Sex, Shame, & Christianity #SingleWithLeah

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I love sex. Sex is great and one of my favorite things to do that I havent done since I was 25. Send him soon, Lord.

Not too long ago I went out with a guy who is on the Swat team. Like, the Detroit Swat team. Like the SWAT team that kicks in peoples doors and arrests criminals with their bear hands kind of swat team. Might as well check my ovulation schedule because I definitely plan on having this mans children, AM I RIGHT?

He had to cut our first date short because he got called in to execute a search warrant. **Fans herself with nearest chipotle receipt. So here I am, walking with this guy to our cars as he inadvertently flexes his muscles and clenches his perfectly sculpted jawline, and I thought to myself, Leah, you need to be careful with this guy. He is too sexy.

Ive had lots of discussions about sex and the christian, mainly revolving around the idea of slipping up. So I decided to do a little bit of research into the topic and get some views about sex in a Christian realm from the great and reliable internet. And you wont believe what I found!

Nothing.

I found nothing.

I googled 27 different versions of Christians and sex and the only articles that popped up were tons of focus-on-the-family inspired narratives about sex with your spouse, or what christian married couples can and cant do inside of the bedroom, or how to keep it spicy while still keeping it spiritual. I didnt find anything that helped me, the single woman, traverse through the never-ending waves of gorgeous SWAT team members.

Its no wonder why we have so many Christian men and women trying to figure out how to maintain godly, single relationships. NOBODY TALKS ABOUT IT. So here we are, trying to figure it all out on our own, and feeling incredibly alone when we make a mistake.

I went to a Christian high school, and we didnt have a sex ex class. Why would they need it, was the thinking. We were christian kids. We didnt need to know about condoms or STDs or birth control, because SURELY none of us were having sex.

And when I was 14-year-old youth group attendee, we had a True Love Waits seminar where I put on a purity ring and promised to stay a virgin until I was married. That was the one and only time that anyone ever attempted to talk to me about sex within a Christian context.

And then, like a sad Christian movie about the poor, backslidden girl with musical accompaniment by Point of Grace, when I was 21, I lost my virginity.

There was no soft music playing. I did not feel cherished. He did not have hair like Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I remember it being over with (much quicker than the movies) and me not knowing what to do next. So, for the next 4 years I tried to figure out sex on my own. And for the next 4 years, I became more and more confused.

I guess to a point I understand why we dont get up on Sunday mornings and talk about sex or relationships. Church is a family place. Families dont want their kids being poisoned too soon with such sinfulness. As much as my narrative is dripping with sarcasm, I really do get it.

But heres the problem that was so strongly reiterated to me when I searched the internet today for helpful tools in writing this: We dont talk about these things, because we assume that Christians will not have sex for the simple reason that it is sin. Some of you dont see a problem with that mindset. I am literally laughing while I type it.

I have full intentions to wait until I am married to have sex with my insanely hot future husband. But what if we slip up? Do I have to once again remove the proverbial purity ring from my finger and put it away with all of the other jewels that I am no longer fit to wear?

Orwhat if the purity ring wasnt a token of who I could be, but just of who I am?

I mean, who told me to take that ring off? Because it wasnt my parents. And it wasnt my pastor. And it wasnt my friends. Who told me that I was no longer pure and deserving of such a title?

Who told me to be ashamed?

It was the years of being subtly told that sex was a bad, bad thing by the very fact that it was noticeably absent from the christian narrative. It was the fact that I had done this bad, bad thing that was so bad that we werent even allowed to talk about it at church or school or even at my evangelical christian college.

I was told not to have sex, but not told why I shouldnt have it. I was told that sex was wrong, but not told why other than, Its a sin.I was told to wait, but not told why it was worth it to wait. And so now I was this non-virgin college student who was at a christian university surrounded by other christians who were definitely not having sex because its a sin, duh, and I felt alone, empty and SO ashamed that I had allowed myself to dip to such christians lows.

That sucked.

There are some of you today who are reading this and are carrying around an enormous amount of guilt and shame because you had sex or have sex. (Or are currently reading this while having sex, in which case please wait to comment.)

I guess my question for you is who told you that you should be ashamed?

Some of you are mad right now, because we should carry the shame of our sins, right? We should be deeply and madly shamed into repentance. Lol, NO.

The Bible never told us to be ashamed.

The Bible never told us to feel guilty or to feel frustrated or to feel like we were disgusting. The bible just told us to repent. It tells us, Hey, try harder. Be better. Not for me. For you.It isnt a license to be a moron, but more a license to not have to constantly feel like one.

In fact, the Bible gives us ways to get over being ashamed. It gives us pointed scriptures that talk about casting aside your shame and moving forward with your life.

Sex isnt unforgivable. You, human being, are not less of a Christian because you have had sex. Dont buy into that lie.

Dont believe the lie that some churches or catty Christians or complementarians will tell you that you need to be perfectly sinless in order to please God. Dont strive for perfection. With perfection, we would have no need for God.

So what should we strive to be?

Better than yesterday.

***

leahone-150x150Leah Barterian works as the Youth Program Director at Grace Christian Church in Metro Detroit, Michigan. She is extremely passionate about singleness, Red Wings hockey, social equality, and late-night snacking. She loves baked cheetos, puppies, and laughing at videos where people slip on the ice. She inexplicably hates black beans and humidity. Follow Leah on Twitter and Instagram @Leahbarterian. Explore Leah’s blog HERE.

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28 Comments

  • Well now, I just recently passed my 87th birthday – was a church goer for all of the ose and “born again” Christian for the past 40+ years. I have yet to meet the first person who was willing to explain sex to me – without mentioning fear.

    I am also the father of four children and I want others to know, that relationship thrived on sex. When and where we wanted to enjoy it, always with the intent to effectively love one another.
    The sad part of that marriage was that we missed out on the real life love part of our marriage. We feared money, the lack of enough. It was inborn in both of our minds.

    How sad it is to realize that the assumed lack of money would eventually ruin our marriage. Worse, when we tried to work on the real problem, we wound up in bed and everything was great – during those moments.

    So it is with many relationships I have known over the years and it saddens me that sex – physical sex and money bought to have no part of a true marriage. I loved her because I was willing to lay down my life for her. It was because I had seen what happened when a marriage was based on personal achievements rather than a bonded relationship. And there are literally hundreds of other excuses tearing marriages apart.

    Maybe I ought to write more about my response to your post. What do you think?

    • Please, yes, write more! This is the kind of topic that SHOULD BE talked about! We spend our Christian lives debating all kinds of silly things that have nothing to do with our Christianity or how we live our lives, yet won’t talk about the things that affect so many of us.

      If you end up writing about it, please let me know! And thanks so much for the read and for the input!

  • I find this very insightful. I find it insightful, because it has not always been like this. There was once upon a time some good christian books on all the things this blogger says are not talked about in christian circles, so what I want to know is, Where has the silence come from? I have retained one of the books from all those years ago.

    Also, this is not the unforgivable sin. Those who turn to christ are forgiven and so there is no need for guilt.

    • I would love to know about one of those books, because in my circle, they are nonexistent. Sex is talked about to married people and divorcees and newlyweds and not touched until you are one of those things. It’s sad, really, because I think that it propagates the idea of shame and guilt even more BECAUSE it’s so secret.

      Thanks for the input as always, George!

  • “Who told us to be ashamed?” That is really the $64,000 question, and not just in relation to having sex vs abstaining. And really, not just in relation to sexual matters but to life in general. My counselor and I have been doing a lot of talking about shame recently. This post gives me more to think about… adds complexity to sorting out shame, in both my past and my present. And that’s a good thing. Because I don’t think complex problems have simple answers — they require complex thinking to sort out. So thank you for this.

    • Thank you, Jenny, for this comment. It’s made me think a lot too, and I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous to post it for many, many reasons, mostly because I work at a church and this kind of stuff just isn’t talked about.

      Jesus never made anyone feel ashamed. He just didn’t. He made them contemplative and left them in deep thought, but he never said, “You should feel like a total butthead for how you’ve been acting, sinner.” That’s what we need to remember. Condemnation is never from God. And if we feel it, we need to ask ourselves why.

      Good luck in everything that you are doing!

  • I hear plenty more than “don’t do it because it is sin.” I hear all the Christian pseudo-psychology — “Don’t do it because it will ruin sex with your future spouse, don’t do it because you’ll never be able to stop, (unless of course you break up, which will probably happen, or probably should) don’t do it because you’ll be just as sick as the rest of the culture, don’t do it because it won’t be fun, don’t do it because you’ll be abusing another human being, or allowing yourself to be abused, don’t do it because it will make you feel cheap and depressed. And one quick look around at seemingly well adjusted people standing near you will cause you to doubt that any of that is true. But still you’ll try to convince yourself they must be miserable because they are living against God’s plan for them.

    Yours is the kinder, gentler, — its sin, but God understands, and just wants you to be happy which obviously, you can’t possibly be. Which means you may do it, but you won’t allow yourself to enjoy it, or process it, or grow from it, or integrate it into your life. It will become that moment, that instant, in which you walked away from God, and when you aren’t struck by lightening or suffer guilt, or wish you hadn’t –you may begin to wonder about this God business altogether.

      • Hey, Tracy!

        I won’t lie to you- there have been PLENNNNTY of moments where I was like, “Is this god-thing even for real? And if it is, is it relevant?” (and I work at a CHURCH).

        When I was 25, I stopped having sex not because I had some divine road-to-Damascus encounter with God or because I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but because I realized that I was not capable of having a relationship without sex. Not like sex eventually happened, but more like the relationships started with careless, casual sex and either turned into something more or turned into nothing at all, all of which left me feeling like crap. So I stopped. I realized that I wanted it to be more meaningful.

        The hard thing about Christianity is that people are always going to want to tell you what you are doing wrong instead of what you are doing right. It’s the thing that plagues me the most. So I try to counter that with saying things like, “Hey, if you feel shame, it’s not God making you feel that. So who is making you feel that?” So much is self-inflicted. And so much is just believing lies that are told to us.

        So I choose to not listen, or if I am listening, just not taking it to heart. It’s easier said than done, but it allows me to hear something, decide if I agree, and move forward one way or another.

        I really appreciate the input. Made me think!

    • There are lots of don’ts and shoulds and oughts that can trip us up and lead us into fear and shame and performance anxiety. I agree. The phrase ‘this god business’ takes the agency away from you as a thinking, feeling person working out a relationship with God and hands it to the onlookers and commentators who tell you how it is or how it should be. Just ignore the back seat drivers. 🙂

    • Wow, Tracy! I’m with the other person who posted “+1000.” I had to read the second paragraph twice to absorb it all, but your post speaks to some truths that I, and hopefully many others, get.

      Consider me blown away.

  • THANK YOU for 1. actually saying ‘sex’ out loud (on paper/on screen but still) and 2. for expressing your opinion kindly. One of the strongest motivators of shame surrounding sexuality that I’ve noticed- the ‘who tells us to be ashamed’ of it all- is the responses of the people around me when I try to initiate conversations about sexuality. I mentioned having had sex (I’m an early-20s student at an Evangelical Christian university) to a friend and the first words out of her mouth were, paraphrase because it was a while ago, ‘Well, I don’t approve of what you did but I don’t condemn you for it.’ It was crushingly painful and shameful to disclose something so personal to someone I trusted and to have it be handled so clumsily and judgmentally. There is a time and a place for speaking difficult truths in someone’s life when you have earned a place of intimacy and trust with them, and it is only really beneficial to do so kindly, and not in a way that hurts/shames. It does no one any good to assume we’ve earned this position in someone’s life and far less so to speak shaming things to others, regardless of the context.

    Additionally, when the extent of a conversation between two young Christian women about sex is one disclosing having had sex and the other simply responding with ‘I don’t approve of what you did’ and the conversation ending there (while she did say that she ‘doesn’t condemn me for it’, psychologically that conversation ended after she did indeed condemn my actions), there is clearly a problematic dynamic surrounding sexuality.

    When we are given pieces of peoples’ stories that are deeply personal or intimate or important, it is critically important that we seek intentionally to handle them gently, with kindness and with dignity. It’s in these moments that we, as the hands and feet of Jesus, have the opportunity to smile and hold out a hand and say, “You are welcome here. Thank you for sharing this thing that is so important to you. You are loved, and you belong.” This is especially important in places where we find ourselves disagreeing with one another and feeling frustrated. Jesus felt frustrated, too, and it is LOVE that changes lives and alleviates suffering. Not shame. Love.

    • Jillian, YES! I could not agree more. I think people get Jesus’s message confused. Jesus flipped tables, Jesus lost his temper, they say. But in the same way, Jesus approached everything with love, with a level head, with a solution. We take one scripture where Jesus acted out of anger and we use it as a license to judge people into condemnation for their moments of weakness.

      I have a few friends who are close to me that I just cannot talk about this stuff with, for the simple reason that I feel a lot of judgment. It’s easy for us to advise people in what they should do when we haven’t had to feel it or make those choices. When I feel this way because of others, I try to remember it so that I don’t make the same mistake.

      Thanks for the input and for reading it. I really appreciate it!

  • Love many things about this article! I would note though, and this had nothing to do with the point of the article, but the use of the term “lost my virginity” is not only callous (hey, I lost my car keys), but laced with shame and feeds the entire system or patriarchy. Girls “loose their virginity/are taken”; Boys “take V cards and conquer.”
    As a female with autonomy over my body, I’m not loosing or surrendering a part of myself……I’m participating. In Christian circles especially, we’ve grown up being taught this phrase of “loosing our virginity” and I really think it cultivated so much shame for girls in particular.
    Anyway, just something to think on. Great article, Leah!

    • I think you are not discriminating here between the difference of the world’s attitude in general that produces the double standard you so well described, and the position and attitude that should be taken by disciples of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus shouldn’t create or support a double standard. It should be and is just as shameful for a male to “lose” his virginity, as it is for a female. It is not more shameful for a female, simply just as shameful for both equally. And there is a time and place for shame.

      But……

      There is no place for holding on to shame. If we sin, we should feel shame and sorrow for our sin, but we should never hold on to our shame just as we should never hold on to our sin. We should bring both our sin and shame to the cross of Jesus, to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and grace to help us in time of need. Not only should we bring our sin and shame to the cross, we should die to it and leave it there.

    • Thank you, Lucy! I’m am excited to read that post that you pasted.

      I think iT is so important to talk about this in the church and talk about it in a relevant, intentional way. It’s brushed over so quickly as “sex can wait,” and, well, it doesn’t always wait.

      I appreciate the feedback!

  • I was not expecting to enjoy reading this, probably because the subject generates so much heat. But so much of what you say chimes with my experience. Sex is rarely talked about in church even though our society is saturated with it. And what better place to teach our kids about it than in church. The church should be THE ONE shame-less, safe place to speak about it, if we really believe Jesus dealt with our sin and shame on the cross. God invented sex after all. He’s not surprised or knocked off His throne by it. We need to find ways to normalise this subject and help each other decriminalise it and understand God’s heart for us as his children. Thanks for this post.

    • Thank you so much, Andrea! My greatest goal is to be a rational, normal, understanding Christian who is honest about her mistakes and who is honest about her journey. Thank you for taking part in that with me!

  • I am 83 years old….I have been a Christian since 12 or 13…married a “good Christian boy ” at 19 yrs…went to Bible School….The “man” I married wanted Naked pictures–wanted to stick things inside me….experience everything….have me ride naked in the car with him and for 50 years of our “marriage” he looked at porn and played with his penis even after having sex with me…….YOU ARE NUTS….. a baby girl is NOT put here on this Earth just so a person with a penis can have sex her whole life……You CAN live without sex……..GOD….. did N OT
    created you just for sexual pleasure for YOU or SOMEONE ELSE……….GROW UP……Live to please GOD…….I am so verry, verry , at MEN…who think they have the RIGHT to RAPE girls , any girls, their sisters or any age girl, from babies to old women,, and YOU are not helping the problem one bit….. my e-mail is jlkmoyer@ hotmail.com………

  • Here is the reason why having sex as a single Christian is a sin – it is very simple really – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ your body does not belong to you, it belongs to God.

    “12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

    ‘The body was not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’ – this is a statement of purpose, the purpose for which our bodies were created and given to us. The purpose for our bodies is to have them reserved to be used for the Lord. I do not pretend to have all the answers of the full meaning of that statement but what I do know is this: having sexual relations with another person outside the covenant of marriage to that person is, at the very least, a violation of the purpose of our bodies which belong to the Lord. You are misusing God’s property.

    “14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”

    Secondly, as believers, our bodies are members of Christ. When we have sex with someone who is not our spouse it is as if we are taking Jesus with us to have sex with that person. Why? Because our bodies are members of Christ and our bodies belong to God. Once again, we are misusing someone else’s (God’s) property.

    “18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

    It has become popular today in some circles to refer to our bodies as “temples”, but this reference is taken our of context and horribly wrenched in meaning. Our bodies are not simply “temples”, they are specific temples – temples of the Holy Spirit – if we belong to Christ.

    “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

    As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we do not belong to the world, we do not belong to sin, we do not even belong to ourselves. We belong to the one who loved us and gave himself for us – the Lord Jesus – and our entire being (spirit, soul and body) were purchased by his blood on the cross. We are the property of Jesus Christ. We are the property of God. Only God has the right to determine what we will do with our bodies. We belong to God.

    “16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

    20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    • Thanks for the input, Randy! The bible is very clear on sexual temptation and about what we are supposed to do and be in our Christian lives, but unfortunately, we don’t always live up to those expectations. I think that’s why it is so important to move forward in a sense of freedom, which is the reason why Jesus died in the first place. We are no longer slaves to our sin, and we don’t need to carry that shame.

      God is good! Thanks for reading!

  • I grew up in a Catholic household, got pregnant after my sophomore year of college at age 19, and to this day at age 44 still feel chastised by my family!! My daughter is a successful civil engineer, but the idea that I had sex before marriage negates that fact.

    • That is what I meant by not holding on to shame. Unfortunately, some people want to hold on to it for us. Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. He didn’t let it cling to Him, and if we are in Him through faith, shame doesn’t have to cling to us either.

    • Hey Sara! First of all, I’m sorry that you feel like that. I really don’t know why poeple act the way that they do, but they do, and we can’t really change it. What we can change is our mindset. I’m sure that you didn’t plan on getting pregnant when you were a sophomore, but you did. And you made it work. To me, that is the true definition of success. You figured out a way to turn something bad- or maybe not even something bad, but something that was not preferred- into something good. I applaud you for that.

      I guess the thing is that we have to just accept that people don’t always agree with us, and we can’t change it. It sounds like you’re a strong mom and that your daughter is successful and amazing- that’s a testament to the fact that you haven’t carried the shame around. You made a mistake, and you move forward.

      Keep doing that. You got this, girl! Thanks for reading and for the input!

  • Here is a big problem with christian feminism, it avoids accountability, makes the sinner the victim and puts the blame on everyone else. Was Adam and Eve’s shame in sin which resulted in pointing the blame at every one else but themselves justified? I guess the unpleasantness of the sin of premarital sex resides because of patriarchy! (which we are not)
    I am not sure what world everyone on here lives on, but I have been to two bible colleges and nobody felt any shame for loosing their virginity: boy or girl.Maybe if a girl was having loose sex with many different men, but i never seen that either. I was already married, but my younger sister felt peer pressure by her college girlfriends to give in to fit in but luckily was the only one of her friends to remain a virgin until she was married. The big difference was we were taught soundly why it was wrong.
    If a man is a stud for loosing his virginity, how about the man who refuses to have premarital sex? What treatment is going to come his way for refusing a girl who wants him to put out? He will be dumped and questioned as being gay by her and as it spreads to his peers. Heard of this about one guy in high school.

    We dont need to share our personal sex life or sexual feelings with the church, because it is personal. This is why we have girlfriends. However, if we do share our sex stories then dont be offended if some people rightfully judge us. There is a difference between judging and condemning.
    I dont think this is the most common approach though, offering excuses for sin seems to be the most common methodology. When i have told some of my friends about something i feel guilty about, they try to offer me excuses to minimize my sin with words like “It’s ok; you didn’t mean to.” They dont want to offend or push me away. They thought they were doing the best to help, but it left me feeling empty.

    It is important to confess a troubling defeat to a trusted person. God placed an older lady in my life as a spiritual mentor. Instead of offering me excuses for defeat, she just simply told me ” “in the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”
    Just what we need to hear

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