“I’ve heard people say that growing up as an evangelical Christian meant they never talked about sex. That wasn’t my experience. I grew up in the thick of evangelical purity culture and we talked about sex A LOT. We just spent all of that time talking about how and why NOT to have it.
As someone who followed all of the rules and waited until I was married to have sex, I was assured that I would be guaranteed an easy and rewarding sex life. When reality turned out to be different than what I’d been told, I was disappointed and disillusioned. I blamed myself, convinced no one else had experienced what I was experiencing. But when I timidly started to bring it up with my married friends, I realized that many others also felt let-down by post-marital sexual experiences that weren’t everything they’d been led to expect. I started to wonder if maybe the expectations themselves were wrong. Maybe what I’d been told or inferred about post-marital sex simply wasn’t true. “
A few weeks ago I wrote an article called “4 Lies the Church Taught Me About Sex.” that was published by Relevant magazine online.
Many people wrote to say that the article had hit a nerve for them. They too had experienced churches, youth groups, and other Christian communities that used guilt, shame, or the promise of future rewards to encourage abstinence. Many also said they had experienced similar disappointment, disillusionment, and confusion after marriage and had felt alone in those feelings.
I used the term “the Church” because this experience was not restricted to my particular church – I saw and experienced this kind of language in my friend’s churches, at youth conferences, in books and Christian magazines, and even from missionaries in other countries. Perhaps honing in on the evangelical subculture would be more appropriate, but I don’t believe this is something only a narrow margin of Christians have been affected by. When I refer to “the Church,” I don’t hold myself outside of that. I too, am the Church. And because I am part of the church, my desire is to work towards her wholeness.
I didn’t write the article out of bitterness or regret, and I certainly wasn’t making the point that waiting isn’t worthwhile. I wrote it because I deeply believe that the reasons WHY we do things matter. In fact, they might matter as much as the actions themselves. I wanted to call into question the way much of the evangelical Christian community has handled its discussion of both pre and post-marital sex. Restricting sex to marriage is a value we hold, but the way we talk about it matters. The reasons people are waiting (or not waiting) matter.
I believe the Church is meant to spread truth, but some of the teachings I encountered about sex simply weren’t true. Much of the struggle and disappointment I did experience would have been avoided had I simply not been given false expectations and unhealthy ways of viewing sex and sexuality.
The article received a lot of attention from Christians and non-Christians alike and I was able to respond to some of the questions and concerns it sparked in a follow-up post on my blog, but this is a big topic and there’s a lot more that can be said. Brett has graciously given me the opportunity to expand on some of my points from the article. I’ll be doing a series of posts that flesh out my original four points and hopefully address some concerns that have been raised. In my next post I’ll talk about the idea of physical contact as a “gateway drug” for sex — how this language and attitude about our physical relationships can be harmful as well as some thoughts on better ways to think and talk about setting necessary boundaries.
[Lily Dunn is an ice cream connoisseur, a Disney fanatic, and a fellow raiSIN hater trying to live an authentic, grace-filled life. She lives and teaches with her husband in Daegu, South Korea and blogs at lilyellyn.wordpress.com You can also follow her on Twitter