She flopped down on my couch and let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm telling you, none of my friends know how to navigate sex and singleness. My framework for 'purity' comes from my high school youth group, which is entirely unhelpful now." My 20something friend continued her lament: "I mean, my friends and I . . . we have jobs, and homes. We have no curfews, no parents, and no rules. All the boundaries are gone . . . I need someone to help me figure this stuff out!"
As I've attempted to help young women find life through God-honoring relationships, conversations like these have become the norm. But when it comes to talking about sex, most of us don't exactly feel like experts, and when it comes to talking to our single friends about sex, it's even more difficult. So how can you understand sex and the single woman in a way that's helpful for you—and for your friends? Here are a few suggestions:
Check your beliefs
One of the best ways to shut down a conversation about sex is to assume too much of a person's faith. Some recent studies of unmarried Christians reveal a wide range of statistics on sex outside of marriage, with numbers ranging from 25–68 percent of young evangelicals involved in sexual relationships in the past year. In an infographic titled "The Sex Lives of Unmarried Evangelicals," Christianity Today commented on one factor for the difference in statistics: "If you call yourself an evangelical but don't go to church or hold to evangelical beliefs, you're unlikely to stay chaste."
Here lies the first divide in a conversation about sex. For the seeker or less-active believer, a conversation about sex may lend itself best to a conversation about true relationships. For the woman professing belief and acting on it (through active relationships in church, Bible reading, and so on), that conversation about relationships can lead to the truth about lordship.
Perhaps you've realized that your friend is struggling with her faith (or not professing faith at all). If that's the case, using spiritual lines like "It's God's will" or "God's design" won't help at all. Before your friend will want to know your thoughts on sex, she'll need to be reminded that you care about her as a person first. So don't rush to give advice or quote Bible verses. A better place to start is to assume that your friend does not agree with your beliefs about keeping sex inside marriage. So what next?
Regardless of what one feels about God's rules for sex, the truth remains: God's design is always the best choice for our health, wholeness, and happiness. There are a number of reasons why God designed the powerful expression of sex to be contained within the commitment of marriage, but that doesn't have to be your main talking point. All of us are seeking something out of our most intimate relationships. We crave love, affirmation, worth, purpose, and belonging. So talking about relationships and what we want from them is a good starting point: What's important to your friend in a relationship?
The next question is a simple one, not loaded or judgmental: Why have sex? Does she think sex will get her what she wants from the relationship? Is it to confirm compatibility? Is it to deepen the relationship? Is it to hold on to the relationship? Does she want to have sex because she fears losing her boyfriend without it?
Sex always comes with strings attached. Sex is the pinnacle of intimacy—it has emotional strings. It's the act of procreation—it has physical strings. It was designed to seal commitment—it has relational strings. So with all that on the line, perhaps the best question is: What do you think having sex right now will do for your relationship?
In an environment of love and safety, my single friends want to think through these questions. They want to have conversations where they can express deep needs and longings and not worry about getting beat down with a Bible verse. They want to know it's okay to not be sure, and to make mistakes, but to have a friend who can hold their hand through the process.
I've found that when grace leads the way, truth is always welcome. And the harder conversations—about longings, God's design, and the truth about sex—come much more easily.
So what about your friend who's a professing, active Christian? Living a pure life is still hard! But Scripture makes it clear we are to live by a different set of rules when we surrender our lives to Christ. Romans 8:5 reminds us that "those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit." Ephesians 4:1 urges believers to "live a life worthy of your calling." God invites us to a new way of living when we turn ourselves over to him. And in this new way of living, our own desires don't come first.
The apostle Paul says that living by the Spirit means to "offer your body as a living sacrifice" and equates this practice with worship (Romans 12:1, NIV). In our feel-good culture, these words are radical and difficult to live by. From laying down our own desires to laying down what feels right, believers are commanded to allow Jesus Christ to have full governance of our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Sexual temptation is just one of many places where we are challenged to give Jesus lordship over our lives. Can you help a friend see that Jesus meets us in our weakness and can strengthen her to live a holy life? Can you encourage her to look beyond the feel-good stance of our culture and find life and purpose in God's design for singleness? After all, the apostle Paul didn't just tolerate singleness; he celebrated it as a gift that allows one to focus more on serving Christ (1 Corinthians 7:32). The Message translation of Scripture paraphrases 1 Corinthians 7:17 this way: "God, not your marital status, defines your life."
Sometimes the best way to help a single friend is to acknowledge the difficulty of living against what the culture deems "normal," and committing to provide practical support and encouragement for that friend when needed. Perhaps if we celebrated singleness the way the apostle Paul did, it would be a little easier to resist the temptation to jump into sexual relationships outside of marriage.
Conversations about sex can be tricky. But that's not a reason to avoid them. Let grace lead the way, ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words, and love your friends the way Christ has loved us: full of grace and truth—whether you quote a Bible verse or not!
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Nicole Unice is a regular contributor for Today's Christian Woman, and the author of She's Got Issues (Tyndale, 2012) and co-author of Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus (David C. Cook, 2014). She is a ministry associate at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, and mom of three. Find her speaking calendar at nicoleunice.com.
Talking Sex with Singles
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