Real Sex

The Naked Truth about Chastity

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SEX. Splashed across magazine covers, billboards, and computer screens-sex is thrilling, necessary, unavoidable. And everybody's doing it, right?

In Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, Lauren Winner speaks candidly to single Christians about the difficulty--and the importance--of sexual chastity. With nuance and wit, she talks about her own sexual journey. Never dodging tough terms like "confession" and "sin," she grounds her discussion of chastity first and foremost in scripture. She confronts cultural lies about sex and challenges how we talk about sex in church (newsflash: however wrong it is, premarital sex can feel liberating and enjoyable!). Building on the thought of Wendell Berry, she argues that sex is communal rather than private, personal rather than public.

Refusing to slink away from thorny topics, Winner deftly addresses pornography, masturbation, and the perennial question of "how far is too far?" Winner also digs deeper: What does chastity have to do with loving my neighbor? How does my sexual behavior form habits and expectations? With compassion and grit, she calls Christians, both married and single, to pursue chastity as conversion and amendment of life.

Real Sex will be an essential read for single Christians grappling with chastity, for married Christians committed to monogamy, and for those who counsel them. Discussion questions have been added to the paperback edition.


"It is unquestionably impossible to write a book about sex that is as exciting as the topic itself. But Lauren Winner comes close. She has written a book of beauty, mystery, stern challenge, and great joy. And she has written it in a humble, honest, literate, elegant voice. I hope it finds many readers."--John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

"Thank you, Lauren. Now we pastors have a book we can give with confidence to people we serve and lead who have questions about sexuality. It is gentle, firm, honest, candid, reverent, informed, wise, apt, warm, human, and--in the best sense of the word--spiritual."--Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian, The Story We Find Ourselves In, and A Generous Orthodoxy

"Edgy, smart, hip, gutsy. They are good words in and of themselves, and they certainly describe Lauren Winner's Real Sex. But so too do words like thoughtful, commanding, unflinching, and surgically insightful. Real Sex is far and away the most accessible, best argued, clearest exposition of Christian teaching on sexuality that I have read in years. I commend it to every contemporary Christian regardless of his or her age and stage in life."--Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours

"Real Sex is really helpful, especially for Christian singles who have been wandering too long in a vale of vague churchy platitudes and long for something they can implement in their real lives."--Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation

"I receive at least four internet offers a day to enlarge a body part I do not have, yet churches are increasingly reticent to speak with candor about the ins and outs of fallen and faithful sex. When Protestants do speak, we often divide to encourage supposedly liberating antinomianism or purportedly biblical shame. Real Sex is instead a hopeful and sober book, encouraging readers to risk vulnerable intimacy and fidelity. Chastity, it turns out, is hard, grace-filled work, worthy of our effort and prayer."--Amy Laura Hall, assistant professor of theological ethics, Duke Divinity School

"Finally, a book that acknowledges the realities and complexities of sexual temptation--that it's an issue for people past the youth-group set, is too complex to be addressed with rhyming or alliterating platitudes, affects married people too, and requires all of us working in community with one another and the One who created sex to handle it well. The 'real' in the title of this book is no mistake; Lauren not only discusses the theology of chastity and 'one flesh,' she also covers the reality of hormones and casual hook-ups. And she writes with all the vulnerability, intelligence, scholarly research, pop culture awareness, and anecdotal evidence this topic requires. Thanks, Lauren, for a book I've wanted--and needed--to read for a long time."--Camerin Courtney, author of Table for One

The Author

  1. Lauren F. Winner

    Lauren F. Winner

    Lauren F. Winner (PhD, Columbia University) is the highly acclaimed author of Girl Meets God, Still, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Wearing God. She is associate professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School and vicar of...

    Continue reading about Lauren F. Winner


Christianity Today 2006 Book Award Winner

"Winner, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Girl Meets God, weaves an intriguing tapestry from sociological, autobiographical, pastoral, and historical threads. She balances a journalistic report of how difficult chastity is for American Christians; a personal account of how she and her friends have approached premarital sex and marital sex; a survey of what the Bible, pastors, and good Christian books say about the topic; and an overview of how chastity has been understood throughout Christian history. The candor with which Winner writes about sex may alarm some Christian readers, but those who follow her arguments to their conclusions will find themselves rewarded with fresh insights about an overdiscussed but still deeply entrenched problem among Christians. Interestingly, some of Winner's best insights are about married sex. . . . Winner places real sex not in the passionate world of one-night stands and dating relationships but in the ordinary, domestic life of married couples. As such, she helpfully and perhaps even radically reframes both the Christian and cultural discussion of chastity and sexuality."--Publishers Weekly

"[A] carefully presented Christian approach to sexuality. . . . The book gives practical ideas for living a chaste life, portraying chastity as a spiritual discipline. One of the book's strengths is its treatment of singleness and ways in which the chruch could better incorporate singles into the Body of Christ. . . . Readers will appreciate Winner's intellectual, spiritually sound, and engaging approach."--Joseph Bentz, CBA Marketplace

"With a winsome, direct, and engaging style full of beguiling humor and verve, Winner forcefully argues that chastity is the most unnatural of Christian virtues. The church must teach us who God has created us to be, must inculcate in us the practices and disciplines that we require if we are to be chaste in a world where it seems like everyone is hooking up with everyone else. While much of the current infatuation with 'spiritual practices' is rather thin, in reclaiming chastity as a spiritual discipline Winner gives substance to the notion of practice and thereby gives substance to the notion of church. . . . This book is a great resource for pastors and congregations. Winner defends marriage as a clench-fisted, revolutionary endeavor that is against just about everything we have been taught to believe, and her defense of singleness as the primary vocation of Christians is equally defiant. She also offers practical ideas about what churches can to do support us in our vocations of marriage and singleness. Real Sex is destined to be one of the most useful books for churches to be published this year."--William H. Willimon, Christian Century

"A candid, readable, intelligent, and deeply Christian reflection on the meaning of sexuality and the generally unpopular and misunderstood virtue of chastity. Speaking most specifically to people who are young and single, Lauren Winner is the friendly and informed guide many are looking for in living the Christian alternative in a culture of erotic disorder. Although the author is not a Catholic, there are clear intimations of what Catholics call the theology of the body."--First Things

"According to Lauren Winner, chastity is no walk in the park--not for single or married people. It involves unceasing prayer, diligent discernment and a fierce battle against the lies that our culture and church communicate to us related to sexuality. Real Sex is the fruit of this sometimes-faltering quest in Winner's own life, a continual movement toward wholeness, as well as an ongoing conversation between herself, God and her readers. Real Sex is full of hope--hope that frank discussion will triumph over platitudes, that sexual wholeness can be recovered even after virginity has been lost and that we can all relearn what authentic sexuality is even in the face of cultural mythology."--Jenny Schroedel,

"Lauren Winner exposes the half-truths the church and the world have told us about sex. She then proceeds to help us develop a Christian understanding of sex that is biblical, historical and God-honoring. Real Sex is an invaluable resource for college students who queries cannot be answered by 'True Love Waits,' Christian communities that desperately long for a return to sexual fidelity and pastors who want to speak a good word about sex into this postmodern context. A remarkable resource!"

"[This book] is a delight. Lots of people can write about sex; some people can write accurately about the value of restraint. How many can do those things in a candid, strikingly insightful and, yes, entertaining fashion? . . . You may not buy into all of Winner's conclusions--indeed, one wonders if she may rethink a couple of the nuances after a few more years of marriage and a child or two--but Real Sex is definitely worth the time."--Alan Cochrum, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"[Winner] bring[s] honesty and integrity to matters concerning sexuality and faith. . . . She shares authentically about a challenging time of life with which many will identify and empathize. . . . Read [Real Sex] to help you engage the immediacy and earthiness of sexuality and spirituality today."--Wayne A. Holst, National Catholic Reporter

"An epidemic of sexual perversion is sweeping through our generation. Lauren Winner tackles this topic with wit and a directive to confront cultural lies about sex and challenge how we talk about it at Church. . . . This book will help [church leaders as they] talk about sex and the issues that surround it with singles who are weighing chastity and married couples who are committed to monogamy."--Relevant Leader

"Winner reached a kind of evangelical stardom with her first book, Girl Meets God, a brazenly honest autobiographical non-autobiography, a mold-breaking story of spiritual pilgrimage. Winner wrote about her own sexual experiences in Girl, and she returns to the topic in a fuller way here. . . . Instead of do's and don'ts, Winner develops a rich theology of the body and of marital sex, and in addition to listing some of the lies that contemporary culture tells about sex, she lists the lies that the church tells about sex. . . . Real Sex is always honest, sometimes profound, and hip enough to give to your teenage daughter. This is a very satisfying book--and not just because it's about sex."--Peter J. Leithart, Touchstone

"[Real Sex] makes a strong case for biblical sexual morality."--Gene Edward Veith, World

"I found Winner's book to be a unique and fresh look at an oft-visited subject. Her approach and honesty about her own past is compelling. As someone who made a name for herself defending a Christian's right to sex outside of marriage, it was powerful to read of her own transformation in thought and rebuttal to her previous beliefs. She systematically works her way through all the arguments, demonstrating God's plan for sexuality in the place of marriage and the beauty of chastity as a spiritual discipline. Rather than simply stating how we are to be, Winner paints a beautiful picture of why God's plan truly is best. As someone who's read way too many books on dating, sex, and chastity, I believe this is one of the best. A must read for those who are single, whether they're 13 or 47."--Matthew McNutt, YouthWorker Journal

"An attempt to craft a theologically based and culturally aware case for returning sex to what Winner believes is its divinely intended place: marriage. Real Sex, however, is far from an uncomfortable, prudish lecture about the evils of the body. In a straightforward and conversational style, Winner shares her own sexual history and speaks frankly about often-taboo topics such as pornography and masturbation. Agree or disagree with the author's faith-based conclusions, Real Sex is a timely, thought-provoking work."--Shala Carlson, Gambit Weekly

"Written in a readable, scholarly style that suggests C. S. Lewis was invited to speak at a 'True Love Waits' seminar, Real Sex covers an exhaustive waterfront of sexually related topics. . . . One of the most appealing aspects of this book is the explanation of the title. Outside of marriage, sex is not only wrong, it is inappropriate on a deep and cosmic level. Two people coming together for 'casual sex' may not intend anything profound, but sex is always profound. Here Winner hits the nail on the head in a new, refreshing way. . . . Winner's concept of the church's role in helping its single members stay chaste is central to the book. . . . Anyone interested in staying sexually pure or helping others in the church do so will find much food for thought in this intriguing book."--Kathryn Atwood, Having Church

"Winner's broader theme, about shifting our focus from the individual to the community, is compelling and well-made, refreshingly free of the righteous scolding and guilt-tripping that makes most books praising 'community' such an awful bore. . . . Most importantly, Winner offers precise, practical advice for those seeking to practice chastity. . . . Winner wisely notes that attempts at living chastely fail unless they are entwined with daily prayer and Bible study. . . . Real Sex is very impressive overall, thanks to Winner's honesty and humility. It packs a real punch in a slender package."--Kathy Shaidle, Catholic Register

"Lauren Winner wrote Real Sex for the whole Christian community (as well as for singles) in order to provide helpful tools and resources about chastity. Her purpose in writing was also to define the biblical vision for sex and the real challenges of living within that vision. . . . The author offers tools of accountability and community dialogue to assist in determining good boundaries. . . . It looks honestly at the current views and actions of the church and offers suggested changes; it encourages honest and intentional discussions about sex (we would add: emotional boundaries); and it urges supportive communities for everyone."--Charlene Albano, Chrissy Muhr, and Joyce White,

"I hope you'll read Winner's book Real Sex. It will help you understand and help you teach children that the right question is not, 'How far can I go?' but 'Who created my body, and for what purpose?"--Mark Earley,

"Written in a readable, scholarly style that suggests C.S. Lewis was invited to speak at a 'True Love Waits' seminar, Real Sex coves an exhaustive waterfront of sexually related topics. Winner grounds each issue firmly in scriptural thought, theology and common sense. . . . One of the most appealing aspects of the book is the explanation of its title, the belief that sex was created for and only makes sense within the marriage relationship. . . . Anyone interested in staying sexually pure or helping others in the church do so will find much food for thought in this intriguing book."--Kathryn Atwood,

"Must reading by both singles and married church members. . . . Clergy ought to read Real Sex and preach from it."--Michael J. McManus,

"In the midst of overwhelming sexual saturation, is there really a need for another book on the subject of sex? Absolutely. There is a desperate need for more good Christian minds to be thinking about and writing about sex. . . . In Real Sex, author Lauren Winner has done a good job of sketching out a Christian view of sexuality for a popular audience. . . . This is vital material for the current generation. . . . The book is densely packed, and ranges from foundational theology to practical advice. . . . [Winner's] consistent appeals to community, to the goal of marriage, and to the simultaneous good of being physical creatures and difficulties of temptation present a worthy example of fully-orbed thinking, incorporating theology, common sense, and experience. . . . There is much to appreciate in Lauren Winner's book. She has met the subject of chastity head-on by providing insightful analysis and good practical advice. Winner's prose is conversational, honest, personal, and a pleasure to read: often witty, entertaining, and serious at the same time. Hers is one book that church leaders, parents of teenagers, and Christians who struggle with chastity should read, digest, and discuss at length."--Steven D. Thomas, Christian Research Journal

"Winner is a brilliant writer. Here, her honesty and her art provide a wise, engaging guide toward embracing healthy sexuality."--Winn Collier, Relevant

"[Real Sex] offers a theologically grounded understanding of sex and an honest exploration of the merit of chastity when decreed in scripture. And it does so without being glib, sanctimonious, or saying, 'just wait.'. . . With a pastoral sensibility, Winner puts her own 'slow conversion to chastity' in the context of sociological, historical, and theological trends and interpretations. The result is a new (or very old, depending on how you look at it) schema through which single Christians can view their sexuality and its ramifications not just for themselves, but also for the body of Christ. This emphasis on community in relation to sexuality is one of the most radical aspects of Real Sex. . . . Winner manages to be open about her own sexual missteps without wearing them like badges of honor. And in doing so, she provides an example of how to live faithfully with past sin--learning from it without taking pride in it. And Real Sex isn't just for singles. I think one of its most helpful observations is the fact that married sex isn't given its proper due. . . . Real Sex offers a compelling example of how all of us--single or married--can reframe our thoughts on sex and chastity within a more holistically biblical framework. And it does so in an honest, thoughtful way that I hope will help refresh the larger conversation about chastity and sexual fidelity in Christian circles. I highly recommend it to all."--Lisa Ann Cockrel,

"Real Sex is stand-out brilliant. . . . The book is a gem. No other contemporary book comes close to addressing chastity as clearly, forthrightly, and convincingly as does this one. Informed by Christian tradition, governed by scriptural teaching, and aimed squarely into today's world, Winner's apologetic for chastity (including fidelity within marriage) is nothing less than a godsend. To be quite clear, if you are a pastor, a campus minister, a youth worker, mentor, or counselor, you need to be familiar with this book and have it available for others to digest. If you are a single Christian struggling with chastity or a married Christian committed to monogamy but grappling with the lure of past misadventures, you also can benefit by absorbing this helpful book. . . . In offering this gentle and insightful volume, Lauren Winner has graced us with something of substantial value: a well-written, currently framed apologetic for chastity that is rooted in the practical call of Jesus to follow him and to sin no more. Do yourself a favor: Read this book, begin the daily discipline of appropriating its wisdom, and then pass it along for another to read."--Mark P. Ryan, Presbyterion

"I find the point of the book compelling: chastity is a practical and (the) attainable norm. . . . Chastity is argued for, provocatively explained, and its difficulties (and objections to it) illustrated. . . . In terms of language and style, the book is well crafted. . . . It is thought out and well-organized in scope and treatment of its topic. . . . It is evidently written by a well-read, serious-minded person with an excellent feel for contemporary American language and cultural trends. . . . [Winner's] grasp of the issues surrounding chastity is extensive and suggests a Christian approach with an uncommonly broad and deep Biblical perspective. . . . She clearly goes against the grain of our contemporary sexual trend without becoming wild-eyed, obnoxious, or dismissive of the claims and problems of other-minded people. . . . Winner is theologically engaging and responsible in her handling of Scripture. . . . It is a good book that is worth reading and worth giving as a gift."--Roger Henderson, Pro Rege

"Winner blends personal experience, scholarly research, pop culture awareness, and theological truth to craft a brave treatise on chastity. She candidly discusses her own reluctant journey, deftly avoiding formulas and issuing a compelling invitation to sexual purity."--Camerin Courtney, Christianity Today