Are There Only Two Options?
Desire—eros, or erotic desire, to be more specific—kicked in pretty early in my life. I was often overwhelmed by a gnawing hunger and thirst I didn’t know how to handle. God bless my parents and my Catholic school teachers—they all tried—but people can’t give what they don’t have. No one had formed them in the true beauty and splendor of God’s plan for erotic desire, so they couldn’t form me. I was given the traditional biblical “rules” about sex, and my teachers did their best to instill a fear in me of breaking them, but I was never given the “why” behind the “what” of sexual morality.
Okay, those are the rules I shouldn’t break, but what the heck am I supposed to do with this crazy desire inside me? The basic message in the air was that sexual desire itself was “dirty” or “bad” and needed to be repressed or otherwise squelched. To put an image to the experience, it seemed the only thing my “Christian” upbringing had to offer me in my hunger was a starvation diet. Eventually the hunger became so intense that it trumped all fear of breaking the rules.
As I wrote in my book Fill These Hearts, “A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or…I’m gonna die…This is why the culture’s ‘fast-food gospel’—the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire—inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the ‘starvation diet gospel.’ Of course, it’s equally true that a person can eat the fast food for only so long before all the grease and sodium take their toll.
Once the pleasure of indulging wears off, bad food, I came to learn, is no less destructive than malnutrition. Were these the only two options for my hunger: death by starvation or death by food poisoning? Was there any “good food” to be had, food that could actually bring life to my aching soul? I wanted answers. I needed answers! If God were real, I figured he must have some kind of plan in giving us such strong sexual desires. So in a college dorm in 1988, I let loose a rather desperate cry of my heart, a ragged prayer that went something like this: God in heaven, if you exist, you better show me!
And you better show me what this whole sex thing is all about and why you gave me all these desires, because they’re getting me and everybody I know into a lot of trouble. What is your plan? Do you have a plan? Show me! Please! Show me! That’s when I started studying the Bible, and eventually I encountered Jesus in a living, personal way. He wasn’t just an idea to me anymore: I started experiencing the power of his resurrection in my life in dramatic ways, particularly with regard to my sexual brokenness. After years of selfish erotic indulgence, I was experiencing real deliverance and healing from addictive fantasies, attitudes, and behavior.
The Birds and the Bees
An 8-year-old girl went to her dad, who was working in the yard. She asked him, “Daddy, what is sex?”
The father was surprised that she would ask such a question, but decides that if she is old enough to ask the question, then she
is old enough to get a straight answer.
He proceeded to tell her all about the ‘birds and the bees’. When he finished explaining, the little girl was looking at him with
her mouth hanging open. The father asked her, “Why did you ask this question?”
The little girl replied, “Mom told me to tell you that dinner would be ready in just a couple of secs.”
Cohabitation and the Definitely Maybe Relationship
The tension between autonomy and intimacy is most clearly evidenced in the trend toward cohabitation. Today, between 50 and 70 percent of American couples are cohabiting before or instead of marrying. Living together is now seen as the only mature way to begin an intimate relationship while preserving one’s personal integrity. This is the “definitely maybe” approach, whereby covenant is replaced with “wait and see” and “try before you buy.”
If intimate relationships were mortgages, we might call these sub-prime commitments. They are high-risk projects with little or no collateral security. Unfortunately, just like sub-prime mortgages, these relationships are designed to fail.
What is most startling about the trend of living together outside of marriage is that it is becoming increasingly popular, even though research shows overwhelmingly that cohabiting ultimately undermines relationships. Indeed, the evidence completely contradicts the popular belief that “testing” a relationship first is the best way to secure its future.
As a path to marriage, cohabitation is extremely unreliable, with only one in five cohabiting relationships ending in marriage, and these figures are getting worse over time. Even in those cases where living together does subsequently lead to marriage, cohabiting significantly increases the likelihood of an eventual divorce. Not surprisingly, serial cohabiters show radically higher rates of divorce in their subsequent marriages; women who cohabit multiple times before marrying divorce more than twice as frequently as those who live only with their future husband.
In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe foundation of life as being spiritual in nature. This means we are constantly be “formed” spiritually, whether for good or evil:
Almost from the moment of birth we engage in a struggle for control of that portion of the world we live in. Can we get our parents to provide for our needs and wants when we want and how we want? Can we get our playmates to play our way, or will they control us to play their way? Can we control situations and others to fulfill our agenda, or are we manipulated into serving others?
Can we create enough of a security structure around our lives that we will be able to control life’s adversities? Or, to put it in very contemporary terms, why shouldn’t a woman’s control of her life allow her to terminate the life of her unborn child? Why shouldn’t my control of my life allow me to choose the time and means of its end?
Why shouldn’t we provide free contraceptives to our youth so their sexual behavior can be under their control and not under the control of the fear of sexually transmitted diseases? If you do not believe that control is a major issue in your life, study the ways you respond when someone or something disrupts your plan for the day.
Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
It’s Up to You!
“You don’t have to have sex on your wedding night. Be gentle.” That’s what an elderly friend of the family told me minutes after I tied the knot. Well, me and the guy filming the video, and anyone who ever watched the video.
Our Relational Design
Maleness and femaleness is the fundamental way we carry our relational design. Interestingly, the English word sexuality comes from the Latin word sexus, which means “being divided, cut off, separated from another.” We typically don’t think of sexuality in terms of separation, but that is precisely what it is. Our sexual desire, drive and energy show we are separated and long to be connected (both physically and emotionally).
Taken from The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection by Richard Plass and James Cofield, Copyright (c) 2014, p.68 by Richard Plass and James Cofield. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.
Married Couples have the Most Sex
It is a common belief that the surest way to end your sex life is to get married. But the reality is far more complicated. While it’s true that for many couples, sexual excitement fades in marriage, on average, statistics tracking the sex lives of men and women show that married couples are having more sex than anybody else. Now, if you’re like most married people, you find this statistic hard to believe. But for years, study after study has shown that frequency of sex is actually highest among married couples compared to the never married, divorced, or widowed or even compared to unmarried couples who are living together.
The Meaning of Dod
In the Hebrew lexicon, there are multiple words for love, but one of my favorites is the word dod. Although it is often rendered “love,” dod refers specifically to sexual love and is better translated as “lovemaking” or “caresses.” It carries the meaning, as Paul House said, of two souls mingling together. God’s plan is for a man and a woman in the bond of the marriage covenant to have their souls—not just their bodies—become one.
The Myth of the Search Theory
The notion that sexual chemistry is critical to a long-term relationship has led to the “search theory,” which drives people to explore more sexual relationships in order to increase their chances of finding the “right” person (the soul mate). But research reveals the exact opposite. It shows that serial monogamy—that is, a string of consecutive sexual relationships— actually hinders eventual marital satisfaction, while sexual experience before marriage is a good indicator for an increased likelihood of infidelity within marriage. It turns out that “settling down” later is a nice idea but a challenging reality.
As sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker write, “Repetitive relationships—including repetitive experiences with cohabitation—don’t lead to better marital odds, they just lead to more sex.”
Numerous research studies, including meta-analysis of those studies, show that men and women report the highest levels of satisfaction within marriage if they are married in their twenties—ages 20–27 for women and 23–27 for men. This stage of life for women coincides with their peak fertility, and so there seems to be a close fit—by design, you could say— between the best time to be married and to have a family.
Yet in the face of this overwhelming evidence, Regnerus and Uecker observe that the vast majority of emerging adults in America are convinced that marrying in their twenties heightens the chance of divorce while cohabiting is the safest route to ensuring the resilience and longevity of a relationship.
The Peaks and Troughs of our Hypersexual Age
A few years ago, while celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary, my wife, Esther, and I stayed at the base of the twin mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb, the mammoth ski resort on Canada’s West Coast. Our hotel was right at the foot of the ski fields, so that these huge mountains shot straight up outside our window.
The view was spectacular, and it was mesmerizing to watch the many gondolas and chairlifts climb the slopes before passing over vertiginous ridges and out of sight. As the spring sun glistened off the icy slopes, it was easy to forget that this is rugged terrain, exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
Deaths are common during the ski season here because of the huge off-piste area and constant avalanche risk. Looking up at the awe-inspiring scene that morning, I was struck by the parallels between this environment and the state of relationships today, even within the church.
Like those imposing mountains, love and romance have become alluring but risky places. Our culture’s romantic idealism encourages us to boldly explore the boundless playground of sex and Divine Sex relationships. Yet we quickly succumb to “exposure” when faced with the corrosive elements of our culture’s hypersexuality and its fatalism about lasting commitments. This combination of factors has turned romantic relationships from places of adventure and exhilarating risk into crevasses of death and despair.
Having tossed away the map and abandoned the network of chairlifts and gondolas that could orient us and safely guide us in our sexual lives, our culture finds itself lost and desperate in a veritable whiteout. The prevailing wisdom says, “Find your own way,” and yet these mountains are no place for the creative novice. The evidence is in, and it’s compelling. Our cultural experiment has left a trail of relational wreckage, and it has left us in a state of denial about where we stand.
…All this unfolds against a backdrop of failed marriages that, over several generations, has undermined the imaginative possibility of marriage as a permanent form of relationship. This cultural environment makes the Christian vision of sexuality and marriage seem naive, unreasonable, or at least unworkable as a real-life philosophy—even for many Christians. And yet in the midst of this cultural fatalism lies the strong hope of the Christian vision of relationships.
In our hotel room that morning, I read about the origins of the Whistler ski resort. In its beginnings in the 1960s, critics argued that these mountains were too hostile for a commercial ski resort; they were simply too inaccessible, wild, and unpredictable. But through a massive network of roads, chairlifts, and gondolas, an otherwise impenetrable context has become an exhilarating place to explore and enjoy—even becoming a venue fit for the Winter Olympics.
We face a similar challenge in relation to sex and relationships today. With lifelong committed marriages no longer considered “natural,” we are tempted by the warmth of the spring sun to get involved and explore—and yet the weather seems to quickly change as we find ourselves getting deeper into uncharted territory.
Sex is Not Just About Sex
…the body is not only biological. Since we’re made in the image of God as male and female, the body, as we will unfold in some detail, is also theological. It tells an astounding divine story. And it does so precisely through the mystery of sexual difference and the call of the two to become “one flesh.”
This means that when we get the body and sex wrong, we get the divine story wrong as well. Sex is not just about sex. The way we understand and express our sexuality points to our deepest-held convictions about who we are, who God is, who Jesus is, what the church is (or should be), the meaning of love, the ordering of society, and the mystery of the universe.
Sexuality and our Spiritual Life
The appreciation of life in the body includes embracing our maleness or our femaleness, and thus our sexuality, as a gift from God that helps to reveal his true nature. None of us exists in this world apart from being one gender or another, and in fact our existence as male and female is one of the most complete ways God has revealed the diverse aspects of his own being. “God created humankind in his image; . . . male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
All of human experience is somehow connected, and all of it holds the possibility for abundant living, for the experience of grace and for the imprint of the divine. This means that our sexuality is a great gift, because it is a place we meet and know God in unique ways.
False dualisms that separate our spirituality and our sexuality cut us off from knowing and experiencing God as One in whom there resides a powerful longing for union and oneness. Not only does such a dualistic approach cut us off from knowing God, it also cuts us off from knowing ourselves, embracing the powerful drives within us as a created good and bringing this essential part of ourselves into relationship with God…
In fact, many spiritually awake people have noticed that our sexual feelings intensify as we are made whole. Many think that sexuality will go away or at least become more quiescent as we grow spiritually. On the contrary! As we abide more closely to the God who is the source of all creation, the God of the Incarnation, we begin to experience sexual energy in a new way, as a holy, inalienable generative force.
Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Taking Learning Very Seriously
In ancient Judaism, discipleship was taken very seriously. It was taken so seriously that eager disciples would ty to follow their rabbi (teacher) everywhere they went. Why? Because they wanted to see the rabbi, not just in a classroom setting (though there were no “classrooms at the time), but in real life. They wanted to see how their rabbi treated his family, handled his money, did his chores.
Disciples would even compete to be present while their teacher made meals and, get this, when he went to the bathroom. According to the Talmud (a set of teachings on the Torah), one disciple was so eager to learn from his master that he snuck under the bed of his rabbi to see what happened when the rabbi and his wife went to perform the marriage act. When he was found, his response was surprising: This too is Torah, and I need to learn!”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
When We Were Young
An elderly couple lies in bed. She is not satisfied with the distance between them. She reminds him, “When we were young, you used to hold my hand in bed.” He hesitates, but in a few moments a wrinkled hand snakes across the bed and grasps hers. She is not satisfied “When we were young, you used to cuddle right up next to me.” More serious hesitation now. But eventually, with a few groans, he laboriously turns his body and cradles hers as best he can.
She is not satisfied.
“When we were young, you used to nibble on my ear.”
Loud sigh. He throws back the covers and bolts out of bed. She is somewhat hurt by this.
“Where are you going?”
“To get my teeth.”
A World Of Chaotic Confusion
In the early 1900s, a “respectable” woman wore an average of twenty-five pounds of clothing when she appeared in public. The sight of an ankle could cause scandal. Over the next hundred years the pendulum swung to the other extreme.
Today, scantily clad, hyper-eroticized images of the human body have become the cultural wallpaper; and graphic, hard-core pornography has become our main reference point for the “facts of life.” Is it any wonder in our post–sexual revolution world that our deepest, most painful wounds as human beings often center on our sexuality? And by “sexuality” I mean not only what we do with our genitals behind closed doors but also our very sense of ourselves as male and female. We live in a world of chaotic, widespread gender confusion, a world that seems intent on erasing the essential meaning of sexual difference from the individual and collective consciousness.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Sex. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!