Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity: Bring God's Word to Real Life
Create practical theologies for doubtful issues

by Doug Rosenau

Part Eight of the eight-part series.

Are we Christians just a little confused over sexual issues? Do we need some practical help applying biblical principles to everyday life?

Yes and yes again. On the Internet, for instance, one conservative religious group posted ways to prevent masturbation like tying your dominant hand to the bedpost so you wouldn't inadvertently do it in your sleep. When I was writing my book, A Celebration of Sex, I was told not to discuss vibrators. A wife angrily told me in a counseling session, "I'm not going to wear that lingerie. What does he think I am, a hooker?"

Practical Guidelines
Many sexual issues are confusing and we wonder if they're right or wrong--like masturbation, fantasies, R-rated movies, and babe-watching. We need some practical Christian guidelines that help us get to the heart of the matter, not legalistic prohibitions and reactions. "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom... but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgences." (Colossians 2:23, NIV) "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b).

Although people have strong opinions, Scripture has no direct references to many sexual behaviors like petting in single courtship relationships, or using a vibrator in lovemaking, or speaking in sexual slang. When the Bible doesn't directly address a behavior, we must create a practical theology to guide our behaviors.

We do this by applying key principles that God has made clear in Scripture. My friends sometimes kid me and say that I'm the only person they know who can take any Scripture passage and find deep sexual meaning. But when dealing with doubtful issues, it's critical to take appropriate biblical wisdom and formulate wise courses of action.

Problem Areas
I have singled out masturbation as one of these problem areas because it is very symbolic when men are working on maintaining sexual integrity. This behavior can generate such guilt while core issues are often never addressed.

One husband came to me very guilt-ridden and determined to stop masturbating. I listened as he told how his wife, who was not a night person, would go to bed at 10 p.m. But he'd still be up watching television and thinking about making love. Rather than wake his wife up, he found it easier to masturbate.

I exclaimed to him, "Your sin isn't masturbation. It's laziness! You could help your wife out with the chores and then initiate lovemaking at 9 p.m. She would probably be open to the idea then. Instead, you mess around till 10:30 and then nurture yourself."

What Scripture might be helpful to create a theology that helps us discipline the behavior of masturbation? I think that 1 Corinthians 6:12 certainly applies: "Everything is permissible to me--but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible--but I will not be mastered by anything." In our huge debates about masturbation, I think Jesus would cut to the chase and ask, "What does it do to you and how does it affect your relationships?"

The Thought Behind the Action
In this and other sexual behaviors, we certainly have to consider what it does to our thought life. Philippians 4:8 exhorts us to discipline our minds and thinking. "Finally brothers, whatever is true, ...noble, ...right, ...pure, ...lovely, ...admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Another passage, in 1 Thessalonians 4:4,5, encourages us to control our bodies and minds "in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust." Jesus said, "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). That includes fantasies that lead to masturbation.

It's also easy to utilize masturbation and other sexual behaviors to meet nonsexual needs (such as adventure or excitement) sexually. But God wants us to live our lives maturely as we appropriately enjoy the pleasures He created. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). You may not be sexually deprived-you may simply be bored and in need of a ride on your mountain bike.

Are you getting the flavor of creating these practical theologies to govern your doubtful sexual issues? You're taking God's wisdom and practically applying it to your attitudes and actions. You cut through to the spirit of the law and grow from your immaturity.

Practice Time
Let's practice on another issue. What Scripture might you use to regulate using sexual slang terms or fantasy behavior with your wife, who is a little uncomfortable with those things? How about this one: "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4). And this one: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs" (Ephesians 4:29).

If your wife hates a given term or behavior, don't shoot yourself in the foot and demand your own interests. If it doesn't create loving connection and build the marriage, stop it. Your goal is a passionate love life, not focusing on some obsession.

What is confusing about doubtful issues is that we are operating under grace and not under law. But grace is a higher standard than the law. We have to maturely slice to the heart of the matter for ourselves. What works for your brother may not apply completely to you. "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves" (Romans 14: 13, 22b).

Our brother may be able to watch certain shows or movies that would be sin for us. One single man may engage in sexual behaviors within his relationship that would be a slippery slope for his brother. God will help you tailor a personal application of theology that works for you in these doubtful areas. If you ask, He promises to give wisdom and He will help you become a man of sexual integrity (Proverbs 2:1-5).

Getting Real:
* Using scriptural guidance, when would masturbation be sinful for you? Could it ever be permitted or helpful?

* What example of maturely applying God's principles in your sexual life are you proud of and how did you come about achieving this step of progress?

Missed earlier parts of this eight-article series? Just click on the skill you want to read-and learn everything you want to know about sexual integrity.

The Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity

Skill One: Plug into God's thinking and power
Skill Two: Meet nonsexual needs nonsexually
Skill Three: Discipline sexual fantasies and surges
Skill Four: Embrace masculinity and enjoy moms, sisters and daughters
Skill Five: Cultivate covenant monogamy and passionate intimacy
Skill Six: Make positive pre- and post-temptation choices
Skill Seven: Run to God's ER when broken
Skill Eight: Create practical theologies for doubtful issues

Dr. Doug Rosenau is a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Atlanta. He is the author of A Celebration of Sex (Thomas Nelson).

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