Thursday, March 20, 2014

This is a talk I gave on February 14, 2005 to an auditorium of Eastern Mennonite High School Students. I was still breastfeeding my third child, and it wasn't until after the speech was over that I realized my nursing bra flaps had been unhooked the whole time. Not that anyone could tell, thank goodness, but the realization served to reinforce the I'm-living-on-the-edge feeling I had about giving this speech.

Please note: the speech says nothing about homosexuality. This was ten years ago and I was not thinking much about it. If I were to write the speech today, I would change the wording in a couple places to be more inclusive.


Love and Sex

When I got married eight and a half years ago I promised never to leave John.

Of course, I’m not stupid, I know we could fail, since we are both vulnerable to temptations (there are some really sexy people out there!), and there is no such thing as perfect love that just magically happens.  The truth is that marriage takes a lot of effort, so I know that I could’ve probably hooked up with any good man and made a marriage work.

There certainly isn’t anything special about John and me.  We are actually quite a mismatch.  John is introverted and hates schedules of any sort, while I’m extroverted and love to make all sorts of lists, planning my days out to the nth degree.  He’s a carpenter, and likes to talk about 2x4s, cement countertops, and skidloaders.  I am a studying-teaching person, and I enjoy writing speeches, attending meetings, hashing out ideas.  John likes to browse Lowes; I love Barnes and Noble.  Even our backgrounds, at first glance, are totally different: he comes from a strict Catholic family with nine kids, and I come from a hippie Mennonite family with only three kids.

However, I had my reasons for being attracted to John, and it wasn’t just because his eyes were a gorgeous blue.  I recognized qualities in him that I admired—honesty, integrity, hard work, intelligence, conscientiousness.  And I certainly recognized the bull-headed streak he had, since I could be just as stubborn.  We butt heads a lot.

But, we are not going to get divorced.  We promised.

An awful lot is at stake here.  If I were to mess around and have an affair, I would completely devastate the people around me.  I would break all the confidence I have established with my husband.  I would betray my trusting, innocent children.  I would invite cynicism from people I have mentored, people who have admired me.  And by breaking my word, I would be severely hindering myself from having deep, honest relationships later on.

John and I knew that promising for forever was serious stuff, and that keeping our word was crucial.  But we also knew that we would have to do something to keep our marriage together, since words wouldn’t be enough.  So, we have constructed some fences to protect our relationship.  Some of them we have talked about up front; others have evolved over time.

First, we are best friends.  We make ourselves each other’s best friend.  John and I are totally transparent with each other.  There are no secrets between us.
Second, we don’t have close relationships with people of the other sex.  John just doesn’t have much to say to most women, and I can’t talk personally with men without feeling awkward, since listening to their problems and sharing my own could create bonds jeopardizing the one I have with John.  We both admit that we think other people are sexy, teasing each other about our crushes, and once we had a blast imagining who we would marry, and who the other person thought we should marry, should one of us die.  Obviously, our full-blooded hormones could get us into trouble if we let them.

Third, we stay connected by sharing our experiences, the day-to-day.  We eat meals together. We limit our times apart from each other, both to prevent temptation and because when we are apart we are experiencing things that the other is not, and the more separated our lives are, the easier it would be to drift apart.  So, I visit his work, and he’s here today listening to this.

Within these fences we have created a space for complete trust and vulnerability.  It’s a safe place.  And it is only in this nest of safety and trust that sex is appropriate.  It is the icing on the cake.


I don’t know how it is for you, but when I was in high school, I thought about sex quite a bit.  What I wanted most was for a man to love me, to romance me.  I think this might hold true for a lot of females: we ache to be cared for, for somebody to think that our bodies are beautiful just how they are.  Guys want unconditional love, too, but guys seem to be quite sexually driven, and when permitted, that drive can dominate their relationships.

Sex does something to a relationship that, without commitment, the relationship simply can not withstand for very long.  Unlike what our culture teaches us, sex is not the creator of close relationships.  Commitment is the creator of relationships, but our culture does not talk much about that.

This is what happens when people play around sexually before marriage.

Way back in the beginning, often without even meaning to, guys start dehumanizing females, turning them into abstractions (big breasts, sexy legs).  The more guys act out this hey-sex-is-fun-and-she-said-yes-so-why-not mentality, the more they become like pigs instead of like men.  Then, when they seriously want to know a woman, they don’t know how to be generous, listening, self-less.  The relationship breaks apart, and they are hurt.

Girls, when we allow our bodies to be fondled, caressed, entered, by someone, just for pleasure’s sake, the core of our being is affected.   We might first feel like we’re giving ourselves because of real love, but then we gradually realize that these guys we’re fooling around with aren’t willing to make the commitment to fully know us, they just want our bodies for pleasure.  That hurts.

Both males and females are often stunned by the enormity of the hurt and shame they feel after messing with sex.  Our culture has told us that sex doesn’t really matter, and so we are shocked by the pain we feel.  We have been betrayed.  But we don’t want to be wimps, so we play tough by covering up the pain as quickly as possible and say, “Oh, it was just a kiss.  I didn’t like him, anyway.  I’m not really upset that she broke up with me.”  And then, to prove it doesn’t really matter, we go out and get some more.

Guys tend to cover their hurt by becoming takers.  They move on to use other women.  In the worst case scenario, men become exploiters, and women find these men repulsive.  Girls, we usually turn our pain inwards, focusing on our bodies.  We become either obsessed with hiding our bodies because of the shame we feel or with turning our bodies into sex objects, free for the taking.   In both cases there is depression and low self-esteem which may lead to other problems, such as excessive anger for males, and eating disorders for females, just to name a couple.

The tragedy of this wretched scenario is that our power to be whole human beings has been shortchanged.  We do not know how to articulate what we need because we no longer know what we are worth.  We have played with fire and been burned.

Let me tell you about Silvia.  I lived in Nicaragua for several years and one day I was sitting in a friend’s kitchen, and another woman, Silvia, was working around the wood stove, cooking.  The fire was getting too hot, and all of a sudden I saw Silvia reach her hand into the fire and yank out a burning log.  I screamed at her.  She just brushed her hand on her skirt, laughed at me, and explained that she had burned that hand as a child so she didn’t have much feeling in it.

Playing with sex is like playing with fire.  Once we’ve been burned, our nerve endings are numbed, our senses dulled.  Trying to figure out how to have a meaningful sexual relationship with those types of scars is pretty rough.  Of course it’s not impossible—I am a strong believer in forgiveness and grace—but it is still hard, and the relationship probably looks a bit different from what it could have been.

We simply can not separate our emotions from our bodies.  To play around with our sexuality and think that it doesn’t affect us in other ways is foolish.  We are sensory people.  Anything we do physically will affect us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—it’s all one package.


Most likely many of you wish to be married someday.  You can’t wait to have a caring, sensitive mate who puts you above all else.  And you hope to give back that love and affection.  That is good, but you must understand that who you are now is who they’re going to get.

It is true that you have not made a lifelong commitment to a spouse, but if you are a Christian, you have made a commitment to follow Jesus, and in John 13, Jesus commands us: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  And we are all familiar with the love passage in 1 Corinthians that describes love: It is patient, kind.  It is not rude or self-seeking.  Being a Christian means that we have committed to respecting and honoring other people’s bodies, as well as our own.  We are not toys.  When you treat sex as a casual commodity you are playing around with someone else’s future spouse—who is playing around with yours?

And anyway, why should you be dating?  What are your motives?  Please, it is a great mistake to treat people’s hearts lightly.

I have come up with some fences for you to think about—fences for your own protection.

First of all, if you still choose to date, then I challenge you to examine the physical parameters of the relationship.  Just saying, I’m not going to have sex before marriage isn’t enough, because sex isn’t easily definable.  Is it teasing, lingering eye contact, hand-holding, kissing, pats on the bottom, playing with trigger zones, nakedness?  I propose that when simple affection—hand-holding, hugging, and kissing—crosses over to making out, exploratory sessions, then a line is being crossed.  You are responsible for your behavior, so think through these things now.

Second, don’t keep secrets.  Relationships ought to be open and transparent, dating relationships included.  While sex is private and personal for John and me, it is not a secret—everybody knows we have sex.  If you are being secretive about some behavior, then it needs to stop.

Third, find somebody that you can talk to.  Both those of you who are dating and those who are not, you need to open up to somebody wise, somebody who will hold you accountable to the physical boundaries that you have set. “For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisors,” Proverbs 24:6.  Chose these advisors carefully.  They must know you well—perhaps a parent, older sibling, pastor, family friend?—and they must be able to provide perspective.  When you talk to these advisors about the things you are hiding, your worries and misgivings, your secrets lose their power over you, and that is an enormous relief.

However, for most adults, no matter how wise and concerned they are, it is quite intimidating to ask someone else about their sex life, so it is your job to be approachable.  One way to do this is to draft a number of questions and go over them with an older person now.  Then, when you start dating, have that person talk with you weekly or monthly, or whatever, to ask you the agreed-upon questions.  Sessions that probe like this may be awkward at first, but explaining an unplanned baby, an STD, or a pornography addiction would be much more awkward.

I have some starter questions here that you could use, and John and I will be handing them out as you leave chapel.  This is my Valentine to you.

Fourth, guard yourself from a junky lifestyle.  Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ... And the God of peace will be with you.”  So get rid of the trashy magazines, the TV, raunchy movies, any situation where people are obsessing about bodies.  Instead, read good books, and fill your minds with thoughtful, healthy images.

Fifth, develop your same-sex relationships.  In college I became close friends with Corinna.  We shared everything.  We had weekly discussions about our relationship where we hashed out all misunderstandings and annoyances.  It was tedious, but when I got married I realized that my friendship with Corinna had been good training.  Now is the time for you to be building solid, honest, caring relationships with your family and same-sex friends.  It’s the kind of mate you’ll be.

And finally, beware of self-absorption.  Is it possible that this problem of sexual tension and the questions of how we ought to be behaving aren’t really the issues at all?  Could it be that the root of all this turmoil is chronic selfishness?

The remedy for selfishness is actually amazingly simple.  Galations 5:13-15 says, “You, my brothers [and sisters], were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Instead of being consumed by our own problems, we are to be reaching out to other people.  Already you are probably quite involved with different activities, but when you stop to think about it, aren’t the sports, the studying, the clubs mostly self-serving?  In order to have a balanced life and keep perspective, we must be reaching out of ourselves to care for the other real needs around us.  If this is too vague, then I have a simple suggestion that will make it quite concrete:  Go home tonight and scrub the bathroom, make dinner, do some laundry.  As you make it a habit to say, “What can I do to help?” the other pieces will fall into place.

Sex is not to be treated lightly.  Love is not a game.  Be very very careful.

And, Happy Valentine’s Day.