God created us with a desire to know and be known.
by Todd Frye and Brent Moore
The dreaded “sex talk”— a right of passage for every person who dares to embark on the journey of parenting. I remember when my wife and I entered into this awkward exchange of adult realities matched with our child’s innocent view of the world. We pulled together our best material, which mostly emphasized body parts and how they worked together to make a baby. Our final words to our son were, “If you have any questions, please ask.”
Well, it wasn’t but 15 minutes later my son innocently turned to me and said, “How often do people do this?”
I was prepared. The week prior, I had just completed a lengthy sex therapy lecture and the national statistics were on the tip of my tongue.
“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.” –Todd Frye
In a world where pornography produces more income than all professional sports combined and takes up 80 to 90 percent of Internet traffic, the Christian ideal of sex fades into the background as uptight, ignorant, and irrelevant. Since our culture has elevated sex to a “god-like” status, marketers use it to sell everything from lipstick to hamburgers and plumbing.
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 every individual. We as Christians need to highlight, believe in, and communicate an even greater story in which sex has a balanced function, one designed by the Creator Himself.
Sex for pleasure
So where do we begin? Many sex researchers point to three primary functions of sex: sex for pleasure, sex for procreation, and sex for connection. Our 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 skewed 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.
Sex for procreation
So what about sex for procreation and sex for connection? It’s not that our story is void of pleasure; pleasure is but 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 might not like to think about it, our mere existence would not be possible without the sexual union of our parents, and their parents and their parents’ 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 cosmos.
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.
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 the desire for it. Others may recognize it fully but act on it out of context, 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.
Human beings need protection, comfort, and acceptance from the time of conception until their final breath in order to thrive. These variables may look differently 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 is designed to merely add to an already established sense of protection, comfort, and acceptance within a relationship. 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. With all of the aforementioned 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.
Sex in its proper place
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 means in which we experience physical intimacy in light of all the 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 underdeveloped. 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.
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.