As many of you have probably heard, Mark Driscoll and his wfie, Grace, are coming out with a new book called Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. I have not read the book so I will not comment on any of its contents here, but I have heard that it gets into explicit detail about sexual acts and whether or not those acts are permissible.
Driscoll has a track record of frankness about such questions, and if you are interested in reading a great response to the explicit nature of Driscoll’s book, check out Tim Challies’ take here and here. I would especially encourage you to click on that second link, in which Challies responds to Driscoll’s perspective on plastic surgery. Challies said almost everything I would have said on the issue, for which I am very grateful.
So back to Driscoll. Driscoll’s book is just one leg of an interesting discussion about the extent to which Christians should be talking about sex When I first heard about Real Marriage and the issues it takes on, I asked my husband what he thought. His answer surprised me. I expected a knee-jerk rejection but instead he was sympathetic. As he reasoned, people are asking these questions and the church needs to have an answer.
In the above links, Challies wrestles with where to draw the line on that logic. He wonders if there are some topics that are so foul that they don’t deserve a pulpit…or a book. But, Challies concedes, some questions require answers. In that regard, I find myself gravitating toward Challies’ sentiment.
While this topic is one that I continue to think through, I have developed a more concrete opinion on the larger trend of Christians talking about sex. Driscoll’s book is just one aspect of a larger trend in which evangelicals have increasingly embraced explicit conversations about sex. And while I believe there is a time and a place for those conversations (I personally make an exception for friends who are about to get married and need guidance or advice), I also believe we need to handle these conversations with care.
As we think about the nature of marital intimacy and how to discuss it, there are several questions that can guide us: What keeps marital intimacy intimate? Is sex intimate simply because it is an act shared between two people alone? Or is more required?
I tend to believe that marital intimacy, to be truly intimate, must be about more than fidelity. Like intimacy with God, marital intimacy goes beyond what we do. For instance, spiritual fidelity–ie. reading your Bible, praying, and going to church–is not enough to be intimate with God. There is also a heart component to the equation. Intimacy with God is not achieved by the mere doing of a faithful act, but it is part of a larger context that includes intentionality, love, discipline, and worship.
Likewise, sexual intimacy with a spouse is not merely a fun extracurricular activity we get to indulge in with our spouses and then brag about later. It goes beyond monogamy. It is an intentional act by which we become close with our spouse on a physical, emotional and even spiritual level. Although sex is, by its very nature, intimate, a lack of intentionality, love, relationship, and esteem for the other can very well detract from that intimacy.
But returning to the question of talk about sex–and here I mean divulging personal details about your own sexual relationship to other people–this is dangerous territory. It is particularly dangerous when it comes to men. Given how visual men are, I cannot help but wonder about the visual images that come to mind when a man describes his sex life to other men. Even when avoiding the details, I wonder if men are tempted to fill in those visual gaps on their own, which cannot be honoring to either man’s wife.
Over-sharing about one’s sexual life, even without great detail, is a way of inviting other people into your bedroom. Because of this reality, we need to exercise caution when it comes to talk about sex. Not because sex is dirty, but because God designed it to be intimate.
Much of the sex-talk trend is an over-reaction to a long established stigma attached to sex. Sex was viewed as dirty and coarse, and Christians wanted to reclaim the goodness and beauty of sex. I applaud that effort. However, sex is designed for marriage alone, which means there is something about sex that reflects the intimacy between Christ and the church. There is something sacred and even worshipful about sex, and our language needs to reflect that theological truth. I am not sure that all of our talk about sex these days is of the holy kind, but we should aim for it to be.