Sex and the Christian Single

**This is an article I published several years ago on Suite I thought it would be better here. **

Christian singles face a rather unique predicament. Culture floods them with a torrent of sexual images, ideas, and thoughts, encourages the free indulgence of desire, and even scorns them for refraining. The church, however, requires purity and celibacy, and shames them for indulgence. There seems little to bridge this disconnect, leaving God-fearing singles confused and frustrated.

The Need for Sex

Aside from the physical euphoria, sex satisfies a longing for intimacy. In Revelations of a Single Woman, Connally Gilliam says perhaps sex reflects a longing for eternity, a longing to connect. She writes about a cultural need to understand things by touching. If people can touch it and experience it, they can know it. Inside singles, there is “a longing for loving, restful intimacy – to know and be known.” In Sex and the Soul of a Woman, Paula Rinehard talks about the psychological reactions during sex. Oxytocin is the hormone that allows people to feel close and intimate. During sex, oxytocin levels skyrocket and the partners bond. Further, during sex, women feel such a heightened vulnerability that can, “piece by piece, heal anything that is broken and fragmented inside.” If sex is this bonding, healing, pleasure experience, it seems the lack of sex would cause a single adult to feel incomplete, unfulfilled, broken and alone. It is no wonder singles desperately seek such satisfaction. However, Christians must wrestle with another factor.

The Christian Approach Toward Sex

Traditionally, the church mandates celibacy. This comes from several Scriptures, including 1 Thess. 4:3-8. Many single adults, however, find this standard unrealistic. Those who attempt it frequently cannot sustain it. This leads to guilt-ridden relationships, and propagates the downfall of many otherwise good Christians. Some modern Christians have adopted other approaches toward sex. Some reduce sexual purity to a technicality. They deem intercourse immoral, but all other sex acts permissible. However, the dangerous psychological boundaries have already been crossed. They attempt to follow the letter of the law, without the heart. In Boundaries in Dating, Dr. Henry Cloud writes, “It is difficult to keep someone out of your heart, who has invaded your body.” Other Christians forbid casual sex, but condone it in a committed relationship. Unfortunately, sex outside of marriage creates fuzzy thinking and prohibits partners from viewing the relationship properly. The lack of commitment can also make singles feel taken advantage of and used. Frequently, even if a marriage results, the partners find difficulty trusting one another. Gilliam notes that if the relationship does not last, the break-up can be catastrophic. “If sex is this super-mega bonding agent, then the gluing together and ripping apart – one time, or many, in isolation or in bulk, can only do damage.” In a Washington Post editorial, secular therapist Patricia Dalton writes, “I am convinced that breakups are much harder when unmarried couples have had sex to bring them closer. That’s what sex is supposed to do, after all, in evolutionary terms – promote pair bonding and thereby provide a secure environment for their offspring.”

How Should Christian Singles Then Live?

If sex is such a deep need, and single Christians cannot participate, then how should they then live? The church provides few answers, most of which seem largely insufficient, save for a few notable exceptions.

An increasing number of Christians, particularly young people, believe modern thinking, as propogated by media, is too far removed from Godly thinking. They decide the way to maintain Godly thinking is to remove media’s influence in their lives. They shun TV, movies, and non-Christian music. They report clearer thinking, and closer communion with God. Singles already living this lifestyle may find Godly relationships easier, as they are not as inundated with sexual messages. However, many may find this lifestyle confining and legalistic. Gilliam offers another interesting answer. She notes that perhaps consumerism has turned sex and relationships into getting, rather giving. Perhaps if singles learn to adapt to a lifestyle of selfless giving, they can find fulfillment. If sexual desire reflects a need to connect, perhaps a selfless lifestyle of connecting can satisfy the need. Finally, some Christians suggest living in a community of believers. The Bible outlines the church’s role as a community of believers.

In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller talks about living in community, and stresses the importance of singles to avoid isolationism. Singles adequately surrounded with a supportive family of believers, are well-equipped to handle temptation – sexual or otherwise. According to this approach, singles should not live unsupported, but in community. Many unanswered questions surround the topic of sex and Christian singles. Is sexual purity possible? What does purity mean? What should Christians do with desire? How does a Christian maintain a Godly adult relationship? These questions, while messy, cannot remain unanswered. If the church doesn’t answer them, then culture will.


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