Fathom Mag

What can we do about sex?

A Q&A with Mo Isom

Published on:
May 7, 2018
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10 min.
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Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose to write Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot?

When I wrote my first book, Wreck My Life, I was able to unpack so many layers of my life and my testimony. I was able to piece through circumstances I wrestled with through the younger years of my life like identity issues, a vicious eating disorder, the unexpected suicide of my father, a horrific car accident, my run as an All-American goalkeeper for the LSU Women’s soccer team, and my time training with and trying out for the LSU men’s football team, amongst other things. I wrote of the remarkable way Jesus encountered me at the height of my affliction and transformed my life through the power of his great love and immeasurable mercy. And I was able to speak hope into the storms we all inevitably navigate through—pointing others toward the revelation that our suffering can be sacred rather than scarring, as God uses all for his glory.

By and large, we are a culture consumed by sex, while knowing nothing about sex.

However, as I was writing that book, I realized there was a deep and complex layer of sexual experiences, struggles, and redemption that paralleled my life transformation. It was too rich in depth to sell short by simply squeezing it into a chapter of an already dense story. I knew my sexual narrative needed breathing room—it needed to be its own conversation. Because it had the power to be a transformative catalyst for conversations that we, the church, desperately need to be having. So many of us are wrestling through sexual sin. So many of us are hiding sexual strongholds in the darkness, affected by sexual sin in the past, or living in confusion or biblical illiteracy about what God has to say about sex and who Jesus truly is in light of sexual sin. So few realize the beauty and power of what God always intended the gift of sex to be, and why he calls us to obedience in his design.

By and large, we are a culture consumed by sex, while knowing nothing about sex. And it is our job, as the church, to be healed and whole with truth in our own lives so we can point a hurting world toward compassion, healing, and wholeness for their lives. But in order to find healing and wholeness, we must first be equipped with truth and understanding. Sex is the greatest thematic conversation of our world. The church can no longer be silent about it. And I couldn’t either—no matter how risky bearing the baggage of my past stood to be. 

One of the topics you discuss at length is the distinction between virginity and purity, especially pointing out that an overemphasis on virginity hollows out the biblical picture of what God desires for sex. Could you elaborate on that? What does that overemphasis look like practically? And how does it oversimplify the Bible’s teaching on sex?

We hear the concept of “virginity” often. We make virginity vows and promote the “virgin” as someone chaste and set apart within the church. We expect virginity of young believers, and we often utilize virginity as a measuring tool for obedience. But God rarely speaks of virginity. Because solely focusing on virginity is a works-based answer to a life-surrender question. God speaks frequently and fluently about purity. Pure hearts, pure minds, pure intentions, pure desires. God cares deeply about purity—because God cares deeply for our hearts. Pure or impure actions flow from pure or impure hearts. Virginity should be a beautiful byproduct of purity. Yet the church often touts it as the measure of faithfulness.

Because solely focusing on virginity is a works-based answer to a life-surrender question. God speaks frequently and fluently about purity.

However, when young people are only hearing about virginity, but never spoken to about the greater call to purity, they end up asking—okay then how far is too far? What still qualifies me as a virgin? How much can I do? How far can I go? And because we are sinful creatures that always push the envelope, we lose the heart of what God always called us to first—purity. Our question should be, “God, how close can I draw to you?” Create in me a pure heart, oh God. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Sex is far more vast than one black-and-white act. Our approach to understanding it fully should always stretch far outside of one identifying qualification or title.

Because of its prevalence in our culture, pornography is a regular part of conversations about sex within the church, but it’s typically treated as a male struggle. You make it clear in your book through research as well as your own story that many women in the church are struggling with pornography as well. How can pastors and leaders speak about pornography so as not to alienate the experience of women? And what can churches do to create a safe environment for women to talk about issues, like struggles with pornography?

First and foremost, pastors can speak into the deeper realities about pornographic struggles. Temptation, lust, easy access to satiating sinful desires, addiction—these are all topics of the human heart. They are not reserved for just males. Or just females. Humanity’s sin-inclination is what sits at the root of our worldwide pornography epidemic. Did you know in 2016 alone—on just one pornographic website—we as a people consumed 4.6 billion hours of porn? On one website in one year. If pastors think that men are the only ones contributing to that statistic then they are as naïve as they come. Porn affects men, women, and children. The average age of exposure to porn is nine years old. I was an eight-year-old girl when I came across porn. And I wrestled with addiction until age eighteen. We cannot be so naïve as to alienate the women from these conversations. Because women within your congregation are struggling.

We must understand that this is an epidemic and we are all inclined to sin and struggle. So, we must equip the women and girls in our communities with a place to talk. The best first step is stripping away the taboo, hushed, and shamed stigma from the sexual conversation. That starts with leadership leading the charge of speaking into these topics like they would any other topic. If we stop acting like sexual sin is taboo—if we speak into it with boldness and authority—then our communities will follow suit. Openly strip away the awkwardness with compassion and encouragement. Offer resources for men and women alike, and watch your church culture shift in Jesus’ name!

What are some ways that the church contributes to what you term “false sexpectations”? What can pastors and leaders do differently to avoid doing so?

I truly believe that pastors and leaders within the Christian community can make a remarkable difference—and literally shift the culture for generations to come—by beginning to openly and candidly talk about sex, in all of its beautiful and important layers. There are several different “false sexpectations” I speak about within the book, but all of them are symptomatic struggles that manifest out of misguided or misunderstood realities about sex as a whole. We must step up and reclaim sex for the glory of God. We must celebrate the beauty of God’s design. We must teach why it matters that we be obedient to God’s instruction. We must speak from our own honest and hard experiences. We must be vulnerable and transparent. We must talk about who Jesus really is in light of our sexual sin—no matter how taboo or shameful. He is compassionate, grace-filled, and full of mercy. We must celebrate sex within marriage and equip singles and married couples to understand that sex within a marriage has the power to be an effective weapon against the enemy.

Western culture would have us believe that sex is frivolous and free. An act of self-expression we can openly give and take as we want.

Overall, we must dig in deep and talk honestly and vulnerably about these topics. We must share truth in love. Because if we don’t rise up and speak truth, we’ll continue to have people blindly stumbling into marriage modeling their sex life after the world’s standards. And the world’s model only reaps confusion, pain, frustration, and division. No, we must go first in reclaiming these topics as ours to talk on, teach on, and unpack in full authority in the name of Jesus. God has a lot to say about sex. We have to know what that is so our words can mirror his. And so people can confidently move into covenants with healed and whole perspectives and expectations.

What do you believe are the greatest misunderstandings in Western culture about sexuality? What about in the church?

I don’t think, by and large, we truly understand the root of sex. I don’t think we understand it was a beautiful gift given by God, a gift worth celebrating and delighting in within the right context. I don’t think we understand what a powerful weapon sex within marriage is intended to be against the enemy. The church has missed celebrating sex for the beauty, power, and purpose it was always assigned in God’s design. I don’t think we understand how tightly intertwined our inherent identity and worth in God’s eyes are braided together with our sexuality and the sexual instruction he has given us. I don’t think we realize the deep and vast wounds sexual sin inflicts on us. And I don’t think we understand or talk enough about who Jesus really is in light of our sexual sin. 

We are so silenced by shame, guilt, and the searing wounds sexual sin inflicts on us that we hide our face from God. We are certain he is rage-filled and unloving. Unwilling to forgive us, or determined to forever punish us for our sexual sin. But that’s not the Jesus I know. It’s not the Jesus of the Bible. And it’s not the character and nature of God who deeply desires to redeem us and reveal truth to us—truth about sex, truth about the beauty and power offered to us in his gift, truth about his desire for the lost to be found and the sexually oppressed captives to be set free in Jesus’ name.

Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot trailer

Western culture would have us believe that sex is frivolous and free. An act of self-expression we can openly give and take as we want. That it is entertainment. That it is unattached. That it is normal to indulge in when you please. But then the culture steps back and doesn’t know the answers for those who are hurting and wounded, sexually, after living by that model. The culture doesn’t know the answers for those who are addicted and enslaved and tormented by silent sexual brokenness. And that is when people look to the church for help and for answers, but the church is silent. Because, more times than not, the church—the body of believers—doesn’t know the truth about sex. And often we are entangled in the exact same strongholds. So, we must equip ourselves. Not just with knowledge, but with understanding. We must come to an understanding about the root, the rebellion, and the redemption so we can serve the world like we are intended to as disciples and truth-carrying vessels.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Well, my greatest hope is that readers will want to put down my book and pick up God’s book. I think that’s the hope of any author of the faith. But I also hope the pages of this book breathe healing, hope, redemption, and power into people’s lives. No matter their background, no matter their story, no matter their current situation. Scripture tells us there is power in our testimonies—that God uses all for his glory. I really do believe that to be true because I have seen it come to pass time and time again. I hope this messy-to-redeemed message of healing and truth helps reframe people’s understanding of sex as a whole, as well as their understanding of who Jesus is and how God views sex and sexual sin.

If you could offer a word of encouragement to someone struggling with sex today, what would it be?

I would encourage them in two big ways. The first is this—please, know that you are not alone. The enemy uses sin to silence us in shame. We often look around thinking nobody has done the things we’ve done, that nobody thinks the dark thoughts we struggle with, that nobody would understand. But that is simply not true. Scripture says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity (1 Corinthians 10:13). The amazing news is that it goes on to say that God is faithful! When you are tempted, he is ready and willing to provide you a way out. Christ is so rich in mercy, ready, and willing to not only forgive us, but also to transform us. To redeem the beautiful gift he has given us in sex and to invite us into healing and wholeness in Jesus’s name. You are not too messy, too broken, too far gone. I don’t care what your back story is—sin is sin. We are all sinners in need of a savior. None of us is better or worse off than the next. We all desperately need the love, grace, and healing of Jesus. 

We often look around thinking nobody has done the things we’ve done, that nobody thinks the dark thoughts we struggle with, that nobody would understand. But that is simply not true.

The second encouragement I would give is this—stop. Be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Pause. Breathe. Be still. So often with sexual sin we are so enslaved that we almost feel out of control. Back to the computer screen, or desperately seeking the next person to give us worth. We just go and go and go until we’re dizzy. Like the Samaritan woman who made that same trek to the well back and forth time and time again. Always seeking another bucket to satiate her thirst. But she was never satisfied—not until the living water arrived. And we won’t be satisfied either. Not until we stop. And look up. Look up at the king who is sitting by your well waiting for you. Waiting to offer you living water, that you would never thirst again. One of the most beneficial steps I took toward healing of the sexual strongholds in my life was an intimacy fast. I fasted from flirting, dating, physicality. I committed a year of my life to Christ in that way, and it was so amazing that it went on almost two years. I stepped out of the chaos to tend to my heart and focus on God. And the results were life-changing. Truly. Make your heart and your soul’s vitality your top priority. We do not need a partner to assign us value; we need a soul reawakened to our worth in God’s eyes. You are loved! Calm your heart and stand still long enough to receive it.

Mo Isom
Mo Isom is the New York Times bestselling author of Wreck My Life. She maintains a thriving, nationwide speaking ministry and facilitates a faith-centered blog (moisom.com) that has garnered millions of views to date. Isom is a former All-American goalkeeper for the Louisiana State University soccer team and holds the LSU all-time goalkeeper record, as well as the #3 SEC all-time shutout record. She trained with the US Women’s National program, was honored as National Player of the Week, has been featured in Sports Illustrated, and has appeared on ESPN SportsCenter Top-10 Plays, Ellen, ESPN, CBS, The 700 Club, and countless other platforms. She, her husband Jeremiah Aiken, and their two children live in Atlanta, Georgia.

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