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Is Sex Sabotaging Love in Your Marriage?
Sex and love. They are supposed to go together, right? To hear some people talk, you might think that sex is the most important part of marriage, and if you listened to others, you’d think it really doesn’t matter at all. How important is a healthy sex life to marriage? As I’ve learned more about God’s design for sex in marriage, I’ve been struck by a staggering thought: Much of the traditional teaching around sex in marriage has actually sabotaged true love rather than promoted it! To understand this, let’s talk about two different facets of love that contribute to marriage: eros (sexual love) and agape (unconditional love). Much traditional Christian teaching on marriage uses the power of eros to justify the absence of agape, particularly within the marriage relationship. Christian teachers and pastors sometimes misinterpret passages like I Corinthians 7:1–5 (the “marital duty” passage) to say that the need for eros justifies all sorts of unloving behavior. Here are a few practical examples of how I see this playing out in real-life marriages: - A Christian husband or wife uses the absence of sex (or even the absence of good sex) to justify leaving a marriage. If sex is central to a marriage, then the absence of it means that marriage is no longer worth preserving. - A Christian husband or wife manipulates or forces a spouse to engage in sexual acts that are hurtful, humiliating, painful, or triggering, justifying this behavior because, “You have to meet my needs.” - A Christian couple lives decades with their sexual relationship revolving around one person’s sexual need with the subtle threat that if that “need” isn’t met, the person is justified in seeking intimacy (sexual or otherwise) outside of the marriage. - A Christian couple has regular sex while nurturing their own private fantasies and fears. They share their bodies but nothing else. In essence, they use one another as an “acceptable” sexual outlet while fueling lust and selfishness. We assume that as long as a couple is married and having sex with each other, their sex life is honoring God’s design. In fact, there is a lot of eros happening in Christian marriages that flies in the face of the more central call to agape. Nowhere in the Bible is a Christian encouraged to allow his or her natural desires to be greater than love. In fact, the opposite is true. We are called as followers of Jesus to surrender all of our desires on the altar of love and sacrifice. So why do we ignore this principle within the very relationship that was created to most closely model Christ’s love for His people? We ask single Christians to deny their sexual desires, minimizing the ache of loneliness and longing. Then we act as if marriage is a “get out of self-denial” pass. In fact, marriage presents a different call to self-denial. As a wife, I submit my eros and every other expression of selfishness to the higher goal of agape, loving my husband more than I love myself. He is called to do the same. This is the spirit behind passages like I Corinthians 7:1-5. It is a challenge for us to give generously, not demand selfishly. Our marriages are not built on sex. In fact, sexual intimacy was created to be a physical celebration of what our marriages are based on—covenant love. God has given us eros (sexual desire and attraction) to be drawn into agape (unconditional love based on covenant). Sexual desire draws us to one another. Once we then enter the covenant, we confront the refining fire of loving each other well in all circumstances, including sexual intimacy. The focus on sex in marriage must be pressing in on the larger question of how does our eros play out in light of our growing agape for one another? I have a friend who was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused throughout her childhood. Throughout their 15 years of marriage, this husband and wife have experienced long stretches  during which sex was not even possible. Any touching resulted in flashbacks and panic attacks. Even now, the prospect of a thriving sex life seems like a distant dream. This Christian husband is not getting his eros needs met in his marriage. Both he and his wife had envisioned sex as a fun and bonding experience in their marriage. He is rightfully disappointed and angry at what has been stolen from them. Yet he has the opportunity to even more fully experience what marriage was created to be. Far more than a husband who experiences sexual satisfaction, this man will learn the depth of a Jesus who gave Himself fully to love His bride. Sexual intimacy is a goal worthy of pursuing within every marriage. It is sacred and wonderful only because of what it represents—the covenant love of Christ for His Bride.   Want to learn more? Check out these blogs: What Is the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really? and Are You Entitled To (Good) Sex In Marriage? You might also like this Java with Juli episode #160: Why God Created You To Be Sexual.
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Seven Reasons Kids Turn To Porn & What You Can Do About It
This blog comes from John Fort, the director of training at Be Broken Ministries. John has many years of experience in sexual addiction recovery, both personally and professionally. He is also the author of Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking To Your Kids About Sex.*   When my son was 14, my wife and I discovered he'd been looking at porn. Though it wasn't the first time we'd made this discovery, it caught us by surprise. We had been working closely with all of our children on the subject of sex and sexual temptation, and our son seemed to embrace a desire to honor God with his sexuality. He too seemed perplexed, saying he didn’t understand why he had sought out porn. By the look on his face, I believed him. It turns out there is more than one reason our kids (sons and daughters alike) purposefully search for sexual content. The organization Protect Young Minds recently completed an (unpublished) study on why children use pornography. They did this by surveying adults and asking about their childhood. I like how Protect Young Minds suggests that kids “hire” pornography to do jobs for them that they do not know how else to do. That is a revolutionary and helpful way to think about porn use. Protect Young Minds identified four reasons kids “hire” porn.  In my work with pornography addicts at Be Broken Ministries, I found three additional reasons people start using porn in childhood.   I wish I had known then, as I struggled to help my son, what I know now.  Understanding these seven reasons can equip both parents and children to navigate future temptation more effectively. 1. Children view porn out of curiosity and use it to gain knowledge about sex. This reason should not surprise any of us. All kids eventually have questions about sex! If children are afraid or ashamed to ask parents about sex, they will search for answers elsewhere. Even young children know that the Internet is where people go these days for answers. Kids usually have no idea what they are about to see when they ask Google a question about sex. What they see gives them even more questions, and it is easy for Google to become a frequent companion in searching for information about sex. 2. Children use porn because it feels good. Looking at pornography can make the viewer feel good inside. For an adolescent in particular, coming across pornographic content may generate the most intense excitement they have ever experienced. When we see nudity and novelty, our brains release dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and other pleasure-creating hormones and brain chemicals.  While God designed this to draw us back to intimacy in marriage, pornography highjacks this pleasure response. Many children find pornography by accident and are surprised by the rush it gives them, and they may return to feel it again. One teenager explained it to us this way when describing why he started using porn at age 11 after seeing it the first time: “I wanted to get the same feeling again that I got the first time, which was a feeling of excitement and almost a joy—but not a real joy. When you have that feeling you feel like it's the best thing for you at that moment. It’s almost like when you’re on a roller coaster. How, you know, some people wouldn’t want to go back, but other people, it’s so good to them, the butterflies in their stomach, that they go back.” 3. Children use porn as a way to deal with stress and difficult emotions. The same chemicals that make us feel good when facing a sexual situation also have the side effect of pushing any negative feelings aside. Pornography can easily become a child’s go-to method for dealing with painful emotions, even if they are not completely aware this is what they are using it for. 4. Children use porn to feel a sense of freedom and to test boundaries. Families with highly authoritative parent-child relationships can leave a child desperately wanting to express autonomy.  Children who live in tightly controlled families may use pornography as a secret way to rebel and experience freedom. Pornography not only allows a shy, withdrawn child to escape into an exciting fantasy world, but it also becomes a way to secretly break the rules. 5. Children use porn for validation. Both boys and girls can sometimes feel like they are not “good enough” examples of maleness or femaleness. Pornographic images and videos can give an illusion of affirmation the one who is watching. When a child does not feel validated by peers and family, they may turn to porn to find a false sense of validation. 6. Children use porn due to external (peer) pressure. Kids want desperately to fit in. When they hear all their friends around them talking about sexual content online, and they don’t know what they are talking about, they may search out pornography so they can take part in those conversations next time. Or a child may look up a website because they hear other kids saying it is “cool.” Sometimes a child will be made fun of for never having seen pornography.  Social and other forms of media also promote sexualized content as a good thing for kids to experience. 7. Children seek out porn to make sense of sexual abuse or early sexual encounters. We don’t like to think or talk about sexual abuse, but research shows that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. Parents should be aware that sexual abuse can happen between children. In addition to abuse, early sexual encounters and experimentation with other children raises the chances that a child will seek out sexualized content online. Early sexualized and abused children often search online for depictions of the kind of sexual contact they experienced. Children who do this are trying to find out if they are normal or if what they experienced is normal. This can also be a way of trying to process and gain mastery over a traumatic experience. How do we use this information? Knowing why a child or teen looks at porn can help you prepare your kids to resist and walk away from pornography.  You can be a safe and honest place for your children to come with their questions about sex.  When you discover your child has been viewing porn, start by talking with him or her to discover which of these reasons may have caused it. Then help them find other ways to get those needs met. Here are some things you can do to help children resist porn, whether they have been exposed to it or not: Teach children about sex early, and make your family the safest place to talk about sex. Continue these conversations throughout childhood and the teen years. Find safe ways to experience excitement and pleasure. Don’t deny that porn “feels good” to watch, but show your children that there are better ways to feel good. Be sure to teach children how pornography harms them, even though it feels good. Teach your kids how to talk about their feelings and emotions and how to resolve them by talking with others. Do this by example! Make sure your children have freedom to express themselves. Don’t make everything an argument or a battle that you have to win. Validate your child’s identity and share how they reflect God’s image. Instead of trying to change how they act, make sure they know you think they’re an excellent example of masculinity or femininity. Talk about peer and social pressure. Share any peer pressure you endured at their age. Talk with them to help them deal with the negative feelings they experience when not going along with the crowd. Ask your child if anyone, an adult or a peer, has ever made them feel unsafe or touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable. Talk about this reality and reassure him or her it’s okay to talk about it! If you experienced such things as a child, you may want to share that. This sets an example that it is okay, even helpful, to talk about it. Knowledge is power, and having more information on the reasons our sons and daughters may be drawn to pornography is a powerful tool to help them resist or escape it.   You may be interested in these follow-up resources: When Your Kids Look At Porn (blog); Parenting Through Weakness (blog); Pornography & Our Kids (blog); Talking To Your Kids About Sex (webinar series).   *This is an affiliate link. AI may earn referral fees from qualifying purchases.
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Purity Culture: Lose the Lies, Keep Your Faith
If you want to get “cancelled” in Christian culture, try using the phrase “sexual purity.” Even for many committed Christians, sexual purity has lost its luster. Women are writing dissertations and books about how the Church’s teaching on sex has not only harmed them sexually, but shaken the foundations of their faith in God. What is going on?  In the mid 80s and 90s, the message to “save sex for marriage” became the predominant theme of Christian books and conferences. Modesty and abstinence were all the rage in the average church youth group. Young women were told not to “cause their brothers to stumble,” and wives were encouraged to “perform their wifely duty” to keep their man from straying.  I’ve spent the past ten years working exclusively in the arena of Christian sexuality and have interacted with hundreds of men and women who grew up with these insufficient and unbalanced messages about sex. As part of the Christian culture, I was among them. I dutifully obeyed and experienced my own disillusionment and pain in my marriage.  My understanding of God and sex has dramatically evolved over the decades. I can see that metamorphosis in the emphasis and nuances in what I wrote twenty years ago versus what I’m writing and teaching today. My journey has brought me closer to the heart of God. It has been a parallel track of deepening my love for the Lord and understanding His word related to our sexuality. Unfortunately, in the journeys of others, the opposite has transpired.    For many, reconsidering the purity narrative has led to a rejection of the true Christian faith. I think of Janna who grew up in the church with messages about purity and modesty, feeling ashamed about the size of her breasts and the attention she received from boys. In college after she was date raped, the first question her father asked her was, “What were you wearing?” The double standard, body shaming, and lack of compassion eventually became enough to undermine her faith in God. Or I think of Brenda, who followed all the rules and got married as a virgin to a pastor. Within the first year of their marriage, her Christian husband cheated on her multiple times. Brenda is now an open advocate for a God who lovingly and non-judgmentally allows us to pursue whatever sexual longings we may experience.   Every sexual issue is at heart a spiritual issue. When sex becomes confusing, it causes us to reexamine what we believe about God. Getting sex wrong usually begins and ends with getting God’s character wrong. This is why it is critical that we personally and corporately revisit what the Bible actually says about sexuality. Yet as we deconstruct, we must be very careful in how we reconstruct, pressing further into the word of God rather than away from it.    Consider the whole counsel of the Bible. Several years ago, I began to read the whole Bible each year. Yes, it gets tedious around Leviticus, repetitive in the gospels, and downright depressing in the prophets. Yet, I’m committed to this practice because it reminds me never to take out of context any particular passage.  In its entirety, the Bible is a Great Story. Within that story are lists of laws, teaching about holy life, songs of worship, times of judgment, and accounts of God’s work in unique times of history. Yet every part of the Bible must be understood within the larger framework of the Great Story. God created us for fellowship with Him. When sin entered the human race, every intent of the human heart became warped (see Genesis 6:5). All of creation has echoes of God, while also elements of brokenness that cause us to groan and suffer. God’s love for humanity prompted Him to send Jesus as the once-and-for-all remedy for human rebellion. God has offered us the choice to accept or reject this redemption. When we receive Jesus, we live in the tension of the finished work of the cross and in the “not yet” fulfillment of that completed work.  This story of the Bible must be the foreground and background of everything we teach, including sexuality. Our purity and righteousness ultimately have nothing to do with our sexual choices or struggles, but with our standing in Christ Jesus. We can never accomplish a pure life apart from His continual work in us, through the Holy Spirit. God loves the gay, the pastor, the virgin, the single, the married, the prostitute, and the divorced. Each one must choose whether or not to respond to that love with repentance, humility, and obedience. God is able and willing to redeem every story. He breaks down the self-righteous and builds up the broken.  This great story isn’t ultimately about how to live a holy life, sexually or otherwise. It is about the character of God. In every generation, the Church has failed to fully grasp the true character of God. Depending on the times, we overemphasize one of His traits at the expense of the others. We embrace and teach a lopsided version of God. The purity movement taught a God who gave us moral rules to follow, but underemphasized His redemptive nature. In our current day, we teach about God’s love and mercy, but tend to skip past His holiness and righteous judgment. This is a grave danger of which every Church generation must be aware. Reading, studying, and teaching the whole of Scripture within the context of the larger story brings us back to the “True North” from which we can make sense of our sexuality.    Discern tradition versus truth. Traditions are not all bad. Although many of them are based on biblical wisdom, traditions should never hold the same weight as the word of God. Jesus confronted this in His day when He told the Pharisees: “You have disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men. You neatly set aside the command of God to maintain your own traditions.”  Why is this so essential to “reconstructing” from the purity narrative? Jesus said the greatest of all commandments are to love God completely and love our neighbors unselfishly. Church traditions about sex have established a moral hierarchy based on a person’s apparent sexual purity. Are you a virgin? Do you look at porn? Do you fall into accepted stereotypes of male and female? Are you in a second marriage? Even Christians who remain single in their thirties and forties often feel like “second-class citizens” because of their marital status. The Christian subculture has created traditions around sex, often unspoken, that cause us to violate and minimize the greatest commandments. For the sake of minor differences in theology, we alienate our brothers and sisters. Because we are confused and repulsed by various forms of sexual brokenness, we ignore the pain of our neighbors. We cling to our traditions while setting aside the most important commandments of how we are called to live and love.  Many who have “deconstructed” from faith in God do so because they have never seen genuine faith in God. What they have known as conservative Christianity is a judgmental, hypocritical, and dogmatic clinging to traditions.  We are often like the friends of Job, quoting the proper verses in a way that heaps on condemnation and ignores the heart of God. At the end of the book, God did not rebuke those friends because of what they said about Job, but because of the ways they falsely represented God Himself.    Learn the true narrative of sexuality. The Bible has a lot to say about sex. Yes, there are passages like I Corinthians 6-7 that deal explicitly with our sexual conduct, but the larger message of God and sex is hidden within passages that many of us skip right past.  For example, the book of Hosea is all about sex. A prophet Hosea marries a woman who is unfaithful, and God tells Hosea to redeem his unfaithful wife. The book of Hosea is about sex in a way that ultimately points back to the story of God’s redemption. The same can be said of Ezekiel 16. If you read this passage, you may be shocked to find references to pubic hair, “large genitals,” and menstrual blood. This chapter is a graphic description of something sexual as a metaphor for something profoundly spiritual. The Song of Solomon, the only book in the Bible about marriage, praises the beauty of erotic passion. It seems to be out of place within the Law and the prophets until we see it as more like the Psalms, a song about love. We cannot understand God’s prohibitions against sexual immorality, His heart for the abused and abandoned, or His passion for sexual intimacy within marriage until we understand the place that sex has within the larger story of God. Our sexuality, including our gendered bodies, is a form of revelation about the nature of God’s covenant love. As the apostle Paul says, this is a great mystery that refers to Christ and the Church.  The greatest failing of the Church is not the purity movement or even the reaction against it. Our greatest failing is in missing the larger message that our sexuality screams to us. We were made for intimacy. We were created for covenant. We have been pursued by a Bridegroom who awakens our love, redeems our sin, and invites us into eternal union with Him.   In 1990, it was far easier to say “save sex for marriage” than to wrestle through this narrative. And today, the easy road is to grant permission to embrace whatever our flesh desires. But to be true to the gospel, the word of the Lord, and the character of the Almighty God, we must press deeper into His story of love and how it is revealed in and through our sexuality.  This is why I’ve committed the last ten years of my life and the foreseeable future to learning, teaching, and writing about the most challenging topics of sexuality. What’s at stake is not sexual morality, but leading people to an intimate relationship with our Creator, our Redeemer, our Savior, and our Bridegroom.   You may also find these follow-up resources helpful:  Why Promise Rings & Purity Talks Fall Short The World Has A Lot to Say About Sex What's the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really?