The bottom line is this: God created sex for marriage, and within a Christian moral vocabulary, it is impossible to defend sex outside of marriage. To more liberal readers, schooled on a generation of Christian ethics written in the wake of the sexual revolution, this may sound like old-fashioned hooey, but it is the simple, if sometimes difficult, truth.
Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, Lauren Winner.
The Sexual Revolution
The Sexual Revolution, according to Wikipedia, is defined as: A social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and relationships throughout the Western World from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Contraception and the pill, public nudity, the normalization of premarital sex, homosexuality and alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion followed. For 50 years we’ve been living with the increasing consequences of the belief that throwing off the unwieldy shackles of traditional boundaries around our sexuality would lead to a more enlightened way of living.
With that in mind, each of us could ask the question—are we really any better off? I’m imagining a wide variety of answers.
Growing up through the 70s provided an interesting dichotomy to navigate. As “liberation” peaked in 1978 (before the onset of AIDS), folks were enjoying new and inventive ways of having sex for fun and recreation (see anything having to do with Studio 54—wow). I was 15 then and, along with my peers, jumping on the bandwagon, looking for love in all the wrong places and beginning to experiment sexually in the new atmosphere of freedom.
The Jesus Movement
But a parallel movement was also active during this decade—the Jesus Movement. With another quick check at Wikipedia, we find: “A movement in Christianity beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spreading primarily through North America and Europe, before subsiding by the early 1980s. It was the major Christian element within the new hippie counterculture.” (Does anyone remember being baptized in a river by the woods?) In 1980, after a couple of years of empty sexual encounters, at the age of seventeen, I joined the ranks of these new Christians. Jesus had crashed into my life in a very real and tangible way.
Given a more conventional time not so far in the past, even as a crazy, hormonally-driven teenager, I felt a very sincere conviction about my sexual sin. It was a desperate and destructive way of grasping for love and acceptance— basically sexualizing my emotional need repeatedly. And though we didn’t know exactly what to do, the other Christian kids and I definitely knew what was off limits sexually (though we often wanted to know exactly where the line was, so we could dance right up to it and maybe even put a toe just a little bit over). Yet, despite an incredible lack of direction or resources, I learned some very valuable lessons during that season.
Living in Christ meant God wanted all the areas of my life, including my sexuality. God wanted me to submit and surrender what I did with my body, how I handled my relationships, how and when I would express my sexuality—to bend myself around Him and His word, not bend Him around my desires.
Fast forwarding several decades, I am still rooted in these realities—though living them out has produced joyous moments and some crash-and-burn seasons. They require asking the tough questions on a daily basis. Do I trust God with this facet of my life? Does God care about my longings, my physical and emotional needs, my deeper desires? Do I believe I will be happier, healthier and holier if I live within God’s structures around my sexuality?
The answers have been different at various points; sometimes it is a struggle to believe. Yet, now since the sexual revolution of the 60s is a distant memory and a sex-saturated culture seems just normal—the idea of submitting or surrendering any facet of ourselves to anything or anyone is not only ridiculous, but offensive to most autonomous individualists. I often ponder the thought—God has put a very few boundaries around the way we express our sexuality and what we do with our bodies, but everyone is incredibly ticked off about it (including myself at times).
So let’s chat about what’s causing all the commotion. In my last article, we talked about the different kinds of intimacy that are available to us— experiential, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical (healthy, nonsexual touch). These various types of intimacy are foundational for couples as well as singles. The next two categories of intimacy are reserved for couples.
- Romantic Touch – There are many ways of being romantic and sexual without being genital. This rich range of sexual expression includes holding, touching, caressing, fondling, and kissing. These areas of sexual comfort deepen and extend sexual satisfaction. To explore them requires intimacy and time. (This area caused us to wonder where the “line” was as young Christians).
- Physical/Sexual Intimacy – Finally, there is the pleasure-driven union of two people that requires trust and vulnerability. Passionately surrendering yourself to another requires trust of your body, trust of your sexuality, and ultimate trust of your partner. God has wired our bodies for pleasure. Our sexual equipment is designed with more nerve endings than any other parts of our bodies. But we know it’s about more than just an orgasm; there are the emotional and relational aspects of sex. To a starving heart, sharing life with someone, feeling valued, affirmed, desired and wanted are equally or even more powerful than the act of sex buy itself. Still, it’s easy to see why cultures throughout history have taken this small but potent branch of intimacy and made it into the entire tree.
So the big question is why does God reserve these last two types of intimacy for a specific, covenanted relationship? Is it because sex is the incarnational portrait of the type of intimacy God wants with us? Is it because God values our bodies more than we do? Is it because human life can come from this act and God values life? I’m sure the answers are all, “Yes.” Living within God’s plan for sexuality and relationships, 50 years after sexual liberation, is not only counter-cultural, but apparently, revolutionary.