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The Importance of Thinking About Sex Now: A Response to Single, Evangelical Women

by Carson T. Clark on February 23, 2014

The other day I posted “Livid at the Evangelical Sub-Culture & Its Epidemic of Sexless Marriages.” Perhaps the most important blog post I’d ever written, it’s definitely the most sexually explicit. More than 1,400 people have read it, which is unusual traffic for this blog. Some enthusiastically agreed. Others adamantly disagreed. That’s fine. My goal, as per usual, is just to get people thinking about the difficult issues and trying to figure out how to discerningly address them. Human sexuality is a complex subject that requires thought and wisdom, especially for followers of Christ.

If the most painful responses have come from married men, then the most confused responses have come from single women. They’ve been pouring in. Ladies, I wish I had good, simple answers for you. The truth is that I don’t, so I cannot in good conscience pretend that I do. My one immediate thought, however, keeps being that at the very least it’s good for you to have gained exposure and be thinking about these things now. If you’re a virgin with zero sexual experience, this is abstract stuff completely detached from any firsthand experience. But thinking about it now still helps later.

If you’ll tolerate me as a married male sharing my thoughts, here are a dozen examples that may provide clarity:

  1. Hearing that women are biblically encouraged to enjoy sex is a game-changer. It’s not just about the man, pleasuring him and fulfilling his desires ‘s pleasure. It’s also about the woman, pleasuring her and fulfilling her desires. Suddenly sex becomes reciprocal and self-sacrificial.
  2. Having a working knowledge before engagement that a husband who expects sex more than once a week isn’t a pervert can help foster a healthy schema for marriage after you say, “I do.” That alone can change your perception of men, and might really help your future marriage.
  3. Learning that giving and receiving oral sex really isn’t uncommon for christian couples may help to tear down this unspoken assumption of many that it’s ungodly or unnatural. It’s better to consider it now than to simply get it, eh hem, thrust upon you during your honeymoon.
  4. Understanding that semen tends to go everywhere and that it’s not weird or gross is important in not getting freaked out. That challenges this Hollywood portrayal in which there really aren’t any bodily fluids. Instead it establishes the expectation that sex is intrinsically messy.
  5. Being aware now that many women don’t achieve orgasm during vaginal intercourse can alleviate later pressure, disappointment, and frustration. If vaginal sex doesn’t get the job done, it’s not merely OK but good to pursue orgasm through manual and oral stimulation.
  6. Being told that sex isn’t all about the Big-O can radically alter one’s assumptions going into it. It’s a little cliche, but a lot of times sex is more of a journey than a destination. It’s about the experience of exploring, enjoying, and being united with your spouse–not just climaxing.
  7. Knowing that a husband who desires his wife to wear lingerie isn’t disrespecting or degrading her can seriously alter the bedroom dynamics. Wearing sexy things doesn’t objectify her nor is she a slut. Instead lingerie can enhance the God-intended attraction. That’s a good thing!
  8. Presupposing that you and your future husband may have quirks can turn those things from embarrassing and shameful to accepting and enjoyed. Many spouses have fetishes. That’s not unusual. Just like in the rest of marriage, those things can be the fun stuff that only you know.
  9. Preparing yourself mentally to try new things and trust your husband is important. That can help you avoid one of those horrible traps of always having to have the lights off, refusing anything but the missionary position, never having sex in any room but the bedroom, etc.
  10. Expecting that sex takes practice can help you stick with it if things don’t go swimmingly at first. It becomes a craft to practice. Not unlike learning to play the piano, it’s something you improve at. Only it’s a team sport. Don’t worry. Your future husband will enjoy the process.
  11. Preparing for it to hurt the first time is probably a good thing, but mentally linking sex with pain and fear in your mind isn’t good. I’m aware of wives who so feared their husband’s penises going into marriage that their wedding night merely served as confirmation bias. (And, no, there was no history of sexual abuse.) Knowing that helps avoid that outlook.
  12. Avoiding the “TMI trap” is crucial. This is especially important for those coming from reserved family cultures. Hearing another woman say, “My husband and I had sex last week” isn’t TMI, for example. Don’t giggle nervously or make it a big deal. A big problem faced by many women is thinking they’re open to communication about sex when in reality they’re not.

As I wrote in the previous blog post, it seems to me that a big part of the problem is the sexual repression and suppression faced by young women within the evangelical sub-culture. Inundated by the themes of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Every Young Woman’s Battle, True Love Waits, and all the rest, I cannot say it’s everyone but is it any wonder there’s a big part of a generation of young evangelical women who feel like sexual desire itself is sinful? They struggle to suddenly flip the script and not think sex is disgusting after being married. You reap what you sow.

Look, I’m no expert. I have spent a fair amount of time studying sex–including its emotional, mental, physical, relational, spiritual, theological, and socio-economic dimensions–but I don’t claim to have a graduate degree in this stuff. That being said, what I feel pretty confident about is this: Single, evangelical women in particular need to be hearing a more comprehensive and more nuanced view that ranges from the Bible’s warning passages about sexual immorality to Scripture’s celebration passages about sexual pleasure. The whole spectrum needs to be taught.

It seems to me evangelical women of the Millennial generation are more than sufficiently taught about the need for purity before marriage. They got it. What most of ’em need is to begin preparing for good sex lives once they are married, which starts with simple exposure. Following upon on a theme from the prior post, they need to cultivate a “Marital Vision” that celebrates sex. I won’t pretend that my list is infallible, but hopefully things like it will curb the corrosive influence of the prudish evangelical sub-culture and instead help cultivate a healthy, biblical view of marriage.

A lot of people think exposure to ideas is dangerous, that by talking to unmarried singles about sex you’re indirectly encouraging them to start romping. I think that’s nonsense. It’s like when people called me a heretic because I vocally questioned and challenged the doctrine of the Trinity. No, wrestling through the Trinity is what enabled me to affirm it. Deflecting my doubts and objections was ruining my faith. Addressing them stabilized my faith. My sense is the same pattern holds true here. Deflecting issues around sex ruins marriages. Addressing them now stabilizes marriages later.

 

  • Anonymous

    Thoughts of a married evangelical woman:

    When I was engaged, a recently married friend of mine took it upon herself to gift me a set of vaginal dilators and explain that she had used dilators before she got married because a number of her close friends had had such painful wedding nights that their sex lives were damaged for years. (They tensed up during sex, making it hurt; their husbands were worried about not hurting them, etc.) It was the best thing she could have done for me. Yes, sex can hurt the woman if the man isn’t gentle, especially the first several times, but the two most important things you can do to get your sex life off to a good start is to prepare and communicate. Do your research. Take a trip to your gynecologist. Use dilators (and in the name of mercy, use lube with the dilators–inserting the larger ones hurts more than having sex the first time does, especially without lube). Stock up on lube before the honeymoon. Read a book or two. (If you come from a very evangelical background, Leman’s “Sheet Music” might be helpful.) Try on that lingerie you got at your bachelorette party in front of a mirror and think about how sexy you look, instead of dwelling on your flaws. (Believe me, he’s not going to see your flaws.) Have frank conversations about sex with your married friends. Most young evangelical women I know are actually really open and relaxed about it once someone initiates the conversation; it’s the bringing it up that’s the hard part. Married women: we can all do our engaged friends a favor by offering to have these conversations.

    And, of course, be really open with your fiancé about your expectations and his. At least a week or two before the wedding, talk through what you’re comfortable with on your wedding night and honeymoon, and what you think you might be comfortable with long term. Escalate physical affection before the wedding. (By all means save sex for marriage, and I would even say save anything that could give the other an orgasm for marriage, but there is nothing particularly holy about saving your first kiss for the altar, and I imagine that doing so makes for a more awkward wedding night.) Be willing to try things at least once if they’re not dangerous (*ahem* men, if you pressure your wife into anal sex, she might end up in the ER. Just saying.). Be sexually open even if you’re not in the mood. (And that goes for men too–if your wife is feeling frisky and you’re not, let her seduce you. You’ll probably enjoy it, and sometimes she needs to get off just as badly as you do.)

    The most important thing, however, is to always put your spouse’s needs above your own. The biggest reason, I believe, that my husband and I have a great sex life is that we prioritize pleasing the other person above getting our own needs satisfied. This doesn’t mean that we never ask the other person to meet our sexual needs in a specific way, but it does mean that in a sexual encounter we are happiest if the other person is feeling really good, regardless of whether we get off or not. And that’s more important than any bedroom technique.

    • carsontclark

      Pardon the brevity of my reply. It’s a lack of time and energy, not disinterest… Good comments here. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tammy

    I think that single men also need to hear the message that sex is not inherently sinful. They seem to get the message that any sexual feeling or response is bad/sinful/perverted and that a proper Christian does not do those things or think that way. A lot of the problems in my own marriage have stemmed from my husband’s difficulties in getting to a mental and emotional place where he thought that sex was ‘holy’ and not ‘dirty’. When men consistently hear the message that sex and the expression of sexuality is bad, it can be very difficult for them to really engage fully in it. From what I’ve seen and heard, men tend not to talk much about their ‘real feelings’ and struggles in their sexual lives.

    In my own experience, my Christian women friends were much more open and sex – positive than most people describe. We would talk about things and encourage one another to make it a priority.

    Extrapolating from the information and statistics that I’ve read, difficulties in our sexuality is evenly distributed across genders. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of books or information, especially in the Christian subculture, encouraging men’s emotional and mental development in thinking about their sexuality. The same books that have caused problems for women, also cause problems in men. That’s the more hidden part of the equation.

    • carsontclark

      Great and insightful comments, Tammy. I concur.

  • Jeremy

    Speaking from experience, single guys have a similar, although not identical, problem to these single ladies. Too often, sex is something that is done with your wife (which I agree with), but the discussion stops at the bedroom door. Guys are told “Sex is bad! Bad! Bad!” but are never really told about it in appropriate ways, so it gets shut down, which often leads to porn. Both have become taboo words, only spoken at meetings and conferences directed specifically at guys. Very few of these have an honest discussion of either sex or porn, save that sex should only be with your wife and porn is well… bad. There’s no honest discussion with other guys, which usually means that girls are right out. If we don’t know how to talk to fellow dudes, how can we possibly take our beloved sister’s prized purity by even mentioning such a sinful thing?

    • carsontclark

      I concur.

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