Lauren F. Winner started a lot of conversations when she published her 2003 memoir, "Girl Meets God," about her journey from Orthodox Judaism to evangelical Christianity. Now, with the publication of her new book, "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity," Winner, a former Beliefnet books editor, again is turning heads with her frank arguments about Christian sexual ethics. Winner spoke to Beliefnet about everything from why masturbation is a "separation from reality" to how she and her now-husband reined in their sexual impulses while they were dating.

What is the sexual ethic of "Real Sex?" Is it as simple as, "just say no?"
I think capturing the core message of the book in the phrase 'just say no' is problematic. Whenever I speak with youth groups or college student groups about sex and chastity, I often start by asking them, what does the Bible tell us about sex? Every single time, the first person who speaks says you shouldn't have sex before marriage. Starting with that negative doesn't make any sense. So I start from the positive point that sex was created by God, our bodies were created by God, and they are good. Sex was made for marriage, and therefore sex doesn't belong any other context than marriage. The second reason I wouldn't want to summarize it as 'just say no,' is that I think that catchphrase puts us into a place where we resist strong bodily urges like sexual desire solely through the will. And while I think the will is certainly a part of Christian living, it's the will that is empowered through God's grace. The catch phrase of 'just say no' places too much burden on our will and doesn't acknowledge the crucial place of God's activity in our faithful living.In the book, you share a lot of personal information and personal stories. Have there been moments when you wished you could re-write history?
Sure. I wrote this book because sex and chastity have been such huge issues in my own life, and I didn't feel that any of the books that people were giving me, or any of the seminars that I was attending, were quite fitting the bill.

Sexual sin in my life is something that I feel real shame and discomfort about. This is not something about which I feel cavalier.

It is also something that I think God forgives. Finding the balance between beating one's breast but also appreciating God's forgiveness is difficult. There's part of me that of course wishes I could re-write history. If there's a part of me that doesn't wish that, it's the part that knows that I couldn't have written this particular book were it not for my particular life experiences.

Can you explain the concept of "on the steps of the Rotunda?"
It's the story of how the man that I'm now married to and I navigated sexuality when we were dating. We got this advice from a very good friend of my husband Griff's, a man who's a campus pastor at the University of Virginia, which is near where we live. He said, what you can do sexually with each other in private is whatever you would feel comfortable doing standing on the steps of the Rotunda, which is the architectural capstone of the university's campus.

There were two really important pieces of wisdom in that. One was simply the fact that we had a conversation partner, it wasn't Griff and me in the throes of passion trying to make this decision for ourselves. It was a decision made in community with someone who knew us well and was able to give us guidance that took our particular stories into consideration. Second, the pastor recognized that there are public dimensions to sexuality and private dimensions to sexuality.

We've heard about college students at Christian colleges who are sexually active but also very religiously committed. What is the disconnect there?
While a large percentage of college-aged Christians are not having sex, a lot of them are. Then there's the sort of equally large category of unmarried Christians who are having oral sex and saying this doesn't count, I'm still a virgin because I'm not having genital intercourse. Part of what's going on is that the society in which we live is ever more sex-saturated, and people get married later. It's obviously easier to stay chaste if you think you're going to get married at 19 than if you're getting married at 35. But, though the church is often accused of being too obsessed with sex, and while I think people in the church are very well-meaning about wanting to help unmarried Christians stay chaste, some of the tools that the church gives unmarried Christians are a little thin.

Is the `True Love Waits' pledge program one of those?
I don't want to pick apart a particular program. Recent studies have come out to show that abstinence pledge card programs tend to delay sexual activity in teenagers by 18 months. So the average non-pledge-card-signing teenager has sex at 18, the average person who signs a pledge card has sex at 19 and a half.

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