How to Have Sexual Integrity in Marriage

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This post originally appeared on Sexual Integrity Initiative.

Dale (not his real name) was in my office, and through sobs of despair and shame, he said, “I don’t know what happened or why, but I cheated on my wife, and now she’s found out and is leaving me.”

I wish I could tell you confessions like that are rare. They’re not.

The question I want you to consider with me is this: Is illicit sex worth it?

In particular, are adultery and pornography worth the cost?

On a regular basis, I teach that sex is a gift from God, and it is. Regardless of the current level of satisfaction in your marriage, sex is a blessing from the Creator. He wants you to experience loving, creative, and exciting sex with your spouse. That’s God’s plan, and after over forty years of marriage, I can tell you from firsthand experience—it’s awesome when His plan comes together.

Few want to hear this, and even fewer believe it nowadays, but illicit sex outside of your marriage, including adultery and pornography, are costly. Tragically, we humans tend to focus on the “fringe benefits” of immorality rather than the high cost of our infidelities.

According to researchers:

  • 41% of marriages include either physical or emotional infidelity by one or both spouses.
  • 22% of married men and 14% of married women have strayed at least once during their married lives.
  • 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair if they knew they would never be caught.
  • Over 30,000 people are viewing porn every second of every day.

Apparently, unfaithfulness is a relatively common issue, and immorality is far too widespread.

I’ve written about this topic before (find the article here at Charisma News), but let’s take a deeper look.

Why do so many fail?

There are many reasons, but here are some:

  • Sexual boredom (we think the grass is greener elsewhere, and that sex outside of our marriage will be better).
  • Unmet sexual and emotional needs in our current relationship.
  • The love of the chase.
  • The thrill of conquest.
  • Insecurities about our physical and sexual desirability.
  • The pleasure of sin (though momentary and fleeting).
  • Addiction to a feeling rather than commitment to a covenant.
  • Fantasies that we believe are better than our reality.

There may be additional reasons why some spouses wander, but perhaps the biggest reason is that we haven’t considered the high cost of our forbidden sexual exploits.

The costs of an affair that we forget or choose to ignore:

  • Damaged or lost relationships with your friends, children, and extended family.
  • Severe financial impact due to divorce.
  • Loss of your God-given mission and purpose in life.
  • Emotional damage and lost joy.
  • Loss of respect for yourself and by others.
  • Potential physical illnesses (STDs are still rampant).

A strong motivator toward moral purity is weighing the costs of moral failure. Ask anyone who’s been down that disastrous road and they will tell you, “It’s not worth it.”

In fact, many years ago, I had one guy tell me quite bluntly, “When it’s all said and done, an orgasm is just an orgasm, and my moral failure cost me just about everything I truly value.”

Wow.

We all know that drinking poison will kill us; we are aware of the cost of that irrational act. However, we foolishly toy with adultery or pornography thinking no harm will come, but it does.

Someone recently asked me, “Do you ever struggle with temptation?”

Without hesitation, I said, “I’m a male and I’m breathing. Of course, I’m tempted. But temptation isn’t the problem. Jesus was tempted in every way I am. The sin occurs if and when I stop resisting and give in.”

So what can we do?

As a husband or a wife, what steps can you take to help you delight in the spouse of your youth and to help you stay true?

  • Flee sexual immorality. Don’t linger or dawdle. Run from temptation! Stop reading the trashy romance novels. Turn off the TV programs that stir unholy desires.
  • Have the long view. What will your failure or unfaithfulness mean to you and your family in the years and decades to come?
  • Install accountability software and filters on your computer and smartphone.
  • Count the cost and imagine the worst not the best if you fail. (This should be sobering.)
  • Ask godly friends to support you in the battle and to hold you accountable.
  • Establish and maintain wise and holy boundaries. (For example, never be completely alone with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. It’s impossible to commit adultery if you practice this one relationship rule.)
  • Walk in the light and the power of the Spirit.

In hundreds (and maybe thousands) of conversations over my many years of life, it’s become clear to me that we all wrestle with the flesh. Frankly, every one of us is just one bad decision away from disaster. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re beyond the potential for a moral fiasco.1

Not now. Not in this corrupt world. Not on this side of eternity.

But the good news is God is faithful, and He will always make a way of escape for you.

You just have to take the God-given off ramp.

Sexual Integrity Messages Must Improve as Marriage Age Increases

By Jason Soucinek 

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I didn’t marry until I was 34.

To some this seems old. Others think this is the perfect age to marry. Either way, I am not alone in the trend of marrying later in life.

For the last several years the age at which people get married is getting older, and fewer individuals are getting married altogether. 

This is not because this generation doesn’t want to get married; data continues to reveal high numbers of individuals who still want to marry later in life as a capstone to other achievements like education or career. However, when you couple this information with the fact that the marriage rate is at an all time low, hovering around 50% (compared to 72% in 1960), you can begin to understand the difficulty of speaking on sexual integrity.

Delayed adulthood, cohabitation, changing attitudes about sex, and a Christian culture mostly unwilling to talk about sex and sexuality are some of the many reasons sexual integrity has become a virtually defunct practice. Even among self-identifying Christians, our views of God’s intent for sex have shifted, leaving us in a place of little clear understanding about what to do with our bodies and how to speak honestly about sex.

Sexual integrity needs to be more than just a message about keeping your pants on.

For years the church has simply responded to the culture’s definition of sex. American culture says, “Do whatever you want, with whomever you want, whenever you want.” So what has the church done? It’s responded by saying, “Just wait.” But this is only responding to the definition set forth by the culture and not giving the definition from Scripture.

The definition of sex found in Scripture is based on “oneness” with our spouse. This is seen in verses all the way from Genesis through Revelation. Sex is meant to unify. In fact, when it says in Genesis 2:24 the “two will become one flesh” it is literally saying the two will be fused together, creating this “oneness.”

Procreation, pleasure, and protection all need to be part of the conversations surrounding sex in the church.

Often we are willing to talk about the power of sex as it relates to new life. But why are we afraid to talk about the pleasure associated with it?

Pleasure is not something Scripture hides from and neither should we. Our God is a God of pleasure. We see this in the first verses in the first chapter of the first book in Scripture, Genesis 1, when God declares creation (and thus sex) was “very good.”

Scripture also reveals sex has boundaries but these boundaries exist for our own protection. Because sex has the power to create life and fuse two people together, it requires protection. That is one reason we have marriage. It acts as a crucible.

Clear and consistent dialogue, not a list of restrictions, are needed for sexual integrity to be practiced more often.

Maybe you’ve seen some of the data suggesting young adults are leaving the church in droves. Although I don’t see it quite this way I do recognize a frustration with established religion, particularly when it comes to the attitudes the church communicates regarding sex.

Recently I was listening to a podcast from the show This American Life. The episode was a discussion about collected date showing people’s mindsets changing over the course of a 20-minute conversation. The reason for the change was simple: the parties involved had vulnerable and honest dialogue.

Most of the young adults I speak with are filled with frustration because few people are willing to have difficult conversations about our culture’s view of sex and sexuality. However, I’ve found taking time to listen leads to better and more in-depth conversations, which give opportunity to reveal God’s grand design as the sex-maker.

Let’s have more vulnerable and honest dialogue and make sexual integrity a part of the culture in our churches once again.

Five New Year’s Resolutions That Benefit Our Relationships

By Holly Clark

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New Year’s Resolutions are mostly frustrating (1) because they make you focus on yourself and (2) because a lot of them are unattainable.

We would like to challenge you to think about aspirations that will affect you AND others in a positive way. We know that our actions and beliefs about ourselves do affect those around us. Here are five things to think about as we continue in 2016 that can help us throughout the entire year.

Being present.

We always want to get to the next thing – the weekend, a new job, spring, lunchtime (my favorite time of the workday). And while there is nothing wrong with being excited about the future, we too often miss out on what is happening right in front of us!

As we continue into the new year, remember to stop – remind yourself of what you have right now that you are thankful for and take advantage of the people and situations that are right in front of you. All we has is this present moment. So don’t miss out!

 Saying no.

If you are anything like me, you take on too much and often find yourself exhausted. I am in a season of life where I am physically, mentally and emotionally unable to do as much as I have in the past.

I’ve said no to some very good things in order to take care of myself. I have felt guilty or selfish because I don’t wan to hurt people’s feelings. But the truth is, I was hurting them even more by taking on too much and not following through. When we are able to say no, we free ourselves up for deeper relationships and more meaningful experiences.

Saying yes.

And while it is important to say no, it is just as important to be discerning of what we need to say yes to this year!

In the past, I’ve been nervous to jump into something because how do I know it’s “the right thing to do.” As I get older, I’m learning it is better to take risks and make mistakes, then do nothing at all. Listen to yourself – be discerning of why you want to say “yes” or “no” to something. If your reason has to do with pleasing other people (for example) then don’t do it! If you aren’t doing something out of fear, maybe think about taking a risk.

There will always be difficult choices in life and learning to be discerning of what to say yes to will lead to some pretty unbelievable experiences.

Listening more, talking less.

Some smart person once said, “When you talk, you are repeating what you already know. But if you listen you may learn something new.”

We are a part of a culture that is extremely verbal–arguing on Facebook, tweeting, and texting – we forget the importance of listening to others. When we listen, we learn and our relationships grow. And trust me, learning to be a good listener takes discipline and time.

Train yourself to really listen; don’t think of what you are going to say next – be present and listen. You might learn something new about a loved one.

Not letting social media take over.

I’ve had lots of conversations with friends lately who are overwhelmed by all of the engagement, pregnancy and marriage announcements on Facebook (I’ve been there!).

Social media sites make it difficult to feel confident about our own life situations. But we cannot let this information keep us from living our own life. We are all on a different journey. No two people are the same and there aren’t requirements of if or when you should get married, have babies or be in a relationship.

My encouragement to you is to spend some time away from social media if you find yourself overcome by it. Remind yourself that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be. My new rule of thumb is if social media becomes an avenue for me to separate myself from other people (compare, judge, etc) then I need time away from it. We are meant to be in relationship with people, to be genuinely excited for people. Let’s not let the internet get in the way of that!

Three Reasons I Speak to Young People About Waiting for Sex

By Julia Feeser

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You don’t often hear people say they want to spend their time talking to teens about waiting for sex.

For many people this would actually be their worst nightmare. Nothing sounds more embarrassing and anxiety-inducing than standing in front of a group of teens living in today’s sex-saturated world and trying to tell them about the benefits of not having sex. You imagine the bored, uninterested looks on their faces, the whispers to their friends, the smirks as you try to carefully explain why a condom does not in fact protect against the emotional consequences of sex. Just thinking about it makes your palms go all sweaty, and being in a submerged cage with a great white shark nearby feels preferable to this situation.

For me, this is a reality through my job as a sexual integrity presenter in a high school health class. So why on earth would I put myself through this week after week?

During college, I somehow developed a desire to speak to young people (primarily teenage girls) about sex. When I would tell others this, their eyes would grow wide and they would ask increduously, “Why?” 

Why, indeed.

Here are three reasons I chose to speak to young people about waiting for sex:

I wanted to be a different voice for this topic. 

Abstinence instructors get an enormously bad rap and some of it is justified (like when instructors use incredibly deragatory illustrations to describe people who’ve had sex). The biggest argument against abstinence instructors and organizations is that an abstince-only approach does not delay sexual activity (as opposed to a comprehensive approach).

Abstinence programs have also struggled throughout the years to not come across as cheesy, ignorant of reality, and fear and shame-based.

With this kind of reputation, it’s no wonder people aren’t stoked to hear someone speak about waiting for sex.

I wanted to be a voice that didn’t induce shame but affirmed the students as empowered people who have the ability to make good decisions for themselves, regardless of where they’ve been.

I wanted to give them the chance to see that waiting isn’t about a set of rules or being “better” than other people, but instead about knowing sexual activity is matter of integrity. I wanted them to be able to see another side, to choose to have integrity with their own emotional and physical health, and the health of their partners. I didn’t want to shame them or scare them into not having sex; I wanted to positively offer the truth that waiting for sex is the healthiest choice they can make.

I wanted to counteract the unrealistic ideas I had been given about waiting. 

Waiting for sex is not about ignoring the reality that  you are a sexual being and desire to have sex. That is real, and that is good. Instead, it’s about embracing that reality and reinforcing its importance by striving to experience sex in the healthiest context possible.

When I was growing up, some (probably) well-meaning adults and books written by (probably) well-meaning adults gave me some really unhelpful advice about waiting for sex. Most of it consisted of setting clear physical boundaries. A majority of content revolved around intense feelings of guilt if you did so much as kiss another person.

Setting physical boundaries with someone is important, but let’s be real: physical boundaries only get you so far.

Waiting for sex is about more than telling yourself, “Okay, I’m definitely not going past this line.” This is great a great way to set up expectations for yourself and your partner, but if boundaries are the only thing keeping you waiting for sex, you probably won’t be able to wait for very long.

Waiting for sex is about letting the bigger picture of sex manifest itself in your goals and your relationships. Physical boundaries play one role among a bigger purpose, and one without the other will make for a very difficult journey.

I also received a lot of advice that seemed to last only so far. As in, until I stopped being a teenager.

I wanted to be able to inform teens on how to make good choices now, but I also wanted to empower them to know their journey in waiting for sex would look different over the years as they grew older and entered different relationships.

For instance, waiting to have sex with a boyfriend/girlfriend in high school was going to be a different situation than waiting for sex two years out of college during a serious relationship with no parental supervision. I wanted teens to know that if they really wanted to wait, they were going to have to learn to adapt and manifest this goal through different life circumstances.

I wanted teens to know their value is not conditionally based. 

This may be the most important thing I hope to get across to the young people who sit before me in a classroom.

Particularly for young women, there is a lingering idea that their value as a person declines the moment they have sex outside of marriage. And for young Christian women, this idea is especially perpetuated as sex and marriage become an idol.

For me, I began to believe that my virginity was the most important thing about myself I had to offer to a future husband. I now know how very untrue this is.

Yes, waiting for sex is an incredibly important and valuable thing to do, but there is so much more to who we are as people than whether or not we are virgins on our wedding night.

I want teens to know that if they have already had sex or experimented with sexual activity, their ultimate worth as a person has not diminished because of who God has already declared every single one of us to be if we choose to accept this identity in him.

This truth does not mean we should just do whatever we want sexually, but it does mean that if we do fall short God’s grace still declares us worthy and, if we allow it, empowers us to start over from exactly where we’re at.

Teens deserve to have a conversation about waiting for sex that meets them where they’re at with compassion, humility, and forthrightness. I want to be that person and offer myself as an adult who’s not only been there but believes in the people they are and are growing into.

This is why I speak to young people about waiting for sex.

Four Things That Will Actually Help You Wait for Sex

By Julia Feeser

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Okay, so you’ve decided to wait to have sex.

Good for you! Ten gold stars for you!

Unfortunately (and fortunately!), there’s more to waiting for sex than just waiting for sex. 

And soon or later what you’re going to realize if you haven’t already is that waiting for sex is no picnic. It’s difficult, challenging, and will probably make you really, really frustrated and/or questioning your judgement at some point.

One of the most common questions I hear from students is, “How do you actually wait to have sex? What are the practical steps you have to take in order to make this happen?”

Luckily, although you will more than likely encounter a few convoluted and not so black and white situations when it comes to waiting to have sex, there are a few practical things you can do to help yourself and others along the way:

Date the right kinds of people. 

Waiting for sex doesn’t mean you can’t date! Seriously. It doesn’t mean you can’t hang out alone ever or kiss or even fall in love. You can do all these things, and sex doesn’t need to be part of the equation. However, part of making this happen is choosing people to date who feel the same way about waiting as you do.

If you’re working toward this mutual goal that you both have decided on, not contingent on simply just going along with what the other person wants, waiting for sex is going to get a lot easier. If you’re dating someone who is awesome but doesn’t necessarily want to wait, eventually what you’ll find is that you can only go so far physically before tension sets in.

Free yourself of this early on by being intentional about who you date and what values they hold.

Be honest about your frustrations. 

Yes, at some point, you will be mad that you are not having sex (especially if you’re waiting a long time). You will feel frustrated you can’t express your physical desires in that way, and you will probably struggle with the fact that you may be in a relationship with someone you love and you cannot have sex with them. Yep, frustrating.

So it’s really important to not gloss over these feelings. Be honest. Tell someone. Find a person you trust who is not your significant other and tell them what you’re struggling with. The longer we pretend everything’s all right, the longer we put off actually dealing with the problem and finding a solution or advice.

Plus, as with any type of long-term goal, you’ll need people along the way to keep you accountable and encouraged. You can’t go it alone, and you shouldn’t have to.

Know your boundaries before you’re alone watching Netflix. 

It’s pretty difficult in the heat of the moment to use your brain and say, “Oh, wait, we probably should’ve stopped somewhere around 10 minutes ago.”

If you’re someone who is waiting to have sex, you’re going to need to know yourself well enough to know how far you can go physically before you won’t be able to resist just going all the way anymore. Because the farther you go, the harder it will be to stop.

So help yourself out by thinking through where you’re going to draw the line. Will it be at kissing? Will it be at some touching? Know beforehand and don’t try to decide once it’s already happening – believe me, your boundaries will get blurry fast if you don’t have a clear picture going in of what they should be.

Oh, and this is the part of the relationship where you have to have a super-romantic conversation explaining in very clear language where your physical boundaries are. Not exactly a sexy conversation, but it will benefit you both.

Understand the purpose of waiting. 

If you’re waiting just because someone told you it was a good idea, or because you think you’ll get in trouble if you don’t, or your sole mission is, “I’m just going to not have sex,” you’re going to have a difficult time sticking to that commitment.

Waiting without purpose isn’t waiting, it’s just biding your time. (Tweet this!)

Waiting is so much more than just following a set of do’s and don’ts when it comes to sex. Waiting should be the outcome of a deep, personal desire to pursue life goals and love freely without the added burdens that sex can bring emotionally and physically.

When we choose to wait to have sex, we reflect who we know God to be – a God of love, trust, and intense passion for our utmost good. (Tweet this!) One who created sex to be experienced inside marriage because he knows that’s where true life and true sexual and emotional intimacy can be found.

If you’re trying to wait without this kind of purpose, you won’t wait.

Know that waiting is possible, even when it’s difficult. And having real, practical steps in place will make all the difference.

The Struggle is Real: Virginity in a Hook-Up Culture

By Amy Juran

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Rather than face that awkward conversation of, I’m still a virgin, many young people want to just get rid of their virginity.

In an article about the sex culture at Wesleyan University, several college students were asked whether or not they viewed virginity as a big deal and if the first time should be special. The interviewees had different responses as to whether or not it’s fine to lose their virginity during a one night stand or if it’s important to be in a committed relationship. However, the general consensus showed that in whatever way the deed was done, students just felt better that it was over and the virgin stamp was off their back.

One student who ended up hooking up with a guy for the first time during her time at Wesleyan admitted, “It was just an opportunity to get rid of this [virginity]. It was kind of gnawing at me. I didn’t want it anymore.”

Clearly the expectation to have sex has started to overrule a real desire to save the act for a special person or situation. The potential of being the oddball has become a more fearful risk than the repercussions of premature intimacy.

The problem with getting it over with, though, is that it strips the value of sex altogether.

Our “hook up” culture, as author Janie Mortell calls it, has already done a pretty good job of degrading the whole enterprise, saying that sex is okay at any time with anyone. But just because everyone is telling us that sex doesn’t mean anything, or that we’ll feel better when we’ve taken care of it (as if virginity is a condition that needs some sort of medical treatment) doesn’t mean that our hearts and minds aren’t impacted by sharing such a deep intimacy with multiple people, or people to whom we aren’t committed.

The article presents the question:

If there is a resounding assumption that everyone else is “doing it”, how, then, do we lessen the stress some might feel about wanting to “lose” their virginity in order to fit in or those who want to “keep” their virginity without being ostracized?

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My response to this would be–remember God’s plan for us.

For me personally, if I were saving myself for purely legalistic reasons — I’m not having sex before marriage, because those are the rules! — then I honestly probably would have had sex years ago. However, when I consider how God has a plan for my life and my sexuality, and that his plan is good and will ultimately bring me to a place of wholeness and satisfaction, waiting becomes much more purpose-driven.

Does that mean that I never feel social pressure, or sexual urges? No way. Friends, the struggle is real. I completely understand how, especially getting into your twenties and later, virgins become a dying breed, and it becomes more difficult to find others’ to relate to in this area.

Actress Amy Poehler said, “Keep your virginity as long as you can, until it starts to feel weird for you, then just get it over with.” This statement is an accurate representation of the current attitude surrounding abstinence. We tend to start out with great resolve and good intentions, but as society wears us down with the opposing message that waiting is weird, it can get more difficult to hold to what you believe.

In high school, being a virgin often made me feel cool and unique. Then when I entered college people were a little shocked and curious about it. Now I can honestly say when I tell people that I’m waiting for marriage there tends to be this brief pause that basically translates to, “Hmm… weird.”

At the end of the day, though, all the weirdness is worth it.

By keeping sex off the table until marriage, it opens up a whole new world of freedom. Freedom to focus on things like common interests, goals, and ambitions. Freedom to be myself apart from worrying about physical performance. And from there we can proceed into our relationships with a clearer head, learning to love one another genuinely–not out of passion or physical desire.

Instead of being something to “get rid of,” virginity can be a mark of value we place on ourselves and those we’re in relationships with (tweet this!).

By being able to stand before my future husband and give him this gift, I can show him how much I value him, even already. And even with men that I don’t marry, I can honor them by not asking them to compromise their gift that was meant for someone else. It’s a great act of patience and self control, but I sincerely believe that those who choose to wait–though they might presently be taking a little cultural heat–will be rewarded in the end by getting to share in the amazing blessings of God’s plan.

These Facts About Sexting Might Make You Rethink Pressing “Send”

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Sexting. It’s a buzzword that has become synonymous with irresponsibility or promiscuity, something we know exists and yet we don’t quite want to openly acknowledge, kind of like not really wanting to admit that frozen yogurt doesn’t actually contain less sugar than plain old ice cream.

But here’s the exposed truth about sexting: It DOES exist, and it’s something most teens will participate in or face sometime in their young years.

11 facts you need to know about sexting:

  1. Teenage girls have a few reasons for why they participate in sexting: 40% do it as a joke, 34% do it to feel sexy, and 12% feel pressured to do it.
  2. 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others, and 55% of those share them with more than one person.
  3. While nearly 70% of teen boys and girls who sext do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend, 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.
  4. Nearly 40% of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, but this practice is more common among boys than girls.
  5. Sending semi-nude or nude photos is more common among teens girls. 22% of teen girls report sending images of this nature, while only 18% of same-age boys have.
  6. 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves send these messages to people they have never met, but know from the Internet.
  7. Sending or receiving a sexually suggestive text or image under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges.
  8. 24% of high-school age teens (ages 14 to 17) and 33% of college-age students (ages 18 to 24) have been involved in a form of nude sexting.
  9. Sexting is defined by the U.S. court system as “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones.” The messages may be text, photo, or video.
  10. In the U.S., 8 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and an additional 13 states have proposed bills to legislation.
  11. 11% of teen girls ages 13 to 16 have been involved with sending or receiving sexually explicit messages.

Folks, underage sexting is NOT COOL! While sexting might seem like a better alternative than real, in-person physicality, sexting does nothing to lessen the temptation of going too far when you’re actually in the same room with that person. And sending a picture to someone you may or may not know, who may or may not show that picture to other people, and who may or may not still have that photo for months or maybe even years after you regretted sending it? Just plain risky (and in some cases, illegal – see #7). And, let’s face it, stupid.

Get the citations here.