Sunday, January 17, 2010

Seasons, Sexuality, and Being Single

"Sexuality needs to be integrated into one's personhood. It should be connected to all of who you are, and it should show up in real life, not in a dungeon."

Henry Cloud
How to Get a Date Worth Keeping
(emphasis mine)

Before I get too far into this discussion on sex, I thought I would introduce sexuality in the context of the single life. As a single person who desires to live not just in abstinence, purity, and integrity but also wholeness and maturity, I have discovered that:
  • Singles (and many of their married friends and other loved ones) often treat being single as if it were a disease to be cured, a problem to be solved, or a question to be answered.

  • The single life is NOT, however, a holding place for people who are not yet married. It is NOT a premature developmental stage. It is NOT a burden to be alleviated or a sentence to be escaped.

  • The single life IS a season that has divine purpose with rich blessings, daunting challenges, unique experiences and joys, and special sorrows - JUST LIKE MARRIAGE. Just like marriage and parenthood, the season(s) of living singly accomplish purposes that no other season does - at least not in the same way.

  • If you see the single life as a necessary evil or as merely the stage through which one might have to pass in order to get to marriage and family, then you are missing a significant opportunity to develop your identity, character, and relationship with Christ.

  • Many look to marriage as the "answer" for dealing with their sexuality. However, if you're looking for a place to work out your sexuality, start with being single!

So, let's start be establishing that sexuality is not about sex.

We are sexual beings, and that is and will be true regardless as to whether we ever get married or have sex. Being a sexual being is about MORE than sex, and the single lifestyle is a unique and significantly important opportunity to learn about and develop sexuality and sexual identity apart from sex - an opportunity you do not want to squander, especially when doing so could just end in pornography or other sexual addictions, infidelity, divorce, or a trail of broken relationships. For example, learning about the sex drive and learning how to steward it is how one learns how to be whole, mature, and to walk in self control. Marriage requires even greater sexual stewardship and self control than being single - not less! It is not easier to be married, it is more complex; you are dealing with two people and their distinct ideas and expressions of sexuality, not one, and you are learning how to steward yourselves together - a good, beautiful, challenging opportunity, yes, but one that still involves delaying gratification and dealing with rejection - sometimes much more demanding delays in gratification and much greater experiences of rejection than single people can imagine!

Some Christians expound on the beauty of sex in marriage. But I hear very little about the actual stewardship and development of sexuality in marriage, and I certainly do not hear about any beauty and sexuality in the single life. It is not surprising, then, that the significance of the season of being single for developing one's sexuality is lost. In fact, there is such a negativity about sexuality outside of the context of sex-and-marriage that Dr. Cloud in the aforementioned book notes two devastating consequences: Asexuality and sexual promiscuity. Both are marked by sexual regression in which neither the 'pure' nor the 'oversexed' have integrated their sexuality or know how to steward it. The result is often blunted adults who don't know how to engage sexually with their spouses later in marriage, or loose canons who may desperately try to "hold themselves back" for marriage, never developing self control, especially not the self control needed to steward sexuality and sex in a covenant relationship! If a person cannot learn to be sexually faithful in the single life, what will give him or her the self control, wisdom, and maturity that it requires to be faithful to a sexual partner - particularly considering that partner is NOT an object for that person's sexual gratification any more AFTER marriage than he or she was BEFORE? In other words, you're not going to get it when you want it, the way you want it, so learn how to be whole, satisfied, and content NOW, as a single person, or you may just be in for some serious pitfalls in marriage.

Though allow me to state again, the single life is not necessarily about preparing for marriage; it is a beautiful opportunity to learn about self, relationship, and love, and it is a season of maturing. It is a season for growing closer to God in specific ways, as is every other season of life.

I'll conclude with this: Marriage has its own loneliness right alongside its unique and beautiful intimacy. It has its own deep sorrows and heart-breaking rejections right alongside its distinct moments of bliss and joy. You are not escaping or being saved from anything when you get married, you are just getting the opportunity to experience the dance of intimacy with a distinct set of risks and unique experiences. One of the keys to adjusting to marriage is learning how to embrace the beauty with the sorrow, the joy with the pain. And all of these things are also true of being single. Learn how to grieve and let go of what you don't have and embrace that which is offered in the season you are in.