Recently, Glen was chatting to a guy with a serious girlfriend. ‘Man,’ said the guy, ‘I’m really struggling with purity issues. I’ve got all these pent-up feelings and it’s hard holding off’. He took a sip of his pint, ‘Y’know?’
Glen did know. And so did his wife. But Glen asked a question:
“Do you think marriage will solve those problems?”
“Yes! Wait: you’re saying it won’t?”
This time it was Glen who took the long sip. “Listen… “
We often think singleness is about keeping the lid on a boiling pot of white-hot sexual desire. And marriage is the place for unbridled sexual expression.But wait, where’s that verse? Can’t seem to find it – possibly because it’s not actually there. Nonetheless it’s a view of sex, singleness and marriage that we had when we were engaged…
We did marriage prep, so figured we were prepared for everything. (Example: “have you had any struggles in the past that might be an issue? Well honey, I was anorexic as a child, but I can’t see that being a problem now”). One week, we were asked to predict how often we thought we’d er – you know. Glen grinning, put down a number and folded the page. ‘I dunno. If it’s too much we can tone it down.’ I scrolled mentally through a few episodes of Sex and the City and wrote mine. We swapped; and I watched as Glen drained of colour. My estimate was three times his, and (I now realise) technically impossible.
To me, thinking Christianly about sex meant this: Don’t! Till you’re married. Then go for your life. For everything else I looked to Brad and Angelina, a confusing lesson in Home Ec and the singer Shaggy. Here’s how I expected it to work: Do the Christian thing: wait. Then settle in for the fireworks.
At uni, I remember a friend explaining seriously how, ‘for guys if they don’t have sex, they get really sick’. At the time I laughed, but it’s easy to think of our physical desires as this thing, that builds up unstoppably and then is finally unleashed when (phew) you’ve both got a ring on. This is also what Glen’s Christian friend was expecting. ‘My problem is with self-control’ he said. ‘Thank goodness I won’t have to worry about it when we’re married’.
Singleness=self-control. Marriage=total indulgence. Apparently. Well, there’s a few issues here:
1. It suggests that singleness is second-best (and physiologically inadvisable!) But Jesus and Paul say the reverse (cf Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:25-28).
2. It implies that desire is just an issue for those outside marriage or facing same sex attraction. One of the inspirations for this post has been the bravery of those at LivingOut.org who talk about their same-sex attraction. It’s courageous of them to speak about their sexuality and massively helpful. But it would be a pity if it was only those with same-sex attraction who were heard to have “struggles” with their desires. Let’s be real – whether you’re attracted to guys or girls, whether you’re married or single – everyone is called to bring their sexual desires under the Lordship of Jesus. Everyone has struggles.
3. Nobody gets to indulge their sexual desires on their own terms – that’s porn and it’s very different to sex. It takes two to tango. Therefore even the expression of sexual desire involves self-sacrifice.
Thinking Christianly about sex does not mean taking what we see on the screen and stuffing it into a box marked “Biblical Sex Ethic.” If we’re going going to see the way of Jesus as a way of freedom we all have to change our thinking – whatever our sexual attractions and whatever our marital state.
If sex was just a physical thing; like lemonade when you’re thirsty, there’d be no problem. But it’s not. It’s emotional nakedness that’s the most difficult. And if there are issues in any area of your life, they’ll show up in the bedroom.
At this point there can be a conspiracy of silence in the church. Few people talk about struggles in the bedroom. The default assumption is that everyone else is having Hollywood sex all the time, (in between Epic Bible studies and prayer). In fact, many aren’t.
Meanwhile, the world says that sex is great until you get married and then it’s over. But just like driving a car doesn’t come instantly, intimacy (including sex), can take time. If sex was about novelty and chemistry then of course it will decline as time goes on. But what if sex is about intimacy and a refreshment of the relationship? That kind of sex only begins when the fireworks have passed. But it takes time, sacrifice, extreme emotional nakedness and vulnerability. None of these things are “natural” or “easy”.
So in the wisdom of Salt n Pepa: perhaps we ought to talk about sex. If the LivingOut guys are brave enough to do it, shouldn’t we all? Maybe then we wouldn’t build up unrealistic expectations from the outside of marriage, nor feel burdened by them within it.
Maybe more marrieds should have pints with unmarrieds. And maybe more couples should talk to trusted other couples in church. I’m not suggesting we make an announcement at the prayer gathering. But I’m thinking God made sex and He’s probably seen one or two naked bodies. Together we can handle these kinds of conversations. Because if we don’t speak the gospel to each other in this area, the world will fill the gaps.