Good Christian Sex

Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex

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Bromleigh McCleneghan
  • New York, NY: 
    , July
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Good Christian Sex, Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option—and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan is clearly written in a pastoral style for those Christians who are familiar and comfortable with theological concepts of sin, salvation, redemption, and God talk in general. This book is helpful and accessible. It is both theological without being dense, and reasoned without being intellectually rigorous. I would not hesitate to recommend it to heteronormative people raised in the church who wonder what a pastor thinks about non-marital sex. Most of the book centers on personal reflections as a young, non-celibate Christian heterosexual woman who was spared any stringent and sexually repressed messages by her family or the church.

McCleneghan thoroughly rejects the cultural myth that requires finding “the One” who is out there thanks to a matchmaker god, and is aware that others “believe that our bodies and culture will always lie to us, but that God is clear about what is right in every circumstance regarding our sexuality” (62). In stark contrast, McCleneghan applies ample amounts of grace and nonjudgment toward sexual exploration. Instead of sexual repression, she argues that “the Christian life is less about protecting ourselves from being profaned and more about learning to risk ourselves in love” (71).

Permeating the author’s view is the conviction that in knowing the human experience, God loves us intimately and without harsh judgment. Guided by Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” philosophy, and the sexually just principles of theologian Margaret Farley, McCleneghan insists upon love—not the romantic cultural love, but a love that is grounded in the Golden Rule, insisting upon respect for the integrity of the other (or the Thou)—whether marital or not. We “can be chaste—faithful—in unmarried sexual relationships if we exercise restraint; if we refrain from having sex that isn’t mutually pleasurable and affirming, that doesn’t respect the autonomy and sacred worth of ourselves and our partners” (103).

The author maintains that grace can be experienced in sexual intimacy thru mutual pleasure (53-54), and suggests that there is “desire as a means of grace” (65). But as firmly as McCleneghan believes in love and grace, the heteronormative-privileged position prevents her from taking a critical look at some key sexual issues.

There is not even a nod to the sexual struggles for those attracted to the same gender—or both genders for that matter—nor any acknowledgment of the ways in which the racialization of some bodies, particularly the stereotyping of brown women’s bodies, impact their sexual lives and choices. I would have like the author to have extended words of grace here, effectively saying “I see you and your sexual issues and questions.” However, she does not—not to withhold grace, but because they are invisible.

Further, the suggestion that sexual and porn addictions are “not yet” included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an illness borders on irresponsibility considering that the addiction language and framework is primarily perpetuated by those who, in McCleneghan’s own words, “believe that our bodies and culture will always lie to us.“ In truth, the concept of “addiction” has far too often been misapplied as a treatment for those with same-gender attraction. Yet, there is no scientific basis for either the use of such language or the construct of addiction for either pornographic use, or to address sexual problems, according to recently released position statement by the American Academy of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists [AASECT]. Thus, the unquestioned idea of porn “addiction” leads the author to suggest that we prevent “exposure to explicit materials” (32-33), even though the intent of censorship is judgment and restriction and contradicts the grace-filled position of responsible sexual freedom that is the point of the book.

I was disappointed that the author maintains the traditional position that commitment can be to only one other person, especially since she admits as “one can fall in love with more than one person at a time” (194), having personally had this experience. The inability to question a monogamous position requires holding a contradictory view: “If feelings arise for others, it’s because something is going on in your marriage” (181). Presumably then, before marriage one can experience love for more for than one person, but not after. Pastors would do well to have discussions with those in satisfying successful sexual relationships with more than one person, and who describe themselves as deeply and fully committed.

The suspect solution offered to the inevitable tradeoff of a committed, monogamous relationships that provides safety and familiarity on the one hand, with the adventure of the erotic charge of a new, unfamiliar love on the other hand, is to create an “opening to a space wider than our imagining” (197). But when I read the recommendation to “bring a sense of the unknown into a familiar space,” I have flashbacks of Marabel Morgan’s suggestion that wives wrap themselves in Saran Wrap to greet their hubbies at the door in The Total Woman, (Mass Market Paperback, 1990)! The author’s unquestioning acceptance of heterosexual marital monogamy means that there is also no critique of its problems; one of which is to maintain and serve the status quo. Thus, to assume the cultural heteronormativity of monogamy as the moral standard means that there can be no flow of grace toward those who reject it.

So, while I resonated with the author’s grace-filled position on sexuality throughout the book, those views do reflect a safe and privileged position—white, hetero, and monogamous. A cultural critique with a more pluralistic understanding of sexuality would create a richer experience for a wider, faithful audience. This broader conversation could reflect the incredible sexual diversity of humanity and truly expand the understanding of the breadth and depth of the grace of God.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Reverend Dr. Beverly Dale is the founder of the Incarnation Institute for Sex & Faith in Philadelphia.

Date of Review: 
March 7, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bromleigh McCleneghan is associate pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is coauthor with Lee Hull Moses of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian Century, Ministry Matters, Fidelia’s Sisters, Circuit Rider, and Criterion.


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