God created us with a desire to know and be known.
The dreaded “sex talk.” I think this is a right of passage for every person who dares to embark on the journey of parenting. It wasn’t long ago that my wife and I entered into this awkward exchange of adult realities matched with our child’s innocent view of the world. Determined to beat his school to the punch, we pulled together our best material, which mostly emphasized body parts and how they worked together to make a baby. Though awkward and filled with many moments of silence, my wife and I felt like we had done a decent job. Our final words to him were, “If you have any questions, please ask.”
It wasn’t but 15 minutes later my son innocently turned to me and said, “How often do people do this?” Fortunately, I was prepared. You see, the week prior, I had just completed a lengthy sex therapy lecture and the national statistics were on the tip of my tongue. So with strong conviction in the accuracy of what I was about to share, I turned to him and said, “Well son, the national average is two times a week.” I could see the puzzled look on his face as he responded with, “Wow dad, why would people do it that often? It sure seems like a lot of work.” What an innocent statement from a child who has been protected but would soon enter into this sexually saturated culture, never again to have this question leave his lips.
For most, sex has taken a place of priority in our culture that has elevated it to a “god-like” status. How could this be? How could someone shatter their entire family or Christian witness for the pursuit of sexual pleasure? At face value, sex promises a fleeting moment of physical pleasure, yet our society has created a story about sex that has captured the attention of many individuals.
Marketers use sexual suggestion to sell lipstick, hamburgers, and even household products. In a world where pornography produces more income than all professional sports combined, while also demanding 80-90 percent of Internet traffic, our Christian ideals fade in the background as being conservative, ignorant, and irrelevant. The focus of this article is to highlight a greater story in which sex can exist, providing Christians a richer narrative that far exceeds that of our culture.
When we think about a better story, where do we begin? Many sex researchers point to three primary functions of sex: sex for pleasure, sex for procreation, and sex for connection. Culture has taken sex for pleasure and made it primary. Wow, this sounds familiar. We don’t have to go far in Scripture to find this same promise in a piece of fruit. The appeal of sex for pleasure and power is so captivating that we can easily take a bite without realizing we will inevitably lose the rest of God’s creation.
The consequences of sex for pleasure eventually hits everyone resulting in greater isolation, loneliness, and shame. The intensity of this shame and the inability to truly hide draws us back to sex, and like the fig leaf, we temporarily cover up the pain. The dance begins in which sex is both the fruit and the fig leaf, gaining momentum as the cycle unfolds. Sex for pleasure leads to shame, and shame leads to cover up with more sex. This type of momentum blinds us to our own reality, resulting in a numbed out, sexually saturated culture.
Embrace the story for which you were created.
What about sex for procreation and sex for connection?
It’s not that our story is void of pleasure but it becomes a piece and not the whole. The story of sex begins with procreation in mind. Intercourse is intimately tied with our very being. It is the source of life itself. Though many of us do not like to think about it, our mere existence would not be possible without the sexual union of our parents and their parents. God chose the act of sex to birth into this world His creation. This is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.
When a man joins a woman in intercourse, two become one and then three, just as the Trinity is three. Sex becomes the mutual giving and receiving of love to create another. In this, sex points to the image of God that is revealed in us. He is creator and uses sex as a means in which to create. Love, being a part of God’s nature, desires to expand toward greater communion. Sex, as a pro-creation, provides the avenue in which God can so generously create greater communion with humanity.
So what about sex for connection? The power of connection is so incredibly strong that people will go to great lengths to fulfill the need. Some will strive to meet this longing by using sex without even recognizing it. Others may recognize it fully, even to the extent of visiting websites that cater to assisting married individuals to be unfaithful to their spouses. Understanding why people are drawn to connection adds depth to our better story about sex.
Wholehearted connection, the kind that we hope to get within marriage, offers protection, comfort, and acceptance. Ironically, human beings need protection, comfort, and acceptance from the time of conception until their final breath in order to thrive. These variables may look different depending on one’s stage of life. From parents or caregivers to spouses, offering connection is a necessary component for an individual’s feeling of security.
Without security one might cling, protest, or search elsewhere for security. Teenagers and adults who use sex to create a foundation for security fall short because sex merely adds to the sense of protection, comfort, and acceptance when they are already established within a relationship.
Healthy sexuality leads to healthy intimacy.
Healthy sexuality shows up when two individuals are securely connected within the bond of marriage. Partners are sensitive and responsive to each other’s needs. Intimacy is necessary for connection, and is multifaceted and layered. Intimacy is multifaceted because varied domains exist: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. It is layered because the degree of intimacy changes depending upon the nature of the relationship.
Knowledge about the level of intimacy between couples in counseling is important to gauge. Given the depth and breadth of intimacy it is fascinating that many people’s reflex is to begin talking about sex when asked about intimacy. With all of the previously mentioned types of intimacy, which is not an exhaustive list, one might expect a dynamic and expansive conversation to ensue. Instead couples often look at each other, maybe blush, and trudge with trepidation into a timeline of their sexual history as a couple. This is why we also need a better story about intimacy.?
Perhaps healthy sexuality has much to do with healthy intimacy. Without the latter we cannot have the former. In fact, by prioritizing other forms of intimacy we put sex in its proper place. Sex simply becomes one of the means in which we experience physical intimacy in light of all the ways to connect (intimacies). The truth is that sex is very inconsistent and susceptible to aging, life stress, and overall life development. When healthy intimacy is in place then we are less susceptible to disconnection during times in which sex is not present.
So, when sex becomes the primary form of connection the other intimacies go under-developed. We tell teenagers that when sex is experienced before marriage it can easily consume the relationship in the same way society consumes it. This results in poor development of the other intimacies. This is seen in our culture as many struggle to engage each other in vulnerable and meaningful ways. With sex being embedded in physical intimacy, it can only be experienced in a healthy way, as it exists within all intimacies. This is part of the better story.
A world of constant stimulation exists.
In a world saturated with constant stimulation and a relentless emphasis on pleasure, we have to pause and reconsider how all forms of intimacy fit within the framework of our relationships. The rapid pace of life competes for our attention and interpersonal connection can suffer. Intimacy suffers. Low hanging fruits, related to relational distractors, are abundant and tempting for us.
They offer quick fixes to a deeper longing that resides within all of us—connection. Since low hanging fruit is either void of other forms of intimacy, or outside of God’s plan for our lives, it is and always will be unfulfilling.
Start your better story. Consider God’s gift of sex as a means for greater communion with us, and how sex can be best understood within the context of creation, connection and intimacy. Just remember the desire to feel connected: to know and be known. Ditch the fruit and fig leaves and embrace the story for which you were created. This is a story that can be shared as a part of every sex talk, one that reminds us of a God who has a purpose for what He created. By honoring Him, we do have a better story.
Todd Frye is dean of behavioral sciences and counseling at MidAmerica Nazarene University.
Brent Moore is assistant professor of counselor education at MidAmerica Nazarene University.