When Jon Acuff writes about sex, people pay attention.

Actually, that’s not quite right.  When anyone writes about sex, people pay attention.

It’s impossible not to.  Even though we’ve probably heard everything there is to say about the matter, we simply can’t stop.  [Insert your own joke here.]

Last week, he took on some of the faulty ways that evangelicals approach sex.  He identifies four problems:

1. Sometimes, we teach guilt, not abstinence.

2. We have very few ways to discuss it.

3. We write 10 books about lust for every one book about the gift of sex.

4. We’ve made the crayon box pretty small.

Those first two are right on the money.  It’s three and four I want to question.

I’ll deal with the fourth in a sentence:  there is empirical evidence that church-going evangelicals have more sex, and more satisfying sex, than secular counterparts.*

As for number three, the case is a little more sophisticated to make, but I think Acuff is simply too hard on evangelical publishers.  While Every Man’s Battle was a cultural phenomenon, it was so because of its uniqueness.  I can’t think of anything that approached the issue with a similar level of success, especially among my parent’s generation.  (Readers?)

But let’s get more specific:  There were, in fact, no less than 13 Christian sex manuals (and probably more) published between 1972 and 1981, right when our parents were having us.  Of course, thinking that through requires thinking about our parents having sex.  And that would be gross.  Right?

But I digress.

A glance through those manuals and we find, well, the sort of language that Jon wants in #4:  sex promises us “rapture,” “bliss,” “ecstasy,” and “powerful transcendence.”  They are pretty much all about painting with every crayon in the box, and not drawing any lines that aren’t explicit in Scripture.

That tradition has kept up into our own era.  A Celebration of Sex, Sheet Music, and other sex manuals promise nothing but thrills and delights in the marriage bed.  We’re so self-conscious about the issue that Josh Harris bent over backward to make sure it was abundantly clear that Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is).

Which means I suspect the reality is closer to the inverse Jon mentions.  Even the younger evangelical obsession with lust and its problems betrays a fascination with sex, a fascination that we back up in the books evangelicals write.  And judging from the list of Amazon bestsellers in the category, the books we buy, too.

That isn’t to say that evangelical views of sex are rosy.  They’re not.  Most of the titles listed here loosely mention the Bible up front to talk about how amazing sex is, and then move right into the equivalent of secular sex manuals that are designed to improve sexual technique.  At bottom, evangelicals need a more thorough, robust anthropology of sex that takes into account special revelation, something on par with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

If it’s electric sex that we want, we need to make sure it’s on the proper foundation.

*See “Christian Women Have More Fun,” by Diane Richard. Contemporary Sexuality; Jun 2000, Vol. 34 Issue 6, p1, 2p

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Point well taken, but “electric sex”? Shocking.


  2. Thank you. That post, which I saw via CNN, made me groan.


  3. Matthew,
    I agree with your suspicions. As a pastor and now accountability partner for 5 young men, the consistent fact that single men think being married will be a panacea for their lust issues indicates that we exonerate sex more than manuals to overcome lust. I see this as a consistent problem.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been thinking through a robust theology of lust/sex. In brief, my theology first includes:
    – The Gospel- not that we loved but that he first loved us. For those with lust struggles, preaching the Gospel to the self is first. Any “boundaries” strategy to overcome lust if the Gospel is absent. Boundary strategies only create Pharisees or Guilt-laden younger brothers.

    -Negative Disciplines- In sex or singleness, we don’t talk about fasting enough. Even still, we talk about fasting from other things besides food, which seems silly. We can abstain from many things, but we can only fast from one thing: food. And this discipline must be practiced (along with the boundary strategies like having no internet or having internet filters). If we consistently practice fasting with an angle to pray while we miss meals, we’ll teach our body that it doesn’t really NEED it’s most basic desire. This is a transferable discipline to lust.

    -Positive Discipline- If married, have sex. It is a spiritual discipline, and it’s important to view it as a spiritual discipline as opposed to a path to ecstasy. If not married, practice regular confession, bible reading, and exercise (I suppose some would call “confession” a negative discipline).

    -The ignored idea: the corporate disciplines. I’m a Presbyterian, so I think people should take the sacraments with the local church because Jesus WILL make us more like himself through these sacraments.

    There is much more on each subject, but these are thoughts I’ve been developing.

    Also, all of these suggestions assume, of course, a theology of body/soul that promotes the unity of the person. Negative disciplines like fasting can communicate a spiritual truth. Preaching the Gospel to self can lead to greater bodily obedience. Etc.


  4. @Milliner, Puns have no place here. This is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

    @Dave, Great thoughts. I particularly like the point about including fasting as a means of overcoming lust. There are some subtle benefits in fasting that bleed out into other areas of the body. It’s almost a “globalizing effect.” If you can train your will to restrain your desires in one area that is important to you (like, um, EATING!) then you will have a stronger ability to restrain your desires in other areas.

    Here’s one thing that’s weird to me: we evangelicals seem to expect guys to go 18 years without sex, but then get horrified at the thought of having to go two weeks every month without it (NFP). That seems odd to me…



  5. Matt, just steal JPII’s Theology of the Body outright — no need to reinvent the wheel! ;-)


    I also think evangelicals suffer from not having a well-developed understanding / concept of the virtue of chastity / self-mastery / human freedom.

    Also, it’s not evangelicals (or Catholics) who are obsessed with sex — our culture is.


  6. “If it’s electric sex that we want, we need to make sure it’s on the proper foundation.”

    I am scandalized that you would write such a sentence. It is totally indecent and in poor taste. You should have written, “make sure it’s properly grounded.”



  7. One of the reasons why evangelicals have the highest divorce rates (higher than atheists) is that they marry for sex. Our culture might be obsessed with sex but evangelicals are keenly interested in controlling the sex lives of others.

    I read the post above from a ‘accountability partner’ and I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad. Get your mind out of the gutter and mind your own business you creepy old man.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson January 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      I’m going to play the lame game of asking you to cite your sources on the divorce rate, and to check to see whether they have adjusted for frequency of church attendance. Because if you do that, turns out evangelicals divorce far less frequently than non-church attenders.


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