How Sex Changes Relationships

“It’s not a space launch…it’s just sex!” says one character to another in the opening scene of the cult-favorite movie “American Pie.” Western culture has been shaped by the view that “it’s just sex.” When Cosmopolitan magazine promotes the latest “mind-blowing” tricks for the bedroom or when middle-school kids give in to the pressure to exchange sexually explicit images with one another, or when a married couple treats sex like an item to cross off of a checklist, we fail to grasp the power that sex holds. When we’ve crafted sex as a recreational activity meant to be enjoyed at our leisure, with whomever we wish, we’re behaving as though sex involves little more than our anatomy, and we’re failing to appreciate the way that sex changes both us and the one to whom we are giving ourselves sexually. The truth is, God designed sex to be a transformative experience, and when we recognize the power that sex has to change us, we will more fully enjoy the gift of sex that God has given to us.

The Link of Body and Soul

Damien is like many college students his age--talented, hard-working, and ambitious. He doesn’t have a girlfriend--he sees girls casually, but he doesn’t want to be too tied down to any one person. And like many college students, he spends his time on the weekends enjoying the party life on his campus--plenty of alcohol, music, and dancing. It’s an unwritten rule that most who go to the party are expected to hook up with someone by night’s end. But it’s also an unwritten rule that whatever happens sexually isn’t supposed to mean anything. Sexual activity, but with no strings attached. While Damien is a fictional composite, his experience is very real for many. Sexual activity is widely considered acceptable behavior for unattached young men and women, but so is the assumption that a person can be sexually involved without any long-term effect.

The lie of compartmentalization

Of course, experience doesn’t bear this out. God did not design us as compartmentalized people, who can neatly separate our bodies from our emotions, minds, and our sexuality. The opposite is true-–our bodies are woven together with our minds and our emotions, so that what happens with one part of us affects the whole person. When I give a friend who is hurting a hug, I am connecting with them not only physically, but emotionally as well. Since our sexuality is the most personal part of our being, it is woven together with the deepest emotional and even spiritual parts of who we are. That means that, try as we might, it’s impossible to become sexually vulnerable with another person without also giving ourselves emotionally to them. To allow someone to know you sexually is to welcome them into the most sacred part of your being. This also means that something transformative happens when you have sex with another person. God has designed sex as a way for you to give your entire self-–body, mind, and spirit–-to another person. Through sexual intimacy, we discover the joy of deep knowing and being known. We open ourselves up to them, trusting them to love and accept us, as they open themselves up to us, inviting us to love and accept them in return. When a couple becomes sexually active, they enter a new level of intimacy and vulnerability in their relationship with each other--one that comes with great joy, but also with the risks that intimacy entails.

And, the vulnerability that takes place in the bedroom carries expectations outside of the bedroom as well. The connection that is created when a couple opens themselves up to one another sexually brings with it the need to be cared for and loved holistically. Sexual vulnerability one night that is followed by indifference the next morning creates confusion and pain because sexual connection can’t be separated from connection in every other area.

Bonded For Life

The biblical pattern for marriage is a covenant--a promise between two people that creates a permanent relationship. Often, God’s covenants are accompanied with signs that communicate the meaning of the covenant, and that are meant to strengthen the covenant. Sex is intended to work the same way in a marriage. Sex is a way of communicating to one another the promise that was made at the altar. When a couple has sex, they are reaffirming-–again and again-–that just as they pledged their lives to one another before God in marriage, they are pledging themselves to one another physically, emotionally, and sexually. And, at the same time, sex actively draws a couple together; it creates the connection that has been pledged to each other. This is why there is no such thing as casual sex! Sex actually creates a bond between two people, and opens the door for deepening intimacy.

Cultivate Intimacy

This can be particularly helpful for married couples, as it points the way towards cultivating intimacy. Sometimes, we treat sex as something that happens only after we’re “in the mood”, or when we’re feeling close to one another. The downside of this is that especially for men, sex is the starting point for intimacy. That means if you are always waiting to have sex until you both feel connected to one another, sex may become less frequent, and the relationship may suffer in the long term. On the other hand, committing to making sex a regular part of your relationship with your spouse-–even if one of you isn’t always in the mood will likely strengthen your bond with one another.

God's design

Genesis 2:24 tells us that,"a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." In their coming together a lasting bond is forged. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “whenever a man lies with a woman…a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured." Sex is powerful! When we treat sex merely as something we do with our physical selves, neglecting the impact that it has on our whole selves, we run a great risk of hurting ourselves or the one we’re with. But when practiced in the context of a covenant-commitment, sex has the power to change your relationship by drawing you closer to one another, and strengthening your commitment to each other.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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