3 Fibs and a Truth About Sex
Something is going wrong in Christian communities. We say that we care very much about premarital chastity, and yet anecdotes and studies alike show that many Christians, even in churches that teach sex is only for marriage, have premarital sex.
The statistics on unmarried Christians and sex are both hard to come by and not wholly reliablepeople tend to fudge when talking to pollsters, presenting their lives as they wish they were, not as they actually are, so the single Christian talking to a pollster may pretty things up a bit. Still, a few snapshots from the field:
Three surveys of single Christian adults conducted in the 1990s determined that approximately one third were virginsmeaning, of course, that two thirds were not.
In 2003, researchers at Northern Kentucky University showed that 61 percent of students who signed sexual-abstinence commitment cards broke their pledges.
Of the remaining 49 percent who kept their pledges, 55 percent said they'd had oral sex, and did not consider oral sex to be sex.
And yet, pastors (and Christian writers) spend a lot of time talking about sex. Indeed, the cultured despisers of Christianity often accuse us of being obsessed with regulating people's sex lives!
So what is going on?
There are, of course, many reasons that trying-to-be-faithful, believing Christians engage in sexual sin. (The number one reason is the Fall.) But I think pastors and writers and other Christian leaders bear part of the blame. We mean well. We desperately want to counter the decidedly un-Christian messages our surrounding society sends about sex. But in combating them, we often tell a few fibs ourselves. We say things about sex, and sexual sin, that are untrue and unhelpful.
Fib #1: Premarital sex makes you feel lousy
Ask Christian teens what their youth pastor has told them about sex, and you'll probably hear "If I have premarital sex, I will feel bad."
To be sure, that is sometimes true. At times, after a one-night stand, or after sex with your girlfriend of two years, or after even kissing a guy you don't know very well, you feel lousy. Ashamed, or alienated, or lonely, or just plain down in the dumps.
But sometimes, it is not true. Sometimes, even after sinful sex, a person will feel fantastic. Or maybe blasé. You don't necessarily feel devastated.
When we tell our unmarried listeners that they'll feel bad if they have premarital sex, we are making two different mistakes. For starters, we are making a pastoral error. Let's imagine Jason, 27, who has heard since puberty that premarital sex will leave him feeling like trash. For years, he walks the chaste straight and narrow, but at some point he stumbles and has sex with his girlfriend.
Does he feel horrible the next morning? Maybe; maybe not. If he doesn't, he may find himself thinking "Hmmm. My pastor has been ...