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.

Q & A: Two Perspectives on OkCupid’s Sex Attitudes Study

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Several weeks ago, The Atlantic reported on a study conducted by OkCupid detailing how attitudes towards sex (at least of the 12 million people who use the app) have changed over the last ten years.

I (Julia) and Jason decided to come up with five questions based on this article to see how our perspectives of the past decade line up, especially because I was transitioning from a teenager to an adult and Jason had just reached his 30s.

Take a look below to see our different takes on the changing attitudes about sex over the past decade:

What do you think is the biggest factor in the decline of people who reported they would sleep with someone on the first date (69% in 2005 vs. 50% in 2015)?

Jason, 40: “As the world of dating has changed people have become more aware of the danger of sleeping with someone on the first date. Most of this is due to online dating and apps like Tinder or OkCupid. Yes, some people use these apps to hook up, but many others use them to meet others in the hopes of finding a mate. Because of this, people are learning to be more cautious in the short term; individuals using such services to find committed relationships are typically more careful in the early stages.”

Julia, 25: “In general people have way more access to information about sex via the Internet. Not that sleeping with someone on the first date was ever a ‘novelty’ per se, but it seems like the idea/risk of a one-night stand became less ‘glamorous’ as people had more information about not only STDs, but now unlimited access to accounts of sex and/or pregnancy horror stories. Because this study was done by OkCupid, I believe there’s a possibility people became more aware that because of the now limitless options of partners online, it’s more established that you may not be ‘as special’ right away; your date can easily move on from you with a plethora of other partners at the touch of a button.”

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From OKCupid’s research: “Would you need to sleep with someone before you considered marrying them?”

In 2005, what was the general attitude among your peers towards online dating?

Jason: “Online dating was still in its infancy. In fact, the most common places to meet someone were through friends, family, and church. Yes, church still played a role in helping people meet in 2005! Today that stat has all but disappeared. Most people I knew, including myself, didn’t really see online dating as a viable option. And those that did kept it a secret. I knew people who met, fell in love, and even got married, yet never told anyone the truth of how they had met (online). Online dating only recently became normalized, and these couples finally admitted how they met because they didn’t feel as judged as they might have back in 2005.”

Julia: “I was 15, so online dating had a huge stigma; only older people desperate for a relationship used online dating! So online dating was not really a thing among my peers. Our biggest online space at the time was MySpace. MySpace was not explicitly conducive for dating, but it was one of the first spaces online where you could declare your relationship status. You could also flirt back and forth with someone or your significant other in the public comments section of their profile or your profile. So in a way, 2005 marked the first time, for me, that dating became more of a public thing to be ‘judged’ in an online setting, outside of face-to-face relationships at school.”

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“Is it okay for a woman to talk openly about her sexual exploits?”

In 2005, what was the cultural attitude (among your peers) towards women talking openly about their sexual exploits?

Jason: “There has been a gigantic shift when it comes to women and sex. I was always aware of some women sharing exploits with other women but never openly so all could hear. Something I find striking about this data is it is in line with the impact pornography is having on our culture. Women (and men) are being sexualized at a rate never before seen. Our thoughts on sex, the conversations we have surrounding sex, and ultimately the way we practice sex are all being shaped by a culture largely impacted by the use of pornography. In 2005 this would have only been a much smaller segment of the population; now it is the majority.”

Julia: “I was a freshman in high school, so women talking about their sexual exploits would have been, in my limited opinion, promiscuous. Especially if those women had been my own peers. Girls who talked openly about their sexual exploits at school (and I don’t recall this being frequent) were considered to be ‘easy’; not necessarily easy sexually, but easy to date because they were always willing and not usually in long-lasting relationships.”

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“Is there such thing as having too many sexual partners?”

In 2005, what would you have qualified as the biggest cultural influence on dating? In 2015? 

Jason: “In 2005 I would have argued the media (movies, tv, and music) would be the largest cultural influence. The hook-up culture was in full swing and ‘friends with benefits’ were all the rage. Along the same line I was one of the few people speaking about how pornography was shaping a generation to think and act differently when it came to sex. Today, In 2016, we’ve visibly been able to see the impact pornography has had on our society. Yes, media still drives and influences our thoughts on sex and sexuality, but even the media’s influence has grown exponentially since 2005. This is mostly due to the birth and growth of social media where an idea or thought can become a reality within in minutes, from any source.”

Julia: “I might have to say the cellphone, because this was the year when most people my age got their first cell phone. So the fact that you could text someone outside of school, in private, was a big deal. It opened up the world to not just face-to-face, in-school conversations anymore. Dating or liking someone could now be a private thing, rather than in front of all your peers. For 2015, I would say the biggest cultural influence was still very much your cell phone, in the form of apps. Social media and dating apps suddenly put a lot of pressure on dating; no one had an excuse anymore not to be dating, or at least trying to date, because you now had so many ways to meet people. Social media also upped the pressure, in my opinion, to have the most ideal life possible, relationships included.”

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“Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?”

How has the cultural opinion of sex and dating shifted in the last 10 years, from your personal experience and viewpoint? 

Jason: “There is something about this question that saddens me. I’ve been speaking on the issues of sex/sexuality/relationship for a little more than 10 years. Everything I thought we would see (and this data now shows) has become a reality. I think the only thing that is surprising to me is the data showing fewer people sleeping with each other on the first date. But even that data is in line with what I see happening around me today. Specifically, I see a lot of data that shows we are becoming both more liberal AND conservative in our views surrounding sex. Our ideas surrounding sex are all over the place!

Julia: “I grew from teenager to adult during this time, so my experience is based on a very specific life stage. I would say that sex seemed like something that was still very taboo to most people my age in 2005. Dating was frequent, but not necessarily because people wanted to be frequently dating. We were just high school students who didn’t know how to maintain a long-lasting relationship. Dating and sex still very much seemed to hold an element of love; those things should be experienced for the sake of experiencing love. I would say that now dating and sex are treated among the culture at large as a personal life goal, one that adds to our own unique personas and can be recounted as stories that make us seem interesting. Sex in particular has become very individualistic, especially with the drastic rise of gender fluidity, etc. Sex is about finding ourselves and determining how we form our identity.”


What do you think? How do you think the attitudes surrounding sex have changed since 2005?

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.

Expert Says Casual Sex Doesn’t Exist

By Jason Soucinek 

Who says sex can’t be just sex? And who says casual sex has any impact on individuals or relationships?

Oh wait, I do! And so does biological anthropologist (and sex expert) Helen Fisher in the video below.

For years Project Six19 has spoken about how sex is never just sex. Now science has proven this in more ways than one. Specifically, science is showing there is no such thing as casual sex.

Sex stimulates areas of the human brain that are linked to love and attachment.

Dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin flood our largest sex organ during sex. And no, your largest sex organ is not your genitalia (sorry, Donald Trump). It’s your brain! These neurochemicals create feelings of trust, protection, and bonding.

This needs to be the conversation we are having about sex. In fact, it reinforces the very verse we find in Scripture: “The two will become one flesh.” Often we fail to remember that God was the sex-maker. He gave purpose and design to this wonderful gift. He gave us sexual desire and pleasure. But He also gave us a time and place to experience sex as a means of protection for our hearts and minds – marriage.

Casual sex doesn’t exist! Don’t believe me? Check out the video below:

“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:

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.

Convincing Has No Place in Conversations About Consent

By Amy Juran

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I was watching a spoof about sex ed by John Oliver the other night.

While a lot of the content was primarily humorous, I was very intrigued when they took a good chunk of the segment to talk about consent.  They showed some hilariously outdated clips about a boy asking a girl to have sex and the girl answering with various versions of “no.”  Each time, the boy responded with either a plea to reconsider, or an eye roll of irritation.

Though my views and opinions aren’t completely aligned with Oliver’s (to see what I mean, watch the spoof here *Graphic language and some content*), I was impressed by his reaction to the videos. Like me, Oliver was appalled by the fact that this girl was getting coached as to how to say “no”confidently, while no one was reprimanding the boy about being disrespectful of her wishes.  I think our culture has emphasized how to stand up for ourselves while failing to teach us how to recognize the signals we are getting from others.

When it comes to sex and physical intimacy, convincing someone to do these things should never be part of the scenario.

You shouldn’t have to talk them into being on board with something, nor should you take it upon yourself to interpret their words how you think they might have meant them. Under no circumstances does “no” translate to “yes.” Saying “no” isn’t being coy or playing games. “No” means no. Period.

And this goes for having sex, kissing, or holding hands while walking down the street; if one person isn’t totally comfortable with something, that is the final word.

An article from Love is Respect defines consent as “communicating every step of the way.”  Even if you have established boundaries as a couple, it’s possible feelings can change. It’s important to continue having open conversations even if you’ve been together for a while.

If you are the one who is uncomfortable with the direction that a physical situation is going, you must be assertive. Dropping subtle hints or passively protesting a behavior may not get the message across entirely.  Even if you feel that you are past the point of no return, you are never obligated to continue any activity you are not okay with.

On the other side, don’t ever assume that a behavior is consent to go further.  Even if someone is wearing suggestive clothing, or being flirty and forward, that is not code for what they are willing to do sexually.  Verbal communication is the only way to confidently know what both people are comfortable pursuing.

All of this talking and checking in can feel akward, but ultimately it will lead to the freedom that comes with confidently knowing the other person is comfortable. When no boundaries are being crossed or feelings being hurt, it can make relationships so much healthier and stronger.  It builds trust between both people, and completely eliminates the possibility of someone misinterpreting the other’s actions.

How have you handled conversations about consent? What worked well?