Why I don’t think God is an anti-sex Zeus hurling lightning bolts at any sign of lust

Photo: holistichealthandme.com
Photo: holistichealthandme.com

There’s a magic formula I was taught as a kid that claimed to guarantee lifelong happiness: If you (1) don’t have premarital sex, (2) marry a Christian, and (3) raise your kids in the church, then you will live happily ever after. I believed it for years, struggling to follow the rules because who wants to sign themselves up for a life of unhappiness if being happy is really so simple? Ha! At first, it was easy. I assumed everything would go perfectly according to plan and fighting one’s sexual urges at age ten isn’t too challenging. I reassured my parents I’d find a good Christian man. That was their one requirement: “Find a man who loves you, but loves Jesus above all else.”

By the time I was sixteen, I discovered that my body’s desires were completely out of sync with what my youth group leaders kept hammering into us horny teenagers at every meeting. We read those trendy anti-dating books by Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, required reading for all Christian teens at the time. Even though I joined in the discussions and nodded my head in agreement, physical intimacy with a guy was what I craved more than anything. As is the case for most girls at that age, sexual cravings and fantasies ruled my imagination, making me feel horribly guilty because I believed them to be wrong and sinful.

My suspicions about the magic happiness formula grew and eventually there came a day when I consciously rejected it. It was one of the most liberating days of my life when I realized all of a sudden that there “isn’t some kind of anti-sex Zeus throwing lightning bolts at any sign of lust” (C.M. Desjardins, Geez, Spring 2013). I no longer believed I’d be condemned as a lifelong sinner, left to roast in hell, if I had sex before marriage. In fact, I went so far as to start believing that God likes sex. After all, God made my body, so why wouldn’t God want me to enjoy it, as long as I went about it in an intelligent, respectful way?

Why is mainstream Christianity so terrified of sex? It’s a taboo subject that rarely gets discussed with the genuine acknowledgement of, and respect for, human desires that young people need to hear. I think that the church’s approach to sex actually damages people’s ability to have healthy, fulfilling sex lives. A guilt complex is drilled into young Christians that is so overpowering and suffocating that they usually get married at a very young age because they can’t resist the call of sex any longer… and it’s better to be miserably married and having sex than happily single and having sex, right? I’ve seen my own friends do this, and then they wonder why their marriages start disintegrating down the road. My heart aches for them and I want to say, “It’s because the magic formula just isn’t true!What matters is what’s in our hearts and in our heads.

(Note: I do have some Christian friends who have followed the formula and are very happy together, so it does work for some people and I respect that greatly.)

Yes, I'm sure it's safe, but is it truly happy? Unfortunately it's a lot more complicated than this.
Yes, I’m sure it’s safe, but is it truly happy? Unfortunately it’s more complicated than this.

I understand that the church upholds its sexual rules as a way to protect young people from the many complications that can grow out of sexual relationships, and that’s valuable. But when the rules stunt a person’s ability to make good choices about a partner because the desire for sex blinds them to everything else, then it’s downright dangerous. My husband and I wouldn’t be together if one of us had wanted to wait for sex till marriage. Sex was (and still is) an important part of our relationship that we both wanted to explore before committing to each other, and I am very glad we did.

I truly believe that teaching young people how to have successful marriages has less to do with drilling the magic formula than it does with (1) teaching the importance of upholding gender equality and mutual respect, (2) ensuring open lines of communication, and (3) urging both genders not to settle for anything less than what they want.

“The church desperately needs to wrestle with its fears about sex while dismantling the structures and lies of corporate and cultural Christianity that feed these fears.” (Amy Frykholm, Geez Spring 2013)

Having premarital sex won’t destroy you, but an unhappy marriage might.

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12 thoughts on “Why I don’t think God is an anti-sex Zeus hurling lightning bolts at any sign of lust

  1. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.
    I was christened as a baby but I didn’t grow up in any particular faith. My mother brought me up; she has always been very open-minded and leans towards Buddhism. But I am on my own faith journey and the Christian faith appeals to me. However, I feel conflicted by the emphasis that modern Christianity places on pre-marital sex because it tells me that my personal beliefs are wrong and that I’ll be punished for them. And it throws up a lot of questions to me, such as can I actually call myself a Christian if I’m not anti pre-marital sex?
    As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong), the Bible doesn’t actually instruct against pre-marital sex anyway. It teaches that sexual immorality is a sin and that does fit with my personal standards. But I don’t believe that sex before marriage in a meaningful and loving relationship is wrong.

    1. Grace,

      The Bible does actually instruct against pre-marital sex. More generally, it instructs against fornication, which is any form of non-marital sex (see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fornication)

      Here are three examples:

      “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” — Galatians 5:19-21

      “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” — Colossians 3:5

      “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” — 1 Thessalonians 4:3

      Note that I have used the KJV since it uses the word “fornication” explicitly. Other translations use the more generic “sexual immorality”, but as is evident from your confusion as to whether or not fornication constitutes “sexual immorality” I think the KJV is the best translation here since it is more specific.

      You can find all Biblical verses on fornication here: http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=fornication&version1=9&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no. Fornication is always viewed as a sin in the Bible. Note also that there are no exceptions for fornication in a “meaningful and loving relationship”.

      1. Not a problem. Even many Christians rationalize non-marital sex as moral if it occurs “in a loving relationship” despite what the Bible teaches (and in all honesty I once had a similar rationalization).

        Best wishes on your faith journey. If you have any questions about Christianity feel free to ask me. You can reach me at my blog (the link is on my gravatar).

    2. Thanks for your comment, Grace. I think the answer to your question depends on who you ask and what defines being a Christian. As I expressed in my post, I get frustrated by the Christian obsession with sex that seems to ignore much more important and pressing issues. Like you, I agree that if a relationship is meaningful and loving and respectful, no one is going to roast in hell for having sex. Plus, I believe that the Bible was written by men, not God, so that drastically changes any Biblical interpretations. Good luck in finding that place where you’re comfortable with your faith and with yourself.

      1. Thanks Katherine. I enjoy discussing faith with people because I have so many questions and conflicts and ideas about it. It’s great to read posts on blogs like yours where people aren’t afraid to be outspoken. 🙂

  2. It’s always a bit of a jolt to learn how you received and interpreted the messages of your old-fashioned upbringing. You are so right that we need to ensure open lines of communication not just with partners but with our children, too. But, even with the best of efforts and intentions, communication is never perfect.

  3. Sex was a big driver in us getting married when we did. I wasn’t young, but my spouse sure was. Though I’m happily married, there’s a part of me that feels as though I missed out on an important part of my life (sexing other people). Now of course that makes the assumption that there were other people who were interested in having sex with me; a laughable idea.

    As for the God of the Bible, his stance is reasonably clear on the subject. But who says the God of the Bible is the right one, if there is one. The Bible says a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense. Giving people awesome genitals and forbidding their use except under strict circumstances is not very nice.

    1. Your comment made me laugh because I don’t ever think of the Bible in terms of being “nice” or not. Regardless, I do believe that the Bible was written by people — men who liked the feeling of control they possessed over women — which is why they imposed such strong restrictions. (But that’s a post for another day.)
      There are definitely pros and cons to being in sexual relationships with other people. Yes, it does satisfy that curiosity, but it can also increase curiosity or longing for other opportunities if you’re at all unsatisfied with the person you’re with, so that could be a downside. On the other hand, it can make you really appreciative of who you’re with. It does constitute baggage, no matter what. As for whether or not anyone would have been interested in you, don’t be ridiculous!

  4. Nice one Feisty! I do think sexual compatability is so important in a marriage and I don’t know how you’re supposed to figure this out without having sex before you make that lifelong commitment.

  5. Joshua Harris is the only author I’ve ever written a letter to. It wasn’t a nice letter. I was frustrated with the same thing you witnessed: too many friends rushing into marriages due to hormones.

    I recently attended a wedding where the couple shared their first kiss at the alter. It was heralded as romantic and godly but I couldn’t buy what they were selling. Demonizing healthy physical affection seems like a gross twisting of scripture.

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