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Book
Sex and the Soul of a Woman
 
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Read other articles and interviews by Belinda Elliott on CBN.com.

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Author Explores 'Sex and the Soul of a Woman'

By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Producer

CBN.comAs 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.

What about 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 relationship.

How do you know when you’ve found “Mr. Right?”

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 do that?

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 of that?

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.

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