Sexless in Suburbia
"So, what form of birth control are you using?" the nurse asked as she made a few notes on a clipboard for my doctor. I was in for a long-overdue physical, and this was the opening act.
"Um, I'm not," I stammered, my face growing a bit flush. "I'm not really sexually active." Now, if I'd had a physical exam sometime within the past decade like I should have, this question wouldn't have taken me by surprise. Instead it felt invasive and a tad too personal. The paper gown I was prepared for—this, not so much.
The nurse didn't flinch, bless her. But she did ask me once more before leaving the small office a few moments later if I was sure I didn't need to discuss birth control options today. "Yes, I'm sure," I answered politely. So sure you wouldn't believe it, I wanted to add.
Living Against the Grain
There are moments, like these, when being a Christian single feels so countercultural I could scream. Moments when it seems the world assumes I'm "doing it," when I stumble across a women's magazine article touting the benefits of a few-months-long sexual sabbatical, when the only messages about abstinence I hear are aimed at people fifteen years younger than me, when I watch Friends reruns in which Ross jokes that he's going through such a sexual dry spell he's worried about his health, when I recently read an article by a secular psychologist who suggested that adults not being sexually active could cause them to become overly aggressive or violent. At you maybe, I mentally replied to the author while reading her ridiculous assertions.
I recently talked with a single guy friend who works with the youth at his church, and he talked about how weird it is to think that some of his kids are seeing more action than he is. I know this freak-factor is even more of an issue for single Christian men who are following biblical teaching about sexual purity. The assumptions and pressures about their sexual habits are even stronger.
I think what makes being sexually abstinent at my age so weird is that the mainstream world thinks I'm a freak and the church world often doesn't acknowledge I exist. Practically no one who shares my faith conviction has encouraged me to remain pure for at least ten years now. True Love Waits and similar faith-based abstinence programs taper off after about the age of 18. Do they think temptation and hormones disappear once you leave your teens? Would that it were so easy!
The Struggle Is Real
Admittedly, the temptation might be more sporadic as we leave our teens. But when it does show up, I would argue that the stakes are higher. This isn't just a fun Friday-night date, this is possibly marriage material to whom I'm saying goodnight. I'm no longer saying that goodnight on my parents' front porch or in their driveway where they might spy what transpires. There are no curfews, and now that I live alone, no accountable eyes. There's no youth worker extolling the virtues of sexual purity. There's just an occasional grown man standing in my doorway or sitting on my couch, and a whole host of questions about the grey area between giving him a simple peck on the cheek and having sex.
I admit that drawing lines and saying no at my age sometimes feels a tad absurd. More than once I've stammered through a really awkward conversation at the outset of a dating relationship about where we're going to draw the line physically. I can't believe I'm still having these conversations at my age. I'm not sure they've gotten any easier. For those who have been married before or have simply been there and done that, I know these lines are even trickier to draw and live by.
Unfortunately, you can't assume that everyone who calls him or herself a Christian is going to draw lines anywhere near where you'd like to—if they even draw them at all. I can't count the number of conversations I've had and e-mails I've read from singles who have dated a Christian who was ready and eager to hop in the sack.
So What's the Solution?
Given all the messages to the contrary our sex-saturated society and grown-up bodies tell us about physical activity, there's a huge need for honest, biblical dialogue about what sexual purity looks like for those past the youth-group set. Honestly, I don't want a program or formula. I'd never show up for a True Love Is Still Waiting seminar. If there's anything I've learned in my decades as a singleton, it's that formulas are rarely effective. Love, hormones, chemistry, relationships and the like are way too messy and complicated to fit into any formulas. I just wish the issue of adult abstinence was somewhere in the conversational universe in our Christian circles.
What would those conversations look like? I'm not exactly sure. To be truly effective and real, I think they'd be messy and full of as many questions as answers, but would also always have an eye on the biblical command to remain sexually pure (1 Corinthians 10:8, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3).
Here's some of what I'd add to the conversation: Sexual purity is not easy—even for strong Christians. Kicking a date out of my solo apartment after watching a romantic comedy and "saying goodnight" for a while sometimes feels well nigh impossible. Ironically, there's nothing sexier than a guy who's committed to the biblical standards of saving sex for marriage (and I really hope the inverse is true as well). Often I don't know what to do with my hormones as a grown woman trying to live a life pleasing to the Lord—when I'm dating someone and when I'm not. When in a serious dating relationship, I've discovered accountability by trusted Christian friends is non-negotiable. The awkward conversations about drawing lines are worth it. Sometimes those lines have to be really conservative to be keep-able. And whenever they're crossed, there's always grace and forgiveness and a second and third and 223rd chance. From what my married friends-who've-waited and friends-who-haven't have told me, all the stress and hassle and careful negotiation of this tricky terrain are worth it.
One thing that encourages me when sexual temptation or the freak factor return is that I have some good Christian single friends who are with me in this. Fellow freaks, if you will. Sometimes that alone is enough to stand tall—or at least tall-er—in my convictions. I love how in her great new book about chastity (Real Sex), Lauren Winner talks about how sexual purity is most effectively upheld and maintained in healthy community:
"The Bible tells us to intrude—or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what's going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises."
So, for those of you in our little online community who are feeling freakish or tempted to give in, I want to be one more voice saying "I'm not either" and "Please, oh please don't." And let's finally start talking about what the rest of the world is shoving in our face every time we turn on the TV, go to the movies, open a magazine, drive past a billboard, or open our e-mail. Only let's talk about it as those who know the One who created sex: the great Lover of our Souls.
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Sexless in Suburbia
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