I don't know about you but despite growing up in a Church youth group and sitting through numerous talks about sex and sexuality as a teenager I feel like, as an adult single Christian, churches are suspiciously silent on the subject.
Just to note when I talk about sexuality here I don't mean our sexual orientation or anything like that - I just mean sexuality as a part of being human and those issues that surround sex, our bodies and our sexual needs.
Instead, I feel left with a set of mainly unspoken expectations and as I navigate the dating scene as an adult I begin to realise how unrealistic and unachievable some of them are.
Lets talk about some of the unspoken expectations for single Christians when it comes to sex...
You're supposed to be pursuing a husband or wife - whilst at the same time being perfectly content with being single and totally sorted, both in your faith and emotionally so you're ready to be in a relationship.
You shouldn't have any sexual needs because God fulfills all your needs.
Despite a ton of conflicting advice you'll choose a relationship with the perfect balance of attraction and friendship.
While you're dating, you and the other person will mutually make some clear and definite decisions, despite the massively grey area about how far it's ok to go sexually and you'll be prepared to hear anything from 0 - 100 different opinions on the matter and still discern what God is saying.
Unlike couples in Biblical times you will have to wait at least a year until you're married but you'll manage to avoid temptation and thus avoid feeling guilty, shameful or horny.
Then finally you get married and your sexuality should just automatically blossom like a flower at the right moment- mind blowing sex on your wedding night and for the rest of your marriage.
Sound like realistic expectations?
I don't think so!
Even just within the grey area of what's 'ok' sexually for Christians before marriage there are so many different expectations, you can never hope to meet them all.
I've heard everything from -
'Unmarried couples shouldn't even lie down together if you wanna avoid temptation'
'How will you know if you're sexually compatible if you don't have sex before marriage?'
For most of us the journey of dating and sex will probably be somewhere messy and inbetween these two polar opposites and we could do with a bit of help navigating it all.
There are some awesome Christians addressing these issues and before I share my own ideas I'll highly recommend the book 'Party of One' by Joy Beth Smith which has a few excellent chapters on our sexuality and how it is something to be celebrated and stewarded carefully, rather that something that should make us feel shameful.
Personally I feel like I've had to navigate quite a lot of different sexual seasons throughout my life journey. When I became a Christian I was in a long term relationship with a non Christian and explaining to him that I felt like I needed to stop having sex was a very tricky conversation. As you can imagine - it didn't go down very well! I've also been engaged and married to a Christian so I've experienced waiting to have sex within a marriage and life as a married couple. Now I'm dating again and don't feel much more prepared with how to deal with sex in this phase of life. However, I feel we should get the conversation started and so lets dive in... I'll share a few of my tips for stewarding sexuality as a single person trying to follow Jesus -
1. Don't be an island
Sometimes it can be hard to talk to our Christian friends about sexual struggles because we feel like there are assumptions about what we should be doing and anything different might seem like we're backsliding or choosing the wrong relationship.
But despite this - make sure you keep friends in the loop - even if its just one really good friend. There's power in sharing stuff. The devil wants us to feel isolated and on our own so anything you can do to stop that from happening will help.
So whether you've done something you regretted, or you're struggling with pornography or trying to make decisions about your own boundaries with a new partner, make sure you're bringing other people that you trust into that conversation to help you think more clearly.
2. Take some time for discernment
This might be a controversial point but personally I don't believe exactly the same things are right or wrong for different people all the time. We're each on our own journey and God will convict us of sin when it's messing us up but at other times we might not feel as convicted.
Some people might find masterbating really gets in the way of their relationship with God, some people might see it as something purely physical which helps them steward their sexuality.
Some couples might feel comfortable with something which another couple would consider going 'too far'.
The main thing is to keep God in the centre, to open these things up to his goodness, grace and wisdom. Ultimately he knows what we need and where our journey is going. If we keep praying for guidance I believe he will speak to our hearts and show us where the boundaries need to go.
3. Give yourself some grace
As I mentioned above, some of the expectations your church or Christian community have about sex before marriage or sexuality might be conflicting or unrealistic. Whatever you are going through remember there are other Christians out there experiencing the same things and struggling with the same things.
Because it's FLIPPING difficult!
It's counter cultural to wrestle with these things and try to do the right thing - rather than just doing what your body wants. Sometimes just recognising that things are hard actually makes it easier, so give yourself some grace - it might give you the space you need to make the decisions that you feel are right for you and you're relationship with God.
4. Just because it's sexy, doesn't mean its wrong
Sometimes if we're super sexually attracted to someone it might feel lustful or wrong. There are loads of reasons for this.
Sometimes it might be a real prompting from the spirit that a relationship actually isnt right and that it needs to end. But for the most part, if you're really attracted to someone and you just wanna jump their bones thats a really good thing!
Sex is a really important part of marriage and those feelings towards someone else are natural. Don't write off a relationship just because it's passionate - it might just take a bit more care to steward where the boundaries are going to be - but that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.
Make sure you keep a dialogue going with that person about sex issues and how you feel about it and what you feel like God is saying. How they respond to this will tell you a lot more about them than if you just decide never to kiss with tongues or panic and ditch them all together!
5. Don't try to run away from God
If we feel tempted to do something we feel is wrong or we act on the temptation its easy to avoid praying or worshipping or reading the Bible. Thats what shame does - draws us away from God.
But that's the opposite of what God wants - he wants to meet us in our difficulties and brokenness and confusion.
He doesn't want us hiding in shame.
His arms are open and he wants us with all our mess and regrets. Wherever you're at - dig deeper into God.
I can guarantee whatever you've done he has enough grace, enough love and enough redeeming power to deal with it.