Is There More to Sex Than Pleasure?
- Tuesday, April 15, 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Mindy Meier’s Sex and Dating: Questions You Wish You Had Answers To (IVP Books).
Nearly all of us long for relationships. We’re drawn toward others for completion. Most of us long to connect with another person and to share experiences that bond us mind, body and soul. The reason we have this universal longing is because God designed us this way.
He also created us with sexual desires. He imprinted on our bodies and souls the longing for consummation. Sex is one of God’s most wonderful gifts to human beings.
In the fall of 2005, the incoming freshman class at the University of Illinois was asked, ‘What do you want most out of your college career?” For the first time, the top answer was to someday have a family, ahead of options such as to earn a degree that will ensure a good income and to develop a philosophy of life. This finding came as a surprise to many of the university’s administrators. In an institution that prides itself on academic excellence, this hunger for family seemed incongruous.
Of course, there are people who don’t have these desires. If their parents’ marriage was a source of pain or ended in divorce, these longings may not be present. Some folks so value their independence that bonding with one person sounds limiting. But most people, deep down inside, want to someday have a loving and deeply connected marriage.
An important part of marriage is sex. What happens when two people unite through sexual intercourse? What’s the purpose of sex?
Seven Purposes of Sex
Perhaps the first purpose of sex that we think of is pleasure. We experience exhilarating pleasure as we fully share our body with another. God made people with body parts designed for sexual pleasure. Some parts of our body have no function other than sexual pleasure. By design, we are pleasure givers and pleasure receivers. If you think Christians and the church are anti-sex and anti-pleasure, it’s worth noting that an entire book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, is devoted to the romantic, sensual love between a man and a woman.
The two lovers in the Song of Songs use metaphors to express the sensual delights of physical love. He invites her to come and experience the sights and smells of spring: “Arise my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me” (Song of Songs 2:10-13). In this text we see love’s invitation to be a partner in pleasure.
A husband and wife are partners in pleasure. Sex is part of that, but so is watching the sun set together or tearing into a loaf of hot bread from the oven or walking barefoot on the beach or lying in the hammock admiring the paint job you worked on together on the deck. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, beautiful or ordinary, all married couples can enjoy the wonders and delights of sexual love.
Another purpose for sex is bonding. The act of sexual intercourse is intended by God to act as superglue in the relationship, bonding two people together. We become attached to someone when we experience physical touch and pleasure in a loving way. Sex is so much more than the joining of body parts. Sex unites souls.
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.
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.
Think for a moment about your first impression of sex. What did you pick up from TV, magazines and movies? What attitude did your parents convey? Was sex presented as a necessary evil, something to be joked about, a dirty thing to be ashamed of, a precious gift from God to be saved for marriage? Many people say that sex was presented only as something people do to conceive children, and other than that, sex was considered a bad thing. You may have never talked with your parents about sex, but parents can convey attitudes and feelings without words. To never talk about sex also conveys a message.
What messages did you pick up from kids on the playground? Chances are that know-it-all-fifth-grade boy was full of misinformation. This is worth thinking about because you may need to consciously reject some of the erroneous ideas you were fed. Warped views of sex have a way of persisting even when we know in our head that they are wrong.
As a kid, I always peppered my mom with questions. When I was about eight years old, I asked my mom a bunch of questions about where babies come from. I was persistent and pressed her to know exactly how babies got inside their mothers’ tummies. My mom told me about sexual intercourse. She was open, honest and matter of fact about it. My response was, “Oh, that’s gross! I’ll never do that!” She laughed softly and said, “When I was your age, I felt the same way, but when you’re older and married and in love with a man, you’ll think it’s wonderful.” That powerful statement shaped my view of sex. It stuck with me and became the foundation of my view of sex.
Fast-forward about a decade. I was a teenager, and my parents were going away for the weekend—just the two of them. While my mom packed, she gave me instructions for the weekend, when to pick up my sister from her ballet lesson and so on. As I listened to her litany of directives, I noticed she was packing a sexy black negligee. At first I thought, Was she going to wear that with Dad? But then I thought, Wow, that’s awesome that they still have these romantic getaways together even though they’re so old! This was another formative event that shaped my view of sex in marriage.
Do you need to rethink your view of sex? My hope is that you’ll catch a glimpse of God’s wonderful view of sex and that it will capture your heart and transform the way you live.
This is what happened to Maria. I ran into her at the wedding of a mutual friend. We hadn’t seen one another in seven years. The slow-moving buffet line gave us ample time to catch up.
Maria had been a party girl in college and had slept around, always hoping that her current boyfriend would be the lasting love of her life. Serial lovers left her feeling broken and confused. But when she became a Christian at the end of her senior year of college, she began to reclaim a vision for purity and committed herself to chastity. After graduation, she took a job where she eventually met her husband, Juan. He was a committed Christian as well.
As we waited our turn to load up our plates, Maria said, “You know, the sex I have with my husband now is way better than all the sex I had in college. That sex was destructive. It left me feeling empty. But sex within marriage builds me up. When I look at my adorable kids, I wish I could go back and tell my younger self, ‘Don’t sleep around. It only messes you up. Have sex the way God intends—in marriage.’”
For the first time in my life I was glad for a slow-moving food line. It gave me a chance to hear Maria’s heart and see the beauty of her life.
1Philip Yancey, Designer Sex (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p. 29.
2Lisa McMinn, Sexuality and Holy Longing (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2004), p. 55.
Taken from Sex and Dating: Questions You Wish You Had Answers To by Mindy Meier. © 2007 by Mindy Meier. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. ivpress.com
Mindy Meier serves as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff in the Chicago area with a special focus on working with Greek students in fraternities and sororities. Her husband is a pastor and they have four children.
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