a subject that’s begging for dialogue

i am enlisting your help, sagacious sidekicks, to help me respond to a comment i received recently.

when i wrote about julia duin’s perspective on the way the american church treats single adults, i received many thoughtful comments (and if you’ve already read these, i apologize for the repetition).  one was from someone named “joe.”  here is his comment:

Well what is an unmarried male supposed to do with his God given normal sex drive, which requires periodic release? Pray, take “cold showers,” masturbation, look at porn, supress, pretend it doesn’t exist?

and here is my response:

thanks for the thoughtful question, joe.

first let me say that i am sympathetic to your problem. we live in a sexual culture and pleasure seems to be an entitlement. still, the bible addresses the question you raised pretty clearly:

“Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband… Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9)

your question is one the church needs to wrestle with, joe, and i thank you for sharing here.

and here is where i need your help, resourceful readers.  joe wrote back to tell me that he was “very disappointed” with my answer.  so rather than respond directly, i thought i would bring joe’s grievance to this forum.

After some 2,000 years of Christianity, the church should not have to wrestle with my question. The church should have an answer. Also, it is not MY problem; it is the church’s problem. I certainly would not advise a 16+ year old young man who has raging hormones to get married to some young woman who is “boy crazy” and then move into his/her parent’s home while they complete high school or drop out of school and live on minimum wage jobs.

first of all, the subject of our conversation is single adults.  my wife and i worked with teenagers for many years, and i would never advise 16-year olds to get married to satisfy hormonal urges.

furthermore, is it too much to expect/admonish an unmarried adult male to practice self-denial, or do you agree that they “require periodic release“?  is this issue, as joe charges, the “church’s problem” and, if so, how might it be solved?  did i misapply the 1 corinthians 7 reference, or are we dealing with a generation for whom scriptural instruction is insufficient?

as alway, my friends, i am grateful for your consideration and i look forward to hearing what you have to say.


7 thoughts on “a subject that’s begging for dialogue

  1. i have no problem expecting single adults to practice self-denial. everyone is asked to practice such in some way or another. now it is true, though, that we don’t hold others as accountable as we do singles with their sexual desires. we should all be practicing self-denial with money and possessions for instance — but we’re quick to explain that one away. if we treated sex outside of marriage the same way we do greed, then it’d be alright to sleep around as long as God blessed you with good looks and you sleep around to the glory of God.

    but that doesn’t mean singles aren’t expected to deny themselves some physical pleasure, etc. also, i’m with paul that sexual sin is unique in many ways.

    i guess my bigger question, though, is what does joe think? if displeased with your answer — and paul’s, which i think is fitting still today — what is the solution? i do agree to some extent that this is the church’s problem, as we exist to build one another up into maturity. did joe have any ideas?

    i got married at 27. and it was difficult until then. but getting married didn’t solve those problems. and it never will. i think that’s one thing paul’s answer doesn’t get at. the guy who’s satisfied with God to the point that his sexual desires and lusts don’t cause problems in his marriage is the same guy who would deal with it well if single. the problem, it seems, is that being truly satisfied with God takes a great deal of maturity, and generally comes a little later in life than the single years…

    and making decisions (even) to masturbate or view porn while single — as a “release” — will just develop habits that cause even greater problems in a marriage.

  2. I believe that God holds us “personally” responsible for our purity. Paul several times in scripture tells us to “put off, get rid of” things. We are told to think on “good” things. We are encouraged to become mature and maturity comes with accountability. And, I believe this is the area where the church has failed. Biblical community offers true accountability for whatever area of sin we struggle with. Within Biblical community, singles like Joe, whether male or female would have people like Brett who could walk with them and share how they remained pure whether married or single. I also believe that the church is responsible to some extent for not creating atmospheres for young people to pursue every path that God may have for them. It seems that the church encourages youngsters to marry first…then pursue other avenues. As I stated in a different reply, this is tragic. (I think fear of talking about these issues is part of the problem.)
    One last thing, my heart wants to say this…so is God’s grace and power not strong enough to handle sin in our lives. Can he not give the power to become the sons (and daughters) of God who walk in purity? Do we make God smaller than he is simply because we do not want to take responsibility for our lives, simply because we do not want to give up the pleasure? If God created us, is he not able to handle the sex drive in a believer no matter how strong it is? How powerful would it be if we could walk in true purity, whether married or single? Lofty thoughts, but I believe attainable through God.
    I want to say that it is difficult as a female to engage in these types of conversations with males because the male sex drive is so different. But I still hold to my belief that it’s possible to walk in purity if our hearts truely seek it no matter how difficult the struggle.

  3. Randy: this is a double shot for me since I have been married for over 37 years and am also a pastor. The first because it has been so long since I have “been there” that I can’t say “been there done that” with a clear conscience. The latter because I have (in the past) been part of the problem and not the solution. However, because I have had a porn problem in the past I can speak to that end of the spectrum.

    I agree with both James and also Fran that self-denial is expected of all of us who follow Christ. I believe the Bible is very clear when it speaks of moral purity, of sexual purity both before and during marriage. To rationalize the lack of sexual purity in either is to attempt to make the bible say whatever we want it to say. The jury is out on masturbation because I feel some of it is purely a release and does not “require” sexual thoughts all the time. But that cannot be said about porn. I, for one, can testify that marriage does not solve that issue. In fact, it highlights it 1) when one thinks that the mind is not affected by it; 2) if one thinks that certain expectations of the mate are not part of the picture i.e. they do it this way then I should be able to and 3) if the mate is not as active sexually as you desire. Porn becomes an escape not the answer (and a very poor one at that). Masturbation as a result of porn is clearly un-biblical. Sin.

    I do not feel you misrepresented the Scripture in I Cor.7. Paul knew of the struggle a single male/female faced in their singleness. But to use that singleness and struggle as a justification for sin was never Paul’s intention as we know. He was stating a fact. But Paul would never had said, “I know it is hard. If you cannot find someone to share your life with in marriage then live together, have oral sex, have any type of sex (hetero). It is okay.” Nada. He was pretty adamant about sexual purity.

    As a pastor I am guilty because I have somewhat shied away from this subject in the past. I have become a bit more bolder as I have gotten older and as I have gotten control of my own sin (porn). It is a terrible beast to carry around when one is preaching on something but guilty of sin in his own camp. I have vowed that if the subject comes up in a sermon series that I will preach on it (in a sensitive and discreet way).

    Not sure if this what you were asking…

    • brett~

      you continually amaze me with your depth…and this with water only occasionally! that’s why you’re my hero.

      thanks for your honesty, francine, and thanks for allowing the lord to speak to you. and by the way, you’re welcome to dialogue with “us guys” no matter the topic.


      thanks for your perspective and your transparency. i really feel a kindred spirit with you (expect for the biking…mine has a motor) and i always appreciate your wisdom.

  4. I think the main culprit is that the world has long since rejected the moral precepts in the natural law written upon every human hearts…the moral precepts with define a clear line between what’s right and what’s wrong. We are witnessing today the horrible and rotten fruits of that rejection. Every nation has devalued the sanctity of human life and the act that leads to it, the life-giving marital act. Every nation’s moral compass, once able to, by the light of the moral clarity given to us by natural law, to obtain a clear vector lock, now they are lost in the Bermuda Triangle of moral relativism, where instead of a clear, objective right and wrong, these nations, the US included, are now abiding a notion that right and wrong is subjective, unable to obtain a clear vector lock until natural law is restored to its rightful place as the law upon which man must base any law that we hope to call fair and just.

    Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical back in the 60’s, the hotbed of “free love” which encouraged a culture of running around willy-nilly and abusing our greatest and most powerful gift, for a man and a woman to create new life from the committed and life-giving love they have for each other. In this encyclical he very prophetically state the evils that would arise from a push to devalue life so as to justify killing a child in what should be the safest place for that child (the mother’s womb) and to devalue the love that can only be shared between a man and a woman, the kind of love that gives new life to society, allowing society to continue its existence.

  5. Joseph –

    The Christian churches have only recently condemned slavery. In the 1800’s most denominations accommodated the southern slave owners by removing any references to slavery. The bible does approve of slavery and in the new testament it is not forbidden or denounced. Slavery is actually consistent with christianity. Colossians 3:22-24 provides the reference. Paul indicates that the ideal life is not one of freedom, but one of obedience. Freedom seems to be a foreign concept and not a basic human right. Peter 2:18-21 goes into greater detail.

    Paul must have known that female slaves were used by their masters for both sexual pleasure and breeding purposes. Female slaves were regularly forced to produce more slaves for the master’s household as well as to fulfill the desires of both the master and the mistress. Thus, while Christianity holds up HIGH STANDARDS OF CHASTIY AND PURITY FOR THE FREE PERSON (as mentioned in the above notes), it urged the female slave to accept sexual degradation as “from the Lord.” The book of Philemon is about slaver, but makes no mention about the evils of slavery .

    The ideal Christian life is that of a slave who obeys without question. Joseph isn’t it true that all Catholic monks and nuns make vows of “poverty, chastity and obedience” – it is entrenched in the Church’s mindset as being a Christian virtue?

    It is clear that western denominations has rejected significant parts of the bible. If they had not, we would still have slavery in the western world. Subservience of women is another type of slavery. Christians saw the injustice in that as well. Again, contrary to what the bible says. Although some churches stll treat women as second class citizens.

    Therefore, the bible is no longer an absolute authority.

  6. I left a long comment on the original page about this topic. There is no answer that will satisfy anyone.

    As I said there, on the other page, the church does not truly uphold preach, or respect celibacy any more.

    Conservative Christians will support the idea of “virginity until marriage” concept for Christians under the age of 25, but beyond that, no, no, no, no, no.

    Most Christians and preachers assume all never-married Christians over the age of 25 or 30 have had sex already, or will begin to.

    I am in my early 40s, Christian, did not marry, and am still a virgin. I wanted to get married but never got married; staying single this long was not a deliberate choice by me.

    I get no support from Christians on this point. None.

    In literature, blogs, etc, some (married) conservative Christians have said derogatory thing about older celibates. You actually get treated like a weirdo or freak -by other Christians!- for remaining a virgin past the age of 30.

    Many Christian preachers and lay persona and authors all assume if you would just “fix” what is wrong with you (even though nothing is wrong with you), God would magically send you Mr or Ms Right in the next ten minutes.

    What is the point in telling teenager Christians to “wait until marriage,” to have sex, and when they do wait, but never get married by the time they are 35, you begin mocking them and not offering any support?

    That is the exact scenario that is occurring among Christians today, but hardly anyone realizes it, notices it, or brings attention to it, except for those who are living it out.

    At this point, I see no reason to stay celibate. I’m not seeing a strong incentive to.

    I have seen countless testimonies by Christians who were very sexually promiscuous before getting married, they knew that fornication was a sin, did the sin anyhow, and most did not get sexually transmitted diseases or remain unmarried forever (most wound up getting married to other Christians later on).

    So apparently, there is not necessarily a penalty when a Christian has sex outside of marriage.

    Christians who think that waiting to get married by age 25 or 30 is a “long time” to wait make me laugh.

    I don’t mean to sound catty about it, but folks who had to “wait” until age 25 – 30 – 35 for sex/marriage sound a wee bit naive to older, celibate Christians. Try being in your forties or older and still “waiting.” I’ve met Christians online, male and female, who are virgins in their 50s.

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