There is no shortage of jokes about sex. Late-night cable is full of would-be comedians who find the subject of sex to be an easy road to quick laughs. Movies aimed at the teen audience do their part to push "humor" that dehumanizes sex. Girls use food objects to teach their friends how to perform sexual acts. Boys masturbate with desserts. And how many times must we see a woman's breasts used as the consummate distraction for moronic males? These attempts at humor trivialize sex and ridicule people—both of which are creations of God. Trivializing his design and handiwork is anything but holy.
However, in most of these carnival sideshows found on television or in movies that get passed off as entertainment, any difficulty in a character's sex life produces only momentary anguish. A few scenes later the leading man or lady is back in full form, completely recovered from the temporary sexual setback and ready to love another day. The emotional damage is always short-lived in the media, and we're led to believe that this frantic pursuit of sexual fulfillment is, in fact, quite funny. But deep inside we know that such a view is terribly broken. When sex is treated with such disrespect in entertainment, and especially in real life, it's no laughing matter.
The amount of emotional, physical, and spiritual pain that is produced by the abuse of God's gift of sex is astounding. It ranges from sex being demeaned in the media to sexual predators getting depraved thrills by victimizing women and children to many forms of unholy sexual practices both within and outside marriage. There's a lot of pain associated with our sexuality, but we must face that pain squarely if we are to appreciate fully God's design for sacred sexuality.
Renowned preacher and educator Haddon Robinson once said that sex and its passions are like fire. Under control, fire serves us by cooking our food and heating our homes. But if you let fire burn out of control, it will destroy everything in its path. It is the nature of this powerful force to do one of two things: create or destroy.
Sex has a similar nature. Sexual intimacy within God's boundaries of a loving, committed marriage can provide tremendous joy and fun; it can celebrate intimacy and love; it can bring the blessing of children; and it can create and sustain the mysterious and sacred oneness of marriage. But if you let it burn outside of God's boundaries, it becomes a self-serving act that can and will destroy careers, marriages, children, reputations, and even life itself.
When people who are struggling with a mate's betrayal come to me for counseling, they aren't in my office because of communication problems, financial struggles, a loss of intimacy, or even a "sex problem." They're in pain because they've been utterly betrayed by a spouse who found sexual pleasure elsewhere. They feel as though their hearts have been ripped out of their chests. After all, the person with whom they are one has taken the unique symbol of that oneness and broken it. They feel burned—and rightly so. The sacredness of their relationship has been placed on the altar of selfishness and set on fire.
Our culture tells us that sex need not be taken seriously. A man has an affair and says, "It's nothing personal. It was just sex." College kids practice "hooking up" and say, "It's no big deal. It's just sex." People immerse themselves in pornography and visit strip clubs and say, "Hey, no one was harmed. It's entertainment." The truth is, there is no such thing as sex in a vacuum. Sex always affects relationships, it always affects you, and it always affects your mate. When sexual release is pursued outside of the one-man-one-woman sexual celebration of marriage, then the sacredness of sex is violated. The very heart of this holy union is broken. Sex always has tremendous consequences, either for incredible good or devastating harm.
One of the highest purposes of sex is to celebrate and re-create oneness between a husband and a wife as a representation of Christ and the church. You can't have sex and not establish or damage oneness, no matter who your partner is. This is true even if sexual release is pursued with the images of anonymous women in magazines or encounters with nameless chat-room visitors on the Internet. Fantasy sex is a violation of the oneness you share with your mate. Every sexual encounter affects its participants, even if that encounter involves only one person gazing at an image on a screen.
Addressing the Christians who lived in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted the pagan practice of having sex with temple prostitutes. In referencing Genesis 2:24, Paul asked, "Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh'" (1 Corinthians 6:16). Engaging sexually with another person is never "just sex." Since God designed sex to produce oneness, the bond that forms can't be separated from the act, no matter how desecrated that act may become.
The desire to be loved and needed by another human being, the hunger to know that our life matters to someone else, is a God-given need. It's as universal as our hunger to know God. After all, he designed us to be in relationship with him and in fellowship with others. Our father wants us to know both that our lives matter to him and that he has provided the pathway to fulfill the longing of our souls through a relationship with his son. He also supplied the answer to our human loneliness, through marriage and sexual intimacy and through the fellowship of believers.
If you earnestly desire to experience marriage with sexual intimacy the way God designed it, you must ruthlessly fight together with your spouse to keep God's intentions for sex since Eden from being defiled in your relationship. You must also let God ruthlessly fight to redeem what has been damaged. In every moment of sexual temptation or weakness, ask yourself the two core questions of marital intimacy:
- Will this promote oneness with my mate?
- Is it my mate and my mate alone who is giving me sexual excitement?
With God's help, you must build fences that protect set-apart sex. Do not share with others the intimacies that should only be shared with your mate. Don't flirt, create emotional connections, or fantasize about anyone other than your spouse. Remember, you've made your selection and the menu is closed.
Finally, after taking such a detailed look at how God's original intentions in Eden were defiled, some may doubt that the cross provides a complete solution. Depending on your background and circumstances, you may need to pursue the help of a qualified Christian counselor as well as the accountability of your mate and trusted friends. But if you are asking, "Is the cross of Christ enough?" the answer is always, and resoundingly, "Yes." The grace of God that took the cross from being an icon of despair to a symbol of hope is the same grace that can take sex from being a source of confusion and pain to being an experience of love and holiness.
Through the cross of Christ, you and your mate can live in purity and joy. You can experience the mystery of being "naked and unashamed." Together, you can return to the Garden by celebrating the true presence of God through the gift of oneness. Through the hope of the cross, Eden has been redeemed. The cross is enough—and it's the only thing that is.
Dr. Tim A. Gardner is a marriage and family counselor and director of The Cabin counseling center near Indianapolis. Adapted from Sacred Sex (available in bookstores May 21). Copyright 2002. Used by permission of Water Brook Press, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved.
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.