When Kate Orson became a Christian, her understanding of sex was turned upside down. As she grappled with past trauma and what the Bible says about our most intimate relationships, she found herself deeply challenged
I became a sex coach after a routine gynaecological procedure left me struggling with pain, low libido and genital numbness that meant I found it hard to experience sexual pleasure. After I realised that thousands of other women were also suffering as I was, I wanted to help somehow. So, in 2021, I trained in sexological bodywork, a hands-on method of sex coaching, where clients are assisted to explore and experience pleasure during their sessions.
Then I became a Christian.
Suddenly, I felt convicted to stop my work; I couldn’t yet fully articulate why, but I knew something in me had changed. My training was grounded in practices that have their roots in Taoism and Tantra, which I now understand are not compatible with Christianity, as they have their roots in polytheism and other religious worldviews. But, at the time, I just knew it didn’t feel right.
My decision to train in sexological bodywork had coincided with my personal search for spiritual truth. I’d spent all of my life involved in new age practices like yoga and meditation. During the Covid-19 lockdown I sought comfort from the words of psychics and astrologers. But I began to realise that, much like the weather forecast, their predictions weren’t always accurate. It led me to ask deeper questions about the nature of reality.
One day I found myself feeling inspired to say the Lord’s Prayer. Instantly, I felt what I can only describe as the presence of God. It was surprising, and something that felt completely different to all the other spiritual experiences I’d had before. In that moment, I knew that God was real and I began to read the Bible.
As I read, my faith slowly grew, and I became convinced that it really was God’s word. But it also brought confusion: I began to question everything I knew about sex. The Bible said that sex before marriage was a sin, and even looking at someone with lustful thoughts was wrong (Matthew 5:28). It seemed so old-fashioned. Yet, my trust in the Bible as the word of God was growing every day.
Biblical sexuality becomes a mirror of our relationship with God; an attempt to deeply know all aspects of each other’s body, mind and soul
Feelings of shame began to creep in, and the concept of sex itself felt like a guilty secret. I didn’t yet fully understand what sex meant for Christians, and the Bible seemed to offer little instruction aside from warning us against committing adultery.
Then there was this passage from 1 Corinthians 7:3-5: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (ESV).
On first reading, the passage sounded ignorant and lacking in compassion. At worst, could it potentially result in rape? As a married woman who struggles with low libido and pain during sex, what did it mean for me?
Our sexual wellbeing is a complex interplay of the physical and psychological. There are so many things that can stand in the way of sex, even within a happy, fulfilling marriage, from erectile dysfunction to previous sexual trauma. My sex coaching had been centred around the importance of consent and listening to our body. Was I now meant to put all that aside in order to meet my husband’s sexual desires without question?
A wider view
I decided that I needed to find some Christian marriage experts who were open and honest about what it means to be a sexually active Christian.
Bobbi Kumari is a Christian author and speaker who specialises in sex and relationships. In her book Sacred Sexuality: Rewire your desire towards true intimacy (Living in Light), she explains the importance of not reading scripture in isolation: “Sex reflects the gospel. When a man and woman have sex for the first time they enter into a blood covenant when the woman’s hymen breaks. Sex is a symbol of what Jesus did when he died on the cross and cut a covenant with the Church. Your body actually belongs to God, and everything you do with your body is an act of worship before God. For a husband and wife, the most beautiful expression of worship is to give their bodies to one another, the same way God gave his body for his bride.”
Nina Roesner, a relationship coach and founder of Greater Impact, an organisation which helps Christians navigate marriage difficulties, offers further insight: “There is an equality to it that is often overlooked in Christian culture,” she says. “Those verses [in 1 Corinthians 7] level the playing field for men and women, because women were property during the time it was written. Paul was giving women a voice. A lot of Christian culture promotes the concept that women have to obey their spouses, but not much attention is paid to what men should do.
“Acts 5:29 [says] we are to obey God not man,” she continues. “If your husband is cruel or mean, you are not expected to give your body [to him] and let him do what he wants, as he’s sinning and not being understanding.’’
She is referencing Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:25, in which husbands are commanded to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. “Men should be laying their lives down for their wives, living in an understanding way, having the fruit of the Spirit which is ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV) she adds.
This, of course, tallies with all we know about Jesus’ teaching, which was never about forced obedience. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus pleads with the lukewarm Laodicean church, saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Jesus didn’t force the door open. When we look at scripture in its entirety, and who Jesus is, it is obvious that sex should always be fully consensual.
5 Christian SEX myths
Sex and intercourse are synonymous
If I were to ask you to define sex, you’d likely hem and haw and then give a definition that sounds an awful lot like intercourse. But that’s leaving our emotional experiences out of the equation. If one person is making a grocery list in their head, they could be in emotional turmoil - or even being coerced - and it would still count as sex. Instead, let’s talk about healthy sex as anything sexual a couple does that is mutual, intimate and pleasurable for both.
Frequency is the most important thing
When it comes to sex, frequency is only one part of the picture. Just because intercourse is happening doesn’t mean the couple feels emotionally connected during sex. Almost 20 per cent of the women we surveyed for The Great Sex Rescue said their primary emotion after sex is feeling used. Instead of stressing the quantity of sex, let’s stress the quality.
If you can’t reach orgasm with sex, you must be broken
Our survey found that while 95 per cent of men reach orgasm almost always, only 48 per cent of women do. If you need more stimulation to reach orgasm than your husband (or wife), it doesn’t mean you’re less sexual or don’t work right. It just means you get to slow down and draw out the fun!
Wedding night sex is amazing
Our surveys show that rushing to sex can actually backfire. Especially for women, pleasure usually takes time. Instead of aiming for intercourse, relax and aim for arousal. If you have intercourse before you’ve figured out arousal or orgasm, sex can be disappointing. Once you’re married, you have decades to get this right. Wait until your body is ready!
It’s normal for sex to hurt
22 per cent of evangelical women suffer from sexual pain, roughly twice the rate of the general population, largely because we’ve internalised negative beliefs about sex and our bodies. But sex is not supposed to be painful. While the first few times can feel tight, if it’s painful, stop and focus on relaxing and arousal first. If problems persist see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Ignoring pain can create a negative feedback loop, exacerbating vaginismus and making recovery more difficult.
SHEILA WRAY GREGOIRE is author of The Great Sex Rescue: The lies you’ve been taught and how to recover what God intended (Baker Books). She blogs at BareMarriage.com
Giving our body to another isn’t just about sexual intercourse. Kumari explains that the Hebrew word for sex is yada, which also means ‘to be known’. This word is used in the Old Testament to refer to the deep knowledge that God has of his people. “O Lord, you have searched me, and you know (yada) me. You know (yada) when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar”, says Psalm 139:1-2.
Understood in the light of this passage, biblical sexuality becomes a mirror of our relationship with God; an attempt to deeply know all aspects of each other’s body, mind and soul. From this viewpoint, yada is just as much about open conversations as it is physically surrendering our bodies to each other.
Honest talk about sex isn’t something that Christians or the Church have historically done well. Kumari attributes this to the Fall and the moment that Adam and Eve realised they were naked. Sin – and shame – entered our reality. Over time, she says “the Church has become more silent and passive about sexuality, and illiterate in a sense, not understanding what the Bible says about sex. That leaves a vacuum which the enemy can capitalise on.”
As sexual beings, it can be easy to turn to the world for guidance, she adds, because “at least in the world people are talking about sex. At least the world is appealing to people’s sexual wiring”. But this can lead to us taking on board deeply unbiblical principles.
Searching in all the wrong places
Recently, a friend of mine was devastated after breaking up with a partner. It reminded me just how heartbreaking it can be when relationships fall apart. Before I was married, I’d justify my promiscuous behaviour, and lie to myself that I wasn’t emotionally attached to the men I was sleeping with. As my faith has grown, I’ve come to see God’s covenant of marriage as a beautiful thing; something that is for our own good and which protects us from heartbreak. I think of how swans mate for life, and how our worldly culture is actually leading us further away from our true nature, as God designed it.
Prior to becoming a Christian, I spent more than 20 years following new age practices in my search for healing and recovery from sexual pain and numbness. I explored different forms of ‘spiritual sexuality’ like Tantra and Taoist sexual practices to reach a higher state of erotic pleasure. While I had some positive experiences, little changed in my day-to-day life. I still felt exhausted and suffered from chronic fatigue and low libido.
Starting to see sex as a sacrificial act of love actually felt quite sexy. I began to feel in the mood
Looking back, I was always craving more and never quite getting there. The enemy had led me on a wild goose chase. While it seemed as if I had tried everything, the one thing that had been missing was God.
By contrast, Roesner’s coaching places God at the centre. When working with married couples, she prays and invites the Holy Spirit to guide them towards solutions: “If two people who love God and are in a Christian marriage cannot agree, the fundamental thing is not what he wants versus what she wants. It’s about asking: What’s missing? God wants unity. If both people have the Holy Spirit, there needs to be ongoing discussion until we land on what God wants. ”
Roesner’s work focuses on helping clients see that sometimes their present difficulties are related to past hurts: “When something is triggered from your childhood, you can’t hear the Holy Spirit. You’re caught up in needing to be right,” she adds. When we take the time and space to heal from past hurts or trauma, we are able to hear God more clearly. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it becomes possible to reach more of a yada state in our marriage.
One day, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from Lori Alexander, the traditional, conservative author of The Power of a Transformed Wife (Turning Page Books). It listed all the things that women will find the energy to do even when exhausted: we continue to cook food for our kids and change nappies, she said but, when it comes to sex, we often tell our husbands that we are too tired. In her opinion, this was wrong: a wife’s obligation to meet her husband’s sexual needs was as important as providing food and care for her children.
At first, I felt extremely triggered reading her post, which sounds more like something from a 1950s housewife’s manual than anything that aligns with biblical teaching. However, reading those words eventually led me to a completely new way of thinking about sex.
As Christians, sacrifice is part of many aspects of our lives. Understanding sex as a sacrificial act of love towards my husband has been helpful. And the funny thing is, it actually feels quite sexy. I began to feel in the mood. I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit for energy. Since God wants to be involved in all aspects of our lives, why not ask him for help with our sex life?
Within all relationships there needs to be balance, equality and love; a safe reciprocity where the gift of sacrifice can be genuinely given with joy
If sex always feels more like sacrifice than pleasure for you though it may be time to take a yada approach – talking about what makes it difficult and exploring this further – if necessary with a professional and always, of course, with God.
I am all too aware of the darker side of one-sided self-sacrifice – in both Christian and wider culture – that nearly always involves a woman sacrificing herself to meet a man’s needs. But I have also come to see the idea of surrendering to one another (within the bounds of reciprocal respect and the marriage covenant) as a beautiful idea.
Within all relationships there needs to be balance, equality and love; a safe reciprocity where the gift of sacrifice can be genuinely given with joy. In our fallen world this isn’t an easy state to reach, but with God all things are possible.
Read more from Bobbi Kumari in every issue of Premier Woman Alive magazine (womanalive.co.uk)