“I guess I’m just like a man, Ellen. I want to have sex all the time.” Darcy1 sat in front of me wrestling to make sense of her sexual struggles, as had many women over my years of serving with Harvest USA. She, like many other women, rarely had heard clergy or professionals addressing women who might be struggling with sexual addictions. She had swum for years in the river of the hook-up culture, having jumped in as a teenager. Now as a forty-something single woman, she was experiencing the captivity of years of sexual experiences that left her unfulfilled. The river’s toxic waters had seeped into her soul, and she needed a helping hand to get out. She needed help in shaking off the water and learning how to walk in wholeness and freedom.
“No, Darcy, you’re like so many women wrestling with your sexuality in the midst of a sexually insane world.” Yes, I use the word insane to describe a sexual ethic that is loud, persuasive, and gives itself over to “sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:19).2
Insane describes the foolish and unreasonable ways many women are living out their sexuality, expressing themselves sexually through modes and venues that give credence to scriptural truth such as Ephesians 4:19. Sexual insanity is not a gender discriminatory term: it’s actually a promise of what happens when people, male or female, strive to live sexually outside of God’s design.
TOXIC STREAMS OF SEXUAL BROKENNESS
Like so many women today, Darcy didn’t jump intentionally into that toxic flow of sexual water, even as it was portrayed as a “river of delights.” She was wooed and tempted through her own desires and the seductions of a sexually insane world, and also influenced through the crippling silence of the church. Ultimately she made the sinful choice to jump in and swim in those polluted waters, and then she wasn’t sure how to get out. Worse, she didn’t know anyone who could offer more than a few Bible verses to read or to encourage her just to “try harder” in avoiding temptation. Neither of those paths had worked for Darcy.
The church preaches (and sometimes merely mentions) to wait until marriage for sex; that adultery is sin; that homosexuality is, well, you know, that “abomination” (sadly this is often the only way homosexuality is addressed…and with a tone that is distinctly un-Christ-like). One woman recently shared with me, “Ellen, over the past twenty years, I’ve had pastors and Christian counselors affirm what I already knew: what I was doing was sexual sin! But no one has been able to offer practical help to change! I’ve yet to hear how the gospel, the idea of grace, or even the person of Jesus really connects to my shame, guilt, and longtime sexual struggles.”
And what about communicating and teaching about God’s good and beautiful design for sexuality, for men and women, for the married and unmarried? Brothers and sisters: we’ve been quiet while other voices have been boisterous and convincing.
We’ve also been slow and shy about sharing the enthusiastic and bold grace of Jesus Christ into the hearts of women like Darcy who are battling sexual temptations and addictions. Many women are struggling in so many sexually broken ways: enslaved to pornography, masturbation, cybersex (and other forms of “tech sex”), promiscuity (through intercourse, oral sex, mutual stimulation), and a variety of emotionally and sexually entangled relationships with each other. The current cultural voice regarding homosexual orientation and gay identity has fostered deep confusion for those women who experience persistent same- sex attraction and struggle to make sense of it within a Christian framework. Women are hurting as they seek to deal with their sexuality, and many are also experiencing a heavier weight of shame, as so often the toxic streams of sexually broken behaviors generally are not addressed as a problem women deal with.
Jessica Harris, a woman who broke free from sexual addiction, writes poignantly of wanting to get caught, to be exposed, so that she could be helped.
We know this wasn’t you; women just don’t have this problem.
Those words hit hard. More than anything, I wanted to be caught. Here I was, red-handed, with a red folder. If they had checked my email they would have found pictures I had sent to a man at a different college. If she had asked if it was me, I would have said “yes.” I would have gladly accepted help. Instead, I was forced to sign my name, vowing that I would not give out my log-in information again because this obviously was not me.
But it was me.
As I have worked with women addicted to pornography and masturbation, I have found this phenomenon painfully common. Young women want help, but how, exactly, do you ask for help from women in church who cringe at the mention of sex?3
I use the phrase sexually broken because of a passionate conviction that the Bible is true and authoritative. Broken implies that the original design has become disordered in our dysfunctional experience of it due to sin. Scripture speaks clearly of a Designer, the Lord God, who originally created all things as beautiful and good, including female sexuality.
GOD THE LOVING CREATOR IS ALSO SOVEREIGN LORD
Colossians 1:164 says it clearly, “All things have been created through Him [Jesus] and for Him [Jesus],” and all means all! He has designed everything about us—personalities, relationships, gender, sexuality, body—to function and be experienced in a certain way. This includes the sexuality of women.
Female sexuality refers to the fact that women are sexual beings, capable of sexual expression. We can express ourselves in God-honoring ways, within the wise and protective guardrails of His design, or in sinful ways, which is any expression of sexuality outside of His wise boundaries.
As Creator, God alone has the right to design how His creation is meant to function. God’s design for sexuality is a way for Him to be glorified by us and through us. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Because we exist completely for Him and through Him, our bodies and sexual lives are also meant to give God glory. Furthermore, as I wrote in my recently published book on this subject,
God’s glory is also eternally tied to our good. This is important to understand in the context of His design for human sexuality, which God created to be expressed in specific ways. It is not a free-for-all, and yet his wise guardrails are misinterpreted by some as coming from a withholding, prudish, and joy-killing God. This simply is not true. God is good, loving, kind, and cares for us as Father. As our Father who knows our temptations and is merciful toward us as we battle against sinful desires, the boundaries He has put in place for sexual expression are not only for His glory but our protection and flourishing.5
SPECIFICS OF GOD’S DESIGN FOR SEXUALITY
Women, like men, need to know what the specifics are for living out their sexuality according to God’s good design.6 He is not a Creator who abandons us, leaving us to figure out the details of life on our own. Our loving Lord commands and enables us to live sexually faithful lives with our minds, thought patterns, behaviors, and emotional attachments. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:23–24).
God-Honoring Sexuality for the Married
God’s blessed context for all sexual expression is marriage. Christian marriage, as defined and designed by God, is a lifelong, committed union between one man and one woman. Jesus and Paul both gave clear affirmation in their teaching that God’s design of marriage was not limited to a certain time period but is the enduring pattern we are to follow (Matt. 19:4–6; Eph. 5:22–33). The uniqueness of the one-flesh union experienced by a man and woman through sexual intimacy is a gift given to married couples and also a radically beautiful signpost to the union He shares with His people.
This sounds weird to many people, but it’s amazingly true. In Ephesians 5:32 the apostle Paul calls the “signpost” reality of Christian marriage a “mystery” that is a reference to Christ and the church (followers of Jesus). By faith, Christians enter into a spiritual union with God, becoming one with Him.7 Christian marriage signifies this union, and sexual intimacy uniquely gives a picture of the oneness that God shares with His people: two distinct and very different beings, joined together as an expression of covenantal love. Savior, Creator, and Redeemer become one with the saved, created, and redeemed.
God in His magnificent wisdom created the male and female anatomy with the capability of uniquely joining together in the context of a committed relationship of love, faithfulness, and devotion. Sexual intimacy is meant to be pleasurable, to foster bonding between a husband and wife, and a means through which new life can come forth.
Sexual activity within marriage, experienced as God has designed it, reveals Him as the giver of good gifts for the delight of His children. God has given this gift as a way for husbands and wives to express the heart of Christ (who came not to be served, but to serve; Mark 10:45) to each other. Sex is meant to be intensely relational and is thus limited to the marriage relationship as an expression of committed love, a man and woman forsaking all others to be devoted to one: a spouse. In this sense, I like to say that instead of trying to self-categorize ourselves into heterosexual, gay/homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, perhaps a more helpful descriptor is the call of God to be spousal-sexual: focusing our emotional, sexual, and mental desires on a spouse. (Implications for singles are to follow.)
“Within marriage sex is more satisfying than anything the world offers as a sexually attractive substitute. Like a fire inside a fireplace, it provides light and warmth, but outside the right context sex can destroy, like an un-extinguished cigarette can burn down a huge forest.”8
All this is not to say that when any sexual activity is experienced outside of God’s design that it won’t provide physical pleasure and perhaps some degree of emotional or mental comfort. However, I have yet to meet a woman trying to follow Christ who has drunk deeply of sexual “freedom” through engaging in pornography, masturbation, using “friends with benefits,” or being fused emotionally and sexually with another woman who would say these experiences grew her in Christlikeness and liberated her to love others as Christ loves us (2 Cor. 5:14–15; Phil. 1:9–11). Living outside of God’s loving and protective guardrails does not bring a peace of mind and heart that lasts. It can’t. Our Creator is for our flourishing in every way, and so are His boundaries.
God-Honoring Sexuality for the Unmarried Woman
As much as people have tried to “make it work,” sex will never be able to live up to two false expectations: that sex is life, or that sex is merely a physical act. Sex is a deeply spiritual activity, as it unites two people’s beings in a way that is profound and powerful. This is one of the reasons why God lovingly commands for it to be contained within a lifelong, committed relationship. It’s too precious to be shared broadly, casually, or selfishly. The fact is, as you read the Bible, you will never find God approving or delighting in any type of sexual expression that is outside of His design: with someone you love but are not married to, creating sexual fantasies in your thoughts, sex with self, same-gender sex, hook-ups with strangers, pleasuring yourself with objects or sexual activity with animals. (Nor do you find God calling it praiseworthy when sex between a married couple is selfish, demeaning, or manipulative.)
Unmarried women demand, “Well, what about us then? We don’t have a sanctioned-outlet to express our sexuality! Why is the Cosmic Killjoy so prudish when it comes to sex?” If you’ve felt or said this, you may have believed the lie that sex = life and that without it you’ll shrivel up and be incomplete as a woman. You may have also believed the lie that Jesus doesn’t actually sit on the throne of grace to receive you while offering mercy, help, and comfort as you battle against sexual temptation (Heb. 4:16). He is there for us and here for us through our spiritual union with Him by faith.
God’s command for those of us who are single is that we learn to steward our sexuality (and emotional and mental attractions) by choosing to abstain from sexual expression, both with our minds and our bodies. Negatively, that means choosing not to engage in sexually arousing behaviors or feeding sexually arousing thoughts and images through books, entertainment, or conversations. Positively, it means that by not choosing those behaviors that ultimately become enslaving, we are increasingly free to love others selflessly and with greater self-giving impact. Along with those who are married, we too are called to obey Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” As singles we don’t have a marriage bed and so we hold marriage in honor and, if in the future God does gives us a marriage bed, we nevertheless live faithfully now as women of sexual integrity until we are married. (A married woman, too, is called to live with this same integrity by not allowing any influences to intrude on her emotional, mental, and sexual faithfulness to her husband).
Godly, unmarried sexuality is a battle, but it is not impossible! It’s a powerful way to live out faithfulness and devotion to Jesus, as the unmarried state allows for a unique attending on Christ (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 7:32–35). Through saying no to physical and emotional desires, we learn to love people rather than using them for sexual and emotional purposes. And you know what? I think it’s one of the most wonderful ways to prepare for godly, married sexuality. I’ve talked with hundreds of married women over the years, and I have yet to meet one who said, “Wow, I wish I would’ve had more sex with myself, men, and/or women before I got married!” A sobering component of my ministry to married women is helping them in their battle against the creeping nature of past sexual experiences on their marital sexual relationship. For them, masturbation was easier than trusting their husband and learning to work at knowing each other sexually. Memories of sex with others or the stick-to-the-brain power of pornographic images don’t wash away easily. Many women have shared with me that emotional and sexual entanglements experienced with female friends had such an intoxicating influence on them that growing into oneness with their husbands has been painfully difficult.
The Bible promises many things, some that hit the center of our heart with sweetness while others are sobering. One of the sobering promises of God is that a harvest does come in from our actions. God’s grace brings healing, forgiveness, and compassion; mercy brings strength for each of us as we walk forward in the midst of painful consequences of sexual sin and…sexual insanity. Jesus Christ is the One who brings sanity and wholeness to each woman who seeks His truth, mercy, and love.
THE ABOUNDING EXPRESSIONS OF SEXUAL INSANITY
Having described God’s plan for how our sexuality is to be cared for, in its expression and nonexpression, I want to explain why certain specific expressions of female sexuality arebroken. The areas I’ve chosen to address below are included because, with the exception of homosexuality, you won’t find any of them listed in the concordance of a Bible. However, when we understand the Bible’s broad teaching concerning sex and sexuality, the broken expressions of it become more clearly seen for what they are: sexual behaviors outside of God’s design.
SEXUAL SANITY GROWS ON US AS WE GROW IN CHRIST
Sexual sanity means living wisely, responsibly, and with a radical commitment to love Christ and love others. This kind of lifestyle is more than challenging—it’s impossible without His healing and forgiving presence in our lives and people to journey with us.10 Jesus loves women, and He consistently showed tender mercy to sexually sinful women. He still does today even as the world still calls His design for life and sexuality foolishness. I’m willing to be a fool for Christ, choosing to be guided by His definitions of wisdom and sanity. I hope others will too!
Ellen Dykas serves as women’s ministry coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry that exists to help men, women, and families affected by sexual struggles and sin and to equip churches to minister to sexually broken people (www.harvestusa.org). She provides individual and small group discipleship for women affected by these issues and also serves as a conference and retreat speaker to equip others.