Chips, Queso, & Sex Drive

One reader asked me to write about the male sex drive. Since I’m not male… take this with a very large grain of salt. Perhaps even a block of salt, or an entire salt mine. This is my take based on my non-scientific observations. Because you have to start somewhere… (I’m not even going to try to address gender identity or any of that. I think my brain would explode. Maybe another day.)

I wrote recently about how we often use sex to address loneliness. I honestly think a big part of our sexual culture (from any perspective—oversexed, undersexed, the rules we make, the rules we break) is not about sex, but driven by or shaped to address problems of loneliness and isolation. I think this is a bigger issue for men than for women, for two reasons. The first is that women are taught from an early age to solve problems socially, even problems that aren’t social in nature. Give us an engineering problem, and we’ll address it by building a team and talking about it. Men (for better or worse) are taught to be more independent. I don’t think either is necessarily bad—they both have advantages and disadvantages. However, when it comes to addressing problems related to social isolation, we women seem to be more well-equipped. If nothing else, we seem to be more aware when we’re lonely.

The second factor in difference between male and female sex drives is the fact that boys typically discover sexual self-satisfaction earlier in their lives and more easily. It’s just… out there and easy to find. I don’t have kids, but I’ve heard from many moms of boys how young they are when they figure out self-soothing. Disappointed? Sad? Lonely? Angry? There’s a quick fix that will make you feel great for awhile even if the problem hasn’t gone away. Again, I’m not going to say that’s good or bad. Just different. What it does, though, is open an opportunity for boys to learn to use sex hormones to address problems that could be handled differently. Girls may develop a bigger toolkit for dealing with disappointment because we typically figure out that mechanism for releasing our own pleasure hormones later in life (if ever). We have to solve social-emotional problems creatively.

Here’s another food comparison. (I make so many food-sex comparisons, I’m starting to wonder if my sexual preferences are more kitchen thank kink.) I eat emotionally because it’s worked for me my whole life. Sometime in my formative years, I learned that chips and queso make me feel better, even if they’re not solving my emotional problems. Eating gives me a shortcut to achieving my end goal of feeling better, even if it doesn’t last. It’s not the best, but it’s effective enough that I keep doing it (and I probably will until I find a more powerful alternative). I learned to do that from a very young age—it’s deeply engrained in my habits and very hard to overcome. You may laugh when I say that I NEED chips and queso, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

This is controversial, but based on my own experience I’m going to say that sex isn’t a critical need. We can live without it. People do it all the time. I’ve spent most of my thirties celibate, the majority of that time out of a choice to be faithful rather than a choice to be celibate. That was hard. I remember describing myself as a starving animal at one point. I wouldn’t have chosen the sexless years of my marriage, but I grew through them. I grew even more by keeping a celibate lifestyle by choice later on. Personal growth is not what happens when you are deprived of something you need. If you’re deprived of something you need, you don’t become a more complete person, you eventually go crazy or you die. Was it right for my ex-husband to deprive me of sex for years? No. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was ok.

Celibacy isn’t some magic that you either have or you don’t—it’s an acquired skill. I think sex feels like an urgent biological need because we’re using it to biochemically patch deficiencies in the things we DO need to survive, like love and help and relationship. That’s why, even if we’re getting sex, it can feel like a compulsion. The more sex I have and the less emotional connection, the more I’m going to feel like I need sex, regardless of how much sex I’m actually getting.

So you have a society that’s relationally starved, you have boys growing up with one powerful tool for self-soothing that is well-developed and other tools underdeveloped. Throw in porn, and discovering sex at a time when we’re just learning to function socially as adults, and it’s easy to see how sex can become a panacea for problems it may not actually be the best tool to solve. I’d be sex-crazed too if I thought it was the only way I could fill certain needs. Oh wait, I have been.

I think we (men and women) sometimes use sex as a patch for relational problems. My thought is that there may be reasons men seem to lean more heavily on it. It’s powerfully effective temporarily. So is cocaine, for that matter. But when the hormones wear off, the problem is still there. I don’t think that’s what sex is meant for. (Or, not the ONLY or even primary thing it’s meant for.) Like emotional eating, it’s incredibly painful to remove it unless it’s already been replaced with something else that will fill the same need. Don’t take away my chips and queso if I have no other way to feel better after a crummy day at work. Don’t take away sex if when it’s gone I find myself desperately, irremediably alone.

Sex & Candy (Part 2): The Desire… Monster?

Although eating is a good thing (and obviously necessary), it seems possible that it in some way distracts me from the deep, soul-shaking desires of my heart that I wrote about in my last post in the series. My heart and my body are meant to be unified, in sync, but if my body is satisfied, it can trick my heart into thinking it is, too. I’ve been eating my entire life… How long have those desires been there? How long have I been hiding them from myself with a daily routine of eating—not just to fuel my body, but eating just a little too much each time to help keep the demons at bay? A little thing repeated three times a day for years can be an incredibly powerful force. It’s possible I’ve spent my entire life conditioning my heart to think it’s satisfied when my body eats a quesadilla or a spoonful of peanut butter.

Then I think about how much more satisfying an orgasm is—that will top peanut butter or quesadillas any day of the week. It’s a beautiful thing, but it may also be a thing I’ve conditioned myself since puberty to use for comfort. A security blanket. Something to hide those deeper longings from my conscious mind. If I did use it that way, it would be powerfully effective, wouldn’t it?

I don’t think those deep desires I’ve uncovered by removing distractions are wrong in and of themselves. You may think that goes without saying, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I’ve seen so many articles and books that hint at or say explicitly that all of our heart’s desires are sinful. The heart is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked,” after all (Jeremiah 17:9). If we follow our desires without guidance, sure, they can REALLY take us down the wrong path. But I don’t think the longing of the heart for companionship, the desire to be known and loved and to know and love in return is at all bad. It’s what we’re made for. And because we live in a fallen world, we’re not getting it the way we’re built to. So we long, deeply and desperately. I don’t think those desires themselves are The Flesh that the Bible warns about. I mean, if the Bible talks about fasting as an activity related to longing for the return of Christ (Matthew 9:14-15), longing for companionship in general isn’t likely to be a bad thing. He’s Emmanuel, God With Us, the king of companionship. A big part of that deep longing is a longing for Him—the longing is not going to go away until He comes back. The rest of it is longing for companionship with other people that knowing Him helps enable. I think The Flesh that we’re not supposed to allow to guide us is that conditioning of our heart to be satisfied because our body is. It’s the breaking of that unity between heart and body, the dominance of physical pleasure to mask emotional pain.

There’s a verse that comes up often when people talk about The Flesh, James 1:14-15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard that interpreted to say that our desires are bad and should be quashed. It’s so deeply ingrained in the meaning of that verse for me that it’s hard to read it another way. But it doesn’t actually say the desire is bad, just that it’s bad for us to be lured and enticed by it. I think using shame to cover the desire to be known and loved is as bad as (if not worse than) covering it with quesadillas and peanut butter. Cultural shame uses social forces that are meant to unite us—meant to enable us to help each other—and divides us instead. Shame addresses the longing for love underlying our fleshly pursuits and starves it more by isolating the people longing.

Read the verses before and after:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘Im an being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) Interesting… when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, he was tempted. But this says He can’t be tempted by evil. If fasting uncovered His desires the way it does for me… The last temptation Jesus faced in the desert was to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worshipped him. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). Jesus came for people, and Satan was offering people to Him. He was taking a strike at the unfathomable love Jesus has for us—His longing to be unified with us—trying to lure that desire into impatience, to complete the great work then and there without the years Jesus spent wandering in the dust healing crowds, without the death on the cross. But Jesus did not let his desire conceive… he went through with the painful plan because it was the best way. He acted on His desire in a world-changing way. He died to unify us with Him and with each other.

Next in James comes one of my favorite verses of all time: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16) Real, deep companionship is a good and perfect gift. Why would the desire for it be bad? Loneliness—our longing to be known and loved—is not something to cover or to be ashamed of. Our need is part of how God made us. “It is not good… to be alone.” We need God, and we need other people. It doesn’t do us any good to cover that need and longing with sex and candy, and it REALLY doesn’t do us any good to cover it with shame.

Purity Culture (Part 2): Lie Detector

Lies are more subtle than you think. Or at least more subtle than I suspected for a long time. A college friend wrote the forward for a now infamous book about Christian dating and abstinence, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Sam retracted his forward in this article in 2016. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Sam, and the whole retraction is worth reading (as are the recovery stories on the site). One sentence Sam wrote has really stuck with me: “thought I was anti-legalistic at the time, not realizing that legalism was part of the air I breathed.” There is a subtle, insidious deception in legalism that’s so close to us it’s like it’s in the air we breathe. We’re not originating it, we’re simply copying what we hear. And it’s often not in the content of what we say, but how we say it. Intent matters. Timing matters. Context matters. If Satan could get under Jesus’ skin using scripture, he can do it to us, too. I’m not saying that to scare you. I’m learning from it, and I want to share what I’m learning so we can take back our culture from this m———f———— a—hole.

I’m going to spend the next few posts using the lie detectors I listed in my first Purity Culture post to uncover some lies:

1. Does it cause or encourage fear?

2. Does it cause or encourage guilt or shame? (A corollary: does it make the hearer feel like his value as a person depends on his behavior?)

3. Does it isolate?

4. Does it make the hearer question her sanity?

Let me say up front that I’m not on a witch hunt. There are definitely some people out there lying deliberately, and they deserve to go down in flames. But I think in most cases these are well-intentioned people just echoing their own fears—the lies they’ve been told that they believe about themselves—into a huge megaphone. It’s an easy trap to fall into, one I fall into myself sometimes. I pray over this blog every day that what I write will be True, but sometimes I am just not self-aware enough to catch things. Sometimes my intentions are self-serving. I hope you will take these principles and apply them to me and tell me if you hear me lying. Lies can sometimes come through good people, people who usually speak the truth. My battle here isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), it’s against lies and the destroyer who originates them.

There’s also the fact that lies don’t have to originate in what we’re reading. We sometimes tell them to ourselves. We filter what we see and hear through lies that we’ve learned to tell ourselves. When I was going through my divorce, I started to become more aware of my self-talk, and how much of it was lies. Things like, “Friend A and Friend B who are coming to my house for dinner. They are going to have a REALLY bad time if I don’t clean up these dust bunnies.” Or, “I’m so broken I don’t have any control over my sex life.” Or, “God isn’t going to fulfill my desire for a loving spouse because I don’t deserve that.” Worse, “The Bible says my heart is wicked, so my desires have no value. In fact, they are probably wrong. All of them.” I kept track one day, and I was telling myself a lie that checks a box on the lie detector list once every 7 minutes. All day. That’s a lot of shit to unpack.

When we’re breathing legalistic air, we tell ourselves and each other a lot of lies about sex. So, let’s take a look Amazon and I’ll show you the lies I hear. They might originate from the material, they might be in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where they originate, but they’re there, and I’ll bet money that most of you hear them, too.

I started to search Amazon for “Christian sex” and was given a few suggested searches. First was “Christian sex education for 8-12 year olds”. I don’t think I’m the only one who reads that and thinks, “dear God, these kids coming up on puberty and we’d better educate them before they fall into the SEX DEATH TRAP.” (Lie detector #1) Second search suggestion is, “Christian sex books for married couples.” If I didn’t click that, I’d be reminded of my past when I enjoyed sex with someone who wasn’t my spouse. I feel bad for even LOOKING at books about sex since I’m not married. I remember the verse that says “any man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). Lie detector #2, my friends. I feel alone because, well, sex advice is for married people, and I am not. Lie detector #3. I haven’t even looked at the search results and I’m already feeling so small I’m ready to walk away from the computer. For you–my readers–and for truth, I will keep going.

Search result #1: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (And You Thought the Bad Girls Had All the Fun) I like sex without reading a damn book… does that make me bad?

Result #2: Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in the Christian Marriage Is it just me, or does it seem like a bad sign that we need convincing that it’s intended for pleasure? If I was unhappy with my married sex life, I’d feel a little less-than for not GETTING it.

Result #3: Under the Sheets: The Secrets to Hot Sex in Your Marriage Putting my married person hat on here: what if I’m so relationally shut down that I don’t WANT hot sex in my marriage? Or what if my spouse is asking me to do “hot” things that I’m not comfortable with?

Result #4: Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option-and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex I might actually read this book, but why does EVERY Christian conversation about sex start with talking about chastity or celibacy or abstinence (including my own blog)? Why is our starting point a RULE? Shouldn’t the starting point of this conversation be love and joy? Even if you’re trying to unpack the shame of sex, starting the conversation talking about shame might give it more power than I want it to. Ugh. Now I’m feeling ashamed for writing a blog that tries to uncover sex lies because I might be propagating the sex lies as I’m writing it.

Okay, my brain is already in a knot. But I hope you get the idea. I’ll tackle some gnarlier knots in another post.

 

Celibacy (Part 3): Going to Pittsburgh

God was speaking to me, He was giving me beautiful moments of loving invitation that were far more intimate than anything I’d experienced in my Christian life before. Moments like a hike on the trail, when I told Him how much I loved what he’d done with the trees, and He told me that the best part for Him was watching me enjoy it. Moments like when He turned a pair of boots red just because He knew I would like them.

Even so, I felt to ashamed to meet Him where He was calling me and walk with Him. How could I when I was so overwhelmed by sexual desire that I couldn’t help but fall into it? I felt engulfed by guilt and powerless to do anything about it. I decided to carve out a safe space for myself that seemed realistic. I became pragmatic. If I couldn’t help my physical needs, and I couldn’t engage my tattered heart in a relationship, I’d stick with some kind of friends-with-benefits scenario. At least that way I would avoid the clear dangers of hooking up (disease, pregnancy, the drama of running into people later—Anchorage is a very small town).

I told my plan to a more sexually experienced friend. He basically patted me on the shoulder and told me it wouldn’t work. “Friends with benefits never lasts more than like a month or two. One person always ends up wanting it to be more than friends.” I was optimistic, “No, I think with this guy it will work. We have it figured out.” We chatted a bit more about the practicality of it, and then he looked me in the eye and said, “What about…?” and pointed heavenward. He knew that in spite of all of this, I loved God deeply. We both had an idea that God would be unhappy with what I was doing. I shrugged, but my heart sank.

Later that night, I was reading a book on Redemption and ran across a short blurb where the author mentioned failing over and over and over again on the path to redemption. How is that possible? I though. I’ve heard so many people say that, if you don’t change your behavior, you haven’t really repented. I wondered whether it was possible to feel deep regret and shame and a desire to change but not actually repent. But here was someone saying that sometimes it takes trying again and again, and falling on your face over and over. Was it possible that repentance didn’t necessarily mean immediate success at fixing the problem? I decided that, even though I felt like I was completely incapable of succeeding, even though every time I tried I failed worse than before, I would keep trying. My wall, my will wasn’t effective, but there had to be another way. I decided I would keep failing until I found it.

What if it wasn’t up to me? And what if there was something God cared more about than me trying? I ran across a verse, “In returning and rest you shall be saved.” (Isaiah 30:15) I noted that it didn’t say “in returning and fixing it immediately.” My mind’s eye saw me turning my face to God and then… that was it. Resting. Waiting. Was that all there was to repentance after sin? Was there an alternative to whipping myself into an obedience I didn’t understand?

In one moment of scrambling to find ways to try harder, I had considered getting a tattoo that said “The Lord’s” on the back of my hand where I could see it, as a reminder to myself that I belonged to God and didn’t have to sin. It’s hard to miss a hand tattoo, even when you’re drunk. Before I could get the tattoo, I crashed my bike on some sand and skinned up my knees, my face, and my hand. I have only one scar from that crash. It looks like writing, and it’s exactly where I would have placed the tattoo on my hand. It was as if He was telling me I didn’t have to mark myself as His, He already had. Returning and rest… just look at Him. See Him… If I could have more of that presence—-the beautiful sound of the voice of love—I felt like my life would be very different, and not just morally.

About that time, I joined a reading group that was studying Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. (I really was trying every pious magic trick I could think of.) I knew I was supposed to be generous, to spend time in prayer, to worship God through music, to fast from eating. These “disciplines” had always been on a checklist of things I thought I was supposed to do as a good Christian. I wasn’t great about doing them. Other than music, I wouldn’t have said I enjoyed them. Foster’s take was a little different. He said that these were things you could do to make your heart fertile ground for more of the presence of God, that there was a freedom in them that you couldn’t find elsewhere. That was new. I was surprised to find myself trying out fasting, even more surprised to find myself enjoying it. I love food. Deliberately not eating sounded like unnecessary torture. But I tried one day. And another. Until I was fasting almost every week.

It’s a little hard to describe the joy of feeling God’s presence, or the fact that not eating can be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s like having an amazing friend Bob who lives in Pittsburgh. He’s just one of those indescribably lovely people. You tell your friends at home about him, but they’re not convinced. “You’d love Bob! He’s hilarious and just a really caring person. He’s… well, you just have to meet him. Come to Pittsburgh with me next time I visit Bob! I promise it will be worth it. Pittsburgh is kinda weird but he knows the best spots. We’ll have a great time, I promise!” “Um, I’m sure your friend is great, but, um, Pittsburgh? Really, Amy?” “Yeah, it’s different with Bob. I swear!”

I’ve never been able to find good words to describe what happens during fasting that makes God’s presence so much more real and palpable. It just does. And whatever it does, it does in incredibly powerful ways. I knew something had changed when I gave up amazing sex one night because I knew it would interfere with me fasting the next day…

Hey! I finally mentioned sex! (Or avoiding it. Haha.) More of the (non-) sexy good stuff in the next post.

Celibacy (Part 2): Tearing Down the Wall

God had started talking to me a little before this point in our story. When I began to give up on my marriage, He started speaking to me in a way I could hear–a voice in my mind, in my dreams. I’m sure there are a lot of you reading this who are immediately skeptical. I was—that was not the God I had been taught to believe in. How God addressed my theological skepticism is another story for another time. (If hearing God’s voice is something that interests you, subscribe to my email list–there’s a subscription form at the bottom of the page. You’ll get access to an Invitation to Connect that starts a conversation on the topic.) What matters in this context is what He did with the wall protecting my heart and what that meant for my sex life. I was expecting Him to help me build the wall, but He surprised me with something completely different.

In yesterday’s post, I’d mentioned building a fence, a wall to protect my moral purity. That was the approach I’d learned, in part, from years of conversation about abstinence. Without understanding the value of sex (or without wanting to talk about it), the easy conversation to have is that avoiding sex outside of marriage protects your heart. We all have fears and insecurities—an easy way to motivate my behavior is to speak to those and give fear tools like abstinence. I’d built a pretty formidable wall at that point. It was long and thick and high, and not very effective at keeping me from “falling into sin.” What it did do effectively was keep out love. Sexual desire isn’t simple. We like to treat it like it’s this weird, discreet part of us that we should be able to turn off and on at will. But it’s bound up in desires that have nothing to do with sex—with love, with a desire for unity and belonging—good desires.  Fragile desires.

In high school I kept a notebook where I copied quotes I liked. One that always stuck with me was, “Nothing can ensure the continuance of love. It will evaporate like a spirit and so I feel full of fears.” (From Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native) I was afraid of love’s elusiveness, and the tone of abstinence culture reinforced that. Better get him to put a ring on it before you give it up, or else he won’t value what you have to offer. He’ll stop respecting you and you’ll lose him.

So, I built my wall. Some bricks were moral, but some were emotional. The wall had actually been more effective at protecting me emotionally than it had been at keeping me succumbing to sexual temptation. When I started hooking up, the wall was failing because the emotional bricks had begun to crumble. The legitimate needs it had been keeping out for my lifetime (in the bad times in my marriage AND the good. In other relationships…) had become so strong and formidable they overwhelmed it. What I didn’t realize was that the wall I thought was only a moral wall had been protecting emotionally from other people, even from God.

When God began speaking to me, he talked to the wall. He spoke in a way that didn’t raise its alarms, so His voice could sail over it to the starving animal that was cowering behind it. The first time I heard Him, I was beginning to really despair over my marriage. My pastor preached that, if we were having a hard time, we should ask God to show us what good He was trying to do in those circumstances. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I asked. I was floored when a voice in my head that wasn’t my own responded immediately, “I’ve given you joy and you’ve traded it for ingratitude.”

When I tell people this story, their reaction is always that that sounds a bit harsh. My answer is always, “But, if you’d heard His voice, you’d know it was anything but harsh.” There was so much love in the voice that it almost made the message irrelevant. It was as if someone had turned love into a musical instrument and played the words on it. Looking back, I’ve come to realize that He began speaking to me in stern words because He knew I would recognize it was Him—that was what I knew about Him. It got past the defenses on my wall.

Over time, I would learn to recognize and trust His voice enough that He could start speaking love into it my heart without tripping my defenses. First, I had to be able to be open about my desires. A good friend encouraged me to pick something I longed for and ask Him for it. At that point, I was in the middle of separation from my husband, getting up the nerve to ask for a divorce. I’d started hooking up. I didn’t feel like I deserved the right to speak to Him that way. “God hates divorce,” so how could I come to Him with a request when I was doing something he hates?

It took me months before I tentatively, quietly told Him what was on my heart. I was biking to work, and tearfully sent up a request, “God, you know my desire is for someone to love me.” Adding, quickly, “That can be [my ex] if you change his heart, of course.” The voice of love responded with difficult words I could recognize, “Stop making it so hard.” Again, hard words, but I took away hope and peace in knowing that He was working to meet my desires when I’d lost my own ability to do it myself. He had been doing it even before I’d asked. He was caring for my desires before I could even speak them. When I arrived at work, I pulled out my phone and an app notification on the screen said, “I did not redeem you for isolation. I am making you part of a new family.” I spent the next half hour weeping in the bathroom at work. The message had landed in my heart.

While I had been tearing down the moral bricks in the wall, he was beginning to dismantle the emotional ones.

Huh, another day, another post, and not a word about celibacy. I’ll get there. I promise. Check back tomorrow for more. In the meantime, if you want to read an extraordinary and challenging book about the walls we build that block us from love, check out Hiding from Love by John Townsend (one of the authors of the bestseller Boundaries).

Celibacy (Part 1): Caging a Starving Animal

Well, I told you yesterday that I’d show off my celibacy cheerleading outfit. I promise it’s out of the closet, hanging nicely on a hook waiting for me to put it on. But first, a celibacy horror story.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had two very different experiences with celibacy. The first was when my then-husband decided he didn’t want to have sex with me for about four years (with some pretty long dry spells before that). It was awful. By the end of that four years, I felt like a starving animal. I was deprived of love AND sex. I’d felt hopeless to get either of them for so long that, once my ex and I separated, it was like letting the animal out of a cage.

My heart was broken, and the last thing I wanted was a relationship, so I started hooking up. As fun as it was, it felt off. Plus I knew it was against God’s laws. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I had well-meaning friends and my counselor telling me that all I needed to do was delete guys’ numbers from my phone. Just STOP already. My response was that if I were dieting, putting a lock on the fridge doesn’t keep me from driving to the store to get ice cream. The starving animal in me felt unstoppable. It was embarrassing—I’d managed to survive years of not sex while my ex and I were still together. The relationship hadn’t been great, but my loyalty to him had been motivation enough. Without that motivation, I couldn’t figure out how to put the starving animal back in the cage. Laws just didn’t cut it. I kept building higher fences to contain the animal, and it kept jumping over them with ease.

The most memorable of those times, I was supposed to meet a guy at a concert. I decided to go with church friends instead, patting myself on the back for my discipline. I drank way too much and ended up bringing a much younger guy home. My ex was at our house packing up some of his belongings when we got there, so I distracted him while the guy snuck into the house another way. [Salacious details redacted.] We figured out afterward that we went to the same church. (Don’t bother guessing, HOTC friends. I haven’t seen him there for a long time.)

If you grew up in the church like I did, you’ll understand my “oh how the mighty have fallen” self-abasement over this situation. It’s ALL THE BAD THINGS. I mean, if there was ever a scenario meant to scare youth groups straight, that’s it. The only thing to top it off would be if I’d gotten pregnant and/or been murdered in my bed. If you aren’t a church person, you might be thinking, “Well, it had been a long time. I can’t blame you for wanting to get out and have a good time. And a young, good-looking guy? You go, girl. Sounds fun. Too bad you couldn’t get past the guilt to really enjoy it.” And… I don’t disagree. I know now that I beat myself up way too much. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to how I learned that truth.) I’m not trying to tell a moral turnaround story. What I am trying to demonstrate is that I was deeply unhappy. I felt broken and heartbroken and guilty on top of that, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Hookups felt like the only thing I could do, and they weren’t helping.

If you grew up in the church like I did, you’ll understand that over of my pain and heartbreak there was a thick layer of fear that I was stepping out of God’s grace by disobeying. His unchanging moral laws are like physics—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. To expect anything less is to tell yourself a very serious lie and misrepresent Him to the people around you: “If we came to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (I John 1:6) I was terrified of the implications for my salvation. Did I even know God?? What did it say about me that knowing God disapproved didn’t prevent me from doing it? I repented, but my background told me that repentance without change isn’t real repentance. Was I just kidding myself? And yet, I knew I was powerless to fix it. I’d reached the end of my resources and I didn’t know what else I could do.

I did the only thing I could think of. I admitted my powerlessness and asked for God’s help. And then I braced myself for the worst. I thought He would find a way to cage the animal effectively, and at best, I’d probably feel dumb and inadequate for not being able to take care of it myself. After all, as a Christian, I have the power of the Holy Spirit in me, right? I’d failed Him. God did begin to step in, but not in the way I expected. Instead of caging the animal, He began to quietly, gently feed it what it actually needed.

(Continued tomorrow…)

Letters from Christ

There is one area of my sex life where I feel like I’ve had real, unqualified joy and personal growth with God, and that is celibacy. I also spent years wanting sex with my spouse and not getting it. I will tell you up front that choosing celibacy from a place filled with love and having celibacy forced on you are not at all the same thing. I hope I would never push someone into celibacy who doesn’t understand the potential for growth and intimacy and beauty that can come with it. That said, I want my first personal story in this blog series to be about the sexual experience I’ve found the most value in so far. So, celibacy it is.

Shocked yet? Angry? Good. I probably would be, too.

But first, a quick word about my approach to this month o’ sex blogging.

I spent the morning yesterday responding to comments and private messages about my last post. I’m grateful to everyone who has shared their stories and their hearts in really vulnerable ways. That kind of connection is Facebook at its best, if you ask me. Several people recommended books, and I spent yesterday afternoon combing through them, hoping I might come across some new insight before I launch myself into what feels like a scary and shocking gap. I was reminded of some good and helpful points, but I didn’t find anything new.

That got me thinking… what is my real beef with how people are approaching this topic publicly (books, blogs, etc)? I think I may be able to articulate it now thanks to your stories and these books you recommended: regardless of the perspective people are coming from about how sex should be done, most of the writing is prescriptive. It’s so much more “you should…” than “I have… and here’s what happened and what I learned from it.” The author of one of the books I read yesterday throws a “quick confession” into the introduction: “Unfortunately, Lauren and I didn’t follow quite a bit of what we’re about to walk through in this book.” Wait… what? I want to hear that story. If you’re going to recommend a course of action you didn’t follow (or even one you did), I want to hear about what you did and what you learned in the moment. If God spoke to you through your circumstances (good or bad, right or wrong), I REALLY want to hear about that. I want to hear it way more than I want to hear your opinion on what I should be doing. I sped through half the book hoping the author would get back to it, and so far he has not. It’s too bad.

As someone who loves Jesus, there are a few core things I believe about God that are relevant here. I’ll explain them briefly. The first is that, while His law is perfect and beautiful and right and unchanging, He cares more about people than He cares about the law. How else could the gospel be true? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28. I don’t think it’s that big a stretch to replace “Sabbath” with “Law” in that context. If you’re unfamiliar with that story, it is well worth checking out.) Humanity is the crown of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26), the reflection of Him on earth (2 Corinthians 3:18), His special handiwork (Ephesians 2:10), not the law.

The second is that I believe God’s grace made possible through Jesus’ death means that He can take every moment of our lives and use them for His glory, our joy, and other people’s edification (Romans 5:20). Every. Moment. Not just the peaks but the valleys. If His “grace is sufficient”, if His “power is made perfect” in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), why would I hide my weakness? Why would I be hesitant to show where I’m struggling? If God is working in me through my strengths AND weaknesses, why would I only speak to you about His work in you from a place the shows only my strength? I feel like a lot of authors (Christian or otherwise) only write when they can do it from a place of strength, especially when it comes to sex. I’m not going to. Or I’m going to try not to. It’s an easy trap to fall into, so please let me know if you see me doing that.

The third core thing I know about God is that He knows the power of personal testimony. One of my favorite verses is in I John 1:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (I John 1:1-4)

In other words, this is the apostle John, speaking on behalf of himself and the other apostles, saying, “We’re telling you what we know first hand, what we have experienced—the presence of Christ and the amazing, unending life of joy that comes with it. And we’re going to tell you that without holding back about the stupid things we did as we learned. Because it is the presence of Emmanuel—God with us—that gives the stories meaning.” Seriously, writing the gospels must have been a very humbling experience for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They look like bumbling dorks a lot of the time. Jesus looks amazing.

Sure, there’s law in the Bible. There’s prescriptive writing. And it’s important. But there’s also a ton of personal history, stories about people’s encounters with God. Those people don’t usually come out looking super shiny and amazing, but it would be hard to argue with the effect of the presence of God in their lives. I want more of that in writing about sex. Right now, prescriptive writing is way out of proportion with testimony. Yes, tell me law, tell me why it works. But also tell me how God worked through your sex successes and your sex failures. Where is He in your life?

There are, of course, novels. There are memoirs. There are stories out there about people’s love lives and sex—I love reading the Modern Love column in the New York Times. But I want to hear these stories in the context of God’s truth and His work. The Bible says, “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) I want to BE a letter from Christ, and I want to show you the stories of other people who ARE his letters. I hope that’s what you get from my blog over the next 29 days.

Oops, too much ink spilled writing about God. Still angry about celibacy? Save it for tomorrow. I’ll show up in my celibacy cheerleading outfit.