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.

10 Ways to Be Awesome on Valentine’s Day

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Well, friends, once again we have reached that special day of the year that we’re either really jazzed about, dreading, or have simply just completely forgotten until reading this post.

Valentine’s Day is a magical day if, like me, you enjoy the color pink and the sudden abundance of cupcakes and candy. Even on the Valentine’s Days of years past when I have had a significant other, my one true love has been, and always will be, copious amounts of sugar.

On Valentine’s Day, the world is divided into two types of people.

There are the single people and the non-single people (and then of course there’s the undefined relationships, which on Valentine’s Day suddenly feels like a very, very confusing time).

Valentine’s Day can be stressful for both types of people, whether you are agonizing over what to buy your sweetheart or what show to pick on Netflix as you sit alone in your pajamas.

Whatever camp you find yourself in this Valentine’s Day, here are 10 ways to make the 24 hours of love a little more awesome:

Call your parents.

Hey, your parents put up with you for a lot of years. They bought you clothes, made sure you didn’t only eat candy for breakfast (despite your best wishes), and kept you company while you were sick (and probably experienced way more vomiting than they actually wanted to). If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Leave a valentine for your next door neighbor.

You don’t even have to sign it! Can you imagine how much it would make your day to find an encouraging note on your door step?

Compliment your server.

Whether you stop by a coffee shop or go out for a romantic dinner, point out something awesome about the person serving you.

Make a donation to a local organization.

Show some love to the animal shelter, YWCA, or an organization that holds a lot of meaning for you.

Pick up litter.

If you’re out and about and see some trash where it shouldn’t be, throw it away! The planet deserves some affection, too.

Make a gratitude list to God.

Gratitude is one of the most beautiful and life-giving forms of worship. When we take a moment to stop and really say thank you for the beauty in our life and what God is doing, we honor the way He loves us.

Make a Love Myself list, to yourself.

Sometimes we get so caught up in everything we think we could be doing better, that we forget to be in awe of just how awesome we are! Make a list of things you love about yourself – traits, dreams, physical aspects, etc.

Text a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Let them know you’re thinking about them, and be sure to include a unicorn emoji.

Leave an encouraging comment on someone’s Instagram photo.

A little affirmation is way better than a simple “like.”

Show your health some love.

Go for a quick walk, breathe deeply in and out, or rest your eyes by not looking at your screen for a while. Good health is an amazing gift that is easy to take for granted – enjoy the freedom your well-functioning body provides you every day.

SHARE this post with a friend this Valentine’s Day – and tell them they rock while you’re at it.

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.

Stand For Something Or You’ll Fall For Anyone: The Reality of Open Relationships

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You only have to open your Facebook feed to know we are the generation of acceptance and tolerance (as long as someone’s view matches our own), and we pride ourselves in being open-minded.

Many topics our parents and grandparents saw as black and white tend to land somewhere on a grey scale in our current culture. And if we aren’t careful the lines between what is right, and what is accepted as “normal” can get pretty blurry.

Our romantic relationships are just one of the things that have started to lose definition.

There is a hesitancy to put a label on our relationships because it forces us to be vulnerable, requiring a commitment that takes work to honor. This is demonstrated in our culture by the prevalence of open relationships, ambiguous sexual orientation, polyamory, and casual hookups. Eventually I hope to go into more detail on these various topics, but something I’ve been discovering most recently is the basic importance of knowing where you stand and knowing how God feels about it all.

I was shocked to discover the numbers of how many open, or non-monogamous relationships exist in the U.S. Studies are showing that anywhere from 5-9% of people surveyed would admit to having “openness” with their spouses or partners.

Articles on polyamory (being in committed relationships with multiple partners with the consent of each partner) even boast about how much better poly relationships handle communication and jealousy struggles.

Knowing this, I can’t help but fear that we are heading down a road towards no accountability, where we devalue ourselves and God’s word by not honoring each other with the gift of commitment.

Most of the stories I’ve heard from people who are now in some form of open relationship claim they never would have imagined they could be okay with this kind of situation; it took a lot of growing and getting used to.

In life, we don’t always take the time to form an opinion or take a stand on something until it is right there in front of us, and sometimes not until we have met that wonderful person we’re convinced we should be with and they present an unfamiliar situation. And if we look at the culture around us and see what they’re presenting is an accepted practice, and no one is judging and it seems to be working for others, then we can be even more inclined to blur our lines and jump onboard.

If you don’t stand for something, you could fall for anyone.

That’s why it’s so important to know what God had in mind when he made man and woman for each other, not for each other and then some other people at the same time.

Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.” Though we live in an ever-changing culture, God remains constant, as do his desires for relationships and love life. He has also not wavered in His call that we should love one another.

There are so many benefits that come with being in a committed relationship with one person, like learning how to compromise, building trust, and finding contentment. To take a stand and be resolved in our beliefs does not have to make us judgmental or close-minded; rather, it protects us from being swept up by every new wave of thinking that hits our culture.

It diffuses the cloud of confusion that making us question everything.

Knowing God’s truth and taking a stand does not equal an absence of love for others. More important than being tolerant or accepting of every new trend is our call to remain in God’s truth, because He is not swayed, and neither is His desire for our ultimate good.

An honest and true life builds honest relationships

Our Development Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, Holly, shares her take on the benefits of vulnerable living:

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Growing up, I had a lot of anxiety and when I was overwhelmed the last thing I wanted to do was share how I was feeling.

When my sister would ask me to talk about it with her, I would close up and could feel myself bursting at the seams. But in the end, if I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And that for me was the easy way out at the time.

I think the reason why it is difficult to tell our stories and connect with others is because we haven’t been honest with ourselves and we hold things back that need to come out.

Maya Angelou explains it like this: “There is no greater agony than an untold story inside of you.”

 We have to remember that our story is significant and that we are created by a God who is writing the grand narrative. Our story is a part of the reconciliation of human relationship.

 As I got older, this tactic of holding things back, pretending, and bursting at the seams did not work on other people. In college, I had a friend who learned early on that I was hiding how I really felt and wouldn’t let me pretend. She forced me to be honest with myself and with her.

And opening up was completely freeing.

This was the beginning of building true relationships in my life. Yes, I had to be honest about not only the good parts of life, but also the parts that were messy and ugly. And even though this was difficult, I began to understand more of who I really am.

And as I began to be more confident in myself, it became easier to share my story with other people and ultimately started building healthy relationships with friends and my boyfriend (now husband).

Knowing our stories and being able to share them confidently will benefit both you and the people who are hearing it. But it takes time and trust to be able to do this well.

If you think about it, this is one of the reasons why relationships are messy. Two people who have parts of themselves they are ashamed of, parts of themselves they don’t even know and parts they have never shared with anyone else. In order to be in healthy relationships, we have to know our story, own it and share it with all of the good and the bad and the messy.

Relationships are lived out through our shared stories.

As you learn to share your story with people you trust, you begin to understand more of who you really are. You start to see what is important to you, if there have been any unhealthy patterns in your life, and what have been some of your darkest times.

Having confidence in who you are and accepting the messy parts of yourself makes it possible for you to accept other people for who they are. It also makes it possible for you to give other people grace because you know first hand no one is perfect.

Until we are able to know our stories, and allow other people to be a part of them, we cannot love other people well. Knowing our true identity, accepting our story and sharing it with others is the beginning of building true relationships with other people and living a true and honest life.

 Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It’s the beginning of something beautiful that plays a crucial chapter of this grand narrative.

Sometimes We Just Need to Pray…

Not sure if you knew this or not but Justin Beiber has been in the news a lot lately. From his antics in Miami (DUI, resisting arrest, and invalid license) to his assault against a limo driver in Toronto and now news that he was abusive and smoking marijuana on a flight arriving in New Jersey for the Super Bowl. He has been anything but the role model that many have made him to be over the last few years.

It makes me sad, but not for the reason’s you might at first suspect.

I remember having a discussion several years ago with a parent who raved about the values that both Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber displayed in their life, most notably their desire to honor God and waiting to have sex. They professed it on camera and in books. The media grabbed a hold of this and, in the case of Miley, Disney flaunted her virginity and good values to parents.

Those values seem to be no longer as important as they once might have been…but it is not surprising.

My response at that time and now is the same. We need to be praying for those we try to place on a pedestal, like Justin Beiber. Especially if they are young celebrities that we’ve allowed our sons and daughters to emulate or, at the very least, watch and listen to. Why? Because these individuals have been given so much power. Tons of money at a young age. It doesn’t matter what your roots are, the older you get, the more money you make, the harder it is to stay true to the place you began. Showbiz has a way of pushing parents of these young children to the side and bringing in others to become their “family.” Eventually this new “family” becomes the authority and the machine that is needed to move a child star into adulthood. Among other things, they use their sexuality to help a growing fan base grow with them. It makes sense and we’ve seen this with people like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. It is no surprise that we are now seeing Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus doing the same thing but amplified to fit into the ever grown hyper sexualized culture we live in. Miley even admits as much here!

Christians have contributed to the celebrity focused culture.

Often times we try to find that one example that we can give to our children. Just one! When we find someone that fits the mold and says the same things we say, we think finally!

This is a terrible dynamic. It is bad for the people we venerate because they then feel the stress of keeping a certain reputation, which, as we are seeing, can take a devastating toll. It is bad for the Christian because we end up putting too much trust in that person and so our faith is shattered when it doesn’t go the way we all hoped for and anticipated. So what happens when we’ve taught our kids to compare their lives with a celebrity? I think we can all take a guess. Instead of them looking to something or someone that is life-giving, we’ve given them a model of life that is anything but fulfilling.

It seems that Justin’s mother would agree with some of my earlier sentiment about prayer. I applaud her response. Pattie Mallete, Justin Beiber’s mother, recently stated in The Sun, “the world of showbiz is a dark place, and struggling young celebs need our prayers and not our judgement.” She goes on, “I think so many people go into the entertainment industry with amazing Christian roots and they get influenced somehow. I ask that people keep me and Justin in their minds. I pray for him every day. If Justin’s struggling, don’t kick him when he’s down or condemn him – pray for him.”

I agree.

I am always careful to avoid pointing out individuals as examples for us to be like. I’ve always believed it is dangerous to create and follow the Christian celebrity or those celebs that seem to have it all together. Who are we teaching our youth to follow?

It would be better served in the future for us not to lift the celebrity above the source of true life, Jesus Christ. Over and over again we read about life in Christ. Yet, we so often put our hope in a model that is only 14, 15 or 16 years old, only to become devastated when they don’t live up to our expectations. How quickly we turn to name calling, condemning remarks, and speaking horrible things that we would have never said just a few months earlier.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Last week I came across the video below from Craig Ferguson. He talks about why he was not going to joke about another young pop star’s problems. Ferguson, an alcoholic, spoke from the heart about how he was feeling “uncomfortable about making fun of these people” – troubled stars such as Britany Spears. It is an older clip but it reminded me of the current situation with Justin Beiber. And I think I am going to do what I’ve always said I would do and what Justin’s mother says we should do for her son…pray!

Hannah Montana is Dead

Miley on SNLIn fact, Miley Cyrus declared that she murdered her on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And from the looks of her recent antics on the VMAs, SNL, and just about everywhere in the social media sphere I would say that runs truer than ever before. Hannah Montana is dead and we are not going to get her back.

I’ve not spoken about Miley yet mostly because others have done a good job of breaking down what they are observing. If you want to read some good explanations of what we see happening with Miley I suggest reading a blog from a good friend, Walt Mueller. His post last month on Miley and her recent transformation can be found here. He also writes some on the VMAs here. Which includes an excerpt on the realities of the world that Disney has brought us through their legion of former Mickey Mouse Club members (Justin Timberlake, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera) and TV show break outs (Selena Gomez, Amanda Bynes, and Miley Cyrus).

What strikes me most about Miley is not just her transformation, but the overall trend among today’s young pop stars to one up one another sexually. I just learned this weekend of Rihanna’s newest video and song, ‘Pour It Up’, which promotes stripping and has her simulating sex acts throughout the video. It makes Britany Spears new video for her song ‘Work B***h’ tame compared to Rihanna’s video and Miley’s videos for her recent songs ‘Can’t Hold Us’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’. Now this is nothing new. However, the level at which they are upping their game is. It has moved from scantily clad to almost nothing. From a few sexy dance moves to having sex with the floor.

Sex, it seems, still sells. Only it looks like we need more of it to notice any difference.

Many of the videos we are able to watch on YouTube today we could have never dreamed of watching 15 years ago without calling it soft porn. In order to stand out in todays pop culture you have to sell your sexuality. And at a younger and younger age. Which means making your video pornographic. It’s no wonder why we are seeing pre-teens and teens engage in sex earlier and earlier.

I remember having a conversation with a parent a few years ago about Miley. She beamed at the fact that she was a believer in Jesus Christ and was waiting until marriage to have sex. She expressed how happy she was that their was a female that her pre-teen could look up to and model her life after. At first, I shared her excitement but then I started to think about the long history of artists like Miley that have done the same thing. Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, and Britany Spears at some point confided in their desire to wait. They sold their purity to break down the fear that parents might have and used their virginity and innocence to gain trust. But around the age of 18 that changed. They moved from an innocent role model to a sex symbol. However, I don’t remember a former child star going so far so quick as Miley.

When Miley said that Hannah Montana was dead on Saturday Night Live I felt those words hang in the air. Miley is right. Hannah Montana is dead. But it’s not just Hannah Montana that I mourn for in this current state of our culture. It’s what this statement symbolizes for me as a parent, for the teens I work with and the world we live in.

PlanBChildren and teens are exposed to more sexually provocative messages and sexually mature messages then ever before. Many long before they are ready. Our social media coordinator at Project Six19 was with his 3-year-old daughter recently at Walgreens when he saw a Plan B package for sell next to the candy. If you’re not familiar with Plan B it is emergency contraceptive. It was not found behind the counter or in the pharmacy but right there near the M&Ms. Not only do we have to talk with our kids younger and younger about their bodies but now we also have to talk to them about things like this…long before they are ready. Then place the fact that we have to teach our children that todays favorite childhood celebrities might be tomorrows sex symbols means one thing.

Yes, it does look like Hannah Montana is dead and all the innocence that came with her.

As I reflect on Miley’s comments, her actions and those of her counterparts, and the Plan B cartridge on the candy aisle, I don’t blame anyone in particular. We’ve all contributed to this. We buy Miley’s music, watch Rihanna’s videos and buy Plan B for our teenagers so that they can skip the reality of the consequences of the decisions they made without realizing that we may just be creating others. No, I don’t blame anyone but I think it is time we start recognizing what is happening and taking responsibility where we can.

First, we’ve got to take some responsibility for this demand for the sexualization of the young men and women who feel like they have to bust free of this prudish image by flaunting their birthday suit in front of millions. Miley, Britany and Rihanna are no less valuable then you or I. And it is not just women. Daniel Radcliffe who you might remember for playing the part of Harry Potter is also getting into the mix and moving from child actor to adult by posing nude in several of his recent endeavors. It seems like it is a calculated career move. One that none of them would make if it didn’t pay the bills.

However, we must remember one fact. They were each made in the image of God just like you and I. Our sexuality can be a beautiful and wonderful force if in the proper context. But it can also be a tool for manipulation.

Second, GK Chesterton once said, “when we go knocking on the door of a brothel what we are really looking for is God.” Our deepest longings for sex, food, things, or whatever it is that we crave is really just a longing for God. We see this throughout Scripture. It is the reason I rejoice in the redemption story that all of the Bible points to and our opportunity to step into it through our relationship with Christ. I think there is a lot of longing happening in the stories of each of these individuals. As well as those that participate in their success by watching, viewing, and sharing their videos, music and movies.

Finally, let’s recognize that there is something holy that we are seeking when sexuality is placed before us. So often we want to place rules and restrictions around sex and relationships as Christians but I don’t think they work unless it is an act of obedience. That is why we must use the power of sex as a catalyst for discussions on the one that created this great gift and point individuals towards God. Only then can they understand the beauty of their body, the gift of their sexuality and where it is to be shared.