I grew up hearing a lot about sex in the church.
Raised during the height of the purity movement, I had friends who "kissed dating goodbye" and others who plunged headfirst into the dating pool. We were instructed to wait until marriage for sex, but given little guidance about what to do with our sexual desires in the intervening years. We young women were reminded to dress modestly to avoid causing men to stumble, which made little sense to a flat-chested 15-year-old. Boys were instructed to guard their hearts and eyes as well, lest they fall prey to the wildfire lust lurking in their loins.
Though we heard plenty about our libidinous male counterparts, after college something strange happened. We heard nothing at all. Married women, it was assumed, had figured everything out. Single women were asexual beings, contentedly waiting for the right man to come along.
The messages we heard gave me the distinct impression that men were little more than walking lust machines, perpetually teetering on the brink of arousal. Just the slightest hint of cleavage or an overexposed leg could be enough to drive them over the edge. You can imagine my shock the first time my husband wasn't interested in sex. The idea that he might also be tired some nights, or turned off after an argument, or simply not in the mood, had never occurred to me.
From what I've heard from friends, my experience is not an exception. In Christian circles female sexuality is largely ignored. It's not hard to see why this might be. Most pastors are men, and are understandably reluctant to address sexual issues on the other side of the gender divide. Second, if they do venture beyond the usual "do's and don'ts," their teaching on the subject is bound to reflect a distinctly masculine perspective. That leaves the other half of the church (actually more like two-thirds, since women are disproportionally represented in church) with little helpful guidance on the topic.
What's at stake?
The heavy emphasis on modesty can lead women to think of our bodies as dirty, dangerous things. What women hear and begin to understand about ourselves is that we can never be trusted, we are never fully human subjects, and our dignity as persons does not override our objectivity as sexual snares. By not acknowledging the existence or the goodness of sexual desires in women, we are quietly condemning a central aspect of what it means for people to be human.
As embodied beings, women need to be reminded that our sexual desires are good and are meant to be met in an exclusive and lifelong marriage relationship, and are not base stirrings to be ignored away. As women hear more and more that their bodies are nothing more than receptacles for male sexual desire, we deny the inherent goodness of our bodies and its natural desires. The body can get things wrong, to be sure—Paul is clear about this in Galatians 5:17. But the body is a really good thing; so good that God took one on when he showed up on earth.
When it comes to sex and understanding how the female body works, which is complicated and requires direct and sometimes embarrassing conversation, we can't seem to muster the courage to talk frankly about our bodies. We say that God designed sex to be a wonderful thing, but we shy away from having conversations about the nuances of sex because we're afraid we will get something wrong. We're afraid we don't have all the answers, and we are especially afraid of what to say to women.