Get Real! I’m Becoming a Christian: How Can I Reconcile My Faith With My Sex Life?


This article is published in partnership with Scarlateen.com.  Hugo Schwyzer co-wrote it with Heather Corinna.

kaylinha13 asks:

Hello,
my name is Christine, I am 20 years old and I have had a boyfriend for
about 5 years. We have been having intercourse for over 2 years now but
recently, for about 3 months, I have started going to an apostolic
church and I am thinking about getting baptised and becoming a
Christian. But I have a question about what I should do about my sexual
life: should I abandon it until I get married now? Because this is
really weighing heavily on my morals. I have asked many friends in my
church on their opinion about this, and they tell me that premarital
sex causes to leave an open doorway for the devil get in so that he can
distort sex after marriage. I know that God will not love me any less
or be disappointed in me, but if you sacrifice something for God, it
will be so much better for you in the end. Everyone has heard that
silly line: "sex stops after you get married". I don’t want that to be
the case…so will sex be better in marriage or does it really make a
difference if I continue to make love to my significant other? Because
this sounds like a skeptical concept to me… please help!! Thank you.

Heather Corinna replies:

While
I grew up with some Catholic and ex-Catholic family and can certainly
speak to your issues in some respect, I didn’t feel like I was the best
person to address them. I’m Zen Buddhist, and my spiritual belief
system and tradition not only doesn’t have a god in it at all, it also
has very different attitudes about sex (both in its core principles and
also among Buddhists) than most denominations of Christianity and many
Christians do. I also don’t view sex as marital or premarital. Given
all of that, I felt like you could use both an educated answer but also
one from someone who understood better what you’re grappling with than
I could, and could answer you in a far more personal way.

I asked my fantastic friend Hugo Schwyzer
if he’d answer your question instead. Hugo is a history and gender
studies professor at a community college, an animal rights activist and
an Episcopal youth minister. He’s very good people. I’m always so
impressed with the way he talks about sexuality and Christianity. I
think you’ll appreciate what he had to say.

(Just FYI for other readers, Scarleteen is space that serves
people of a wide range of spiritual belief systems and traditions. So,
when Hugo is talking here, understand it is in response to Christine
and her belief system: it’s not espousing any one belief system as the
only or right one for all of us.)

So, here’s Hugo:

Dear Christine,

Thanks for writing.

As someone just beginning a new faith journey, it’s understandable
that you’d be a bit confused by the messages you’re hearing from your
friends in church. Surely, they want the best for you, and they’re
giving you information based upon their own understanding of what it is
that God wants for us. But even though you’re very new in the church,
not even baptized, it’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions – and
maybe discover some answers that are different from the ones you’ve
been hearing.

First off, you need to know that a lot of what folks say the Bible
says about sex isn’t really in the Scriptures at all. There is nothing
in the Bible that condemns masturbation (the sin of Onan is about the
withdrawal method), nothing that condemns loving and mutually committed
homosexual relationships, and very, very little about pre-marital sex.
The references in the New Testament to “sexual immorality” and
“fornication” are based on a very loose translation of a single Greek
word, “porneia (yeah, we get the word “porn” from it) which is better
translated as “adultery.” Adultery, of course, is sex that breaks a
commitment to someone else. If you were to cheat on your boyfriend (or,
if you guys get married, your husband), you would certainly be
committing “porneia”. But sex before marriage between two people who
are not committed to others? Most scholars think the Bible says nothing
about that at all.

Let me suggest, Christine, that God cares more about the content of
our sexuality than he does about its form. Traditional Christian sexual
ethics are often discussed in the context of what Christians can and
can’t do. Some Christians will often say things like “the only form of
genital contact sanctioned by God is that which happens in a marriage
between one husband and one wife.” The implication is clear: if you get
the “form” (heterosexual marriage) right, then the sex that follows is
okay. If you haven’t got the form right, then you’ve “fallen short of
the mark.”

But “form-based” sexual ethics clearly have their problems.

For example, it ignores entirely the great likelihood that coercion,
disrespect, and force can take place within marriage. The Churches did
not start condemning marital rape — or even acknowledging that such a
concept was possible — until the second half of the twentieth century.
Is a situation in which a husband demands sex from his wife against her
will somehow more in keeping with the spirit of Christ than a situation
in which two unmarried people make love with mutual enthusiasm? If
you’re a stickler for “form-based ethics”, you bet. For the most
traditional of theologians, marital rape is less of a serious sin than
homosexuality or pre-marital sex, because form matters more than
content.

“Content” based sexual ethics are concerned with the way in which
people, in the process of being sexual, value themselves and their
partners. Content-based ethics are deeply concerned with mutuality,
with pleasure, and with the willingness of each partner to take
responsibility for the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences
of what is done. Form-based ethics teach the Christian to ask the
question “Am I allowed to do this?” Content-based ethics teach the
Christian to ask “Am I truly loving — in every sense of the word — the
person or persons with whom I am doing this, including myself?”

As for marriage, there’s no evidence that sex before marriage ruins sex after.

I know a great many happily married people (my wife and I are two of
them) who had great sex while they were dating – and great sex after
they were wed. God isn’t in the business of punishing people for
pre-marital sex by making the sex they have as husband and wife tedious
and unfulfilling! What makes sex in any long-term relationship seem
stale is a lack of communication and the habit of taking one’s partner
for granted – and that can happen just as easily to folks who were
virgins on their wedding night as it can to those who weren’t.

Good, just, and spiritual sex can happen both inside and outside of
marriage. And I’m certain that the God you’re just starting to get to
know, Christine, cares more about the care and concern that you and
your boyfriend share together than he does about the fact that you’re
not married.

Focus on the way you treat each other – the content of your
relationship – and give thanks for the pleasure you both give and
receive. Your friends may quote to you Hebrews 13:4, the chapter which
is often mistakenly used to condemn pre-marital sex. (It only condemns
infidelity and sex with underage prostitutes if you read the Greek
closely). Focus instead on Hebrews 13:15, from the very same chapter.
It says that the best sacrifice is the “sacrifice of praise.” You know,
even atheists sometimes cry out “Oh God!” when they orgasm; that’s
giving thanks for the gift of receiving and sharing pleasure. God made
our bodies to give and receive intense joy. When you make love with
your boyfriend, thank God for giving you that power and that
possibility.

Here are a few links at Scarleteen which might also help you out:

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Heather Corinna on twitter: @Scarleteen

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  • progo35

    I know that the person that this letter is directed to won’t read this, but while I agree that people should consider whether they are acting lovingly toward themselves and others in everything, I think Christian sexual ethics depend on more than just how partners treat or value each other. Yes, Christians have sex, just like everyone else, but part of being a Christian is asking whether God wants us to do something or not. Part of religion is living by certain values the best that we can. God is faithful and just to forgive us, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any requirements for how Christians lead their lives. And, while church history and the original texts can be helpful, I am skeptical of using various church failures, inconsistencies, and one’s own interpretation of the original texts to justify certain behaviors that the scripture tells us are inappropriate for Christians or people in general. Just my opinion.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • grayduck

    First off, you need to know that a lot of what folks say the Bible says about sex isn’t really in the Scriptures at all.

     

    In some cases that may be true. However, keep in mind that many churches believe there is religious authority outside of the Bible. She said her church as "apostolic," which suggests that the church may believe that the clergy has inherited authority from the apostles. Also note that her friends are not making purely deontological arguments.

     

    But sex before marriage between two people who are not committed to others? Most scholars think the Bible says nothing about that at all.

     

    What about Deuteronomy 22:28-29? "Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives." Note, particularly, that this passage indicates that fornication "violates" a woman. Also see Exodus 22:16.

     

    …it ignores entirely the great likelihood that coercion, disrespect, and force can take place within marriage.

     

    That is a non-sequiter; limiting sexual activity to marriage does not sanction coercion, disrespect, or force within marriage.

     

    The Churches did not start condemning marital rape — or even acknowledging that such a concept was possible — until the second half of the twentieth century.

     

    For good reason! Getting married was defined as consenting to sex. Such a definition allowed for much easier and more reliable rape prosecutions and defenses that we have today. If a man wanted to avoid a rape conviction, he simply married any woman with whom he copulated. If a woman wanted to ensure that everyone knew she did not consent to sex with a man, she simply chose not to marry the man. The system may have limited sexless marriages, but it did not allow for marital rape. By the way, defining marriage as conferring consent does not allow "ceorcion, disrespect, or force" any more than defining any other act as conferring consent allows for such behavior.

     

    For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is less of a serious sin than…pre-marital sex, because form matters more than content.

     

    For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is a contradiction in terms- for reasons that I just explained- and, therefore, not a sin at all. Allowing pre-marital sex is a serious sin because it breaks down the system of using marriage to confer consent and, therefore, makes proving rape impossible.

     

    I know a great many happily married people…who had great…sex after they were wed.

     

    Then why not suggest that she get married, then? Is the trip down to the county courthouse to pick up the marriage license too burdensome?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • harry834

    Our conclusion is that marital rape does not exist as long as we don’t believe in it?

  • harry834

    is concentrate on the actual person in front of you rather than some invisible Guy whom only seems to talk through priests and books that claim to be His word.

    Just my opinion.

  • harry834

    consent is unrelated to whether not two people are married. Consent is defined as whether one person is freely deciding to have sex, without the pressure of the other partner. It is all about respect and acknowledgement of personhood between two people, and that is what Heather is talking about. She talks about what respect between two people is and what consent is because clearly the theologins and traditionaslists cited by Grey Duck are clueless. I will refrain from assuming that GreyDuck believes these people him/herself, but s/he seems to not get how there views do promote the disacknowlegement of consent that leads to rape.

    "Marriage is defined as conferring consent…marital rape is a contradiction in terms". These are the traditional views which Heather is warning about. "For good reason" they didn’t ackowledge marital rape?!? 

    Under this definition, this view, don’t you see how a wife’s saying "no" would be taken less seriously? After all, if she married him, her saying "no" doesn’t make sense. In the definition of true respect, championed by feminists and human rights advocates: no means no. With or without the marriage, with or without a relationship that lasts more than a day. As a wise woman said here, "whether one night, or a lifetime, respect your partner."

    This is what the emphasis on marriage and sex within marriage does not teach.

  • harry834

    He has better things to do than care about what consenting, mutually respectful, safe-sex-using adults do. And one of those better things is the REAL bottom line in relationships: mutual respect, regardless of whether it lasts one night, a lifetime, or somewhere in between. 

  • progo35

    Re: Harry’s Consent post:
    I know, GD. I was totally with you until you said that the church didn’t acknowledge marital rape with good reason. I understand the idea of marriage implying consent, but as harry said, no means no, whether the couple is married or not. Respecting your spouse’s need not to have sex at a particular time is part of sexuality in marriage.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • harry834

    All of Heather’s letters – in fact all letters or questions received by any sex advice columnist, therapist, or doctor – shows the wide variety of situations that can pop up in people’s sex lives. Sex lives that exist within and without marriage, within and without long-term relationships. All of these people are trying to figure out how to relate to the person in front of them, and how to to be related to back. The traditionalists say "if it aint marriage/long term, it’s bad". They don’t want to take such lives seriously. They don’t want to acknowledge the similar issues that pop up in all sex lives. Issues that go beyond the physical act of sex, but still involve it. This is the ignorance that we create when we refuse to acknowledge sex lives that aren’t married or long-term. The only bad sex life is where you violate your partner’s consent, or play with a child. Since many Christians will have sex without marriage, they appear to be unaffected by the dogma of the conservative church. So there is hope for them, but when they have questions, you’ll be sure their "Christian community" won’t have anything but "you should have followed our rules".

    We need to build new communities, both religious and secular, that are founded on real wisdom, experience – not the everlasting attempts to block experience.

    And only they will interpret the word "experience" as being only about the physical sex act. They can’t be reached. That’s why we have to fight and help those that are undamaged enough to still hear.

  • harry834

    The truth is that marriage doesn’t imply consent. Consent implies consent. In fact consent is the only thing that means consent. And this concept is irrespective if marriage and long-term relationships.

    There are those who will say marriage or long term teaches this respect. I say, it might…except for all the married and long term couples who live in abusive (or at least disrespectful) relationships.

    Rather than thinking that marriage/long term teaches respect, I think we affirm that only learning respect can teach respect. Couples can last a long time and learn disrespect during that time. Values such as those articulated by (though not necessarily held by) GreyDuck, are those that teach disrespect, with the help of family and church. 

  • colleen

    For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is a contradiction in terms- for reasons that I just explained- and, therefore, not a sin at all. Allowing pre-marital sex is a serious sin because it breaks down the system of using marriage to confer consent and, therefore, makes proving rape impossible.

    The reason that the most traditional of theologians don’t believe in marital rape is because traditional marriage is a
    transfer of ownership from father to husband. When the Bible was written women had the legal status of chattel. Rape and adultery were property crimes.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • grayduck

    Adultery, of course, is sex that breaks a commitment to someone else.

     

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary, adultery means "Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse." Other dictionaries have similar definitions. The law in Minnesota defines adultery as follows. "When a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, whether married or not, both are guilty of adultery." Where did you find your definition of adultery?

     

    If you were to cheat on your boyfriend…, you would certainly be committing ‘porneia’.

     

    Where in the Bible do you see any evidence that a woman owes sexual fidelity to a man who has not committed to her by marrying her? You seem to be adding commandments where none exist.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • grayduck

    "In the definition of true respect, championed by feminists and human rights advocates: no means no."

     

    Laws and moral principles are not designed to express wishful thinking and good intentions. They are designed to order human behavior to promote happiness, security, and prosperity. Without good protocols for defining and verifying the issuance of consent, there is no way for a society to enforce rape laws.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    Any particular reason why it isn’t an acceptable protocol just to believe the victim when he/she explains what happened?

  • becky321

    While your religious beliefs certainly color your sexual morals, the answer is inside you, if you listen. The more important question is “Is your relationship with your boyfriend ready for sex?” That is a question only you can answer. There are websites you can visit that may help you evaluate your relationship, google Healthy Relationship or Healthy Marriage for several sites. It sounds more like you as a person are not ready yet for a sexual relationship. Sex is not the end all of a relationship, with the right person it’s great, but not if your not ready.

    If you wait, there may come a time when you are sure, one way or the other. 5 years seems like a long time, and it is, a quarter of your life, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyonelooking back at their life say ‘I should have had sex with…’. I hope this helps.

  • katwa

    To what kind of sex does it imply consent to? Missionary only? Anal sex? Oral sex? BDSM sex? Anything the man wants?

    When you say “I do” is the bride REALLY aware that’s what she’s agreeing to?

    (I do… agree to have any and all kinds of sex, even if it hurts or I don’t believe in it, any time you want, whether I want it or not.)

    I have trouble believing women would get married at all if they thought that’s what they were agreeing to.

  • katwa

    <blockquote> I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyonelooking back at their life say ‘I should have had sex with…</blockquote>

     

    Well we DO exist! I didn’t have sex with my partner at 16 because I believed in all this absinence crap. It was my first love. I wanted to have sex with him. But I was horrified because I had heard all these horrible things that would happen to me if I did, that he wouldn’t love me anymore, etc.

     

    When I found out it wasn’t true, I was sad I had missed the opportunity. I will never get it back again. I wish I had sex with him. I regret that I didn’t and I feel the lies the abstinece educators told me deprived me of an experience I would have enjoyed and cherished.

  • jesusfreak

    Hey Christine!
    I started going to church when I was 20 too and I was in a 2yr long relationship. I think you should be confident in your convictions. You mentioned about going against your moral values. I personally believe and I know many christian’s not just in the UK but internationally believe that the bible says to abstain from sex until you get married and that’s what I did (I can send you scripture if you want to refer to it). I’m now 31 and married to an amazing man who believed that’s what the bible says also. I don’t believe the bible is being mean saying this but I believe it is what’s best for us to protect us from all the rubbish that people experience these days from going in and out of relationships, it actually works I’ve lived it. It sounds like your boyfriend really loves and I’m sure he will respect your believes as a christian. If he is really committed to you he will wait until you get married. I ended the relationship I was in but it may be different for you. I also gave up smoking with God’s grace, God will give you the grace to follow your convictions. It’s not easy following Jesus it does go against the grain, against the culture of what our peers or even our role-models say but I believe christianity is the best way to live life, a life full of adventure and a life where we can impact our future generation for the better. If you would like to talk to me further about this just reply everyone’s situation is different we are all on a personal journey. Just to let you know a bit of myself so you know I’m not a weirdo I’m part of a registered church in the UK, I’m a children’s pastor and a primary teacher whom as been to a bible college called audacious which you can look up on the web. Also when I first started going to church the best person to talk to would be your mum if she’s christian or an older christian role-model you can trust, age can be a beautiful thing when it comes to wisdom, in the church sometimes your peers aren’t the right people to ask or strangers on a forum.
    All the best Christine x