Down To Earth Discipleship    .    Getting real with issues facing young Christians today
Chapter 2
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2. Sexual Relationships - What & Why

  • Sex is for relationships, not just recreation.
  • Sex is fundamentally the joining of complementary partners.
  • Our sexuality is to be both enjoyed and controlled, not disparaged or repressed.
  • Full sexual expression belongs within marriage, not as a preliminary to it.
  • Active social engagement is an important expression of sexuality pre marriage.
  • Self-control can be assisted in many practical ways.

Love and sex

Sexusal attraction is a wonderful aspect of our created being! That created being involves integration of body and mind to comprise the full person made in the image of God.

In creating humankind somehow in his own image, God transformed sex from being merely procreative to be sacramental of intimacy between two complementary people who are life partners.

Our sexuality gives energy and excitement to relationships, and sex within marriage is special. Our human sexual instincts are a combination of eros - the powerful urge to unite mind, body and soul with the beloved, and normal animal desire for sexual conquest and pleasure. The balance between heart and hormones varies. Eros is a facsimile of God's love for us (though that love is better understood in terms of agape - see 2.1).

Human sexuality is fraught with potential for the richest experiences of our lives, or the most debilitating and traumatic ones. Sex is a good and necessary biological activity throughout the animal kingdom, which is part of God's good creation. In humans, it is more, and we think that Christians are not sufficiently excited about how wonderful this is!

Biologically we have evolved so that guys are wired with the inclination to inseminate multiple females, and God has created humankind in his image on that biological platform, so that sex is transformed and more wonderful. Human sex, as distinct from that of our closest mammalian relatives, is all about being one flesh with a committed life partner (Gen 2:24). Orgasm is relatively incidental and intentionally procreative insemination is only occasional. So there is a tension, especially pre-marriage, between the residual instincts inherent in our biology and the image of God which substantially reconfigures that biology.

Notwithstanding the same apparatus and hormones, for Christians, there is generally a big change from a stage of life where sexual instincts are constrained and limited, to one characterised by marital sex. For many others there is an evolving sequence of sexual adventures which may or may not end up in a similar place albeit without the theological underpinning, or which may largely have a recreational purpose. For Christians, having a bigger idea about what marriage means enables boundaries to operate until then.

The transition from chastity with no more than masturbation as an outlet to marital sex is huge, and highlights one significant way that humans somehow created in God's image are different from other mammals. Instead of sex being primarily insemination, a fleeting and instinctive act, it is much more - becoming one flesh in a more prolonged and intimate way. The giving to one another is a human expression of the relationship between God and his church (Eph 5).

Whatever your sexual instincts and inclinations, control them sensibly rather than indulging them recklessly. Welcome the way God has made you, and learn how to love, in line with God's wisdom and purposes for you!

Christians need to see sex as a Big Deal, the way God intended in making human sex much more than just mammalian reproduction, and much more than just recreation which it has become in a fallen world among people who too readily default to animal instincts rather than acknowledging their creator God.

Christians should be more positive and joyful than anyone about human sex, after all they claim to know the One who invented it! However, it also follows that they will have more concern than most about the designer's views on its proper enjoyment, as distinct from the many other ways it is approached and even idolised in a fallen world. Instincts and activity may be simply hormone-driven and without eros, this being epitomised in today's hook-up culture, with sexual acts outside of real relationships. Heartfelt eros without genital drive is unusual, but sexual desire without intense heartfelt eros is very common.

The sublime excitement of sex can be experienced as recreation or as enhancing a relationship. If it is recreation, it will be likely to diminish a subsequent marriage. If it is in an ongoing relationship, it adds to that in a way that is most meaningful in a committed lifelong marriage. If the relationship is less than this, and temporary, it robs the eventual marriage of a unique aspect, designed to be part of it


It is clear that God designed human sex for relationships, not just recreation - the procreative aspect being already there biologically. Both biologically and spiritually it is about joining complementary partners - male and female. It is equally clear that many of those who reject God, or at least discipleship, do so because of a contrasting approach to sex.18 For the Christian, sexuality is part of spirituality, not separate, let alone opposed to it as in some traditions.

Having said all that and looking beyond marriage, we note that human sex is also about that union bringing into being a family, with joint offspring, whom parents raise together. Being prepared to welcome the natural product of sexual union is a key purpose of marriage. Procreation is integral, along with a couple of decades of nurture and responsibility for progeny.

2.1 Sex and sexuality

Taking for granted the biological aspects, we need to reflect upon the foundational concept of human sex and marriage for all humankind, set out in very few words in Genesis 2:24: "A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." (TNIV) Other versions have "bonds to his wife" or "hold fast to his wife", emphasizing the active element of that physical and social unity within the covenant of marriage. For us, sex is properly a divine attribute of humans created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). Of course, it isn't always seen or experienced in that way, which is why this chapter is so long. And let's not forget that the primary purpose of complementary humans was to address loneliness (Gen 2:18), not to provide sexual excitement!

The place of coital sex
Sexual union is to be the seal on the one principal and profound relationship that most of us have with another human. It does not belong outside that context. Sex is the joining with another person in a complementary one-flesh, intimate and committed relationship. It therefore does not properly include one-night stands or sleeping with the current boy/girlfriend. Casual sex is simply a recreational indulgence, and sex in a steady relationship is at best a short-sighted approximation or perhaps rehearsal, arising from the very understandable attraction of the real thing and impatience with finding it.

'One flesh' carries implications of mutual ownership of complementary anatomy (I Cor 7:4) utilised as the most physical aspect of the 'one flesh' relationship, and orgasm as a special delight points us to God's intention for us to enjoy it fully. Furthermore, sexual intercourse is addictive,24b perhaps more physically for males and more emotionally for females, and designed to be so as part of the glue of marriage. It underlines the inappropriateness of sex where one simply borrows a body without belonging to that person, and the extent to which one needs to change gears moving from premarital self-pleasuring to sex in marriage. Articulating this here should not be taken to imply that this coitus is somehow as important as the day to day enjoyment of one another's company - it certainly isn't, but it is sacramental and constitutive of that, and hence very significant. Out of potentially thousands of conjugal sex acts between you and your future spouse, very few will be focused on delivering the outcome of orgasm for procreation.

Sex in its full human sense is the God-designed and God-given human analogue of our relationship with God. In one sense it is thus as close as we get on Earth to experiencing heaven. In St Paul's letter to the Ephesian church (5:25-33) he says that the physical sexual relationship within marriage is "a profound mystery" which is a human analogy of our relationship with God! This is an amazing claim, but it is consistent with the Old Testament use of the word yada for "knowing", both for people's relationship with God and for sexual intercourse. Both involve intimacy, belonging, and faithful commitment. It is consistent too with OT imagery concerning Israel's faithfulness, or usually, lack of it. Within marriage, the more sex we enjoy the more we honour our creator and Lord's design and intentions. Some see the Ephesians 5 analogy extending to the ecstasy of sex being a foretaste of that when we are fully united with Christ. Certainly marriage is the nearest human equivalent of the relation among the persons of the Trinity.

Sexuality meanwhile
Our sexuality is the deep desire that drives us to connect intimately with complementary others, to know and be known. Spirituality is the same vis a vis God, as well as understanding and connecting with his creation. Sexuality is an important part of spirituality.

The main intended readership of this work is premarital, that is to say looking forward to full sexual relationship, but for the time being likely enjoying God's provision in stimulating romantic relationships. It is absolutely appropriate to enjoy with some sexual buzz the company of the opposite sex, to enjoy the sight of them, to be attracted, and to think about them as sexual and complementary. Being aroused or excited in the presence, or with the thought, of an attractive member of the opposite sex (especially girl/boy friend) is certainly not focused lust, but letting that play out into coital fantasy is most likely to be so. It is in the area of thought particularly that control is needed.

For an unmarried Christian to enjoy thoughts about sexual union with particular individuals is OK to a degree, but to become absorbed in that so as to pursue fantasies of possessing the beloved, or to dwell on any such wishful thinking regarding someone married, amounts to lust. He or she needs to draw the line on lust not so as to stigmatise all sexual desire, but somewhere between attraction and obsession. We say more about lust in the following section, and address non-relational enjoyment of our sexual equipment in section 4.3.

The appropriate sexual enjoyment of any developing romantic relationship must be balanced with countering lust, and especially for guys, working out how masturbation fits into that, or maybe doesn't. Traditional Christian advice for young bucks eager for sexual experience has been to 'wank and wait' - uncomplicated if also unsociable. This is not fundamentally changed by the advent of easy-access porn, though its application will need nuancing individually.

There is no moral issue involved with masturbation itself as a properly pleasurable interim use of that apparatus. There may be a moral issue regarding self-control, and linked to that, there will certainly be one regarding minimising lust! For some the activity will be a means of avoiding focused lust, for others it may tend to lead to it or exacerbate it, in which case abstinence is the best policy. Individuals and their conditioning are different, and any Christian understanding of the matter needs to affirm sexuality, censure lust, and lead to the development of self-control as a fruit of the Spirit. Everyone is different, but for most guys who have not been drawn into porn addiction it's an appropriate enjoyment and emotional release. For guys who have had a serious porn addiction though, abstinence is often best - see section 2.5.

It's important in the looking forward though to understand that sex is fundamentally different from any solo activity at the biologiocal level, and is not simply a more congenial way of guys getting their rocks off. While masturbation is essentially self-indulgent and orgasm-focused, sex is properly a protracted act of self-giving to your partner, being one flesh together, with guys' orgasm incidental and even inconvenient (interrupting the immediate one-fleshness). Movement is not just eager racing to climax. Sex is properly slow and prolonged. Resist thinking of sex as just a step up from solo masturbation, it's really qualitatively different! It is fundamentally relational.

Thus keeping the hormones under control in the usual single-handed fashion cannot be considered practice for sex, it is arguably more the antithesis of it. However, some exercise of that equipment is appropriate pre marriage - wet dreams don't achieve the same. Masturbation is a universal issue for unmarried guys (though some decide to abstain) but it may be bewildering or incomprehensible for many girls. It is inevitably a bigger issue for Christians than for others and is addressed further in section 4.3 of the Body chapter. Arguably, unmarried Christians should be more positive about it than anyone, as long as avoiding focused lust is a high and effective priority and it clears the way for developing eros.

So, if humans - somehow made in God's image and constrained by the implications of that - are not free to copulate at every opportunity, what gives? In particular, how do we understand and enjoy this sexual endowment before or apart from marriage? Christian views range from 'not at all' to very liberal behaviour which is not supported here. We believe that there is much about human sexuality which can (and arguably should) be enjoyed before marriage or by singles apart from it. Mostly this is at the physiological and emotional level rather than physically, though we don't rule out some physical aspect.

Human sexuality is a dimension of the image of God in humans, and is therefore infinitely precious. It is in relation to sex that the Christian understanding of humans being made in God's image, and the behaviour appropriate to this understanding, departs markedly from our cultural norm, , where even at its best eros is tainted by the Fall. Sex is an important area where one's natural inclinations may be socially acceptable but neither express kingdom values nor witness to anticipating God's renewal of creation.

The Bible's Song of Songs is a lyrical window on erotic love, and an endorsement of it in God's creation. The sexual 'desire' there is for a wonderful intimacy of mutual self-giving and submission, issuing in the epitome of delight. The rapture of intimacy is given meaning by belonging. And several times the cautionary note: "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" suggests that this is constrained in timing and occasion and not recklessly indulged. It is to be under control.

There are two areas of widespread interest involving sex and where the Bible is silent: masturbation, and extended premarital relationships. However, with each we have principles which apply - those for the first are mentioned above and expounded in chapter 4 (4.3), and those for the second in chapter 3. Further comment is in a footnote here 18d.

Premarital expression and experience of sex
Enjoying sex within marriage is not generally a great challenge for anyone. For most non-Christians, enjoying one's sexuality before formal marriage is not greatly different to that marital experience. However, Christians generally accept constraints on what is appropriate behaviour premaritally and the need to curb lust, so as to respect that future relationship and invest in it fully. While it is biologically natural - and given contraception - normal, for humans made in God's image to enjoy sex in any established relationship, it properly belongs in the exclusive lifelong union of two complementary people who should therefore pair-bond for life. The unrestrained enjoyment of sex can still be a good thing according to social mores, though it often isn't, and it is better for all - and appropriate especially for Christians - to hold off until the commitment of marriage. Christian restraint in this regard is increasingly unfashionable, and we need to have more than just a few rules to steer through the promiscuous cultural context today.

A problem and challenge is that whereas in the animal kingdom there is no significant delay between puberty and full-on sexual activity, for humans there is often a relatively long delay, commonly at least a decade, before the permanent marriage bond. For most people this is filled to some extent with sexual activity ranging from casual sex to faithful long-term relationships, even cohabitation (which raises the question of when one calls it "marriage"). But for anyone with a high view of human marriage as designed by God, promiscuous sex erodes the role of sex within marriage and devalues the currency. Coital sex ceases to be a proper component of eros, and special within that marital relationship.

This biologically anomalous long period leading to marriage is appropriately filled with social engagement, often charged by eros, and which leads towards selection of a life partner. In human society and personal social development as humans it is an important and enjoyable phase of life. We addres it in chapter 3. But restraining the sexual urges for many years is often a great challenge! It can feel like a curse arising from the very powerful goodness of our created sexuality which our culture constantly reminds us of!

A big question, especially for Christians, is: does previous sexual experience enhance or detract from the marriage - this wonderful committed life partnership designed by God? Is there benefit as well as virtue in virginity before that commitment? And: Does it really matter? For many Christians, who come to faith in late teens or early 20s, it is a fairly academic question. Virgin innocence is usually a distant memory and each of us needs to proceed from where we are.

Whatever our starting point, each of us needs to choose whether coital sex will simply be an exciting part of relationships before marriage, or something very special which enriches and expresses the single relationship within an eventual marriage. We cannot fully have it both ways. The first at least compromises the second, where sex is a special part of bringing and holding two people together permanently.

Human anatomy
It is a wonderful thing that the human sexual anatomy and the sexual physiology with it are clearly designed and constructed for pleasure in marriage, not simply procreation. Human males are equipped with a multi-purpose spout. As well as for urine and insemination (common to other mammals) it is designed for expressing a profound physical union with females of the species, through the sharing of prolonged and exquisite mutual delight and pleasure. Not only are we better endowed than other primates, but uniquely among animals the equipment is designed to be used face to face with prolonged full body contact, with the male flesh deeply inside the female, enjoyed over considerable time on each occasion, maybe daily or more. Consider the contrast between that and a fleeting opportunistic act of insemination by a dog, cat or bird where insemination is the whole point of sex, rather than any prolonged coitus! In the words of an Anglican marriage liturgy, we are set up to be able to worship our spouse with our bodies. God's creation of human sexuality is really amazing, even if that very fact opens it to misuse outside of marriage, and even if many use it self-indulgently so as effectively to reduce it to that animal level.

Guys, that appendage which has occupied so much of your attention since puberty is not in fact primarily for your personal pleasure at all, it is designed for your wife. So in making the marital transition from masturbation to sex, you need to learn to use it accordingly, and not just treat sex as a more congenial way of achieving orgasm.18e You are a steward of it pending and during marriage, and you contribute it to share, so as to physically express the complementary one-fleshness of marriage in terms of Genesis 2. Your solo premarital enjoyment of it is only partial and provisional. If we were to express our sexuality like our closest biological relatives in the animal kingdom, then it would be merely frenetic and fleeting insemination plus orgasmic reward for procreation - the antithesis of the deep meaningful prolonged and frequent one-flesh engagement we are designed for. Human sexuality is an important and wonderful aspect of humans being created in God's image, on the biological platform of a highly-evolved mammal/ primate.

Philip Yancey in his book Rumours of Another World discusses the many things around us which should, and often do, point us to God. But regarding sex, "the church in its prudery has silenced a powerful rumour of transcendence that could point to the Creator and originator of human sexuality, who invested in it far more meaning than most modern people can imagine. We have desacralised it, in effect, by suppression and denial, and along the way our clumsy attempts at repression have empowered a false infinite. Sexual power lives on, but few see in that power a pointer to the One who designed it. Few Christians 'hallow' sex in the way that we hallow nature." There is thus a limp, rather than full-on, contrast with the worldly views of sex which make it no more than the "false infinite" indulgence and recreation.

Without detracting from the one-fleshness of human sex, one important definition of sex in the animal kingdom is its complementarity. Two different individuals need to join bodily to contribute complementary gametes which join and produce new individuals of the species with mixed parental genetics. In the human case, while the bodily union is more than a fleeting occasion for insemination, nevertheless as with our mammalian cousins the two complementary bodies are coordinated for a single biological purpose. It follows from both this and the human one-fleshness that sex is fundamentally about joining biologically complementary entities. Physiologically, chromosomally, and anatomically males and females are counterparts. Hence neither same-sex attraction nor same-sex genital activity can ever properly be seen as sex or be the basis of any marital contract. Any social arrangement to accommodate a full expression of same-sex attraction is different from marriage in this sense and falls outside God's design and purpose. (see also appendix 3)

Getting set for the best - a basic choice
The inclination and possibility of being joined socially and intimately with a person of the opposite sex is simply wonderful and since we are created gendered, it fills out our human nature. Everybody is created with this potential, though sexual intercourse doesn't have to be the ultimate expression of all sexually-charged relationships. For Christians the distinctive is chastity expressed as abstinence unless or until there is the public and lifelong commitment to a particular relationship which we call marriage. Understanding sexual intercourse as part of marriage and not simply a more ordinary aspect of enjoying relationships beforehand is both biblically supported as conveying the Maker's intention, and also in line with a thoughtful approach to what lifetime marital commitment means.

Compared with the condom and hook-up culture of today, Christians do sexual relationships the other way round, working towards a sexual consummation some distance away rather than treating sex as a sort of qualifying round or entrée in a relationship (let alone simply as recreation). In the past, premarital enjoyment of sex has been constrained by the threat of pregnancy and sometimes by social or religious taboos, but these constraints are now largely absent. The high moral norm in today's society is several sequential faithful consummated relationships with one eventually resulting marriage - perhaps the first of a couple of marriages. We need to do better! For humans created in God's image, premarital sex is wrong in its timing rather than its nature.

Christians are familiar with the 'already' and 'not yet' aspects of understanding God's kingdom on Earth. Much the same is true of enjoying our sexuality pending marriage - 'already' sexuality is real and enjoyable socially, but consummation properly is 'not yet'. The groaning in impatient expectation (Romans 8: 21-24) is certainly well known to the single Christian! Section 4.3 discusses one aspect of this.

It is sad that so often sexual intercourse comes to be treated as just another appetite to be satiated whenever possible, with no very special context required. Of course like any indulgence, that is more fun immediately, but in the context of life's relationships it is a devaluation of something very special and important to the social fabric, and for reasons that we argue, it diminishes the prospect of stable and enduring marriage relationships long-term.

In what practical ways does a young Christian actually manage and enjoy his or her sexuality pending marital consummation? Or for some, longer term? How is strength of self-control actually encouraged and supported? Socialising energetically so as to minimise lonely time is one prime aspect. And comments above and in the following section about controlling lust complement that.

With sex there is a fundamental choice to be made by the young Christian adolescent. Either you decide to have it as designed, as a unique and supremely meaningful expression of being one flesh with your life partner in marriage, or you decide that it is really too exciting to delay experiencing it and so you enjoy it without waiting for marriage. Thus in the fisrt case there are demands on Christians to manage their sexual relationships pending marriage, and this issue forms much of the substance of this and the next chapter. It is an area where Christians are commonly tested, and any such trial is often compounded because of our awkwardness in being able to talk about the issues frankly, as well as because of the intrinsic power of sexual inclinations and also peer pressure. But sexuality is about relationships and intimacy in them, not merely genital activities.

There is also a question of whether we are rejoicing and delighted in our sexuality, or tied up in a knot over it. This comes down to both perception and practice. The perception needs to be biblical and positive, and the practice needs to be management and control, not fear and denial. As in other aspects of life, asceticism should not be the default position in relation to sexuality, which raises questions before marriage.

Emotional maturity catching up with biological maturity
Contrary to prevalent assumptions, proper control arising from an acceptance of responsibility leads to fuller enjoyment. Part of the problem today is that personal responsibility in relationships at adult level is sometimes not evident or accepted until relatively late - even beyond the twenties! This gives an extremely protracted adolescence in some aspects of sexual relationships, though this is not a problem we have observed within Christian circles. For Christians the fact that sexuality is wonderfully exciting has the corollary of frustration while it is not yet able to be fully expressed or experienced.

The idea of short-circuiting the steady development of committed relationships, where sexual experience actually belongs, by sexual adventures in teenage years and early 20s is enormously attractive. . But in fact the social acceptance of adolescent sexual experimentation cuts right across the development which that stage of life is all about - adolescent brains are a work in progress, with great flux of values and of ability to make considered judgments. The frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until the mid 20s, and the last stages of its development are related to gaining competence and wisdom in both risk-taking and problem-solving. This reinforces the case for saying that adolescent coital engagement is unwise if sex is considered more than recreational. 18c

Waiting with anticipation
On a number of occasions Jesus emphasised to his disciples the importance of waiting with anticipation for his return, and that it was a serious dereliction of discipleship if he found that in his absence they had allowed themselves to become distracted from their calling and were simply pleasing themselves. Perhaps there is also here a warning to those who are tempted not to wait until the proper time to join themselves as one flesh, who think the wedding feast should begin before the marriage ceremony is over. Just as Jesus and the church must wait until they have entered the eternal commitment of their marriage for the full consummation of their love, so too should couples defer their sexual union until they have entered into life-long commitment with one another. In other words, the Biblical imperative to wait patiently for Jesus' return can, without impropriety, be seen also as theologically confirming, and even underpinning, the imperative for couples to wait until marriage.

In Christian understanding, real sex is part of marriage. Just as keeping the hormones under control in the usual single-handed fashion is far from being sex in any relational sense, genital intercourse outside of committed marriage is not properly sex as designed, but only an incomplete expression or simulation of it. Without the considered commitment of each to the other and the mutual ownership of one another's bodies I Cor 7:4) the physical act is inadequately seen as sex. This is underlined by the fact that it is usually intended to be completely divorced from procreation. Also it tends to be divorced from taking responsibility for one another over the long term. "Knowing" another person sexually echoes our knowing God, and connotes unconditional faithfulness, belonging, care and responsibility, with a sense of security arising from all that. In this sense, marriage is a foretaste of heaven, as Paul implies in Ephesians 5.

Love and self-giving
In this chapter we have scarcely used the word 'love' so far because in our culture it has been emptied of meaning and often simply refers to a feelgood desire for sex, or ad hoc mutual gratification. We need to restore something of its fuller meaning which in this context includes faithful commitment to another, along with sacrificial mutual self-giving which is the antithesis of self-indulgence. The "love" involved in casual sex is far removed from these characteristics and from the love which says "I do" and "I will" with due consideration in embarking upon marriage. The "love" in the other three expressions of sex outlined above is still deficient against this criterion.

Sex in a steady and faithful relationship with intercourse but not public commitment or cohabitation can be virtuous in many respects but falls short of the created design. Faithfulness at least means making the partner the sole focus of sexual activity, so that he/she is the only person you sleep with or allow yourself to be mentally stimulated by. This is the gold standard of sexual virtue in our culture, and it has a lot to commend it in contrast to casual sex. But it lacks a few important elements of Christian marriage. In practice the long-term expectations of each partner often differ markedly, which means that if it is not formalised in marriage then in time deep hurt can arise and remain. For Christians, sexual experience properly follows firm, clear and public lifetime commitment to a partner, rather than being just an exciting or at least congenial part of working towards it.

Sex is God-given so that we can express love to our spouse in a uniquely intense, intimate, trusting and wonderful way, not just so that we can individually be sexually satisfied. Within marriage, sexual intercourse is reciprocal self-giving, not simply mutual self-gratification. It is God's gift to our partner through us! If we see it as being primarily for our own gratification we miss the point and degrade it to the level of that in promiscuous society around us. Fundamentally this is an aspect of the difference between giving and getting. This is countercultural, and not an easy perspective to maintain.

This distinction between self-giving and self-gratification tends to grow on you - and with you! And it means that we need to move towards focusing our sexual experience on a life partner rather than dissipating it prematurely so that in marriage one is left with less to give in this respect. Chastity is not a word which features much in our contemporary vocabulary, but perhaps it should. It means a commitment to enjoying sexual intercourse in its proper marriage context and hence abstaining from premarital or extramarital sex.

Living to different standards than most of our peers should not make us judgmental. Remember that though his standards were very different from theirs, Jesus was not judgmental or uptight when he was in contact with sexually promiscuous people. He communicated love which fully accepted the person and not their behaviour. So should we, while remaining conscious of all the areas we ourselves individually fail to express his character.

2.1 Discussion questions:
Are you excited, or are you intimidated, by your sexuality? Why?
Have you found clear guidelines which help you enjoy it as a Christian? What has been most helpful (or unhelpful) in your church and social context?
Do you get sufficient support in delaying the fulfillment of your sexual appetite pending marriage? Do you support others in that?
Where do you seek and find a wholesome measure of intimacy? What form does that take?
Re the Song of Songs: how do you avoid arousing or awakening love uncontrollably?
How much have you been able to discuss the experience of your non-Christian friends in sexual matters? Are you able to be open and non judgmental while remaining clear on your own standards and the justification for them?
In respect to the four broad categories of relationship involving sexual intercourse, how would you engage with a friend in each of those?
If you are in a steady relationship, have you discussed the question of sleeping with your partner? To what extent do you agree or disagree with one another in relation to what we have expounded?

2.2 Managing our sexuality and curbing lust

Biologically it is a natural predisposition for a post-adolescent unmarried person to be sleeping with his/her girl/boyfriend if in any sort of steady relationship, and our contemporary culture reinforces this natural inclination. Fire in the loins points to passionate indulgence. The libido yearning to be unleashed forcefully raises the question of "Why not?". The taboos of previous generations have given way to expectations of getting what we want without too much delay. While there may not be peer pressure to get laid, there is generally peer permission. But in the context of seeking a lifelong partner, simply following our inclination lacks wisdom. It devalues what sexual intimacy is all about, and tends to cut right across properly establishing the whole committed and exclusive "one flesh" relationship of marriage which is so much more than plain biology, as outlined above.

Casual sex
To start with, this need for restraint applies to recreational sex which is not even within a steady relationship. Moving on from this we need to remember that our culture is so debased in this respect that for many 20s singles sleeping together is a prime requirement for initiating a romantic relationship or for it to be considered even halfway serious. It is a preliminary, not a culminating act. But as such, both forms of extra-marital sexual activity are clearly outside the scope of appropriate Christian behaviour for unmarried Christians, as discussed in the previous section.19

But the excitement and challenge of scoring with casual sex is very attractive! It gives rise to a lifestyle of exploring what is new and unknown which in the short term contrasts adversely with Christian restraint, focused as it is on the longer term and incorporating the possibility of procreation. Routine sexual intercourse with a life partner does not have this element of chase and excitement, its satisfaction is in the intimacy of secure belonging rather than novelty and conquest. Hence a lifestyle of premarital sexual adventure does not equip a person for marriage, rather it sets them up for a restlessness within it or even movong on from it.

We readily acknowledge the great attractiveness of a sexual romp with its physical and emotional sense of liberation and ecstasy and its warm physical intimacy, and we rejoice that even such incomplete experience can be so exciting! But it doesn't alter the fact that going down that road prematurely does have consequences for all our relationships now and in the future by detracting from and diminishing the Big One which matters most - that lifetime partnership of absolute belonging and secure intimacy that we call marriage.

Sexual eagerness is not a very good discriminator among males, maturity and character are. Guys readily separate sex and relationships. So many males can just treat sex as simply gratifying and focused on genital imtimacy, because that is the way they are wired up, whereas for many females there is more of a sense of opening up their hearts and being to another person, achieving social intimacy. For males, sexual fantasy ends to be genitally focused, for females it is often more romantic. For males it can be a constant pressure, for females it is greatly affected by the monthly oestrus cycle. For both, self-control is needed primarily in the mind.

A rite of passage or True Love waits?
In much of our western culture first sexual intercourse is a rite of passage, an initiation into a level of biological maturity. It has become the secular equivalent of Anglican (and other church) confirmation, though arguably more meaningful and memorable than it. It is a deliberate step of self-assertion and a statement aimed at peer affirmation of maturity - or at least of one aspect of it. Many actively seek to relinquish their virginity by the age of about 16, and most do so before about 20. As with any marker of "coming of age" it is earnestly to be desired unless other values trump it. Avoiding it is often seen as distinctly oddball. Churches can provide a non-sexual alternative rite of passage in conscription to youth leadership in that peer context, where the prevalence of other values can indeed outweigh promiscuous intercourse. Western culture generally is very impoverished regarding rites of passage for young males. Getting a driving licence is probably the main one.

Any young Christian may covet the freedom of sexual expression enjoyed by so many around us. But coveting is just what it is, desiring what is not (yet) properly ours. So this becomes a line which tests our obedience to our Lord. "Sin is a master illusionist, able to make God's holy, righteous and good commandments appear stifling, boring and hopelessly unsuited to modern living. The tenth commandment [regarding coveting] illustrates the process clearly."20 It is scant consolation that sexual temptation is a bit different from much other temptation, in that it is not to do something wrong, but to do something wonderful, wholesome and proper - prematurely and out of context.

So for the time being saying 'no' and abstinence are proper exhortations - "True love waits" etc - but how can this be encouraged and assisted as something positive when many of those around us are freely indulging their sexual urges with one another? Why is it important? Chastity certainly doesn't come naturally, nor does it feel natural to most unmarried people. Many see it as totally archaic or incredibly heroic - deferred gratification runs counter to the spirit of our times in many areas of life. But we need to affirm - and be seen to affirm - many of the urges and the desire for intimacy as being proper and natural, and indeed good, while constraining the expression of them within a fuller or wiser understanding of sex and relationships. Just as neither gluttony nor fast foods express the best enjoyment of eating, so our expression of sexuality needs to restrained and appropriate to the occasion and the maturity of the relationship.

Meanwhile we need to direct that sexual energy so as to have a lot of fun at a social level while relationships develop and respect grows. Rather than allowing ourselves to become focused on the genital aspects of human sexuality, we need to pursue an upright life, integrity, day to day trust in God, love for all, the patient hope which keeps us going and the sturdy gentleness exhibited in Jesus. But this is always a struggle against all sorts of things which are more alluring for each of us."21

What about sexual lust?

Sexuality is a wonderful and unequivocally good aspect of our human nature, created and given by God. The fall does not change this fact, though it certainly changes the way it may be expressed. Sexual lust is a ubiquitous temptation, listed in the Bible among carnal attributes which need to be 'put to death' (Col 3:5-8), and hence it needs to be countered and minimised by Christians. Sexual lust is the primary fallen expression of good sexuality.

First it needs to be noted that lust is not simply sexual. Lusting after a Lamborghini is just as sinful as lusting after a particular person. In each case you want to possess and selfishly enjoy the designed performance in a way you have no right to, you are objectifying them. Simply admiring them for what they are is quite different, proper and virtuous. If we are clear on that, some confusion in Christian circles about lust will be avoided.

What is more, attraction is not lust. Attraction is a natural biological response to beauty; lust obsesses on that attraction until it grows into a sense of desiring ownership, a drive to conquer and claim. Both are especially powerful in the sexual context, where focused lust is essentially covetousness, and it needs to be addressed in the mind of the person doing the lusting. Visually, incentives to lust are very culture-dependent, but however it arises the lust is covetous rather than respectful of the person. As part of mental self-control generally, we need to counter lust by respect, not by expecting attractive people to apologise for their bodies or to dress unattractively.

Our sexuality intrinsically and inevitably means that we are attracted to certain people, aroused, and excited by them. That attraction and arousal is basically an expression of our created sexual physiology, not a result of the fall, and there is no way we can sensibly call that bad or sinful without calling into question God's very creation. Give God thanks for that and enjoy it! But at the same time take very seriously the need to curb adventurous thoughts arising from that, thoughts which fantasise with a genital focus on what you might be doing in bed with such a person. That is clearly lust, when the thoughts arising from that sexuality are uncontrolled, as they often tend to be in our fallen nature, or when the thoughts are harnessed only for personal gratification. The Bible is clear about the need to counter sexual lust, and a little thought will confirm the wisdom of that.

Curbing the tendency of sexual attraction turning or growing into focused lust is a matter of reasonable self-control. Each person needs to draw their own lines and boundaries between excitement and mild sexual arousal on the one hand and playing out genital or physical possession fantasies in the mind on the other. We need to avoid the intense covetousness of lust with its powerful drive to mentally (and perhaps manually) indulge ridiculous fantasies, and so decide where the brakes need to go on. Each of us is tempted differently and while male lust tends to be more blatant, males don't have a monopoly on it.

The level of self-control should not be so tight that there is psychological self-neutering, nor so loose that our eyes or imagination lead us to mentally undressing attractive people and fantasising about them. The level of self-control should lead us and enable us to enjoy a wide range of relationships which have a sexual element or aspect, and also to focus our interest on one or a few of these without getting carried away into lust, even if there is often a battle on that front. It will mean that we understand pornographic images as distorted sex, requiring moral blindness, so exclude them from viewing. Whereas sex can be considered as tactile worship of one's spouse, lust and porn are virtual or visual worship of other attractive bodies, hence idolatry (Col 3:5).

One of the main biblical passages referring to lust is in the sermon on the mount (Matt 5:28), where Jesus says that looking at a person21a lustfully amounts to committing adultery in the heart. Here lust is evidently doing in the head and heart what might be done in bed with someone who is not rightly available, consummating an illicit relationship and at least temporarily possessing the person. It is threatening someone's marriage bond. This is a lot more than admiring any person's beauty and sexual attractiveness and getting a buzz out of that! Jesus is not stigmatising natural sexual attraction. Nor is he saying that we shouldn't have wholesome sexual desire for members of the opposite sex who are potential partners. But if we allow ourselves to indulge in unbridled desire to posses the person, or lustful fantasy (v 29-30) that threatens a marriage relationship, then strong action and maybe drastic sacrifice is needed to remove ourselves from sexual temptation and the propensity to indulge it.

But lust is not just adulterous! Other biblical references on lust, the English language, and common sense suggest that we should understand lust rather more widely than in this well-known sermon on the mount text, applying to adultery. It is usually not too difficult to sense what is inappropriate lust, but actually defining it is harder. "Intense, obsessive or unbridled sexual desire" is a start, or "intense, possessive fantasies of sexual conquest", the intensity usually arising from uncontrolled or unbridled thoughts which take the imagination in the direction of sexual activity.21b The bridle on a horse enables the rider to control its speed and direction, so the word is apt for sexual thoughts and imagination. The point here is that what goes on in our minds needs to be part of our self-control generally, so that we enjoy thoughts and sexual feelings but are not carried away by them.

Elaborating this: lust is distinct from love, which has a whole known person as object (not just their genital potential) and which essentially seeks their good; lust is largely physically-focused and self-indulgent, and where normal sexual desire has been given free rein, often mentally undressing the person and fantsasizing from there. More strongly, a fierce obsession to conquer or possess is the motivator, for males at least. Lust can even disregard the welfare and wellbeing of the object. It is the antithesis of seeing someone as being in the image of God, which leads to personal respect and different moral choices than unbridled lust.

From the male side, lust tends to be wanting to conquer, possess, and ravish the person with genital indulgence, with fantasy of all that playing out in our minds. Or it may simply be an animal instinct focused on sexual pleasure. From the female side, belonging is perhaps foremost. Within a marriage relationship this essentially animal aspect is properly integrated with the other warm and noble aspect of sexual attraction, and moderated to give a balanced and passionate emotional and physical relationship with mutual commitment - eros is balanced with phileo and overlaid with agape.

What lust is not
The tendency of some Christians to define all sexual thought and physical appreciation of others as 'lust' is a travesty in the worst ascetic sense. Simply having sexually-charged thoughts about someone is not lust, since that is how we are wonderfully made. Nor does sexual arousal when seeing or thinking about an attractive person constitute lust. As already mentioned, sexual attraction is basically an expression of our created sexual physiology, not a result of the fall. Wholesome sexual desire for members of the opposite sex is proper and positive, when under control. With some practice of self-control, there can be an increasing distance between looking and lusting.

A too-broad definition gives bizarre scope for loading guilt trips on young people, and at the extreme, a sort of psychological self-neutering. Nevertheless, countering lust is a constant challenge for unmarried Christians, as part of self-control more widely.

It needs to be said that Matthew 5:28 is commonly misunderstood and used to oppress young Christians. It is about marriage and what devalues that, saying in strong hyperbole that sin which cuts across the marriage bond is as much in the mind as in action. A high expectation of marital purity means that there is no moral difference between fantasising adultery and acting on that. It is not saying that sexual attractiveness and amorous desire in a courtship context is wrong or to be denied, nor is this said elsewhere in the Bible. The Song of Songs in the Old Testament indicates precisely the opposite - it would be hard to find more sexually-charged literature which was not salacious or did not descend into smut. Using the Matthew verse to suggest that young unmarried people should purge their minds of all sexual thoughts is unwarranted and perverse. However, that does not mean open slather for lust. Self-control is always needed. The principle that entertaining any sinful act in the mind is morally the same as doing it is radical and it applies in all areas of our lives, not just to sex.

Early marriage? Or later?
One obvious way of managing our sexuality and which has considerable Christian support in the context of our promiscuous culture is to marry early, as the urges become strong. In the context of Paul's advice to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:9)22 for those bursting with sexual energy, hungering for intimacy of that kind and having a plausible partner, this makes sense.

For some, early marriage is appropriate, but the possibility needs to be balanced against the question of one's social and vocational level of maturity. Some questions need pressing in this respect. If exhortation to marry early correctly represents Paul's advice to the Corinthians it needs to be balanced with that to the Thessalonians: each should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable (I Thes 4:4) - while allowing all the other attributes which contribute to a successful marriage to develop. People are so different that it is impossible to generalize, either to say that sexual longing should lead to early marriage, or to say that everyone should wait at least until their mid 20s.

There is a stereotype of such early marriage being rather hormone-driven, but if in reality that is the driver, then it's much better to suggest dealing with that libido as discussed elsewhere (eg 4.3) so that the more important romantic and social developments can proceed at their own pace, along with the vital feasibility study regarding long-term compatibility. As explained in the previous section, this exploration cannot sensibly be done in bed - in fact it would be using coital sex in somewhat the opposite way than intended.

The positive aspects of early marriage are that the two can grow together and shape one another from a more formative stage of life, they can look forward to sharing more years together and having less of an age difference with their children, and of course their sexual consummation removes a major part of the challenge of self-control. The risk is that they may in fact grow apart as each matures, or that differences which are glossed over in immature enthusiasm make the marriage very difficult later. 23a This is far too common in Christian circles.

Later marriage, after the mid 20s and into the 30s, has the advantage that each is more mature in assessing others and in self-awareness, and better able to assess compatibility, probably arising out of experiencing several romantic relationships. Also each may have accumulated life experiences which they bring to the marriage and to their progeny - ones which are more readily gained when unattached maritally. The risk is that some of the most eligible partners may by then be spoken for, the unmarried Christian is more vulnerable sexually, and the challenge of curbing lust may prove too great.

Another aspect of early marriage, somewhat separate from the considerations of this chapter, is simply the question of being prepared early in life to take responsibility for another person. This may be coupled with an early sense of vocational responsibility, and is to be encouraged. However, it needs to be balanced with those other considerations of developing maturity and underlines the need to find out and do what is right for each person, rather than applying formulae.

Christians do need to keep very much in mind that sex as given by a loving and bountiful Creator has both bringing-together and procreative aspects. In our culture, up until a person is in his or her late 20s, the latter is mostly disregarded (apart from attention to avoiding conception). A proper Christian view acknowledges both equally, even if procreation is deliberately delayed for some time after marriage, and then controlled. (A third aspect of sex - arising from the first - is that it is sacramental of the relationship between God and his church. An Anglican marriage liturgy has each partner affirming to the other that "with my body I worship you", ie. I will use it to treat you according to your worth in God's created order. This too lifts it well beyond the merely biological level.)

This mutuality in 'one flesh' is a beautiful, wondrous and rapturous part of the way God has made us. Other vertebrates copulate and reproduce pleasurably, but only humans made in God's image have the capacity to "become one flesh" in marriage of complementary bodies, implying a unity much greater than transient coupling or long-term pairing-off. It is a marked contrast with the tragedy of our culture treating sex as mutual indulgence with some transient intimacy, fun but not proper fulfilment, self-focused pleasure rather than emphatic self-giving. The sex that God invented is more wonderful, not less, than its contemporary manifestations outside of marriage.

Sexual repression
Effectively denying one's sexuality and repressing every sexual thought is not a proper or wholesome way forward. There is a spectrum between repression of every sexually-charged thought and mental indulgence of focused lust, and each person needs to work out where he or she should aim to be around the middle of it in the light of their own nature and conditioning. It is right and proper for our sexuality to be a significant feature of many kinds of relationships and bottling it up for years is not a healthy prelude to marriage. In the wide area between repression and indulgence there is scope for being excited by sexual encounter, getting a buzz out of social interaction and now and then guys being hot and hard in it all. There is also an appropriate place for masturbation if lust is not the driver of it, but if this is fraught, then self-control is the challenge and abstinence has a lot to be said for it. 23c

Some Christian guys seem to have been sitting on their sexuality so firmly and for so long that they have forgotten it exists. The idea of romantic interest in a girl is intimidating for them because of the sexual stirrings involved, and their restricted notion of sexual purity then works against establishing any relaxed relationship. So when they have the inclination to take a romantic interest in a girl the very idea of telling her in word or behaviour that they are attracted to her is absolutely daunting. Indeed, it may make the relationships discussed in the next section and chapter 3 almost impossible or at the least, stilted and relatively joyless. In contrast, we want to affirm strongly that in all the time before marriage our sexuality should be enjoyed wholesomely and under control as we interact with people we find attractive. Some guidelines and limits are suggested in what follows. Self-control is certainly not the same as repression!

Sex as commercial promotion
We live in a world where sexual imagery is exploited for commercial purposes, to attract attention to financial temptations and thus advance the cause of consumerism. This can create problems for Christians on the sexual, financial and materialist or hedonist fronts. Focusing here on the first, for those who have not developed an immunity to the allure of sexual imagery in advertising or in the way some people dress, it may be helpful to assert that "the first look is free," but after that the brakes go on. This is by way of accepting the fact that we have this material and these images in our faces every day and there is nothing we can do about that, but we can choose whether to keep on feeding the imagery into our minds or to bounce our eyes and thoughts elsewhere. We need to avoid and constrain letting our eyes feast on attractive anatomy, so that our thoughts progress from that. This is most significant for guys, who are most readily stimulated visually, though the problem is not confined to them. Of course there can be, and ideally should be, an appreciation of the human body (even when displayed without inhibition) which does not lead to inappropriate trains of thought. We live in a society and age where desires are often readily fulfilled. We must be careful to avoid transferring that expectation across to any lustful fantasies!

Sexual orientation

It seems that sexuality exists on a spectrum between hetero and homo orientation, and while the majority of people are at or around the heterosexual end, a significant minority has some ambivalence, and a few have purely homosexual orientation . There is no binary homo-hetero division. There are degrees of same-sex attraction (SSA). Sexuality is complex and subtle, pliable and manipulable, open to social conditioning, and changing. Between the firm and clear-cut heterosexual majority and the firm and clear-cut homosexual small minority is a significant proportion - some ten percent by some accounts - whose sexual orientation is sometimes or at some stage ambiguous to some degree.

It is plausibly suggested that those around the middle of the sexual orientation spectrum are socially driven to identify with either the hetero end, for obvious reasons, or the homo end for the sense of belonging to an embattled and misunderstood minority or self-identified 'community'. According to Matthew Parris, a UK columnist personally well acquainted with the situation, it is the ambivalent middle ground which is "the love that dare not speak its name" - not full homophile affection (the quoted phrase being associated with Oscar Wilde).

Those young people - especially teenagers - who are tempted to experiment homosexually due to the influence of others, perhaps coupled with some adolescent identity problems or ambiguity in sexuality, should resist the pressure and at least for the time being assume that the ambiguity is transient. Social interaction with the opposite sex is likely to help it be so. Counseling help needs to be chosen with care, since some counselors will encourage a sense of identity to be drawn from sexuality, which is counter to Christian understanding of the person. Some young people who have experimented unwisely because of society's growing tolerance of sexual diversity may be encouraged over time into healthy hetero expressions of their sexuality.28 For others that outcome will remain elusive.

Similarly, and not unrelated, a healthy masculinity and femininity ought to be encouraged. Expression of gender too can be considered on a spectrum, and generally speaking marriages and families are healthiest and happiest when the complementary natures of male and female are appropriately expressed. Although the precise expression of masculinity and femininity changes across cultures and with individual couples, there are general recurring principles inherent in nature, and evident in scripture. In one form or another these ought to be encouraged within a society, in order to help marriage and family to remain healthy through the generations. See also section 4.2a re masculinity.

There is no moral issue with sexual orientation itself, and all of us - fully hetero, ambivalent, or SSA, have challenges in managing our sexuality. The moral issues relate to how we order our behaviour and manage ourselves. Christians need to seek God's perspective on difficult situations, and set about being faithful to that as their understanding develops. Self-delusion is a disastrous basis for self-management, especially regarding sexuality. Fuller discussion of the homophile/ SSA issue is in Appendix 3.

Sex and intimacy
The desire for intimacy is basic to the sexual urge, and regardless of marriage, we have already suggested that it can be substantially and adequately expressed within the context of fellowship rather than needing to be harnessed by sexual inclinations and centered preeminently around genital activity. For many people today sexual activity is the only intimacy they experience. The extreme expression of this is the hook-up culture which attempts to completely dissociate sexual experience from any relationship - the antithesis of any Christian understanding of human sex.

In general, our culture has consigned intimacy, along with much tenderness and touch - even the word 'love' - to the physical expression of a sexual relationship, or even sex outside a proper relationship. This underlines the extent to which the desire for intimacy - easily seen in our culture as inevitably meaning physical contact - is a driver in any sexually energised relationship.24 (The urge for gratification comes into it too, but at a more biological level!) This is a disastrous warping of social expectations and hence one aspect of heading off the temptation to promiscuity among Christians needs to be through the quality of fellowship - see chapter 1 and also in 2.4.

A person is most ready to be married when they are most ready to be single. No-one needs to enter into a sexual relationship or marriage to find heart intimacy or fulfilment as a person.

Finally, we need to develop a wholesome way of talking about these wonderful and good things which balances modesty, frankness and humour, while avoiding salaciousness and smut.

In summary, there are four tasks:

  • attack and deal with any porn attraction or addiction rigorously and urgently (see section 2.5)
  • understand what lust is, and that it doesn't include every sexual thought and feeling (see above in 2.2)
  • establish a personal discipline of minimising lust
  • establish a personal modus operandi re masturbation: enjoy and use, or abstain (see section 4.3).
  • Talk about all of the above with close friends.

    2.2 Discussion questions:
    How have you experienced the male-female differences working out in your experience and romantic relationships?
    To what extent is first sexual intercourse a rite of passage among your friends? What difference did the transition make? Is there a Christian counterpart in your life?
    Do your friends see chastity pending marriage (ie abstinence from coital intercourse) as totally archaic or incredibly heroic? How do you answer them, in word and lifestyle?
    Are "Intense, obsessive or unbridled sexual desire" or "intense, possessive fantasies of sexual conquest" meaningful and practically applicable definitions of lust for you?
    What do you find most challenging in controlling lust? What means have you developed for it?
    Are you shaping up to be an early or a late marrier? Why? What do older friends think about this in relation to your social and emotional maturity?
    Are you happy to talk about masturbation reasonably openly with close friends? If not, why not?
    Do you have homophile friends who are Christian? How do you support them? And how do they enrich you in open fellowship?
    How do you express intimacy in non-sexual ways? Have you developed strong same-sex relationships which are a joy to you without having any genital overtones?

    2.3 Self-control and natural instincts, premarital sex

    We need to have a clear grasp of the implications of different kinds of premarital sex - pursuing promiscuous intimacy and indulging our sexual urges in the years between puberty and matrimony. This is putting pleasure and short-term gratification ahead of commitment, obedience and wisdom. The potential effects include:

    • eroding the wholesomeness of the kind of long-term sexual relationships we are designed for,
    • often a preoccupation with one aspect of the attractiveness of the opposite sex,
    • for males especially, feeding an addiction to the physical orgasmic aspects of sex (which of course has a very positive aspect within a marriage relationship),
    • the intensity of our desire for the pleasures of sex can seriously skew our judgements of a potential partner's true compatibility.

    To some degree these effects apply also to sexual intimacy within a mature faithful (but uncommitted) relationship.

    Classically, a "shotgun wedding" was triggered by a guy getting his girlfriend pregnant. For Christians, a sense of obligation is arguably triggered by having sex in a romantic relationship.

    Conversely, we also need a clear view of the implications of a Christian waiting faithfully for their life partner, whom they will marry. This involves very unfashionable and counter-cultural abstinence from sexual intercourse while unmarried, usually through several realtionships, and often great resolve and strength of character to fly in the face of our peers' expectations. However, the longer-term benefits in proper expression of our sexuality outweigh the difficulty of that discipline - very much so in relation to casual sex. Controlling the expression of our urges and channeling them into social activity is not the same as repression and denial of them.

    Self-control without asceticism
    The control and management of sexuality needs to be taught much more fully than it commonly is. As one young guy put it: "It's hard work for a teenager in our culture to abstain, so Christians need to give a strong reason for doing so. Beating around the bush is hardly going to inspire a horny and keen-to-be-loved teenager to put the moral effort in to abstain and refuse! And remember it's not just about 'keeping your virginity' but about the place of all sexual expression, penetrative or not. Unless the special nature and uniqueness of all sexual expression is emphasised, young people simply won't see the point of resisting." Each Christian group or church must be active in encouraging, expounding and reaffirming these values of restraint and expectation of later fulfillment amongst its members, since they will receive precious little assistance outside it.

    As in many things, temptation means that what is false, transient and ultimately worthless is much more attractive than the fullness of what God has designed.

    In the years before marriage there is a range of ways we can react to young members of the opposite sex, from admiring them as attractive people through to lustful fantasies of sexual consummation with them. A normal controlled sexuality will mean that we spend time with them and enjoying an emotional buzz because of the hormones and sexual attraction, thinking about them intensely, and so on. There is much to explore and learn regarding the complementarity of the sexes in emotion and disposition. Certainly we can be open about our appreciation of good looks and lovely nature, focusing on making them feel good, not on what feels most stimulating for us. For guys, tthis means being a gentle-man, with inner strength and self-control aided by God's Holy Spirit. Where does temptation come into this and require action? Principally it is in challenging one's self-control of what plays over in the mind - long before any actual opportunity to "get laid". (That opportunity of course would bring temptation to a much more intense level.)

    So where does one draw the line in thought and behaviour? It will differ a bit from person to person, but certainly best before indulgence in lust or undue physical intimacy which gives away what we may later wish had been kept for our life partner. In particular a person's self-esteem is easily degraded if they are persuaded to give away what they have in this respect prematurely. Further comment about boundaries, both tactile and visual, is in chapter 3, section 3.5.

    Lust control involves a conservative approach! On the other hand, drawing the line way back in the other direction so that we put up an emotional firewall may be "safe" but deprive one of the very proper pleasure of hormonally-charged relationships between the sexes at a social level and the important learning from this. The main principle is that sexual faithfulness to one's future spouse starts in the first romantic relationship we have, and must guide and constrain our behaviour right through as we grow into and enjoy perhaps a number of romantic relationships.

    The male predisposition towards serial sexual conquests means that this attribute certainly needs to be controlled and directed into wholesome relationships at a social level. It should not be denied or sat upon so that it is replaced by a fear of taking some initiative with women. For many guys, nothing compares with the pleasure of chatting up girls - bestowing and soliciting affection and erotic interaction. This is good, proper and delightful when it is controlled, which it often isn't in our society. It needs to avoid being merely recreational on the one hand, or leading girls on and conveying more than intended on the other.

    We need to learn to live with the tension of our sexual natures, exercising enough self-control to avoid the torrid fantasies of lust or adultery in mind and heart - let alone more. In particular men need to be careful in controlling what they feast their eyes on, women more in what they think and emote about. Grappling with that delightful but sometimes harrowing tension rather than trying to avoid it will teach us much and prepare us for fusller relationships later. With guys, it is largely a mixture of hormones and vanity. The hormones rev up the lust, but the more extraordinary thing is that one is vain enough to believe that the object of one's lust would welcome with open arms your expression of it! An American Christian university was reported as forbidding student couples to touch or even to look into one another's eyes, since the latter constituted "optical intercourse" or "making eye babies". While this kind of rulemaking is in one sense a bizarre joke, it sadly constitutes a reaction to promiscuity which may be as damaging and dehumanising as what it seeks to prevent.

    Positive mature profile
    There is a sense of deprivation involved for the sexually eager single Christian, and it is accentuated by the spirit of this age - the "me, now" expectation. However, stepping back from this hot issue we can see that in fact there are many things that any human being cannot have, do, or attain - materially, vocationally and in experience. For Christians this sense of deprivation is in one sense greater since we are taught that the covetousness, greed and envy cultivated in our consumer society are sins, that we delay sex till marriage, and so on. But in another sense these sinful or inappropriate desires often recede as the Holy Spirit progressively reworks our basic nature. So, a big NO to some attractions is neither unique to Christians nor a big deal in the wider scheme of things.

    A practical measure is to be involved in ministry teams which will enable and necessitate a healthy mixing with members of the opposite sex in a controlled environment, where there is no pressure upon male or female to extend their relationship any further than simply getting to know each other and learning to relate to the opposite sex in a proper way as spiritual siblings, albeit often exciting ones. For males this is a great opportunity to learn some skills in being a gentle-man which can be very helpful throughout life. More particularly, it is a potentially rewarding opportunity to learn to relate to girls as a friend and not just an object of their sexual attention. For girls the relationship which is warm and friendly but less than romantic is correspondingly valuable.

    It ought to be said that for guys, learning to act as gentle-men is a skill of the highest order - one that males should strive for in the way that they relate to all females. Open compliments of brotherly love and care are a good start and even 'old fashioned' gentlemanly behaviour such as opening doors and giving up seats for them are an important way to make a female feel the self-worth that they were created to have but which so many go without. This is regardless of whether there is any romantic interest. "I have been told by many female friends that for most females there is no substitute for being made to feel self worthy by a male who is acting out of brotherly love, rather than acting simply as a means to get to them," was one heartfelt comment on this. Men are more likely to be admired by prospective partners if they are perceived as self-controlled and courteous in their approach to women. See also section 4.2a on Masculinity

    Correspondingly, women can encourage appropriate male behaviour by appreciating and affirming it, especially when it clearly goes against the baser instincts of the male! Articulating appreciation or even admiration does wonders for the male ego, without the need to overdo it. And often the female needs to gently but firmly control how far any physical expression of intimacy proceeds - despite what she too may desire, of course.

    Social liberation
    But when friendship does progress to romantic attraction and involvement, most Christians understand that it is self-control rather than libertarian indulgence which makes us free.  In the course of struggling with that self-control we can find that weakness, failure, forgiveness and persistence tend to characterize this aspect of our lives as fallen people seeking to experience the richness of our created nature which is in God's image. Most of us experience some setbacks on the way. But the freedom which comes from self-control is edifying and dignifying in ways appropriate to children of the living God. And it helps us respect the dignity of others.

    Our sexuality is meant to be exciting and energizing for us even at the social stage well before marriage. While there is much need for self-control, the answer in this regard is not to shut down or shut off all feeling for others which is motivated by our sexuality, nor fail to appreciate the sexual attractiveness of others. We need to learn to express our appreciation of this attractiveness in word and action, with gentleness, self-control and love, and to enjoy the relationships which can develop. (See next chapter.)

    If its nature in the particular social context is understood by all concerned, flirting can be a lot of fun and a very appropriate way of enjoying the sexual interaction with others. It can suitably and safely spice many a relationship right through life as a controlled expression of our sexuality. Good humour and clear mutual understanding of what it is and what it isn't is essential, otherwise it can be construed either as an offer or a threat, leading to hurt feelings and disappointment. The sexual innuendo and overtones need to be restrained and well under control. If it becomes serious or intense, in any sense more than a game, then immediately cool it. And if you are not interested in someone as more than a physical attraction then flirting is inappropriate.

    The application of all this to those Christians of settled homophile orientation24a requires comment. The prospective relationship outcomes are quite different. Distinctly homophile Christians can expect to be as richly blessed in relationships as anyone else, but not in the same fashion, nor in line with the aspirations of gay activists. See subsection below on Sexual Orientation, and the subject is addressed more thoroughly in Appendix 3. We suggest that homophile orientation or same-sex attraction (SSA) may be best seen as something akin to a gift - requiring care, self-discipline, support and persistence for its proper deployment in the context of God's purposes and in the fellowship of the church. The warm fellowship of the church is vital, and SSA Christians can be expected to rely more on this than most, as well as investing more in it.

    Two final comments
    Where would we be without a sense of humour regarding sex? Of course all of the above considerations are serious and we need to take them seriously, but we also need to lighten up and sometimes see sex as hilarious! That will bring us closer to being profoundly grateful to God for making it all so wonderful than will solemn and earnest preoccupation with its details. A sense of humour will also give us a better perspective on our own situation, and we will more readily see the ridiculous nature of some temptations, which can thereby be disarmed! And a wholesome sense of humour applied to sexual matters can be a good witness as a contrast to dirty jokes.

    We must not lose sight of the eternal context. In the Bible sin is often categorized as disobedience and in these matters where feelings are intense there is much potential for that. The call to faith is a call to obedience to our Lord, not to willfulness or autonomy. However unfashionable it may be to say so, our behaviour in sexual matters as elsewhere comes under the judgment of a holy God, and bending the rules or ignoring his clear standards must have consequences. Forgiveness requires repentance and change now while looking forward to God's restoration of his creation.

    2.3 Discussion questions:
    How well is the control and management of sexuality taught in your Christian context?
    What have you done to improve it?
    How do you express appreciation of physical beauty so as to make the other person feel good and without coming across as lascivious?
    Do you know people who have put up an emotional firewall to insulate themselves from temptation, but who have found that it deprives them of the very proper pleasure of relationships between the sexes at a social level? How can you help them?
    What is your experience of guys feasting their eyes upon the female form? When is this appropriate, and when not?
    Is it unrealistic to expect guys to act as gentle-men in social and romantic relationships with young women?
    How can young women best encourage this? And affirm it?
    What is your experience of flirting? Does it too readily go too far?
    How do you use humour in relation to sex? Does it give you a better perspective on sexual temptation in yourself and others?

    2.4 Sexual fulfillment in marriage

    What do we mean by 'marriage'?

    In passing we note that the Bible talks about marriage in terms of leaving separate homes, and joining together exclusively and intimately - becoming one flesh - publicly as a social unit with lifelong mutual faithful commitment and the potential of children. It is not essentially about ceremonies and rituals. Even the promises before God, while very important, do not comprise the essence of marriage. It therefore follows that moving in with a lover publicly and with the (often implicit) commitment involved in house sharing and perhaps child-rearing etc, represents the essence of marriage. Calling it cohabitation doesn't really change this fact, even if the word is intended to place or imply a limit on the commitment. From a Christian perspective, cohabitation is marriage, albeit with inadequate commitment.

    To put it another way, a couple decides to commit to being one flesh and publicly setting up together - which is essentially being married, not simply to get married. Marriage is a public state of life, not just having been through a ceremony, and calling it something less than marriage is at best a cop-out and at worst a deceit. The meaningfulness and presuppositions of that commitment are what is at issue. How two people get to marriage is less important than the clear setting up of a permanent and exclusive public commitment in the sight of others, sharing lives and resources. Having established that, Christians need to do it properly and be serious about that commitment as well as declaring it before God in the most appropriate public context, not just quietly shack up together.

    God's intention is for it to be permanent, and it is for our good, our partner's good, and the good of our resulting children and grandchildren, that we learn to submit to that, however much contrary to our inclinations it may sometimes feel. If something less than permanence is in view, trouble often awaits and the whole currency of marriage and experience of family is debased. Marriage involves shared obligation for any children, it is not simply an adult relationship without profound implications for others in society. It creates a culture that binds men to their responsibilities for the children they bring onto the world. It cements social expectations that boys and men will develop the virtues of commitment and faithfulness necessary to build strong marriages for the next generation. (Glynn Harrison, A Better Story, p109)

    Some cultures in history respect the importance and the permanence of marriage more than others. Some, like our own, have such low, casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitudes toward marriage as to make the biblical vision seem ludicrous to most people who are focused mainly on their own immediate satisfaction. (John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, p19.)

    The "one flesh" metaphor of Genesis 2 is surely one of the Bible's most vivid and wonderful expressions. It means that genital sexual activity involves great intimacy (obviously), uninhibitedness and privacy (by implication), and exclusiveness at that physical level, all in the context of belonging together. Sexual union is a 'sacrament' of marriage — it is a physical signifier which also enacts the loving union itself, most vividly in the procreation of new life. It needs exclusive and secure commitment to give it its full value, and to provide a suitable context for its emotional, spiritual and biological consequences. The exclusiveness of the sexual aspects of the marriage relationship means that the couple and their home can be generously inclusive at a social level (cf Hospitality chapter 7).

    Sexual intercourse is all about communicating total mutual belonging. If one is not totally committed to one's lover for life, sex will tend to be an indulgence rather than a sacrament, hence less than it is meant to be. Sex that is less than the total self-giving of marriage is eroding the potential for its full enjoyment over many years. Within a marriage it's important to have lots of coital sex, not simply for the pleasure of it, but because it expresses the nature of the one-flesh marital relationship. St Paul urged the same: "Do not deprive each other ....." - even before reliable contraception was available. And in terms of neuroscience or brain chemistry, orgasm helps us bond to our sexual partner, so the more the better in marriage.

    Community and marriage
    The whole practice of premarital chastity - setting sexual intercourse uniquely within marriage - is so countercultural that it requires the support of the Christian community both before and during marriage. This is vital. We need one another to be able to talk frankly of the challenges of chaste pre-marriage relationships, to encourage and perhaps gently rebuke one another and to affirm our life together as disciples whether single, attached or married.

    This communal aspect applies to the marriage relationship as well as the preceding 'exclusive' stages. We exist within our Christian community of some kind, and we must remain connected with it through our romantic progression - especially for a few reality checks - and in marriage. So too we will normally remain connected with our respective human families. The members of both family and wider community have a responsibility to care for and nurture one another, with implications of limiting the privacy (but not the exclusiveness or unique intimacy) of marriage. To put it another way, being in a steady relationship or actually married does not and must not be allowed to isolate a couple from the rich mutual interactions and responsibilities of the wider community, this being in both directions. It is important to involve others - including single brethren - as a relationship proceeds towards permanent commitment. Other relationships are normally a significant part of life and may be emotionally intimate without competing with the marriage, contrary to some romantic depictions.

    Apart from marriage, there need to be models of long-term social interaction in the church community that are celibate but not impoverished, for all singles.

    Easy come, easy go?
    In our culture, marriage is often accompanied by mental reservations which mean that it is no more than a short-term relationship dignified by a (reversible) legal procedure, rather than a committed long-term partnership. This has implications for the unmarried lifestyle, where bed is so often a central feature of the male-female relationship before marriage. Sexual intercourse is addictive and designed to be so as part of the glue of marriage. Once hooked as an unmarried person, it becomes an inexorable part of one's evaluation of those sexual partners - we have all seen guys with their brains apparently in their scrotum! It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to avoid such distraction in that situation and it certainly skews the evaluation away from anything rational. Leading up to marriage, what you desperately need is to be more rational. (Within marriage, one role of coital sex is to be able to push aside disagreements and tensions and celebrate the one flesh reality despite those, hence to be decidedly less rational!)

    To put it another way, it is much easier to hang out and sleep with a sexy partner than to gain the attention and affection of the sort of person who will make a suitable life partner - one who delights you over many years with their character and inner beauty. It would be fair to say that all of us are much more easily able to enjoy sleeping with a range of different people than living with them pleasurably for decades. It follows that we need to focus on finding a partner who is a joy for life, and that any genital explorations are most unlikely to assist that search. Rather they will readily detract from it.

    We also note that marriage is a project, not a destiny. It is not something preordained by God as guaranteed to succeed but something which will flourish or suffer depending on the love and thoughtfulness invested in it. Marriage involves consideration of the partner leading to some curtailed freedoms in order to build the long-term partnership with all its blessings. Rights take a back seat to responsibilities and opportunities to give. If that perspective is not in the frame before the wedding day, don't expect a happy outcome.

    Recalibrating sex
    The experience of a number of Christians in their 20s is that any premarital intercourse sets one back at least a year in the romantic exploration/courtship stakes, depending on personal sensitivity. It is likely to take at least that long to sort out the emotional disquiet or even turmoil, to dissolve the inadvertent glue at that emotional level if it is not an isolated incident, to be assured that God's forgiveness cancels guilt, to lift one's thoughts largely back above the navel, and to get back on course socially and spiritually. (This is not everyone's experience - cultural conditioning may mean that a premarital fling or more is no big deal, both emotions and conscience having become desensitised. Or the values of the peer group may simply remain stronger than those of the gospel.)

    A similar time frame is needed for those who change from a lifestyle of sleeping around to get on course in seeking a fuller expression of sex in the course of embarking upon discipleship. Repentance and forgiveness is one thing, sorting out any mess and repairing our attitudes is another, though it flows from the forgiveness. Spiritual convalescence is slow, but sure. For those who come to faith in student years or later, virginity will often be just a distant memory of innocence. The issue then becomes how to reinstate sex to its proper and designed place in the future scheme of things, and meanwhile express and enjoy one's sexuality within godly constraints.25 It may be important to note that this situation need be no handicap to fullness of life in Christ nor to future sexual fulfillment. We must never slip into thinking that sexual indiscretions necessarily create a lifetime stigma, as is the case in an Islamic context, or even a short-term stigma in the Christian fellowship. They absolutely do not, if a person is prepared to accept God's forgiveness and leave former behaviour behind. God's grace is overwhelmingly greater than any shortcoming or past folly on our part.25a Bad experiences can be overwritten in the course of considerate progress towards a full Christian one flesh relationship.

    Sexual temptation is an area where we all run the risk of slipping up, and it provides a source of huge guilt and regret for many Christian young people. However, we need to remember that, if we come to our senses and truly repent, there is complete forgiveness in Christ, just as much as in other areas of our lives. God's grace transcends our failures, and this needs affirming pastorally. While past failures will always have some influence, the past must never be allowed to control the present. We need to be able to forget the former and focus on the future. The past can and should be put behind.

    While forgiveness and healing is possible, we do need to remain aware that premarital intercourse - whether recreational or in a faithful relationship - will tend to devalue the currency and weaken that glue which later will help keep a marriage together. When the heat then comes on later - as it normally will during a marriage - adultery doesn't seem such a bad idea, and the defences against it are likely to be weaker. This underlines the need for Christians to avoid premarital indulgence.26

    But if, in your endeavours to save your sexual consummation for that special person, you lapse, just don't let that become part of your lifestyle, but get back on track and focus on the social interaction which will both develop your skills in that and help you discern the kind of person you want to spend most of your life with. It's in talking, laughing, eating, recreating, perhaps studying together that you make that judgment most reliably. Coital sex will not add usefully to all that, and at the feasibility stage of a relationship it is simply a big distraction.

    Bending the marital norms
    Adultery is a strange temptation, especially for males. One can have a wonderful, indeed ideal, spouse and yet be seized with this crazy desire to go off and sexually conquer someone else. Eros is fickle and bodily appetites are strong. Many find that the prospect of illicit sexual liaisons is incredibly exciting - much more so than routine marital sex. That makes it a force to be reckoned with, but not right in any moral universe. Beyond the simple self-centredness of sin, it doubtless arises both from our biological heritage - see previous sections - and the evil one's agenda to destroy marriages, especially Christian ones. For girls there is the deep-felt need to feel special in the eyes of a partner, and if this is lacking then other possibilities beckon.

    But it is hard to think of any circumstance in which a person could indulge in extra-marital sexual activity without doing significant damage, both short- and long-term, to many people, not least to themselves. It is worth noting the powerful role of vanity in driving such thoughts of sexual adventure for males, through fantasies of how positively we may be perceived by the other party — a primal desire to be widely desirable! - also perhaps wildly desirable! Other things besides mere sexual lust may drive it for others. Recourse to an accountability partner is an important counter to the temptation.

    Reports of recent social research suggest that many professional women in UK cannot be bothered with sexual intercourse and when wanting to conceive prefer (at significant personal financial cost) to arrange an IVF procedure which fits in with their diary commitments. Also it is reported that over half of UK married women find sex boring. While there will no doubt be different causes for this, one could ask whether we are moving towards a situation where sexual intercourse has sometimes been made so ordinary and boring by its premature enjoyment outside of committed relationships that Christians will be the main ones enjoying it excitedly and wholesomely as a significant feature of fulfilled marriage - as designed by a bountiful creator? What an irony if God has made sex so pleasurable that we humans have managed through premature indulgence to make it boring and tedious where it should be most meaningful and fulfilling!

    As an aside, in the Old Testament, the sexual energy of many of the lead players and the way this is expressed with multiple partners but in the context of faithful discipleship is remarkable. For instance Jacob/Israel has two wives bearing eight sons, two maidservants bearing four more, then concubines' kids in addition. David needs little comment! With New Testament constraints applying to us, does this mean that God expects his male disciples today to be sexual wimps, or simply to focus better and spare our single partners the enormous physical burden of multiple motherhood? For most of us, this means using the contraceptive options we now have, notably the pill and in due course, vasectomy.

    Long-term singles
    Though arguably everybody is equipped with a sort of inbuilt guidance system which leads towards a likely one-flesh union with a life partner, in some there is a bit of a short circuit and other options beckon. In fact, for a variety of reasons, marriage is not for everyone. Those who remain single out of conviction or circumstance should not feel that they are thereby mortally deprived, or have failed. In fact the single state allows a degree of freedom and independence which is often the envy of married peers (especially those with young children) and it opens up particular possibilities for deploying love, time and energy in the context of which God's blessing may be anticipated. Instead of focusing their relationship energy and attention on their life partner (actual or prospective) they can and generally should spread their affections more widely, and expect to find rich blessing in so doing.

    Long-term singles may be content in that, or they may have running battle with envy and even have to manage grief. Whatever, they do need to be included and appreciated in churches which tend to become preoccupied with young families. For some, singleness is their very appropriate long-term calling, and the church needs to accept and affirm that, without at all stigmatising or socially marginalising celibate singleness. The church family needs to be just that, as explicit in the New Testament, so that intimate, self-giving relationships flourish without sex - St Paul does not come across as one who is in the least deprived relationally. However, in some church communities the social interaction between the sexes is so inhibited that some singleness must surely result just from that, and so raises questions about the proper functioning of the corporate body. This issue is addressed in the next chapter. While marriage may be the norm in this age, singleness is the eternal reality! (Luke 20:34-36)

    But before proceeding we must make clear our conviction that marriage is the default, not singleness. Individuals may certainly be called to the single state, or may be left thus due to overwhelming circumstance. No-one should need to be called to marriage, except in the very important sense of finding a suitable partner. That's the way we have all been designed physically, and (the majority of us) emotionally. Most of us need to proceed with the assumption that we will find a congenial partner with whom to enjoy a lifelong one-flesh relationship, if we apply some common sense and socialise beyond our girly or blokey clique. This is despite any temporary ambivalence in teenage or early adult years.

    2.4 Discussion questions:
    Do you agree that public cohabitation is the same as marriage? Why, or why not?
    What do you understand as being the sacramental nature of sex in marriage?
    In what ways is a marriage relationship communal rather than insular?
    Do you have any major lifestyle challenges in contemplating marriage in the future?
    If marriage is the default in God's purposes, how would you expect a person to be guided to remain single?

    2.5 Pornography: the elephant in the room

    Pornography is the 'explicit representation of sexual activity in print or on film to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.'27a It puts on display what is properly private, which amounts to a degenerate distortion of sex. It focuses on sex as recreation. Procreation is its anthesis, intimacy is physical and contrived. "Pornography is the most extreme embodiment of the recreational view of sex. Pornography, more powerfully than anything else, destroys the potential young men have to develop the intuition that sex is anything special or profound."26b The spectacle of recreational sex is attractive, but it is also deceitful in attracting our mental engagement and leading us away from the designed purpose of human sex.

    Porn creates a distorted sexual template for young people in following their own sexual thoughts and activities. When any of us views it, that wrong is compounded by our vicarious participation, and we are personally risking our sexual wellbeing. Natural curiosity is quickly overtaken by lust and any defences in conscience are readily overwhelmed, especially at teen age. Pornography today is ubiquitous, especially via the internet. "The corruption of our sexuality is one of Satan's greatest triumphs, trashing a glorious gift of God and enslaving at the same time."27b This section concentrates on the enslaving. Porn is seriously addictive, and any level of attraction to it is a spiritual problem, regardless of how it may be expressed. Looking at porn is embarking upon sin, however normal that may be for non-Christian friends.

    It's not that sex is bad, or that enjoying that aspect of our bodies is intrinsically wrong. But if we think about Paul's exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God as our true worship (Rom 12:1), then becoming absorbed with porn is surely the antithesis. It is the wholesale worship of the body itself and the hedonist outworking of that in conformity to the values of this age (Rom 12:2). We need to rescue our sexuality from that!

    Your main sex organ is your brain
    It's much more important than your pride and joy further down. Both can be means of lethal infection, and though condoms are useful in preventing STDs and AIDS, there is no easy prophylactic for the brain except controlling what gets loaded into it. If through your eyes you stream porn images into it for hours, it will become polluted and no longer function as it is designed to. Once a lot of imagery is uploaded, especially with the accompanying dopamine high, it persists and there is no instant 'reset' button to empty the cache apart from acting out. Any significant build-up of corrupt images over time will disable your sexuality. Guys, viewing porn repeatedly is more dangerous than poking your apparatus into unfamiliar places.

    Here we are concerned not with occasional curiosity, which may be natural, especially in an age where people are prudish re nudity, but we focus on the compulsive desire to return repeatedly to the porn and get another visual hit and dopamine high (see box). It is all too easy, some would say inevitable, for curiosity to turn into a salacious interest which flowers as lust. Or for a longing for intimacy to be met vicariously by watching porn. With repeated exposure this can all too readily become an addiction.27c The mental pathways of desire keep being reinforced by the emotional reward, and the brain's reward centre is fully developed in adolescence while the regulatory part - the pre-frontal cortex, is not fully developed for another several years - typically the mid 20s.29 This is a period of great vulnerability, with the brains of teenagers being wired not to say 'stop', but to want more. It is mainly, but certainly not solely, a male problem. It is also a Christian problem, because the breaking of taboos is itself an attractive and exciting novelty, compounded by the sense of guilt and even paranoia which adds to the emotional and sexual 'high'.27e At some stage, shame becomes the main sentiment.

    Christians are arguably more susceptible to the lure and effects of porn than others, for whom it is an ordinary diversion, or at least not shameful. This difference is compounded if masturbation is generally stigmatized. The profound sense of shame and self-condemnation can lead to secrecy which results in a sort of reinforcing feedback and deeper attraction to the behaviour which is condemned by conscience. So apart from the normal adverse effects of porn described below there is a sin-shame-secrecy vortex which is debilitating to discipleship, and can only start to be addressed by renouncing the secrecy with trusted confidantes or accountability partner. A consciousness of God's law which is not matched by awareness of God's grace accelerates the vortex. The proper alternative is to cultivate a strong sense of God's promises and grace, well set out in Tim Chester's book Captured by a Better Vision. Let the gospel transform you in a godly direction, and the Holy Spirit reinforce that transformation!

    We all need to avoid encouraging or entertaining thoughts which can readily evolve into unwholesome lust and torrid sexual fantasies. Minimising lust means that it's really important to close the door to porn. Flirting with pornography is a distinct health hazard both socially and spiritually, and Christians should avoid internet porn sites like the plague. Innocent curiosity quickly gives way to prurience, and the mental pathway from sexual buzz to full-on lust which increasingly determines how you see women is reinforced, and you are on the way to addiction and long-term brain change affecting your sexual responses before you know it. Porn is incredibly insidious in this repect. Beyond avoiding porn, the issue is countering lust, diminishing its prevalence and intensity, and the extent to which it is allowed to preoccupy us.27d

    Another negative of porn is the display of the male equipment in operational mode that should generally only be seen by a man's wife. While it's good to be relaxed about normal nudity, male arousal is properly very private. (Most people viewing porn don't see it as a Viagra advertisement, though it is that.)

    Porn as escape
    Viewing pornography taps into sexual desire and expresses a longing to escape the normal limits and frustrations of relationships, or it may represent an escape from other personal problems. It gives us non-relational 'fix' or emotional highs, often acted out. Sexual arousal and orgasm are stimulated by visual images of genital fantasy leading to self-gratification without relationship, dopamine highs devoid of love, in a social vacuum. Porn revs up the hormones along with focusing the mind on unnatural images of sexual activity employing the sexual equipment, furnishing food for unwholesome thought and establishing mental pathways which are inimical to real relational sexual attraction. Porn is a dehumanised parody of non-relational self-gratifying sex which gives a totally unreal impression of intimacy, and of sex as it is designed to be.

    Pornography is a solo preoccupation which steadily erodes a person's ability to enjoy real personal relationships in their sexual dimensions, and in the end it blocks the ability to relate properly to the opposite sex. It provides a ready fix for guys' testosterone fantasies and sets a pattern for the experience and expression of our sexuality which finally leaves us empty. It exacerbates guys' tendency to separate sex from relationships. There is no resulting deep connection with another real person, the psychological bonding which is basic to sex. Romance is displaced by voyeurism and lust. The idealized body image can make it harder to live with reality in sex later on. Individuals underestimate the power of all that at their peril. Porn is toxic.

    Apart from the voyeurism, pornography normalises what are sometimes inappropriate expressions of sex and it conditions the viewer to think of sex that way, which compromises the whole prospect of normal marital relationships. Hard porn becomes a template of expectation regarding specific sexual behaviours, and any future sex relies on recalling porn, which the male brain can readily do - images are stored for replaying. Any porn is devoid of meaningful intimacy or affection, and the mental pathway from wholesome sexual interest becomes conditioned in voyeuristic rather than a personal relationship direction. The contrast between visual porn and tactile sex is great.

    Effect on the brain
    Watching porn gives the brain a feel-good dopamine hit, which is greatly and euphorically magnified by the hormonally-stoked masturbation finale. This pathway to pleasure is readily reinforced by repetition and the craving for novelty, leading us to look for ever more graphic and exciting images, so that a real addiction can result. The brain's dopamine pathways are a built-in teacher, so that desire or yearning are increased and directed according to previous experience of emotional rewards. Dopamine is the 'reward chemical' and pathways are established in our conscious memory and linked to the activity that gave previous satisfaction, stimulating a craving for more. The brain is trained to indulge in fantasy rather than the warmth of real relationships with real people of the opposite sex. With guys the visual input is powerful, and orgasm becomes linked to and even dependent upon the visual stimuli rather than relational intimacy. All this amounts to a mental disorder, but one that is reversible.

    With teenagers the neural pathways are more pliable than later, so they are more vulnerable, and addiction is more of a danger. In teenage years porn can seriously derail the process of growing up emotionally, especially where serious porn precedes puberty. Porn before puberty seems to intensify the attraction of it and increase the challenge of disengaging. Also mid teenage experience of normal sexual relationships will be less so that the porn images and activity tend to become de facto their norm. Sometimes porn comprises their main sex education, though it teaches absolutely nothing about real sex. Any access to porn starts to establish a cache of images in the brain, which readily re-emerge in the future. Any level of porn addiction will interfere with normal social and sexual relationships, the object of affection will inevitably be viewed against the fantasy images lodged in the brain, and the dopamine-driven craving for euphoria will cut across patient love. The normal sexual buzz towards members of the opposite sex is deadened.

    In contrast to Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible does not use the language of addiction. But it has a lot to say about slavery to sin, rooted in self-centredness and idolatry. This certainly includes addictions, and the sex or porn addict needs to read it accordingly. Both porn and video games are more powerful addictive agents than chemicals, because they are visual, and the images imprint on our brains and are cached there.

    Sex is properly and wonderfully a major human preoccupation, which makes the easy access to its distorted representation very alluring for our generation. It is stimulating, freely available in endless supply of great variety, hence with the prospect of unfolding novelty, and we can binge on it without realising how much it is changing our brains as we crave what will elevate our dopamine levels. Unlike food or drugs, there is no limit to consumption with it, we are not as readily satiated. Even when we stop watching porn, some images remain in our heads to be drawn upon in a sort of 'wank bank'. This all makes pornography a real threat to social and spiritual sanity today!

    Prayer needs to undergird our approach to managing our sexuality, as in other things we struggle with. It is important to recognise that the process of conscious sexual management can often exacerbate temptations rather than providing immediate relief from them, which is all the more reason to have others closely supporting us in prayer at our points of vulnerability in sexual matters. Giving a prayer partner the responsibility for praying about a persistent temptation we face such as lust leading to porn can be enormously liberating. Also, while we do need to seek God's strength to enable us to go with convictions rather than simply instincts, this is not a panacea, wondrously removing all weakness and temptation. For all that, we can be confident that as we wrestle with temptations which we might prefer to be spared altogether, God will not allow us to be overwhelmed - though many find it a constant battle. We can never expect to graduate from temptations of lust! But we must deal with its propensity for leading us to seek porn.

    Porn focuses on physical gratification, the mechanisation of sex stripped of its excitement and mystery. It inevitably increases the prevalence of any guy's mental distractions which are genitally related and fuels the desire for masturbation, so that on top of the emotional buzz, sex becomes self-gratification. Instead of the gentle exploration of one with another in a real relationship, pressure builds for an act of relief. Women are seen as largely the means of self-gratification, even mere objects. We come to view sexually attractive people as potential means to get what we want rather than as relational humans. It also weakens the commitment to boundaries in behaviour with the opposite sex. In all respects it pushes us into an unreality regarding God's wonderful gift, and simply depraves us.

    Porn makes a mockery of God's intention for sex, and of the joy that normally accompanies it in the truly intimate and tender joining of a man and a woman - you and your future partner. It is violent because it is about indulgence which uses another body to get rather than give, and progressive because it leads to ever more exotic cravings visually and a progression of sin in the addict. "What was once satisfying is now boring; what was once gross is suddenly desirable. Along the way, a person's whole perception of sex is changed." 29a Often, sex becomes associated with violence in the male psyche

    Reinforcing defences
    For some, most obviously males, intimate same-sex friendships (cf 1.3) are very important, both before the marital stage of life and often as complementary to the marital bond. In subtle but important respects (beyond the obvious) they contrast with sexual intimacy. Anyone who runs away from such intimate same-sex relationships for fear of being seen as bit queer is seriously deprived, as well as confused (unless, perhaps, there is a clear homophile sexual orientation - see box in previous section). These open friendships are nowhere more important in early adulthood than in countering porn. Some porn attraction arises from the sense of need for intimacy, so it is sought vicariously.

    There is a vicious cycle of seduction and shame haunting too many Christians. Repeatedly quelling the conscience rots the soul and desensitises us to both sin and the opposite vision of God's love and presence. The craving for porn, and for ever more violent or gross subject matter, is debilitating of self-esteem. The after-effects of porn sessions can leave us feeing shamed, degraded and worthless, especially if the porn is being used as an analgesic for relationship or other problems which need confronting properly. It becomes a cycle where we resolve to stay clear of porn but quickly get drawn back to it - a sort of seduction. Our guilt and shame then make us reluctant to return to God because we have so frequently failed in our resolve and feel so unworthy of his presence and forgiveness. As addiction to porn increases, spiritual life atrophies and we rationalise the addiction, quelling our conscience. Porn is sugar-coated poison!

    The internet is the chief means of access to pornography today, which means that any Christians who have any weakness at all in this respect need to take some practical precautions and actions. These might include using their computer only in a public place (not the bedroom), installing accountability software which on it and portable devices will notify nominated others if you access a porn site, and certainly making sure that normal accountability partners ask the hard questions on every occasion, not be soft and tactful on the matter! The accountability software may be seen as simply precautionary where there is some persistent attraction, or a significant help in fighting back from a real addiction. 30 But it is secondary to the face-to-face accountability, and can be likened to training wheels on a child's bike - a temporary help but not a long-term solution.

    Pornography can be more attractive to us when we are lonely, stressed, tired or bored. If so, these factors need to be addressed and minimised, and attractive diversionary activities, videos, or whatever held ready to deploy instead of allowing a drift into viewing porn. More broadly we need to be active in service and in community so that idle time in isolation is minimised, and opportunity for entirely secret indulgence is constrained. Avoid living alone, and go to bed at the same time as others in your household. If you find yourself hankering after a porn hit and cannot counter that by removing yourself completely from the computer, then preempt the whole thing with a quick wank. With the sexual tension relieved it will be easier to behave rationally and with restraint. (Preemptive masturbation is addressed in 4.3.)

    Pride and often vanity underlie lust. These are countered through confession and honesty with accountability partners, and by bringing our most disreputable thoughts into the light, but ultimately the need is for humility. This is fundamental to recovery, especially as progress is made. Cultivating humility which openly acknowledges our own weakness will also prevent setbacks causing despair. Battling pride is fundamental to battling porn addiction. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Prov 3:34), and grace is what recovery depends upon.

    Young Christians who travel, whether gap year, backpacking or on business, sometimes find particular difficulty in standing by the principles which they find more or less attainable at home. Moving away from the home circle of family, friends and church with their expectations and a degree of inherent transparency due to being known, and into a more anonymous situation - perhaps largely in a hotel room - means that a very different set of standards in relation to casual sex and/or pornography can be alluring. Minimising lust can seem less important. These temptations can be a formidable challenge, and if so, must be met with all the support available - especially prayer and accountability partners. If this is insufficient, some radical changes may be needed to avoid the temptation altogether (cf Matt 5:29-30: if your eye or hand - or business or recreational arrangement - causes you to sin, gouge it out or cut it off and discard it). A Christian life cannot accommodate double standards, because fundamentally it is lived before the Lord. (See also Witness, chapter 9.)

    For those who have survived porn in adolescence or early adulthood the question of helping younger siblings or friends embarking upon adolescence arises. Some points to guide discussion:
  • God has made sex good and exciting at social, emotional and physiological levels. We must rejoice in that.
  • Curiosity is natural and proper. In adolescence that will often be focused on sex.
  • Internet porn is unavoidable, and will naturally be attractive for the above reasons. Any initial encounter with it should not be condemned.
  • However, it is important to discern very quickly that porn is an unnatural and distorted representation of sex and therefore must be avoided.
  • At best it normalises and displays what should be confined to the marital boudoir, but also goes beyond that to sordid sexual perversion."
  • So encourage "Love the Lord and hate evil" as deliberate choice (Ps 97:10)
  • If adolescent masturbation becomes driven by porn there is a real problem that needs addressing.
  • Rehabilitation - clawing back to sexual sanity
    The first thing is to admit that you don't have your sexual inclinations under control. Then the basic questions are: How long have you been yielding to this compulsive desire to revisit porn sites? And: How long are those viewing sessions? If the answer to either or both is 'long', then the road of recovering from the addiction is also likely to take some time. The starting point obviously is cutting off access and coming out of hiding to face the issue in the context of real human relationships and ruthless honesty. Not only confession to God, but disclosure to close reliable friends is the essential first step, come out of hiding! Renounce shame and secrecy! Bring the sorry mess into the light! "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy," (Proverbs 28:13) - not to mention relief and catharsis.

    As with any sin, the occasional curiosity or low-intensity desire to look at it can be dealt with in the normal accountability partnership context, assuming that is established and properly ruthless (as well as gracious, cf section 1.4 in previous chapter). But where a strong desire to revisit porn develops, with an intensity that is hard to put out of the mind, stronger controls need to implemented. In any accountability relationship or circle, Covenant Eyes software and X3Watch are recommended. Their use can be considered precautionary, as solidarity in small group, or with remedial purpose. In a share house, it's a good idea to only use a computer if the bedroom door is open and the screen is visible from the doorway.

    The estrangement in fellowship caused by shame must be countered and replaced with proper intimacy of love and trust which brings specifics into the light. This is likely to involve both software fixes such as accountability reporting, and firm resolve backed by accountability partnerships. Change is a community project (Galatians 6:1-2). The battle simply cannot successfully be fought alone. Breaking free of porn addiction is possible and urgent, humanly speaking. For the Christian it means developing greater appreciation of God's forgiveness, grace and empowering by God's spirit, taking hold of what Jesus has already achieved for us, and resolving when temptation looms to opt for opening the Bible, talking to a friend, or doing something else than yielding to it. A decisive 'no' must be the first response to temptation. All this then adds up to significant blessings spiritually in the longer term.

    The web sites YourBrainOnPorn and Guilty Pleasure are commended. William Struthers' book is listed in the Appendix.

    Rebooting the brain to restore the sensitivity of reward circuitry is quite possible by avoiding the corrupted mental pathway and developing new ones by abstaining from porn and associated masturbation. Consistent advice on this is that a guy needs to avoid both porn and any sexual activity or masturbation for a period30a - known as re-booting or "NoFap", to detoxify the system (the first two weeks being most difficult). Some fasting may help - control two bodily appetites at once! It seems that some of the symptoms of porn addiction disappear in weeks, though the whole process is likely to be rather longer, depending of course on the history and degree of the problem. Because porn images are stored in the brain, recovery from porn addiction can be a long process, compared with addiction to chemical substances which are metabolised out of the body. It can take some time for that cache to deplete, and it may never quite empty. And contra what you are avoiding, focus more strongly on thanks for what you have and what you enjoy each day!

    During adolescence the reward function of the brain is very active and more vulnerable to any addiction, also the brain itself is very plastic. Guys who have used porn during the formative years of adolescence will require longer to recover, and withdrawal symptoms may occur. But even at teenage level, porn addiction can be reversed - as many have found, and the brain can be rebuilt with new neural pathways so that it is reconditioned towards the sexual buzz of normal relationships. Guys, look forward to when you can appreciate a woman with a positive buzz and without seeing her a sex object!

    The porn-to-people transition requires normal socialising to absolutely replace the porn, so that the unhealthy neural pathways eventually atrophy and new relational ones are reinforced. Construct off-ramps to divert thoughts down newly established healthy tracks. Seek out, contrive and maximize situations where your hormones and whole sexual physiology respond to attractive people, while those responses to porn become a faint memory. The patterns of sexual arousal and response in the brain need to be rewired, and since the depraved neural pathways were established and reinforced over some time, so the new ones will take time to develop to the point where they become the default paths and you attain or resume normal sexual response to attractive people.

    To a large extent the same sort of rehabilitation, with about a 90-day strict abstinence period to reset the brain, is necessary for dealing with addiction to video games.

    The reality and implications of porn addiction
    The only positive thing here is that there is a negative feedback based on physiology: when a guy in his early 20s encounters erectile dysfunction (ED) and works out that it's due to his heavy porn usage, there is a very strong incentive to quit both porn and masturbation. Youthful ED is a novelty to the medical profession, and a terrible thing at that age, but it does get guys' attention! Due to peak dopamine production being in late teens, young men take significantly longer to recover from ED than older men once the porn and masturbation stop. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) is common. There are now web sub-sites devoted to such recovery from porn, is recommended.

    There is no quick fix though, and the support of peers such as accountability partners and also mentors is vital. Overcoming serious porn addiction is comparable to overcoming drug addiction - the brain changes are the same, and basically biochemical. The brain needs to be healed, with time out from intense sexual activity. Deliberate social interaction and rational thought must be asserted over impetuous inclinations. Remember that there is no human depravity that is beyond redemption and rehabilitation.

    It is much the same as alcoholic or any other addiction - while we are still in this fallen world the tendency "to go there" will always be with us, as with all sinning in general. In grappling with this shame cycle we need to recognise (or have reinforced) the truth that complete "victory" over the sinful tendency can never be expected this side of eternity. The incredibly frustrating battle between our (addicted) sinful nature and the good (victory) we desire - Rom 7:18-23, is of course evidence of our need for Christ. So perhaps to this extent, rather than bind us to shame, should our situation not spur us to praise? (Rom 7:24-25)

    While victory over the sinful tendency may be elusive, acting it out can at the very least be actively constrained, and ought to be stopped outright at all costs. The battles against lust don't go away, they just becomes winnable. Temptation will never disappear, but we can become progressively stronger and clearer in resisting it. And remember that, albeit without the internet, Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are (Heb 4:15) and he now has the understanding and the power to help us.

    At the very least, teenage drug/addiction education needs to include a fulsome treatment of pornography and its effects including details we do not attempt to cover here. While proper curiosity must be affirmed, the reasons for not pursuing it on porn sites must be presented. Parents need to take an active role in explaining the difference between the sex that they enjoy and what is on porn sites, and why the enjoyment is properly private and very exclusive.

    Any addiction or even flirting with pornography needs to be confronted vigorously and in open fellowship with others who know the same temptation. Accountability partners are a first line of support, and older Christian friends such as a youth pastor an important second one. It needs to be brought into the light and confronted with determination and with all the help you can get. Change is unlikely to be achieved without close support, and is in a sense a community project. Christians at least know that new life led by the Spirit in in more or less permanent conflict with the old nature, so have a head start in countering porn addiction.

    In regard to sexual temptation we need to be careful how we react to the apparent failings in others, and avoid double standards in that sense too. It is all too common for us barely to notice the corrosive sins of selfishness, pride, self-righteousness, greed and envy for instance, but work ourselves up into a lather of gossip and condemnation if someone's lapse is sexual. A good mirror may help!

    Many of us have a time in our lives when we have great difficulty integrating head, heart and hormones. That's fairly normal, but we need to press on through it, deal with our inevitable mistakes, and go forward with greater wisdom and faithfulness in close connection with other battling disciples.

    A presentation on this topic was given by Ian to a men's evening at St Alfred's church, North Blackburn, on 18 May 2013. Edited version as pdf.

    2.5 Discussion questions:
    Do you pray about personal sexual temptation, or do you delegate that?
    Has porn ever been a problem for you? How have you fought it? How do you avoid it?
    What other challenges have you experienced in lust control?
    In retrospect, are you able to laugh at your ridiculous sexual fantasies?
    If you have a serious porn addiction, are you prepared to face up to it with the help of others?
    When was the last time that you saw pornography? Did "it find you" or did you go looking for it?
    Do you have friends hooked on porn? How can you interact with them helpfully?
    Do you enjoy intimate non-sexual relationships which nourish your soul?

    2.6 Same-sex attraction

    Same-sex attraction (SSA) or 'homophile orientation' is used here to talk about sexual attraction towards member of the same sex, in varying degrees, and without implication for activity, sense of identity or lifestyle. It is not uncommon to be SSA to some degree or on some occasions. But God's design, evident in our biology, needs to determine how sexuality is expressed physically. As with the eros love discussed in Chapter 2, there may or may not be a genital aspect to the desire.

    It is important to understand that this is not a black-and-white, either/or question, but rather relating to a spectrum of inclination, an attribute, not fundamentally an identity. Sexual orientation is also distinct from gender identity, though the two are sometimes bracketed together as SOGI. But desire is not the same as gender identity or social identity.

    It is fundamentally important to distinguish the orientation or strong same-sex attraction from homosexual activity and distinctive 'gay' lifestyle - though 'gay' is generally accepted as a term for SSA social identity. Same-gender attraction (SGA) is a term sometimes used.

    We recognise that there is a kind of same-sex attraction that is intense and tender but not sexual, and transcends those instincts which are hormonally-driven or possessive. It is not addressed here, but is mentioned in 1.3.

    The full write-up of this subject is in Appendix 3.

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    18 "It is chiefly because of sex that most contemporary atheists have chosen to break with Christianity." This is the well-documented conclusion of Dinesh D'Sozua in What's so great about Christianity, when analyzing the writings of high-profile atheists.

    18c "Safe sex" is to some extent a myth. Using condoms will certainly guard against conception and some STDs fairly reliably, but other STDs such as Chlamydia - which causes infertility - are unaffected. About one quarter of sexually-active Brits under 25 yo are carrying Chlamydia and most are unaware of it.

    18d In our culture today premarital sexual practice is normal, and provides an ever-increasing contrast with the restraint arising from a Christian understanding of sex. At adolescent level oral sex, especially fellatio, is common. From late teens premarital sex ranges from very casual to cohabitation, but is mostly in between.

    Casual sex, whether coital or oral, is clearly contrary to any notion of its role that is arguable in Christian circles. It can range from ultra-casual hooking up through to the beginnings of a relationship, but it degrades the notion of enduring and ennobling union, in effect it devalues the sexual currency. Individuals get burned emotionally, and left empty. More specifically Paul is strongly critical of the idea of being united with a prostitute, and this appears to be on the basis of its casual transience and perhaps self-indulgence, contrasted with union with Christ. (1 Cor 6:15-20) For all its physical intimacy, there is no true intimacy to be found there, in fact that is part of the attraction - sexual gratification without real relationship. The frequent biblical warnings about sexual immorality at least apply to casual sex.

    Sex can also be part of an intrinsically meaningless trial-and-error process leading to some sort of ongoing relationship where it is harder to relate unambiguously to biblical injunctions, and with reliable contraception it is well insulated from procreation (which in biblical times and until the 20th century it wasn't). The idea of a faithful but uncommitted long relationship with ready access to reliable contraception is unknown in the bible, and therefore not addressed specifically.

    Here the intention is not transience and nor is it any more self-indulgent than possible within marriage. However there are some relevant pointers, and of course it will in fact often turn out to be fairly transient. This means that after moving from one sexually active and intimate relationship to another once or twice or more, divorce after marriage is not such a big deal. Hence the widespread practice of premarital intercourse even in faithful relationships actually contributes to the divorce culture of our times. Having said that, we acknowledge that for non-Christians faithful, long-term relationships do represent the gold standard of sexual behavior pre-marriage.

    There is one interesting pointer in Exodus on the matter. In Ex 22:16-17 premarital sexual consummation is not condemned, but it means that marriage must follow, unless the father of the girl exercises a veto. In other words, sex belongs within marriage and if you get it out of order, then rectify the situation and get married or at least pay a hefty fine. Reliable contraception may lessen the imperative, but the pointer is still relevant. See also the section on Marriage later in the chapter.

    It is sometimes tempting for Christians to see the sexual union as the mere picture or symbol of the reality that is the relationship, to see "one flesh" as only a metaphor for some emotional or spiritual reality. But that is a mistaken, almost dualistic way of looking at the relationship. Human persons are body as well as mind and spirit, and the physical union is no less an essential element of the loving reality than is the emotional attachment that the couple feel. It is for good reason that in English common law couples are not considered legally married until their vows have been so consummated.

    Quite apart from any Christian considerations, those who have enjoyed a faithful sexual relationship before marriage - but one which has not endured - often feel that a part of themselves has gone with the other person when they go their separate ways. The question becomes: how do you escalate the experience of sex in the eventual committed long-term marriage relationship from what you enjoy prior to it? How can you turn it into something sacramental of that long-term commitment in an exciting, fulfilling way so that it differentiates the marriage from what has gone before, and also from the adulterous opportunities which will almost inevitably beckon after marriage?

    Unless it has been degraded by casual liaisons, coital sex is such an emotionally powerful thing that it is really only safe within marriage. This is because it suppresses rationality and the use of our critical faculties. It is blissfully irrational, whereas what is needed leading up to marriage is some strong rationality applied in the midst of enjoying relationships, and often countering the euphoria of falling in love. Within marriage, once the feasibility study is over and the commitment made, it can sometimes be helpful to transcend differences in the joy of sexual union, reinforced by the addictive aspects of orgasm. But before marriage, while we are assessing the possibilities of candidates for lifelong partnership, it is exactly what is NOT needed, and is likely to make rational choice of life partner more fraught and uncertain. Engaging in coital sex during the investigative phase prior to marriage has precisely the wrong effect - where we need to be alert to differences which may become problems in a long-term relationship, they are submerged or pushed into the background instead.

    Beyond steady relationships with sex, cohabitation is arguably what marriage actually means and therefore we maintain that the commitment should be formal and permanent, not a test drive with an escape clause, or simply a cop-out from the big decision. If sex is devalued, as it commonly is in society, then cohabitation is often seen as a good preliminary to marriage, as the last stage of the feasibility study, with the convenience of house share plus congenial bed share. However, because of the sexual dynamics discussed above, and the sheer relational inertia of a shared bedroom, it can be profoundly unhelpful in that feasibility study. It fudges the question of when there might be a real lifetime commitment, and delays it. Is he/she really the sort of life partner you yearn for, or near enough to it, all things considered? If so, then commit to the relationship and tie the knot. If not, bale out ASAP while you still have some youth and sex appeal, and while there are still some available singles around. It can become psychologically difficult to embark upon that level of legal and moral commitment as a joint decision, and ironically also hard for one partner to break it off in response to nagging doubts.

    Cohabitation is common in western society, and while it makes some sense as a transitional stage prior to the commitment of marriage, it inevitably detracts from the uniqueness of marriage as a lifelong contract of mutual support usually involving commitment to producing and raising children. The Christian model of saving cohabitation as well as other sexual consummation for marriage means that there is a good impetus if not eagerness to consider the issues together and then either get on with the whole package, or withdraw and keep looking. Maybe that is why we are designed with the yearning for intimacy and sexual pleasure that we have? The other implication of cohabitation is that when it is terminated, that raises many of the theological questions of divorce (and a few practical ones, too). See section on Marriage later in this chapter.

    19 At a practical level, despite precautions, conception may occur. Sleeping around does not normally result in conception because of the Pill and condoms - many people are well equipped with these.  Perhaps those most likely to conceive are Christians who are (deliberately) unprepared and then lapse in their self control. Either way this possibility raises a moral question of responsibility for the offspring which are the natural product of it, especially if they are unwanted and hence aborted. From a Christian point of view the procreative aspect of sex needs to be kept clearly in mind. Some UK stats: about 200,000 abortions per year, cf 600,000 live births and only 200 adoptions. In 2007 there were 4376 abortions on girls under 16. Some 99% of all abortions are for social not medical reasons.

    20 Dennis Lennon, SU bible reading notes for 16/6/06.

    21 I Timothy 6:11 and SU bible reading notes for 14/7/07.

    21a In the text this is married woman, using a word which often means wife, and lust has the connotation of desiring something forbidden.

    21b It may be helpful to set out a progression from emotional interest with quickened pulse, through more intense excitement with Cowper's gland secretion (pre cum) in guys, to visualising physical intimacy with the person, then visualising sexual activity, and playing out a fantasy of that in our minds. The sexual physiology and personal attraction are certainly not lust, but progressing that towards sexual fantasy becomes lust. So the last two are certainly lust, the visualised intimacy maybe so, but the precursors certainly are not.
    See also Joshua Harris: Sex is not the Problem (Lust is) which has some valuable wisdom, though it is more ascetic than this chapter.

    22 This can also be understood as meaning that unmarried Christian people in a sexual relationship should get married.

    23a In 3.6 we make the point that in a social context such as church, a lot of the ways someone comes across to others is determined by the peer group early on, but much less so by mid 20s. Where the peer influence is strong this can lead one to perceive greater compatibility than is actually the case long-term.

    23c If a person's battle is between masturbation with strong lustful fantasies and firm self-control, then abstinence is best, at least for a time. It depends on each person's disposition and conditioning - others can enjoy masturbation without being sucked into a vortex of lust. We would want young Christians to enjoy their sexuality as outlined, for guys to enjoy fondling their morning glory, and for anyone to feel free either to keep the hormones under control in the usual single-handed fashion with a clear conscience or normally to abstain from doing so, if that's what best helps keep lust at bay.

    24 In early adolescence sometimes sexual encounters can arise from a sense of naughty fun coupled with seeking some passing intimacy, the naivete and rarity of which may give them a certain innocence, but when romantic attachment and emotional intensity come into it (with increasing maturity), such relationships need to be seen in a new and more serious light.

    24a We use this term to denote orientation of sexual attraction, without implying homosexual activity or 'gay' lifestyle. We do not fully address the issue of transient same-sex attraction in adolescence, which requires restraint pending greater emotional maturity. See also the final subsection on Sexual orientation in 2.4.

    24b Orgasm is addictive in the sense that it changes the brain chemistry in the same way as the substances causing any chemical addiction.

    25 One excellent recent book Soul Virgins starts with this premise and expounds the essence of what one brings to a life partner. See Appendix 5. With time, one can rebuild one's sense of virginity.

    25a Incidentally, when someone from a hedonist lifestyle becomes a Christian as an adult we can be positive about any sexual experience which they have seen as positive but point out that its very wonderful nature means that it needs to be restrained until it can be put into a new and proper context, then it can be enjoyed even more fully. But meanwhile be prepared to express thanks for the positive taste of what God has made good, don't simply censure it as though sex itself was sinful.

    26 Romance Academy is a five month UK project supporting and mentoring twelve young people who have been sexually active as they challenge themselves and their community cultures with an exploration of the sexual abstinence lifestyle. It is Christian-based but not aimed at Christians.

    26a Living Out is an important guide here.

    26b Emma Wood, ABC Religion & Ethics 16/3/21.

    27a In the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

    27b David White, 2012, Sexual Sanity for Men, Re-creating your mind in a crazy culture, Harvest, USA (p100). A very valuable book on the whole topic of sexual sin.

    27c Addiction is generally where the level of attraction is such that one loses the ability to control the intake, even in the light of negative consequences. There is a consistent craving for the next opportunity, in the case of porn, to view and act out.

    27d In different people with different conditioning, masturbation may help or hinder this (see further 4.3), but for anyone seriously affected by porn it will likely be very unhelpful because it triggers the porn fantasies and activates the addiction pathways. Masturbation becomes the inexorable climax of porn sessions, so generally needs to be off the agenda for those fighting real porn addiction and going 'cold turkey' in recovery. (At earlier stages of porn attraction, masturbation may be helpful in the time-honoured way of replacing the earnest dopamine high which is driving one towards another viewing session with simply post-orgasmic relaxation as a pleasant slowed-down alternative. Where, at puberty, masturbation is set up as a sin-and-shame issue rather than a relaxed routine, the excitement and attractiveness of porn seems to be enhanced.)

    27e St Paul comments extensively on this in Romans 7:7-25.

    28 As we understand it, homosexual experiences in youth will not make a person homosexual long-term, but if there has been a romantic element it may be a few years before they realize that. Meanwhile they perhaps identify as "bi" or even "gay" and may have a long period of confused identity, diminished self-esteem and perhaps depressiveness, while being out of the loop of normal heterosexual expression and growth. Such trauma and wasted years are tragic, even if the final outcome is a normal relationship, albeit with some emotional scars. The lie that homosexuality is a reasonable or desirable lifestyle needs to be challenged.

    29 Patricia Weerakoon's book on Teen Sex and Tim Chester's Captured by a Better Vision - living porn-free have informed this section, as has the web site: Also, workshops are designed and delivered for young people, by young people. All are recommended.

    29a Sexual Detox, Tim Challies, 2012.

    30 There is software available which will report your dubious internet activity to your nominated accountability partner(s). If internet porn is a serious temptation this should be used. Several web sites offering this are: (widely recommended),,, also and (parental control). In addition on sex and porn addiction may be helpful. A 30-day course in countering porn addiction is The Fight, published in Australia by Roundabout Ministries as booklet and DVD. It is sensibly based in scripture, with credible testimonies, and is recommended. However, it is pitched for teenagers more than young adults. Valiant Man is a valuable ten-week course: with DVD and book.

    30a 90 days is often quoted. However, heavy porn users or those who went through puberty using modern Internet porn have found that they need more time. 'Fap' is a term for masturbation, usually in porn context.