Sex and me. Sex and you. Sex and God? We get tongue-tied on the topic, don't we? Dr. Juli Slattery helps.
Sexuality is a Spiritual Issue
By Dr. Juli Slattery
It's a question I've learned to dread - a stranger innocently asks, "What do you do?" I usually respond with a basic, "I'm a psychologist," but then the stranger presses on. "Do you have a private practice?" Then I have to tell a more complete truth. I run a ministry that teaches about biblical sexuality.
The combination of God and sexuality taps into some of our deepest fears, shame and opinions. Much of our historic Christian tradition has been to separate God and sex. We don't talk about sex in church. When we do, it's often laden with a list of things to avoid without any context of why God actually cares about our sexual choices. Christians sometimes act as if godly people (especially women!) are not supposed to have sexual desires or battle sexual sin. So, for many of us, combining God and sexuality unleashes a powder keg of unpleasant feelings and experiences.
Here is a truth I have come to fiercely believe. Every sexual issue is also a spiritual issue. As much as we have tried to separate the two, they are intrinsically connected. Let me share with you about two women (names changed) who represent this truth.
Jasmine grew up in a Christian home, learning about the importance of sexual purity and modesty. Her naturally curvy and mature body as a teen was noticed by her male classmates. Fearful of "causing them to stumble," she wore a sports bra and bound her breasts with ace bandages. When Jasmine went to college, she was date raped. Filled with shame and grief, she told her parents what happened. Their response? "How much were you drinking? What were you wearing?"
Jasmine has walked away from God, largely due to the painful and destructive messages about sex she learned in church and home. She now believes that the entire purity message is degrading to women and offers false promises of blissful sex in marriage if only you follow the rules.
Rebecca has been a faithful wife to Paul for more than twenty-five years. She has stood by him through unemployment and discouragement. Several years ago, she learned that Paul had a secret pornography addiction. He agreed to get help and accountability and the problem appeared to be resolved. Only recently has she discovered that Paul has been sleeping with a woman from their church. Rebecca feels like a fool who has been betrayed and manipulated. Why would God allow this to happen when she has worked so hard to be a faithful wife?
These women, like millions of others, are seeking to make sense of their sexuality within the context of what they believe about God. Their sexual pain and questions have ultimately led them to a crisis of faith. Is God trustworthy? Does he care about me? I played by the rules, so why hasn't he blessed me?
There is so much conversation today related to sexuality, yet many Christians are silent on the complicated questions that represent real-life pain and shame. While Christian books may promise "happily ever after" if you live by certain standards, the Bible is much richer in its presentation of a God who heals, who redeems in the midst of our messy lives.
God designed sex for a reason, the fullness of sexual expression within the covenant of marriage. Yet in the midst of biblical teaching on sexuality, we must never lose sight of the overarching message of the gospel: We are all broken, in need of a Savior named Jesus. It is critical for us to have an understanding of sexuality that goes beyond "do this and don't do that."
As awkward as it is for me to explain my job to a stranger, people need to know that God cares about our sexuality, including our pain, our shame and our unanswered questions.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist, author, speaker and the president/co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry devoted to reclaiming God's design for intimacy. Juli earned her college degree at Wheaton College, an MA in psychology from Biola University, an MS and a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from Florida Institute of Technology. She is the author of Rethinking Sexuality and nine other books, and the host of the weekly podcast "Java with Juli." Juli and her husband Mike are the parents of 3 sons; they live in Akron, Ohio.