In a culture that idealizes romance, it’s easy for people who do not experience sexual attraction to feel as though something is wrong with them. That is the experience of one young woman who wrote to John Piper’s Ask Pastor John podcast:
“Am I broken? Is something wrong with me? Or do you think in a Christian’s life this would be a God-given signal that one has the permanent gift of singleness?…I think I may be asexual, but I don’t know. Perhaps I could be sexually attracted to a man later on?”
The 26-year-old woman went on to ask how she could live in a way that honors God with her singleness and lack of sexual desire, while being open to the possibility of marriage.
Marriage and Sexual Attraction
Piper began answering the woman’s question by making some observations on the nature of sexual desire and what marriage has looked like historically. It is unique to our culture, he said, that we have elevated sexual passion so highly. For most of history, people have entered into marriage for social reasons. A couple got married because their families arranged the union, not because the man and woman fell in love. Piper’s point here seems to be that we should not assume our culture’s view of marriage is correct by default or that something is wrong with us if we don’t fit into society’s way of thinking.
It is helpful to note as well that while the Bible has a lot to say about how men and women relate romantically, it does not say what our culture often communicates: that for a sexual relationship to be really good, a man and woman must both have the same, “fever-pitch intense” experience all the time. The reality is there is great variety among men and women in how they experience sexual desire and that passion fluctuates over time.
Neither of these points means that sexual attraction is insignificant or unimportant. “I think being in love, in the romantic sense of mutual desire, is indeed the ideal of God’s plan,” said Piper. However, he said, “it is neither essential nor is it the primary means of staying married or staying happily married.” The purpose of marriage, he observed, is to portray the relationship between Christ and the church. Pursuing that purpose is more important than maintaining romantic feelings, and it is possible apart from those feelings.
Piper was clear that there is no reason for the young woman to feel “messed up” or broken for not experiencing sexual attraction. He pointed out as well that it is fairly common for women to be indifferent to sex. But while there is nothing inherently wrong with being uninterested in sex, it is wise for people to understand why they feel the way they do, recognizing that if they were to enter a marriage, sex would be a part of that relationship.
With that in mind, Piper posed a series of questions for the young woman to consider. Several of them explored the extent of her desire for marriage: “Can you imagine yourself spending the rest of your life living with a caring, mature, responsible Christian man? And do you have any desire for that to happen? Another question: Do you ever dream about this?…Has any man, real or imaginary, ever awakened such a longing in you?”
He also wanted her to consider her feelings about sex itself, particularly whether the act seems beautiful or repulsive to her. A young couple he knew got married and then divorced within a year because the woman was totally disgusted by sex. Said Piper, she “had a horrific issue to deal with from her past that she hadn’t come to terms with.” So, he said, “It would make a huge difference whether you thought sex would feel dirty or whether you thought it would simply be a godly way to bless your husband, even though you yourself didn’t have any passionate pursuit of it.”
Attraction Is Complex
At the end of his response, Piper shared a story from his own life that illustrates the complex nature of attraction. At one point in college, when he was pursuing his future wife, Noël, and was “madly in love” with her, he started forming a bond with another woman. He was not physically attracted to that woman and didn’t even think she was pretty. But they were sharing poetry with each other, which created an emotional connection between them.
Said Piper, “She touched something deep inside of me when she appreciated what I wrote, and shared what she wrote. I was drawn to her. I wanted to spend time with her.” Because of this bond, Piper had to stop sharing poems with her for a while. He does not know whether his connection with that woman would have developed into a romantic attraction if Noël had not been in the picture. But, he said, “I felt like it was very possible.” Therefore, even though the woman who wrote in does not feel sexual attraction now, she could very well develop such feelings for someone in the future.
The best approach the young woman could have, said Piper, is not to be worried about her lack of sexual desire. She should prioritize pursuing the Lord, he advised, adding, “Don’t go out of your way to make relationships happen.” But he also did not say the woman was called to lifelong singleness. Rather, if a man were to show interest, she should be open to the possibility of a relationship—at least, Piper said, “until it’s plain that there is or there isn’t a sense of desire or a sense of calling to spend your life with him in a growing intimacy of every kind.”