I’m a single guy. I love Jesus. And I want to have sex.
When I say I want to have sex, I don’t just mean it in the “holy” way, either. I’m not saying that I can’t wait to be married and have sex within the confines of a committed Christian marriage. This isn’t one of those cutesy “saving myself for marriage!” memes that will make people think I’m an upstanding gentleman and inspire them to match me up with their daughters.
Quite the opposite.
What I mean is that I want to have sex now. Right this minute. Or, if I have to wait, I’d like to wait only as long as it takes me to walk out the front door, catch a bus downtown, find a likely candidate, and bat a sexual home run. That’s what I want.
I’m not supposed to want that, I know. I’ve heard more versions of the Christian abstinence talk than I care to count. I’ve read (and believed) the biblical case against premarital sex. I’ve seen sex portrayed as a piece of tape that gets less sticky every time it’s stuck and unstuck from something, as a rose that gets a little more frail with every hand that caresses it. I’ve heard about the risks of impregnation and STDs and soul decay that come with sexual sin. I’ve watched videos and taken vows and joined accountability groups. I know all the reasons to say no to sex as a single man.
And some days, God forgive me, I just don’t care about any of it. Some days it seems like every well-meaning abstinence campaign only increases my appetite. Some days I just want to have sex.
Or at least, that’s part of what I want.
But there’s something else I want too. I want to be totally sold out in obedience to the God of the universe. I want to be so in love with Him, so obsessed with Him, that every other desire pales in comparison. If following Jesus means saying no to sex for as long as I’m single, even for my entire life, I want to be at peace with that.
This is why, as a single Christian guy, I’ve never had sex. This is why, for as long as God calls me to be single, I never plan to. It’s not that I’ve stopped longing for it. It’s that I’ve chosen to pursue another longing instead. It’s that I want something else more than sex.
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Here’s the problem with the way the church so often talks to single men about sex, the way we so often talk to ourselves and one another. We talk about it in the negative, as if we’ve swallowed the playbook from Coach Carr’s health class in the movie Mean Girls: “Don’t have sex. Because you will get pregnant. And die.”
Don’t becomes the focal point of the story we tell ourselves, the refrain of our spiritual soundtrack. We focus on beating back our desires. We try to capture them like bugs in a jar, hoping that if we keep them contained long enough, they’ll eventually suffocate.
I have a few problems with this approach. For one thing, it can quickly turn into bitterness toward the whole idea of sex. We can come to resent our married sisters and brothers for enjoying an intimacy we’ve been called to refuse. We can become so caught up in the dangers of sex that we threaten to call God a liar for creating the original sexual act and declaring, “It is good.”
But I also object to the “don’t-have-sex” approach for a less philosophical and more immediate reason:
It doesn’t work.
Or, at least, it doesn’t work for me. The more attention I give to sex, the greater my desire for sex becomes. The more I think about what shouldn’t be in my brain, the more firmly it settles into my brain—like that classic trope of childhood, where you tell someone not to think about polar bears or elephants or unicorns and then ask them what they’re thinking about. In the same way, ironically, the very times I try hardest to “beat this desire” are the times it seems most likely to crush me.
But when I look at Jesus, my priorities change.
I’m not saying I have a foolproof strategy for resisting sexual temptation all figured out. The desire for sex remains, just as it always has, just as it probably always will until the day it finds its true fulfillment in heaven. But I have found that the pull toward sexual intimacy feels less urgent as I pursue healthy intimacy with God and the people around me. The more wholeheartedly I chase the things I am called to pursue, the more I can’t help but run away from the things I’m called to avoid.
This is what Paul tells the Galatian church in Galatians 5:16: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Notice the order of events. Walking with Jesus isn’t a result of our successful defeat of sexual desire. It’s the thing that comes first. We’re able to deny the desires of our flesh only after, and because, we’re in headlong pursuit of Jesus.
If all we’re doing as single Christian men is not having sex, we’re missing out. Maybe it’s time we stopped saying no to sex and started saying a more passionate yes to Jesus.
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregcoles.com.
Publication date: August 5, 2016