I recently received a book in the mail called Everyone Loves Sex: So Why Wait? by Bryan Sands. Given that my father launched the “Why Wait” sexual purity movement in the 1980s, when I was in my early teen years, I was curious to see what approach Sands would take. And I was pleasantly surprised! His book is balanced, biblical, hopeful, and grace-filled. In fact, when young people ask me for a book on sexual purity, this is going to be one of the first books I will recommend.
After thirteen years as a local pastor, Bryan has served as the Director of Campus Ministries at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA since 2011. He is also a public speaker who encourages students across the country. You can find out about his book at www.EveryoneLovesSex.org.
I recently caught up with Bryan and asked him a few questions. Enjoy!
SEAN MCDOWELL: Personally, what motivated you to write a book encouraging young people to wait until marriage to have sex?
BRYAN SANDS: When I was fourteen years old, I met a group of girls at local fine dining establishment—Del Taco. I walked up to them with a red notepad and asked for all their phone numbers—and they gave it to me! One of those girls and I ended up hooking up that night. After we slept together, she wanted a relationship, but I wasn’t sure how to handle everything I was feeling and experiencing—so I just avoided her. I am sure I hurt her emotionally.
About a year later, I was at youth group and the speaker gave a message about waiting for marriage. She asked people to come up front who wanted to make that commitment, so I went up. They seared a bracelet around my wrist as a symbol of that commitment I just made. Believe it or not, I had that bracelet on for fifteen years! And on our wedding day, I cut the bracelet off at the altar and gave it to my bride saying, “I waited for you.”
I would love to say that that story—as important as it is—was the driving of the book, but it actually wasn’t. As a youth pastor I did the “wait until you’re married series” in the early 2000s—and from that experience I learned what was healthy and effective and what was shaming. The sad part is I probably learned more from the shaming part than anything else.
So, in writing this book, I wanted to move beyond the standard “make a commitment to sexual abstinence” message. I wanted to stay as far away from the shame culture and focus on the hope and redemption we have because of the cross.
MCDOWELL: How would you make a case for reserving sex for marriage without using the Bible?
SANDS: The more peer-review secular research I read, the clearer I could see God’s fingerprint. Making a case to reserve sex for marriage outside the Bible, I would first turn to the worlds of psychology and sociology.
Let’s start with psychology. Through scientific research, psychologists have discovered that our brains release a number of chemicals during sex. One of those chemicals, which has been dubbed the “love” or “cuddle” hormone, is known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical that creates trust and builds a bond between partners during sexual intercourse. In fact, the part of the brain that releases oxytocin is larger in a woman than it is in a man; consequently, a woman is more emotionally bonded to a man after sex.
In regards to sociologically, scientist have discovered that because this Millennial generation is waiting longer to marry, there is a longer time-period for them to explore sexually. Many during this time are more concerned with school, internships, and a career—a relationship just takes too much time. What the current data is showing is that when Millennials hookup they have a pretty good idea that a relationship will not follow, even though they secretly want a traditional, romantic relationship to emerge. Moreover, Millennials have self-reported in several studies that feelings of embarrassment, shame, and insecurities often follows a sexual encounter.
One of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had with my wife was when she told me that because I waited for her, she did not have to worry that I was comparing her to my past partners. Also, because I followed through on that commitment I made to remain sexually faithful from that point on, she also did not fear that I was going to cheat on her. To me, that’s what we are really looking for in a relationship—someone we trust, who is faithful, and makes us feel we belong.
MCDOWELL: What do you think are the deeper heart issues of why people are sexually active outside marriage?
SANDS: When people are having sex outside of marriage, it is more than just because two people have sexual urges and want to be with one another. There is always more underneath the surface. The problem on the surface is usually not the problem. For example, any addict will tell you that their addiction is not necessarily about drugs, drinking, shopping, or whatever it might be. Rather, it is about a sense that there is something missing, a hollowness that is not being filled. The outward actions are just ways in which they try to fill those longings.
Therefore, it is important to get to the deeper issues of being sexually active before marriage. For some, they only want to experiment a little to quench their curiosity. For others, they feel sex will bring their partner closer to them emotionally. And yet there are some times when peer pressure is involved. The list goes on and on.
If you are sleeping together before marriage or having an extramarital affair, it is important to ask yourself this question: What need is not being met in your life that you believe sex outside of marriage will fill? G.K. Chesterton is famously credited as remarking, “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God.” In other words, being sexually active outside of marriage is not really about sex, but something deeper—something more profound. So, if there is an emptiness, a hollowness, let’s turn to God.
MCDOWELL: God is often viewed as a "Cosmic Killjoy" when it comes to sex. Yet you say God is a "big fan" of sex? What do you mean?
SANDS: God loves sex! Sex was and is his idea! It is an act that is not only physical and emotional—but also spiritual.
In Gen 2:24–25, the dynamics of marriage are introduced, noting that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, that the two would become “one flesh.” The word, “one” is the Hebrew word echad. This word, echad, carries with it the idea of oneness and unity. The Hebrew word for “flesh” is basar and it can mean “flesh” or “body” among other things. When these two words are combined, it paints the picture of being united at the deepest level, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. As Adam and Eve are connected to one another in physical creation, so now they would, once again, become one.
From the beginning, God created this gift as a uniting of two people, two souls. A uniting that is unlike any other act. And it is for this reason that I cannot fathom why we in the church say things like, “Sex is bad, but now that you are married—it’s good.” If we are told our entire lives that sex is bad and then are expected to change our thinking on our wedding night and start believing “sex is good” that can be challenging at best—and damaging at worst.
Instead we should celebrate sex! I mean, the book of Song of Songs is all about the celebration of sex! It is an erotic book that celebrates God’s gift.
Part of the problem is that the notion and act of sex has been abused and many people have been hurt by its misuse, whether being molested, raped, forced into sex trafficking, harassed, etc. People have taken this wonderful gift, misused it, and caused a lot of hurt and distortion. This is NOT what God designed, however. God designed sex as a gift, a blessing—a deep abiding connection between two people.
But we know that for many people, sex is none of those things. For those who have been violated, I would recommend that they do all they can to see a good therapist (www.aacc.net). They might even want to consider looking into an American Psychological Association approved therapy technique called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR; www.emdr.com), which has been shown to help with finding freedom from past traumatic events.
MCDOWELL: What will it take for younger people today, in our sexualized culture, to buy into the biblical view of sex being designed for one man and one woman in marriage?
SANDS: In order to have any impact, it is imperative that we meet Millennials (or anyone for that matter) where they are. I think it begins with listening, gaining an understanding of what they believe, why, and what their experiences are. Once we do that, we set ourselves up for fruitful conversations. I also think these conversations need to take a decidedly holistic approach, involving more than just throwing out scripture (often as proof-texts), but insights from psychology and sociology as well. The message must be more than just “because God says so.” I believe what is communicated in Scripture—but we need to meet this arising generation where they are.
I find it fascinating that the writer of Genesis 2 enfolds a sense of oneness—echad-ness—within the dynamics of marriage. It is as if to communicate that this bond is so powerful, so transcending, that marriage is the only force that can contain it. I think this is the kind of message people need to hear today.
Taking this holistic approach—and echad-ness—one step further, we realize it is not only something we find in the biblical text, but also something that has been recognized in psychology as well. Psychologists agree that sex is a powerful force and the misuse of it has deeply negative implications in our lives. Therefore, I think we need to bring not just scripture, but also insights from the sciences into the discussion. The truth of God’s design on sexuality can be seen outside the pages of scripture as well.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org, where you can find the original version of this article.