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Sexual Detox III: A Theology of Sex

This is the third article in a series targeted specifically at young men but applying, I am learning, to all of us. So far I have written about Pornifying the Marriage Bed and about Breaking Free.

Sexual Detox 2

What did God create first: hunger or food? Did God make man hungry and then invent food to fill the need? Or did God first invent food and then give man an appetite which would motivate him, drive him, to pursue that good gift? Where you or I might invent a need before the ability to meet it, God sees the end before the beginning. He creates good gifts and only then does he create a need for them; he does not create a need for which there is no fulfillment. My topic today is sex and I want to offer a brief theology of sex and of sexual desire. I want to help you see why God created sex, why he created sexual desire, and why he has given sexual desire in unequal measure.

Sex
God gives us sex because it has unique power in drawing a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband. He knows this because he is the one who invented it! He made it so that it is far more than the sum of its parts. We could describe sex in terms of body parts and hormones, but we would not be any closer to understanding it than if we were to describe a cake only in terms of its ingredients—flour and milk and eggs (or if we were to describe the Lord’s Supper making reference only to eating bread and drinking wine). Sex goes far beyond merely the physical and instead extends to the emotional, the spiritual. It is through sexual union that two are made one, that they are bound together; there is a mystery to it that can only really be compared in impact to the union of God’s people to God as they are grafted into him.

God gave us something remarkably powerful and was wise to place strict boundaries on it. He has every right to do so because he is the one who has created sex and who has given it its function. Sex, then, is to be shared only between a husband and a wife, and cannot be extended to others either before marriage or during marriage (Matthew 5:27,28). Sex must not be stirred up or awakened until the time is right (Song of Solomon 8:4). Sex is to be practiced regularly throughout a marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Such boundaries are not intended to inhibit freedom but to enhance freedom. When we use the gift as God intends it, we gain great joy and freedom in it. When we abuse the gift, we ultimately suffer for such abuse.

The purpose of sex, then, is to provide a unique means through which a husband and wife can know one another, serve one another, express vulnerability before one another, give and receive. No other area in marriage offers so much to gain and so much to lose. No other area in marriage so closely grafts the couple together. And no message could be further from what is shown in pornography!

Many theologians have attempted to get at the deepest meaning of sex. “Sex is a picture, a metaphor, to point us to the joys of heaven,” they might say. And perhaps this is so. But I don’t find that the Bible tells us this clearly. Neither am I convinced that we need to find some deeper meaning in sex in order to affirm its goodness. Sex is inherently good because it was created by a good God. We do not need to construct a complex theology around it as if it is only good in some kind of secondary sense. It is perfectly good in and of itself. Even if its ultimate meaning is no deeper than pleasure and mutual fulfillment, it is good because God is good. He could easily have decreed that sex be an integral part of every marriage and then made it inherently unpleasurable. He did not. Instead he made sex almost transcendent in its pleasure. At its best, sex really transcends most of life’s other pleasures in its uniqueness, in its joy, in its freedom and vulnerability. And in these things, sex draws a husband and wife together in a completely unique and unparalleled way.

When you understand this you must also understand why sex is meant to be enjoyed only between a husband and wife. You understand why God forbids pre-marital sex (fornication), why he forbids extra-marital sex (adultery) and why he even forbids selfish sex (masturbation). All these things make a mockery of the real thing. All these things abuse his good gift.

Desire
Along with sex, God created sexual desire. As a young man I, like so many others, battled with the inability to express my awakening sexual desire and even remember crying out to God to ask why he would give it to me. So often sexual desire is a heavy burden. The answer to my questions came only later.

There are some who say that sexual desire is meant only to motivate procreation—that the desire to have sex will draw a husband and wife together with the happy and ultimate result of conception. Here C.S. Lewis applies a helpful corrective (in Mere Christianity). He affirms that the biological purpose of sex is procreation (and let’s not lose sight of this important purpose to sex) but draws a helpful parallel to the appetite for food. The biological purpose of eating is to repair the body and though some people are given to overindulgence, we find that the appetite goes only a little way beyond its biological purpose. A man may eat twice as much food as his body needs for its biological purpose, but few will eat even that much. When it comes to sex, though, the appetite far exceeds its biological purpose. If the sexual appetite matched its biological function either a person would only desire sex a few times in a lifetime or he would have thousands of children. Does this not teach us that God desires that we have sex for reasons beyond procreation? The only other alternative is that this appetite is a product of sin and ought to be suppressed. But no, this cannot be. The Bible is clear that legitimate sexual desire, desire within a marriage and a desire for one’s spouse, is legitimate before God.

God gives a man sexual desire, a sexual appetite, because he wants him to have sex with his wife. Can’t it be just that simple? And what’s more, he gives him a strong appetite that surpasses any kind of biological purpose because he wants the couple to have sex a lot. After all, the only admonition in Scripture regarding the frequency of married sex is to permit a brief pause with a defined end and even then only for the specific reason of dedicating time to prayer (see again 1 Corinthians 7) and still even then only if it is mutually agreed upon. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that a wife’s body belongs to her husband—that he has authority over her body—and a husband’s body belongs to his wife—she has authority over his body. The ruling principle is that husbands and wives are to have sex often and not to refuse one another this special gift.

Sex is such an integral part of the relationship of husband to wife and wife to husband that God has given the desire to participate in it, to enjoy it. This sexual desire motivates a man to pursue a wife and to marry her so together they can enjoy sex. This desire motivates a man to keep pursuing his wife even after they are married. Without this desire, this appetite, it would be far easier for us to avoid carrying out our God-given duty to have sex (and lots of it) and through it to experience intimacy and unity (and lots of it). So God gives the desire that is meant to be fulfilled in only that way. If we did not experience pangs of hunger we might not eat. If we stopped eating, our bodies would stop repairing themselves and we would die. If we did not experience sexual desire we might not have sex. And if we stopped having sex, our marriages would suffer and die. Sexual desire, then, is a gift of God given not to torment but to motivate obedience. When a young man inevitably feels sexual desire it is not an invitation to pornography and masturbation, but a nudge toward marriage.

Unequal Desire
Yet sexual desire, the appetite for sex, is not given in equal measure. It is typically given in greater part to men. Why is this? The answer, I’m convinced, goes right to the heart of the husband-wife relationship. God commands that men, husbands, be leaders. Men are to take the leading role while women are to follow. God intends that men take leadership even in sex and, therefore, he gives to men a greater desire for it. This way men can lead their wives, taking the initiative, taking care to love their wives in such a way that they wish to have sex with their husbands. Generally speaking, a man finds intimacy and acceptance through sex while a woman needs to first experience intimacy and acceptance before she can be prepared to enjoy sex. And so God gives the man a sexual appetite so he can in turn provide for his wife’s needs before she provides for his. His sexual appetite cannot be separated from his leadership. If the woman were to lead in this regard, if she were to always be the sexual instigator, the husband would be far less likely to pursue his wife and seek to meet her unique needs. Do you see the beautiful dance here? The husband has a desire that only his wife can meet, a desire for his wife; therefore, he takes the lead in seeking to fulfill that desire. He does this by meeting the desires of his wife that will, in turn, cause her to see and appreciate and eventually fulfill his desires. And then, in that act of consummation, God grants a grace that surpasses the mere union of flesh and blood.

As the husband leads, the wife is called by God to submit to her husband’s leadership even in the marriage bed. As in other areas of life, she is called to defy leadership only if her husband demands of her something that would violate her conscience or God’s law. We can see this as a responsibility of the wife but we must also see it as a particular responsibility of the husband. He is to lead in such a way that his wife will have no reason to refuse him. He must be sensitive to her needs, to her desires. He must acknowledge the times where, for one reason or another, she would find it exceedingly difficult to give herself to him and must keep from cajoling her into acts that would make her uncomfortable or leave her feeling violated. He needs to exemplify leadership as a servant even here in the bedroom. His first thoughts must be for her. A husband may tend towards being either a bully or a push-over in the bedroom—to abuse leadership by domination or abdication. He must do neither.

If Adam and Eve enjoyed sex before their fall into sin (I’m under the impression that the Fall happened soon after Creation but that there was some time between the two events; therefore, they must have enjoyed perfect sex for a while.) there must not have been an occasion where Eve refused Adam because there was never a time when he was not thinking first of her. What reason would she have to refuse? But after they sinned, when Adam stopped thinking first of Eve and when she began to rebel against his leadership, this is when sex became a struggle. And it remains a struggle today. I know that most husbands and wives will testify that they have had more fights and arguments about sex than about anything else. The most special means of grace to a husband and wife has become the greatest cause of strife. And this is exactly as Satan intends it. Satan hates any kind of pleasure but will still use it for his ends. His plan is that people should have as much sex outside of the marriage relationship and as little within the marriage relationship as is possible. His plan is to mask, to hide, the true purpose of sex behind the pleasure it brings simply as a physical act. It is a clever plan and one that has been proven effective time and time again.

Do you see how pornography distorts all of this? Pornography makes a mockery of the purposes of sex, sexual desire and unequal sexual desire. Where God says the purpose of sex is to build unity between a husband and a wife, pornography says it is about fulfilling any perceived need with any partner, willing or unwilling. Where sexual desire is good, given to cause a husband to pursue his wife (and a wife her husband) pornography says it cannot and should not be controlled. All of the messages of pornography go directly against God’s purposes.

We may not understand exactly what sex does within a marriage, but we can trust that God has his reasons for inventing it and commanding it. Sex is a call for a husband to pursue his wife and to lead her, as a servant, into a deeper understanding and appreciation of this gift. It is a call for a wife to serve her husband, trusting him and trusting that God’s gifts, when used as he intends them, always bring good.

OK, so to this point in the series I’ve challenged young men to see that their whole perception of sex may be tainted by their use of pornography and now I’ve attempted to give just a glimpse of God’s purpose for sex. Tomorrow I will talk about “normal” sex. In the meantime, do feel free to continue contacting me if you have questions or concerns you’d like me to address. You are free to contact me anonymously.

Read Part IV.