Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Time To Talk About The Purpose Of Sex

The more I see all the headlines stamped on our news feeds about #metoo moments, the more I am
convinced we as a society have lost sight of the purpose of sex. It's a generally true observation that if we don’t know what something is for, odds are pretty good we will use it in ways we shouldn’t.

Sex is not exempt from this reality. And considering how the scandals range from the church to Hollywood to Washington to schools, it’s clearly a struggle that permeates every aspect of our society.

So, sex and purpose. What could possible go wrong in this discussion? 

I don’t expect everyone reading this to agree with me, but I do ask that you give serious consideration to these thoughts – and then, if you wish to offer serious thoughts in agreement or opposition, feel free!

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First,  there’s a clear biological purpose. Whether or not you believe nature or nature’s God is responsible for our reproduction, this fact is undeniable. Assuming a man and woman are healthy and in the fertile years of their lives, sex without contraception eventually results in babies. It’s just the way the world works. 

Second…. and here is where the conversation gets contentious immediately, because our opinions are probably strongly formed by our worldview. Nonetheless, I will give you the other purposes I see knowing full well that not all will agree.

Second, I believe there is a unitive purpose. Sex is not less than a biological and physical engagement, but it is certainly more than that. Sex is meant to bond; it’s meant to be a full exposure, a full surrender, a full submission and engagement of body, soul and spirit. It’s meant to unite souls, not just genitals. Some have compared it to relational glue or tape. We are meant to “apply it” to someone with whom we will stay united. As we apply layer after layer, the bond grows stronger. In this strength we find even greater freedom, greater naked surrender of our full selves, greater intensity that is only found within a bond of safety and commitment that allows for the full expression of unfettered sexuality. (To be clear, I believe that bond is found in the covenant of marriage.)

Third, I believe there is a maturing purpose. Sex is meant to make us grow up. As fun as it is, truly good sex is a challenge. Partners are different: different tempos of lovemaking; different expectations about conversation or silence; different preferences for settings; different aspects of lovemaking that some prefer more than others; different expectations for moods (can we laugh or should we be serious?); different ideas of foreplay; different ideas of what follows afterwards; different ideas of who gets their way when one is more aroused than the other… The list goes on. Sex draws us in with its promise of pleasure, and then goes to work on our hearts and souls.

Fourth, I believe there is a communal purpose. Sex does not merely impact the people engaged in it; the formation that happens during sex ripples out into the community. Children are the most obvious example of how everyone around us can be impacted by our sexual choices. But there are also issues of honor, compassion, self-control, and self-expression (see the previous paragraph on maturation). 

If we view others as objects to make us happy, that will ripple out beyond a bedroom. If we think our every sexual urge ought to be fulfilled, that will impact how we treat our other urges. If we think we are owed pleasure; if we think we should be able to disconnect our emotions from one of the most intensely personal physical interactions with another human being; if we think commitment is not necessary for access, surrender and vulnerability…. that will land on others too. On the other hand, if we are forced to learn self-control, patience, honor, reciprocity, boundaries and (dare I say it) even love, well … that’s an entirely different kind of impact on the world.

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So, here’s what I see happening in these four areas. Once again, I offer this as my observation. I welcome serious interaction and feedback.

First, we have done our best to separate procreation from sex. I’m not saying all contraception is a bad idea or that there are not principled reasons to avoid having children. I’m just saying that there seems to be a mindset that says children are a punishment, a curse that is somehow deeply unfair, a burden that we should have the right to avoid or reject. But… that’s the way sex is designed. Sex naturally leads to babies; it’s just the way the world works. The resentment or anger I see at this most basic cause and effect scenario strikes me as deeply undermining to the attempt to appreciate sexuality for what it is.

Second, we have tried to make the argument that sex need not unite anything more than genitals. You and me ain’t nothing but mammals, right? Or, as 9 Inch Nails so eloquently puts it, why not f*** like animals?  The answer is because it turns out we can’t disconnect parts of ourselves from the rest of ourselves. There is a rising epidemic of alcoholism on college campuses as more and more coeds drink themselves into a place where they will be able to detach emotionally from a sexual game whose rules they did not make and whose results are not of their choosing. This is not freedom. This is not the blissful unhooking of clothes and moral shackles that the Sexual Revolution promised. We have become a people who participate in our own objectification.

Third, the hook-up culture and the apps that support them do nothing for our maturity.  If anything, they keep us perpetually emotional children. There once was a time where a potential partner had to at least - at minimum - go through some sort of testing ground to earn the right to have access to someone else’s body. Now, swiping right is a sufficient hurdle. The Atlantic recently published an article about the woman who recently accused Aziz Ansari of a sort of #metoo moment. This portion stands out to me:
“Eventually, overcome by her emotions at the way the night was going, she told him, ‘You guys are all the f****** same’ and left crying. I thought it was the most significant line in the story: this has happened to her many times before. What led her to believe that this time would be different?”
My heart breaks for a women who is apparently surround by, to quote C.S. Lewis, men without chests: “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.” Lewis claims that the head (intellect) rules the belly (appetites) through the chest (“Magnanimity…emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments). This is maturity. It’s the difference between the cerebral and visceral man. If the belly always gets what it wants, eventually appetites will always trump magnanimity, intellect and reason. Sex, perhaps the strongest appetite of all in most of us, is a training ground, whether we want it to be or not.

Fourth, we have forgotten that the community has a vested interest in our sex lives. Not a prurient interest – I don’t mean we are all peeping Toms. I mean that our sexual habits impact our communities. What happens in the bedroom does not stay in the bedroom. Children are the most practical example, of course, but what if I, even as a married man, sexually coerce my wife? That’s not just a me and her issue; that’s going to change how she views men in general, and it’s going to form how I view women. My kids may well pick up on what’s going on not because they see us having sex, but because my attitude can’t help but permeate everything I do with my wife. 

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There’s more to be said, of course. I could add a lot more about a specifically Christian view of sex and marriage, but that's not the purpose of this post. This fly-over view is meant to generate discussion, not end it. I just hope we can begin to take seriously the idea that the Sexual Revolution might not have lived up to its hype, and that conventional moral norms may offer a wisdom that we overlook to our detriment as individuals and a society.

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