5 Reasons the Church Won’t Talk Authentically About Sex

the church and sexI usually see one of two looks on people’s faces when I say I am a Christian wife who speaks and writes about sex in marriage.

Either they become nervous and want to change the subject.

Or they become enthralled and want to hear more.

Interestingly, I think both reactions tell me what I already know:

The church doesn’t talk enough about this important area of sex in marriage.

Here are my theories on why:

1. Many pastors, deacons and lay leaders struggle with sex in their own marriages.

I’m not saying it is solely the responsibility of church leaders to initiate authentic dialogue about sex. BUT, church leaders typically are the ones who plan the sermons, worship services, Bible studies and conferences.

And though countless married Christian couples struggle with sex, the leaders may be hesitant to explore the topic.

Why?

Because sex in their own marriages may be a discouraging, frustrating, painful and on-going issue.

I consistently receive emails from pastors, deacons and small group leaders who praise me for what I’m doing, but at the same time, vulnerably admit that sex is a source of contention in their own marriage.

And they don’t know what to do about it.

Some of them want to speak up, because they know if their own marriage is struggling, certainly others are as well.

Speaking up is challenging, though, especially if they have a spouse who is adamant to keep the struggle a secret — or if the leader feels compelled to present their own life as if they “have it all together.”

Well, none of that is helping anyone.

I’m a firm believer that God works in the light.  Satan works in the dark.  And Satan has the most to lose from Christians who courageously talk about their own struggles and dysfunction.

When leaders bravely talk about difficult issues, Satan begins to lose his advantage of working behind closed doors, in the mire and muck of unresolved heartache and struggle.

2. We are hyper-focused on the sin of pornography.

Don’t get me wrong… I know the Christian community has come a long way in looking closer at the sin of pornography use and the devastation it is wreaking in marriages and families. This “out of the shadows” focus is good.

Praise God for the many ministries equipping people ensnared in pornography to confess, repent and, in many cases, repair the damage pornography has done in their lives.

But I think sometimes we have focused so much on the sin of pornography that we have overlooked other sins that also negatively impact intimacy in a marriage.

Like the sin of sexual refusal (which, ironically, is often on the scene before pornography use, making the temptation of pornography all the more alluring).

As a body of believers (shepherds and sheep), we need to courageously speak up about sexual refusal, particularly in situations where one spouse has arbitrarily decided sex “isn’t necessary” in the marriage.

There is room to talk about all sexual sins.  We have to be willing to carve out that room.

3. Talking authentically would mean having to talk about arousal, pleasure and orgasm.

I’m not saying we need to become completely transparent about the details of our own sexual intimacy.  Not so at all.

But talking about sex in a way that actually helps couples means that we have to understand and learn about pleasure and orgasm — and we have to give couples the information and encouragement to explore the God-designed role sexual pleasure plays in a marriage.

The church doesn’t have a good track record in this area of talking clearly and biblically about sexual pleasure.

Fortunately, there are many Christian resources (including the Bible) that can help with this dialogue.

It’s desperately needed.  So many couples are operating under false theology that sexual pleasure is wrong.  Or they are paralyzed by inhibitions and lack of understanding about their bodies.

And their marriages are suffering because of it.

4. We refuse to push through the awkwardness.

Let’s face it, we don’t get a lot of practice talking authentically about sex.  It is no surprise that pastors skim over the topic of sex or don’t address it at all in pre-marriage counseling with couples.

And it’s no wonder that we become tongue-tied at the mere mention of anything sexual.

The only way we are going to become more comfortable talking about sex is to actually talk about it.  Honestly, I think much of that awkwardness begins to dissipate when we actually acknowledge that it feels awkward.

5.  Accountability means having to change unhealthy patterns.

Here we arrive at the real issue for many Christians not wanting the church to talk about sex.  They do not want the accountability and Holy Spirit conviction that sits ever so closely to exposed sin.

If a husband or a wife has been careless with sexual intimacy in their marriage — and then attends a sermon series or Bible study or small group where that exact topic is explored — they are then without excuse to not do something about it.

I’m not saying they had many valid excuses before hand, but the matter becomes particularly apparent when fellow believers sitting right next to you are coming in agreement with God’s Word about sex.

We are often a stubborn people, fiercely protective of our sin and our carelessness and our ignorance that serves us.

Marriages are suffering, though.  All around us, marriages are suffering from lack of nurtured sexual intimacy.

And the church — the body of believers — is in a unique position to speak into that.

Why?

Because we have the truth.

It’s all right there in God’s Word — the truth about why a husband and wife shouldn’t withhold their bodies, the truth about redemption from sexual brokenness and heartache and promiscuity, the truth about arousal and orgasm, the truth about not just a figurative one-fleshness, but a literal one-fleshness.

We have the truth that sex is sacredly crucial to the spiritual and emotional strength of a marriage.

We have the truth about sex.

What will it take for us to start talking authentically about it in the church?

Copyright 2014, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.

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34 thoughts on “5 Reasons the Church Won’t Talk Authentically About Sex

  1. Jessica says:

    Julie – I’ve been trying to get more involved in talking with churches as well. I’ve been turned down (which has been a bit discouraging). I’m just wondering if you have advice on opening the discussion with churches/pastors so that these talks can start taking place in the church. How can I give them comfort/reassurance that God really does want us to tackle these topics?

  2. Steve says:

    Wow! You absolutely NAILED this. 100% on target. Now, how do we get the word out to the leadership, how do we present this with enough grace and holiness to be taken seriously?

  3. Anon says:

    Loved this post. Emailing it to my churches preaching staff. Many don’t understand the damage our silence does. If I could add a 6th reason, it would be the default. Church people (cause this happens in the home as well) think that the default of silence is the way it should be. The trained, accepted norm, is where the comfort is. God talks we should talk, but we have swallowed the pill of silence because we like it.

    In the 60s with Roe v wade we Christians took our ball & went home. Leaving the flower children to have their sexual revolution without us. Pride & arrogance & immaturity have ship wrecked us.

    I have a couple of times in appropriate ways just brought out to other Christians a contextual point on sexuality. Twice. Once I was told that was too risqué & the other was really afraid to open up to tell a group of guys that his wife & him had sex. Like fish out of water.

    Thanks for the post! It’s a wonder how our society got to where it is sexually when Christians shut up about it & the world talks about it everywhere. & we tolerate the world but won’t tolerate biblical teaching about sex in our homes or church.

  4. Scott Morgan says:

    Oh my word is this spot on. I approach our head pastor about a class around intimacy in a christ-centered marriage.he dropped it like the hottest potato he never had his hands on. Keep preaching this stuff Julie, you’re doing an awesome job.

  5. Thadeus says:

    Julie,

    Are you aware of the “theology of the body” work that is being done by Catholics? Some excellent work and talks being done. Still difficult to broach, but seems to be getting better.

  6. dan says:

    Embracing this in churches is complicated. This subject is one that can be run through the inturperative brain tissues and easily distorted. I am thankful for sites like this for frank presentation and scriptural refreshment. The message is consistant with Gods word and vital. Thankyou!!!

  7. Reba says:

    I wonder if penetrating networks of spiritual directors and/or parish nurses could help open some doors? Pastors may feel awkward due to the boundary issues around such frank discussion. Many congregations have psychologists, therapists, counselors in their midst who could be helpful.

    Another thought…perhaps a marriage enrichment class that requires a one- or two-year commitment and meets weekly. Part of the course could be discussion around healthy sexual intimacy for Christian couples. Persons like you, Julie, could be brought in to speak and lead.

    I know there are marriage enrichment/encounter weekends, but so little ground can be covered in such a short time. With a one- or two-year commitment, there would be opportunity to build in mentoring and accountability.

    Sometimes the best way to get leaders on board is for the interest and energy to come from others. In my congregation, if someone has interest in starting a ministry and it fits our vision and mission, they have the leaders’ blessing to move forward.

    I know for me, this is a process and a journey. Hearing my pastor talk about it a few times would, frankly, not have much impact for me.

  8. Greg says:

    Like others have already said–you nailed this so well! Thank you Julie!

    There are a few more issues/mindsets/excuses that I suspect are also prevalent:

    “Sex wasn’t talked about in my home—why is it being brought up in church? I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” – Yet it’s an issue that’s been neglected for far too long, and it’s destroying the church from the inside out. God is not concerned with our comfort—he is concerned with the state of our hearts.

    “Sex is a very personal and intimate subject, so it isn’t appropriate for Sunday morning services.” – Think again: Sex is God’s design, is no less part of biblical truth than any other part of Scripture, and is talked about frequently throughout the Bible. It certainly matters to God; it’s high time it matters to us.

    “Talking about sex stirs arousal, and incites sexual desire.” – There’s a vast difference between graphic discussion for the purpose of inciting lust and appropriate dissertation for the purpose of upholding biblical truth.

    “My young children are with me in the service—I don’t want them to hear about sex at such a young age.” – It will probably be the only place they will ever hear the truth about it. Perhaps you would rather President Obama, Planned Parenthood, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender groups tell them what to think? Common Core is actively doing just that, and as it does, you’d better believe you will no longer have a voice or control of your own children.

    “I’d like to address it, but I’m afraid of criticism from people in my church.” – That’s a risk that must be taken. God owns the results; not us. We are to be faithful in speaking the truth in love.

    “It’s a waste of time. Preaching about sex is like preaching to the choir—we already know what we’re supposed to do.” – That’s an incorrect assumption not only for older generations, but younger ones as well. Opinion and tradition do not necessarily convey biblical truth, and can often deny or contradict God’s design for sexual intimacy.

  9. eammon says:

    Julie, like all of the replies so far, I also agree with you. I believe in some ways the matter is so simple but complicated at the same time. I tend to think the problem starts with the fact we are human and inhibitions about certain topics no matter what influence our attitudes. I don’t want to sound as if I am church bashing and I know you are not. My wife and I are both Catholic. I laughingly sometimes call it the church of guilt and intimidation. We are told to multiply and yet we are not really told of the pleasure it brings. As we know this is a gift from God. Imagine what it would be like if sex were mechanical and not pleasurable. However,to arrive at the final conclusion of the sex act ( orgasm), we first have desire, then intimacy, then arousal and intercourse. Something has to bring us together in the first place. Somewhere along the way sex became clouded with the addition of guilt and shame, all added by man. God wants us to be happy especially in our love life. Nothing else compares to emotional and physical intimacy that a couple shares. Yet there are many whom have placed shame on this, the biggest culprit is the church which is made of humans with all of our idiosyncrasies. In conclusion, I believe that as long as the church continues to take a hands off approach to married sex including the physical aspects of it, married people will continue to have problems in their sex lives. In essence, the church doesn’t talk about and neither should we. Hopefully in time with the help of people like you Julie, both the church and people will change their mindsets about sex. Perhaps the church could say to couples every Sunday that sex is good for you, it is a gift and is pleasurable. Not enjoying it would be like giving back a Christmas gift.

  10. Heather P. says:

    I read your book recently, and all i can say is wow. WOW! Your book SET ME FREE from incorrect information learned from my parents (who struggled in their own marriage), family (ditto), and the church of my youth (refusing to discuss it), and a misguided, but well-meaning school system. Your book helped me to really see that sex IS OK, it is beautiful, lovely and right in marriage…that it Is supposed to be enjoyed, created by God and intended for good. THANK YOU for what you are doing…it has had a huge impact on my marriage!!

  11. Larry B of larrysmusings.com says:

    Julie, you hit the bull’s eye with this essay (which you do quite frequently). Thanks for your ongoing efforts. This essay is a needed wake-up call to pastors, ministers, and priests. For centuries, the Christian churches have suffered with a very skewed view of sexuality and have even been prone to condemn sexual pleasure within marriage. (Sex is not simply for procreation.)

    Our sexuality is part of our humanity. Let’s start addressing it with more honesty and more maturity, and treat our sexuality with the dignity it deserves.

  12. Paul H. Byerly says:

    Julie – Bulls Eye! Thank you so much.

    I will add one (you knew I would). Talking about sex in church upsets people, and it tends to upset the older folks who are often the ones who are doing a lot of what need to be done and giving a lot of what needs to be given to support the church. Offending or chasing off those folks is a problem for the chruch. I’m not saying anyone should hold back because of that, but it is a real factor.

    FWIW, it does seem to be less and less of a problem, but it is not dead yet.

  13. Megan@DoNotDisturb says:

    You are so right. As a pastor’s wife and a coauthor of a blog on marriage and intimacy (with said pastor) we have encountered some disdain for our openness to discuss Godly Sexuality. Unfortunately, as you may expect, those who question what or how we speak and write about sexuality, rarely speak to us directly or question us individually. It’s usually, “I just don’t think they should talk about that.” or even worse, “Is that all they think about?” Well, no, sex is not all we think about. We are just willing to talk about it believing that God created sex, cares about how sex is treated and if God talk about it we should too. We will continue to speak up for a Godly view of sex and pray for you as you do the same.

    Megan

  14. Nicole says:

    Hi, I retweeted this as many of my christian clients are learning about developing greater intimacy with their spouses and that God wants us to show our spouces love in this way. Thanks, Nicole

  15. Seeker says:

    Awesome insights Julie! I totally agree with you! One of my biggest problems in the church is the willingness to address the sexual sin of pornography but not the sin of sexual refusal (which I believe is rampant in Christian marriages today). I have heard many sermons against porn but not one against refusal (I am in my mid 50’s)!! I did not even about the sin of sexual refusal until 2 years ago when I visited a Christian form on sex…how sad.

  16. Eric V says:

    Thanks for this overdue post. Right now, our denomination typically lacks the courage to approach this. It could be that we focus too much on where we’re messing up and ignore areas where pleasure is celebrated. Good grief, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything preached about simple affection, like hugs and holding hands, let alone sexual intimacy!
    Perhaps our approach to pornography, terrible as it is, serves only to reinforce the idea that sex is sinful.
    I can remember one positive sermon on sex as a young adult and while it was well done, felt awkward.
    This would have to be done carefully or people may just squirm right out the door.

  17. Bonnie @ Love, Marriage and Sex says:

    As usual, Julie, a wonderfully written and totally spot on post! Sex does make people uncomfortable in church, and Paul mentioned it is specifically older people, although there are definitely younger people who have issues with this topic as well. I like that you offered a different view of the reasons behind the hesitation to discuss sex, especially the fact that discussing sex would mean talking arousal and orgasm. One thing I really wanted to do when I started my blog was to include a “how to” atmosphere, and I knew that would offend some people because there’s no way to do it without being somewhat explicit (not pornographic or vulgar, but descriptive). Fortunately I have not received backlash (yet) but I’m sure there are people who read my blog that find it to be “too much”. I just don’t believe in talking sexual freedom without practical guidance. Call it the counselor in me 😉

  18. David says:

    I just took some time to look over Bonnie’s site. Another excellent resource! I am sharing it with my wife as well.

    I can’t express how helpful these resources have been in my marraige. My wife and I feel we have taken a huge leap in our relationship and it’s really fueled passion! We both are willing to change and we are seeing the benefits of that change.

    That said, I would really like those in our church to benefit from the effort it takes to make sex a joyous part of their marraige again. We are both attending our 3rd or 4th marraige course (we like to be reminded of Gods place in our relationship) and I can’t wait to get to the section where we talk about sex. This submission by Julie has helped give more purpose and motivation for me to share (in general terms of course) our successes.

    I really want to thank Julie and her peers for what they are doing to keep marriages alive. And, I pray for those who have not found a way hat works in their marraige. AND there is a way that works! Married couples just need to be willing to make it work for both spouses. Put God in their hearts and the rest will come.

  19. Chuck says:

    Bravo Julie ! Exactly what I was expecting from you on this subject and you hit the mark girl. Looking forward to updates as people start to talk about “The Elephant in the Room” within The Church. The more this is stared right in the eye, the healthier Christian Marriages will become and Married Sex should regain it’s status of choice for Christ Followers. Continue to lead ye Servant of the Lord!

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  21. Kurmudge says:

    I think that evangelicals tend to be more comfortable with “thou shalt not” than with “thou shalt”, and also with chastising men rather than women because in many families women end up as de facto spiritual leaders as the husband goes to the golf course instead of church.

    That makes it a lot easier to preach against porn than against refusal in modern culture.

  22. GoodDad says:

    Diagnosing the problem is Julie’s fortay – fixing it is ours. Until we demand that pastors start talking about sexual refusal with the same fervor in the pulpit as they do about pornography, nothing’s going to happen. I’ve had very specific email conversations with my pastor about this very subject, and the emails just stopped coming back when I mentioned the disparity of anti-porn sermons vs. spousal refusal of sex being a sin. Just stopped dead. Needless to say, I have stopped contributing to my church until they start addressing the topics different than the last 15 pastors have.

  23. JulieSibert says:

    @GoodDad… So you vote with your tithe, based on whether the pastor addresses a particular sin issue?

    I agree that sex needs to be addressed more in churches (obviously, I wrote a post on it), but I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where tithing is used as a bartering chip with church leadership.

    A tithe is about not only obedience to the Lord’s command, but also about being a cheerful giver who recognizes that everything is really the Lord’s to begin with and we honor Him with our worship through our tithe.

    Certainly it’s not my issue to wrestle this for you, because that’s between you and Lord. But I find it fascinating that you who are so quick to talk about ultimatums and what the Bible says about sex seems to play by your own rules when it comes to what He says about money.

  24. Reba says:

    @Julie I share your understanding of generosity and tithing. Yesterday, a lay ministry training group I lead had some sessions on stewardship, and it wasn’t just about money. Wholistic stewardship means caring for ALL God’s gifts and tending to physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, relational, etc. wellbeing. Obviously, generosity with our spouse is part of stewarding God’s gifts. Maybe this approach would be a helpful starting place for talking about sex in our churches.

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  26. Mark K. says:

    Julie,
    Thank you very much for your post. I awoke early this morning and I kept having this thought, “why doesn’t the church talk about sex openly?” I, in turn, came across your article. Having been a true Christian for more than 2 decades, it is actually quite heart-breaking that the church and its leadership does not help to teach and strengthen the body with the truth. Instead we are either left to “fend for ourselves” or we are “guilted and shamed” with the sin that is so prevalent within the body of Christ. Yes, the issue of pornography is being touched upon in many churches, but even then groups meet in secret and often find support and help very late.
    As a Christian who has struggled with pornography, I was once “sent away” from the church where I became a Christian due to the struggle. In addition, my wife divorced me. What was the final outcome? The leader of the church who sent me away no longer is leading, the couple and more specifically the woman who was discipling my wife and I and encouraged my wife to seek the divorce actually divorced themselves. The husband left her for another man. And my wife. Yes, we divorced. Today, she no longer attends church and is living with a man, is sexually active, but not married. By the grace of God, I am continuing my walk with the Lord, attend another church regularly, remarried to a Christian woman and have a 6 year old son together. However, our sexuality in our marriage is NOT right. Due in part to our lack of intimacy in our marriage, I began viewing pornography about 2-3 years into our marriage. Needless to say, it has only made our intimacy worse. I am trying to repent currently, falling back in love with God and taking responsibility for the damages in our marriage. However, I still do not feel confident that our sexual intimacy will ever be made whole considering it never really has been.

    I share these with you/others because I know there are men and women alike that are struggling to not only be set free but to live wholesome, God-honoring lives involving sexuality.

    I love God and the church that our Lord died for to create. However, it breaks my heart that such few men have the courage, humility and desire to men and women experience the wholesome sexuality that God desires for each one of us.

    Thank you, Julie, that YOU are one such person. May God bless you and your ministry.

    Mark

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  29. KP says:

    I agree with GoodDad – people concerned about a pastor’s message should not be contributing to that church. There are a lot of ways to tithe and give to God, it does not have to be to one’s church. Saying it does is legalism. The only way a church can change is if people vote with their attendance or pocketbook. No different than anything else on society.

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  32. Angela says:

    As you have stated, not everyone in a congregation will be married. Many people won’t be having sex for perfectly legitimate reasons. It would be wise then for a pastor to know his congregation before deciding to talk about sex in a sermon. There are other ways to tackle this subject in a church setting for those who need it. Focus groups, counselling, literature etc. The recently widowed or long term singles should be considered and be able to decide for themselves what would be in their best interests in this case. In fact, married or single, widowed or divorced, resourses for sex should be accessed by choice.

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