You don’t have to spend much time looking around our culture to see that it’s drenched in sexual imagery. That sad reality is especially obvious in our pop culture offerings. Whether it’s racy commercials during the Super Bowl, lewd sitcoms, suggestive song lyrics, or even steamier R-rated and premium cable offerings, sexual content is everywhere we turn in the entertainment world.
In the broader culture, sex-related issues and questions frequently dominate the news cycle and are at the heart of some of our society’s fiercest debates right now. Just last week, for instance, I saw an article about how Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania has begun stocking morning after pills for its students … in a vending machine. And perhaps most explosive is our culture’s rapidly shifting views when it comes to homosexuality and the meaning of marriage.
My wife works at a Presbyterian church, and one of the subjects we spend a great deal of time talking about is sex-related issues, specifically how they impact our ability to engage those outside the fold. Increasingly, it seems as if the gulf between mainstream culture and an orthodox, biblical perspective on the purpose and place of sex is getting bigger.
In our ongoing conversation about this subject over the last couple of years, I think we’ve been able to distill the difference between a Christian understanding of sexuality and where our society is at into two straightforward questions — questions I hope might have the ability to open conversational doors when you’re talking with friends who don’t share a Christian worldview.
These two questions are as simple as they are profound: What is the purpose of sex? And who gets to decide?
Obviously, one could write a dissertation about the first question from a Christian perspective. That said, I think we can quickly make three overarching observations about the purpose and meaning of sex based on what we see in the creation narrative in Genesis.
In Genesis 1:26-28, we read: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.’” And at the end of the lengthier description of God’s creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, we find this concluding statement about the spiritual ramifications of sex in marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (v.24).
So here are those three observations I promised: God designed sex to be a unifying, beautiful reality in a permanent, marital relationship between a man and woman. The fruit of that union is new life. And in the oneness a man and woman share in marriage, God’s image is somehow, mysteriously, wondrously reflected.
Those are the primary purposes of sex. And God, not us, is the One who has laid down those boundary stones. Sex is a privilege and a gift to be received within a specific context, not a right to be demanded.
Our non-Christian culture, meanwhile, offers radically different answers to the two questions I asked above. The primary purpose of sex is self-focused: It’s something that’s supposed to make us feel good. And it’s the individual, not anyone else, who gets to decide where and how and with whom that sexual expression takes place. The autonomous, radically individual self has become the authority here, subverting and replacing God’s revealed design and intent. In fact, to suggest that any individual should have to submit or subject his or her desires to any external authority is anathema to our culture, a ridiculous message that’s utterly foreign to those who’ve not been shaped by an orthodox Christian worldview.
I like these two questions — What is the purpose of sex? Who gets to decide? — because I believe they offer a way, potentially, to talk constructively about the sensitive subject of sex with those who are coming from a different point of view. Instead of just saying, “This is what the Bible says, and I believe it,” I think these questions can help us frame the conversation in a way that might actually help others understand a bit better where we’re coming from, as well as prodding them to think about what convictions shape their own attitudes toward sexual choices and expressions.
One thing is for sure: Sex isn’t going anywhere in our culture. And as Christians who hope to be salt and light in a dark and dying world, I think we’re going to have to get better at engaging thoughtfully on difficult issues such as this one.
Copyright 2012 Adam Holz. All rights reserved.