I had lots of great friends at uni - but many were into binge drinking and sleeping around. Somehow - I managed to get through over two years without getting drunk, I had a steady Christian boyfriend and we both believed that sex was something for marriage. But then we broke up and I had sex with a guy that I had only met a fortnight earlier. A week later he dumped me and I felt so stupid and so dirty. I’ve said sorry to God but nothing feels the same anymore. I still feel guilty, but most of all I feel angry - with myself mostly, but also with God. It seems so hard to do the ‘right thing’ and quite frankly sometimes I feel like life would be easier without having a conscience that keeps telling me I have blown it all the time. Now I’ve lost my virginity, what’s the point in living under this endless struggle for sexual purity and guilt? I feel too ashamed to talk to anyone at my church about this, or my Christian friends and family.

"Sexual guilt and an overwhelming sense of failure are a painful reality for many people writing to ‘Dear Maggie’. I wonder if we can use the story in John 8 to help us in finding a way through. Jesus worked into this woman’s past, present and future.

In regards her past, the message is clear: there is to be no stone throwing, no condemnation. All sin is sin. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” None of the people can condemn her and Jesus makes it clear, “neither do I condemn you.” The point is that she has to learn to get up and leave behind her sin: “go and sin no more.”

Well done for walking away from sex outside of marriage in regards to your behaviour, now I want to encourage you to also walk away in regards to the emotional haunting of it. When Isaiah writes, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”, we are offered to take a step of faith to believe that we are cleansed and restored to a clean slate. The grace of the gospel is that now you have said sorry to God and turned away from this, you can truly start again with snowy purity. In the economy of the cross, it does not make sense that now you have lost your virginity it doesn’t matter to do it again, because instead you have freshly fallen snow over your past! Remember the times you have looked at a beautiful field of untouched snow and decided to walk around the edge rather than trample muddy footsteps on it…

The church, of all places, has to be big enough to give all of us a clean start, or we fall short of the gospel and the cross. Can we do this? The reality is that many Christians won’t. I want to encourage you to start by believing it for yourself.

When my husband and I have spoken on sexual topics at Christian conferences we have found an epidemic of guilt among Christians who know they haven’t lived up to God’s sexual ethics and do not know how to move on. This is preventing many from committing to good relationships or undermining healthy married sex. In the area of our fallen sexuality, it seems we have a major problem of application of the power of the cross in repentance and forgiveness in Christian discipleship. I wonder if this is added to by feeling unsafe to talk about sexual sin and confess it. Some of the letters in response to my column are indicative of this Christian culture; instead I want to encourage us all to receive for ourselves and truly give to others the grace and redemption that are at the heart of our faith. Church needs to be a place where we can bring sexual sin into the light and find freedom from it, as much as any other sin.

Jesus gave the woman in John 8 no condemnation from her past as well as guidance for her present and future: “go and sin no more.” Every action today is of value to God, to our humanity and to our future. I want to encourage you that life is not easier outside of God’s ways: it gets much more complicated and damaging! Live for the future in the wisdom of knowing that the more impurity we put in, the more spiritual and psychological detoxing we have to do. Better to live simply and purely God’s way from now on, then life and sexuality will be much easier. Be encouraged, your efforts are worth it!"