Today, Christians are expected to remain sexually continent for a longer period of time than any generation that has preceded us. People are not married during the years when hormones are hardest to control.
Christians are taught to abstain from sex till marriage. So courting couples kiss all over but claim virgin status. Some consider mutual masturbation as not breaching virginity. They think they can be sexually active and still be ‘virgin’. Their questions are asked in terms of “is X a sin?” or “is Y permissible?” They breach healthy boundaries thinking that only intercourse is sex.
Most make it through school with their ‘virginity’ intact. But many start having sexual intercourse with their boyfriend or girlfriend in their 20s.
Single adults do desire to reconcile their faith and sexual desires. Singles tell us their conflicted feelings when it comes to their faith and sexuality. But abstinence messages are often geared toward teenagers. And churches and homes do not discuss sexuality: “Just wait for marriage.” But what if I don’t get married? As Christians go into their 20s and 30s, it seems natural to re-evaluate beliefs as they work out how faith integrates into their expanding worldview.
Abstinence is incredibly difficult and a decision we proactively make every day. Using scientific evidence that married sex is more satisfying than sex outside marriage is an inadequate argument for a sexual ethic. We need a more holistic and nuanced discussion. Living a life of holiness is a good place to start. But how does this actually look like as we mature and enter the real world whilst still a single?
We need holistic conversations on sexuality in church and in homes. This is not about what is OK and how far it is possible to go without sinning, but about honouring God in all things. The goal is not simply to avoid sin but to live a life of worship. Guidance must go beyond “what can I get away with and still be a virgin?” Instead, we must ask, “What must I do to become what I was intended to be?”
There needs to be a discussion of the God of grace for those who have sinned in the past. There will be consequences we will have to deal with from past actions, but it is important to remember that those things do not define who we are. Instead, we can start over again, living a life of holiness together with accountability partners.
We need to live out gender and sexuality in non-genital ways. The experience of sexual desire is often triggered by other subconscious needs such as the need for intimacy, identity and self-acceptance. Let’s learn to differentiate between genital desire and emotional needs. Ultimately it is intimacy and non-genital sexual activity that is essential for human mental health and emotional maturation. We can live without sex, but not without intimacy.
Marriage came to be strongly preferred over singleness in the evangelical church. Many have even embraced an idolatry of family to the extent that replaces Christian community as the focus of the church. Over time, people perceive that the married state is the normative and therefore many reject singlehood.
The Old Testament emphasises the extended family. But the New Testament emphasises the family of the church. Jesus and Paul were both single. Also, there is no marriage in eternity. Congregations and families must affirm singlehood and singles. We should encourage multi-generational small groups and mentoring. It is harder for singles to invite a family over for dinner but easier for families to include singles in their world. When families interact with singles, they share life and burdens too.
Some Christians including same-sex attracted Christians might remain single for life. But all of us go through seasons of singleness. With authentic Christian community, Christian singles can indeed live strong in a sexualised world.
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Ben KC Lee was born in Sabah and is married to Dinah. They have enjoyed assignments as church planters and pastors but their favourite role is to be parents to a pair of 19-year old twins. Ben is currently a bivocational minister serving as Head of Sexual Wholeness with Focus on the Family Singapore and as Regional Pastor with Hope International Ministries.