Culture is a subtle, yet highly effective teacher. The music we hear, the movies we watch, the podcasts we play, and the voices that speak into our lives shape how we think about a whole host of things: success, happiness, relationships, and sex. Unfortunately, our culture, and sometimes the church, often present a distorted view of sex that leaves us enslaved to lies with painful and frustrating consequences. The good news is that God’s word assures us that the truth frees us to enjoy sex as God intended. Let’s look at two lies that our culture tells us about sex, and how God’s word sets us free. In another article, we’ll look at the ways that the church gets sex wrong, and how to be freed from these distortions.
In the opening scene of the movie “American Pie,” two teenagers are walking down the hallway of their high school, discussing what they had been doing over the weekend. After describing all the fun they’d had, one girl shrugs to the other, “It’s not that big of a deal; it’s just sex.” Our culture works overtime to convince us that sex is just an appetite, like hunger or thirst. The easy availability of pornography suggests that sex is a cheap performance, meant for others to enjoy. Media, from magazine covers, to TV, to movies, teach us that sex is largely recreational. Hook-ups and cohabitation has become the new norm, suggesting that sex need not be connected to a covenant that we make with our spouse.
Approaching sex merely as a recreational activity promises the freedom of sexual enjoyment without consequence or the hard work of commitment. Unfortunately, the reality is different. Paul reminds believers that sexual behavior involves the most personal part of our being (1 Corinthians 7). Whether we admit it or not, sex creates a profound unity between ourselves and another that we cannot escape. C.S. Lewis wrote, “when two people have sex, an eternal bond is established that must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.” God designed sex to be a sacred and transcendent act that joins us, body and soul, to another person. Violating this principle invites pain into our lives. Pornography undermines sexual satisfaction and marital happiness. Casual sex with multiple partners can be a cause for relational insecurity, anxiety, and depression. Cohabiting couples lacking the commitment inherent in marriage can decline to remain together long-term.
The Christian view of sex elevates the goodness and the meaning of sex in a way that offers us greater satisfaction. Christianity says that sex is a way of confirming the covenant that two people have made. Every time a couple has sex, they are saying to one another, “Just as I pledged myself to you when I made my vows, I give my whole self over to you.” When the marriage is strong and vibrant, and even when it is under stress, sexual intimacy reaffirms, again and again, the self-giving of each person, the commitment, the promise, that binds the relationship together. It’s not “just sex,” it’s something far more sacred, and worth fighting for.
Sometimes husbands assume that having sex means they are emotionally connected to their wives. And sometimes, wives conclude that her husband’s sexual desires are mainly about physical satisfaction. Tension ensues as he settles for sex without intimacy, and as she grows frustrated with his desire for sex and little else. He neglects her emotional needs, and shows little affection outside of the bedroom; she rolls her eyes at his advances, and grows impatient when his sex drive surpasses her interest. But when God created Adam and Eve to be “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25), he wove together intimacy in all areas of our being, so that sexual intimacy ultimately cannot be separated from connection in other areas of the relationship. Both men and women are created to enjoy whole-person intimacy.
Our longing for whole-person intimacy means that successful marriages look for ways to cultivate intimacy physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. All forms of intimacy are needed and work together. Wise couples will recognize how husbands and wives approach these aspects in different ways. Husbands might seek intimacy through sex; usually, husbands do not just desire sex, they desire sex with their wives. Sex is the way that a husband might feel connected to his wife. It creates a way for him to show affection and feel loved and accepted, in a way that opens the door to intimacy in other ways. For this reason, husbands shouldn’t settle for the intimacy that sex alone creates; they should see it as a means of connection that opens the door for closeness with their wife in other areas. And wise husbands will invest intentionally in emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy with equal vigor. Wives may well desire relational connection in these other areas in order to feel safe enough to be sexually vulnerable. The closeness that they experience in other areas of the relationship can be the lead-up to sharing themselves sexually with their husbands, so that the two of them delight in sex and intimacy together.
Sex is a gift God gives, that all people, Christian or not, can enjoy. Yet, our culture has a tendency to distort and twist around this good gift. In our desire to promote the goodness of sex, our culture ends up diminishing the value of sex. God’s design for sex is good. It’s not something that we settle for; it’s something we can fight for and delight in! Let’s not settle for the lesser version of sex embraced in our world. Let’s delight in the goodness of sex, freed from the lies of our culture.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra