Words matter. And often they’re messy, nuanced, or incomplete. It’s important to be clear about what we’re talking about.

Sexual Integrity: there’s a lot of goodness in that phrase

When I first started, I used the phrase “sexual integrity.” There’s a lot of goodness in that phrase. Integrity has been a value I’ve sought to live by in every area of my life. Integrity signifies being undivided, living the same regardless of the circumstances or who is watching.

What will sexual wholeness mean for you? …

When it comes to sexual matters, however, this phrase has become very focused on behavior. There are many sexual integrity ministries, many who are doing work that is truly excellent and transformative. But what do you think of when you read or hear “sexual integrity”? You might think of staying away from porn, or no sex with anyone except your spouse, or no sex at all if you’re single. But as important as those things are, focusing on behavior stops short of bringing you the lasting transformation God has for you. And it doesn’t help in integrating what your left brain logically knows with how your right brain subjectively feels.

Sex is about more than behavior

One man hears “sexual integrity” and immediately feels hopeless; he imagines that means never ever having a sexual release again. But, sex is about more than behavior—it’s about matters of the heart. In its full meaning integrity would include matters of the heart, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear “sexual integrity.”

Sexual healing is another phrase that might be helpful. We’ve talked about the sexual harm that many, perhaps all, have experienced. Healing was a major part of Jesus’ ministry when He was here on earth. There are clearly broken places in your soul that need healing. Jesus offers that!

However, when one woman hears “sexual healing” she imagines it would mean she no longer has a fight/flight/freeze response in her body and mind around certain people, memories, or experiences, and that would mean she would then “have to” have sex with her husband. And she can’t imagine doing that without being re-traumatized. Does healing mean you become the “good spouse” the Christian church has implied you’re “supposed” to be?

In seeking the right vocabulary as an ob-gyn physician, I’ve been using the phrase sexual wholeness more and more. I like this phrase the best, even though it also has limitations. It’s been used to signify finding freedom from a sexual addiction, but I believe it’s a whole lot more than that. Wholeness describes how God created human beings in the beginning. When Jesus was here on earth, He demonstrated what God intended for each of us—body, mind, and soul fully integrated, functioning at our best, deeply connected to other humans and to God Himself. That’s the Hebrew concept of shalom: nothing missing, nothing broken.

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Do we ever get there in this life?

Perhaps not. In fact, certainly not. But because of Jesus there is an ocean of wholeness available here and now that very few of us take full advantage of. The fact that some followers of Jesus reach amazing degrees of wholeness now should make all of us hungry for more. Be encouraged. Men and women, young and old, married and unmarried have discovered amazing measures of wholeness in sexual matters through the process of transformation that Jesus offers.

You may feel you’re too far gone to hope for that. Refuse to believe that lie! If God has done it for others, why not for you? If others have experienced it, why not you?

Let me caution you: When you say yes to sexual wholeness, it will not result in God zapping you from here to there. Open your own soul to moments of encounter with Jesus—this is a process. When God does something in a moment, it’s wonderful! But He usually works through an ongoing process of transformation.

That process is what you’re saying yes to.

Will our man or woman ever have satisfying sex with their spouses again? I don’t know. Sexual wholeness may look a bit different for each person, and it may not always mean a happy married sex life. What does it look like for me as an unmarried widow? What will it look like for other unmarried individuals? This is why addressing your individual story and inviting Jesus into your story is so important. For me, pursuing wholeness in this way meant I became capable of having a sexually intimate and satisfying relationship with my husband during our marriage. It means I am not tempted to enter a hotel room alone with a man I’m not married to. It means my experience of singleness now is meaningful, and that I can walk alongside others who are experiencing sexual struggles regardless of their relationship status.

What will sexual wholeness mean for you? God knows.

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From Sexpectations by Carol Tanksley, provided by Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2024. Used by permission.