Sexual Discipleship: A New Mentality to Address Sexuality with Dr. Juli Slattery

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In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the need to reclaim the conversation about sexuality, rather than treating it like a problem to be fixed.  As we continue this discussion, Dr. Juli Slattery shares a key method she’s learned for how to take back this territory as Christians.


Amanda:  We’ve seen how it’s important for Christians to look at the big picture behind the issues popping up in our culture, not just focusing on all the individual problems we see catching our attention in isolation from one another.  In your book, Rethinking Sexuality, the way you teach this alternative, big picture approach is presented as a model that you call “sexual discipleship.”

You emphasize the importance of talking about sexuality but you approach it from what you call a “sexual discipleship” model rather than the traditional “sex education” model.  Can you just explain for a minute what that difference is between these two approaches and why it is important? What is the goal we should be reaching toward?

Juli:  Yeah, absolutely.  “Sex education” is giving people a particular answer to one question.  So an example of sex ed would be, from a Christian perspective, “We need to save sex for marriage.  Here’s why, because if you don’t, all these bad things will happen to you, and if you do, then someday you’ll have this crazy awesome sex life when you get married.”  That is pretty much the approach that the church has been using for the last thirty or forty years, and we’re finding that it doesn’t work.

First of all, it doesn’t ring true for a lot of people’s stories.  So, you might meet a thirty year old Christian woman who says, “I saved sex for marriage. My best friend didn’t. Yet she’s way happier right now in her sex life than I am.  She’s married now and has a great sex life, so what you told me isn’t true. Why is that?”

Also, this approach doesn’t address things like sexual abuse and trauma, and it doesn’t address things like same sex attraction or gender confusion.  So, it’s an incomplete explanation of sexuality that leaves people really questioning whether the Bible is relevant, because they can’t find their own story in what they’ve been told from the church.

In contrast, a sexual discipleship perspective would work to really integrate Biblical truth with real life questions about sexuality, and it would do this on an ongoing basis, not as an isolated event.  This integration gives people a framework from which to think through every sexual issue, even sexual issues we haven’t even thought of yet, like the ones that are coming soon about having sex with robots or in virtual reality.  Those are all new questions that we’ll be facing within the next five or ten years, and if we have a Biblical narrative that helps us understand our sexuality, and if we’re in discipleship relationships that continually challenge us to integrate that narrative, we are going to be equipped to answer whatever problems or questions might come our way.

Amanda:  Yes!  That is great.  So, with this concept of sexual discipleship—and the message of your whole book—you are really proposing some important “paradigm shifts” for the way we approach and understand sexual issues.

I wanted to talk with you about some of these specific paradigm shifts.

One that powerfully stood out to me was when you made the point that, “We are all sexually broken” (p. 77).  You say that it’s not just the people who’ve looked at porn or the people who have same sex attraction that are “broken” or need help in the area of sexuality.  Can you share more about this bigger picture which includes every single one of us?

Juli:  We define sexual brokenness based on our definition of sexual wholeness.  

I think, traditionally, a Christian definition of “sexual wholeness” has been “you’re a virgin on your wedding night,” and that’s pretty much it.

So that means that . . .

  • People that have slept around before they got married are sexually broken
  • People that have same sex attraction are sexually broken
  • People that look at porn may be sexually broken

But for the rest of us, you know, if you were a virgin when you got married, then you’re good; you’ve got it all figured out.  You can help other people.

Yet that’s a very narrow definition of sexual brokenness, because it’s a narrow definition of wholeness.

In Rethinking Sexuality, I talk a lot about a “Biblical narrative of sexuality,” which helps us understand the spiritual significance of the metaphor that sexuality is, and that sexual wholeness is in every way living according to that metaphor of God’s covenant love.

I explain this metaphor in-depth in the book, but if you accept that sexual wholeness is the fullness of the metaphor, including things like what’s in Ephesians 5—that a husband, sexually, should love his wife like Christ loved the church, sacrificially washing her with water, presenting her as a pure bride—when you realize the things in those kinds of passages apply to sexuality, you realize that all of us have been damaged and wounded in our sexuality, and that all of us have sinned in our sexuality, too.  So it really levels the conversation, making it not, “The world out there is so terrible and awful, and only some people have sexual shame,” but now instead, “All of us have had sexuality tainted in our lives.”

Amanda:  Yes. I love how what you explained breaks down those walls which get built up and really isolate people and promote shame that isn’t God’s intent for them.

Juli:  Right.

Amanda:  By admitting that we’re all broken, and we’re all struggling to learn and to live out what God’s design for our sexuality is, all of us together, I think that shows the unity through Christ that we’re called to live in as His body.

 


We will conclude this discussion in the next post, Sexuality as a Spiritual Issue.

You can find more of Dr. Slattery’s work at AuthenticIntimacy.com
To hear more about the concept of “Sexual Discipleship,” you can read her post, The Importance of Sexual Discipleship

Click here to get your own copy of Rethinking Sexuality

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