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.

“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:

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.

God. Sex. Faith. A Journey of Reconciliation

Throughout most of my adolescence, I partitioned my sexuality into two separate worlds. One filled me with anticipation of the freedom that came from expressing my sexual desires. This message came from outside church. The other message, the one coming from the church, told me what not to do, forbade me to speak of my sexuality as something that played a role in my faith. In fact, sex in this sphere was often taught, indirectly, as the most awful, filthy thing on earth, and you should save it for someone you love.

Sex and faith have had a contentious relationship for as long as I can remember. I became a Christian as a teenager, but I was also fascinated by the topic of sex. Like most other high school boys, I ruminated on sex 24/7. Throughout my high school and college years, I had few conversations with my peers that didn’t in some way touch on this topic. We talked about it, joked about it and dreamed about our next conquest. Sex was a game we participated in outside of church.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak honestly about sex in our churches. And, when it was discussed in my church, it sounded confusing and unrealistic. I heard phrases like guard your heart, deny your sexual desire and hand it over to God, don’t have sex, it’s a sin until you get married and my personal favorite: Sex before marriage will be disappointing because you’re not honoring God. Almost all the discussion was negative. It also gave no real reason why I should wait. It seemed like my faith was unable to address in a realistic, comprehensible manner this real and growing desire to engage in sexual activity. I felt lost and compartmentalized.

Collision Versus Reconciliation

I lost my virginity at the end of my junior year in high school. (Even here, the language—losing—is negative). I remember an internal struggle taking place. On one hand, I knew that having sex outside of marriage was unacceptable in Christian circles, so I felt guilty, even ashamed. On the other hand, I felt great excitement. I felt like I had grown up and become a man because of this one act. Obviously, these two feelings could not coexist.

Perhaps unconsciously, I began to separate faith from sex. There was my sexual self outside of church with little trace of faith. Then there was my spiritual self inside the church with little trace of my sexuality. I lived in two worlds. One taught me about my sexual self, the other about my spiritual self. One taught me the art of saying yes, the other the importance of saying no. Learning to reconcile these two worlds has been a long and painful journey.

I was sexually active outside youth group while becoming a leader in my church. But it wasn’t like I didn’t want to be confronted. I did. In fact, I yearned for it. But that day never came. I knew that, as a Christian, my relationships were supposed to look different from the others I saw around me. I was supposed to be held to a higher standard than the one I was living. But that was never articulated in a way that caused me to change my behavior. All I received were messages of don’t! and no, when everything else in me pointed toward yes!

I often came across popular Christian authors or speakers and hoped they would share that one message that would change everything—the one that would finally click and help me understand exactly why my actions needed to change. But that never happened. Honest conversations that discussed my sexual desires and spoke truthfully about Scripture seemed impossible. Unfortunately, the focus was on the reward of waiting. Apparently, if I waited, I would be rewarded with incredible, out-of-this-world sex. And premarital sex wouldn’t be rewarding.

I kept asking myself how these dots connected. These speakers and authors often claimed that God would bless me sexually if I waited. On one hand, this was painful to hear. I wasn’t a virgin, so what did that waiting message mean for me? That I was trash? What would this speaker be able to guarantee for my future experiences? On the other hand, I already knew that sex could be rewarding. Even if I felt guilty, sex itself still felt good.

And then, of course, there’s the persistent discussion about sex being so physical. But I knew from my own experience that sex was something more than that. It touched something deep within my soul. Even the consequences that most impacted me were emotional and spiritual. Those consequences separated me from God and others, and I knew it, even if I couldn’t articulate it. My main reason for engaging in sexual activity back then was not for the rush of an orgasm. It was not purely physical.

I sought to fill a void in my life. I wanted to be known. I wanted to be found. Sex, for me, was about being connected. It was the loss of that connection that often brought the most painful consequences. When the act was over, I was still left with a void. I never contracted a disease or got anyone pregnant. But spiritually, sex took me further from God. This very desire to connect— the one that drove me to become sexual—also drove me to become a follower of Christ. Connection was at the center of both worlds, but those two worlds never connected to each other.

I tried for years to separate faith and sex, but the more I tried, the more I began to realize that they are deeply intertwined. Throughout my early and late adolescence, I compartmentalized life. I sacrificed my entire personhood because I was living in two separate worlds. I knew my actions were sinful. I knew I had made mistakes. But knowing this and speaking this out loud are entirely different. By not speaking of my sin, I allowed it to live in the darkness of my soul. However, when I finally did confess my sin, I could no longer hide from it.

Spoken words caused my sexuality and my spirituality to collide. And when that collision occurred, it was both messy and beautiful. It’s not an easy process to bring together two separate lives and make them one person. It doesn’t happen overnight. Reconciling past mistakes with a new future takes time and vulnerability. Once I began speaking about my sexual past, my desire to connect, how much I enjoyed this gift and my desire to follow Christ and be in relationship with him, I realized that the two parts were never supposed to have been separate. Both sought to be found. Isn’t that what we mean when we say we are made in the image of God? We want to be found in the one relationship we were created to be in, with our Creator.

Intentional Design

I’m honored to have walked with so many people, male and female, who helped me reconcile my spiritual and sexual selves; people willing to forgive my past sin, engage in difficult questions and, most importantly, explore Scripture and what it had to say about our sexuality and our faith in Christ. We set aside clichéd sayings and simple answers with the hope of finding healing, direction and the marvelous truth that everything flows from finding hope and connection in Christ—even sex.

God never frames sexuality around sin. He starts with its beauty; he starts with the intent to join two humans together. When we start with the sin of sex, we start with the pain, hurt, guilt, shame many have attached to it. Condemnation soon follows, and we lose connection with God’s grace.

I’ve learned that sex is vital in my marriage, but it’s not the only vital element. I am married to a beautiful wife, and sex adds a dimension to my marriage that brings my wife and me into a beautiful sense of oneness. But it’s not the only thing that holds our marriage together. Together, we live a whole life, not just a sexual life. Earlier in my journey, I would have lived a fragmented life with my wife, with sex at the center and Christ outside that deep place. I’ve learned that this fragmentation isn’t what Christ ultimately has for us.

On a theoretical level, sex and religion are inseparable. Sex is a gift from God, designed to be experienced and enjoyed in the sanctity of marriage. In an effort to communicate God’s best, we’ve instead succeeded in communicating a list of restrictions. As I’ve explored Scripture, I’ve discovered sexual freedom in God’s plan, wrapped in the boundary of marriage, and it’s beautiful; wonderful; emotionally messy; confusing; complicated; amazing. Our sexuality has a past and a future. It is sacred and holy. But, whether we choose to be aware, it is does not (and cannot) stand alone or apart from spiritual identity.