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Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity
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441 of 456 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2005
When I was 15 I cut out a four-by-two-inch piece of paper from my copy of Brio magazine and signed it. On the piece of paper was a vow that made me part of the-then newly emerging True Love Waits movement:

"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

I hung the card on my bulletin board where it was surrounded by drawings from friends, stickers from my favorite bands (The Cranberries, Pearl Jam, and the Smashing Pumpkins to name a few), movie stubs, and pithy quotes from my favorite books (including the Bible). It was a brag board. "Hey, look how cool I am! I have artsy friends and I like alternative music and I'm a Christian at the same time. I'm hardcore. I'm even a virgin." Yes folks, I wore combat boots with my dresses.

Now I'm 27. My music is mainstream (worse yet, I heard Pearl Jam on a classic rock station the other day) and I think the pastel pink purse I'm carrying today officially disqualifies me from anything smacking of hardcore. I still have that True Love Waits card --- I came across it in my parents' basement a couple of years ago --- but my enthusiasm for being a virgin has waned. It's "punk rock" when you're 15 and marriage and sex is on the horizon, just the other side of college (wa-hoo! College!); it's "lite rock" when you're 27 and marriage isn't on the radar, much less the horizon, and college is quickly retreating in the rearview mirror (wa-hoo! Paying off school loans!). And frankly, I'm just not ready to be hanging out with Seals and Croft on a regular basis.

And I'm not alone. I can't think of one girlfriend who hasn't struggled with sexual immorality. We've all made compromises to one extent or another. And we're Christian women. Many of us have degrees from bible school, we grew up in church youth groups, we signed True Love Waits cards for goodness sake!

Part of the problem is that "just wait" becomes a weaker and weaker argument for pre-marital abstinence as one gets older. And a lot of us are getting older before getting married. So, how do you make a compelling case for chastity to adults?

I'm glad you asked.

REAL SEX by Lauren Winner is certainly one way. It offers a theologically grounded understanding of sex and an honest exploration of the merit of chastity when decreed in scripture. And it does so without being glib, sanctimonious, or saying, "just wait."

"Chastity is not always easy or fun. (Once I was standing in front of my car with my then-beau, E. His arms were wrapped around my waist and I kissed his cheek and said, 'So, I think we're doing pretty well on the chastity front, don't you?' and he allowed that yes, he thought so too, and then he grinned in that way he sometimes has and said, 'Maybe too well.') Which is to say that being chaste is sometimes strange, and difficult, and curious. But it is also a discipline, and like any spiritual discipline, it gets easier and better with time," she writes.

With a pastoral sensibility, Winner puts her own "slow conversion to chastity" in the context of sociological, historical, and theological trends and interpretations. The result is a new (or very old, depending on how you look at it) schema through which single Christians can view their sexuality and its ramifications not just for themselves, but also for the body of Christ.

This emphasis on community in relation to sexuality is one of the most radical aspects of REAL SEX. Winner suggests that our sexuality is indeed the "beeswax" of our neighbors. She tells the story of her friend Carrie who was living in a house post-college with six other Christian women. Carrie's boyfriend Thad was living down the street, and even though the two of them were not having sex, they were doing everything but. And the two spent many nights together. Her roommates had no way of knowing whether or not the two were having sex and no one asked, most likely out of fear of seeming noisy or imprudent.

Winner writes: "But the Bible tells us to intrude --- or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what's going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters. Of course, premarital sexual behavior is just one of many instances of this larger point. Christians also need to speak courageously and transparently, for example, about the seemingly private matters of Christian marriage --- there would be, I suspect, a lot fewer divorces in the church if married Christians exposed their domestic lives, their fights and tensions and squabbles, to loving wisdom, advice, and sometimes rebuke from their community. Christians might claim less credit card debt if small-group members shared their bank account statements with one another. I suspect that if my best friend had permission to scrutinize my Day-timer, I would inhabit time better. Speaking to one another about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian discipleship: being in community with each other."

In many respects, this emphasis on community makes Winner's call to purity more challenging than the True Love Waits pledge. Just as living under grace does in some ways require more of us than living under the law, so too does thinking about sexuality as a conduit for a relationship require more of us than thinking about sex as a purely personal matter.

But REAL SEX offers this challenge with compassion and generosity. Here Winner manages to be open about her own sexual missteps without wearing them like badges of honor. And in doing so, she provides an example of how to live faithfully with past sin --- learning from it without taking pride in it.

And REAL SEX isn't just for singles. I think one of its most helpful observations is the fact that married sex isn't given its proper due; we define good married sex by how well it approximates unmarried sex. Winners suggests that we should view sex more holistically and realize that if sex was indeed created for marriage, then it was created to be shaped and surrounded by the stuff of marriage --- kids, bills, laundry, etc. The occasional weekend at a bed and breakfast or the romantic dinner by candlelight isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't necessarily consider those opportunities more important than the connection that can take place on a Tuesday night while the spaghetti sauce is simmering.

REAL SEX offers a compelling example of how all of us --- single or married --- can reframe our thoughts on sex and chastity within a more holistically biblical framework. And it does so in an honest, thoughtful way that I hope will help refresh the larger conversation about chastity and sexual fidelity in Christian circles. I highly recommend it to all. As those wise hip-hop sages, Salt-n-Pepa, once rapped, "Let's talk about sex."

--- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel
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184 of 190 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2005
As an evangelical pastor, I'm thrilled by the thought of the conversations that this book will stimulate among my congregation. As a Christian, I'm thrilled by the alignment this book brings to my own thinking about sexuality.

Lauren Winner's book is a refreshing change from most of what's out there on sexual ethics. It's grounded in reality -- not merely the pain that attends sexual brokenness but the significant pleasure that usually attends it as well. Winner reveals the Gnostic and romantic undercurrents of most conservative attitudes toward sexual morality, especially in the Church, and articulates an alternative that is faithful to the true nature of our God-given, image-bearing humanity. This is not to say that her conclusions with regard to conduct are not "conservative" -- they are -- yet she comes to them by a thought process that holds up well to both theological reflection and harsh reality.

Especially significant is Winner's emphasis throughout on the importance of community. Ours is a world where sexuality is either held in confidence or broadcast with the expectation of nonjudgmentalism, and Winner sketches out the appealing alternative of a world where our lives are informed by relationships of integrity and authenticity with friends and mentors who love us enough to be straight with us about sex.

I am currently about the business of recommending this book in the highest possible terms to just about everyone I know.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2005
Winner is a twentysomething Ph.D. student who though raised Jewish has embraced evangelical Christianity. When she first became a Christian, Winner found the idea of a compassionate and forgiving Jesus exceedingly winsome, while much of Christian ethics stifling and oppressive. Thus much of her views on sex and dating differed little from her unbelieving friends. She chose to continue to have premarital sex even as a converted Christian.

That is, until she began to think more conceptually about the whys behind Christian morality in general, and Christian sexuality in particular. Real Sex is the story of Winner's journey from promoting liberal views on sexuality to apologist for chastity outside of marriage. Smart, funny, and honest, Real Sex has a lot to offer both single and married people alike. Winner is at her best in critiquing both our culture's attitudes toward sex, as well as Gnostic myths the church tends to propagate out of fear and ignorance.

Read this book if you have teenagers, are a college student or young single, are wondering about the Biblical purpose for sex, or are exploring the reasons why sex was made for marriage.
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57 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2005
    After seeing this book in the hands of my Reformed University Fellowship female intern and reading some positive online reviews, I knew I had to get this, especially since it addressed an important topic that the church normally, but unintentionally shies away from.

    After finishing it, I have mixed feelings about it. There is no doubt that Lauren Winner is a very intelligent and well-read woman and how she came up with all these truths at her tender age I do not know. There are some great points in this book, like that Christian couples are called to "share" with other believers their experiences in marriage and hold them accountable, that married sex isn't always great sex, and that many of us have gone too far and are ashamed of our sexual desires, rather than disciplining them for marriage. I also love how the theme of community comes up frequently. I want to lend this book to my friend for her to read the chapter "Communities of Chastity," which asks and discusses why it seems as if singleness is looked down upon in the church, and then clarifies the special role it plays.

    What I didn't really like about the book was its lack of clear organization. I learned some great things from Lauren, I really did, but I'm going to have to rely on my memory to find it in the book, not its chapter titles. She breezes through many important topics in a single chapter, offering us her ideas and opinions of experience, but not a very cohesive and balanced discourse. It has missing parts, I feel, and that is hard to avoid when the topics include premarital and marital sex, dating, marriage and its boredoms, chastity, modesty, birth control, gnosticism, and pornography; books are and should be written, devoted to each of these weighty topics! And concerning the last chapter, which was written as a response to her friend M.'s e-mail, I personally wasn't very satisfied with her ill-matched response to his direct questions. <u>Real Sex</u> is not the ultimate resource for Christians who want the hard truth about sex, marriage and chastity, but it's a decent step in the right direction. (...)
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2005
This is a breath of fresh air for Christians trying to come to terms with sex and singleness. Winner does not rehearse the stale and ineffective arguments we have heard for years (abstinence is the only 100% effective birth control, you don't want STDs, sex feels better when you're married, etc.). Instead, she honestly and bluntly examines chastity from the standpoint of a Christian community. Writing as one who has had premarital sex, Winner brings a sense of honesty to her writing. She is not afraid to deal with the myths, lies, and truths about premarital sex. In the end, she treats sex theologically, within the story of God that is embodied in the church.

This book is intended for single adults who are struggling with chastity. As a youth director, I thought about sharing this book with my high school students. Many of them are dealing with the same issues and need a book like this one. I would not share this book with middle school students as a group. The discussion is too mature for most 13 year-olds I know.

If you are a single Christian this book is for you. If you are a married Christian in a church with single Christians, this book is for you. If you want to understand why Christians remain chaste outside of marriage, this book is definately for you.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I had a Spanish roommate in seminary that chided Americans for being too uptight when it comes to sex. The Christian book market is a prime example of this shortcoming. I've grown weary of books that are little more than Scripture passages and "scared straight" stories about the dire consequences of moral failure. But "Real Sex - The Naked Truth About Chastity" is a welcome exception to that trend. It acknowledges the fact that sensual sin tends to feel good, which is why so many partake in it. No, the author doesn't blow off the Bible or advocate immorality. What Ms. Winner does is illustrate the truths behind the Biblical passages concerning chastity in a scholarly and thoughtful way. She has a very adult (i.e. mature) take on the subject, although teens would benefit in a preventative and proactive sense from Ms. Winner's insights.

Based on her writing style and literary references, Ms. Winner is obviously an intelligent and well-educated Christian woman. She's not a super-functional guru in the cult of virginity who is so heavenly minded that she's no earthly good. Instead, she is refreshingly honest about her weaknesses, including her brushes with fornication during her BC days and as a new believer. However, she doesn't try to whitewash or justify her failings, nor does she engage in self-flagellation. Instead, Ms. Winner evaluates her actions (and subsequent growth) within a Biblically based context. She does a much better job defending the Scriptural ideal of chastity via her thoughtful approach than the shock and awe crowd does with their "God says it; that settles it" attitude.

That doesn't mean Ms Winner forsakes the authority of the Bible. Instead, she expands on the reasons why God would decree that fornication and adultery are sin, and why chastity is a spiritual discipline, much like fasting and prayer. For example, adultery damages the family, which is the foundation of any community. In addition, it creates disharmony in the larger community due to broken friendships and mistrust. In contrast, practicing chastity benefits the community by strengthening trust and grounding relationships in love and respect. This kind of reasoning shows the universal truths that Scripture contains, thus demonstrating it's relevance for us today. Also, I appreciated her defense of singleness and celibacy, especially using Christ's life as an example. As one who is still unmarried in his late thirties, I've felt more and more marginalized by the typical family-oriented church. Ms. Winner brings this problem out of the shadows and confronts the church to appreciate its singles and tap their potential instead of shunting them off into singles' groups.

There are a couple spots where Ms. Winner's reasoning was a bit too academic for my taste (understandable, since she's working on her Ph. D. in American religious history at Columbia). In addition, I would have liked her to deal with chastity as it relates to homosexuality. But these are minor complaints, and overall this is a fine and necessary work. It's safe to say that over time she'll take a high place in the pantheon of Generation X Christian writers and thinkers. "Real Sex" is the real thing when it comes to addressing the Christian discipline of chastity. Bravo to Ms. Winner for her take on this controversial subject.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2005
...to grown-ups living in a complicated and sexualized culture! To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I have probably read 8-10 different books about Chrisitan chastity, waiting till marriage, and so forth; this book has been hyped as different, but I was suspicious. But it was different! Here's why I loved this book: 1) Lauren isn't naive. She discusses sex frankly and doesn't pretend that her audience lives in a cave. 2) She is very generous, and talks generously and frankly about forgiveness and a slow conversion to chastity, even for those of us who have alread had sex. 3) She sometimes uses three syllable words. It really is a great book--more challenging, and yet more loving, than most of those other 8-10 I've read...I've bought two more copies to give to friends!
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2005
I really enjoyed her insightfulness into human sexuality. I really like how she ADMITTED that sexual relations outside of marriage DO feel good and frankly, its difficult to think of the consequences in that moment. Especially when the moment has passed and there doesn't appear to be any. I liked how she dispelled the myth of "this will haunt you forever if you do it". Her approach to a WHOLE self, instead of compartmentalizing human beings was very refreshing. I also like her saying that females have no libidos is a load, making women asexual creatures is ridiculous. The True Loves Waits campaign only did so much.

I wish this had been around when I was struggling as a single. I remember telling myself, "it is really hard to think I am waiting until I am married, when I have NO IDEA when or IF that will ever be, so I must take it one day at a time." Chastity is a spiritual discipline, and probably one of the more difficult ones. But I didn't think of it as a spiritual discipline, nor did I seek community accountability. It was very difficult.I still think, as a married person, she offers good insight into what sex is about.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2009
As someone who was raised in the church, I always very much enjoy reading books about dating and sex. I am continually frustrated by some of the persistent and consistent problems with them, and have often considered doing research and writing a book of my own reviewing these problems that I have identified.

I approached Lauren Winner's book with characteristic hesitation. I detested "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" for various reasons, and was quite relieved to find that this book is nothing like that one. I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover that Winner shares my viewpoints on several of the major problems I have with the church's stance--and who doesn't love it when someone agrees with them? In her chapters regarding the lies the church tells about sex, she outlines two of the biggest ones: first, that sex is going to make you feel dirty and horrible, and second, and most important, that women don't like sex and basically only function as the gatekeepers of sexuality, keeping drooling, hormonal teenage boys (and sometimes twentysomething men) at bay until after the marriage. I was surprised to discover many of my own arguments--for instance, that men blaming women for dressing in such a way that makes them "stumble" is not such a far cry from blaming the victim for crimes like rape. I was also pleased to see that she tackled the quite taboo topics (even outside of Christianity) of masturbation and pornography.

As another reviewer pointed out, though, her arguments are often muddled and difficult to follow. She describes other people's feelings about masturbation, but doesn't really give clear-cut advice. She gives good arguments against pornography, but seems to end on an ambiguous note, without saying "It's bad, and hurtful, and you shouldn't be using it." (That's what I took away from it, though.)

Several of the points left me with more questions than answers. Winner, at one point, argues that we cannot separate sex completely from procreation, and that a couple should always be "open" to children being a product of their sexual relationship. This made me wonder what she would say to people who do not want children. Does that mean that they shouldn't be having sex? And obviously, since Winner clearly believes that sex is a vital part of a marriage, does that mean that people who don't want kids should not have sex, and aren't permitted to get married?

I appreciated Winner's valuation of community and accountability, but I definitely chafed at it. It is a fine line between showing care and concern and keeping your brothers and sisters accountable and becoming downright creepy and voyeuristic, and I feel that a great many "involved" communities cross the line. It is one of those cases that would be great in a perfect world; alas, we don't live in a perfect world, and often people become nosy and judgmental with their "good intentions."

I must say, as well, that one of her examples of one of my favorite shows is taken out of context and incorrect. She describes an episode of "Friends" in which Monica and her ex-boyfriend agree to become friends with benefits, in which sex will become something that they just do together, "like racquetball." She derides this attitude as emblematic of our culture's view of sex, but if you watch the episode, it actually backs up her feeling that sex is more consequential than racquetball, as Monica realizes that she is unable to reduce sex to something done with unfeeling detachment. I'm sure that there are many other examples that could have been used that actually backed up her argument. This may be nitpicky, but it is my pet peeve when writers use examples from pop culture to back up their stance and then get the pop culture reference wrong.

Winner does offer good, basic advice: don't do anything behind closed doors that you wouldn't do in public. She also gives a good review of why sex is only meant for marriage, backed up with biblical references. Among the other things I appreciated about the book was the fact that she says up front that she is no "expert"--something that I think is also lacking in the Christian community, as many people have no credentials for writing the books that they do but seem to act like they should have some authority.

This is a good book for both women and men to read, if only for the parts in which Winner grants that women actually--surprise!!--do have a very real and healthy sex drive. Although I disagree with her on several points, it is definitely the best book on a Christian perspective to sex, relationships, and dating that I have read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
This book is not a cheesy Christian dating book, it is not geared towards teenagers, and it is not written by a prude old-fashion woman, instead it is written by a young woman who was sexually active when she became a Christian but soon found that she could not remain a sexually active non-married person and be a Christian. She wanted to prove to herself and everyone else that the idea of chastity was out-dated, but instead she found that chastity is a historical Christian discipline that is still relevant and helpful today.

As the title suggests this is an honest book about men and women's sexuality, a book that does not pretend that men are the only ones who want sex and get addicted to sex. This is not a book of rules, but teaches the reader a new way to think about sex, a Christian way to think about sex.

The campaigns of the past to teach abstinence as a birth control in order to prevent teenage pregnancy have only succeeded in helping teenagers wait a few more years before giving up their virginity rather than getting them to "save themselves for marriage." This book is not about abstaining from something; rather it is about developing through disciple a virtue. This is not just something for virgins; this is something for anyone in the body of Christ. In fact she writes, "speaking about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian discipleship: being in community with one another (53)." Yes being a chaste (non sexually active) person in our society is difficult but no one should have to do it alone. Sex takes more than one person and so does not having sex. This is why Paul does not write individual letters to the people in his churches that he hears are engaging in sexual misconduct, instead he writes a letter to the church. The church is to lovingly hold people accountable for their actions. Lauren tells a story of a guy friend of hers telling her about an offer of sex that he was given and asking her why he should refuse. She gives longer and well thought out answer, then she says if for no other reason don't go have sex with this woman tonight just for me. She points out that while he could lie to her or refuse her plea, because they have a good friendship she knows he will honor her request. This is a much different perspective on "staying pure" than we are usually given. It is not an individualistic calling on Christians to have superpowers against temptation, it is a call for the church to be a community that is different that the world.

As you will she it does not make sex or bodies evil but rather says that God created such a wonderful act as sex for the security of marriage, outside of marriage sex is dangerous and unhealthy. Our culture lies and says that is what is great about sex, is that it is unpredictable and part of the high of sex is not having security, but Lauren stares those myths it the face and says that sex is beautiful most enjoyable when is part of the everyday rhythm of married life. I strongly recommend this book and content that it challenges us to live life to the fullest.
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