That's What She Said.
Site news: I will be in Chicago from Wednesday to Saturday of this week, so I likely will not be updating for the rest of this week. I apologize for the silence of the past weekend and the coming week - there's been a lot going on and hopefully I will be able to make announcements about some of it very soon.
Until then, let's talk about SEX.
Sexual maturity sufficient to marry and fulfill God's purposes.
Even as the society celebrates sex in every form and at every age, the true Christian man practices sexual integrity, avoiding pornography, fornication, all forms of sexual promiscuity and corruption. He understands the danger of lust, but rejoices in the sexual capacity and reproductive power God has put within him, committing himself to find a wife, and to earn her love, trust and admiration — and eventually to win her hand in marriage.
It's critical that men respect this incredible gift, and to protect this gift until, within the context of holy marriage, they are able to fulfill this gift, love their wives, and look to God's gift of children. Male sexuality separated from the context and integrity of marriage is an explosive and dangerous reality. The boy must understand, even as he travels through the road of puberty and an awakened sexuality, that he is accountable to God for his stewardship of this great gift.
God, I love euphemisms for sex, don’t you? “This gift.” “Explosive and dangerous reality” (beautiful, if unintentional, pun). I think anyone who thinks Christians aren’t creative really needs to examine the metaphors for talking around the subject of sex and intercourse. I mean, we might as well be talking about “hiding the salami” – we get so creative when we’re discussing things we’re super uncomfortable talking about. This is actually kind of sad, when you think about it, because the church shouldn’t be uncomfortable discussing something that almost everyone will experience.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Mohler’s piece here (aside from the oddly phrased “find a wife…and eventually win her hand in marriage” [if she’s your wife wouldn’t that mean you’re married?]) is about the dangers of (dun dun dun!) PROMISCUITY and THE SEXY TIMES.
I’d like you to notice a couple of things here. First, there is no mention of sex being mutually pleasing to both husband and wife. The wife’s sexuality might as well not exist in this picture – as Mohler paints it, she is a passive being to be won over by the man, and eventually meant to be the carrier for his children. The man “loves” her, sure, but there is no discussion of her returning that love or of sex being a mutual beneficial experience. That's kind of messed up, but then again, the church doesn’t have the best track record on allowing women to enjoy sex – if you do, you might be a slut, and everyone knows how awful sluts are! (that’s sarcasm, for the record. My discussion of “sluts” has occurred here on the blog already).
Second, as he’s already pretty well established in his discussion of family, sex isn’t for fun – it’s “serious business” for “God’s gift of children.” This strikes me as a little sad because if/when I get married, I’m not going to have sex to have kids. I’m just not. Sex is a time for two partners to commit themselves fully and totally in an act of love. It is a big deal, but it not just for procreation. Phrasing discussion of sexuality in any other way (even incidentally, saying that sexual maturity eventually leads to children) says to those who are unable to have kids or who, like me, wish to remain childfree, that they are unable to develop a full and complete sexual maturity apart from procreation, which is just bunk.
Now, as many of my more feminist readers will point out, Christianity and the feminist view of sex often clash and are in conflict. The feminist, being about letting a person be him or her self and developing their choices on their own, is okay with sex – “sex-positive” is the vernacular – whether or not it happens within a marriage. The prototypical Christian, quite obviously, states, as Mohler above, that sex needs to wait until marriage and with the right person.
That said, I don’t think the Christian view is very realistic in this respect, and certainly becomes untenable when it erases female sexuality altogether, as Mohler has done (not to mention erases homosexuality, but that’s a big thorny issue I’m not getting into today). The thing is: There exists very little healthy dialogue about sex in the church and as a result, there is a lot of misinformation and shame and guilt that comes with any sexual experience.
When I was in high school, I attended a church camp out in the Black Hills, and every summer, we’d have the “sex talk,” which usually consisted of telling us to wait until marriage and that if we had sex, we’d be a dirty lollipop and no one wants a dirty lollipop. I remember one particular summer when one of the youth pastors gave his testimony concerning sex before marriage: he had sex with his fiancée a couple of months before their wedding and even so many years later, he still felt guilty about it.
Even then, in my little conservative, Christian, sex-negative bubble, I thought, “Wow, that’s messed up.”
And it is. Rather than spending our time convincing teenagers (and especially teenage girls) that they are dirty and ruined forever if they have the sexy times, even if it’s in a committed, loving relationship and they are doing so safely, we function on the basis of guilt and shame and ostracize people for making mistakes or for doing what almost everyone views as the culmination of a loving relationship at the wrong time, as though saying “I do” in front of friends and families suddenly makes it all okay.
I’ve heard tale after tale from married Christian women who had a lot of trouble in their first few years of marriage getting used to the whole sex thing. It was very hard for them to turn off the idea that “sex is dirty,” even though they were doing it in the “pure” fashion of the Christian church. Rather than the message that “sex is a beautiful thing but a serious decision and should not be taken lightly,” what we get instead is “no no no no no no, oh you’re married, okay then, go for it.” Rather than teaching how to have a healthy sexuality and how to make good decisions about one’s sex life, the Church shames, erases, and guilts people in order to keep them “pure” until marriage, which usually translates to anything but penis-in-vagina sex.
Let it be known from here on out: the marriage bed does not make sex pure. The attitude and focus of the people participating in the act are what makes it holy. It is possible for a man to rape his wife. It is possible for the marriage bed to be defiled, not by sex before marriage, but through a broken relationship between the partners. Marriage is not this cleansing shower that purifies things, though it is likely a better environment in which purifying and growing in sexuality together may occur.
I would contend, again, that a healthy sexuality is not restricted to just men, and men are NOT in charge of their wife’s sexuality – to do so puts far too much control in the hands of the man in the relationship. To be honest, Mohler’s image of a man is sounding scarier and scarier by the day. Sexuality is a conversation between equal partners for the benefit of both and as a way to express their love. It is not suddenly purified by a marriage relationship, but rather likely best brought to fruition in a loving, committed equal partnership, whether or not that includes a marriage license (and I recognize that this is likely my most controversial statement I will make this week).
What matters in bed is not the public declaration of love and fidelity. What matters is not sexing it up because you want to have kids.
What matters, instead (and I would contend most importantly) is whether or not you are committed to a loving relationship with your partner and to honoring them through the experience because you love them and you want to, not because you should or because that’s just what you’ve been told to do. No one can tell you and your partner how to have healthy sexual experiences; only you and your partner can decide where you go on that issue. Let’s stop viewing marriage as a whitewash for all sexual sins and instead start developing a holistic, grace-filled, merciful view of sexuality that honors loving commitment rather than a piece of paper and a ceremony.