I hate moving to a new city. And not just because I have to get accustomed to an unfamiliar and confusing freeway system. It’s because when I move to a new city – once I find a place to live, get the electricity and cable connected, get all my mail forwarded, and cautiously get to know all my new neighbors – the day finally arrives when I must do the one thing I dread the most. I must find a new gynecologist. And, boy, do I hate that first visit to a new gynecologist because it always ends with a very awkward conversation.
After the routine gynecological exam (which is an ordeal in and of itself), I see the inevitable puzzled look on the doctor’s face as he asks, “Could I see you in my office, please?”
Then the questions begin.
Doctor: “So…….what’s going on here? Uh……….I mean……....um……….you’ve never had sex?”
Doctor (stunned): “Are you ever going to have sex?”
Me: “I dunno.”
This exchange is usually followed by an eternity of uncomfortable silence. It’s so uncomfortable that I have recently decided to completely change tactics and avoid this line of questioning altogether. The next time this happens I’ll just say I’m a Protestant nun. Or maybe I’ll say I’m trying to win the Oldest Living Virgin Award. That’s much less humiliating than saying,
“I’m a total loser who never managed to get married. Could you do me a favor, Doc? The next time you’re down there just fill it all in with cement because I don’t think it’s ever going to get used.”
I jest, of course, but this does reveal a prickly truth: There is a point in a woman’s life when virginity is much less a badge of honor and much more an embarrassing burden. Christian women are told to refrain from sex until their wedding night so they can experience the immeasurable joy of giving their virginity to their one and only husband. This good, godly advice sounds dreamily exciting to a woman at age 21. While increasingly difficult to follow, it still sounds reasonable at age 26. But as a woman remains single into her 30’s, 40’s, and beyond she often wonders, “What am I waiting for?!”
Because no one else seems to be waiting. Our society views sex as a thrill to be enjoyed by all. Married people are legitimately having sex, but unmarried people are also having sex. People on dates are having sex, cohabitants are having sex, teenagers are having sex, truckers and prostitutes are having sex, nurses and doctors are having sex, mechanics and plumbers are having sex, florists and bankers are having sex, according to The Golden Girls, seniors are having sex, and screaming cats are constantly doing it outside my bedroom window. Indeed, sometimes it seems the only living beings on the planet who are not having sex are hermaphroditic flatworms, people in comas, and me. Being in such rare company can be frustrating at best, extremely depressing at worst. It can almost seem like I have never fully grown up because I have never experienced this rite-of-passage that all grown-ups experience – like I’m not fully an adult.
But if I dig a little deeper, I know that’s not the real issue. The perception that everyone except me seems to be enjoying sex is not really what’s getting to me.
It’s the desires. The burning, smoldering, persistent, crying-in-my-bed-all-night, pleading-with-God-to-just-kill-me-already, continual desires for sexual fulfillment that have haunted me all my single adult life. There is no end to them, they don’t get easier with age, and since there appears to be no marriage proposal looming over the horizon for me, there seems to be no solution to them. And I can’t get them out of my head. God made me a woman, and, just like most women, I adore men. I love their broad shoulders and their deep voices. I love the way they walk and the cool, manly way they stand with their feet spread apart. I love the way they go, “Grrrrrrr!” when they’re lifting something heavy. And I desire so much to be with a man. To be held by him, cuddled by him, kissed by him, and loved, loved, loved. Physically, emotionally, in every way. It is the longing of my heart, I want it so badly, and I need it………oh……..about 15 years ago.
The church loathes addressing this issue. It’s the elephant in the room that everyone is trying desperately to ignore. Bring this up in a church prayer meeting and you’ll hear the crickets chirping outside of the building. Broach this subject to your pastor and he’ll say, “Whoops! I think I hear my wife calling. Gotta go!” In fact, the only thing anyone at church will say to you, if they attempt to say anything at all, is this:
“Wait. Wait for marriage. It’s coming. Just keep on waiting. Just wait. Wait on the Lord. Wait, wait, wait. Wait a little longer. Don’t stop waiting. God will send you someone…..someday…..somehow….”
The typical Christian singles book is no better. Most of them, especially books geared towards women, deftly avoid the subject of sex, treating it like a non-issue. Or worse: They will mention the frustration of not having sex and then, as you wait in anticipation for helpful advice, they pull what I call the Old Switcheroo. What starts out as a meaningful discussion on sexual desires morphs into talk about how to express your female sexuality, more specifically your femininity. They will then say things like, “A single woman can express her sexuality in just as many ways as a married woman can by planting pretty flowers in a garden, singing songs, caring for small, fluffy animals, baking cookies with colorful sprinkles on them….”. This is beyond annoying and it’s usually the point in which I fling such a book across the room in anger because it hasn’t addressed the real problem. The real problem – the reason I’m often up all night crying – is not a lack of knowledge on how to express my femininity. It is the LACK OF SEX. So what’s a Christian single woman to do? Does God really expect me to go on without sex day after day, week after week, month after month, year after frustrating year just because I’m not married?
He does. And here’s why.
Why Is Sex for Marriage Only?
Contrary to popular opinion, God is no prude in the sky getting a twisted pleasure out of denying humans the joys of sex. How soon we forget it was God who created sex in the first place. God created us male and female with compatible natures and body parts. God implanted in each gender an ardent desire for the other – He gave man his desire to pursue and woman her desire to be pursued. It was God who made sex intensely pleasurable and satisfying, both physically and emotionally – that is no accident. God loves sex in marriage. We know that intimacy in marriage is a creation God takes great pride in because an entire book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, is a portrayal of courtship, romance, sexual desire, and marriage, including a beautiful and sensual description of the wedding night as the union is consummated. The Song of Solomon is a celebration of marriage – the approach to marriage, the intimacy in marriage, and the later, more mature stages of marriage. It is not an allegory of Christ and the Church or of God’s relationship to Israel. There is no indication in the text itself to interpret it any other way than as a poetic account of the courtship and marriage of Solomon and the Shulamite maiden.
God created us male and female for a reason - so that we would desire each other and marry.
In addition to loving sex in marriage, God is adamant that sex belongs in marriage only. He demands that the marriage bed be kept undefiled (Hebrews 13:4) and promises to judge with ultimate severity the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8). You might be thinking at this point, “But didn’t Jesus die to forgive us of sexually immorality? Aren’t Christians forgiven of this sin?” Absolutely! Sexual immorality (defined as any sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant) is a sin for which we can repent and be forgiven if we put our trust in Christ and his sacrifice. But take care that you do not have a blasé view of sexual sin. Do not think that God is fine with you continuing to commit sexual sin because you have been forgiven. Our attitude toward all sin, including sexual sin, should be the same as God’s. He violently abhors it, He cannot overlook it, and He must punish it. All sexual sin will be punished either by God crushing His Son on our behalf (accomplished on the cross) or by us burning in hell, separated from the Lord for all eternity. If your attitude toward sexual sin (or any other sin) is that it’s no big deal because Christ died to take the punishment for sin, you many not truly be saved (1 John 3:9-10, Hebrews 10:26-31, Romans 6:1-4).
The Purpose of Sex
God detests sexual sin because He created sex specifically for marriage. In God’s eyes, it has no business outside of marriage. But why is this? Beyond the obvious reason of procreation, what is the purpose of sex?
To find out, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden, back to the scene of the first marriage. Before Eve is created, God gives Adam the job of naming all the animals and, through this task, indirectly makes Adam aware of his need for a suitable mate. The Scriptures say Adam could not find “a helper fit for him” among the animals (Genesis 2:20). God then puts Adam into a deep sleep, creates Eve from Adam’s rib, and presents Eve to Adam, instituting the first marriage. Right away, we see that marriage will be unique among all the human relationships because the two participants, the man and his wife, “will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). No other human relationship, whether it is parent/child, friend/friend, boss/employee, sister/brother, or pastor/parishioner, would ever be a one-flesh relationship. God makes marriage a one-flesh union, unique among all other human relationships, because He wants it to be symbolic of the spiritual relationship between Christ and the church. No other human relationship would be used as such a model.
But God also foresees the Fall and the devastating effects of sin on mankind. He wants marriage to be the most intimate and satisfying of all relationships, lasting a lifetime, but He knows this will prove extremely difficult for a fallen humanity. Humans are fallible, frail, and full of sinful inclinations and motives. The married man and woman are certain to grow apart, hurt one another, push the wrong buttons, disappoint each other, and become dissatisfied with each other. There will be outside pressures on the marriage as well – temptations, children, financial hardships, illness, and distractions in various forms. How could God insure that marriage would survive all the slings and arrows of everyday life? How could He insure that a husband and wife would grow closer and more in love year after year? God’s answer was sex.
It’s not that sex existed beforehand and God slapped the marriage requirement on it as an afterthought. Sex was created for marriage – it is the jewel in the crown of matrimony – and it is a big part of what makes marriage work. It makes a lifetime of marital unity feasible for imperfect human beings. Sex is much more than the means of procreation, much more than mindless entertainment and fleeting pleasure. It heals hurts, salves wounds, knits hearts, provides fulfillment, creates longing, generates excitement, and draws the man and the woman together physically and emotionally. It insures that marriage will have a God-ordained outcome: that the man and woman will become one flesh.
Our fallen world thinks that sex is good anywhere, anytime, and in any context. But sex is only good in marriage, the only place where it belongs. Put another way, marriage is the only place where sex functions as God intended it to. Sex outside of marriage is always a selfish, individual pursuit of personal pleasure without regard for anyone else, a corruption and perversion of God’s holy design for sex. Men seek to get as much as they can without sacrificing their freedom, while women seek to snare men in their traps. Sex outside of marriage is also fraught with grave consequences. God is so serious about sex belonging in marriage that he has placed a hedge of protection around it. Although not widely known, there are sexually-transmitted diseases that are incurable, some of which cannot be avoided even by using a condom, making “safe sex” a myth. A married man and woman can engage in sex week after week, day after day, even several times a day, and never generate a sexually-transmitted disease between each other. Yet illicit sex creates a plethora of sexual diseases. Have you ever wondered why? It’s a God-created physical penalty for dishonoring the marriage bed.
There are also long-lasting emotional and spiritual consequences of hopping in and out of bed with a host of temporary partners; these are wounds that cannot be cured with medicine or counseling. In short, sex outside of marriage is a barren wasteland; a parched, dry desert with no water to refresh you and plenty of mirages to fool you. It often reduces the participants to dust. The marriage bed, however, is holy and sanctified by God. It is a verdant garden flowing with fresh streams to quench the thirst and lush fruit ripe for the picking. Arguments are resolved or forgotten, slights are forgiven, hard feelings smoothed over, compromises are reached, and anger is subsided so sex can continue unhindered. The man is inflamed with desire for his wife, reaching out to embrace her, to possess her. The woman responds eagerly to her husband’s outstretched hand, melting to his tender touch. Marital sex is a beautiful mystery, more than the sum of its parts, lovingly fashioned by our Creator (Proverbs 30:18-19).
Sexual Desire: A Sanctifying Tool?
Another purpose of sex, specifically the unrelenting desire for sex that most men and women have, is to drive each of us to marriage. With the exception of the prophet Jeremiah, God is not in the habit of assigning marriage to some and singleness to others (this false belief can be traced back to a horrible misinterpretation and misapplication of 1 Corinthians 7). Nothing proves God’s intent for almost all people to marry (and that singleness, though biblically-approved, is the exception, not the rule) like the sex drive. Though it can be corrupted by sin, there is nothing innately corrupt or sinful about the intense desire for sex. It is God-implanted and, when directed in a godly way, it greatly increases the desire for godly marriage.
For the unmarried Christian, sexual desire is also a sanctifying tool, a means in which God molds a man or woman into the image of Christ, especially as it relates to their gender. How so? Consider this: if it weren’t for the sex drive, most men would be perfectly content spending all their free time watching sports on TV, playing video games, and eating Cheetos….. becoming more unattractive and unmarry-able every day. In contrast, doing the things that God wants a man to do – becoming gainfully employed, taking on responsibilities, sacrificing for others, pursuing a woman and risking rejection, essentially embracing the qualities of biblical manhood – takes a lot of concerted effort. Many a man would be averse to doing it if it weren’t for the very strong incentive of his sexual needs and desires. Sex is not by any means the only motivation to be seen as a godly respectable man suitable for marriage, but it is a very strong enticement, nearly impossible to ignore. The same is true for the woman: A woman could easily eat bonbons and watch soap operas all day, dreaming about some fantasy Mr. Right if it weren’t for the burning desires within her to be held and caressed by a real, physical, tangible man. God knew what he was doing when he created sexual desire.
Our God-given desire for sex draws us out of our self-absorbed world and guards us from being unmarry-able, like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
Don’t Curb the Appetite
Now if you’re like me, though you find the lack of opportunity to have sex frustrating, you really don’t see it as a difficult sin to avoid. What I mean is I am not really tempted to engage in a sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve thought about it many times. There is, however, no man banging on my bedroom window every night yelling, “Janice, please, I must have you! Let me make love to you!” I wish I had that problem. Maybe some of you reading this post do have that problem. But when the last date you had was during the Clinton Administration (as I recall it was at least his second term), there is little to no risk of falling into the temptation of actually having sex outside of marriage.
Where the battle rages, where my faith and sexual fidelity is often tried and tested, is in the mind. And sexual immorality of the mind is just as sinful as the act. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Lust is a very sneaky, tricky sin – it can take the form of many things that you would not necessarily define as lust. Adhering to this commandment means that all lustful fantasies involving someone else’s spouse are out, of course. But it also means that lustful fantasies involving those who are single like you are out. And that’s not all. Masturbation is out. Online Porn? Out. Pay-per-view sex movies? Out. Sex chat lines? Out. Sexually-explicit romance novels? Out.
You may be thinking, “Okay, this is just too much for me to bear. I can’t take it. I don’t have a spouse right now and I’ve got to take the edge off somehow. What am I supposed to do about my needs?” Satan will try to convince you that these seemingly benign sins are a wise way to curb your sexual appetite while you wait for a spouse. The problem is they often make a spouse unnecessary, defeating the purpose for which God gave you those desires in the first place. These sins also defile you and damage your relationship with God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Christian writers and speakers will often say singleness is a calling, and definitely singleness is a calling for some. But if singleness is a calling, marriage is a calling as well. It is what I believe I am called to and what most singles are called to. How do I know I am called to marriage? The sex drive. It speaks loud and clear. This desire in our hearts is God-given. Having the desire for sex, wanting to be united with someone of the opposite sex in marriage, is not spiritual weakness or a rejection of Jesus. Nowhere in the Bible (not even in the much-quoted 1 Corinthians 7) is anyone condemned or rebuked for their desire to be married. It is how God designed us and it is our free choice to enter into marriage. Furthermore, the Scriptures give no solution to sexual desire other than marriage. Nowhere in God’s Word will you find instructions on satisfying sexual desire by singing hymns, “falling in love with Jesus”, or doing benevolence. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:2, “But because of the temptation of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Notice he said this was for “each man” and “each woman”, meaning everyone. This doesn’t mean that everyone must get married but it does mean that everyone is free to marry if they choose.
That is why I continue to hope in marriage, fully expecting God to provide it in His time. And I pray. Continually. Without ceasing.
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