Three years ago, I wrote a post titled “Going Solo Sexually,” which addressed the issue of Christian women and masturbation. Apparently, we need to talk more about this in the church (though not necessarily from the pulpit), because that post has received thousands and thousands of hits and has generated numerous comments. But recently, the conversation has taken a slight turn. Last week someone with the user name “Single forever” added this comment titled, “It’s Tough”: “I’m a 33 year old. Never been in a relationship, held, physically touched, kissed by a man. What do I do with this sex drive and need for love? It’s tough and a daily struggle.”
I felt her question deserved a thoughtful answer. But because I married young, and I’ve been married for more than thirty years, I didn’t want to advise this woman on how to live in a neighborhood I’ve never inhabited. So I asked for responses from a number of single Christian women—one of whom has never been married and one who is divorced—who are committed to living lives of sexual purity. Their answers deserve more visibility than what they would get if they remained buried in the “comment” section of a three-year-old post. My thanks to Megan and Emme for their honesty and wisdom. Feel free to add questions and answers of your own after reading their contributions.
Megan: It’s tough, but we live in hope.
Yep, it really is tough, and it really is a daily struggle. My situation is similar to yours, so I sympathize, and hope it encourages you to realize that you’re not alone in the desires and struggles you have. Here’s an excellent blog post by Jonalyn Fincher that encouraged me greatly. I found Tim Alan Gardner’s Sacred Sex helpful in thinking about the purpose and stewardship of sexual desires and relationships.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last few years is that both my sexuality and sensuality come from God: I enjoy and appreciate that my body is made to give and receive pleasure in many ways. This includes feasting my eyes on a Texas sunset, relishing a cold soda on a hot day, fixing a meal that my friends enjoy, getting a bear hug from a dear friend, and yes, exploring my own body. Pleasure is a whole-being experience, and it has helped me immensely to learn how to delight in being part of God’s creation.
Why do I say all this? For one thing, in our socio-cultural context, our imaginations are constantly shaped to seek out sexual pleasure as the primary kind of pleasure to experience physically. That can frequently make us feel as though if we don’t fit a stereotype of the “right kind” of attractive/available person, we’re invisible, undesirable, unloved, and unvalued. But there is no advertising or magazine or porn film that can alter the truth of Romans 8.38–39, and somehow, by the grace of God, dealing with all of this starts with the love that God in Christ has for each of us.
But we’re still embodied, and God can seem very far away and decidedly not embodied in those moments when we just want to be close to another human being. And not just close, intimate. I’ve discovered that constant encouragement to focus on my sexual impulses—their existence and their fulfillment—elevates the means above the end: two people sharing their bodies is a means of giving each other pleasure to become wholly open and vulnerable to the other, to become one. The story of Adam and Eve begins the thread of one-ness in community; St. Paul continues that story in Ephesians 5.
This is all the foundation—how do we build a life on it? Honestly, sometimes I do take care of my body’s desires, usually after I’ve taken in media that stokes my imagination and shapes it to focus on my pleasure and how to get it. Other times, I tell a friend what I’m dealing with, and put it out there so that I don’t start feeling like I have to carry around something shameful or disgusting, because my body is neither of those things, and neither is my desire.
But mostly, I’ve come to understand that my primary desire in the moments when physical pleasure rules me is the longing for intimacy with another person. Not just sexually, but because I long for who I am, as a person, to be noticed, valued, and significant. And the best way I have found to recognize and remember the truth of Romans 8.38–39 is give myself to others in friendship, to be open and honest about who I am, about who I hope to become, and to help others do the same.
I hope this helps. Perhaps it may help to mediate on I John 4.18. But above all, please know that the goodness of God encompasses our entire life, not just our spouse and our sexuality. Live in hope.
Emme: Some ideas to help.
Dear Single Forever,
I can totally relate to where you are, and so can many women. I feel like God wants you to know He sees your struggle. He doesn’t condemn you for it. He knows it is part of how He created us, to desire intimacy. He’s proud of us when we seek out His way, and when we do mess up, He’s there with open arms to forgive us. It’s so easy to just give in instead of following what God says about true love and purity. Being totally honest, I was definitely there this week! For me, I’m learning that taking both a spiritual and natural approach helps.
One of the first things I’d encourage you to look at is how you see yourself. I noticed your screen name. Unless you know God’s plans for your life is to be single your whole life, (and that is an amazing calling!) don’t think of yourself as Single Forever. Ask Him how He sees you. I can guarantee it’s not by your relationship status.
I have several things I do that help. A friend suggested that I ask God to help me put my sexual drive on a shelf for now. Sometimes that’s an hourly prayer! (And you have done an excellent job of recognizing sex as a drive not a need! Many Christian therapists mistake it as a need.) I can’t control this without God’s help. I’m sure you know this already: our culture is saturated with sexual messages. Even commercials for things like groceries can have sexual undertones. More and more I understand the verse in Song of Solomon 2:7 “I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem…Do not awaken or arouse love until it pleases!” It’s so hard to do that in our culture. Not to mention, you were created with these desires. So don’t feel guilty about having them. It’s normal!
Another thing I do is pay attention to my triggers that make those physical desires more intense. There is no one set rule that applies to everyone. I know where I’m at in my monthly cycle can set me up for those to be more intense; it’s normal. For me, TV shows don’t usually affect me as much as a romance novel, even if it’s clean. I also tend to avoid most love songs, even ones that are under the “Christian” label. It makes me long more for a romantic relationship. So pay attention to what triggers it more and try to avoid them. I know sometimes it can feel like everything is a trigger though.
I think you really hit it well when you said about the need for love. Of course you need that. We all do. A pastoral counselor was explaining to me just last week about the four kinds of love. In the way she explained it, agape love is the highest form. It’s God’s [sacrificial] love for us. There is storge love; that’s the kind we experience in a family. Then there is phileo love, that’s often called “brotherly love.” It’s the kind of love between friends. Eros love is the romantic and often physically expressive love. Each has its place. God’s love for us is the ultimate form of love. We all also need the love of a family, whether biological or as a family in Christ, and we also need the love of friends. Focusing on giving and receiving those loves helps me so much. Healthy touch is a good thing too—such as a hug between friends. She told me in many ways eros love, on its own, is really the lowest form. It’s easy to be physically intimate without really loving. Real eros love will encompass all the other loves, loving someone like God does, loving him or her as a friend, loving your spouse because he or she is family.
There is also one more thing I do when I have those overwhelming desires. Not only do I pray for myself, I also pray for my future husband. Surely he has those desires too.
I wish there was an easy answer, but there isn’t. What I will say, though, is I’m learning to value myself so much more as I focus on the love God and others have for me. When I focus on giving and allowing myself to receive the love of God and others, it helps decrease the physical desires.