Real Sex: The Naked Truth about ChastityReal Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity
Lauren F. Winner
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In Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, Lauren Winner speaks candidly to single Christians about the difficulty and the importance of sexual chastity. With nuance and wit, she talks about her own sexual journey. Never dodging tough terms like "confession" and "sin," she grounds her discussion of chastity first and foremost in Scripture. She confronts cultural lies about sex and challenges how we talk about sex in church (newsflash: however wrong it is, premarital sex can feel liberating and enjoyable!). She argues that sex is communal rather than private, personal rather than public. Includes discussion questions.

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Back to the Top Does God really care when we do and do not have sex?

Lauren Winner: Sure. The Bible and church tradition are clear that God created sex for marriage. God cares about how we talk and how we spend money, too. The Bible is clear about this---we aren't saved by "acting good," but there are some basics of Christian living, and chastity is one of them. Sex is a joining of your body to someone else. In baptism, you become Christ's body, and it is Christ's body which gives you permission to join his body to another body. We have no right to sex; the place where the church confers that privilege on you is the wedding. Chastity, in other words, is a fact of gospel life. Is it anyone else's business what two consenting adults do?

Lauren Winner: Society says my sexual behavior is none of your business. And even Christians are hesitant to talk frankly with their friends about sex. We don't want to seem to "intrusive." But the Bible says it's not an intrusion at all--what's going on in my life is your concern, by dint of the baptism that made me your sister. As Paul makes clear, we are called to speak to one another lovingly and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals.

For Christians, seemingly private matters are communal. Sex is just one area where Christians need to open our lives to our communities. I should also show my bank statements to my friend, so that she can help me steward money in a way that serves the kingdom--how I spend my money is her business, because she is my sister in Christ. How should Christians evaluate cultural messages about sex?

Lauren Winner: Viewed through the lenses of Scripture and Church tradition, many of the messages society gives us about sex are problematic. You don't have to forswear all birth control to see that radical separation between sex and procreation is troubling. And there are the places where pop culture seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, sex is the most important thing on the planet, something normal, well-adjusted adults can't live without; on the other, it's no big deal. What is the Christian vision for sex within marriage?

Lauren Winner: Walk into a bookstore, and you'll find some pretty racy Christian sex guides--all of which affirm the goodness of sex within marriage. Amen! This is a welcome advance over the days when Christianity was squeamish about anything bodily! But…while I applaud these books, I also wonder if we've absorbed from the secular culture a certain basic definition of what constitutes good sex. Are we parroting a story that defines good sex by the frequency of orgasm? While good sex is characterized by physical pleasure, it's also conditioned by moral context. Christians can remind the broader culture that good sex, by definition, is part of, not antagonistic to, domestic life. What was the best advice you got when you were single about how far is too far?

Lauren Winner: A few years ago, I started dating Griff, the man to whom I'm now married. We got into the habit of an evening walk around the University of Virginia campus, starting at the Rotunda. Our friend Greg, a campus pastor, gave us this advice: 'Don't do anything sexual that you wouldn't be comfortable doing on the steps of the Rotunda.' We took it to heart, even climbed the steps one night, kissed to our hearts content, and then said, 'Well, that's it, there's our line. We don't really feel comfortable stripping our clothes off up here in front of the Rotunda.' And that became our mantra: on the steps of the Rotunda.

I'm not saying that all single Christians should visit Charlottesville, kiss their sweetie on the steps of the Rotunda, and draw the line there. The 'Rotunda Rule' underscores the importance of Christian community. For Griff and me, it meant accountability, transparency, and good, honest conversation partners and mentors such as Greg. The question for single Christians is not 'how far can I go,' but 'what behavior is good, loving, prudent and wise?' That is, 'what behavior conveys the love of Christ?' What's wrong with the way the church helps people practice its teachings about sex?

Lauren Winner: One of my pet peeves is the insistence that young women don’t have libidos. Several Christian parenting guides I studies instruct parents to tell their teenage sons that they'll have to fight hard to rein in their hormones--but girls are given instructions only in fending off their dates. Let's acknowledge that single Christian women have libidos, and help them manage desire and learn chaste discipline--pretending they don't have desire doesn't help anyone. What do you think about "born again" or "secondary" virgins?

Lauren Winner: I find the terms at best silly, and at worst a radical distortion of the radical power of Jesus' forgiveness. One who is not a virgin on one's wedding night can rightfully mourn that, but the critical question is: 'what are you doing now?' Not 'have you sinned in the past,' but 'if you sinned in the past, how are you dealing with it?' Christian sexual ethics is not primarily about virginity. It's primarily about God's grace. How come so many Christians are unsure of the worth of their bodies?

Lauren Winner: The idea that the spirit is good and the body bad, taught by the ancient Gnostic sect, was declared heretical by the church. And though the Gospel is clearly un-Gnostic--God created us with bodies; God himself is incarnated in a human body; Jesus was raised again from the dead with a body, and we too will be resurrected with our bodies--a persistent unease about bodies has dogged the church. Too often, this discomfort with our bodies morphs into anxiety about sex. If we fear our bodies because they are messy and willful, we are especially freaked out about sex, which is one of the places where our bodies are most willful and messiest. When the body becomes something to escape from, the sexual body becomes something to vilify.

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