As part of Northumbria CU’s mission week I gave a lunchtime talk: What kind of God interferes with my sex life? I made two points: God’s design for sex helps us to enjoy sex, and God’s design for sex helps us to enjoy God. Here’s the first of those points – the second will come tomorrow.
God’s design for sex helps us to enjoy sex. No doubt this claim comes as a surprise to many. Many people’s perception of God is that he’s anti-sex. Why else would he place so many restrictions on our enjoyment of sex? And, to be fair, Christians down the ages have sometimes contributed to this wrong idea. Sometimes, even today, Christians give the impression that God is against sex.
All of this, of course, seems to jar with society today, which is obsessed with sex. Some of you might remember the Bloundhood Gang’s song from a few years ago that included this line: “You and me, baby, aren’t nothing but mammals – so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” The Discovery Channel on television often portrays close-up detail of sex in the animal kingdom. And the song is tapping into that: we’re animals – and sex is just an animal act to be enjoyed.
The problem is that, whilst this sounds great at first, this perspective runs into a whole load of unexpected problems. Biologically speaking, the more we learn about human sexuality, the more we see that it differs from how animals do it. But there aren’t just biological differences either. There are social expectations placed on sex. Whilst animals generally mate in public, humans generally don’t. And unlike bulls or rams, which have sex with every receptive female within sniffing distance, some sort of consent is required between humans. And when none exists, we call that rape and say that it’s worthy of punishment. The sad truth is that one in seven British women confess that they have felt coerced into having sex. Try telling them that sex is just an animal act.
A scene from the film, A Beautiful Mind, shows the shortcomings of the idea that sex is just an animal act. The brilliant but socially inept mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, goes up to an attractive woman in a bar. And he says this to her: “Listen, I don’t have the words to say whatever it is that’s necessary to get you into bed, so can we just pretend I said those things and skip to the part where we exchange bodily fluids?” And Crowe’s character learns quickly – not least through the imprint of her palm on his face – that this sort of approach to sex doesn’t work very well as a pick-up line.
That scene shows our confusion about sexuality today. On the one hand, scientists insist that we are animals like any other animal, and that sex is a natural expression of that animal nature. We’re urged to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. But when people truly act out their animal natures, society frowns in disapproval. John Nash gets a slap for telling the truth. Yes, prostitution is legal in a few countries of the world, but no parents encourage their daughters down this career path. Films may glamourise adultery, but in real life unfaithfulness provokes pain sometimes strong enough to drive the wounded party to murder or jump off a bridge.
You may not believe in God. But for a moment, I want you to suspend your disbelief. The claim of the Bible is that God created out of nothing. He created humans. And he created humans to be sexual. The Bible’s teaching is that God is the inventor of sex. It was God that created sexual attraction, not to mention the soft parts, the moist parts and the millions of nerve cell endings, sensitive to pain yet also capable of producing great pleasure. The Bible is not a detailed manual on sex – but if God is the inventor of sex, then we can trust that he has a blueprint that is for our good.
The Bible teaches that sex is special. We can know that ourselves, of course, through a simple though experiment. Think of the biological purpose of sex. Sex is completely different from other biological functions that a person has – like eating, digestion, growth. For those biological functions to occur, you only need one body. But it takes two bodies to bring about the biological function of procreating. To be sexual is to be incomplete in yourself when it comes to procreation. Our biology cries out that we are not self-sufficient – we can’t make it happen by ourselves. In this, sex is completely unique. This is one of the things that makes sex special. In normal life, a man and a woman are completely separate organisms. But in sex, they become ones. Sex is a true merging of a man and a woman. We might say that they become a ‘one flesh unity’.
Some of you might know that that last phrase – ‘one flesh’ – is a Biblical phrase to describe the state of a couple that have sex. And the Bible teaches that it’s not just the body of a man and a woman that are united in sex. The Bible teaches that we are designed for wholeness. And so, in the act of sex, it’s as if the hearts and minds and spirits of a couple cooperate with their bodies. In sexual intercourse, a man and a woman are united not just in their bodily dimension, but in every dimension. And so the unity of a couple in sex is designed to be like the glue of their relationship, holding them together – admitting their need for each other, but also preparing them to be parents together. And this hope of children joins a couple together in solidarity with every past and future generation. And so here is a reason that God’s blueprint is for no sex outside of marriage. Sex is an incredibly powerful act.
And that makes sex the most wonderful and powerful physical language we have. It has more meaning than most people can imagine. As we satisfy someone very deeply, we say to that person: all of me, for all of you, always. And that’s why, even if condoms were 100% reliable, the Bible would still say that all sexual intimacy outside of marriage is wrong.
I remember once reading of a Christian university professor pressing a six-inch piece of duct tape onto a hairy man’s arm. He then unceremoniously ripped it off. The man gasped in pain as it was ripped off. Everyone else there laughed. And this happened again, five or six times. Each time, the tape became a little less sticky – until finally it fell off.
And here’s the point that the Christian university professor was seeking to make. He said, “Your sexuality is like that too. The first time you use it, you’re going to stick to whoever it touches. Sex can’t help sticking – that’s what it’s for. It’s why a person’s experience of losing their virginity is so powerful. But the image goes on: if you rip yourself loose from that person, then there’s going to be damage. Something in both of your hearts will tear. And not only that, but your sexuality is left less ‘sticky’ than it was beforehand. And if you pull your sexuality loose from one person after another, eventually it won’t stick any more. Sexual partners seem like strangers, you don’t feel any connection, and your capacity for intimacy is being slowly destroyed.
My wife and I decided not to have sex before we were married. I lost my virginity on my wedding night. And I’m so glad that we made that choice. It means that we’ve experienced the intimacy between two people that I believe God wanted when he designed the good gift of sex. And it also meant that I said to Linda, “I believe that you are worth waiting for.”
So God is not a kill-joy when it comes to sex. He created us with bodies to enjoy, and he created us as sexual beings. And as a good and kind God, he wants us to enjoy the gift of sex to its utmost. There’s a whole book of the Bible that celebrates the gift of sex. But you enjoy sex most not by having it with virtual partners through internet pornography, or with as many people as possible, or even experiencing it through serial monogamy. The Bible teaches us that sex is enjoyed to its utmost within the context of the promise of marriage. At a marriage ceremony, a couple essentially promise: “All of me, for all of you, always.” The language of sex echoes that promise and provides a context for the intimacy that helps us to keep that promise.
Keeping sex within marriage doesn’t guarantee better sexual gratification. God’s design, however, does create an environment of safety, intimacy and trust where sex can be rightly enjoyed. Marriage provides the security that we need to experience sex without restraint, and from free from guilt, danger and deceit. Many people today worry that they’ll miss out on something if they keep sex for marriage. Actually, God’s design is there to keep us from missing out. The promises made within a marriage set a boundary in which sex can run free.
God’s design for sex helps us to enjoy sex.