FOR WHEN YOU WONDER IF YOU ARE READY FOR SEX
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Romans 8: 38-39
Dear Sister, Dear Brother, Dear Friend,
It seems like you have some very exciting things to think about these days! Maybe you have someone special in your life and you are discerning whether or not you want to be with them in an intimate way. Or maybe you are thinking about whether or not you should go on the hunt for someone to hook up with. Maybe you feel your sexuality coming more and more to life, and you want to share your body, your energy, your beautiful self with another person.
First, let me say how wonderful and good it is to ponder these things and to live as a sexual being. We are often taught to be ashamed of our nakedness, our desires, our thirst to connect in passion with someone we want who wants us, too. These longings are sacred and holy. We do not have to be afraid or ashamed of them. Rather, we need to acknowledge they are gifted to us by a loving and creative God. We need to listen and let God guide us as we live out our sexual lives, just like we should let God guide us in everything else. Is now the right time for sex? Is this the right person? Is sexual intimacy the right way to love this person, and is it the right way to love them today? The truth is that sex is powerful and must be treated with compassionate responsibility. Sexual union can lead to deep love and joy, or it can leave people deeply hurt and broken inside.
Notice that this is not a letter only about having sex for the first time. We always must be intentional and purposeful with how we live out our sexualities. Some Christian groups focus a lot on when one should give up one’s virginity, and this single-mindedness often leaves people wondering what to do if they have already had sex. Putting too much focus on virgin or not-virgin status can make people feel like they have to choose between two extremes and, if they have ever had sex, they are led to believe they may as well give up trying to be thoughtful because it is too late for them. This mentality is painfully warped. Sexual morality should not be a legalistic set of rules that get thrown out the window after one crosses a certain threshold. Thinking and praying about being ready for sex, regardless of one’s past, is a lifelong commitment to love one’s self and others.
So is it right? Is now the time? Is this the person you should be with? How can anybody know for sure?
First, pray about all the questions you have and all the decisions you have to make. Ask God to open your eyes and move your heart to do what is right. Listen to what the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart. Are you wanting to have sex now because you think you are supposed to, or because you truly want to from the depths of your soul? Do you trust the person you want to be with? Will they love you and cherish you, or do they seem ready to bail once they get what they want? How well do you know this person? Is it important to you that you share sex only with someone you really love? What is the purpose of sex, and are you both ready to live out that purpose with each other?
Once again, I encourage you to explore these questions in prayer with God. I am convinced that love and commitment are essential pieces of joyful, healthy, and fulfilling sexual relationships. Traditional Christian beliefs hold that sexuality has two purposes. The first is to unite two people in a bond of love, and the second is to bring new life into the world. I sincerely believe that two people of the same gender can accomplish both these purposes through sex. Two people of the same gender who love each other can certainly find delight and connection through sexual union. And though two bodies of the same sex cannot literally create a baby without the miraculous intervention of God, sex shared between a same-gendered couple can bring new life to the world spiritually through the joy and energy they create through their union. The energy and love born from any loving couple flows outward through their lives into the world.
Looking around, I see a lot of people choosing to have sex without love. To me, this feels empty and sad. Sometimes people are so desperate for a sense of intimacy or connection that they have sex with strangers or near-strangers. They are simply trying to fill a void. Brief sexual encounters might feel good for a little while, but the painful emptiness always comes back because it was never filled with anything true or lasting. Our need for intimacy cannot be filled by sex without love. Our hearts and bodies naturally yearn for commitment, kindness, respect, and connection with someone both physically and emotionally.
Some people rush into sex out of fear. Perhaps they are afraid of being unlovable, of losing out on what life has to offer, of being an inexperienced freak or loser. Or perhaps they are afraid deep down that there is something wrong with them for being gay and they try to chase this feeling away by rushing into sex as an act of rebellion. If this applies to you in any way, remember that the antidotes to fear are always faith and love. We do not need to be afraid because we can place our trust in the God who made us and loves us unconditionally. As it says in 1 John 4: 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”
If you choose to have sex outside of love because you are desperate, curious, afraid, or simply overcome with desire, please know that this will never stop God from loving you. As is written in Romans 8: 38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God loves you, holds you, and wants you with a passionate blaze of unquenchable fire. Do not let anyone tell you that God has stopped loving you. If you sin, remember that God forgives us when we turn to Her, and what you did in the past is less important than what you choose to do in the future. Jesus says in Luke 5: 32, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” The truth is, we are all sinners. We all need God.
I am not worried about whether or not you follow a set of rules about sex. Rather, I am hopeful that you respect yourself and any person you choose to be intimate with. I want you to see yourself and others as human beings created, known, and loved by God. I hope and pray that you are careful and tender with your body and with their body, with your heart and with their heart. I hope and pray that any way you choose to live out your sexuality has at its core a true desire to bring joy, love, beauty, and life into the world. I hope you truly seek the will of God, who is love, in all your choices. As is written in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” At the end of the day, we are a part of the Body of Christ, and we are called to give everything to God.
Follow your conscience with sex, as in all things. Listen to where God is calling you and discern what you believe is right. The world will try to break down your beliefs and tell you what to think. Some will tell you never to have sex, that gay sex is always wrong. Some will tell you to have sex whenever you want without caring about emotional connection, commitment, or consent. It can feel so lonely to seek sexual virtue as a gay Christian.
Furthermore, some of us approach sex with deep fear and anxiety even in the context of loving and committed relationships. Sometimes we are so hurt by internalized shame, self-hatred, or low self-esteem that we are terrified by the idea of being completely naked and open with anyone, even our soul mates. In particular, survivors of sexual abuse or assault often find it difficult to experience joy, peace, or emotional intimacy through sex. No matter what has happened to you in the past, I want you to know that your body and your sexuality belong to you alone. There is no commandment that you need to have sex. You get to choose when and with whom you would like to be intimate.
If someone ignored your human dignity and forced, coerced, or tricked you into some kind of sexual contact, please know that you are not broken. You are not dirty. You are not ugly. You are a beautiful, powerful, and beloved child of God. I wish I could ease your pain and even erase it with my words, but I can’t do that. I can’t take your journey away from you.
But I promise that you are not alone. God is with you every step of the way. And though it may not seem like it, there are legions of survivors and allies who stand beside you on the path to healing and resurrection. If you let Her, God will guide you to the support you need. Psalm 147: 2-4 says, “The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem, gathers the dispersed of Israel, heals the brokenhearted, binds up their wounds, numbers all the stars, calls each of them by name.” In time, you will feel safe and at home again in your own body. Many people find profound healing as they work with counselors and trusted loved ones to build coping skills, make meaning of past experiences, and discover hope for the future. In addition, some communities offer support groups where survivors of sexual abuse and assault come together to tell their stories and lift each other up. To connect with professional support, please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.
If you struggle with fear and anxiety when it comes to sex for any reason, you are not alone. Try to let go of the pressure to be anything other than who you are and who God calls you to be today. Refuse to let anyone make you feel inferior or worthless. Seek out relationships with friends, teachers, ministers, and mentors who want what is good for you. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love you for who you are. It may not seem like it now, but through a unique story that only you and God can write together, you will find healing. If you want to enjoy sex, you will someday, when the time is right.
For years, I thought that being gay meant I had to be celibate forever. This led to a profound sense of loneliness and despair. After years of Scripture study, prayer, and conversations with spiritual leaders and other people in my life, I came to believe that love was always a gift from God, for God was love. I stretched my thinking around what it means to “create new life” and realized that gay couples bring new life into the world through the joy and energy born of their union. Some couples even make families through adoption. In time, I grew open to the possibility of falling in love and, when the time was right, having sex.
Once I opened myself to the possibility of dating, I thought that I had endured the most difficult part of the journey. I had overcome oppressive ideas embedded in religion through ignorance and human shortcomings. I thought I was free at last. I quickly realized that there was a new journey to embark upon, and that was learning how to maintain my beliefs and live out my values in communities of gay people, many of whom spurned and rejected my beliefs. My heart breaks often to this day. I believe many people in the gay community reject faith and mainstream sexual ethics, such as monogamy, because they have been deeply hurt and disillusioned by their own experiences with religious communities. I wish I could say I always approach differences of opinion with openness, mercy, and grace, but sometimes it just hurts.
Shortly after coming out, I told a gay Christian spiritual director that I wanted to wait until I was married to have sex. He told me, “If you do that, I don’t think anyone will ever want you.” His words left me devastated and broken. It felt like a confirmation of my greatest fear, that I was unlovable, that my beliefs were unrealistic, that if I wanted to be with someone, I had to fundamentally change myself and how I approached relationships.
I never want you to feel that way. Through prayer and deep reflection, I want you to develop your own beliefs with the grace and leadership of God. I want you to know joy in the search for God’s truth, not fear or an overwhelming sense that you must always rationalize and defend what you believe. Feelings of loneliness are a part of life, but I want you to know that wherever you stand, you are never alone. God loves you. I love you. Think and pray. Do not stop searching until you come to a sense of peace and joy in your decisions about sex. Love as God made you to love, and be happy.
Through deep soul-searching, observation, study, and experience, I have come to believe that there is deep beauty and goodness in sexuality within a loving, committed, monogamous relationship. When two people remain faithful to one another and allow sex to be a special language shared between them, this creates a special bond of intimacy and trust that is fundamental to the formation of a happy, healthy, loving relationship. At the end of the day, it is so romantic to think about sharing sex with that one special person.
There have been times in my life when I gave up on the idea of ever finding true love, and yet I still felt an intense craving for connection and intimacy. In such moments of despair and doubt, I was deeply tempted to give up my ideals and do whatever it took to satisfy my own longings. All of a sudden it became easy to treat people like objects rather than as Temples of the Holy Spirit. The thing I learn over and over again is that sin hurts. When we do something wrong or fail to do something good, we disconnect ourselves from God, from others, and from the best version of ourselves. God never stops loving us no matter what, but when we sin, we turn our backs on God. Her love remains, but we shut ourselves off from it, little by little or all at once. Sexual immorality is not about breaking moral codes or being a bad person. Rather, sexual sin happens when we hurt others or ourselves, when we use people, when we break promises, when we lie, when we see people as things that exist only to make us feel good rather than as human beings known and loved by God.
Of course, for your own protection and for your partner’s health, it is important to educate yourself about sexually transmitted infections and safer sex practices. Know that some diseases are transmitted through body fluids and some are spread through skin to skin touch. Utilize whatever methods make sense for the choices you make. It only makes sense to consider not using protection when partners commit to only having sex with each other and test negative for all diseases at least six months after making this commitment. If this does not apply to you, then protect yourself and protect your partner every time.
Communication about sex, what it means, and whether or not we are ready for it is key to a happy and fulfilling sex life. This is true even for long-term committed couples. It is hurtful when one person in a couple believes they have found their soul mate and the other feels like they are just having a good time. It is sexual assault when sex happens without consent. Our culture teaches people in both subtle and overt ways to seek sex without asking first. Our culture also teaches subtly to ignore protests. We need to change all this, and we can start in our own relationships. As you embark on relationships and sex, know what your intentions are and make them clear to your partner. If you want sex, make sure the other person wants it, too. Talk about it. If you are not ready to talk about it, you are not ready for sex.
Overall, take your time in exploring your sexuality. There is no need to rush. Sex should be a joyful and exciting journey that feels good physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of. If you make choices that hurt yourself or others, then apologize to God and any person you harmed, do what you can to make peace, and forgive yourself. Try not to obsess over sexual sins. If you do something wrong, repent and move on. Your emotional energy is needed for acts of love and justice in the world, not ongoing self-punishment. Sex and relationships can often be difficult, messy, confusing, and complicated. Pray, and talk to trusted loved ones. Ask for help with sorting through all the questions and decisions you have to make. Do not put pressure on yourself to do anything more than what you are ready for today. It is okay to start with kisses on cheeks and holding hands. It is okay to dream about passionate love-making. Listen to your heart, think, pray, and trust that God will guide you if you let Her.