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3 Things the Church Never Taught You About Sex

The church doesn’t talk about sex enough. And by talk about sex, I mean really talk about sex—not just warn young people against premarital sex, quote randoms bits of Scripture from 1 Corinthians, or talk about “God’s design” for procreation and marriage. I mean, get into the nitty gritty of what Christian sex lives actually look like, what newly married couples can expect attempting intercourse for the first time, and how sexual desire should fit into the lives of married people post wedding-day.

It seems like in an effort to denounce fornication and adultery, the church has spent so much of its energy warning against sexual sin in its high school youth groups that some young adults (myself included) enter into marriage somewhat in the dark about and hesitant—wary even—to fully embrace the fullness of sexual relationship.

But why does this have to be?

If God is good, all the time, and if God created sex—which is good (“good” as in God’s inherent goodness, not “good” as in stellar) all the time—then shouldn’t we feel comfortable talking about sex all the time? It’s true that Jesus said very little about sex in the New Testament (read to the end of this post for my personal take on that). But if Christianity pronounces that sex is part of God’s plan and that human sexuality is integral to how human beings bear the image of God to the world, shouldn’t the church be talking about sex, sex attraction, sexual desire, sexual orientation, and sexual abuse at LEAST as much as mainstream media and pop culture? 

I just got married this past month (praise God for my beautiful, lovely wife, and praise God for all of the challenges and difficulties we are learning to navigate together…) Here are three things we’ve been learning about sex that the church never really talked about growing up:

Sex is hard.

couple holding hands

No one tells you that sex is hard. But it is.

Like learning any new skill (particular ones that involve a partner), it takes work, effort, and sometimes intentional practice for what sometimes feels like a pretty steep learning curve. It can require an almost embarrassing amount of communication for two human bodies to coordinate the physical positions and motions that constitute intercourse (one of the many things left unsaid about sex in our christian contexts and high school sex education classes growing up).

It takes effort and persistence to figure out what works and what doesn’t for both individuals when it comes to sex. On a physical and practical level, what is comfortable or relaxing for one individual might be difficult for the other. Arousal and emotional connection are not always a given. Giving and receiving pleasure are fraught with miscommunications, insecurities, and sometimes frustrations. There can also be a lot of brokenness and trauma even amongst the “healthiest” of Christian couples entering into marriage.

Sex is also emotionally consuming. The cultural perception of sex is always this spontaneous, enthralling passion that culminates in ecstatic orgasm for both parties. Sex in real life (at least in the beginning) sounds much more like “so… what do we do now?” or “ouch, that kind of hurts” or “that was okay, maybe we can try again next time. When do you think we’ll have time?” As a newly married couple, there are so many other things demanding your time and energy that sex can sometimes feel exhausting or overwhelming just to initiate.  

Sex requires communication.

speech bubble

Sex requires communication. A lot of it. There’s planned sex and then there’s unplanned sex. There’s figuring out the physical anatomy of your partner. There’s communicating what feels pleasurable and what feels uncomfortable (or painful). It involves asking for what you want and need, and listening to your partner do the same.

Sex requires communication even before entering the bedroom. Between intimacy, physical climax, contraception, comfort, and exploration, among others—sex can encompass many different priorities. Each person in a Christian marriage will also have differing beliefs, attitudes, and expectations towards sex.

Cultural starting places can also have a big impact. The Asian American church seems pretty silent regarding topics like masturbation, condoms and protection, sexual orientation, and the realities of sexual abuse. I don’t hear of many Asian immigrant parents engaging their children openly in these taboo and often “shameful” topics (other than warn against premarital sex, influenced by a cultural emphasis on rule-following or obedience perhaps). My parents were Chinese immigrants and even conversation about dating or puberty felt awkward (or coerced). They also showed zero physical affection in the house growing up.

Vocabulary and Dialogue About Sex

The lack of vocabulary and dialogue around sex and our bodies, let alone the purpose and design of sex in marriage—combined with a cultural tendency to privatize relational intimacy and communicate desires indirectly—make for a pretty confusing environment for any Asian American growing up in the church to know how to think about physical intimacy and getting ready for sex in marriage.

God made our physical bodies good and glorious. Jesus compares our bodies to temples of the Holy Spirit! It’s inconceivable then that God would love our physical bodies but stutter over saying “vagina,” “clitoris,” or “penis.” I feel lucky that I married a physical therapist who was already comfortable using clinical language to talk about our sexual anatomy. Sex requires communication and the more comfortable we are with our own bodies, the more we can celebrate what God made very good.

Sex is unashamed.

“Naked and unashamed” takes on a whole new meaning when two people are able to live that out in reality. Let’s look at the Bible (Song of Solomon) for what unashamed adoration for a sexual partner looks like.

Here are the first couple verses of Song of Solomon:

Solomon’s Song of Songs.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
    for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
    your name is like perfume poured out.
    No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
    Let the king bring me into his chambers.

There is no shame whatsoever in that book. There’s no covering up of sexual union and stating it boldly as something to look forward to. If marriage is supposed to be a symbol of Christ’s love for the church, it is actually quite humbling to read the fullness of joy, the blissful adoration, the exuberant anticipation of union expressed in these chapters.

At the end of the day, one of the things I’m realizing the church never taught about sex growing up is that sex… isn’t just about the sex. A sexual experience between a married couple is just not the way we’ve been taught growing up that sex should be about. Our current culture has a twisted way of both overemphasizing sex (sex-saturated media, glorification of sex and romantic relationship) and de-emphasizing sex (diminishing the holy and set-apart nature of sex to casual encounters or physical pleasure).

Sex is About Intimacy

Sex is primarily about intimacy—intimacy that is fully naked and fully unashamed. And “fully naked” and yet “fully unashamed” is hard to come by! It’s a lofty goal that biblical wisdom urges is only possible in a life-long committed covenant. As a newlywed just on the start of this journey, I know with certainty that this desire for intimacy extends far beyond mere physical nakedness. Sex is about being naked and vulnerable to your partner on an emotional level too. The reason why there are so many hurtful experiences (and movies made about this) is that it’s impossible to separate what God intended to be a package deal. That’s why I am sure there is also a spiritual dimension to sex—sex as consummating unity, sex as, quite frankly, mystery—that my wife and are only beginning to unravel.

But while sex is hard, sex requires a ton of communication, and our starting place for understanding sex is fallen… the beauty is in the process of learning and growing together. We are learning to love and to be loved. We are learning to be totally naked with each other and also to be totally unashamed. It’s a reflection of what any Christian’s journey (married or single) should be towards Christ.

What would Jesus say about sex?

So if you’re a Christian and you have questions about sex but don’t feel like you have a safe place to ask them and be received without judgement, I hope you feel a little more encouraged to start up a conversation with someone, especially if that someone is someone in your church 😱 (share this article with them! Tell them you think sex is important!) If online anonymity would help, I’d be happy to personally field any questions or conversation around this topic. Know that there are others just like you. We are all in the same boat, humans created with sexual desire. Jesus took all questions seriously in the bible. Maybe he didn’t say much about sex during his recorded ministry because of the cultural context of his Jewish audience. But I bet Jesus would have a lot to say and teach us about sex in our current cultural context.

It’s a shame that the only airwaves that seem to circulate the Christian world are debates over theology of sexuality in the church, scandals involving pastors or leaders in the catholic church, or controversy around homosexuality and same sex marriage. People hear “Christianity and sex” and immediately conjure up images of chastity (especially for young women), or else prudishness around sexual arousal, or else austere adherence to abstinence. Even for committed Christians in dating relationships within the church, there’s often fear or guilt surrounding physical boundaries and “how far is too far?”

Let’s constantly remind ourselves that sex is natural, sexual desire is part of God’s intention, and sexual intercourse is part of his good design for Creation. However, If the church doesn’t actively normalize all the questions, anticipations, and curiosities surrounding sexual relationships, and educate our youth in the process of getting ready for sex—that responsibility of education essentially gets ceded over to mainstream culture: that is movies, pop culture, and porn. 

So yes, I believe Jesus would have a lot to say to us about sex in our current cultural context.

There is so much more the church can do to celebrate sexual relationship in the context of marriage. And at the risk of focusing too exclusively on married couples and marriage, there is also so much more the church can do to normalize human sexuality and sexual desire as part of God’s design for single individuals as well.

Sex should be talked about in the church. We won’t always get it exactly right, but I personally think it’s important to begin starting conversations somewhere.

Question: What do you think? Should sex be talked about more in public spaces, or is wise to keep personal boundaries around the topic? Let us know in a comment below and don’t forget to follow us for any future thoughts down the line!

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