Author Explores 'Sex and the
Soul of a Woman'
By Belinda Elliott
As a professional Christian counselor, Paula Rinehart has
talked with many women who have had their hearts broken through
past sexual relationships. In her book, Sex and the Soul of
a Woman, she explores the sex-saturated culture that surrounds
us and the impact it is having on Christian women. I had the opportunity
to speak with Paula about the pressures facing Christian singles
today as well as ways they can guard their hearts in dating relationships.
What led you to write this book?
I wrote Sex and the Soul of a Woman really out
of a sense of grief that I have come to feel as I have looked
into the younger women’s stories and realized how much has
changed in the sexual scene in the last 30 years. These are stories
that have come to me in a counseling process or stories that I’ve
run into as a I travel around the country and speak to younger
women. And the grief, I think, has something to do with
realizing that my generation -- the baby boom generation -- are
the ones who opened the door to this. And I see the effects,
the impact, and the carnage, especially in women’s
lives from what has happened in the last 30 years.
You talk about casual sex, what do you mean by that?
Honestly, it is not a term and a practice
that we find as much in the Christian community, but it’s
the backdrop for this generation. It is what they are exposed
to, what we all are exposed to. It’s the idea that a man
and a woman can just connect on a sexual plane and walk away from
it, that it’s just simply a pleasure to be had -- not a whole
lot different than my going out for a dip of my favorite ice cream.
It’s not a practice that we find as much in the Christian
community. But I think that because it is so common in the larger
arena, it helps us excuse or rationalize the sexual connections
that men and women are making outside marriage when there is an
actual relationship involved, so we are just not as aware of what
the real cost and what the real impact of that connection is.
And what is the cost?
One thing I explain in this book is that it really does have
a greater impact on women, I think, than men. Because as women,
we are just wired for connection, that’s the way God
put us together. We are made inside to have a lasting relationship
with another man, and children, and family, and grandchildren that
follow; so it’s not part of our makeup to be able to make
a sexual bond, have it broken, and not have our heart affected.
I have actually had women come to me, Christian women, who want
me to help them as a counselor be able to get involved sexually
with a man and then when it’s over, to be able to just walk
off from it like they think a man can do. And I have
to kind of lean over my chair and say, ‘I am not a surgeon.
I don’t have a scalpel. I can’t cut your heart out. That’s really what you are asking me to do because connecting
sexually like this goes against the grain of how God has made
you, and really, the laws of the universe.' So part of what
I’m really passionate about is trying to help women see
the actual bond that takes place between two people when there
is sexual involvement -- not even technically sexual intercourse --
because there is still a bond that is made there because God meant
for a bond to happen. Sexual relationships create a bond whether
we want one or not.
What’s entailed in that bonding process?
Part of the beauty in the world of relationships is the bonding
process that God made to take place between a man and a woman
for a lifetime. It is really what He has built into the nature
of sexuality. Often at weddings, we
hear the classic ancient verse out of Genesis, “For this
cause a man will leave his father and mother and will cleave to
his wife and the two will become one flesh… .' Most of us do not know that in Hebrew the word
for one flesh, “cleave,” is the word for glue.
God has set sex up as kind of the superglue of the soul. It bonds
a couple on levels they can’t even imagine and enables them
to weather the storms of life together. You know that this bonding
is in place when you walk in a room, and no matter how you feel
about that man what he might have done 30 minutes ago that may
have irritated you, he is still the first face you look for in
a crowd. You are bonded to this man.
Sometimes when I’m talking about this, with college-aged
women especially, I relate a question that my daughter asked me
at that age about whether or not I found her father
still to be a good looking man. It had been so long since I’d
thought in terms about whether or not he was still a good looking
man, because the bond was so enviably there in place. I have
30 years of shared memories and deep connections and great jokes
with this man. That’s part of the mystery really of bonding.
And that is actually what God is trying to preserve for us in
being connected to one man for a lifetime.
You talk about break ups being harder for women than
for men, why is that?
For a woman, her heart gets involved in a more
obvious way, and she is generally the one who is grappling more
with a sense of jealousy and trust. What happens when a relationship
falls apart is that generally a woman will move it back on herself.
She will say, 'What’s wrong with me that this guy
didn’t stick around?’ Then she becomes aware of
the investment that she made of herself in this sexual part of
the connection. If this has happened a number of times in their
life, what she may come to feel is a kind of numbness on the inside. Then she comes to an office like mine and talks about general
insecurities in relationships -- an inability to trust -- because
she always waits for this thing to fall apart. It really grieves
me that there are just so few people in this day and time out
there counteracting the message that is put out there every day
of the week in the media -- that you can connect like this and that you
should be able to walk away from it. It really has become a kind
of litmus test about equality with men so to speak, that our equality
with men is proven by our ability to flat line a broken heart.
What do you think women want most in a relationship?
A woman’s sexual agenda in a relationship, the agenda
of her gender so to speak, is really different than a man’s
because intuitively and instinctively a woman longs for a relationship
that endures over time and is stable. She wants a man to be
interested in her not because of the physical attraction, but
because he sees something worthy, something really beautiful in
her. The best of the courting process that has been in place for
generations and generations is really about the beauty of relationships.
It’s about two people getting to know each other and not
demanding a sexual payoff until there is a covenant in place.
The sexual part is her expression of that covenant.
So to summarize, a woman longs for a man who will see the beauty
in her soul as a person, and who is attracted to that, and who
wants to offer himself to her in a much broader and bigger sense.
She wants a man who is really interested in her, not
just the sexual component.
You talk about the effect that sex has on a relationship
and that it actually undermines the trust in the relationship,
why is that?
When a couple has sex outside of marriage, even if they
make it to the altar and they get married, there are still seeds
of mistrust and distrust planted there. They know on some level
that they were each willing to step across a kind of invisible
boundary. What’s to keep that from happening
once they are married? It just injects, at the base of
the relationship, things like distrust and jealousy. And the part
that is so difficult about it is that the essence of any
good relationship, especially marriage, is trust. That’s
what it is built on. So I think of sex outside of marriage, either
extramarital or premarital, as being kind of like blowing holes
through the fabric of something that you want to carry the weight
of your life.
You talk a lot about the connection between sex and
our souls. How does that work?
Honestly, that is
a reality and a truth that I think is very lost on this generation.
Or at least there are not enough people beating the drum. The way
I would explain it is that our sexuality and our spirituality
are kind of the two bookends of our existence. We never think
that much about our soul, our spirituality, but we are also talking
about what it means to be a woman made in the image of God. For a person, the greatest evidence that they
actually have a soul is the pain they feel when a relationship
is over. If there wasn’t another dimension to us, if we
didn’t have a soul, we really would be able to just breeze
into someone’s life for a minute and breeze out again, and
we wouldn’t feel anything from it at all. Really sexuality
and spirituality is like a
small drama between a man and a woman, on a small stage,
and it’s meant to be beautiful there. But it is really set
against the backdrop of the romance of the ages, which is about
God pursuing us, God coming to rescue a captive soul. So God is
telling a story about Him through a relationship between a man
and a woman.
women who maybe have had sex outside of marriage and the relationship
didn’t last? How can she find the healing she needs before
pursuing another relationship?
I’m glad you brought that up, because that is really a
major part of the book, the cleansing and restoration process.
Honestly, the big lie that I think the enemy injects into
this kind of wound in a woman’s life is, ‘Hey, it’s
all over now. I’ve already been with this guy, what difference
does it make what I do from here?’ That is so much the
lie of the enemy. So many women move down a path because they
just don’t think that they can come out of it. But the truth
is that there is no part of a woman’s life that God is more
interested in, in terms of cleansing and restoration, than her
sexuality because it has to do with the very image of God on her
soul as a woman. And women find that as they offer this part of
their lives to the Lord, God comes into a place where they feel
shame and regret, and gives them a new identity, and restores them
from the inside out. And it enables them then to offer themselves
to a man at some point with at least a look into the soul of what
God has done in their life.
What should a healthy relationship look like?
There’s a chapter in this book called “The Good
Relationship” because if a woman has been through
a number of guys in her life -- and some women have told me there
hasn’t really been any man that has treated them all that
well -- they don’t have much of an internal barometer for
what a good relationship looks like. In that chapter, I talk about
the basis of trust and what it means to be with a man offering
them the strength that they know God has put there, whether than
trying to pull that strength, even in a sexual sense, from them.
I often direct woman back to the first part of Proverbs 31, which
is kind of the part that we never read. It is really addressed
to a man. It is a mother’s advice telling him that if he
wants to build a really good life, then he needs to avoid a life
that is addicted to women, addicted to wine or some kind of substance
that is out there, and that his life needs to be about something
bigger than himself. It talks about concern for the poor, but
its really the bigger idea that a man has captured God’s
purpose for his life that is bigger than him. And believe me,
when those kind of basic things are present in a man’s life,
it feels very different to relate to him. There is so much
more of a possibility of building something for the future. So
in a good relationship, what I’ve tried to direct
women to consider is how to think about the world at hand in terms
of how they are being treated and what this man brings to the
How do you know when you’ve found “Mr.
What I’ve written about there in terms of weighing
the worth of a man that a woman is involved with, she needs
to look for an important thing: how much congruence
is there between what he says and what he does? As basic as
that sounds -- especially as a woman gets
kind of infatuated -- she tends to gloss over that one, the places
where it just doesn’t add up.
There are a couple other things that I encourage a woman to look
for. One of those is very simply does he enjoy you? In other words,
not just that he is in love with you but does he actually like
you? He’s not hoping that the shape of your nose will change
in some way, shape, or form. Look for what he experiences when
he is around you, and you can tell if he really enjoys you.
Another thing that is important to look for is whether or not
this man can be wrong. Or is that such a blow to his ego
that he can never own the places where, like everybody else, he
just hasn’t done it right, or the places where he has hurt
you in some way? It really speaks of a kind of strength
of character and personhood to be able to admit that, and that’s
hard sometimes for a guy. Another one that is important
is whether or not he can take risks for the sake of love, because
so much about a good relationship in the long haul is about each
person facing their deepest fears. There is a great deal of courage
that is required. That is what I think is so important about the
ancient wisdom of courting, because that’s where a man learns
to take risks for the sake of love.
In the book you say that even Christian couples struggle
with their relationships. Maybe they are not having sex, but
they are often crossing lines they shouldn’t be. What are
some good boundaries they should put in place, and how can they
I think for anybody, once you find the person you want
to spend the rest of your life with there is a sexual struggle.
And frankly, there’s meant to be., I’d be
kind of worried if there wasn’t. But general guidelines
around that really relate to nakedness and arousal. I think any
degree of nakedness just tends to propel itself forward, and almost
any sense of serious arousal makes it hard to live within sexual
boundaries. The best counsel that’s been given for
quite some time has to do with not having long engagements. But
I recognize that some couples know each other for quite some time,
and it just really has to be talked about and established between
the two of them. I think when there is no conversation that takes
place about it all, then nature takes over.
In our culture where the media presents the message
that casual sex is okay, how can a woman stay pure in the midst
Probably the most important thing in that regard is seeking
out friendships and fellowship with other women who will encourage
that. And really, other guys, that value and recognize the importance
of that. I remember talking to a woman this spring about how she
hadn’t been out with anyone in so long and this non-Christian
guy began to ask her out. One of the other “brothers,”
so to speak, in the fellowship that she was a part of noticed
what was happening and kind of entered her life and offered to
take her places and do things and recognized that she was vulnerable to this guy’s intentions and his attention.
I think because this generation is being bombarded with thousands
of media messages a day -- and really most of them are about selling
sexual something in some way -- a guy or a girl has to be part
of a larger group that is at least reinforcing that they are not
crazy to value their virginity. They are not crazy because they
aren’t involved with somebody sexually.
As a professional Christian counselor, Paula Rinehart divides
her time between counseling, writing, and speaking to women's
groups nationally and internationally. She and her husband have
two grown children and live in Raleigh, North Carolina.
and the Soul of a Woman.
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