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Agnes Howard

Sex and the Single Christian

No, chastity isn't archaic.

The title of Lauren Winner's first book, Girl Meets God, invoked courtship to describe conversion; her new one gets right down to the earthy aspects of human romance. Real Sex aims to rehabilitate the virtue of chastity in the Christian life. This title seems calculated to raise eyebrows on both sides of the colon. First there's real sex—wow!—and then we hit "chastity" in the subtitle, a noun scarcely in the language any longer, hard to speak without either a smirk or an embarrassed inflection (or both?).

Some words of definition are in order straightaway. For Winner, "real" sex means the gift of embodied love that is only authentic when it conforms to God's creative intent, within marriage. This is decidedly not the "faux sex" to which Americans have grown accustomed. To our spiritual peril, we have gotten used to the "lies our culture tells about sex": that sex is for adventure and pleasure (not babies), hugely important to happiness but also no big deal, just another form of recreation, my affair and none of your business.

Christians, especially singles, need help if they are to remain faithful in such a vale of temptation. To the author's regret, the church often does a poor job providing this help because it is hampered by its own untruths. Too often churches are hysterical about sex, or else make chastity sound easy, "sweet and obvious." Unrealistic abstinence preaching gives struggling singletons only the thinnest support in romantic temptation and makes forgiveness hard to grasp when they fall.

It's a little disconcerting that a book on chastity repeatedly has to remind readers that sex is important. Even Christians seem to need persuading. A Christian friend asks Winner, "Shouldn't I focus on learning to pray, and deal with the sex stuff later?" Another, not identified by faith, demands, "Look, we're two consenting adults. Why is what we do under the sheets anyone else's concern?"

Or, since Winner is writing from Charlottesville, Virginia, we might ...

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