It promises to be another big weekend at the box office. The buzz is all over the interwebs about the book-turned-movie, 50 Shades of Grey. Late-night talk shows have been featuring the stars of the movie. Shrewd marketers have based all kinds of products, from the mundane to the kinky, on the best selling novel. Women from coast to coast are pre-buying tickets, and men are taking them for Valentine’s Day dates.
And make no mistake, the blogosphere has exploded with articles about the books/movies. It seems Christian women are just as obsessed with the movie, albeit for different reasons. There are no shortage of articles condemning the movie and its less than ideal portrayal of sex and relationships. Even this blog addressed the book when it was at the height of it’s popularity and the dangers it presents.
So why write another article?
Because, I think our obsession points to some deeper issues that need to be addressed; issues that go to the core of who we are as people and how God designed us, relationships, and sex.
Sex On the Brain
Our culture is sex obsessed. Watch your typical three minute commercial break and you will encounter at least one of the following:
- A scantily clad model with the physique of a Greek god/goddess plying the wares of a particular company
- An advertisement marketing a pill that promises to “fix” some form of sexual dysfunction
- A preview of a show/movie that features sexual humor via double-entendre or coarse vulgarity
More evidence of our sex obsession is the sky-rocketing use of pornography. Consider the following stats*:
- 69% of the pay-per-view industry is pornography
- Internet pornography generates $20 billion annually; half of that revenue comes from the United States
- More than 20% of Google searches are for adult material
- The average age that an American male first views a pornographic image is 11
- There are an estimated 35 million people subscribed to mobile porn sites so that they can view porn on their phone/tablet
What does all this sex obsession mean, and what is it doing to us as a society? Our obsession with books and movies like 50 Shades reveals two deep-rooted problems that the Church must address.
1. People are Desperate for Real Relationships
Our sex-obsession has had one devastating consequence: we have equated sex with love. Even more so, we have equated sex with a relationship. What does this mean? It means if the sex is good the relationship must be good, but if the sex is bad, or even worse, boring, then the relationship must be bad and boring as well. It also implies that for there to be a relationship, there must be sex.
While sex can be an indicator of how well a relationship is functioning, it is not the only indicator. Relationships, like people, are complex. People have moods, emotions, and thoughts. They are much more than a physical body. Just as you can’t tell the quality of a person by their outer appearance, you can’t judge a relationship solely by the sex.
But let’s dig even deeper. Relationships are hard work. There is a lot of give and take to making a relationship work, and when that relationship evolves into marriage, the work gets that much harder. Both sides have to sacrifice. Both sides have to be flexible. Both sides have to practice forgiveness. Trust and dignity must be present for a marriage to work. Honoring one another is essential, as is transparency. While all these things can impact your sex life, they are meant to be practiced outside of the bedroom long before the gift of sex is explored.
The problem is, when we equate sex with the relationship, we work to gratify our physical desires but not our emotional needs, and the result is we are left emotionally empty. Emotionally empty people will try to fill that void with whatever they can. Some will try more sex. Others will turn to substance abuse. Others will simply trade in one partner for another. Still others, as exemplified in the book, will enter into abusive relationships as a last ditch effort to fill the void. What we are left with is a wasteland of broken relationships and used-up lives.
Thus the craving for real, authentic relationships goes unmet, because we think that “good sex” can meet that need. But, that’s not how God created us, nor is it the reason why He designed sex.
2. The Church Needs to Rethink How it Talks About Sex
Over the years the way the Church has handled sex related issues has changed drastically. Far too often we have been reactive rather than pro-active about the issues of sex and sexuality. Consider the following “timeline” of how the American church has presented matters related to sex over the last 50 years:
- 1960s-70s – Silence. Sex was considered a highly private subject to be discussed only between husband and wife and never in the public square. This left the impression that sex itself was taboo and somehow shameful.
- 1980s-90s- Purity. The ultimate reactionary response to the “free love” philosophy of the 1960s: let’s teach our kids about purity. Unfortunately purity talks and challenges largely focused on the physical act of sex, never on the deeper issue of why God wants us to be pure, nor on the relationship aspect of sex.
- 2000-Present- Modesty. We have left the purity bandwagon and jumped on the modesty one. If girls would just cover up and boys keep their eyes on the neck up then they won’t be tempted to have sex. Phrases like “guard your heart” and “bounce your eyes” have dominated mommy blogs and youth groups alike. We have declared war on yoga-pants and “Christian cleavage.” But this approach still ignores a major aspect of sex.
Like anything else in life, the more we say “don’t have sex” the more our young people are going to want to, especially given the sex saturated culture in which they are being raised. Avoidance isn’t the answer either. So how do we address the topic of sex? We approach it the way the Bible does.
Talk About the Purpose of Sex
I love that the first command given to Adam and Eve in the garden was essentially, “Go have sex!” The Bible takes only 28 verses to broach the topic of sex. We shouldn’t shrink back from it. God created man in His own image so that God could be glorified in man. Thus the first purpose of sex is to glorify God. Sex, in the setting which God has designed for it, is a beautiful act that declares the goodness of our Maker. God created sex to be enjoyable. He placed all those nerve endings in specific places for our pleasure. One of the chief gifts God gave to man in the garden was the gift of sex, and our enjoyment of it is an extension of His gracious nature.
The second purpose of sex is procreation. “Be fruitful and multiply” was God’s command to Adam and Eve. Undoubtedly I will get some flak from couples who have decided not to have children or couples who cannot have children. Rest assured, I am not condemning you, your choices or your circumstances. Nor am I trying to devalue your marriage because it has not produced offspring. That being said, it cannot be denied that one of the primary purposes of sex, both theologically and biologically speaking, is to propagate the human race. But notice, this purpose is secondary to glorifying God. God wants man’s offspring to “subdue” the earth, or bring it under control. In other words, God wants us to mirror what He did at creation: bring order out of chaos. This reflects His glory into the world. Not only are we to produce offspring, but we are to raise them to glorify God in all things, including their sex lives.
The third purpose of sex is intimacy. Have you noticed that the Bible is rated-R in some places? It does not shy away from topics like rape, incest and adultery (all examples of what happens to sex in a broken world). Nor does it stay silent on the topic of sexual intimacy. Song of Solomon was considered nearly pornographic by some Rabbis. Jewish boys weren’t allowed to read it until they were in their late teens or early twenties. The book is rife with sexual euphemisms and, dare I say, erotic language. So why did God allow it in the Scriptures? For two reasons. (1) It illustrates the level of intimacy that should be present in a marital relationship. A husband should desire his wife. A wife should have the hots for her husband. They should both enjoy and want having sex. Sex binds two people together like nothing else. This is why, to go back to Genesis 1, God said that “the two become one flesh.” Sex is meant to be a spiritual “super-glue” of sorts that permanently binds one partner to another. This is why marriage is meant to be a lifelong covenant and why divorce is so painful. When something as delicate as two human souls is bound with something as strong as sexual intimacy then is separated it becomes shredded and broken (Think of super-gluing two sheets of tissue paper together and trying to separate them after the glue sets). God designed sex to bring husband and wife into deeper relationship with each other. So permanent is the bond, He created marriage as the only proper context for it, so that we could be protected from shredded hearts and lives. (2) Intimacy in marriage should reflect the intimacy God desires with man. Ephesians 5 makes it clear that marriage was designed to reflect the love God has for His people. This is why marriage is one man and one woman: because there is one God and one Church. God is wholly different than the church, just as a man is wholly different than a woman. God’s promise is to the Church alone, and He demands that the Church honors Him alone. The same is true of the husband-wife relationship; they are to be mutually committed to each other. Song of Solomon reveals to us the passion God has for us, and His desire to see us enjoy Him for who He is, and that He also enjoys us!
Talk About the Boundaries of Sex
The Bible also defines some clear boundaries for sexual intimacy. Part of the reason is discussed above: to honor God; to protect us from unnecessary emotional pain, etc. Since God designed both sex and relationships, it makes sense that He would know how they best function. Therefore, it is for our benefit and pleasure that we observe the boundaries the Bible sets.
- Boundary One: Sex is reserved for the context of marriage.
- Boundary Two: Sex is to be between one man and one woman.
- Boundary Three: Our sexual desire is to be for our spouse, and our spouse alone.
Three simple boundary lines. Human nature is to look at these boundaries as restrictive, but really there is a lot of freedom within them. Whatever a married couple wants to consensually explore in the privacy of their home is permissible as long as it respects these boundaries and respects each other as a fellow child of God.
Talk About the Redemption of Sex
Our culture has hijacked sex, and in doing so there has been a lot of collateral damage. Lives have been broken by infidelity, sexual abuse, and promiscuity. As our culture identifies itself more and more by its sexuality, confusion abounds. Children are introduced to sexual concepts earlier and earlier thus confusing their identity in regards not only to sexuality, but body-image and self-esteem. In talking about sex the Church has often been heavy-handed on condemning those who violate the three boundaries listed above. But the truth is, our culture needs to hear a message of redemption when it comes to sex. People need to know that God can and will redeem their sex lives. He can restore them, if they are willing to let Him.
But we need to do more than preach redemption; we need to live it. Redemption is a process, and for some it will take time. There will be relapses. Consequences will not simply vanish. The work is messy and tiresome. But if we are to redeem our hyper-sexualized culture, we must be willing to dine with the sinners and stop casting our stones at those caught in adultery. Instead, we should help them to “go, and sin no more.”
*according to an extensive study done by CovenantEyes.com