God's Alternative Intimacy

Remaining chaste in an unchaste world


by JULIA DUIN

SEVERAL years ago an editor directed me to write a story on weekend leisure activities in South Florida. I typed out a lead sentence to the effect of "Tired after a long week, South Florida residents' first thought upon arriving home from work is what they can find in the refrigerator." I sent the editor the story via computer.

After reading it, she shot me a look reminiscent of the last Ice Age, then tapped out a few editing suggestions. She told me to redo the lead. "What most people think about on Friday nights," she noted, "is how they can have sex."

Another afternoon I was writing a story on a black Baptist group when in walked a co-worker with a potboiler on a former nun. Surely, she said, I'd want to read it. I picked it up, half-guessing its contents: a nun spends years fighting restrictions imposed by her order and finally leaves it, but not until the explosive scene near the end where she happily loses her virginity. Only then does she feel she has finally become a woman. It was such a predictable line: religion restricts but sex frees up. We only become adults when we have sex. And so on.

About the same time, a single friend asked to meet me for breakfast. She was a college friend who had surprised all her friends by going to law school. We were both twenty-nine. She told me of the thirtieth birthday party of another single friend. One of the birthday cards she got said on the front that there are worse things than being over thirty. On the inside it announced, "You could still be a virgin."

I can still see the pain on her face. "I felt like a freak," she told me. I think many singles lose their virginity because they have no compelling reason not to do so. They don't want to be considered freaks.

Life without sex

Many of our friends — even our Christian friends — consider life without sex abnormal. If we are divorced or widowed, they wonder why we don't use our newfound freedom to explore sexual frontiers; if we used to sleep around before conversion but now do not, they wonder why we are suddenly acting virtuous.

Virginity is literally a joke. I once picked up a greeting card that read on the outside, "Many years ago, people remained pure, chaste, and wholesome and were called virgins. Today, some people still remain pure, chaste, and wholesome . . .". The inside punchline read, "They are called lepers."

In a typical news story on sexual issues, those who promote abstinence and resist casual sex and homosexuality are described as rigid, cold, manipulative, joyless, immature, and asexual, if not just afraid of sex. Those who make a case for sex outside of marriage are seen as open, warm, gentle, pastoral, flexible, understanding, and caring. When the Vatican issued a critical statement on homosexuality in 1986, some of the stories written about it treated its writers as dried-up, passionless people who really didn't understand the gusto and joy of life.

Our culture is not enamored of chastity — chastity meaning faithfulness within marriage and abstinence from sex outside of marriage. Society expects that everyone not only wants sex but needs sex. Sex between the unmarried is considered normal. The unmarried are portrayed as sexually active on most TV sitcoms (look at Friends or Seinfeld).

Only 20 percent of all unmarried women in their twenties are still virgins, according to numerous surveys, including a study by the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. One-third of all single women in their twenties, about 2.4 million people, have lived with a man at some point, the study said. (The poll takers didn't seek men's reactions.) Time magazine has stated that at current rates, 40 percent of today's fourteen-year-old girls will be pregnant at least once by the age of twenty. (Many, of course, will have abortions.)

A sociologist, Robert Sherwin from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, studied how long people were keeping their virginity. In 1963, he said, 40 percent of all men were virgins before they married, but in 1984, male virgins had fallen to 28 percent. As for women, 75 percent of those polled in 1963 were still virgins, but that number tumbled to 38 percent in 1978. (Then women started holding out. More women are saying no, he reported, and the percentage was up to 43 percent by 1984.)

In other words, everything tells us that the chaste among us are out of step. I was at a luncheon where the speaker was describing his forty-fifth birthday. "Up until now," he said, "my two main interests in life were sex and sex. Now they're politics and religion." Everyone laughed. I felt completely out of touch. If my two interests in life consisted of sex and more sex, I'd be in trouble. If nothing else, chastity does force one to develop more wide-ranging interests.

Sex, the Single Christian, and the Church

In the Church, however, it is very difficult for single Christians to mention their sexual desires for fear of being thought unspiritual, even though those thoughts are never far from our minds. Single Christians need support in remaining chaste in a culture that tells us constantly that chastity is weird or pointless and that they would be healthier and happier if they just gave in to their natural desires for sexual intimacy.

When people need a place for support, some head for a bar. Believers in Christ should head for a church. But in most congregations virtue is assumed but not taught or even actively encouraged. Books abound on sexual technique for married Christians, but little exists for the unmarried that is not simplistic and insulting to anyone of average intelligence and normal desires.

After all, people reason, what is there to teach about abstaining? Even Christians see sex as fulfillment, virginity as a vacuum. How many Sunday school classes really address this topic the way it should be addressed? Though there are classes on the family and on being happily married, I see little in the way of "Abstinence 101" or "Advanced Chastity." No, churches tend to expect singles to marry and assume that singleness and celibacy are only temporary.

And woe to us if it is permanent. One single male friend of mine often complains that what riles him isn't the unbelievers, but the believers. He once wrote, "What gets to me is the incessant barrage of questions like, 'Are you married?' or 'How old did you say you were?' or 'Oh, you've never been married?' or 'Didn't it work out?' ad nauseam."

Unfortunately, from the Church's point of view single people may not need support but they are useful. In various fields involving sacrificial or dangerous work, such as inner city ministry or overseas missions, Christians assume that single people are somehow more expendable than married people. This is true even when it comes to working weekends and holidays. Single people tend to get stuck with odd shifts because their supervisors assume that they have no family to be with. Unfortunately, even Christian culture assumes that the addition of a husband or wife somehow increases our worth. This is contrary to biblical ideals. That's why I like a phrase printed on the back of Struggling for Wholeness, by Ann Kiemel Anderson and Jan Kiemel Ream. "You are significant," it read. "Even alone."

Not finding comfort in a church, some of us head for small groups. My biggest helpers here have been Christian couples who either have teenagers or college-age kids or who work with that age group as professionals. They at least understand how common sex before marriage is. But those people are rare.

Failing to find support from their churches, singles' last resort is each other. Even these relationships can be empty. I'm surprised on dates to find Christian men who don't hold the same hard and fast line that I do. One man told me that he couldn't see why two people couldn't have sex before marriage, "if they really loved each other," to which I replied that women often feel exploited in these cases. If the man really loved her, he would wait for her. It struck me how much he, a committed Christian, still believed that he had sexual options. The Lord gives us none.

Making choices for Heaven or Hell

But we still have to make a choice. C. S. Lewis says that we choose everyday which direction we shall go in life: to Heaven or to Hell. Those choices never seem that portentous when first made, but they form an unmistakable path in one direction or the other as the years go by.

One Christian reporter told me that the first few choices to abstain from premarital sex were the most difficult for him. But after he set a pattern of saying no, he grew used to refusing. Then someone tried to seduce him at a party. What made him fight her off instead of giving in were the prior choices he had made, which by now had become a habit. He had invested so much in keeping his sexual purity, he saw no reason to give it up on a whim.

He began by making a choice. Our station in life is determined by choices, choices to work hard or slough off; choices to sacrifice for a lofty goal or satisfy the urge of the moment; choices to persevere or give up. Once we break our pattern of right choices and lose our virginity, our spiritual concentration is shattered and the best motivation for maintaining purity vanishes. Although we can't regain our virginity, we can regain our chastity, but all the same, that original purity is worth keeping.

I've had friends who wouldn't wait. One, whom I'll call Gwen, had a child by a man she was sleeping with. She eventually left him, but her sexual experience had so marked her that she no longer had the perception needed for choosing a husband. Sexual pleasure had distorted that perception and guilt interfered with her good judgment. So she went from one bed to another. She recently turned down a very decent job offer to follow her current lover to another city, but like all the others, she has not been able to get a commitment from that man to marry her.

Gwen happens to have a relationship with the Lord, but her relationships with men are far stronger. Once she's had sex with them, try as she might, she can't let them go. She is an emotional prisoner. Chastity is not a habit for her.

Contemporary psychology assumes that sexual abstinence is impossible: that we need frequent sex in the same way we need three meals a day. Unlike food, sex can be subjected to a long-term, even permanent fast. If we break the fast before the divinely ordained time, we spoil the meal. Abstinence from sex, like abstinence from sugar, results in an ability to do without it altogether.

Abstinence becomes habit. Just as our bodies have to be trained to get into the habit of sex — ask any virginal newlyweds if this isn't true — so they can be trained to do without it. I think we are afraid to find this out about ourselves because we fear that if we learn how to stay sexually pure, we will be permanently inhibited.

No, delayed gratification is a valuable tool in dealing with life and it works in sexual matters. It produces purity and no bad memories. It gives us the freedom to have deep friendships with the understanding they won't result in sex. The roles are clearly established; we know our boundaries with each other. We learn each other's subtleties without the hazing of sexual excitement. We value ourselves more when we know we're waiting for God's best, whether a mate or God Himself, without auctioning ourselves off to the highest bidder.

What's so sad is that many people don't even wait for the highest bidder. They settle for the first offer. One celibate male friend put it more bluntly by saying, "If you've ever observed people who live promiscuously, you've noticed their personalities wane shallow. They tend to see much of life in terms of the least common denominator, namely, having sex. Staying celibate has been invaluable for personality development and just being human."

A vow of fidelity

Richard Foster, the author of Celebration of Discipline, has suggested making a vow of fidelity that promises faithfulness to God's call for chastity in and out of marriage. The Song of Solomon, he wrote, has a lot to say about sexual restraint, although we traditionally view it as a description of sexual passion. Verses 3:5 and 8:4 asks that the "daughters of Jerusalem . . . do not rouse or awaken love until it so desires." This is sage advice for those of us who feel frantic about not being married, for love cannot be manipulated.

The brothers, who in chapter eight describe their sister as a wall or a door, are actually saying that if she kept herself a wall, this means she kept her passions in check, reserving herself for her permanent lover. As a door, she would be opening herself to temporary liaisons. In verse ten of the same chapter, the woman proudly announces, "I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers." She did not give in to lust. According to chapter six, the man kept himself inviolate from the "sixty queens, . . . eighty concubines, . . . and virgins beyond number" for her alone, Foster said.

Even though much has been said about God not judging sexual sin any differently than He judges non-sexual sins, Paul in I Corinthians 6:12-20 draws a distinction between the two. Sexual sin may not be worse than other sins, but it is different, as he points out in verse eighteen, saying that sexual sin is sin against our bodies. He makes it plain that the body is not designed for fornication.

When we come to know Christ personally, we drag Him along as an unwilling participant when we have sexual encounters outside of marriage, because our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit. Small wonder the Holy Spirit is so grieved. Sex belongs in a special manner to God because it makes us one flesh with our partner. Unlike other bodily appetites such as sleeping and eating, He has reserved the satisfaction of our sex appetite for the special relation of marriage — and made it possible for us to give it up entirely.

Learning to bloom and not wilt

One way I've found to bloom instead of wilt on the vine is by looking for romance — not the courtship kind but the destiny kind. This kind of romance is the expectation, anticipation, joy, hope, and desire we experience as we lay down our lives for other people. Romance is what we get when we give our lives away. It happens when we face death.

Jim Elliot, the famous missionary to Ecuador who was killed by the Auca Indians in 1956, wrote that "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." That kind of sentiment comforts me — to know I'm not an utter fool when I spend time doing something for someone else, when I take hours that most singles would use barhopping or on dates to go to a church function or volunteer my time to do something I hope will help build the Kingdom of God. When we die to ourselves and put the pleasures of the single life last, we really grow up and get a clearer picture of what life is all about.

The pain and dying to ourselves in small, everyday sacrifices clears our vision for what is truly precious in life. We are working for higher ends than just our own, for greater causes than how many sexual experiences we can have. We develop, as I said already, more wide-ranging interests. We begin to see what is really important.

Thereby, romance comes into our life with Christ. The decision to choose Christ instead of ourselves is a sort of "road less traveled by" that the earlier made, the better. Anyone who decides to keep his or her virginity past the age of fifteen comes to that spiritual wrestling match sooner or later.

A series of decisions

With me, it was a series of decisions. I read a book on how well God knows our hearts. I gathered that if we don't wish our hearts to be broken by various love affairs, we should turn them over to God, who would safeguard us from romantic heartbreak. I did this. I prayed that God would "take" my heart so that He would choose who I'd fall in love with and when.

Back then, I had no idea it would be so long a wait, but I must say that my simple gesture of giving Him full rights to my heart has steered me clear of a lot of shipwrecks. Some people have told me that perhaps my decision has kept me too inviolate — that I've been prevented from finding the right man as well as the wrong one. To think that way slanders God. It presupposes that He doesn't know what He is doing.

The Bible says that God searches our hearts. I believe that, like a good Jewish father, He is on the lookout for good matches for His children. Waiting on God puts the burden on Him to bring this miracle to pass. Like the servant Abraham sent hundreds of miles to Haran from Beersheba in search of a bride for his son, Isaac, God is just as concerned about the right marriages for His children. That story in Genesis always encourages me, for a few hundred miles to them is like thousands of miles to us. God went to great lengths to put that unlikely match together.

Of course, God may not bring us a mate. This is an increasing possibility that chills the hearts of many single people in the frantic sexual free market that is today's American society. Many people simply aren't marrying. So we have this tension of whether to put our lives and careers on hold while we look or go full-steam ahead with our lives, letting the chips fall where they may.

I am an advocate of the second option. Since college I have lived in Oregon, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and now Washington, D.C. Singleness has helped me risk, grow, and live in ways that wouldn't be possible were I married. But I have friends who refused to leave a particular city for fear that they'd erase their chance of marriage. So they sit and stagnate.

Remember, God does call some of us to remain single, even if the opportunity to marry presents itself. The Apostle Paul chose to be single, in a society where men were expected to marry, so he could carry out the opportunity of a millennium: preaching the Gospel to all the known world.

A single person's loneliness

But this means loneliness. How well I and every other single Christian knows loneliness. It has been my biggest struggle in life. I think that's why over the past decade I've put so much effort into learning to hear the voice of the Lord; just a simple phrase from Him eases my loneliness and keeps me going for weeks.

"The single person facing life alone may feel intimidated in the world of couples," writes Brother Benedict Groeschel in The Courage to Be Chaste. "There is often no one waiting at the airport, no one with whom to discuss problems, no one to call when you backed your car into a tree. The minor emergencies of life frequently emphasize the single person's vulnerability and lack of support."

It's not only the emergencies that are upsetting; it's the little things like wanting to go out to lunch but finding no one at the office who cares to go along, or wanting to see a movie without having to sit alone. Singles use all sorts of techniques to avoid the table set for one: room service while on business trips or eating behind a steering wheel. In times like these we feel like an incarnation of Three Dog Night's famous song, "One is the Loneliest Number." Sometimes I think that loneliness is the cruelest result of the Fall.

I think some people become workaholics because they don't wish to face the fact that one can be the loneliest number. We blame ourselves a lot for being lonely or we at least take it out on ourselves, making ourselves work harder or overeat or hide from it all by turning up the radio, TV, or stereo. Or — the great temptation in our culture — we resort to sex, hoping that maybe giving ourselves to someone else will save us from feeling so lonely.

I've even heard more than one person say they're lonely because they're not having sex. And that the lack of sex makes them into cold fish. Sometimes we do this without thinking, like the people I met at a conference on celibacy at a convent in West Palm Beach, Florida. I was the only person there who was not a priest or nun. The nuns — only one priest dared come and he was the workshop leader — were astonished that I was there. They had never imagined anyone remaining celibate out of religious conviction without the binding vow of chastity.

The priest leading the workshop and the nun assisting him asked the group to say which words first came to our minds upon hearing the word, "celibacy." True to form, we came up with negative phrases: "no sex," "aloofness," "no joy," "barrier," "cold person," "non-involvement," "deprivation," "non-emotional," "sacrifice," and "mortification." Someone plaintively added that celibates feel as though they don't belong to anyone.

The natural and spiritual families

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who founded the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the early 1970s, once gave a series of talks on the natural family and the spiritual family. He said we all must have a spiritual family — our brothers and sisters in Christ — as well as our biological or natural families.

He said that women are not simply longing for men; they're longing for wholeness. Men aren't simply desiring women; they too long for wholeness. He observed that people want friendship more than sex, that the school for friendship is the Church, and that the excessive perceived need for sex in our society can be diffused in the Christian community. The human need for intimacy can be satisfied within the Church, through the spiritual family of other Christians.

"We are all sexual," Rohr said. "Sexuality merely means the attraction of opposites. . . . Why is the sexual desire so strong? I think because he [God] is teaching us . . . that we're not whole and that we've got to be in relationship."

I can remember one period of my life when I was never lonely: the two years during my mid-twenties when I lived in a Christian household system in Portland, Oregon. This was during the late 1970s when Christian household-style communities were quite the vogue around the country and, wanting to be on the cutting edge, I moved into one affiliated with my church.

The community had several married couples with mostly single adults in their twenties and thirties. We lived a life into which loneliness never crept. Except for our jobs, we did everything together: outings, worship, and meals. One of the women was quadriplegic and we'd simply bundle her into the front seat, put her wheelchair into the trunk, and take her along wherever we went.

Our worship was rich because we spent so much time together. We felt free to confess our sins to each other which resulted in openness and unconditional acceptance. This brought about greater intimacy with each other. Thus, we felt free to risk in worship. And because of our geographical proximity, there was always someone around to do something with. Some of our greatest conversations took place over the dishes.

I belonged so thoroughly to this group of people that the desire for sex rarely came to mind. There really is something to the theory that if our other needs for love and belonging are met, sex is not such a driving desire.

A longing for connection

At the retreat on celibacy, the priest observed that we all long for that sense of belonging or being owned. Sex does have a way of bringing an immediate sense of connectedness, physically and spiritually. When people want to belong to or connect with another at a deep level, they fall back on sex for communication.

To be lying in the arms of someone we love is one of the most secure feelings on earth. There is warmth, there is love, there is self-disclosure; you know someone in the most intimate way possible. The vulnerability is so complete that the couple can break quickly through formalities to know and be known, which is the same thing singles long for. But chaste singles don't have the bonding power of genital sex. Whereas husbands and wives have the mutual security to cling to in possessing each other's bodies, singles don't have that comfort.

But, said a nun at the conference on celibacy, although we think we need sex, our needs are more profound. Without sex as an outlet, we must be more creative in finding other outlets. This takes work. Sexually, two partners have given each other the power to not only invade their bodies but their entire personalities.

When we abstain from sex, we must make sure that we not seal ourselves off from emotions and vulnerability that a sexually active couple gets automatically. We who abstain need to risk in other areas where the stakes are high: where our bodies may not be on the line but our egos are.

We all have a certain amount of energy to put into relationships; energy that married couples use on each other and which singles can bestow on the persons of their choice. But we must choose someone or better still, a group of someones. The decision to put ourselves into intimate nonsexual relationships is the best option for the single Christian. This is what Jesus did. To risk is to live dangerously, but it makes the ride more exciting. My best description of risk comes from an anecdote, "Who's Elwood McDugle?" from a devotional printed by the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.

It tells of a father encouraging his sons to take risks for good causes. "Think of Christopher Columbus," he told them. "He risked everything to sail to a new land because he believed the world was round. We remember his name. Think of Paul Revere. He risked his life to warn his fellow patriots and because he did, we remember him. Then there are the Wright brothers. They took some risks in getting the first airplane off the ground. We still remember them today. And then think of Elwood McDugle."

"Elwood McDugle," the oldest said. "Who's he?"

"Ah!" said the father. "The reason you never heard of Elwood McDugle is because he was afraid to take risks."

Chastity is a vocation for gamblers

Our commitment to a chaste, single existence is a risk, a gamble that as Christians we can be content there. And not only content, but satisfied and joyful.

"Voluntary chastity," wrote Groeschel, "is not a vocation for the fainthearted." He pointed out that persons who mock chastity — and there are plenty — will in the next breath express admiration for Mother Teresa, not realizing that the nature of her work obligates her to be chaste and her chastity gives her the power needed for her ministry.

Mother Teresa has managed to draw a large number of single, chaste women into her order, the Missionary Sisters of Charity, to spend their lives serving the poor and unwanted. Describing these women in a recent documentary on her life, Mother Teresa said, "The person Christ has chosen for himself, she knows. Maybe she doesn't know how to express it, but she knows."

This image of staking one's love on God gives the chaste person a reason for being. Many single people feel that no one has much at stake in their existence, and if they died, they wouldn't be missed.

For instance, the boyfriend of one of my roommates got angry at something at church and so left the congregation. He felt unneeded and unwanted. As the weeks went by, my roommate began to notice small things, gaps that he had formerly filled in with his presence. Now various tasks went undone, simply because he was not there to do them. His absence left a hole in that church body, which now functioned with an embarrassing awkwardness. And being absent he was no longer being trained in holiness by the need to serve others.

We are missed. We may not literally kill ourselves, but by withdrawing our labor from the body of Christ, we commit spiritual suicide.

One more thing needs to be said, to balance what I've said about the difficulty of being single and chaste. Loneliness is a most devastating way of persuading people that chastity is not for them. It is hard for us to see the other side of the coin: promiscuity is devastating. In Dancing on My Grave ballerina Gelsey Kirkland described her affair with Mikhail Baryshnikov. I was struck with how empty it left her. Even with a glamorous lover like him, all she had was love without commitment, which really wasn't love at all. She described how, before he slept with her, she hoped that she meant something special to him. All she ended up being was another conquest.

On stage, meanwhile, they were partners who needed a kind of working intimacy in order to draw out the best in each other. All she could see was his demand for intimacy without commitment. This was emptiness to her. "How," she wrote, "could I dance without love?"

Love wasted on God

The essence of chastity in or out of marriage, in other words, is love. It means curbing one's desires to serve others.

People get the impression that in putting the brakes on our sexual drives, we are tempted to turn off our capacity for tenderness and compassion. People observing us don't see the inner anguish; all they see is the outer resolution. Thus, those who take a moral stand on sexuality aren't seen as courageous or risk-takers. This is an astonishing reversal of roles that has happened in the latter half of this century.

I once chanced upon an article titled "Celibacy: Love 'Wasted' on God" in the Christian magazine New Heaven, New Earth. In it Nano Farabaugh compared celibacy to the woman in John 12:3, the lady who poured out ultra-expensive perfume on to Jesus' feet. Rarely have I seen anyone compare virginity or celibacy to something expensive like perfume, yet this woman wrote that our sexual purity is of higher worth to God than we imagine.

"In the ten years since I committed my life to live single for the Lord, I have realized that commitment is one of pouring out something very costly," she wrote. "In choosing to give up marriage, I chose never to belong to anyone but the Lord, never to have children or grandchildren, never to have the security of a husband's love. Having had the opportunity to marry and choosing not to, I have voluntarily poured out what I treasured, as the woman did with the perfume."

Why? Because "Christ is worthy of total self-sacrifice, is worthy of receiving such an offering," she added. Nano, however, wrote as a member of a covenant Christian community, the People of Praise, which is similar to the one I knew in Portland. She probably got lots of support there.

I compare the state of a single person to a clay pitcher: today's pressures will break us in pieces or harden us. I suggest we fill ourselves with God's Spirit and pour ourselves out for others.

Looking for intimacy

We need to look for intimacy and love from people who don't demand sex along with it. When I choose my close friends, I look for people who think like I do. Of course, I get along with people who don't, but intimacy involves a certain empathy with my basic convictions. I look for people who listen to me and seek me out as much as I seek them out.

In other words, we need to find a spiritual family. But finding one isn't easy. The single man or woman is always faced with the possibility of loneliness — a roommate will get married, a close friend move away, married friends have children, a community break up, a new job come in a new town. (It would certainly help if more married Christians took care to include single people in their lives.)

Battling loneliness for me, as for most single people, is a battle that may never end, so I try not to get disheartened when the going gets rough. Some people glibly suggest we can choose not to be lonely. Such denial has never worked for me. I've found it more helpful to allow myself to experience, although not be overcome by, the reigning emotion of the time.

If it is loneliness, then I need to walk through it. Only by experiencing the pain can I go beyond it. My loneliest times are when God's voice is faint or silent, which trebles my feelings of loneliness. At that point, feelings are all that count and no amount of cheery logic can dispel that.

Only faith brings us through such hard times. For my college yearbook, I was asked to choose a quote that summed up my life thus far. So I chose two verses in Psalm 42 that helped me during my loneliest moments in college:

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. / Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. (Psalm 42:7-8)

Christ and the alternatives

Chastity is not easy. Single Christians still have sexual desires. We are tempted by our culture and our own loneliness to find quick and easy intimacy through sex. It is hard to be chaste, but that difficulty is not the last word for Christian singles.

As single Christians, we may not be able to have sex, but we can enjoy our sexuality. If sexuality means the attraction of opposites, we can find wholeness through spiritual intimacy with others. We can find romance and love through self-giving to others.

Sex and sexuality are two different things that the world fuses together, saying that to be a real man you must be good in bed; to be a real woman, you must experience orgasm. That's the stuff of fantasy — and fantasies that have caused people untold pain and suffering. We all know that sex doesn't bestow instant maturity, and I think the opposite is usually true: premarital sex exposes our immaturity and inability to wait for the best. In fact, it makes us children.

Christ didn't need sex to be a man. Being a man involves courage, taking risks, leadership, decisiveness, and tenderness and gentleness as well. If we can't develop our sex lives, we can develop our femininity and masculinity. God, Who created sex, also created alternatives. We would only do Him justice to see what those alternatives are.


"God's Alternative Intimacy" is reprinted from the Sex and the Gospel issue of Mission & Ministry, the magazine of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. For more information see www.tesm.edu/crisis.