"Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity" by Lauren F. Winner

Shannon B. Geiger
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007
Nov/Dec 2006

As created male and female, all of us are sexual beings with various seasons of sexual expression. Whether single, married, divorced, widowed, sick, healthy, young, or old, all of us are to engage in chastity as a spiritual discipline over the course of our lives. According to the number of singles in my counseling office, the contemporary church appears to be more mime than mentor on the subject, where even the tire flaps on freight trucks have something sexual to say with their silhouettes of naked women.

A few years ago, Lauren F. Winner wrote honestly about her sexual activity as a single person for She was a recent convert from Judaism to Christianity and though she had degrees from Columbia and Cambridge, she could not connect Jesus's salvation with saving sex for marriage. She was demoted from senior editor at Christianity Today to staff writer, and after being criticized in print by World Magazine, she responded that Christian singles should be able to admit their desire for sexual relationships, "and in the context of rich church tradition and in the company of older Christians, try to figure out what we can do about it."

Her third book to date, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, includes discussion questions at the end of the paperback edition and is the worthwhile fruit of her figuring. Winner's high view of the church, Scripture, sacraments, and spiritual disciplines make a rich backdrop for addressing sexuality, pornography, masturbation, marriage, community, Gnostic views on bad bodies, and chastity. Most helpfully, she points out that all personal transformation happens ultimately by the grace and power of Christ, and not by moralistic pronouncements such as "True Love Waits," which tend to be communicated as reasonable assumptions one physically attains out of sheer will.

Winner briefly reviews dismal statistics about abstinence, where the majority of students break a virginity pledge before college ends. Of those who say they keep it, more than half admit having oral sex. A similar percentage at an evangelical college admits they do not consider anal intercourse to be sex either. While definitions of sex may be shifting, it appears that actions of the adulteress are not, "She eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I've done nothing wrong,'" (Prov. 30:20).

Using both the Bible and Augustine's high view of marriage, Winner eloquently demonstrates why sex, according to God, belongs only there in order to be real. "Faux sex" is something that happens outside of marriage and is a distorted imitation, "as Walt Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort is only a simulation of real wilderness. The danger is when we spend too much time in the simulations, we lose the capacity to distinguish between the ersatz and the real" (38).

Real Sex is the result of research and spiritual discipline exercised amid sexual longing and personal baggage, which Winner candidly and tastefully shares. She met her husband while working on the book. In chapter 6, they heed the advice of a friend, who was also Reformed University Fellowship's campus minister at the University of Virginia: "Don't do anything sexual you wouldn't feel comfortable doing on the steps of the Rotunda." Winner says this wisely combined the public and private, "The question for unmarried couples is not How far can we go? but, How do we maintain the integrity of our sexual relationship which at this point is only public?" (106).

For me, the rotunda boundary highlights the role of community but hides the nature of societal sin. I live in a city where homosexuals kiss at Starbucks, and teenagers masturbate one another underneath trees in the park. Telling people to "only go as far as what's acceptable in public," lets the cultural conscience point us down a seared path. Our guide, ultimately, is Scripture and the interpretation and practice of the Spirit-indwelled body of believers. As history proves, communities will always sway between licentiousness and legalism.

The weaknesses of the book are mostly what it leaves out. It doesn't provide a helpful guide for singles or the "single-again" who have been chaste for years and are looking for encouragement and examples. It doesn't deal with motives leading to premarital sex, nor does it mention the prevalence of sexual abuse and its fallout. Winner also leaves out any substantive discussion on God's wrath and judgment for sexual immorality, and doesn't guide readers through meaty biblical exegesis on forgiveness, which follows confession. Winner rightly points people to embrace the story of Christ's forgiveness. She just doesn't show them the passages of the cross where this gets worked out.

One of the many strengths of Winner's book is her goal for Christian readers to relearn their basic identity as one placed in the biblical story of creation-fall-redemption and to work out their salvation within the Christian community. Then and only then can one understand his or her identity in Christ and God's good news about chastity. This alone makes Real Sex a unique, contemporary treasure and a necessary group study for any church.

Wednesday, May 2nd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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