Consider for a moment how most people in our culture think and talk about sex.
In much of the media, sex is viewed as something everybody wants, something people pursue, something people enjoy together or by themselves—no limits as long as it’s consensual.
In reaction to these overly permissive views, many Christians view sex as something shameful and embarrassing, something that can entice people, something dangerous.
And then when thinking about marriage within a Christian context, sex is viewed as something for a husband and wife to enjoy together.
I’d like to suggest that each of these ways is problematic. Yes, even that last one. It’s got a subtle but problematic idea in it — something that blurs God’s design for sex — that can work against a husband and wife’s marital intimacy, unity, and joy.
Here’s the problematic idea:
In each of these, sex is viewed as a thing unto itself.
But sex is not some thing.
In my experience, this is more than just semantics. Ideas matter. I think a lot of us have been immersed in a post-sexual revolution way of thinking about sex that has subtly served as a lens that blurs God’s heart for sex.
Sex is not an entity unto itself, but we can easily slip into thinking about sex in that way. Even loving husbands and wives can fall into the trap of wanting it from their spouse.
Through this lens, the focus isn’t one’s husband or one’s wife, but sex.
Is there a better lens? I think there is.
I propose God’s people begin practicing thinking about sex as an act of self-giving love.
Through this lens, sex can cease to be something we want from our spouse and can begin to become a part of how we lovingly relate with our spouse.
Granted, this is a process, and one we will need Christ to help us with. As we practice approaching sex this way, we will quickly find places where we fall short, where our desire for sex isn’t about seeking to love our spouse but seeking something for oneself. (Love isn’t love when it is done for one’s own sake.) But pursuing this vision is worth it.
When sex is no longer the object a husband or wife is after, sex can no longer come between them (an ironic idea, I know!). Sex, as sin has distorted it, will cease to be the fig leaf covering each spouse’s genitals. Why? Because when sex becomes about self-giving, there remains no more reason for mistrust, manipulation, control, performance anxiety, comparison, or insecurity. The marital embrace becomes secure and joyous because each is committed and devoted to the other in mutual self-giving love. In addition, “no, not tonight” isn’t a threat to the sexual relationship, it’s a seamless opportunity to practice self-giving love, this time through abstinence.
Again, we need God’s loving help to fill and fuel us on this journey. It’s not one we will be able to travel far on our own. We need the cross where Christ, our Bridegroom gave Himself freely in love for us. He is both our example and our source. We receive of His love as we are (1 John 4:19), and in this way grow in our own ability to love physically as a self-gift. (Not to mention learning to embrace the possibility of pregnancy as a self-gift!)
As husbands and wives journey to become people whose primary aim in the marriage bed is not to get or do something, but rather to love their beloved, their union grows brighter. This may be a high calling, but it is a worthy one and one our world, our homes, and our marriages desperately need.
Question: I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree? Disagree? Have questions? Think differently?
Josh, this is article made me step back and think about my own motivation on how I approach sex with my spouse. It helps us “unclutter” the approach that our culture has taken, and to move from it’s all about me and refocus about giving rather than getting.
Thanks, Nick. It makes me step back and consider my motivations as well!