Christian leaders often subscribe to stereotypes and myths about men and women and their sexuality. Most of the time, emphasis is placed on Christian women needing to dress modestly and for men to avoid the temptations of their “visual nature.” By proclaiming sexual myths, a “gendering” of sexual sin occurs which enables some and adds an extra level of shame for others. Basically, women are seen as less sexually motivated, and therefore issues such as female sexual addiction and pornography go unaddressed in many churches.
There have been numerous times when I have felt the oppressive force of sexual myths within the church. When I first became a Christian as a teen, I was leaving a life of drugs and alcohol as well as sexual promiscuity. Pornography was something that many of my female friends and I viewed regularly and understood as acceptable. My testimony is one of God’s amazing grace and transformative power. However, more often than not, I have felt that my story is not one that is appropriate to tell to “church people.” Instead of embracing my newly freedom and purity in Christ, churches and church leaders have been adept at making sure I felt the full shame of my past sins. In youth groups, so much emphasis was placed on virginity that I felt like I needed to hide my story of God’s grace in order to be acceptable. I have long heard God’s call to tell my story, but have found that female sexuality is far too uncomfortable a subject for most Christians to deal with. At the same time, I have watched the reaction of the church to multiple testimonies of Christian men delivered from sexual sin. Instead of using these testimonies as opportunities to challenge men to higher levels of sexual purity, commentators and leaders instead imply that it is almost normal and expected for men to sin in this way.
Another dangerous and sexist myth that often exists in the church is the idea that men and women are not sexual equals. Oftentimes, lust and pornography are seen primarily as men’s issues. I do not believe that there is biblical support for the idea that the ability to act sinfully is related to one’s gender. There are instances of women living sexually immoral lifestyles in the Bible. Potiphar’s wife, for example, was filled with lust for Joseph’s physique and was aggressive in her advances (Gen. 39:1-19). Today, it seems that popular Christianity would have us believe that these women did not struggle with lust and that the only reason women sin sexually is because of a misplaced desire to be loved. Yet men, on the other hand, supposedly struggle with lust simply because they are men.
The church often touts myths about men being more visual or men liking sex more than women. These myths are sometimes puzzling when they contrast with individuals’ experiences. For instance, my husband is not a visual person; he thinks in words and not pictures, and text grabs his attention more than pictures do. But I am very visual, and God often communicates to me using pictures. When the church says men are one way and women are another way and an individual does not “fit” with the teaching, that “outlier” individual may feel isolated and odd.
I would like to contend that many women both in and out of the church struggle with sexual immorality through both pornography and plain old lust. Somehow, the church has taught women that their sexuality is inferior to men’s. This teaching is fleshed out in many beliefs, such as women do not want sex as much as men do, women do not need sex as much as men do, or women who do are somehow perverted beyond reason!
Sexual myths also impact men. There is a general awareness that men struggle with pornography, but there is also more tolerance for this behavior. I do not think that every man will necessarily have to “battle” extensively with pornography just because he happens to be a man. The Bible clearly does not condone sexual sin (Gal. 5:19–21), but it does not specify whether one sex will struggle more than the other. In fact, in a passage concerning married life, Paul clearly addresses the need for both husbands and wives to yield their bodies and to agree when to abstain from sexual intercourse. He goes on to say that both partners lack self-control in this area and that marriage is a viable option for those burning with passion (1 Cor. 7:1–9).
I believe that God created both men and women to be equal sexual partners, that our sexuality is more similar than dissimilar, and that both genders are equally able to enjoy and also to be tempted by sex. We need to affirm our sexuality without making one gender feel inferior or less prone to sexual sin, for there is no evidence for this thought scripturally. We all need to examine the lies our society tells us about sexuality, for it is difficult to maintain a godly perspective about sex in our culture. Promulgating sexist myths about sexuality does not help us to become more pure. As Colossians 2:16–23 tells us, rules and notions based solely upon “human commands and teachings” are not only useless but can also actively damage the spiritual health of individuals and communities. If women were treated as equals in the church, I believe it would be harder for damaging sexual myths to remain. Please do not act surprised if a woman is or has struggled with sexual sin in the form of pornography or extramarital affairs. This woman needs to hear that she can be renewed in Christ, forgiven by her fellow Christians, and go on to lead a pure life.