I’m a father of three daughters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I’m afraid to raise three girls; I suppose the sentiment is really attached to raising three teenage girls since my daughters (who are 3, 2, and 2 months old) all generally sit still, read books, and don’t break things like their male counterparts. Still I can understand why people have such fear of raising teenagers (not just girls, but teens in general) since there are so, so many questions of how to navigate such a tumultuous, confusing time of life. And there in the center of the storm is the question every parent is terrified to tackle: What do we do about sex?
It’s natural for us to wonder, since the vast, vast, vast majority of us had parents who, despite their best efforts, failed miserably to prepare us adequately to understand sex and sexuality. Most of us just got handed a book or were left to the public school system where some coach awkwardly described anatomy after we finished a video obviously filmed thirty years ago (the bell-bottoms and technicolor gave it away).
The internet is now so ubiquitous that it’s literally strapped to our wrists and buzzing in our pockets, and most of our teenagers and young adults will be exposed to sex-ed so broad, confusing, and destructive, even I as a child of the 90s, can’t fathom it’s reach. The other day, for example, I read an article entitled “Why I Want My Teenage Daughter to Have Sex.” I thought it was click-bait at first. It wasn’t:
Part of empowering girls is not getting in the way of their becoming sexual beings when it is right for them. Supporting girls in their adolescence is about allowing them to develop and explore, just as we would want them to develop and explore any other aspect of themselves…
As my high school sex-ed teacher said, we have sex because it is fun—and she was right. Most of us have sex because we like it, it’s fun, it’s bonding and when done safely, intimately and well, it feels fantastic.
Is this the philosophy of sex that I want for my daughters? Is this what I want them to believe about sex and sexuality? And more importantly, is this what sex is (or, should I say, is it all that it is?) Is this how sex is supposed to work? I mean, no one in their right mind would say, “I want my 4 year old to play with matches. Part of empowering kids is not getting in their way of enjoying fire when it’s right in front of them. Supporting kids in their childhood is about allowing them to develop and explore fire. If we want to empower them, we need not to overly scare them or protect them from their own interest in fire.” That sounds absurd, right? And yet, so many treat sex like it was something benign, like scratching an itch or eating a sandwich. Ultimately it’s a matter of worldview; and as Christians, we have to understand that God has not left us without clarity. He has defined sex for us.
Sex is a Gift
It’s ironic that the view of sex and sexuality put forward by that article, while on the surface appearing to be more “safe” and “free”, is actually a terrifically weak version of the freedom, safety, and pleasure of sex that God ordains in scripture. In fact, scripture puts forward an incredibly high view of sex from cover to cover. Remember that before you even leave the first page you get this explanation of the first wedding night:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Sex was the very first gift that God would give to humanity as man and woman. It was more than just a nice, physical activity… like badminton… it was deeply spiritual, emotional, relational. So much so that it says they “became one flesh.” That’s pretty intense imagery. And what’s more, it says they were both naked and unashamed. This isn’t just a physical description of their lack of clothing, it’s a description of their complete and utter vulnerability and trust of each other. There was no shame, no fear, no wondering if the other person was judging the other on “performance” or “compatibility.” It was… perfect.
The Bible over and over wants us to have that view of sex. The whole book of Song of Solomon, in fact, is a celebration of sexuality and romance in the context of a man pursuing his bride. It’’s far more than just a “feels good” activity that you can explore for yourself. It’s the deepest level of connection designed for a husband and a wife to offer themselves up to each other. Is it fun? Yes, of course it is! But it’s so much more than that. When I give my kids the most delicious food to eat, I’m right to be unhappy when they amuse themselves to eat mud outside (they don’t do that, by the way. It’s just an example). Sex is a precious, valuable gift. To treat it as anything less is to experience a hollow counterfeit of the gift God has given to us as human beings.
Sex is a Covenant
A Covenant Between People
I love cooking at home, not just because it saves money and gives me a sense of accomplishment to create something, but because it means I get to share something with my wife. We work together and enjoy the fruits of our labor together. We trust each other to serve each other in the kitchen and we trust each other to be gracious no matter what the results are. Usually they’re very good… not always, but usually. The end result, however, is more about the growing together than the food we eat. We enjoy the food; we enjoy each other more. This is how covenant works; an old word for a timeless idea that two people make a promise to each other to remain faithful and loyal to each other no matter the circumstances. God’s view of sex is always in light of this kind of relationship. It’s a physical expression of the covenant vow made between a husband and wife. Much like baptism is a physical expression of our covenant with God, sex is the physical expression of our covenant with our spouse.
This isn’t the only way way eat, however. Sometimes Brandee and I go out to Taco Bell or some other fast food place. There’s an understanding between us and the restaurant that we come and pay money in exchange for food. If we like the food, we keep coming back. If we don’t, we take our business elsewhere. They lose us as customers until they can make us happy again. We have a contractual relationship with restaurants, and while that may be appropriate in that context, it’s absolutely terrifying when we apply it to sex. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what so many of us think of when we think of sex: it’s fun, it feels good, and I should be able to explore it on my own terms. If it stops being fun, or it stops feeling good, I’m going to take my business elsewhere. That’s how a contract works. Sex is not a contract. It’s not leverage. It’s not a service for you to simply “find yourself.” If all you want out of sex is a good time for yourself, then please. Grow up. And please stay away from my daughters.
And this is where we really get into the practical every day of this subject. An “if it feels good, do it” philosophy of sex runs into a very obvious issue: what happens when it stops feeling good? What happens when sex isn’t fun? Unfortunately, the laissez-faire attitude of sex would say go find someone else who makes you feel good. The reality is, sex doesn’t always feel good. It isn’t always fun. To expect it to is unreasonable and unfair. It’s the covenant that makes sex work. No matter what the moment feels like, both people are bound together, trusting the vow they made to each other. Sex is a physical expression of the covenant vow a husband and wife make to each other. It’s a renewing of vows. It’s a declaration that all of me is yours and all of you is mine. Covenant, not contract.
A Word on Pornography
Before we move on, a quick word on pornography. While sex can either be the physical expression of the covenant vows between husband and wife or it can be two individuals contractually exchanging physical and emotional deliverables, pornography is often presented as a “doesn’t harm anyone” alternative to such relational stakes. Unfortunately, if sex was meant to be a picture of selflessness, sacrifice, and covenant, pornography offers perhaps the purest antithesis of such expression. Pornography is selfish. It’s self-gratification without any of the relationship. It’s so purely transactional that it’s literally a click away. If sex were a meal, pornography is not even fast food… it’s that cup of ramen you get from a vending machine. It’s sexuality so corrupted that it’s not even recognizable for what sex was meant to express.
This is so important for us to acknowledge since statistics say that global pornography revenues in 2007 reaching $20 Billion dollars… that’s almost twice the revenue of all NFL teams combined. About 80% of men ages 18-30 view pornographic materials at least once a month, and nearly 90% reported that they were first exposed to such materials before they turned 18. We’re far from the days where pornography was just something in the shadows; it has tragically become a part of our cultural experience.
A Picture of Covenant Between Us and God.
When Brandee and I got engaged, a close friend of ours prayed over us just minutes after I put the ring on her finger. The scripture he prayed was, of course, Ephesians 5:21-32… “wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” I’ve always heard it said in the church that marriage was meant to be a picture of Christ’s love for the church, and the church’s mutual love for Jesus. While this is most certainly true, it isn’t until I started to understand what sex was divinely ordained for, that this idea of Christ’s union with the church started to really make sense.
Sex, when it’s right and good and true, is meant to be about self-giving and self-sacrifice. It’s me bringing all of me, all of you bringing all of yourself. It’s us giving entirely to each other. Nothing held back. Nothing stolen, only given. It’s a promise. It’s a vow. It’s vulnerability and it’s security all wrapped up into one. And when you consider that sex and marriage is ultimately a picture of Christ’s love for the church, you start to understand the depth and breadth of just how intensely Jesus loves us. The God of the universe, who created all things, who holds all things together, who spins galaxies into motion and breathes life into existence… that God wants to offer all of himself, holding nothing back, accepting only the reciprocal giving in return. It’s what C.S. Lewis writes: “Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo” (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 24-25.)
What does that mean for our understanding of sex? It’s much, MUCH bigger than we give it credit for. It’s popular now to think of sex as merely self-discovery or self-indulgent. In the name of “freedom” we hear that sex is just something that “feels good” and should be “unrestricted.” But wait. It’s so much bigger than that. By understanding just how precious and powerful it is (that it’s literally an experience of God’s grace, an act of worship, a revelation of God’s sacrificial, loyal, faithful love) we can finally start to see why it’s such a big deal to protect it, guard it, and experience it correctly. As Christians, to throw away such a gift for the sake of temporary pleasure is to cheapen God’s grace and marr the mirror by which God chooses to reflect a picture of his intimate love for us.
Freedom, Real Freedom
Brandee and I both walked into marriage with this gift to offer each other. Neither of us had ever had sex before and after eight years of marriage, we’re so grateful to be able to grow together in the safety of the covenant we made to each other. Some would scoff and say it’s not reasonable to expect two people to “wait until marriage.” They would say it’s impossible in our culture. It’s not.
We surrounded ourselves with people who could encourage us, we spend lots of time in group settings, we committed to being walls instead of doors, we pursued time with the Lord in our season of singleness, we guarded our hearts, we communicated clearly our boundaries and expectation, and we prayed for the Lord to keep us from spoiling the gift we wanted to give to our future spouses.
For many of us, the ability to say we’ve never experienced sex outside of marriage vows has long gone. But there’s good news. The love and grace that sex is supposed to reflect is the same love and grace that led Jesus to give himself up for us, on the cross, dying the death we deserve, to cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. He make us whole again. Now, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, because of the loyal love of God, you can make a vow to yourself and to your future spouse to cultivate a perspective of sex that demonstrates its real worth. We can’t change our past, but Jesus can and does redeem our stories for something beautiful.
Want to know more? Read about Defining Relationships and how to communicate clear boundaries and expectations.