SEX is written in large letters throughout western society. In a reaction to the buttoned-up days of yore when the whole issue was swept under the carpet resulting in a lot of repression, the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s got everything out in the open (often literally!) where it has remained ever since. Many churches today shy away from even discussing these issues, for fear of seeming old-fashioned or intolerant. This by default allows the secular world to set the church’s priorities and values concerning sexuality. So Christians can easily find themselves in situations where they are sexually compromised, due to lack of clear teaching and adequate support.

This is a challenging issue for mission workers, and particularly for single ones, who may have to grapple with issues of loneliness, isolation and lack of emotional intimacy in a world which makes sex sound like it’s the answer to everything. So single mission workers can become vulnerable to inappropriate relationships, use of pornography or fantasy, and confusion about their sexuality. Many of us resent the lack of opportunity to engage in sexual activity and to have children, which leaves us feeling guilty, weak and demoralised.

So how do we, together as a Christian community, work towards a healthy sexuality for all?

First, we need to recognise that although many of us have strong unfulfilled desires to be spouses and parents, our primary identity is not in our family (or lack thereof) but in Christ. While family in its broadest sense is a huge part of our relational existence, our identity as children of God is even more significant. This is what Jesus modelled. He does not appear to have had any problem with his singleness despite the fact that it was even more counter-cultural in his day than it is in ours. If our awareness of our identity in Christ is not giving us a strong sense of self-worth and positive self-esteem despite our circumstances, we need to discuss this with a friend, pastor or counsellor. When Jesus said that he came so that we could have overflowing life (John 10:10) he was not speaking only to those in ideal domestic situations.

Secondly, we need to expose the lie that we are sexual beings. Believing this Darwinist half-truth makes us vulnerable to all sorts of sexual influences and makes us feel somehow incomplete if we are not having a fulfilling sex life. The truth is that God created us to be relational beings, and sex is only one of the capacities we have for relating. If we concentrate too much on this one, it downplays the other valuable ways we have of relating to others. We need to have healthy, open, honest, safe, accountable relationships with others – single and married, same sex and opposite, young and old – if we are to maintain a strong social community which leaves us feeling valued and esteemed. If we can achieve this, sex ceases to be so significant as a short-term bolster for our self-esteem.

Third, we need to be emotionally intelligent. When we become aware of urges which we can’t control, we need to ask ourselves where they are coming from. Some might be purely physical impulses which need to be mastered, but these can be complicated by a raft of self-esteem issues. When we are tired, unwell, lonely or fatigued, we often want a ‘shot in the arm’ to raise our spirits. This can take a variety of forms: alcohol, chocolate, retail therapy, recreational drugs and sexual activity. These are short-term fixes which may leave us feeling better for a bit, but don’t resolve deeper issues which affect our behaviour. We need to be aware of what we are feeling and what positive things we can do about it.

In practical terms, what does this all look like? Here are some suggestions for ways in which we can work towards a healthy sexuality:

  • Maintain a healthy spiritual life. It’s harder to give in to sexual temptation if you’re walking with God.
  • Learn Bible verses which promote self-esteem. Write them on post-it notes and leave them in handy places.
  • Be accountable. Find a friend who you can confess to and pray with.
  • If you feel you need a safety valve like masturbation, ask yourself whether you control it, or it controls you.
  • Install an internet accountability monitor on your computer.
  • Be an active part of community. Even if you’re an introvert, you need friends.
  • Avoid unhelpful locations like red-light districts.
  • Don’t mistake strong, supportive same-sex friendships for romance.
  • Be physically active. A tired body will be more likely to want to sleep than find sexual fulfilment.
  • Find resources. Our friends at Member Care Media have some excellent podcasts about healthy sexuality (www.membercaremedia.com, click on Emotional Health and then Addictions and Dependencies).  Every Single Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn is a good book for men to read.

Syzygy is willing to talk confidentially to anyone who needs advice on this, and can recommend a number of experienced counsellors if necessary. For more information email info@syzygy.org.uk