7 Things Congregations Need to Hear from Pastors about Healthy Sexuality

I came to Christ at 16 years old with a sexual addiction. Porn and masturbation had taunted and shamed me for years with no relief in sight.

Then I met Jesus—the hope I had longed for and found my peace in. As I threw myself into the only safe space I now knew—church—the only thing I heard about sex was simply not to do it.

Three years after my salvation experience, God delivered me from porn and masturbation and I thought I was free. Now, all I had to do was save myself for my husband and I’d be in the clear.

But I was ill-equipped to handle the temptations that came with dating and at 25 years old, while serving in church leadership, I had sex outside of marriage and my world came crumbling down.

Was my sin anyone’s fault but my own (and my boyfriend’s)? No, it wasn’t. However, there was a notable lack of preparation in the church when it came to sex.

After my own failure, I learned the same was happening to many of my Christian friends and peers. All hiding their sin in shame because they were afraid of what other believers would think of them. But they weren’t alone.

We simply believed all we needed was the resolve to remain pure before marriage, but resolve wasn’t, and isn’t, enough. 

Purity Culture Alone Isn’t Enough

We were a product of the purity culture. The only time we heard the word sex was when it was tied to saving yourself for marriage. And while that is biblical and true, it was only one piece of a bigger puzzle. We were simply told to wait, but not given the tools to see it faithfully through.

We exchanged hard conversations in favor of purity pledges; honest accountability was substituted with rings. And when we did that—and continue to do that—we place the burden on the person instead of Jesus. That’s the biggest aspect we miss in these conversations; we miss Jesus.

We’re told to do it because he “says so in the Bible” but not the second half of that truth—it’s not his best and we are obedient because we love him. We value that relationship above all others.

Does purity culture have some value? Yes, it does. The heart is in the right place, but the execution is lacking. In its wake, the masses (mostly women) have been left feeling ashamed and hurt, even when they tried to do everything right.

It’s time to pull back the curtain in the Church and start having real, honest conversations about sex. If we don’t, we’re doing those in our congregations a disservice.

This article isn’t just about before-marriage sex. The same could be said about porn (especially in regard to women), masturbation, dating on purpose, adultery, etc.

When it comes to healthy sexuality, what should we be saying to prepare people?

Be Willing to Have Awkward and Difficult Conversations

Healthy sexuality within the church starts with having conversations. That’s been our failure for too long, and it’s only hurt people in the process. If we aren’t willing to talk about it, then Christians won’t have the tools to embrace healthy sexuality.

If you are a pastor, talk about sex from the pulpit. Have it talked about in youth group. And yes, I do mean have sex talks with teenagers. Because it’s happening in their schools, among their friends, and on television, so if you don’t, they’ll hear about it somewhere else and likely not from a biblical perspective.

If you are a parent, don’t shy away from the conversation with your kids. If you’re a friend who sees someone they care about wrestling with sexual sin, step in and serve as an accountability partner.

When we are open to talking about sex, it loses its stigma and Christians will feel more freedom to talk about their own wrestles with sexuality. Here are seven practical conversations about sex that the pastors and leaders in the church should be willing to have: 

1. Sex Is Good (for Men and Women)

The Church has gotten really good at making sex sound like a bad thing. That may not have been the intention (or perhaps was), but this is likely the biggest mistake we’ve made. We’ve only been taught that sex is negative and not taught how beautiful it is when experienced God’s way.

The truth is, sex is an incredible gift to be enjoyed! And not just by men, but by women too.

Because that’s where we’ve also missed the mark in the little conversations we do have: sex is primarily for the guy. But when women enjoy it (and they can enjoy it), they’ve felt ashamed for liking sex. Open up Song of Solomon and you’ll see pretty quickly a woman enjoys sex, too. So do many of my friends, and myself.

Women, it’s okay to like sex!

When sexuality is explored within marriage, between one man and one woman, it can be a beautiful thing.

2. Sexual Temptations and the Consequences of Sin Are Real

Sex has two purposes: procreation and intimacy. And there’s one place for it: between a married man and woman. That’s it. But Satan has been quick to hijack sex since the beginning of time to point people away from Jesus. And so, he’ll do everything in his power to tempt you into sexual immorality.

Temptation is very real, and no matter how “Christian” you are, a believer will be tempted. So, be honest about that and the reality of consequences. This isn’t in an attempt to fear-monger people into obedience, but rather to open up about the natural consequence of all sin.

Let me give you an example. I was asked to preach at a church but due to COVID-19, had to move the teaching online. So, I filmed my sermon ahead and sent it to the church. I spent maybe 30 seconds mentioning my wrestle with porn and masturbation to highlight a point. When I watched the sermon streamed, I noticed the church had cut out my 30-second mention of sexual sin.

These are the very conversations we need to be having, and yet, we find sex so taboo that we refuse to talk about it. Even when it references victory.

Allow room to wrestle with the messy, uncomfortable, and awkward conversations about sex, temptation, and the natural consequences of sin. A great way to do that is to allow people who have wrestled with and found victory in this area in their life to share their testimony in the church.

Furthermore, sex outside of God’s design will hurt any relationship. You may not see it or feel it now, but inevitably, it will hurt the relationship. Sexual sin chips away at your heart, and your relationships.

3. Your Relationship with Jesus Is Priority in Feeling Fulfilled

When talking about sex, talk about Jesus, too. One talking point missing in the purity movement was Jesus. Sure, we talked about what the Bible said regarding sex before marriage, but we didn’t hear much beyond that, like the “why.” It’s important to note in conversations about sexuality that in addition to it being in His Word, it’s also His heart. And because we love Jesus and value that relationship above any other, we honor Him in obedience.

When talking about honoring God with our sexuality, let’s be sure to not focus solely on the law. Let’s also talk about the heart of God and our heart to honor Him and the relationship.

4. Not One of Us Is Untouchable, We Can All Be Tempted

After my moral failure, I asked God what happened. I was faithfully serving Him and had determined not to have sex outside of marriage. So, where did it all go wrong? That’s when He revealed to me the Untouchable Myth.

For too long I believed that simply saying I wouldn’t do it was enough. And then, I assumed I’d be faithful in that area. But in reality, I tucked away the possibility of failure into a cavern deep within my mind and forgot about it.

Then, when temptation came knocking, I wasn’t prepared.

We need to stop believing that simply wanting to avoid temptation is enough. We need to shatter our untouchable mentality and start being open to the fact that anything is possible.

Peter, when Jesus told him that he would deny him three times, refused to believe God. He refused to believe that temptation would get to him. And when he denied that, he wasn’t able to prepare himself for the battle that was coming. Indeed, Peter ended up doing the very thing he never said he would never do.

Don’t just say, “I’ll never have sex outside of marriage, or look at porn, or cheat on my spouse.” When you do that, you put yourself in a space where you lean on your own strength and aren’t prepared for temptation, and you just may end up doing the very thing you never said you’d do.

We need Jesus to step in and be the strength that we don’t have.

5. Marriage Isn’t the Fix-All

Too many believers think that once they get married, all their sexual woes will disappear. And for the person who saved themselves for marriage, sex will be perfect and free from shame.

Yet, oftentimes shame does still exist within marriage, especially for women, because sex wasn’t talked about in a good and healthy way at all. All they heard was sex is bad and that stigma is hard to shake, even within marriage.

Hopefully, by having these types of conversations within the church, we’ll begin to chip away at the stigma sex carries into marriage. A little less shame surrounding the topic and a little more honesty.

6. Don’t Let Shame about Sex Make You Hide from God

Shame is a major player in the sex-positive Christianity movement—to free people from having to feel shame around sex. Now, does God want shame tied to sex? No, I don’t believe so because He created it to be a good gift.

But when we abuse that gift and enter into the sin realm, that’s where shame lives. It’s not God’s desire for us, but it is a natural consequence to sin. Any sin, not just sexual.

What shame does is it comes into our sin state and it tells us to hide from God. It happened to Adam and Eve when they realized they were naked. It happened to me after I had sex with my boyfriend. Its danger is that it tries to drive a wedge between God and yourself. That’s Satan’s use of shame.

But shame also shows us there is sin there in the first place. So, while God doesn’t want us to live in a state of shame and give it power, I do believe it serves as a way to show us where we failed so we can repent and return to Jesus.

If we never felt shame, we’d never know our need for a Savior. So, while Satan uses shame as a tool to defeat us, God uses shame to show us our need for Him.

When you engage in sexual immorality, shame often enters the picture. It should. If it doesn’t, that’s a scary place to be—your heart is hardened. But when it does enter, allow it to show you your need for Jesus, humbly repent, and turn back to Him. That’s when shame loses its power! When you confess your sins, He is faithful to respond:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9

Listen, sin leads to shame and you’ll feel that when you fail God in any area. But it’s not a condition you have to live in. Resist the inclination to pull away from God in your shame and instead turn to Him.

Repent and find sanctuary under His wings. When you do that—when you come to Jesus—He will make you a new creation and lift the shame. 

To the church leaders, let’s also create a place where people who are wrestling with temptation or who have sinned can talk about their struggles. People have been afraid to talk about their journey into sexuality, further feeding shame. But let’s foster an environment where people can feel the freedom to talk about their struggles and get help if they need it.

7. Boundaries Are Good

Purity culture isn’t all bad; there are some good tenets within it. One is its value on boundaries. At the end of the day, establishing guardrails to protect yourself from sexual immorality is essential. Some people can handle more than others and that will depend on you. Not everyone’s boundaries are going to look the same.

After my moral failure, my boyfriend and I attempted to not have sex again, but we failed, and so we broke up. We never thought we’d get back together, but God had different plans and seven months later, we reunited. But we didn’t kiss for the longest time because I knew what I could and couldn’t handle.

Some might say boundaries only lend to sexual confusion and angst, but they are good and necessary. Just as boundaries are good to avoid any sin, whether that’s gambling, alcoholism, or gluttony. Determine what you can and can’t handle, and establish boundaries to protect your heart, mind, and body.

Is there a magic formula or perfect solution here? No. But we can start taking steps to be a little more open and honest about sex in the Church. Change starts with one person; will you take that step?

Brittany Rust has a passion to see people impacted by the power of God’s Word and His abundant grace through writing and speaking. She is the founder of Truth and Grace Ministries, Truth x Grace Women, and is the author of five books. Brittany lives with her husband, Ryan, and son, Roman, in Castle Rock, Colorado. Learn more at www.brittanyrust.com