The one subject Christians don’t talk about
Two business women launch website to help redeem sex
After becoming a Christian in her 40s, Philippa Lowe discovered how the love of Jesus helped to restore a marriage that had been through a fair few challenges.
Not only was there a lot of humbling and forgiving to do on both sides, but Philippa and her husband found that their sex life – which had faltered over the challenging years – also gained new life.
But Philippa was stunned by the inability of her church friends to have open, robust conversations about sexual needs and desires within a relationship.
“What happened? Have I stepped back 50 years?” she thought.
As the world’s view of sex pulls ever further away from biblical standards, Philippa is determined to shine a light in some very dark places and help redeem God’s good gift to humanity.
A Christian blogger, writer, PR executive and theology student, she has teamed up with social media entrepreneur and podcaster Susan Sohn to launch Ministry of Sex, a website that pulls together resources to help confused Christians discover sexuality and intimate relations through a Christian lens.
“We want people looking from the outside at Christian relationships going, ‘I want that’.” – Philippa Lowe
“With our shared backgrounds in storytelling, in building digital communities, in growing businesses, we decided to develop a resource that would shine a light on all the good stuff and to bring the tough stuff that gets hidden away in shame to the light,” Philippa says.
Aware of the sensitivity of the subject, she notes that it takes a couple of outliers such as herself and Susan to “put our heads above the parapet” and attempt something so countercultural as changing the image of Christians in this arena.
“We want people looking from the outside at Christian relationships going, ‘I want that’,” she says.
So far, Philippa and Susan have funded the website from their own businesses, but they hope to launch a closed online counselling forum and counselling module early next year, where people can ask their questions about tricky subjects. They will also offer courses and seminars, such as how to talk to your kids about sex in a world where everything is on offer.
They already have contributions from the Christian Society for Sexual Wellbeing and have put together a panel of respected Christian counsellors, researchers, sexologists and academics.
Having owned a sex toys business before she became a Christian, Philippa plans to offer a “carefully curated” range of tasteful, elegant sex toys as a way of funding the other resources on the site, such as counselling and courses.
“It’s not about a product being taken into the bedroom; it’s about what what couples are doing to work towards enjoying what is God’s good gift to us,” says Philippa.
“I think there’s a place within a relationship for healthy dialogue about how do you keep things ticking over that’s interesting. Some Christian sexologists might say ‘no sex toys’ because they think what happens if it becomes an addiction? But there is a healthy, good space for sex toys and opening up the conversation makes it less confusing for people.
“It’s the same for single people. Are we saying because you’re single you have no sexual response whatsoever?”
The question of masturbation came up and both women are adamant that masturbation is fine both for singles and in a marriage because “sexual frustration is real”. This could be from mismatched libido – including the impact of medication, such as antidepressants – or from infertility, which has removed the romance and sexual spontaneity in a marriage.
“As someone buys something, I’d love them to get a beautiful note from us saying ‘we believe in you, this is a stunning time in your life,’ where we’re placing value on them as an individual or a couple,” adds Susan.
So how do you find this website without venturing into dangerous territory? If you do a Google search for Ministry of Sex, the first couple of results are for a porn film. However, writing it as ministryofsex will help you get to the right place.
“Thankfully the digital space is something my team understand well and our goal is to work smart and move up the list on the Google search, which is definitely achievable,” says Susan. “We are already at number four so making it to number one won’t be too difficult.”
In her recent book, True You, Susan interviewed more than 200 women across the world about the challenges they were facing.
“I was overwhelmed by the responses relating to broken sexuality, whether it be through rape, abuse, sex addictions, shame and guilt,” she says.
“As a mother of teens and young adults, I can’t stay silent, passive and not act on this issue. I must do something. This is a conversation that no one seems willing to have … we need to start talking to help not only our kids but adults who are struggling through this and are desperate for freedom.”
“As a mother of teens and young adults, I can’t stay silent, passive and not act on this issue.” – Susan Sohn
Susan believes sexuality has become such a fraught subject in the church because of the conflict between maintaining purity in a world where porn is everywhere and sex is viewed as a buffet table you can take anything from.
“Our sexuality does not define our purity; Jesus defines our purity and our obedience to him,” she says.
“It’s one of the things that’s talked about the most outside the church – sex is everywhere – and within the church we have these standards and these moral police around it, yet we don’t talk about it. There’s this funny situation where it’s held in high regard and we’re being influenced by everything that’s out there in pop culture and media, but within the church we’ve got it in this glass jar, but no one will talk about it.
“I think the implications of that are confusion – nobody knows is and isn’t acceptable; it’s this elephant in the room.”
Susan, who was raised in Canada, has a passion to connect people to each other. The table at her home on the NSW central coast is a place where everyone is welcome and is heard.
She says she has had to think hard about what she is teaching her teen and young adult children in this sexually charged world.
“So many new wives share with me how difficult they found it to ‘flick the switch’ – having learnt from a church culture that has talked about purity.” – Philippa Lowe
“I came up with the fact that there’s no shame or guilt and we can openly discuss anything – we have a very open dialogue and very healthy conversation,” she says.
“Last night I sat at our dining table and discussed the Kavanagh/Ford issue and what is at stake for young men and women right now and why sexual behaviour and respect is so important. We need to have these discussions and help our kids manage their testosterone surges and desire.
The answer to much of this lies in truth and the conversations we are having. Being silent isn’t helping anyone.
“So to be able to sit with your child and say ‘we totally get it. Now we want to help you figure out how to do this.’ We sat last night talking about our own struggle that we walked through and being very vulnerable and authentic – because the reality is they’re getting this information elsewhere, they’re forming their opinions on sex based on pornhub and whatever is being dished out to them and what their mates are telling them.”
(Susan says Pornhub, which is one of the largest sites, had 81 million daily visits in 2017 and its number one search that year was “porn for women.”)
“The reality is they’re getting this information elsewhere, they’re forming their opinions on sex based on pornhub.” – Susan Sohn
“As people contribute and feedback comes in, we hope to be able to frame what is a healthy Christian sexual ethic framework that doesn’t leave people struggling when it comes to an appropriate sexual response” says Philippa. “So many new wives share with me how difficult they found it to ‘flick the switch’ – having learnt from a church culture that has talked about purity in sometimes a very binary way, to then being marred and accessing a sex drive that they’ve been asked to ignore for many years because of purity.
“In a really dark place you just need a small light and that’s our intent with this. It’s not meant to be the perfect, spotless, shiny answer, it is just meant to be Jesus informed, in a particular topic area that is countercultural.”