Christians of the world: Want a great sex life? Act "Christlike," says the author of a popular book, "A Celebration of Sex."

What does that mean? No, it's got nothing to do with washing your partner's feet or curing their leprosy during lovemaking.

To have "Christlike" sex, you should:


  • Pray with your sex partner
  • Read lascivious passages from the Bible. (Book of Proverbs: "As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times.")
  • Squeeze in a quickie 45 minutes before Sunday School.
  • Oh, and experiment with vibrators, water pistols, rub-on tattoos and jump ropes. (Jump ropes? Don't ask.)

    All of this advice and much, much more can be found in a little-known genre of books: Christian sex manuals. They include " The Act of Marriage" by Tim and Beverly LaHaye, "Sacred Sex" by Tim Alan Gardner, "Intimate Issues" by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus, "The Sexual Man" and "Secrets of Eve" by Archibald D. Hart, "The Gift of Sex" by Joyce and Clifford L. Penner, and "Intended for Pleasure" by Ed Wheat.

    These books include plenty of G-rated messages about creating a spiritual union with your partner. (1 Corinthians: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other.") There is also advice to pray and study the Bible together as a way of enhancing marital intimacy.

    But flip through "A Celebration of Sex" by Christian therapist Douglas E. Rosenau and you just might possibly notice, sandwiched between passages on the philosophy of love: detailed drawings of a penis, clitoris and labia, as well as several sexual positions (wife on top, side by side, husband on top, crosswise, rear-entry, and standing).

    The author advises that sexual slang--"pet names for body parts and secret vocabulary shared by only the two of you"--is permissible. "As Christians, however, we must be careful to avoid the very negative attitudes and ideas about sex that society...has incorporated into slang." He even gives acceptable examples: "Big John," "Shamu" and wanting to "dive into your pool."

    Not surprisingly, Rosenau's book--which will be reissued next month--is a controversial bestseller (90,000 copies sold since it was published seven years ago). According to Pamela Clements, Thomas Nelson Publishing's marketing director, the company seriously considered shrink-wrapping the book, to avoid offending Christian booksellers and their customers.

    "When it first came out it was controversial," she says. "It covers the bases. The only parameters are that sex is to be kept within marriage."

    Is this just a case of Christian publishers wanting to shamelessly exploit a marketing principle as ancient as the Dead Sea Scrolls, i.e. that "sex sells"? Or are they trying to attend to a genuine, deeper need felt especially by Christians?

    "It would not surprise me that some of the people producing these books are hoping for market share," says Amy-Jill Levine, director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt Divinity School. "It's a replay of 'The Total Woman'," the book by Marabel Morgan that, among other things, encouraged 1970s wives to greet their husbands at the door adorned only in Saran Wrap.

    But Rosenau writes that past Christian teaching has created hang-ups for men and women that need to be stripped away. As he gives women advice on "turning yourself on," he writes, "the sad fact is that in Christianity, sex has often been feared and not talked about...You may have to erase mental tapes going around in your head from Mom or Dad, the church and society to truly enjoy sex." He then gives detailed instructions for oral sex.

    Levine says it's not just Christians who let fear of sex interfere with foreplay.

    "Various religious groups, not just Christians but also Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, have concerns about appropriate sexuality," Levine says. "Some of this is being driven by American culture, which produces pornographic magazines and steamy soap operas, and some of it is the appropriate concern religious groups have for the sanctity of the human body. It can actually be remarkably healthy."

    She says Christian sex manuals are particularly healthy for evangelicals and Catholics, both of whom have long traditions of "denial of the flesh"--and accompanying embarrassment over sex.


    Catholics are joining the movement with books such as "Tender Fires: The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality" by Fran Ferder and John Heagle, a nun-and-priest duo who run Therapy and Renewal Associates (TARA), a counseling center near Seattle.

    "Catholic moral teaching pointed out sexual sin is illicit pleasure," Heagle says. "That suspicion of pleasure goes back to St. Augustine, who felt that all pleasure is disordered. We know now that pleasure is a built-in bodily response that is part of our physiological makeup."

    Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publishers Weekly, says the LaHaye book (yes, the same Tim LaHaye who authors the wildly popular "Left Behind" series) was a groundbreaking volume that has sold millions since it was published in 1976.

    "Christian publishers do a tremendous number of books on marriage, family, parenting and relationships," she says. "In some of those books, sex is a part of it. For a lot of Christian publishers, that's the preferred way of doing [sex] because their philosophy is that sex is a part of marriage."

    Despite their popularity, she doesn't envision a flood of new Christian sex manuals.

    "The market may be growing, but that doesn't mean there will be more titles," she says. "There just may be more discussion of it than there was in the past."

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, says the Rev. Michael Sytsma, cofounder with Douglas Rosenau of Sexual Wholeness Inc., a three-year-old evangelical think tank on sexual issues. Systma says the last five years have seen an explosion of interest in sex manuals among Christians. And this summer, for the first time, the American Association of Christian Counselors talked solely about sex at its annual conference.

    "I had an elderly pastor say to me that he never thought this kind of thing would be needed in the church," Sytsma says. "I think pastors are hit so much with it and realize they don't know how to deal with sex....Almost every place I speak, someone comes up to me and says, 'Do we really have to talk about this at church?' Sometimes I think these adults are like teenagers, giggling about it."

    Sytsma says that when "A Celebration of Sex" was first published, half the drawings were removed just before it went to press. But slowly, evangelicals are, um, warming to the idea of lusty sex.

    "Passion in marriage is critically important to God, and we don't deal with that enough," he says. "I know sex is still sensitive, and I think that's OK."

    After all, he adds: "This is a sacred subject."

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