tampabay.com

God wants you to have sex

By Susan Thurston, tbt* Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2008


Here's the deal

Relevant Church holds services at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays at the Italian Club in Ybor City, 1731 E Seventh Ave. Call (813) 242-4800 or go to www.relevantchurch.com

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This latest challenge isn't about losing weight, saving money or eating more vegetables.

It's about having sex. Lots of it. As in every day, if you're married. Or not at all, if you're single.

An openly edgy Christian church in Ybor City is launching what they're calling a 30-Day Sex Challenge to help members improve their relationships and rediscover themselves.

Single folks are to abstain from sex for 30 days, even if they are in a committed relationship. Married folks, on the other hand, are supposed to have sex every day for 30 days.

Leaders at Relevant Church, which meets at the Italian Club on Seventh Avenue, will launch the campaign Sunday, fresh off Valentine's Day.

Already, it's gaining attention.

"Of course, all the guys say it's genius," said Pastor Paul Wirth. "The married women think we're out of our minds."

Church members, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s, will get a journal to track their sexual encounters - or lack thereof - and jot down their feelings. Ranters can vent on the church's blog, which is set to go up after the challenge starts, at www.30daysexchallenge.com.

During the challenge, Wirth, 39, and Jason Sowell, 29, who creates brochures and other print media for the church, will tie their Sunday sermons to the campaign, using the Bible as their guide. They hope all 350 members take part, at least to some degree.

"At the end, the teacher isn't going to grade the homework," Wirth said. "But if you can get a couple to be intimate three days a week, their relationship is going to change."

* * *

Doug and Lorena Webber started attending Relevant Church about eight months ago. They live in a big, pretty house in Safety Harbor with their two daughters, Sara, 2 1/2, and Sophia, just 9 weeks. They've been married for more than seven years.

Recently, Doug started his own video production company after being laid off from his job. Lorena is a stay-at-home mom. Feeling pressure to downsize, they have their house up for sale.

The couple has a good bedroom life, but admits that between work, kids and lack of sleep, sex sometimes gets pushed aside.

So when their church announced plans to start a 30-day sex challenge, they decided to give it a try.

"At first I was like, 'Oh - okay,' " said Lorena, 28. "But I think it's going to be really good. You get so busy with life. Life gets in the way."

Doug, 38, didn't hesitate. What guy would, he asked?

Dig further and he explains that, sex aside, it's an opportunity for them to reconnect as a couple emotionally and spiritually.

"It's a great way to regain the focus that we need," said Doug, who occasionally drums in the church band. "I say it's creative but in all reality, it's God's plan for married people. God created it to begin with."

* * *

Church leaders came up the idea while brainstorming ways to help couples tackle their top concerns: sex and money. The nearly 3-year-old church took on money in a recent series. Now it's time for sex.

They choose 30 days so people would build sex into their routines. They wanted to create habits that would spill into all areas of their lives. They didn't want a onetime stunt.

"When you talk about sex, everybody expects the church to say God hates sex," Wirth said. "That's just not true. I really believe that God wants us to have great sex."

The campaign centers on the notion that increasing intimacy will increase communication. Couples will think of each other's needs first and, in turn, get their own needs met. Forget about washing the car or finishing that report - they've made a commitment to each other to feel the love.

For singles, refraining from sex can open opportunities to explore goals and desires without short-term distractions, church officials said. Dating couples can focus on conversation and activities that determine their clothes-on compatibility.

Lynne Santiago, a licensed mental health counselor and clinical sexologist in Tampa, said some couples could benefit from 30 days of sex.

"If sex has become routine or boring, the commitment could force them to stretch their comfort zone a bit and become more creative," she said. "That could be good for the sexual bond, which can be like glue for a relationship."

It won't work, however, for couples with core problems, she said. An abusive spouse, for instance, could use the Bible-based message as fuel for further sexual abuse.

Instead, Santiago advises many of her clients to get to know each other on a physical level while refraining from sex. Weekly homework assignments start with non-erotic touching - such as hugging for 15 minutes straight - and graduate to erotic touching. At the end, most couples feel closer and communicate better.

"Women like to feel mentally connected," she said. "That turns them on."

Mary McGinnis, a licensed marriage and family counselor in Tampa, cautions against using a one-size-fits-all fix on relationships.

"Sexuality is incredibly complex and that approach may sound good and particularly good to some people, but ... I would be somewhat concerned that we would be treating the symptom and not the core issue."

* * *

Relevant Church leaders know the campaign may shock, even disgust, some people in and outside the church. But that was the idea. Create a buzz about a topic a lot of people don't like to talk about.

Even its proposed billboard along Adamo Drive, near 22nd Street, didn't pass the billboard company censors, Wirth said. Posting the 30-Day Sex Challenge Web site was fine. The message, "Are you up for it?" wasn't. Neither was the content of a video linked from the Web site that showed a few bellybuttons and a guy without a shirt.

Eager not to overly offend, the church tweaked the billboard and video. The message remains: Let's talk about sex in an honest, meaningful way.

* * *

Brent Cayson, 28, signed up for the abstinence challenge to gain perspective, strength and stability. A band manager who's had "friends with benefits," he recognizes a lot of committed couples won't like it.

"It definitely puts the pressure on. It will be difficult for a lot of people," he said. "Luckily, I'm single right now."

The son of a pastor, Cayson says he credits Relevant for tackling a subject many traditional churches won't.

Wirth said he had no choice.

"Relationships are at an all-time low, and no one seems to have a handle on how to make them work right," he said.

In the long run, Wirth hopes the campaign draws people who otherwise don't come to church. His recent money series grew attendance by about 25 percent.

Doug Webber, the married guy in Safety Harbor, says his nonchurch married friends are certainly intrigued.

"This is your church?" they ask.

Then, "How do I join?"

- Would you sign up for a 30-Day Sex Challenge? Tell us why or why not at tbteditors@tampabay.com.