The Sex Issue

the sex issue(Given the topic, I thought I’d do this post with Glen):

Recently, Glen was chatting to a guy with a serious girlfriend.  ‘Man,’ said the guy, ‘I’m really struggling with purity issues. I’ve got all these pent-up feelings and it’s hard holding off’. He took a sip of his pint, ‘Y’know?’

Glen did know.  And so did his wife.  But Glen asked a question:

“Do you think marriage will solve those problems?”

“Yes! Wait: you’re saying it won’t?”

This time it was Glen who took the long sip. “Listen… “

We often think singleness is about keeping the lid on a boiling pot of white-hot sexual desire. And marriage is the place for unbridled sexual expression.But wait, where’s that verse? Can’t seem to find it – possibly because it’s not actually there. Nonetheless it’s a view of sex, singleness and marriage that we had when we were engaged…

We did marriage prep, so figured we were prepared for everything. (Example: “have you had any struggles in the past that might be an issue?  Well honey, I was anorexic as a child, but I can’t see that being a problem now”). One week, we were asked to predict how often we thought we’d er – you know. Glen grinning, put down a number and folded the page.  ‘I dunno. If it’s too much we can tone it down.’ I scrolled mentally through a few episodes of Sex and the City and wrote mine.  We swapped; and I watched as Glen drained of colour.  My estimate was three times his, and (I now realise) technically impossible.

To me, thinking Christianly about sex meant this: Don’t! Till you’re married.  Then go for your life. For everything else I looked to Brad and Angelina, a confusing lesson in Home Ec and the singer Shaggy. Here’s how I expected it to work: Do the Christian thing: wait. Then settle in for the fireworks.

At uni, I  remember a friend explaining seriously how, ‘for guys if they don’t have sex, they get really sick’. At the time I laughed, but  it’s easy to think of our physical desires as this thing, that builds up unstoppably and then is finally unleashed when (phew) you’ve both got a ring on.  This is also what Glen’s Christian friend was expecting.  ‘My problem is with self-control’ he said. ‘Thank goodness I won’t have to worry about it when we’re married’.

Singleness=self-control.  Marriage=total indulgence. Apparently. Well, there’s a few issues here:

1.  It suggests that singleness is second-best (and physiologically inadvisable!)  But Jesus and Paul say the reverse (cf Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:25-28).

2. It implies that desire is just an issue for those outside marriage or facing same sex attraction. One of the inspirations for this post has been the bravery of those at who talk about their same-sex attraction. It’s courageous of them to speak about their sexuality and massively helpful. But it would be a pity if it was only those with same-sex attraction who were heard to have “struggles” with their desires. Let’s be real – whether you’re attracted to guys or girls, whether you’re married or single – everyone is called to bring their sexual desires under the Lordship of Jesus. Everyone has struggles.

3. Nobody gets to indulge their sexual desires on their own terms – that’s porn and it’s very different to sex. It takes two to tango. Therefore even the expression of sexual desire involves self-sacrifice.

Thinking Christianly about sex does not mean taking what we see on the screen and stuffing it into a box marked “Biblical Sex Ethic.” If we’re going going to see the way of Jesus as a way of freedom we all have to change our thinking – whatever our sexual attractions and whatever our marital state.

If sex was just a physical thing; like lemonade when you’re thirsty, there’d be no problem.  But it’s not. It’s  emotional nakedness that’s the most difficult. And if there are issues in any area of your life, they’ll show up in the bedroom.

At this point there can be a conspiracy of silence in the church. Few people talk about struggles in the bedroom. The default assumption is that everyone else is having Hollywood sex all the time, (in between Epic Bible studies and prayer).  In fact, many aren’t.

Meanwhile, the world says that sex is great until you get married and then it’s over.  But just like driving a car doesn’t come instantly, intimacy (including sex), can take time. If sex was about novelty and chemistry then of course it will decline as time goes on. But what if sex is about intimacy and a refreshment of the relationship? That kind of sex only begins when the fireworks have passed. But it takes time, sacrifice, extreme emotional nakedness and vulnerability. None of these things are “natural” or “easy”.

So in the wisdom of Salt n Pepa: perhaps we ought to talk about sex. If the LivingOut guys are brave enough to do it, shouldn’t we all? Maybe then we wouldn’t build up unrealistic expectations from the outside of marriage, nor feel burdened by them within it.

Maybe more marrieds should have pints with unmarrieds. And maybe more couples should talk to trusted other couples in church. I’m not suggesting we make an announcement at the prayer gathering. But I’m thinking God made sex and He’s probably seen one or two naked bodies.  Together we can handle these kinds of conversations. Because if we don’t speak the gospel to each other in this area, the world will fill the gaps.


13 thoughts on “The Sex Issue

  1. The problem with marrieds talking to singles about sex (or anything) is that the marrieds can tend to sound smug even if they’re not meaning to be, and the singles would never believe that actually having someone there when they go to bed at night won’t be the best thing in the world. ‘Sure, we’ll have problems, but we’ll have each other.’ And they’re right. The benefits definitely outweigh the cons.
    Hmm… love uh… smug married?
    (Sorry! Can’t seem to get that bit right!)

  2. Yes, smug married helps no-one! But neither does sealing ourselves off from one another and there is an assumption that marriage is bliss, which is rarely the case.

    1 Cor 7 talks about it in terms of the grass being greener. Unmarried folks want to be married, whilst married folks wish they were single; circumcised people want to be uncircumcised and vice-versa. Of course marriage is a blessing; but it’s as fallen as every other area and being more open means it’s not idolised as something it’s not.

    I guess I’m thinking here of how I relate to someone with kids. If someone says to me: ‘You’re lucky not to have them: you can have mine”, that’s unhelpful. However, that’s very different to talking honestly to friends who are mums and are real about their struggles. This reminds me that having a baby will not solve everything that’s sad in my life and whilst it doesn’t take away the sadness, it means I’m not a slave to it either.

  3. I agree that, on aggregate, married life is better than the single life. In my experience. But we shouldn’t pretend that is the case for every married believer. What is more, the idea of aggregating scores hides a couple of really important principles. First, I think married life often brings bigger peaks and troughs. Second, I think the ups and downs are more frequent because of proximity to the people in your family. As a single I could shut the world out. Now I still have to talk to my wife and kids even when THEY are the cause of my pain. Thirdly, I think the very same things that are best about being married, and cause the greatest joys and peaks, they are the same things that cause the troughs. On balance, today, being married is definitely better. But I wouldn’t always say that; I’m not sure most of us could in the long term.

    What marrieds and singles can do in being honest with each other is how that the grass isn’t greener on the other side for either of us. We can minister to each other in te troughs and celebrate together in the peaks. We can remind each other that embracing God’s will for you today will help you be single or married. And it is great to be reminded that God’s plan for us is sanctification and Christlikeness (which Infond marriage helps with because it shows me up to be a terrible sinner) not my ease or comfort.

  4. Two years ago my husband declared that he had lost his sex drive and would let me know when/if it came back. The subject is now closed. I have no chance of expressing my sexuality again and yet I just live in the same house and sleep in the same bed as someone to whom I am very attracted. It makes me feel ugly and disgusting and embarrassed to be alive to be honest so I would disagree that marriage is better… least when you’re single you don’t have to sleep with the object of your desire!

  5. Hi Ash, if it’s about “better or worse” in the abstract, it’s hard to get around Jesus’ teaching in Matt 19. If you can be unmarried, that’s better. But none of us live in the abstract, we all just find ourselves in certain states. I think the heart of 1 Corinthians 7 is to find contentment in the place where you are. Every state is an opportunity for Christlikeness, as you say.

  6. Hi Wendy, thank you for being so honest. Sometimes marriage can be very lonely – we’ve known that too. But the Lord can work even when it seems hopeless. Praying you’ll know His comfort at this time.

  7. Thanks! I’m past caring now and wear my feelings on my sleeve! One disturbing teaching I have come across when searching for help on this subject is the belief that divorce is applicable in this instance – the thinking is that the marriage covenant is being broken and that there is no marriage without sex. A mainstream board in Amaerica (the marriage bed) seem to support this view. I do find it disturbing as, if this was my problem, whilst I would hope I’d be a bit more accommodating and talkative than my husband is being I wouldn’t want the pressure to perform which comes with that kind of thinking…..

  8. Em, you are quite right. My point was more that even experientially it is hard to argue that marriage is better than singleness. I would say that the downs of Wendy’s situation (thank you for sharing) perfectly illustrate my point. God works for our good. But that rarely means an easy time for very long, whatever our marital situation.

  9. Thanks Emma. As a single person, this is helpful – it’s too easy to have unrealistic expectations which lead to unsatisfied dreams and resenting the Lord. More realistic conversations about the challenges of marriage with a couple of friends reminds me that both life situations have their different testing points. And I hear that God knows what he’s doing, loves us and is in control of the circumstances he places us in… (of which I need to remind myself and believe it more and more!)

  10. Wendy,
    I don’t pretend to know the particulars of your situation, but I can speak from my own experiences.
    Men’s sex drives (or women’s for that matter) do not just dry up for no reason. Loss of sex drive and impotency is a sign of sex addiction, even among very young men in their early twenties. In my case I was an intimacy anorexic as a result of a lifelong porn addiction that started in childhood long before I even met my wife. I did not just “lose” my sex drive, it was warped and used up elsewhere for my personal gratification. Sex had become an activity for my own risk/hassle free enjoyment.
    Mutual sex with my wife represented risk and a chance for failure. In order to have sex with my wife I had to be vulnerable. So, out of cowardice I often avoided her. Not because she was scary, “ugly” or “disgusting” but because I was selfish and couldn’t bear to share myself.
    Also, because of porn, sex was dirty and my own sexuality became something shameful. I isolated this act from the “clean and tidy” version of myself which I brought home to my wife and kids. As my addiction worsened it became more difficult for the “clean” version of me to be sexual.

    I do not mean to imply this is for sure the problem your husband is having, but it is so very prevalent today that the question is no longer “do you have a problem with porn?”, but “what are you doing about the problem of porn?”

    I mention this because I know what my indifference has done to my wife’s view of herself, and I can imagine what you must be thinking in your situation. Please understand whatever the problem is… IT’S NOT YOU, AND HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR DESIRABILITY AS A WOMAN.

  11. No marriage in heaven…doesn’t this prove anything? Ha ha.
    Actually, I am very grateful for my husband. Even though he has been the means of the most intense pain and suffering I have ever experienced, I still say thank you. He has humiliated me and exposed me as a prideful sinner in a way that no one else could have done. He called my bluff and put my willingness to forgive and to love my enemy to the ultimate test. He has forced me to learn the meaning of “long-suffering” in ways I never dreamed when I promised for better or worse so long ago. Not many greeting cards to express this kind of appreciation…
    But there is still sex.
    When I say sex, I do mean the sex-as-God-intended kind. Not sex as the perverse spectator sport of pornography and voyeurism, or the forced participation of a child or unwilling partner, or the soulless and arbitrary mating rituals of the “higher evolved” mammals, but sex as the outward manifestation of that mystical covenant weaving of two into one that Paul refers to as a great mystery.
    Married sex is ridiculous and impossible and dangerous and beautiful. Often times it is easier to avoid it all together, and simply kill our deep desire to know and be known by another. Sour grapes, who wants to miss so much sleep anyway…
    But, if we are willing to humble ourselves and admit we are beggarly fools, we find the marriage bed turns out to be God’s own operating room! Two sinful idiots make themselves vulnerable, and enter into a place where a supernatural healing becomes available to them. Like any surgery there will be both cutting away and stitching together, and it will be tender as we get used to our new condition, but our surgeon knows what he is doing and wastes nothing , not even decades of pain and misery.

    I am still pro-marriage, and yet I am terribly honest with the un-marrieds. Our sad little marriage, (shiny on the outside, rotting at the core) has actually been an encouragement to other couples because we reflect so many others and yet are “struggling forward”. Our troubles have also helped single and separated people feel not-so-bad about their own lives! Transparency is vital, but can feel so…horrible.

  12. Sex is great, there I’ve said it, and to me it is, but it’s not everything. I agree it’s way more than lemonade, it is an emotional nekedness that I think most married couples struggle to find sometimes. I’ve struggled to find that level of intimacy in my marriage at times. There have been instances in our marriage where this kind of intimacy has not been possible, and for a very long periods of time. But also, it has been necessary that sex has not been such a big deal and it’s taught me a lot. I’ve found that intimacy on that kind of level can also be found in other places. My wife is the very last person I see when I go to sleep, sometimes it might be just the back of her head! but there are times when I can look at her sleeping face for as long as I can before I drift off. Then to wake up and find that she is the first person I see in the beginning of a very long and busy day, to me is just as intimate as sex. It’s a privilege and in todays world we often loose the simple, yet important things that can make such a difference. In my head, and it’s not the best at working things out, intimacy can be found in all kinds of things outside sex, love can be all consuming, yearning, and be expressed and experienced in so many ways.

  13. Yes, sex can be great (and I think it’s important that we don’t downplay its significance). But intimacy can be found in many, many other ways.

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