Sex is a perennial topic on my blog because of how obsessed we are with the subject and how bad Christians are at taking about it. It’s all black-and-white, perfect-or-not. I’m not sure I’m much better, but I at least want to start a dialogue.
The way Jesus defines healthy sex when he speaks about marriage is that it is best in an exclusive relationship, between two people, who are committed to each other. You can probably proof-text your way out of these basics, but I think, for me, the proof is in the pudding. It’s not about learning how to justify what I desire, but trying to get what God desires to transform my desires. Practically, I think sex works best when we are doing it the way Jesus advised.
But Jesus’ ideal standard is so often broken that it’s hard to not feel shame or exclusion from other Christians, even when they may not be shaming or excluding you. People will often stop following Jesus when it comes to sex because they are hurt, lonely, isolated, confused, or looking for some real affection and connection. Sex is often the easiest cure to those things, but ultimately it may exacerbate them.
From what I’ve known and observed, here are three things I’ve learned about sex or sexual affection when it’s experienced outside of Jesus’ definition.
Unhealthy sex can lead to indifference. Sometimes this guilt is so crippling, that the response is to become desensitized to the emotionality of sexual experiences. Our society is so sex-filled and porn is so accessible, it is hard to realize that a foot massage is not just a foot massage. Sex means something. But if we have enough unhealthy sex, I think we lose that it matters. We might start to think it is just about exchanging fluids.
Add to that the church’s unending guilt induction (to the point where it can no longer speak prophetically about how we have sex) and we might have people that refuse to think about sexual immorality and feel justified in their promiscuity. Moreover, sometimes people have been hurt by a marriage or a relationship that might be considered “holy” in the eyes of the church, that they don’t allow their pain to be transformed by God, they merely transmit it to the people around them in the form of “casual sex” (which I have come to learn is a reason to log onto OK Cupid).
The problem is that the people involved in a sexual encounter are not always indifferent. Sometimes they are looking for something more that stimulation, like a genuine relationship. Because that’s so often the case when commitment is not made clear, unhealthy sex can lead to confusion. Sex seems to happen before intentions are stated, or sometimes it seems to happen when those intentions are falsely stated.
This sounds obvious, but even a covenant in front of God and community, if held in isolation, may have similarly poorly communicated intentions. One person has expectations, and the other has none; the result is two people that are estranged, and confused—meanwhile they have shared among the most intimate things two people can share.
This might happen a lot in the midst of our hook-up culture; sex is expected if someone “puts out.” On the other hand, sometimes the expectation isn’t sex, but a relationship after the sex. When that doesn’t happen, even more confusion occurs. This happens in anonymity a lot of the time, where it is concealed and forgotten about, but it can happen among friends and in community too.
Unhealthy sex leads to loneliness. When indifference meets confusion, loneliness creeps in. Already, we live in a world that’s so connected, it’s hard to be alone; so isolated, it’s hard to be in community; so instant, we can never be patient. Unhealthy sex adds to all of those problems, and it does damage to our souls. It can even leave us feeling distant from God, not just because we think we are too “polluted” to talk to him, but because we don’t know ourselves and we can’t seem to know him either.
That loneliness and isolation is an incubator for our pain and suffering; for our anxiety and depression. Sometimes we lose so much affection and intimacy that the only way to receive is through more bad sex. The problem is that we then conflate sex and connection—so that every single encounter with a potential mate is sexual. We forget how to even have relationships. We think everyone has an ulterior motive.
I think there is hope to all of this though and it is found in real community, even though the community is not perfect. It’s intentionality and goal of transformation combats the indifference of unhealthy sex. When everything matters, it’s hard to say that sex does not.
Because we have agreements that are basic to leadership, and honesty and transparency is the only way that a community maintains integrity, a healthy community also combats confusion. Our leaders and therapists (at Circle Counseling) are there to make the confusion of unhealthy sex clearer too. Light gets gently shined on the areas we want to conceal, and the truth frees us.
And finally, even when we are isolated and lonely, the community keeps including you. No matter how you feel, the community is there to remind you that you are loved, not just by others, but by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
None of these things are easy, but I do think participating in a real community like Circle of Hope is a way to make things easier.