What is sex? And what is it for? And is your answer any of my business anyway? For all our modern western society’s fixation on sexuality, I don’t see any evidence that we are any less confused about it than our great grandparents. So many books are being published on how to deal with sexual problems that, I think, it would be impossible to come up with any accurate count of them. And I’m talking about legitimate self-help books and scientific research. I say nothing just now about erotica and pornography.
Scientists, psychotherapists, doctors, and an army of self-appointed experts on human sexuality have for a century or more been delving into most every conceivable detail of the sexual lives of human beings. If I sound disparaging about these sex experts, I don’t mean to. If there is anything that thoughtful people can agree on, it is that the human sexual psyche is a delicately balanced and finely tuned feature of human beings. And if there is anything about human sexuality that I am convinced of, it is that that delicate balancing and fine tuning can very easily be scrambled and tangled in us by the sin-sick and troubled world that we live in.
We need caring, thoughtful people who will study and learn to bring healing and wholeness into the lives of people who have been wounded and broken by the sexual confusion and anarchy that reign and grow stronger in our modern western culture. The work of sexual healing is not merely a legitimate work. It is a vitally important part of the work that Christian people should be doing in the world.
Because of the brokenness, woundedness, and confusion that so permeate our culture’s thinking about human sexuality, most Americans find it very difficult to know how to answer questions like the ones I raised right at the beginning of this post: What is sex? What is sex for? For most, sex just is, that’s all. It is this stirring, often urgent, desire and longing that seems to come from deep down inside of us somewhere, nagging at us and tugging persistently at our sleeve for our attention.
In the absence of any clear understanding of what sex is and what it’s for, we’ve begun to find more and more ways to make use of the human sexual nature. Many of these uses that we put our sexuality to are really misuses that actually cause harm to us and to our society and that coarsen and harden our delicately balanced and finely tuned sexuality.
Advertisers have realized that they can use human sexual desire as a lever to loosen people’s wallets and entice them to spend money. Television, movie, and music producers have always known that they could use sexual images and ideas as a sort of lasso to pull in viewers, ticket buyers, and consumer dollars. More and more areas of life have become sexualized from sports (Why do female beach volleyball players wear the tiniest of bikinis while the male players wear big, baggy shorts?) to clothing for pre-teen girls. And human sexuality becomes more and more interwoven with commercial interests, because the enormous power of our sexual desire seems like an ideal tool for manipulating American spending decisions.
Certainly the most stark and cynical use of sexual energy for commercial ends is to be found in the pornography industry. We should make no mistake about it; pornography is about money, period. With the advent of the internet and its reach into millions of homes and workplaces in America (There are well over 248 million internet users in North America currently.) pornographers have potential access to the wallets/credit cards of some 74% of the North American population.
Make no mistake, pornography is not about sex. It’s about money. It uses or rather misuses and abuses people’s sexual desire as a means for extracting money from them. Pornographers have become skillful at cynically distorting, twisting, and exaggerating sexual desire so that it becomes a tool for achieving financial ends.
I’m a mostly self-taught handyman. One of the things I’ve learned through hard experience is that using a tool for a purpose it was not designed for can often result in the tool being damaged or even ruined. I have learned that after using a screwdriver to pry heavy boards out of a wall, it will no longer drive screws properly. Using a tool in a way it was not designed to be used can easily damage that tool to such an extend that it becomes unusable. The more delicate and refined the tool is, the more easily it can be damaged by misuse.
And human sexuality is a very delicate and refined feature of the human person. Fallen creatures that we are, we just can’t seem to stop ourselves from pulling our sexuality out and using it for all manner of things for which is it simply not designed to be used. Everywhere we turn, we find out sexuality being tapped into in all sort of areas of our lives. The culture of which we are a part industriously applies itself to sexualizing our entertainment and our arts, it sexualizes our sports, our commerce, and our children. And the result is that all of us to some degree struggle through life sexually wounded and broken.
Well, if our sexuality is not meant to be a tool for getting money or for manipulating and objectifying our neighbors or for stupefying ourselves with the addictive, flickering computer images of internet pornography, then what is it for?
God has made us as sexual beings from the very start. Our sexuality is not “Plan B.” Our sexuality is not an afterthought. Our sexuality is not a “necessary evil.”
Our sexuality is the embodiment of the image of God in us. Our sexual nature is an essential way in which the image of God is made real and visible in us. Listen to how the Bible says it, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [Genesis 1: 27].
Our maleness and femaleness together express and make real the image of God in us. As the human community of maleness and femaleness together, we embody the image of God. And ongoing human community without this maleness and femaleness is impossible in a biological sense. Male alone or female alone, is biologically a dead-end. But it is also a theological dead end. To be fully human is to be a community of male and female together, because it is only in that way, it is only in that togetherness, that we fully embody the image of God.
God didn’t design us to be alone. He designed us to be together, with each other in community. We need each other to be a fully human community, and it is in our maleness and femaleness that we are most fully human, which means most fully the image of God.
By simply being together in community as men and women, we are embodying and expressing the image of God. And the most intimate and profound expression of this human community of maleness and femaleness is embodied in sexual intercourse itself.
In this most intimate relation of female and male, we human creatures show forth most completely what the image of God is. God in his triune nature is a profoundly relational being. The fullness of God is expressed in the interrelationship, in the community of the three persons of the Godhead in the richness of “three-in-one,” the intercourse of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And so also, it is in the rich intercourse of male and female in sexual union that we are able to see and understand the beauty and richness of the internal relatedness of God in all its fullness. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” [Genesis 2:24].
For the individual women and men who are called into that kind of intimate and profound sexual union, there is, as we can see from this verse, a very deep and essential binding together of self to self. Sexual union, as God meant it to be, is no casual affair of two individuals bumping into each other in passing, and then going off in their separate ways.
Sexual intercourse by its very nature is a binding, a uniting of a woman and a man on the deepest levels, because by its very design and intention it is meant to be an expression and an embodiment of the nature and character of God. It isn’t an accident that the most common term in the Bible for referring to sexual intercourse is to say that the two parties “knew” one another.
So then, how do we answer the questions: What is sex? What is it for? Sex is an intimate communion, a profound communication on the deepest level, between a man and a woman, which binds them together as a union of two, embodying the image of God. God has given us sex as a way of binding ourselves together — female and male — in relationships of the most intimate nature. His purpose for those relationships is that they might show forth who he is, that he is utterly oriented toward being in relationship.
When we try to use our sexuality, for purposes other than these, we do damage to our sexuality, to ourselves, and to our ability to demonstrate the image of God.
Sex is a key aspect of human existence. It is that because that is how God designed us. Identifying boundaries between the right and wrong uses of our sexuality is an important ministry that God’s people can provide to a troubled and confused world. But unless we are much, much clearer about what is good about sex and how it is mean to be expressed, all our loud prohibitions will sound arbitrary and irrelevant. The sexual nature of human beings is a very intentional part of God’s creational design for us, a very purposeful part of our nature. When used in the way for which it was designed, that is, within the complementary union between a husband and a wife, our expression of our sexual nature can be a joyful, rich, and enriching expression of the image and nature of God.
© 2010 Gary A. Chorpenning