In Genesis 4:1 (ESV), we read, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.”  The first time I read this, I figured the writer cut out the spicy stuff to make the Bible PG-13.  But to know is a rich word in Hebrew that means to deeply know in a full and total way.  Adam knew her sexually but also emotionally and spiritually.  To have sexual intercourse is to share a secret, and the secret bonds the partners together.

An additional purpose for sex is the creation of new life.  Sexual intercourse sometimes results in pregnancy.  In the context of this loving union, a place is made to bring new life into the world.  The overflow of the love a man and woman have for one another spills out and pours into the life of a baby.

The first command God gave people is found in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”  God restated this to Noah and his family after the flood.  This is the only command in the Bible that we have done well at following.  Children are a gift from God, to be received with joy, awe and thanksgiving.  Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.”  Children are intended by God to be one of life’s greatest blessings.

Fourth is communication.  Sexual intercourse is a wordless way of saying, “I love you; I’m giving myself to you.”  It’s a deeper-than-words message, a beyond-words way to communicate with another.  As we channel our passion to the other, we celebrate who they are and our delight to be in union with them.  To be naked with a marriage partner is a wordless declaration of honesty, trust and self-giving.

A fifth purpose for sex is transformation from being self-absorbed to being other-centered.  Sex pulls us out of our self-absorption to unite us with another human being.  Jesus gives an indication of his unity when he says, “The two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8).  Marriage is a laboratory to learn how to love.  Philip Yancey writes, “I went into marriage thinking love would hold us together.  I learned instead that it required marriage to teach me what love means.”1  Sexual love allows us to practice mutual submission where the desires and pleasure of another become as important to us as our own. 

A sixth purpose is emotional release.  The sexual experience provides an outlet to pour out pent-up emotions.  In the union between a husband and wife, when they reach orgasms (either at the same time or different times) tension that has been building finds satisfaction.

And finally sex is a reflection of our desire for God.  In Sexuality and Holy Longing, Lisa McMinn says, “Sex is a spiritual metaphor for our consummate longing for God.  It is an act that can draw our hearts toward God, in whom all our longings will one day be met. …  Sex can still be an act God uses to pursue our hearts.  All longings go unfulfilled this side of heaven.”2

Because the body and soul are one, when we have sexual intercourse with someone and they touch our body, they also touch our soul.  Sexual intercourse is so much more than skin touching skin.

Rethinking Sex

Sex has often been likened to fire.  Fire is wonderful if it’s in the fireplace or the furnace to keep us warm or if it’s used for cooking, but fire can also be destructive.  When flames are out of control your house can burn to the ground.  Fire is only good or useful when used in the right context.  It’s the same with sex.

Because of the great power of sex—to be either a source of unspeakable joy and ecstasy or a source of deep pain and sorrow—God has laid out some restrictions for us.  These rules are not imposed to spoil our fun and pleasure but rather to protect something of great value.  God wants the best for us.  He designed us and knows how we are wired.  He wants to protect us from emotional pain and sexually transmitted diseases.