This past week, pastor/blogger Tim Challies published a post titled “Keeping Intimate Details Intimate.” In it he discussed the potential dangers of a married couple talking too openly about their sex life. Though he does not instruct Christians to avoid these conversations altogether, he encourages Christians to enter into them with wisdom and great caution, especially when it comes to the topic of frequency.
I tend to agree with Challies. I have written similar messages myself–once when I was single and another two after I got married. I won’t rehash old ground here, but in both my posts and Challies’, we consider the reality that intimacy is a little less intimate when shared too openly. We also explore the repercussions of exposing our married relationships to unnecessary pressures, comparisons, and even competition if we are not careful about how we talk about married sex.
Today, I want to mention another pitfall of speaking too openly about our sexual lives–especially in the form of bragging–and that concerns the larger cultural ramifications of this practice.
Americans exist in a culture that prizes sex as a high good, if not one of the highest goods. This priority evidences itself everywhere: between language about sexual orientation and marital rights, to a woman’s right to choose, Americans want to have as much sex as they desire with as few hindrances as possible. We not only believe this is our right, but some would compare sex to a “need” as basic as eating.
In a culture where sex is such an integral aspect of human flourishing, Christians seems to agree. Just look at the way we talk about sex. Christians want non-Christians to believe we have the very best sex lives of all, and we are not only committed to making this goal a reality, but we brag about it when we succeed. If good sex is a competition, it is a competition we are committed to winning.
As a result, holiness practices such as abstinence and monogamy are re-conceived as mere players in the game. They are frequently discussed within the context of their service to better sex. For example: “If you wait until marriage, your sex will be better,” or “If you remain faithful to your spouse, sex will be more meaningful than empty promiscuity or serial relationships.”
Now it’s not that these statements aren’t true, to some extent. Although neither practice promises a mind-blowing sex life, they certainly pave the way for trust and intimacy between two people, while minimizing the potential for complicating baggage. Because God designed sex to exist in marriage, there are indeed benefits to honoring His design.
But that does not mean the point of abstinence or monogamy is good sex. Nor does it mean either practice requires validation based on its sexual merits. Premarital abstinence and marital monogamy are good, not because they foster great sex lives, but because they reflect the character of God.
All of that to say, talking too openly about sex–especially bragging about our great Christian sex lives–is not necessarily accomplishing what we hope. Even if we win the competition, we are ultimately in the wrong game. Although Christians certainly affirm that sex is a good gift from God to be celebrated, we cannot affirm the culture’s unhealthy obsession with it, an obsession that ultimately contends with the primacy of God. If we play into the culture’s belief that sex is a primary good, then we will struggle to maintain coherence and credibility when we simultaneously oppose our culture’s application of this good.
Sex must be rightly ordered in the Christian life, and our language about sex should reflect that ordering. That is not to say that we should return to the approach of previous generations and avoid talking about sex altogether. There is so much brokenness attached to sex in our world, and the church should be a safe and open place where people can seek healing in their sexual lives. As Challies said, it is healthy to have trusted confidants with whom one shares their struggles, when necessary. There is also a time and place for a pastor to address this topic from the pulpit.
But I echo Challies’ exhortation to both caution and wisdom. Sex is a terrible master, an idol whose desires are just as insatiable as any other, and whose wake is just as marked by brokenness as that of all false saviors. This is nowhere more evident than in the terrible fallout of our culture’s “sexual freedom.”
Let’s not stop talking about sex; let’s not stop celebrating sex either. But let’s honor sex in a way that honors God and honors one another. And let’s talk about sex in a way that reflects its true priority in the Christian life. Sex is good, but it is not God–not even close!–and our language about sex needs to align with this truth.