There is a good reason the Church doesn’t talk about sex to singles very often. The Bible is clear that sex is an act exclusively meant for married people and talking about it too much to singles can cause unnecessary stumbling blocks or discontentment.
But the Bible is also clear that sex is a beautiful, God-given gift. It is spoken of much more positively in the Bible than in our fear-led church culture. The solution to not being a stumbling block doesn’t have to be never, ever talking about sex to singles unless it’s in the context of exhorting single people about their purity.
For singles to not talk or think about sex for so long, then eventually get married and immediately be expected to welcome sex as a significant part of their lives, can be very damaging. The Church can easily do more to prepare singles for marriage and even use the topic of God-designed sex to encourage singles, regardless of if they ever marry.
Here are three consequences that I’ve seen from the Church seldom mentioning sex unless it’s in a negative light:
1. The Way the Church Talks about Sex Can Lead to Sexual Repression
Because sex is almost always talked about in a negative way to singles – as in, don’t have sex or else – it leads many to repress themselves sexually and to fear sex in and of itself.
I am sure that the details of what it looks like to heed Ephesians 5:3 varies from person to person, but if someone holds fast to this conviction, there is no sexual activity at all before the wedding. And then, by the Church’s standards, you’re expected to flip a switch just because you’re married—and become this partner-pleasing sex kitten overnight.
Our bodies don’t work that way. And if you have the mentality that what it takes to be sexually pure is to “beat your body and make it your slave,” it can be tough to undo that repression.
Christian sex therapist Lauren Peterson talks about this in a podcast called Truth, Trauma, Theology:
“I have seen couples come through the door where neither can access arousal because they have spent years shutting it off.
“I see a lot of body shaming, body hatred, I see a lot of disgust at sexual attention … Because of some of the messages that we either implicitly or explicitly received – wives that internally feel like their husband’s attraction to them is gross. They can’t receive that in a loving way. Because they’ve been told their whole lives if men are doing that you’re probably being immodest, or you’re putting off something to attract that and that that’s sinful.
“Our bodies are not light switches.”
This has serious repercussions in not only a husband and wife’s sex life but their ability to enjoy God through the beautiful gift that is sexual intimacy. And for some, unless serious unlearning takes place, it can be years and years or even a lifetime before they are able to enjoy themselves.
God created us for pleasure! Not just sexual pleasure, of course—pleasure from food, from friends, from wine, from a cool breeze. It leads one to wonder what else we are repressing ourselves from enjoying, and therefore cutting ourselves off from a direct channel to knowing, really knowing God in that way.
I am not promoting sexual acts of any kind before marriage. But how different could our mentality be if we accepted that we were sexual beings AND are still made in the image of God? Being a sexual being doesn’t have to mean participation in sexual acts, but it does mean a holy and comfortable acceptance of our sexuality rather than repression.
The Church could contribute so much good to the lives of their singles if they stopped fearing sex and started talking about it the way that God does – very positively!
2. The Implied Messaging about Sex Can Lead Singles to Cary Deep Shame around Their Sexual Nature
There was sex in the perfect, holy Garden of Eden even before the fall, as Genesis 1:18 tells us, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’”
And not only was there sex for procreation but there are also clear biblical directives to share intimacy for intimacy’s sake:
“Your sex life will be blessed as you take joy and pleasure in the wife of your youth” Proverbs 5:18-19 TPT
“Do not deprive each other of sexual relations unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control” 1 Corinthians 7:5 NLT
All of this points to our sexual natures being good things.
It is a good thing that we want to be close to other humans. It is a good thing we want to use the bodies God gave us to please one another and to experience pleasure ourselves. It is a good thing we want to be vulnerable and give ourselves fully to another.
But the implied messaging single Christians hear more often is this:
“Sex (before marriage) is sinful. Therefore, only think about sex as a sin.”
“If you know sex is sinful, you’re less likely to mess up.”
“Your body is responsible for causing sin in others, so cover it up.”
“Being sexual is unholy. It is more holy to the least sexual you can be.”
“If you are sexual, you are dirty.”
When this is the messaging you hear for years and years as a single, it doesn’t just evaporate when you get engaged or married. When there is deep fear around something so vulnerable and precious as sex, that is impossible to overcome without serious prayer and counsel.
People with this experience, when they get married, have to wrestle with “I know that I am allowed to have sex now, but it still feels dirty. I am dirty. My partner is dirty for even being attracted to me. But it’s supposed to be such a good thing. Why do I feel this way? What is wrong with me?”
But we don’t have to shame people into being pure.
Sexuality in all humans, yes, even single people, is a good thing! We are relational because our God is relational. And that is something to be celebrated, not shamed.
3. Lastly, Not Talking about Sex Robs Singles of Seeing How Close God Wants to Be to Them
“As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” Isaiah 62:5.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” Revelation 19:7.
Scriptures like this make it obvious that the beautiful, full knowing, enthralling and deep intimacy that brides and grooms share is how God feels for us. And we can experience this intimacy whether we are married or not.
When we don’t ever talk about sex except to married people, we lose out on an opportunity to experience how wide and deep is the love of God.
Being single and feeling like you are missing out on intimacy – that God designed you for! – is deeply painful. The solution is not to have singles repress the side of them that longs for this intimacy but to help them realize that intimacy is available to us through God all of the time.
How different the Church could be if we experienced marriage intimacy with God in our daily lives. During our morning commute, when we’re sharing meals, brushing our teeth. The intimacy that God created us for is ever available to us, whether we’re married or not.
I am not advocating every sermon being about explicit sexual activity or giving tips to people who are nowhere near married.
But it’s a part of life. A part of the messy, sometimes chaotic, sometimes layered, beautiful life we share with God. And we shouldn’t be afraid of it.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Fizkes
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.