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.

Why Aggressive Rhetoric Hurts Real Dialogue

By Jason Soucinek 

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I debated whether or not to write this post.

I’ve sat on it for some time. However, the further I think about the ramifications of this political cycle on the dialogue we have with one another the more I feel compelled to share.

I am worried that we’ve lost the ability to have civil dialogue.

And why do I care about this as someone whose profession is to share a message of sexual integrity? Because I’ve seen this same thing happen around the topic of sex education. One person shouts their view and then the other shouts their opposing view even louder.

A barking dog only attracts more barking dogs.

I’ve learned over time and mostly from my own mistakes yelling louder doesn’t make our message more accessible. In fact, it usually misses the very people we are trying to reach.

I’ve watched both up close and from afar how those in the same field as myself, on both sides of the sex education issue, spend more time fighting one another than helping the students they want to aid. They spend more time telling others what they are against. I for one am tired of this. I’ve always believed telling people what we are for works much better.

A year ago I had the opportunity to sit down with several people around the country who opposed the work and the message I share on sexual integrity. However, I was not met with hate filled dialogue. Why? Because I was willing to listen and engage the points they shared. I sat side-by-side and built relationship.

My posture dictated the nature of the conversation.

In 2000 the Boston Globe conducted a “public conversations project” where they asked three pro-life and three pro-choice leaders to sit down and have conversations around the issue of abortion. This conversation grew out of a need to deescalate the rhetoric which had grown to a fever pitch after a shooting of an abortion doctor in the area.

The amazing reality of these meetings is that they worked! Posture changed what was said and how it was shared. Everyone who sat at the table learned to treat each other with dignity and respect. In fact, genuine friendships formed.

I find this radical compared to the world we live in at the moment.

Violence through our speech and especially through our action should never be acceptable. If we are going to contribute to a more civil dialogue we need to be willing to model it.

As a follower of Christ, I want my work to contribute to a more civil and compassionate society. This does not mean I have to compromise on my beliefs. In fact, the individuals who participated in the public conversations project grew more convinced of their own worldview, not less.

Our love for another should not be dependent on our affirmation of their worldview.

I don’t want to be another barking dog when it comes to sex education, nor politics for that matter. However, I do want to stay true to my convictions. I think both are possible and without violent rhetoric or action. But we must be willing to listen and sometimes that requires sitting side by side rather than going toe to toe.

 

“Give Me Sex Jesus” Debuts on Vimeo

By Julia Feeser

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Patrick and Bonnie, a married couple who appear in the film and saved their first kiss for marriage.

A few weeks ago, a documentary was released on Vimeo called Give Me Sex Jesus. 

Give Me Sex Jesus is a fascinating look at the rise of purity culture during the 80’s and 90’s and how this movement impacted young people growing up during that time. The film highlights the stories of several different people, all ranging in age, relationship status, sexual identity, and sexual orientation.

In popular culture, the lingering effects of the purity movement are just now coming to light as those who were teens during that time are now adults navigating their sexuality. I find myself reading article after article (mostly by women) describing how the purity movement negatively impacted their views of sex, caused a confusing amount of shame, and often didn’t accomplish the intended outcome of waiting until marriage.

I was someone who had some exposure to purity movements through a conference I attended with my youth group at 15 years old. During the conference (which included a lot of flashing lights and popular movie clips) I learned from an energetic twentysomething about why waiting for marriage to experience sex was the best choice I could make and would keep my “purity” in tact. After the conference, I received a silver ring I could wear as a reminder of the promise I had made to wait.

I ended up wearing my ring for a few years, finally taking it off my junior year of college. It wasn’t that I had decided not to wait anymore, but I realized the ring was really just a ring, and the promise I was making had grown into a deeper purpose rooted in obedience to Christ.

Even though I wore a purity ring, I always struggled with the idea of “purity” itself. The rules and ideas surrounding purity felt cheesy and naive, and not at all practical for real dating relationships. To me, to be pure meant my virginity was in tact and I would inexplicably be overwhelmed with the desire to run through a field of wildflowers wearing a white dress, not caring about boys in the slightest bit (but I cared about boys, a lot).

While I have experienced first-hand the struggles created by purity movements (both in my own life and the lives of others), I truly believe that the idea behind purity movements came from a Christ-centered place and somehow became less about honoring the beauty of sex and more about an attempt to manage sexual sin in the lives of others.

Give Me Sex Jesus highlights one movement in particular; True Love Waits. 

True Love Waits was an abstinence-based movement founded in 1993 that promoted sexual purity, which they defined as abstaining from sex, sexual thoughts, sexual touching, pornography, and actions thought to lead to sexual arousal. The main component of their program was the signing of abstinece pledges by teens as a symbol of commitment to remain “pure” until marriage.

True Love Waits came under criticism for a couple reasons.

First, a 2003 study of the results of this program found that 6 out of 10 college students who had taken the pledge had broken it. Second, True Love Waits (whether inadvertantly or not) created a culture of rigid sexual rules that reinforced that all sexual activity was deeply sinful and devalued the person engaging in this sexual activity.

However, even though True Love Waits has received a lot of flack over the years (some of it justifiable and some not), I truly believe that the original intention for True Love Waits and similar purity movements came from a desire to give young people the means to experience sex in the best and safest way possible: marriage.

Looking back on movements like True Love Waits, we now have the opportunity to grow from where they faltered; leaning into conversations surrounded waiting not through a set of rules or pledges, but purpose in Christ.

It is not about signing a paper card, hoping this signature will still be relevant to us through the years and relationships we encounter.

It is not about adhering to strict rules regarding physicality, but rather understanding ourselves and the holiness God has declared already exists within our desire to be physical.

It is not about a fear of what we may do wrong, but rather a freedom in knowing waiting for sex isn’t really about waiting for sex and more about obeying God’s design for sex because we know He made it good, and we long for what He has declared to be good.

You can watch the full documentary below:

Why Your Sex Life is Their Business

By Amy Juran

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Contrary to the words of Salt N Pepa, “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight, IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” it’s actually really important that we talk to friends and family about our sex lives (or lack thereof).

The funny thing about sex and sexuality is that it’s always influencing our behavior and decisions, even in Christian relationships, and yet we rarely want to talk about it.

I would consider myself a pretty private person. This is not necessarily because I have much to hide, but because I think there are some things that are not anyone else’s business, and it takes a certain degree of trust between people to earn this kind of vulnerability. My view of sexuality used to be very much in line with this, considering how personal physical intimacy is. However, I’ve found being transparent with trusted friends and family about my sexuality is one of the healthiest things I could do for my romantic relationships.

In her book Real Sex, author Lauren Winner touches on the idea of “communal sex.” Communal sex does not mean sex between multiple people, but that sexuality is something meant to be talked about and worked through with other believers. Winner asks the reader the question of whether or not it’s appropriate to ask our Christian friends about their sex lives, and – on the flip side –  whether we should be talking vulnerably with others about our own physical intimacy.

God calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galations 6:2) and to speak truth in love to each other. Sharing in our personal lives gives us the opportunity to grow together and challenge ourselves. It can develop a beautiful community striving for God’s will, and can prevent and heal so much of the hurt that comes with isolation.

We’re all familiar with this situation: a friend starts dating someone, and they are happy and blissful at first, but little by little start to pull away from close friends and social situations to spend time with just that person. Sometimes this can be an indication of an abusive or controlling partner, but sometimes we tend to think our relationships and sexuality are our business alone.

When we believe this idea, we naturally start to isolate from others.

If you’re unmarried it’s important to set physical boundaries with your significant other, but when you are both being driven by emotions it can be easy to flex the lines. There can also be an element of shame that comes with crossing those boundaries. It can be easy to want to avoid the judgment of others by not sharing your struggles. But when you get other people involved, and they are able to ask you the tough questions and keep you accountable, they can restore the validity of promises you made to yourself, your partner, and to God.

If you’re married, it is still important to talk about your sex life. To some this might seem like a violation of the sacredness of marriage, but it’s actually the opposite. In James we read, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” By sharing in community about our struggles and our joys, we can build each other up and bring peace to the fact that everyone hits rough patches.

God never intended for us to do this life alone. (Tweet this!)

He desires rich, challenging and caring community, and this can only be accomplished when we are transparent with each other. The result of this community is a healthier view of romantic relationships. It allows us to see things from the bigger picture and keep God at the core of everything we do. From now on I’ve chosen not to shy away from conversations with trusted people about sexuality because I know healing, growth, and relational intimacy will come from it.

Why I Can’t Give Dating Advice

By Holly Clark

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When I was younger, there was a lot of talk in my Christian circles on dating and relationships.

My mentors (with great intentions) would emphasize the importance of saving yourself for your husband. I would read books where the author would encourage young women to be faithful to their relationship with God and he would bless them with faithful men in return.

While I know these authors and mentors intention’s were to encourage women to not put all of their focus on a relationship, I have seen many women frustrated and discouraged with faith because they “did do everything right” (focused on their relationships with God) and still got hurt.

In my experience, God has never been transactional. I didn’t do “anything right” and by the grace of God, I ended up with an incredible man.

Here are a couple specific reasons why I can’t give dating advice and why we can’t depend on our “good deeds and intentions” to get what we want:

Relationships are not an A + B = C equation.

We are meant for relationship and relationships are not an A + B = C equation.

While I understand why so many Christians talk about how God will bless you when you have pursued Him with your whole heart, it’s also a cop-out answer. It’s like saying, “Things will be okay,” or “They are in a better place.”

I know this is true because I didn’t deserve my relationship with my husband. For years he pursued me respectfully and with love, all while I was focusing on the wrong things. I pursued other men to fulfill me and I didn’t even know what it meant to love God with my whole heart. I did everything wrong in the eyes of my mentors and Christian leaders. And yet now I am married to my best friend.

I’m not saying we can act and treat people however we want and it won’t matter, because we are all called to take responsibility for our actions and to live with integrity and obedience. But when Paul says in Romans 4:24 that “We are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Jesus Christ,” he truly means we are free in Christ! We are completely free and we are completely loved. But that doesn’t mean that because we are free or loved (or did everything right) we will get whatever we want.

Grace is the main factor in our relationship with God (tweet this!). We don’t deserve it and we can’t do anything to “get” it, and because of this all the good things in our life, relationships included, come down to a matter of grace.

Relationships cannot be compared.

Social media makes this almost impossible.

We have become a culture obsessed with proving ourselves, checking our social media sites for how many “likes” we have, all the while comparing ourselves to other people, what they have and their relationships. And while I can look at these things and wish and wonder why my relationship doesn’t look exactly like someone else’s, I have to remember that my journey and marriage with Jeremy is going to be completely different than someone else’s.

My friends sometimes ask me what to do in their relationships and I’ve tried to give them advice based on my situation. Jeremy and I have known each other since sixth grade, we dated for four years and then got married after college. I’ve known some couples who met, dated and got married all in the same year and they have a great marriage. So even though I may have experience with dating and being married, my advice may not always be relevant to someone’s else’s specific situation if it looks different from mine.

Whether you are single, dating, or married, live into your present moment and present relationship. There is no strict, set way your relationship should look or play out. And for goodness sake, stop letting what other people post on social media dictate how you feel about your relationships or situations in life.

 Free will makes relationships unpredictable.

 My sophomore year of college I took a class called Intro to the Christian Faith. I remember one specific lecture almost word for word: The professor was speaking about love and free will. He asked us if we would rather be with someone who could choose at any moment to leave us, or someone who was programmed and forced to love us.

He compared this situation to God’s love and why God gives us free will. We can choose to love God or not. And we know God loves us because he doesn’t force us to do anything. We are free to love and we are free to hurt others. We are free to make our own decisions.

So though you may pick the an amazing person to date or marry, and you do and say all the right things in that relationship (you won’t), free will guarantees that your relationship, and your life, will be unpredictable.

All relationships, no matter how similar they may be, will ultimately be different from anyone else’s. And while I can do my best to give advice based on my own experiences, know that at the end of the day only you fully know both the joys and complications of your relationship.

Is My Singleness Making Me Selfish?

By Amy Juran, Writing Assistant Intern

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Lately I’ve been having this inner struggle about how my singleness might be making me into a selfish person.

I guess it makes sense that because I don’t have a husband or a family of my own, it appears I don’t have anyone to look out for but myself and my own needs. I can duck out early from social situations so I can get something done that I’ve been working on, or so I can get some ​me ​time in before work in the morning.  I look around at people who have spouses and families, who probably barely remember what personal time feels like, and have to ask myself, ­­ “Is my singleness making me selfish?” To counteract the natural tendency to be self­-centered, there are three resolutions I have made to help keep myself in check.

1.)  Avoid Comparisons

It probably doesn’t help that I’m reaching a time in my life where the majority of my family and friends are married and an increasing number are pregnant or have kids. As a result, I get to hear a lot about the frustrations and challenges of marriage: how difficult it can be to coexist with another person, what little sleep you get with a crying newborn, and so on. There’s no arguing either, because it all does seem like a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that gleans fulfilling rewards.  Granted, I’ve never been married, so I may be completely off in my theory, but one of the beautiful things that I’ve observed in marriage is having an automatic purpose and mission right in front of you all the time. Of course people in relationships are called to many other tasks than being a good partner and providing for their spouse’s needs. However, when they are confronted with the daunting question of “What is my purpose in life?”, they have at least one go-­to answer of “I am called to care for and honor my spouse” or “My mission is to set a good example for my children.”

Sometimes when I ask myself this same question, I get frustrated because it can be unclear what God wants for me in my life because I don’t have the automatic purpose married people do. 

I have a wonderful friend, who has taught me a lot on this subject. She coordinates the children’s ministry at church, plans events for our life group, and cares for a home, all with a rambunctious two year old on her hip.

One day I had made a bunch of treats for the service, and she came up to me and was thanking me profusely for all my hard work. I couldn’t help but shy away from the compliment, and think how small my token was in comparison to everything she is involved with and responsible for. And then she said one of the kindest things I could hope to hear at this point in my life: ­­”Hey, your life is important too! Your contribution is no less than anyone else’s, and this place wouldn’t be the same without you.”

That validation got me a little emotional, to be honest, and it made me really reevaluate how I view singleness. I concluded that it’s not that I resent being alone or this season of my life because I am partnerless, but instead I am frustrated sometimes at how much more difficult it can be to live a life that seems meaningful or impactful in my community when realistically, my life is all about me right now.

The path isn’t always straight out ahead of me, and sometimes I’m searching vigorously before I find the answer.  What I need to keep in mind, though, is that this challenge isn’t a bad thing.  It forces me to stretch myself in personal interactions, and to step out in faith to do things that might make me uncomfortable.  These inconsistencies between myself and others can lead to some pretty dangerous comparisons.  When we feel that we don’t measure up, or that we should be further along in our journey than we are, some definite narcissism can emerge.  By trying to look a certain way, or have the right things, it’s a way we can control the things that are in our power, and keep that dividing line between us and our peers as minimal as possible.  And when it comes to being single, comparing yourself to others who are married or have children can lead to a skewed self-image or a discontent that makes us focus even more attention on ourselves and what we don’t have.

2.)  Seek Out the Needs of Others

I must search for places to pour out love and to exert energy constructively. Instead of using my time only to do things that gratify myself, I must be intentional about seeking out others in need. When I have some spare time, instead of binge watching my favorite Netflix show, or rearranging my apartment for the tenth time, I could reach out to a friend, or call up my mom to see how she’s doing. There is something so healthy that happens when we put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. It definitely feels uncomfortable at first, but once I’ve made a habit of focusing my attention towards those around me, I begin to feel fulfilled.

3.)  Find Contentment in Where God Has Me

When I begin to use singleness for these purposes, I don’t have time to focus on what I ​don’t ​have, or who I ​should ​be dating, or what I want my future to look like. Instead I can reach a place of contentment, in this place God has me for the present. And I can actually reap the benefits of this unique time of life where I don’t have a relationship or a family, and I can be wholly available to do whatever He calls me to.

So can singleness lead to selfish behavior? Absolutely. If I’m not consciously making an effort to put others first, I could quickly spiral into the black hole of my own needs and self-­focus. But by seeking out the needs of others, cutting the comparisons, and finding contentment in where God has me at this time, singleness can actually be an extremely rich time of servant hood and caring.