RELEVANT Magazine recently published an article entitled Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex. I have some serious problems with what Rachel Pietka says in the article. I usually refrain from beating up on what others write, but as Sheila Wray Gregoire said this issue is important and getting it wrong is dangerous.
I will start with where I agree with Pietka:
Some purity groups “imply that the purpose of abstinence is good sex, not obedience to God and the cultivation of virtue.”
Unfortunately this is true. While I think it is both accurate and useful to tell kids that waiting will probably result in better sex over their life time, the primary point should be doing what God says to do. I understand that Pietka is concerned about wrongs done in the name of keeping kids abstinent, but I fear she is failing to differentiate between the baby and the bath water. The answer is biblical grace, not deciding as some (not Pietka) have that virginity is unimportant.
“[B]ad sex is neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage.”
I absolutely agree with that, but neither does it mean one should stop investing in having a better sex life!
Now the problems:
The fact that sexual compatibility does not matter to Christians when choosing a spouse makes the shocking and countercultural statement that sex is not our God.
The false premise here is that one has to try sex with someone to learn if you are “sexually compatible”. Sexual incompatibility is an excuse the world uses to sleep around, not a fact. The answer to the world’s lie is not that it does not matter to us, but that any couple can have a good sex life if both husband and wife are willing to work at it!
In reality sexual incompatibility comes not from a lack of premarital sex, but from having premarital sexual experience (by experience I mean anything from clothed groping to full intercourse). With no previous experience, there are no strong desires for specific acts or ways of having sex. Because an inexperienced couple has no strong preferences, there can be no big clash of desires. On the other hand, if both have had sex with others, they have developed likes and dislikes, and there is a very real chance their preferences will clash. If he has come to see oral sex as required for good sex, and she finds it gross, they have a problem! If what gets her going is something another woman told him he should never do, they have a problem.
There is something more at play in this: God gave us a special excitement that goes with our first sexual experiences. When a couple comes to marriage with no previous experience, that special excitement helps them to get past the clumsy, clueless early days of sex. Early sex is not actually that great, but the excitement of being sexual for the first time allows the couple to enjoy as they learn and grow. When one or both spouses have previous sexual experience, they will not have that extra excitement, and they will become frustrated more easily and more quickly.
“Although sex is indeed God’s gift to us, Christians are not directly commanded by God to have great sex.”
Directly commanded? Not quite, although almost. However, we do not limit our understanding of God’s truth to “direct commands”. We look at the examples found in scripture, and we look at the truths that must underlie what we find in scripture. Much of what we hold as basic Christian doctrine is not “directly commanded”.
Here are some of the things I see in Scripture that make it clear God considers a mutually enjoyable sex life is the norm:
- “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.” [De 24:5] That a people under constant threat of war would be told to give a newlywed couple a year free from military service to get to know each other is extraordinary, and shows us that God thinks marriage is extremely important. Beyond that, I am told the Jews of old understood this verse to include learning about sex. In fact, some see sex as the primary issue here.
- “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” [Pr 5:18-19] “Fountain” here is a euphemism for the male genitals. “Intoxicated” is better translated “ravished” and “love” can be translated “sexual desire”. This is a powerful verse that says God wants a man to greatly enjoy sex, with his wife, for his entire life.
- Song of Songs is all about sexual pleasure. Sometimes the language is less than clear, but we have no doubt the bride and bridegroom longed for and enjoyed a great deal of extraordinary sex. The very middle verse of the Song, which was the most important point in this type of writing, is praise of sexual love, and a command to indulge deeply (SS 5:1). In several places Song of Songs likens sexual desire to being intoxicated, and total abandon is the clear message. That God inspired this book, and that it made it into the Bible despite some very strong opposition, tells us that God thinks sex is very important.
- “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age… But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.” [1 Tm 5:9a,11&12 ESV] This is a most extraordinary verse! Paul says that widows up to the age of 59 should not be allowed to take a pledge of celibacy and service because she will feel sexual desire that will draw her away from her promise. Paul expects the average 50 something widow to be so motivated by sex that she will find it difficult or impossible to resist the desire to remarry so she can once again enjoy the pleasures of sex. Think about that a bit, and what it must mean Paul understood about sexuality.
“Our discourse about sex, however, tends to tell another story, a story that elevates sex to an inordinate degree.”
Sadly the very opposite is more often true: there are still many in the church who are embarrassed about sex. While there is a growing sex-positive voice, we still have a deep and significant undercurrent that says sex is over rated, no big deal, or something more spiritual people avoid. There are still women who feel bad for enjoying sex, or for wanting it “too much” or for orgasming “too quickly” or “too often”. There are still women (and men) who think their spouse is perverted for wanting to have sex with the lights on, or desiring some position other than missionary. There are still men who think their wife is defective if she does not climax from intercourse alone. Yes, there are a few who have made sex more than is should be, but there are far more who fight to make it less than God says it is.
“[W]hat should we say to couples who spend years, or even decades, trying to have good sex without success?”
I would start by begging them to forgive the church for failing them. Because we are afraid to talk about sex, we do not help those with sexual problems as we should. When Lori and I married, we tried to find help in the church for our sexual problems. We were told, “It’s just sex, it will work out.” Our choices were to forget it, go to the world, or work on it our ourselves. We took the last choice, which was the best of the bad choices, but not a good option. Others go to the world, or forget it, or try on their own and fail. While the situation is a bit better today, it is still far from right.
Having a good sex life is not a matter of pulling a winning ticket in a cosmic sex lottery. If a couple is willing to work at it, and if they get good help, great sex will happen. Some will have more and better sex than others, but that is the way with everything. Most problems can be overcome easily, especially if dealt with quickly. Couples who “try for decades without success” usually do not seek real help for many, many years. That or one spouse is not really trying. We have talked to too many women who start having orgasms after 40 and couples who start having daily sex after 25 years of marriage to think great sex is beyond anyone’s reach. Even significant physical problems can be worked around. The only real obstacle is a spouse unwilling to work on it. Such unwillingness comes from shame, fear, or just giving up, and much of that can be addressed successfully if dealt with soon enough.
One of Pietka’s references is My virginity mistake by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. The author says that not having sex before marriage “led to my divorce.” She says more or less, that she and her first husband were not sexually compatible. She ends by saying “But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait.” Henriquez seems convinced that having sex with her first husband before they wed would have warned her it would not work out, and saved her a bad marriage. Maybe that would have happened, but I have good reason to doubt it. We talk to plenty of women who fake sexual enjoyment before marriage because they think it will get better after they are married, or because they think having sex is necessary to get a man to marry them. We talk to both men and women who say sex was fine before they got married, but worse and worse since the wedding. For a number of reasons sex with someone before and after marriage is not the same, and that means you cannot test-drive someone sexually.
“Ultimately, putting sex in its proper place will encourage us to order God’s gifts in the same way that church tradition teaches the ordering of love. All things, including sex, must be loved to the degree that is proper to the thing in question, with nothing superseding the love of God.”
I agree with those statements, but not with where Pietka seems to order sex. Of course, God is more important than our sex life, or our marriage. The question is how important are marriage and married sex? As I showed above, I think God has clearly shown us that a couple’s marriage and sex life are of great importance. When the Gnostics tried to tell married Christians to abstain from sex to get closer to God, Paul told them they were wrong! (1 Cor 7). God said learning to give your new wife pleasure was more important than serving in the army. Paul told Timothy that it was better for widows under 60 to get married and have sex than to pledge themselves to a life of prayer and service. God makes some huge concessions for marriage and sex in marriage. Maybe this is because God uses human marriages as a way of explaining His relationship with us. In this analogy, sex between a man and wife is like worship between God and us. Does the idea of “sexual incompatibility” mean we could have “worship incompatibility”? I think not.
I appreciate Rachel Pietka’s concern for those harmed by the idea that losing one’s virginity before marriage makes them forever damaged goods. I hope she will find a way to fight this wrong without offering up rhetoric that can be a prophesy of doom for couples who could otherwise have a great sex life.
Great tweet of the week:
“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.”–Ezra Taft Benson @redeemmarriages
Links to blog posts that stood out to me this last week:
Featured Post – A must read article I saw this week:
Sheila of to Love Honor and Vacuum posted Should Christians Have Amazing Sex? ◄ Sheila’s take on the article I discuss above. Different, and frankly better.
Black and Married with Kids
4 Things to Do When You Have Negative Thoughts about Your Spouse ◄ There is a spiritual battle for you marriage.
Is Making Love a Form of Celebration in Your Marriage? ◄ If not, check this out.
The Generous Wife
Rest Together ◄ You need it, she needs, it, and your marriage needs it.
Burn the Comparisons ◄ Comparing yourself to others is deadly.
More and Better ◄ She will be okay with what you give to others as long as what you give to her is more and better.
Planning Fun ◄ Find any excuse for a party!
How Do You Do Marriage? ◄ Find a good model.
The Whole, Not Just “The Part” ◄ “I should do everything with my wife’s preferences in mind. ” AMEN!
Hot, Holy and Humorous
Dependence or Independence in Marriage? ◄ Have you found a good balance?
The Danger of Silence ◄ SPEAK UP!
What Everyone Wants But Few Experience ◄ Are you willing to pay the price?
The Romantic Vineyard
50 Daily Kindnesses ◄ Great list – how many can you do this month?
Safe at home
Avoiding Friendly Fire At Your House ◄ Are you taking fire from your spouse, or she from you?