June 06, 2005

How We Know That Sex Is Sacred

Our secular culture has worked very hard to sell us on the idea that there is no particular design or purpose to sexual relationships, consequently, sex may be enjoyed at the discretion of the individual. The only constraints are that it be "responsible" and "safe," and that the participants are "ready" and "willing." Any teleological consideration of its design, such as between a man and woman, or its context, such as in the formal bonds of marriage, have come to be viewed as mere social conventions. And what Scripture has to say on this matter is of no consequence to the pagan mind (and very often to the modern Christian one as well). However, there are very plain "signals of transcendence," as Peter Berger would call them, that there is something very special about the act of sex. Here are several that come to mind.

The heinousness of rape

Witness the testimony of any rape victim and you will notice an overpowering sense of humiliations, emotional distress, and rage. For many of these victims, there is psychological damage that can plague them and their relationships for years to come. These kinds of profound effects are largely absent from almost any other kind of personal crimes, even violent ones. There is something different about sexual crimes -- something personal and sacred that has been violated. And it is something that even promiscuous persons claim to experience.

Imagine two scenarios with the same woman. In one scenario, she is kidnapped at gunpoint, forcibly given a hairstyling and manicure, made to eat ice cream, given a massage, and then sent on her way. Now imagine her to be kidnapped and forced to have sex -- even with an attempt to be gentle and offer pleasure, and using a condom as well -- and then released unharmed. Both of these scenarios deal with things that are potentially pleasurable and, presumably, morally neutral. Both involve lack of consent on the part of the victim. I think I could easily predict that in the first example the victim would come away more mystified than distraught. In the second case, there would be many tears and criminal charges would be sought. But what could be the difference, then, in the eyes of the sexual libertarian? Anything that would be appealed to in order to make the second example different or more abhorrent would begin to make my case.

The infidelity factor

There's nothing that will tear apart a relationship faster than sexual infidelity. A man could work with another woman, see a movie, exercise, or even have a deeply personal conversation with her, but if there is even a hint of sexual overtones to the interaction the spouse will come undone. And it is not just the physical aspect, since many gynecologists have quite successful marriages. It does not even matter if a relationship is outside of a formal commitment, like marriage. An expectation of fidelity is the unspoken assumption among relationships, no matter how transient.

There are certainly exceptions to this rule, where both parties have made some open arrangement, but even then there is often something withheld from outside partners. For example, I was watching a program on this topic where a liberal pastor was discussing her "swinger" lifestyle and she mentioned that she and her husband had chosen to reserve kissing only for each other. "We feel like that is just too personal" was her rationale. This is reminiscent of a line from the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts, who plays a call girl, informs Richard Gere's character that she has a policy of not kissing her clients. What a strange upside-down sexual ethic this is! The very thing that we hardly bat an eye at when done by adolescents becomes a measure of fidelity for the promiscuous. It would seem the moral vacuum begs to be filled.

Those making such open arrangements often have difficulty dealing with their violated intuitions. I once watched a "Behind the Music" special on '70s punk rocker Billy Idol where he and his wife shared the story of their breakup. It seems that they had an arrangement that they could "sleep around" as long as they didn't flaunt their lovers in the presence of one another. One day Billy made a rather graphic call to a mistress. The trouble was, he was in a room with a baby monitor and his wife heard the conversation on the other end. It was too much to bear, and she promptly filed for divorce. The ironic thing is that even though Billy thought he was being discreet, and was abiding by the spirit of the promiscuity agreement, his wife couldn't handle the situation when the ugly truth raised its head from the shadows of her repressed intuition.

The contempt of promiscuity

I've often wondered why in our liberated and libertarian society prostitution is not more broadly legalized. Which aspect of that profession is in question? It certainly passes the popular criteria of "consent," and restrictions on what adults may do in private are falling like dominos. Perhaps it is the health risks inherent in promiscuous sexual practices, but most prostitutes already take precautions, and if we intend to legislate sexual health issues then we would have to rethink those evaporating sodomy laws. No, I think the issue relates to the cheapening and threatening availability of sex. What woman wants such opportunities presented to her husband or son, or aspires for her daughter to seek such a career? And how many men will put their reputations (or marriages) on the line to fight for legalized prostitution?

Even where prostitution is legal and the culture is liberal, it is not seen as a noble career. Schoolgirls do not typically dream of being call girls and men do not put them on their A-list for potential wives. But if there is nothing truly sacred about sex, then different people have every right to ascribe different value to it and engage in it as often and freely as they so choose. It would be no different from an artist who paints only for her own home versus one who paints for others on commission. Anyone who devalues the prostitute (or gigolo) does so either out of bigotry or out of their intuitive awareness of its profound cheapening and violation of the sanctity of sex.

The "love" connection

Remember that old Meatloaf song, "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights?" The couple in the song were, in its own words, "barely seventeen and barely dressed." But before the boy made it to home base the girl wanted to know something: "before we go any further, do you love me? Will you love me forever?" Even though society as a whole is fairly sexually liberal, it is only the minority who are promiscuous to the extreme that they will consciously pursue one-night-stands. And of those who do, it tends to be an attitude acquired sometime after virginity has been lost and the ideals of young love are a distant memory. Virginity is not left easily or without emotional investment. Women seem to have the greatest moral intuition in this matter partly, I think, because they are more keenly sensitive to the social and emotional issues that are contributing factors to why sex must be sacred. At minimum, a girl prefers to have "love" involved because she likes to think that she is doing something special -- that her body and, particularly, her virginity, is worth something for which "love" is suitable compensation. But if sex has no real objective value, then she could just as well reserve kissing, giving a massage, or playing double solitaire for that someone special. I think it's safe to predict that we'll never hear something as odd as, "I'm sorry I can't play monopoly with you. I'm saving myself for marriage."

But why pick "love" as that special qualifier for sexual license? Is it "love" as mere emotion? Even though society seems to have distilled love primarily down to an emotion, if it were all about a feeling then a boy could "love" his way into numerous sexual relationships, for surely one may have strong "emotions" for more than one person at a time (well, at least it is the fantasy of many an adolescent boy). In reality, with "love" comes certain behavioral expectations, which tend to include devotion and fidelity. Is it just fidelity for a day and devotion till the next best thing comes along? No. There is generally some assumption, or at least hope, that the relationship will endure. If there were some plan or suspicion of an end, then a profession of love would ring hollow. This is why one of the most common prose of the romantic is "I will love you till the end of time." The pinnacle of romantic love is an exclusive, selfless, and enduring dedication to another person, and the pure and institutional expression of this is marriage. The love sought by discriminating lovers in their desperation to sanctify their sexual unions is a mere shadowing of the rightful place that God has made for it.



At 6/07/2005 10:28 AM, Anonymous Christie said...

well said

At 6/13/2005 7:00 PM, Blogger martyduren said...

I don't think I could ever publish all that I think is included in marital sex and how, to me, it relates to the supremacy of Christ. It does seem to me that marriage is honorable in all and the bed is undefiled (one of my favorite verses, btw) and that there is a transcendance involved in it.


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