The Sex Talk Lady Is Back

This post is going to generate a ton of spam.

I’ve been invited to sit on a panel to discuss sex, specifically on the topic “Respecting Sex and Reducing Abortion: What Can Churches Really Do?”  I was reluctant to accept the invitation for a variety of reasons including fear of putting at least one foot in my mouth, fear of digging a hole large enough to discredit me but not large enough to sink into and disappear, fear of looking and sounding like the least experienced expert and the potential scheduling acrobatics for me and my husband so that we had morning coverage on the home front. However, the sex talk lady is back.

Let me first explain the nickname. A few years ago I took on several campus speaking opportunities – every single one on the topic of sex and sexuality. I suppose writing the chapter on sexuality in More Than Serving Tea and also helping lead a weekend college student training module entitled “Christians, Sex and Intimacy” for several years had helped shape my reputation as a Christian woman who was not afraid to talk about sex, faith, ethnicity, gender, sin, failure, guilt, pleasure and hope. It was during that crazy year of sex talks that I had the opportunity to speak at Wheaton College during chapel on the subject of sex. That’s right. Wheaton College. Chapel. Sex. The sophomore class, I believe, invited me back to do a Q & A, and the promotional flyers and posters said it all: The Sex Talk Lady is Back.

When it comes to the topic of sexuality (not so much abortion, though I will certainly address the issue on the panel) my hope is for church leaders to understand that the Church can do and must do a better job teaching a theology of sexuality that acknowledges and encourages understanding and thoughtful engagement with the cultures around us and the realities we face. And as a parent of both a daughter and sons, I cannot leave the topic of sexuality and the ongoing conversations up to the youth pastors, health ed teachers and pop culture.

Because in reality repeating the line I heard in church – “Don’t have premarital sex” – did not prepare me well to deal with the warm fuzzies I felt after watching those Hollywood rom-coms and definitely after my first french kiss. Sure, the script kept running in my head (Kathy, remember, premarital sex is bad. JESUS IS WATCHING!) but NO ONE TOLD ME that the script in my head would have to compete with nerve endings I did not know would fire and feel that way and the emotions that became enmeshed with those physical experiences. All I heard was “sex is bad” and then I walked away feeling like “I was bad”. And then, for awhile, it was easier to just walk away.

I could rant on and on, but I won’t because this morning I have a list of things I must, must, must get done. However, I would again appreciate hearing from all of you. Please, be respectful of one another’s opinions, which may differ from yours. Please.

What, if anything, can the churches do to respect sex and reduce abortion? Should churches be doing anything at all? What did you learn about sex, sexuality and abortion at church and how has that helped (or not) you understand and respect sex? If you could help shape and change the message your church is sending about sex, sexuality and/or abortion how would you do it and what would that message be?


  1. Josh Deng May 12, 2010

    ha! let me know when you find the answer to that one (how churches can respect sex etc), because I’m dying to know as well. It’s almost impossible to speak louder about the intimacy, sacredness, and humble serving sides of sex than the world can speak about the pleasure, promiscuity, and leisure of it. Having shared in my struggles with “going too far”, I have no idea what the church could have said to me while I was in the middle of experiencing such strong passion, aside from something that leaned more towards legalism rather than faith. Yea, definitely let me know if you find a good answer to that one.

    • Kathy Khang May 12, 2010

      Josh, do you think the church could have said something differently to you BEFORE you were in the middle of it all that would have changed things? Do you think churches in general are speaking about intimacy, sacredness, etc. of sex let alone speaking loudly? Are there better ways to get the message across within the church, especially when it comes to teens and young adults?

      • Josh Deng May 12, 2010

        Yes, I suppose the church could have. But on the other hand I’m not sure where the line is on speaking too much about sex with non-married people. It’s tough speaking to teenagers and youth groups, because some people just weren’t ready to hear that kind of thing at that age, and some people are definitely in need of hearing about the “godly side” of sex. (I remember our youth group did a “True Love Waits” retreat one time, and I didn’t get anything out of it, because I was too young and naive; however, I don’t doubt that people in youth group who were already struggling with physical relationships got something out of that retreat.)

        I think it’s important to get the message to college folks and young singles, because that is when more real relationships happen, relationships that are more likely to lead to marriage. Unfortunately the college Christian scene is increasingly separate from the church Christian scene, because there are more campus fellowships these days. Maybe this is a burden that campus fellowships should help carry moreso than the church, at this age group?

        It also doesn’t help that we live in a culture that waits so long to marry. To be honest, marriage was my saving grace from going any further physically with my now-wife; I don’t know how I would have done it otherwise (I mean, I never got a chance to figure out how, but I think I would have had a really hard time). Since I don’t have a good answer to how to deal with it, at this point if I had to advise a young single who is dating and struggling with being physically too close, I would find it easier to tell him “better to marry than to burn with passion”.

        But anyhow, back to your question. I think a one-on-one approach to sharing the details of a godly sexual relationship is probably the most effective (not to discredit someone sharing to a large group). After all, sex is a very personal thing. I think if I had an older guy in our church, or even an already married peer, tell me the great things about holding off physically before marriage, it would have been a big big motivator for me, and it would have made it seem worth the wait. There’s no guarantee, of course, but I think it still would have been powerful. I guess the older men mentoring thing could easily branch from a well established discipleship system in the church.

        I would also put emphasis on training the guys up on this matter more than girls. It seems to me most physical trouble a couple gets into is initiated by the guy; and even if not, it’s the guy’s responsibility as leader of the relationship to strive for purity in the relationship anyhow.

        There’s a lot of good resources on (a ministry of Focus on the Family directed towards 20-somethings) if you care to have a look! Hope my thoughts were clear enough for ya!

  2. Kacie May 12, 2010

    I have loved the discussion in CT and other places about young marriage, and how it can help with the whole situation… IF it is done well, supported by the church and community, etc.

    As for reducing abortions, one thing the church rarely addresses is that most abortions are NOT from teen mothers at all. Some of the stats are quoted here:,2933,323829,00.html

    I would imagine most abortions are from women who have realized how difficult raising a child can be and don’t feel prepared to handle it. I loved when our pastor had a big crowd of people come out on stage and he said, “Everyone in this crowd has had an abortion (or, in the case of the males, agreed to or encouraged their partner to have one), and they are meeting together for support and are forgiven and loved”. He then had another crowd come on stage and said, “These are all families who have adopted. We care about kids and about life, and if for whatever reason you find yourself pregnant and don’t feel that you can raise the child….. we as a church body will take care of that child, and someone will raise it and love it. You DO have options.”

    I appreciated that message – to all ages – that the church wants to take care of children.

    • Kathy Khang May 12, 2010

      Kacie, your pastor did an amazing, beautiful thing bringing those two groups to the stage and bless them the the congregation in that way. Absolutely takes my breath away. Thank you for sharing that with us!

  3. deanne May 12, 2010

    Thank you for being the courageous voice that I hope to have one day! I was just talking with a girlfriend about this the other day. We were discussing how the 20-something ministry could be more relevant, and not just a “game-night” type group, and she suggested we talk about real sex and sexuality. We haven’t found any of the Christian books on the topic satisfactory and want to have a real conversation about what’s happening in our lives. If we’re not able to discuss this amongst our Christian friends, and if our church has no voice in it – but simply likes to discuss chastity and singlehood, then where are we supposed to go?

    I don’t think I have any suggestions for you, but I do appreciate your honesty. I think it’s a needed step towards dialogue and conversation. What is difficult for me, is that the church has not really gained a right to speak because of the many messages that marginalize young women and men on this topic. More specifically, the issue of abortion is never as simple as it seems. And often, in the twenties we are left with un-learning much of the simplistic answers we were given in youth group, sunday school, and youth retreats/conferences. Deconstructing and constructing our beliefs is a really hard journey, and being able to be open an honest, is really important. (also very uncomfortable)

    • Kathy Khang May 12, 2010

      Deanne, I don’t often feel courageous so much as I feel unashamed. I have a lot of questions and I have spent the past two decades deconstructing and reconstructing my beliefs. You are so correct. Those simplistic answers failed me when I entered into real life situations, and that is why we find ourselves in this place I suppose.

      I found Lauren Winner’s book, Real Sex quite helpful and I’ve had a copy of <a href="Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses
      “> on my reading list for quite sometime as well. Perhaps one of those two could give your group an alternative to “game night”.

      What would a real conversation within the church look like, what topics would you want addressed and how would that help you and your 20-something friends develop a respect for sex? I completely agree with you. The churches I’ve been to didn’t even discuss chastity and singlehood as much as it preached chastity for singlehood. That’s one topic, but when the church and Christians don’t go beyond that I think it oversimplifies and falsely dichotomizes are sexuality into two life stages: single and married.

      And let me know when your church is ready to talk about sexuality 😉

      • jessica May 13, 2010

        hello kathy (and deanne)!

        since i’m the frustrated girlfriend that deanne was speaking of in her post, i thought i might throw in my two cents.

        one of my greatest frustrations as a woman has been the way that “purity” and “chastity” have been placed so heavily on my shoulders. even in Christian circles, there’s a really disturbing resignation that men are simply more sexual and that lust is their cross to bear and that as women, we need to somehow accommodate for that. we need to be the ones dressing modestly, we need to be the ones protecting our purity, and God forbid we explore our sexuality and honestly deal with our lust (not be confused with our desire for romance). and listen, ima be really real with you — i am getting to the age when my body is practically screaming that it is BABY MAKING TIME. hormones are no joke and they don’t just effect men. i think we need to start really acknowledging the fact that not only are men not singularly sexual, but women aren’t just big flowery bouquets of romance either. some of us are JUST as sexual as the men and it’s just not being addressed because it’s so buried in the shame we’re supposed to feel about that sexuality. it’s counter-productive and it really damages both women and men.

        my frustration with Lauren Winner’s book (though i LOVED the talk i went to a while back) was the first few chapters where she detailed her personal history with sex. while i understood that this was her way of providing her testimony, i’m not gonna lie — it felt like she was just rubbing it in. to be perfectly honest, i sometimes feel like i am the last virgin over 25 (i know i’m not but it feels this way) and there are many points at which i wonder what the point is in “waiting” or (as Lauren Winner would suggest) sticking to this “chastity” thing at all. i have long since given up the idea of marrying man who was a virgin because it’s really just not that realistic anymore. these talks about purity and chastity, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, are mostly targeted women because it seems like the world has conceded to the “fact” that men are sexual creatures.

        i think the church needs to start acknowledging that a lot of non-married people are currently having sex and a lot of those of us that aren’t would really like to be. i think before anyone talks to women or men about why we shouldn’t be having sex, we need to be acknowledging and (dare i say) celebrating that God made us sexual creatures and that that sexuality isn’t a switch that gets magically turned on (pun intended) when we get married. it’s a part of our identities that is formed during our maturation and it is a beautiful thing that doesn’t need to be squashed or shamed. it should be submitted to God — along with all the other facets of our identity — for His good and ultimately for our good but it can’t simply be ignored. i think (as Dee said) deconstructing shame is hugely important to any discussion of sexuality.

        i think my two cents ended up amounting to about a quarter’s worth at least but i hope i’ve made some semblance of a point. thank you for the space to speak and share! and thank you Kathy for keepin it real. 🙂

        – jH

        • Kathy Khang May 13, 2010

          Glad you joined the conversation! Yes! We are created as sexual beings, embodied souls – our physical bodies matter. And you are correct in saying our sexuality isn’t a switch that gets turned on and off, and for some who have grown up thinking sex is “bad” until marriage the switch is harder to flip. How do you undo years of teaching just because you finally said “I do”. I’ve known several women who have struggled after denying not just sex but their sexuality. It can be a rather horrifying thing for a young woman who has tried desperately to ignore their real desires and lust to then have to “please” her husband, and don’t even get me started about the reaction I get when I ask them if they’ve had an orgasm.

          Overall the issues surrounding sex and sexuality (never mind abortion) have gotten more complex. I was just talking with my boss the other day about my prep for next week’s panel mentioning that the HPV vaccine brings on an interesting twist. Do I have my daughter vaccinated and if so when? It has to be done before she is sexually active but how do you draw the line between faith, hope and reality – that I have faith and hope my daughter will do the “right” thing but the reality is that I’m not out with her 24/7. And what about the boys/men? The manufacturer of the vaccine is now marketing it to young boys who as young men become the carriers of HPV. How will our churches provide space for parents (and perhaps their teenage children) to have honest conversations about this vaccine, the gift of sex and sexuality and the risks and consequences of sex? Or will our churches stick to conversations about homeschooling v. public education? Again, I agree with you. The whole chastity thing falls so much on girls/women, and the culture around us tells us you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t – prissy or slutty. You pick. And those purity vows and purity balls. Yikes!

          There are moments where I hesitate to speak out too loudly because I am a married woman. I am not a single woman wrestling with these very real issues so much like Winner I can’t fully know. But I like to keep stirring up the conversation because I also want to end the fantasy that once you’re married it’s all better. Sure, I can have sex but what happens when I don’t want to, can’t because of illness, etc. Is it my duty? What’s my husband’s duty. And one day either he or I will be single again because one of us will outlive the other. What then? Because some of the “practical” arguments against premarital sin has been about age and maturity.

          It’s a lifelong conversation, and I’m so grateful there are others who are wrestling with the issues. Press on, sister.

          Hmm. No brothers but Josh speaking out on this…I know you’re reading this, men.

      • jessica May 14, 2010

        RE: HPV Shot — I think EVERY girl/woman/boy/man who can get the shot should get the shot. The sad reality is that it is current THE most prevalent STD over half of sexual active men are carriers of the virus. I think in this particular case, it’s just a matter of public health! The virus is rampant and now that there is an effective immunization available, it ought to be used so that the virus won’t be as harmfully ubiquitous in future generations.

  4. t-hype May 12, 2010

    kathy, i wanna be just like you when i grow up!
    it’s a shame that only ONE person should be known on a campus for being able to honestly discuss sexuality and intimacy from a biblical perspective! >.<

    one thing the church NEVER talks about with young people is sexual abuse/assault. in this day and age, that's unacceptable. (stats say 1 out of 6 women has experienced rape or attempted rape… that doesn't even include molestations.) you can't talk about human sexuality in a holistic way without addressing the issue because so many people are silently suffering and their ability to view themselves as pure and whole has taken a terrible hit.

    as for people young people engaging in sexual activity i think what josh says is accurate, we need to deal with the men FIRST. even potiphar's wife couldn't get joseph into bed, ya know?

    since (healthy, whole) women function under an "emotions THEN sex" paradigm, your average church girl isn't at risk for one-night stands, she's going to fall into something with the guy they're dating who, if he hasn't already set his heart and mind against sex outside marriage AND has a legion of trusted people to keep him accountable, is absolutely gonna go for it.

    on the other hand, if all the men are saying, "no" women won't fight it cuz we wanna please the one we love, right?

    maybe i'm too analytical but i think people should be prepared to face sexual temptation similar to the way women are prepared for childbirth… nothing can REALLY prepare you, but having as much information as possible before that day comes, gives you a well-thought out plan to execute rather than being caught completely off guard. (i say this as the mother of none. lol!)

    • Kathy Khang May 13, 2010

      Thank you for bringing the issue of sexual abuse/assault to the table as well. I’ve talked with so many women who have unnecessarily carried guilt and shame, but unfortunately I’ve talked with fewer men.

      I’ll have to think about the “emotions THEN sex” paradigm a bit because I think you’re onto something that exists but perhaps we unintentionally rely too much on to kick in and “protect” young women from acting out. JH addresses this in her comment. We forget that girls/women are sexual. Never mind baby making time. We want to have sex and we want to fall in love and we want the romance. We’re just not supposed to want it in that order.

      About a year ago I saw some expert on Oprah and I loved and hated what she had to say about teaching young girls about sex. There was a lot she said that I disagreed with (no, I will not talk to my teenage daughter about a vibrator) but what I did agree with her was helping girls and young women understand that our sexuality and having sex involves our physical pleasure as well. I was taught sex is bad, but I didn’t know what to do when that first kiss was so, so good. Maybe it would have been different if he was a bad kisser…

      So any thoughts on what a thought out plan would look like for you as a single woman?

      • t-hype May 16, 2010

        well, to be perfectly honest, i’ve only been celibate (this time around) for just over a year and i’m over 30.

        i suppose i believe so strongly in guys being the anchor for the sexual direction of a relationship because of my college boyfriend. he was adamantly against premarital sex so we only went so far physically. i was WAY into him so it definitely wasn’t me holding it together. (i mean, if a girl really wants to wear a guy down, she can but it’s much easier to move on to another guy, right?)

        these days, i’m very adamant about no guys (of interest) being over my apartment after dark. even if it’s 545pm in the dead of winter. it’s just WAY to comfortable! lol

        the little incident i had a while back was very much the result of breaking cardinal rule numero uno: thou shalt not mix large containers of alcohol and boys that look like the ex you were desperately in love with (but better) while away from home on vacation. (don’t know whether to sigh or laugh on that one. it’s such a cliche.)

        other than that, for goodness sake, i haven’t dated anyone i was really into in almost 6 years so i don’t know.

        i suppose at this point, i don’t even bother with a guy unless i think there’s some pretty strong potential there and unfortunately, that’s about a once a year occasion and none of them have panned out so far. >.<

        i agree with leigh on the birth control thing. i was on it during the vacation fiasco which might not have happened if i hadn't had one more reason to give in. [SIDE NOTE: although using it did lessen my bleeding and cramps. i got off the pill shortly after that vacation. i suffered through my periods for almost exactly one year until february of this year (2010) when i was healed from the two growths that were in my uterus. yup. HEALED during a prayer time at my church.]

        as a much younger woman, i would have appreciated the acknowledgment that women ARE indeed "visual." (that was a favorite male excuse in my day, anyways.) and as you kathy, and several other commenters mentioned, are sexual beings filled with many layers of desire. desires which may even conflict with each other… that would have been helpful, validating advice when i was still learning how to carry myself and react to the world around me.

  5. AStephens May 12, 2010

    Hehe– I like the nickname! I think something the church could do better is to talk about what it means to live a life of purity– this includes many areas of our lives, one of which is sex. I think framing the discussion about sex in this way would rid it of some of the taboo AND has great potential to carry over into marital faithfulness.

    After seminary, I worked at a very large “Crisis Pregnancy Center” that was highly esteemed and considered quite successful among our supporting churches. This center, and many, many other ‘similarly minded’ ones across the country, use one or two major sources for their training. Although I appreciate the mission/vision of the Center, I found many of the methods employed to be either theologically misguided and/or ineffective in the long run. A lot is driven by a desire for quick results and ‘saving’ large numbers of babies, without much thought to what happens after a woman leaves the building (at worst) or after she gives birth (at best). So, IMO, crucial changes made to centers like these have the potential for real impact. Would love to talk about this in person if you’re interested.

    • Kathy Khang May 13, 2010

      Yes, very interested in talking about this!!

    • Leigh May 15, 2010

      The desire for quick results and emphasis on numbers has been one of my biggest issues with crisis pregnancy centers. There needs to be an emphasis on how to walk through life with these women. Choosing to continue a pregnancy is really a life-long commitment to that child. The centers would have more of an impact if they were able to assist with housing, community resources, and the labor/delivery, as well as help each woman find a strong support system if they don’t have one already. We cannot demonize women for making the best choice they know how to make given their circumstances. Telling a woman to keep her baby and then walking away is not enough. I too loved the story of the pastor that brought the groups of people onto the stage and wish more churches would be bold enough to do the same.

  6. Leigh May 15, 2010

    I can relate to so much of the discussion here. I am a 30 yo virgin (we do exist!) and I am very frustrated by the lack of honest discussion about sexuality in the church. The message has always been “don’t have sex before marriage” and then echoing Jessica’s comments that the bulk of responsibility is placed on the woman- i.e. we are to dress modestly because “do you know what goes through a guy’s mind when he sees you in a bikini?” There’s a fine line there but I’ve come to the point where I’m OK with showing a little bit of cleavage, although probably not at church! The young adult group at church occasionally has a dating Q and A type of night but never addresses the real issues we face. They might discuss masturbation and porn with the guys but never with the girls, and I know for a fact that some of the ladies there struggle with those very things. As I get older, it’s harder and harder to obey in the area of abstinence, relationship or not. I am definitely in the “baby making stage” of life but without a husband or even a boyfriend at this point. I have heard from many people over the years that it is worth the wait, which helps on good days. I continue to wait and wonder if it’ll ever be my time.

    I have bad cramps and my MD offered to put me on birth control (whole other issue- the gynecologist is always incredulous that I’m a virgin and still asks the whole litany of questions “just in case.”) I told my mom that I declined the birth control because I don’t need a free pass. Sometimes the only thing that has saved me in the heat of the moment is the fear that I will get pregnant or contract an STD. My mom is great but she married when she was 20 and has no idea how to relate to the purity issues women my age face. This is not to say that married women can’t relate but it seems to easy to fall back on cliches or assumptions. Kathy, I would love it if you could post a transcript or highlights of your talk when you’re done!

    I pray that I will have the strength to continue in obedience in this area but also that I will fall in love with a man who has strong self-control. I wonder how long I could last if I was involved with someone who kept pushing the envelope. I have come up with some “rules” in my purity plan. No dark rooms- even to watch a movie, no sitting in the guy’s lap, and if I’m out with him after midnight, we better be in a group. And probably no prolonged make out sessions either! When I’m going through a particularly hormonal time, I try to limit the type of movies I watch or books I read, so as not to feed any of those urges.

  7. hlee83 May 15, 2010

    I think the teachings that helped me the most were actually related to my relationship with God, myself, the guy I may be involved with, and my family/community. Rob Bell’s book Sex God put a fresh spin on things as he defines sexuality in terms of connected-ness and relationships…I got to do a “purity seminar” for a Korean American youth group last winter and talking about sex and sexuality in terms of human connection and also human-divine connection made it easier for some to talk about it.

    Having personal “rules” like Leigh’s (great ideas, btw) definitely help, having accountability with same gender believers helps, but what made the biggest difference for me was the decision to see it as placing highest value on my relationship with God and pursuing the purity instead of looking at it as trying not to anger God and defending myself against impurity. I don’t know if that makes sense, but having a bit of a paradigm shift did change things for me. I guess I prefer feeling like I’m on the offense rather than the defense, for a change 🙂

    Also, I LOVE that you are called “Sex Talk Lady” at Wheaton. You are my heroine, hehe~

  8. .elise.ann.e May 17, 2010

    Hey Kathy,

    I’m catching up on all your blogs from the last 1 – 1 1/2 months I’ve been MIA online!

    You worded my upbringing exactly when you talked about the church teaching you that premarital sex was bad, but not preparing you for the feelings of kissing, etc.

    From my family and church, I was taught that sex would be great in marriage, but I wasn’t taught about any of the foreplay, etc steps between a kiss and intercourse, that a dating couple could get into. So many gray areas, and no one mentioned any of them to me!

    Now I am married and mentoring teens. The best advice I have for them is to never ever make decision on whether something is ok or not, while they are in the moment. That they should cement in their brains that even if a new touch is ok, they have to decide that when they are by themselves with a cool head. Especially if they are deciding that they want to change their mind and have sex – that they should take a day off to think it through, and then do it if that is what they decide (of course I hope they decide to keep waiting).

    We also made a list, in a vague order, of all the touches/activities between holding hands and intercourse that a couple might go through. Then I had the teens personally decide how much they wanted to save for marriage, and we discussed setting boundaries a few steps before what they wanted to save, in case they “messed up” in the heat of the moment and went a step or two too far.

    I think before I was married I also wanted someone to tell me to embrace those tingly nerve feelings as beautiful, but to learn to respect them and give them space — not shame myself for being turned on.


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