Why are Christians Prudes?

(Last series of posts, I mentioned that I had some thoughts on the topic of men and women and sexuality that I wanted to share on this blog. And then I excerpted a few samples from a recent book I’d written, The Curses and the Covenants. All that reminded me that I’d written another book, touching on the subject that I’d been in the process of editing and republishing and had never quite finished. I quickly wrapped that project up today and while doing so, decided to excerpt one of its chapters onto this blog. It expands on some of the thoughts I’d posted earlier in this series which, for the sake of brevity, left out a lot of what I would have liked to add. Besides this chapter, the book I just republished, 10 Thorns, fills out those subjects in much greater detail than I have here. If you’re interested in this subject and want to read a fuller explanation of what I tried to say in this series, here is the Amazon page for 10 Thorns.

I ask the title question from the viewpoint of how the world at large sees us, and I won’t agree that all Christians are prudes, but I admit it! This is a designation I am willing to wear. I’m a prude, and I’ll own it, even if I’m not exactly proud of it. The topic of sex makes me squirm (and I will be squirming a lot this post). I’m an “old maid” in the true sense of the term. I am an older, unmarried woman who also happens to be a virgin.

I know plenty of married prudes, too, so I’m not sure my old maidenhood has made me prudish all on its own. I think it just may be that the topic of sex makes quite a lot of us squeamish because…(well, we’ll get to those reasons later in the post.).

However, just because this particular Christian happens to be a prude, I am not owning the title for Christians in general. Still, because of the Christian view of sex, the culture surrounding us has concluded that we must be prudes. We must see sex as something unmentionable and dirty. A necessary evil.

But what is that Christian view of sex, really? It’s very simple. A man is only supposed to have sex with one woman in his life “as long as they both shall live” and a woman is only supposed to have sex with one man “as long as they both shall live.” That’s it. Short, sweet, to the point, and very, very unpopular.

But not only unpopular. A lot of people would claim it’s impossible.

After all, humans are not one of those naturally monogamous species like wolves or penguins. (Do I mean penguins or some other kind of birds?) If God didn’t create us naturally monogamous why should He expect us to live monogamously?

~ ~ ~

If you agree with the objection that we are not a naturally monogamous species, you’re right. We are not naturally monogamous (at least not with the natures we have now. I don’t think I could agree that God originally created us non-monogamous.). And that’s why there is such a thing as marriage. If humans were as naturally monogamous as wolves or penguins, we would have no need for marriage.

Biblical marriage is that officially-recognized, society-sanctioned lifetime commitment between a man and a woman. In other words, because we don’t naturally live in such a way where we have sex with just one person for a lifetime, God instituted a system where other people are supposed to get involved to help us keep our commitments.

There’s the person who says, “What’s the big deal about a piece of paper. We’re in a committed, monogamous relationship. For all intents and purposes, we’re married now. Why should we wait to have sex till we’ve signed our names on a piece of paper? A piece of paper doesn’t change anything.”

Quite right! There’s nothing magical about a piece of paper. In some societies, I’m told the bride and groom jump over a broom to get married. It doesn’t really matter what marriage custom a society practises. The point is, it’s the society that practises it.

A marriage involves more than just the pair getting married. What makes a marriage a marriage is not just a couple saying their vows to each other. In a sense, they say their vows to a society or to a government official, though some would like to see the government get out of the marriage business, and I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps marriage should again be a religious ceremony, practised and performed by those who still believe in the sacredness of the institution. The rest can simply sign private legal contracts, if they wish, agreeing to whatever they decide regarding the distribution of children and assets when the couple breaks up. They can still throw the big, expensive party and call the arrangement whatever they want to call it, but legal marriage, as it is now, has long ago stopped being marriage in the true sense of the word, anyway.

But there are still good reasons why a biblical marriage involves other people. In a Christian marriage, the couple says their vows to God which involves their Christian family or faith community. The couple is answerable to someone who has an interest in seeing that the vows are kept and the responsibilities lived up to. And the reason for marriage is because most of us wouldn’t keep those vows naturally all on our own.

Those who say, “What’s the big deal about the piece of paper?” are right in that they probably will not be any more committed with the piece of paper. The point of the piece of paper is that now someone else is involved in the commitment. And true, the level of commitment required by our society today is not very exacting, but if a couple isn’t willing to sign on even for that level of commitment, I’d have to question if there’s any commitment at all.

Two people in love generally start off thinking they’ll always feel the same way about each other. Funny how feelings change, and funny how those feelings have a way of changing the commitments made based on them. Hence the piece of paper or the broom handle or whatever other weird and wonderful marriage customs there are.

And so God tells His people to hold off on sex until after the deal is official — till the piece of paper is signed or the broom handle is stepped over or the sheep and camels are exchanged — because He knows us. He knows anything else is no true commitment at all (see Hebrews 13:4).

According to the Bible, it was God who created all those glorious, warm, fuzzy, twitterpated feelings and the feelings of a forever commitment that naturally accompany them. His design in creating them in the first place was for men and women to get together and stay together for a lifetime.

But people are fallen. So He instituted marriage so that when fallen people didn’t feel like being committed anymore, there was something in place to help them keep the commitments they made when they felt committed.

~ ~ ~

For those who would tell me that the Bible’s position on sex is an impossible one, what do they really mean? One thing they can’t really mean is that these ideals are physically, humanly impossible. Actually and truly undoable. They’ve already been proven doable. Others have done it. Others have tried it and found that it is, in fact, possible for a man to have sex with only one woman for a lifetime or a woman with one man.

Others have gone a step further and tried having no sex at all. Ever. In their whole lives. They died celibate. (I’m not sure if that’s what they died from or not.) But they not only died trying. They did it.

So we know that chastity — the Bible’s standard of sexual purity — is not one of those things like trying to be in two places at the same time. It can be done. Those who believe it can be done are those who can do it. Those who believe it can’t be done are those who can’t do it.

What people really mean when they claim that the Bible’s sexual standards are impossible is, “It’s impossible for me to live that way,” and what they really mean is, “I’d rather not even try.”

I’m not saying that chastity is an easy thing. But we do make some revealing assumptions about what we’re capable of doing and what we’re not and what’s worth doing and what isn’t.

Browse a magazine today and you’ll discover that the people who wrote it hold the unspoken assumptions that no one could live a chaste life, or that if anyone could, why would anyone want to? But yet flip over a few pages in some magazines, and you may discover the assumptions that anyone can lose weight and everyone should want to.

I’ve tried chastity (actually, I’ve tried celibacy. I’m still trying it. Hasn’t even killed me yet.), and I’ve tried some of the diet and exercise regimens preached by magazines. As a life-long survivor (so far) of celibacy, let me state for the record that all my years of doing without sex did not take half the self-control that one month of fad dieting took with all its required doing-without of very necessary calorie-intake. Yet I don’t claim that dieting is impossible. I just admit I would rather not do it.

But we hear from all the health authorities, when we’re talking about diet and exercise, how our appetites are out of control and are killing us, how we’re just going to have to learn some self-control, how our out-of-control appetites are creating huge (groaner!) problems in our society.

Yet there is absolute silence or derisive laughter on the subject of reining in our sexual appetites. If anyone dares to suggest that our sexual appetites are out of control and are killing us, that we are just going to have to learn to exercise some self-control in this area, that our out-of-control sexual appetites have created huge problems in our society — far bigger and far-reaching problems than obesity and all its results, even as big and far-reaching as they are — that person is dismissed as a prude and a puritan.

I mean, what would you think of a world that ran the way God designed it to run in this area? “Boring!” you might say. “Why shouldn’t we have some fun? Even if chastity’s not impossible, it sure would be boring.” No doubt! What a boring world it would be if we were all as naturally chaste as wolves or penguins! What a boring world it would be with no AIDS or any kind of STDs. With no unwed mothers or deadbeat dads. With no adultery or divorce. With no rape, incest, or sexual abuse.

No doubt it would be a little more boring than the present state of things. I’d be okay with that kind of boredom, though.

Why shouldn’t people have some fun? They should. I’m just not sure that life the way we’ve decided to live it is all that much fun. Whereas, life the way God intended it can really be quite fun.

And for that matter, why shouldn’t God be able to say what the best use is for this gift He’s given? It’s not just our possession to do with what we want.

Let’s talk about some of the possible reasons that God gave the world the gift of sex and see if we can’t also see in them the reasons He tells us to use it the way He tells us to use it.

~ ~ ~

Here’s the first one I want to mention: I think He gave us the gift of sex for that reason. Because He gave us the gift of sex. It is a gift. It’s meant to be enjoyed. And one of the reasons He tells us it’s only to be shared with one other person as long as that person is alive is so that it can be enjoyed the way it should be. It’s for the sake of the gift itself.

The way we’ve decided to handle this gift has greatly reduced the enjoyment-value of the gift. If every day were Christmas, what would Christmas be? If every food were ice cream, what would ice cream be? If every relationship revolves around sex, what’s left to share with that one person we find who’s really special?

Talk about boring! This tantalizing, intoxicating, overwhelming, meaningful, powerful part of life to me looks supremely unappealing the way I see it portrayed in popular culture now. Leave it to modern humans to manage to turn sex boring!

As a society, we treat this gift of sexual relationships like a spoiled five-year-old treats his gifts. We rip into them and suck them dry, and then when they’ve lost their novelty, we cast them aside and trample them, looking for the next experience to rip into and suck dry and trample. This behaviour has a habit of spoiling both gifts and five-year-olds. (And those of us older than five who ought to know better.) Of all the natural gifts God gave us, this was one of His best. For that reason, He tells us to keep it special.

In fact, although a lot of people talk as though our sex drive is no more nor less than just a natural, animal appetite that needs gratification when aroused, just like our appetites for food or sleep, we know better.

For one thing, we treat it very differently from our appetite for food. (The one we’re constantly admonished to curb and keep in check. The other we’re constantly admonished to whip into a frenzy and indulge with all kinds of excesses.)

None of us really think that it’s okay to behave like animals and gratify our sexual urges whenever and however and wherever they lead us. We’ve tacitly admitted that there should be something a little bit special about the sexual act.

If you’re a promoter of the idea that sex is nothing more than physical, I challenge you to think about the spiritual effects this area of life has on us and compare them to the effects of a simple physical act like eating or drinking.

Think of the feelings of pain and betrayal non-chastity creates. Do eating and drinking call forth these kinds of deep emotional responses? Does a person undergo intense, searing jealousy watching someone else eating the meal he or she once thought of as belonging to him or her? (Well, possibly.)

Think of the life-long, inner scars molestation or rape leaves. Does anyone, years later, have nightmares and panic attacks from the memories of a friend or roommate who helped himself without permission to food out of the fridge? (Perhaps! But seriously, there’s no real comparison, is there?)

Think about the stigma attached to those who, for their living, sell sex like any other commodity. Or the level of desperation necessary in order for a person to steel themselves to pursue this particular “profession.” Or the trauma these “professionals” experience that must surely accompany the sale of the “commodity.” Or the natural loathing the rest of us feel for the “customers” who victimize these “professionals” by availing themselves of their “services.” I mean, does any little girl dream of growing up to be a prostitute? Does any decent parent want this for a child? Can we look at sex the same way we do any other product to be bought or sold? Do we place food-vendors and buyers on the same emotional footing as sex-vendors and buyers?

It should be clear to all of us that in the act of sex something happens that goes far beyond the purely physical.

As kids (and for some of us, as adults), we thought sex was something weird and yucky or something to giggle at in private, but we’ve never thought it was something to treat like any natural part of everyday life.

Why do so many of us (well, all of us until we manage to callous our sensibilities through repeated exposures) shy away from discussing sex openly and in all contexts? To a degree, prudery comes naturally to us all. Could it be because we do all know on some level that there is meant to be something… well… sacred… about sex? That sacredness has degenerated into a needless shame, but could that shame grow from the dim, nagging, subconscious realization that sex is not something meant to be dragged out into broad daylight and treated as any other normal part of life? That it is, in fact, something that goes much deeper than a merely physical need like eating or drinking or sleeping or breathing?

With the examples I listed earlier, we can all see that, in sex, the physical has strong ties to the emotional or the spiritual. We can all readily see the damage, in those certain instances, that results from the obvious abuses of sex. In that case, isn’t it possible that, as humans as a whole, we’ve been messing around with and misusing something we really don’t understand very well? And that by so doing, we may be causing untold and only-faintly-realized harm to our very innermost selves?

Although we must all admit that we are not a naturally chaste species, I think if we could see the issue properly, we would see that we’re not meant to be unchaste, either. We may now be naturally non-monogamous, but we’re meant to be morally monogamous. Now we have to choose chastity, but there’s still some deeply hidden part of us telling us that we should choose chastity.

In fact, we can all see that our sex drive is not just some animal instinct or physical appetite that needs gratification. Somehow, in our reactions to this gift, we show that we secretly all understand that, for us, it is a gift.

~ ~ ~

The most obvious reason God gave us the gift of sex was to give us the gift of life. Somehow, as completely obvious as this fact is, we still manage to separate the two and pretend that the one has nothing to do with the other. Not unless we choose that it should.

Secondarily, sex is a gift meant to be enjoyed, but primarily, it’s the means God uses to bring about new life on the earth. Rather makes sense that if He created the gift of sex to create new lives, then, as the Creator of life, He has the right to say what should be done with the gift of sex.

Those who choose to ignore His right and do whatever they want with His gift make me think of a little kid playing with his daddy’s loaded gun. There’s a power there the child hasn’t reckoned with. He’s playing around with life. Yes, sex is a gift, but it’s a loaded one.

When you stop to think that God made us partners with Him in creating life, that He gives us some choice in this matter, it should blow your mind. It should certainly make you take into consideration what He has to say about how the whole process works.

If a person contends, “Yeah, but in our day and age, we know what we’re doing. We just have to be careful,” he’s missing the point. We didn’t create sex. We don’t get to say what it’s for and how it should be used. (And God is perfectly capable and willing to override all our precautions and our preventions. He’s done it often.)

So sex is meant to be kept for the context of a committed, monogamous relationship that can turn into a family. His ideal is for our young to be raised in families. With two parents. It just works better that way. Ask any single parent how easy his or her task is.

I’m not saying kids raised by single parents can’t turn out just fine or that single parents can’t do a great job. (As a kid raised by a single parent for years of my life, I would never say that, both for my sake and my mum’s.) I’m just telling you what’s easier for the kid and what’s easier for the parent.

God’s plan is bigger than the messes we make, and He does incredible and beautiful things through the results of the messes we make, but it seems that He seeks to keep us out of the messes in the first place.

~ ~ ~

So sex is about enjoyment, but it’s also about life. But then, it’s also about love. And this is the aspect of sex that really divides us from the animal world in this area. God gave sex to the world in general for pleasure and procreation, but for humanity, the gift of sex is not only for pleasure or procreation. It’s a picture. It’s a picture of something that means the world to God — His pursuit of us.

He’s the Lover that loves the way anyone would want to be loved. His is a forever type of devotion that, while it never forces and must be mutual, doesn’t give up while there’s any hope left.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have complete confidence in your beloved’s love, to know yourself to be the one and only, to know your beloved will not stop loving you, no matter what? But that’s what God’s love is like. And this whole man/woman thing is meant as a picture of something incredible and strong and true. It’s meant to be a picture of God’s character and love.

And that really ups the ante. This is what people are messing around casually with. Are you starting to see why it might be a big deal to God? And are you starting to see into the heart of the reason that sex is not just a physical act but a deeply spiritual one for us?

If the way He loves is the way we all want to be loved, then why aren’t more people willing to try and love His way when it comes to this area of sexual relationships? Why are so few willing to give what we all want to receive?

~ ~ ~

God doesn’t ask of us what He asks of us because He’s a prude and disapproves of sex. He asks it because He approves of it and wants it to be as good as it can be — rather than causing us hurt and harm. He doesn’t ask what He asks because He’s a hard taskmaster and likes to be unreasonable. He asks it because He’s trying to make life easier for us in the long run — in the way we bring new life into the world and raise our young. He doesn’t ask what He asks because He hates us. He asks it because He is Love. And He wants to give us a picture of the way He loves.

Now again, if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to like what God tells you to do. You don’t have to fully understand every reason behind it. You just have to do it. Again, if you’re not a Christian, you don’t have to worry about it yet (unless you happen to care about better sex, a better society, and better relationships all around).

God’s commands are commands for His own ones. This whole area of life is not where He starts with people. He doesn’t begin His work with those who are not already His own children by demanding that they follow His rules regarding sex. He wants you to give Him your heart; then your body, in that order.

Nevertheless, I believe the general population would benefit from following God’s directions on sex, and we’ll all reap the consequences for ignoring them.

Again, God’s way works. Ours doesn’t. And again, His way isn’t the easy way. It’s the only way.

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