in the morning, so I walked back into the torture chamber that is the third installment of the Fifty Shades series. I’m sad to report that morning hasn’t arrived.
The only joy I derived from reading these three books comes from the knowledge that I can warn you to avoid them.
Prior to ingesting the revolting pill that is the Fifty Shades trilogy, I saw nothing but rave reviews about the series via social media. To be honest, most of the feedback was vague — “I can’t stop reading it … I can’t put it down. It’s so addictive!” — but still positive. So, of course, as an avid reader of just about everything stirring in pop culture, from The Hunger Games trilogy to anything by Malcolm Gladwell, I had to check it out.
I could write a book, maybe even a trilogy, about the horrors of Fifty Shades, but I’ll condense it to the top three problems I had with the books. (And be warned, my reflections may include a few spoilers.)
1. No one told me it was erotica!!! Call me old-fashioned but I thought books like this came in a brown paper bag and required an ID for purchase. In all of my discussions of the book, no one mentioned that one of the primary themes of the plot involved the VERY adult subject of a sexual counterculture BDSM. My issue with the book isn’t that it’s erotica; it’s the idea that erotica is considered mainstream reading material. Since when does erotica make it to the NY Times bestsellers list? I was caught off guard, unprepared for it, and therefore, a bit nauseated by it. (Erotica is one thing; erotica I’m not prepped for is a whole ‘nother matter.)
2. The plot is implausible. Pardon me for wanting my fiction to make at least a little sense, but I’m pretty sure that there are several Disney fairy tales that are only slightly less believable than Fifty Shades. A few plot problems:
• What 22-year-old woman with several handsome and eligible men fawning all over her has NO idea that she’s attractive?
• What 27-year-old man who is savvy enough to amass a colossal wealth of billions of dollars is also silly enough to entrust it to a woman that he’s known for a few months?
• What are the odds that a billionaire who is a local celebrity has had an extremely deviant sexual relationship with over a dozen women and NO ONE knows?
GREY GROUPIES: Fans of ‘Shades of Grey’ author E.L. James snap pictures of the writer at her New York book signing. The trilogy, and its erotic themes, has struck a chord with ordinary housewives. (Photo: John Roca/Newscom)
3. The story is redundant. Possibly the worst crime committed by Fifty Shades is the monotony. You just want to shake Ana and tell her to stand up for herself; then you want to grab Christian and tell him to grow up.For those of you who must go through the pain of reading this on your own, I won’t spoil it. But I will tell you this. The characters don’t change or grow. They do and say the same things over and over. There are no plot twists. At the beginning of the trilogy, Ana is a girl with low self-esteem who believes her best friend is beautiful and she is mousy. In the third book, Ana meets with an interior designer and this same low self-esteem makes her feel mousy again. At the beginning of the trilogy, Christian is an intelligent but selfish man with a little boy temper. At the end of the trilogy, Christian is a man with a family and a little boy temper. What most people love about a book series is that you get to see the characters evolve and the story keeps getting better and better as it progresses. In this case, the story keeps going but it never changes.
Fifty Shades of Greyapparently began as an experiment in fan fiction, with British housewife Erika Leonard mimicking The Twilight series and giving her stories away for free on the Internet. Initially popular with bored housewives, the stories soon developed a cult following and exploded into a publishing phenomenon. Leonard, writing as “E.L. James,” now reportedly hauls in millions of dollars each week from her erotic trilogy.
In some ways, I can resonate with Leonard’s backstory. She turned an evening diversion into a literary jackpot. Who doesn’t love a good success story?
But that feel-good stuff only goes so far. My favorite pastime is reading and I’ve always looked at it as a temporary escape from my own personal reality. Leonard’s trilogy, however, wasn’t an escape from my reality; it was a departure from all reality.
I’d call it a waste of paper, but I at least was smart enough to purchase the e-versions. Save yourself from 50 evenings of exasperation. Leave Fifty Shades of Grey on the shelf.
What do you think?
If you’ve read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, what’s your opinion of the books? Harmless entertainment? Porn for soccer moms? How should Christians think about these books and their popularity?