Abstinence is Death

In an interview with Christianity Today Christine Gardner talks about the language that Evangelicals use to talk about abstinence. Gardner’s book is entitled, Making Abstinence Sexy–a telling encapsulation of how Evangelical abstinence are striving to affirm the culture’s obsession with sex–and visions of abundant, great sex in particular–while giving it a distinctive, Christian veneer:

They are using the very thing they are prohibiting to admonish young people to wait. They are saying, “If you are abstinent now, you will have amazing sex when you are married.”

Holy non sequitur, Batman!

Gardner thinks that Christianity has something to offer that has been largely missing from these abstinence campaigns:

Language of sacrifice and suffering can be transformative to those who know that sex sells everything from cars to deodorant and, now, abstinence.

I think she’s getting close. Abstaining from sex is suffering, dying to the desires of our bodies. In a world where people are regularly remaining single into their thirties and beyond, it’s death with no this-worldly promise of new life.

Perhaps reframing abstinence as participation in the cross of Christ is better preparation for marriage than the promise of great sex on the other side.

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No only is there no correlation between abstinence now and quality of sex then, this framework perpetuates a self-centeredness that can make sex a source of conflict and tension rather than intimate oneness.

Whatever else sex is, it is also an extension of the other dynamics of who we are both as individuals and as couples. If we are insecure and distrustful in our relationship, that will play out in our sex as well. If we are looking to sex simply as the avenue of self-satisfaction, we are going to discover that the presence of another person with their own set of needs and desires is an annoyance and hindrance.

That’s the deeper problem with the “sex will be great if you wait” dynamic that some seem to be advocating in the church world. It buys into the idea that sex is about “me.”

First, whether you’re Christian or not, sex is always going to be about “us.”

But then there’s the more important fact for us as Christians that “love” is not about seeking our own. Our understanding of sex needs to be reframed as an expression of the self-giving love of Christ by which we are called to make God’s love known in the world.

In other words: if we frame abstinence as the death that it is, we are putting our sexuality within the Christian narrative of Christ crucified. This is the same story within which we are called to love our partners Christianly in our sexual relationship.

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