Fearing the male sex drive has damaged a lot of lives.
Men are pigs.
I can say that pretty much anywhere, among any group of people, and not inspire disagreement. It's one of those rare things that the worldly and the religious accept equally — whether they realize it or not.
People differ in their application of this belief, of course. The secular take is that a man ought to embrace his carnality, just make up for it in some other way. If you're not hunky enough to deserve to be a pig, perhaps try a sense of humor. Don't believe me? Try to think of one male TV character who doesn't personify that.
Folks you'd label as "religious" aren't as glib about the issue, but we still have a hard time acknowledging anything redeemable about male sexuality. Browsing the "men's issues" section of the Christian bookstore, a guy's going to find plenty of input on how to not do all the horrible things that men are often compelled to do.
True, we need the help. Every guy is acquainted with the pit of sexual temptation that has been the bane of our sex since the Garden. But where is the God-intended purpose? What are we supposed to be besides sorry that we find ourselves this way?
Maybe you think I'm overstating it, or I have it all wrong. But after 10 years being involved with sexual ministry, I've met hundreds of men afflicted with shame over their sexuality, and just as many women living under a deep fear of it.
We Learn Early On
When I was in junior high, our small church lost its youth pastor and several men would fill in at different times to teach on Sunday. One of these guys was especially rigid, I remember. His family lived in the nearby hillside, a steadily thickening flock of small children who were all eerily solemn. He even had that Ned Flanders mustache.
One Sunday morning he was imploring the ladies to dress modestly, to put off dating and romance for a later season of life and never even touch a guy they didn't want to marry. Not bad advice, I guess, but the dire threatening reason he gave for this caution was — me and my friend.
In the course of his spiel he pointed squarely at the two of us and said, "If you knew the things these guys were thinking, you'd never want them looking at you!"
What you've got to understand is we were the only two guys in the class. There were about seven or eight girls sitting around us, their folding chairs creaking as they turned to look at the two specimens whose heads they'd just learned were filled with nasty, horrific movies that the feminine mind couldn't even imagine. Even for 13-year-olds, it was beyond awkward.
Ironically it would be more than a decade before I had a real sexual thought about a woman, but that's another story.
Taking into account my Pastor's Kid upbringing and my own work in ministry, I've been going to youth camps and retreats, conventions and conferences, pastoral seminars and pow-wows and so forth for nearly three decades. After all of it I have to say that, while the above anecdote may sound extreme, it is part of a pattern I see pretty consistently. It's often said more softly and subtly, but its message touches deep in the hearts of young people.
I'm convinced that we have mostly given up on male sexuality. We are led to believe the best thing we as men can do is rein it in, ride it out and apologize again and again. In the end we alienate men — and women — from the connection we were created to make in mystery.
Would it be controversial to say men are supposed to be the way we are? That, despite the sin we struggle with, there is something good and God-like lying dormant in our sexual wiring? To believe that my sexuality is a gift and not a curse, most of the time I feel like I'm hoping against hope.
As I'm growing, though, I am becoming more and more convinced that there's something glorious locked away in the misused and misunderstood sexuality of men.
There are a lot of good reasons men are put together the way we are. I think the best and most important one is women.
Probably nobody would disagree that men and women were made for each other mechanically speaking. But maybe the things we believe are so bad about the man are actually ways in which he was made to complement his helpmate. Consider that the man is visually oriented, sexually driven and emotionally more simplistic than the female and that that is good for her.
Wait, aren't these the things that make male sexuality so base? Sure there are a myriad of sinful expressions of these things. Don't forget, though, that sin is never original. For there to be perversion there must first be something pure to pervert.
So is it such a bad thing that a guy is visually stimulated? Seems to me that God had the visual very much in mind when He first sculpted the female form. The character of Elaine from Seinfeld once said, "A man's body is so utilitarian ... a woman's body is a work of art." Every once in a while, the sitcoms get something right. That's not to say the male has no beauty or the female lacks function — there's just a different order of priorities in either design.
I'd wager God wasn't just thinking about art when He made Eve's body, but when He made her soul, too. Advertising execs are obviously onto the truth that there's something in every woman that longs incessantly to feel beautiful. A woman's soul was made to be sought after and adored, not just her body. Not just her body — meaning it's still true for her body, even while it's more true for her heart.
Guys just need help transcending the physical (not omitting it in an attempt to feel righteous). That's why women are wired so differently; we help each other.
I think we all get — to some degree — that a woman inspires a man to venture into deeper realms of relationship. I imagine, though, that a wife is served by her husband's passion that, directed in godliness, burns with an immediacy that pulls her out of her inner world and into the moment.
I'm sure a guy who's been married 10 or 20 years could say it better — but so often they don't say it at all. So I find myself hoping still against hope that I am fighting for something glorious, not just against something pointless.
This delicate and mysterious balance is one of the big reasons I think God forbids homosexuality. I have seen how when we bring romance and sexuality into same-sex relationships, the built-in benefit of that balance is lost. I believe that's why we see more sexual promiscuity among men who struggle with a gay identity. It's not because they're homosexual; it's because they're all men. Honestly, I think most straight guys would tend to be just as promiscuous if they could — women's relational wiring simply gets in the way.
Women are affected by the imbalance that results from rejecting the opposite sex, too. The challenge we see in those overcoming lesbianism is not usually the sexual addiction that men are so commonly tangled in — it's emotional addictions. In an unhealthy dependency, a struggler often finds herself so singularly dependent upon another woman that she loses her own sense of identity. It's like the woman's more relational nature gets overloaded.
Homosexuality is certainly not the only way to forsake this balance, though. We all struggle in our flesh against what God designed us for. Our sinful nature resists giving ground to the sacrificial balance true intimacy requires of us. Much of the heartache in relationships comes from our insisting that the other be remade in our own image, rather than seeking out the ways our differences may serve the other's pleasure. I've done enough straight-dating to see that much.
More Harm than Good
I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that I'd met women deeply affected by their fear of male sexuality. I think of the messages we send to young women — I think of the girls in that junior high Sunday school class, and what it must have felt like to go on fearing the ugly things that guys' sexuality made them think and do.
This fear is the root of so many struggles for women, from the same-sex attracted woman to the frigid wife. Through my ministry internship I even met women for whom this fear turned out to be a root cause of overeating. Traumatic experiences or even just negative messages about sex had taught them to hate male attention, so they put on the pounds literally like armor against it.
Not too long ago I spoke on this subject to a men's Sunday school class in Pennsylvania. As I talked about how the male design was made to be good and could be good, among the group I noticed one fellow who my message obviously disturbed. His shoulders heaved as he angrily pumped air through his lungs; he anxiously readjusted himself in his chair every few seconds. When I opened up for discussion at the end, his hand shot up like a whack-a-mole.
Goodie, I thought.
"This is terrible," he said, "I have two teenage daughters, and I know what boys want to do to them — and I'm not going to let that happen!"
Of course, I reiterated, I wasn't downplaying the importance of discernment and discipline — and for Heaven's sake waiting until the time is right, as the most passionate Scriptures remind us — but I asked him to consider the consequences of instilling a paranoid fear of male desire in his daughters. How can a woman, after all, give herself freely to the love and adoration of a man whose desires she believes to be gross, sinful and frightening?
"That's exactly what I'm going to tell them men are like," he said adamantly. I honestly hope they don't believe him.
I think a lot about what I'm going to teach my kids, when I get them. I know there'll be no way to immunize them from struggles with sin. But I hope I'm able to instill in them the idea that sex is saved for marriage because it's too special a thing not to be, that the good things God has made are even more good than the counterfeits are bad.
And whether they're sons or daughters (and I hope I get both), rather than spurning their gender I pray that it's something they embrace with a sense of gratitude and wonder.
Copyright 2008 Mike Ensley. All rights reserved.