I’m 38. I’m divorced. I’m dating. I love Jesus. And I’m frustrated with the quality of the sex advice I’m able to find. I’m not talking about advice on the physiology of it—I spent a month on Reddit and learned more than I ever wanted to know. I’m talking about advice on how to have fulfilling sex with your soul intact. As I’ve searched the interwebs, as I’ve read the books my counselor recommends, as I’ve talked to friends, most of the Christian content I’ve found is something along the lines of, “Let me explain to you in kindergarten terms what the Bible says about sex. It belongs in marriage. Don’t you want to obey God? Well, there ya go. You just have to trust Him and then just DO it. Satisfaction will come.” If that was sufficient for avoiding any sin, well, I think the world would be a different place. And—dare I say it?—the church would be, too. I’ve seen times when people were capable of turning around their behavior and their heart on a dime like that, but I wouldn’t call it normal. Discipline is often challenging, and it’s an opportunity for deeper understanding. I don’t want to waste it on pat answers.
When I talk to people one-on-one, when I step into conversations where people feel free to give their real opinions, Christian America seems to be deeply dissatisfied with sex. (Or with the church for the way it handles sex. Or both.) Divorce is rampant, and it can feel like it has gutted the opportunity for “moral,” satisfying sex for some of us. For others, it left us single in a difficult dating pool without good prospects of finding a mate quickly, even if we aren’t too skittish after our past experiences to try. Many of us had our first sexual experiences under duress or way too young and never learned to come to terms with it. Years of disappointing sex in marriage have left others disenchanted with the 90s church youth group mantra that “true love waits”. We’ve bogged down marriage with so much political baggage, it feels hard to just have a marriage. Add up all of those scenarios, and there are far fewer Christians happy with their sex lives than not. For my part, I’ve experienced every single one. I don’t think I’m the only one struggling for deeper meaning or a better way.
I don’t feel any more compelled by most non-religious perspectives. I’ve tried sex for its own sake, and while there were times it felt incredible, leaving the relationship component out made me feel physically ill. It was like splitting my soul from my body. Based on what my friends have told me, I’m not unique that way. (Well, depressingly enough, it’s possible I’ve had more physically satisfying sex that way than a lot of people have, but I’m not exceptional when it comes to feeling dissociated.) Younger people have all the sexual freedom in the world, and they are are having sex less often and with fewer people, some forgoing it altogether. Couples who take a freer path to long-term relationships are running into the same problems as couples who went the pious route. It seems like, just about any way you slice and dice it, sex feels lonely. That’s the opposite of what I want.
So, here I am, stuck in the middle. I’m in the gap between people who want but can’t have and people who have but can’t want. It’s not a happy halfway point. I feel guilty and dissatisfied when I want and dissatisfied and guilty when I have—either way. It’s depressing. As a friend put it, we used moral authority to inform how we had sex for millennia and never quite got it right. Now we’ve disposed of that and we’re still not getting it right. Am I cynical? I certainly feel like it.
And yet… There’s also my deep belief in a Creator who made sex and made it enjoyable, the same Creator who made marriage. I have hope. As Richard Foster (one of my favorite authors) puts it, for every limitation God sets or recommends, there’s a corresponding freedom. It seems plausible that, as Christians, we’re getting so wrapped up in the law we’re missing the corresponding freedom. I want to find that freedom.
So much of the discussion on this topic comes from a place of certainty. Certainty over how to follow God’s will on one hand. Certainty over sexual liberty on the other. Certainty at every point in between. I don’t find those perspectives helpful—at 38, I’ve never been able to find that place of certainty where sex is concerned. I want to hear from someone who is honestly exploring meaning, someone like me who isn’t satisfied with glib answers. Since I’m not finding that voice, I’m going to try to be it. Am I going to find the behavioral sweet spot that has eluded us for millennia? Not likely. I do know that whenever I feel uncomfortable in my uncertainty, in the end it hasn’t been a call to find the correct answer, but a call to know my Savior better. A call to find my Rock to stand on while the uncertainty of the issue continues to swirl around me. So, that’s what I’m going to do. Hand my uncertainty to God, explore it with Him, and expect Him to show up. I don’t know where my freedom and peace in this area lies, but I hope to find out and share it with you.
Stay tuned. I’ll be blogging about this for the next month.