Sex and the Single Life
Single’ is a word that triggers a variety of reactions. Some will gush about the freedom and independence it brings, while others may feel a pain in their hearts as they are reminded of a longing yet to be fulfilled. It’s probably safe to assume most of us single people live with a combination of both. Regardless of how you view singleness, God has great purpose, promise, and beauty for us.
The Bible is filled with stories of single people living exciting, adventurous, and purpose-filled lives.
The Apostle Paul: The man responsible for writing the majority of the New Testament. He traveled across several continents bringing the gospel to many; he played a significant role in launching the local church around the world. We so often focus on the spiritual aspect of that (which is amazing!), but can you imagine the cultural experiences he enjoyed and the people he crossed paths with?
Ruth: Though you may know her for her love story with Boaz, she made life changing decisions as a single woman that positioned her for this unlikely romance. When she became widowed, she courageously embraced her new found singleness displaying steadfast loyalty to her mother-in-law in a season of great despair. (There is so much to say about her!) God orchestrated a beautiful story through her devotion, courage, and willingness to serve unnoticed. A story that God uses to display His love to us!
Esther: Known as the queen that saved God’s people. She was chosen by God to take the throne, but first she had a journey of preparation as a single woman. She made a choice to surrender her life to God’s purposes, trusting Him every step of the way. This trust led her to free a nation. Have you heard the scripture prayed, “…for such a time as this”? That’s Esther.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene. Anna. Martha. Dorcas. Lydia. There are many women in the Bible (and many that followed) whom God used to make a significant impact in the world in their singleness.
These people lived their life to the fullest and experienced all that delighted the heart of God. Their status as ‘single’ was not a limitation. And friend, it’s not for you either. God’s desire for you, right now, as a single woman, is to live a full life; one of purpose, promise, and joy. A full life does not mean you do not have a desire for marriage, longing for intimate connection, or that you won’t think about sex.
Finally, someone said it! Yes, you as a single woman have thoughts about sex. That brings us to the purpose of this article. So what do we do with these thoughts, questions, and/or desires about sex in our singleness?
It would be much easier if the Bible gave us a one-size-fits-all list of rules. We’d definitely study the “sex and the single life” playbook to navigate sexual desire, sexual fantasies, and the oh-so-important (yet often awkward) sex talk with the person you are dating. Perhaps not having a one-size fits all list of rules was intentional. Just like in other areas of our lives, this way would emphasize the need to seek moment-to-moment guidance from God’s Spirit, develop full reliance on Him, and build integrity. Perhaps God wanted a diverse tapestry of stories that point to His creativity and grace, rather than what is linear and formulaic.
“Sexual desire is an indication of our longing for intimate connection; this is a God-given desire that
He created and calls holy.”
For us, we learned a lot about what we “shouldn’t” do, and the rules we “should” follow when it came to dating, friendship with the opposite sex, and managing our sexuality. While this teaching had good intentions, the fruit in our lives (and for many others) was fear, shame, and even pride. Rather than an honest desire for purity before God, purity became a trophy to win. The pressure to appear holy and abstain from sex became an idol, and largely influenced our self-worth.
Bre: “I had so much pride. I felt that I had earned the perfect relationship, and therefore a perfect marriage. Surely, I deserved a “fast pass” from the point of meeting to getting married, and all my boxes would be checked: Our relationship would be Jesus-centered, financially stable, romance-filled, fairly free of conflict, full of excitement, etc. I was convinced I had earned all of these things and more, and that this relationship would miraculously show up. My pride was reinforced when others (with good intention) would describe to me the kind of guy I “deserved.” More negative dating experiences stacked up than positive, and did a number on my self-worth. To protect my pride, I tried to convince myself that I did not need/want anyone at all; I tried to numb out the desire for romance, dating, and pursuing marriage. Jesus graciously exposed the idol my pride had built. I needed Him to heal wounds I had avoided. I needed Him to re-shape and refine my perspective of the sexual nature He gave me. I needed shame and fear to be exposed, and hope to be restored so that I could move forward into a fun, healthy season of dating.”
Tasha: “Out of a desire to belong, I embraced the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” If I followed a list of rules and fit a certain mold, I would be holy, acceptable, and loved by God and people. (I know now that this is so far from the truth!) When it came to dating and sexual desire, I found it easier to avoid it versus the risk of not fitting the mold and losing my place. No one knew that I was a survivor of sexual abuse. No one knew of the lines I had crossed, but justified because we “didn’t go all the way.” No one knew of my struggles with unwanted sexual behavior. I hid it all because I desired to belong. I conformed to rules rooted in legalism. This shaped my perspective on dating and sexual desire and became an unhealthy barricade around my heart. When Jesus highlighted the sexual arena of my life, with mercy and kindness, He began to transform my heart. Rules and legalism didn’t offer the safety and belonging I was looking for, but Jesus did.”
What is your story? We know we are not the only ones with these experiences. We have conversations with women regularly about sex and singleness. We are not experts; we are friends walking on the same journey with the desire to know and honor God, to understand His truth, to pursue purity and holiness God’s way, and to experience the full life God has for us.
Now, our single life comes with some grey areas related to sex. So how do we navigate them? What does honoring God with our sexuality look like? How do we steward our sexual desires and fill our longing for connection? How do we experience pleasure without opening ourselves up to sin? How do we pursue holiness without legalism? What about sex before marriage? Sexual fantasy? Masturbation?
We don’t have all the answers, but we want to start a conversation. Are you ready?
Our sexual nature is God-given and meant to be stewarded. God created us as sexual beings; He created our bodies, our minds, and our sex drive. He gave us imagination, sex organs, and sexual desire. He created us to experience pleasure. In God’s original design, holiness and pleasure co-exist. To best steward our sexual nature, we must understand that sexual desire is an indication of our longing for intimate connection. This is a God-given desire that He created and calls holy.
Sexual desire is not inherently a bad thing. It’s how we respond to it that may or may not be in our best interest. When you are experiencing sexual desire: Acknowledge it. Bring it to God. Surrender it to Him. Let Him lead you to fulfill it in a healthy and holy way. This is stewardship; a stewardship that leads you to live in holiness and experiencing true pleasure – all that delights His heart.
Romans 12:1 (TPT), Paul writes: “Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifice. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.”
What about masturbation? This one comes up in one-on-one conversations on the regular. Some describe masturbation as nothing more than a physical release. For some, it is linked to sexual fantasies and the desire to experience sexual pleasure. For some, it is a symptom of a deeper longing for connection or a coping mechanism for loneliness, boredom, or stress. And for others, it is a habit tied to trauma or an unaddressed wound.
We have heard: “In the height of stress, this is how I can cut the tension and reconnect with my body.” “I’m afraid of being single forever; this is a way I can self-satisfy a need.” “I don’t understand my body and I’m ashamed I don’t ‘know myself’; I’m ashamed of my inexperience and worried about being embarrassed when I do have sex.”
We want to be sensitive to your story, and we aren’t here to be the behavior modification police, instead we are here to encourage you to go to the Word of God for wisdom and to get to the root of your action.
What does the Bible say? The Bible does not specifically name masturbation, but scripture reminds us over and over again that God wants to offer us wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5, NIV). As you seek wisdom from God, allow Biblical truth and the Holy Spirit’s revelation to guide you in your decision.
If you masterbate on the regular or you masterbate compulsively, we encourage you to seek to understand the thoughts and desires that lead you to act. Are you lonely and desiring intimacy? Are you bored and desiring fulfillment? Are you stressed and desiring escape? Are you scared and desiring comfort? Are you feeding a craving for sexual pleasure? Understanding your reason for masterbating will lead you to discover the best plan of action.
We have found that this isn’t a “one and done” conversation, but it is ongoing. God continues to peel back layers within us, revealing more and more truth that usher us in more and more freedom; this ultimately steers us toward what is good.
Sometimes it’s hard to sort through these questions alone, and we need help. There is absolutely no shame in seeking counsel. In fact, we encourage you to talk to a pastor, counselor, or mentor about this; doing this was a turning point for us.
Masturbation is a personal topic that should be explored with genuine surrender and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As you begin to explore these questions and the truth that arises, be kind and release yourself from condemnation and shame that may surface. God will not, and will never, shame or condemn you. Be courageous. Walk in trust and obedience to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
What about sex before marriage? Culture has so much to say about about romance, intimacy, and sex. There are strong, polarizing messages all around us that try to steer us toward what is pleasurable, even if just for a moment.
The Bible also has a lot to say about romance, intimacy, and sex. Surprised? God created sex. As the creator, He not only established the what and the how (the act of sex), but the who (the participants in sex) and the why (the purpose of sex), God designed sex to be expressed between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage.
The book of Genesis recounts God’s creation of sex. He created it for Adam and Eve to experience together, and called it good. Sex was created before sin entered the world. Isn’t that beautiful?
“Rules and legalism didn’t offer the safety and belonging I was looking for, but Jesus did.”
So what do we do when culture, and (if we’re honest) our desire, contradicts biblical truth?
Seek the heart of God, surrender to His leading, and side with His truth. Throughout the Bible, we are asked to steward our sexual nature, and implored to reserve sex for marriage. Why? Because this is God’s original design and that original design has our wellbeing in mind.
God wants what is best for us. He wants us to be rooted in His love, to have healthy relationships (platonic and romantic), to set boundaries that guard our hearts and minds, and to trust His Word and timing.
We are not here to shame anyone’s lifestyle, or to compare our physical boundaries with one another. Rather, we want to point to the Word of God. He has a specific purpose and plan for sex. He has something to say about sex for a single person, and He desires to guide you through it all. We will make mistakes because none of us are perfect, but we get to encourage each other and lean on God’s Word and Spirit for direction.
Where do we go from here?
Friends, this isn’t the easiest area to navigate, especially on your own. We get it. We’re on this journey too. We have known shame, confusion, loneliness, frustration, and heartbreak in our single lives. From identifying unwanted sexual behaviors rooted in trauma, to unlearning well-intentioned teaching of Christian culture, embarking on this journey of sexual purity and holiness has shown us our deep need for the Holy Spirit; our deep need to seek wisdom from God; our need to welcome His instruction and conviction; and to receive His unlimited kindness, mercy, and grace. As you take a look at your journey with sex and the single life, we want to encourage you with these thoughts:
Invite God In.
“I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit. So come into the hidden places of my heart and teach me wisdom” (Psalm 51:6, TPT). God has an intentional, purposeful, and carefully crafted design for you and for sex. Invite Him into this area of your life, push past the shame and embarrassment, share your heart with Him, and ask Him to give you wisdom.
Conviction or Condemnation? Know the difference. God will never condemn you. The word says in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Condemnation is general and broad; it is difficult to address because of the size of the accusation. It is oppressive and diminishing, and will lead to isolation, hopelessness, and shame. This is not the heart of God. Jesus doesn’t accuse, He heals.
Conviction is clear and specific. The tone is kind, strong, and full of mercy. It will always lead you to what is good. Conviction is a gift! Do not fear or despise it, but tune your ear to it. “Do not ignore the instruction that comes from the Lord, or lose heart when He steps in to correct you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He corrects each one He takes as His own” (Hebrews 12:5-6, VOICE).
Know the true heart of your desire. At the core of your sexual desire is a desire for intimacy. Understanding this equips you to best navigate through these desires in a God-honoring way.
Set your mind on the Spirit. Your sexual desire is significantly influenced by your mind, and your mind is impacted by content you consume. If you are experiencing a strong desire for sexual intimacy, check your content consumption. What are you watching and/or listening to? Is it stirring up sexual desire and setting you up for temptation? Set yourself up for success by setting your mind on things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and filtering what feeds your mind.
Discover healthy pleasure. At some point, it seems pleasure became synonymous with sex. As if the only way to satisfy sexual desire is through sexual pleasure. Sex is pleasurable, but it is just one of potentially thousands of sources of pleasure. We encourage you to discover healthy and holy ways to experience pleasure; healthy and holy activities and experiences that stimulate your senses. Take an exercise class. Go to a concert. Try something new with fun company. Plan a monthly adventure. Be intentional with experiencing healthy pleasure in your life.
Get others involved. Put yourself in close company with those who are seeking the Holy Spirit in their lives. Open up about your journey; your experiences, your struggles, your questions. As we began to open up about sex and the single life with trusted friends, pastors, and professional Christian counselors, we found camaraderie, freedom, safety, wisdom, and healing.
If there is more to your story (sexual abuse, unwanted sexual behavior, sexual addiction, unaddressed trauma), we want you to know that you are not alone. Please bring a trusted, wise, and trained voice in – be it a pastor, counselor, or mentor. You are not meant to walk through this alone.
As you navigate through sex and the single life, we pray that your intimacy with God deepens, that you walk in complete freedom from shame and condemnation, that you are filled with confident hope of His beautiful plan, and that you thrive (and dare we say, enjoy) the single life!
God wants to bring joy, peace, and healing into this area of your life. He wants to heal unresolved wounds or residue from traumatic experiences, abusive relationships, and unwanted behavior. God wants your marriage to include a beautiful, exciting sex life. And it is okay if you need help getting there. Maybe you are single and there is an area that God is asking you to surrender. It is time to bring God into that area of your life. Maybe you need God to heal your perspective of sex because of some personal traumatic experiences. Maybe unwanted sexual behavior, an addiction to porn, or compulsive sexual activity that has left you feeling guilt and shame. Whichever the case may be, I want to gently urge you to bring Jesus into this area of your life. Let the Holy Spirit in. God wants to meet you there to redeem, heal and restore something that HE created as beautiful.
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