The church has responded to this attack on family values by manning the battle stations, arguing loudly against gay marriage, abortion, infidelity, and promiscuity. We say "no" so often that many outside the church—and perhaps even some inside—believe that Christians still revere Lady Hillington’s counsel.
Surveys, however, reveal otherwise. A large-scale study of 1,100 American adults by the Family Research Council found that 72% of married people who attended church weekly reported being "very satisfied" with their sex lives, thirty points higher than their unmarried counterparts, and thirteen points higher than other marrieds. In these days when we are being bombarded with attacks for our stance on sexuality, perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves why sex, in the Christian context, can be so wonderful.
Christian Sex is Holistic
One of the best things about the Christian view of sex is that it recognizes that we’re more than lizards. In popular culture, on the other hand, physical pleasure trumps all, reducing sex to something merely instinctual. By doing this, people lose out on the more profound possibilities sex offers to express love, commitment, and even a mystical union. The 1993 Janus Survey on Sexuality found that a key ingredient in religious people’s more satisfying sex lives was that they did associate these spiritual and emotional components with sex far more than other respondents did. Indeed, there’s a reason God calls us his bride—a very sexual image—and and understanding that reason helps us also understand those survey results.
Chuck MacKnee, Associate Professor of Psychology at Trinity Western University, explains that sexuality and spirituality are intimately connected. "Both are based in incompleteness and searching for wholeness. In sexuality, we’re looking for connection and fulfillment in another person. But this is really is the same reason we search for God." In fact, "yadah", the Hebrew word for sexual intimacy, means literally "to know", as in "Adam knew Eve". Yet David used the same word for God when he said in Psalm 139: "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me."
MacKnee points out that this relationship is something earlier Christian writers understood. John Donne, in his sixteenth century poem, declares to God: "except you’enthrall me, never shall I be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." This desire for union is also beautifully expressed in Galatians 2:20, where Paul says "not I, but Christ lives in me." French tradition sees sex in a similar way, calling the height of sexual passion "the little death", when we lose ourselves as we merge with another. "The two shall become one", then, is both a physical statement as well as a picture of the spiritual and emotional union making love creates.
Unfortunately, the church has not always understood this. The early gnostics, influenced by Greek spirituality, taught that the spirit was good while the body was bad, and this philosophy still seeps into our own understanding of sexuality. In Lady Hillington’s Victorian days, chair and table legs were kept covered, lest a woman see a bare leg of any kind and be mortified. Even today, we may be able to pray while we’re driving, eating, or laughing, but to pray when we’re about to make love seems, to many, just plain wrong.
Nevertheless, MacKnee believes that including God in our sexual lives is the best aphrodisiac. "When we are able to let ourselves go and experience the passion of God, and be open to the mystery of that passion, so we are also better able to open ourselves up to the passion of human encounters." He declares, "that’s the ultimate advantage—that God joins his favourite creatures in celebrating intimacy."
Christian Sex is Exclusive
Since Christian sexuality involves such a profound union, it naturally follows that our sexuality should be comprised of a single sexual relationship, rather than a variety of sexual encounters. The exclusive nature of this relationship isn’t limited to our bodies either; as Jesus warned, our hearts and minds also have to be faithful. Dave Currie, Executive Director of Family Life Canada, says this faithfulness actually heightens couples’ sexual feelings towards each other. When we don’t allow ourselves to daydream about pornography, romance novels, or a co-worker, we reserve our hearts, minds and bodies for our spouses. All of our sexual energy is channelled towards home.
Currie feels that these sexual feelings are also far less complicated because we enter marriage without emotional and psychological baggage from previous relationships. "We’re innocent in the most beautiful sense of the word," he says, "and that leads to less comparison, and more mutual discovery." Again, research supports Currie. Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite, in their groundbreaking book The Case for Marriage, crunched the numbers from the National Sex Survey to discover the secret to marital and sexual happiness. They concluded that the "sexual power of commitment" couldn’t be underestimated, for both sexes, though most markedly for females. "Nothing less than the prospect of a lifetime commitment boosts a woman’s sex life."
Despite all the boasting and bluster of the Cosmopolitan-magazine type crowd, then, the unassuming middle-aged secretary down the street, who may pack an extra 25 pounds but who loves her husband and her church, probably enjoys sex more. David and Laura, married for eleven years, understand why. Laura explains, "It doesn’t matter that your body has gone south and jiggles in all the wrong places, nothing can take away the great history you’ve built together."
Yet not only is sex reserved for the marriage relationship; the marriage relationship is also largely defined by sex. One can share a home with a roommate, receive unconditional love from a parent, seek advice from counsellors, and enjoy lifelong companionship with a best friend. But making love is something one only does with a spouse. That same act that brings children into the world helps couples recommit to each other through baby stresses, school schedules, and teenage angst. Each time a couple makes love, they make a promise with their bodies, and proclaim that this relationship is sacred, unique, and permanent.
Christian Sex is Fun
Although sex involves these deep and profound emotions, C.S. Lewis also warned us to keep our sense of humour, saying, "we must not be totally serious about Venus." In his discussion of Eros in The Four Loves, he notes that it seems almost incongruous that God made this human appetite that is so soaring and transcendent dependent on such mundane details as how much laundry is left to do, whether the weather is dreary, and hormonal fluctuations.
Yet laughing about this is much easier in a committed, private relationship. One doesn’t have to worry about rejection, or about measuring up to previous or future partners. One can let go and have fun. Sherry and Bill, who have been married for sixteen years and have two school-aged children, find this one of the best parts of marriage. "Being with the same person for years is supposed to be terribly dull; but for us that hasn't been the case at all," they said. Sherry adds, with a giggle, "In fact the longer we're together, the better things get. We've had years to become more in tune with ourselves and to learn what the other likes and dislikes. And we have our secret little inside jokes that get things going."
Treating sex as something fun like this may sound almost blasphemous to Lady Hillington, but contemporaries of Solomon would have understood. In Song of Songs, we find the lovers completely captivated by each other, and not ashamed to say so. They talk about how wonderful their beloved looks, smells, tastes, sounds and feels, making sex a smorgasbord of sensory experiences.
Cultivating this pleasurable aspect of sex may even be easier in the Christian context because becoming a sexual expert is easier—you only have one partner to study! A man, for instance, does not have to know how to please women; he just has to know how to please his wife. And this study isn’t a crash course; it lasts a lifetime! On the other hand, when commitment isn’t part of a sexual relationship, one’s sexual technique may determine how long the relationship lasts. Sex then takes on an inevitable seriousness that need not be present when couples know they have decades to get it right. By abiding within God’s guidelines, we leave room for discovery, inevitable fumbling, and even simple playfulness.
Christian Sex is Beautiful
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