The place and value of sex is a complex issue in modern American culture. The view of sex as the intimate union between a man and woman brought together by marriage under God has largely been lost. It has been replaced by an entitled inclination toward convenience and conceding to a desire for the instant gratification of sexual and emotional fulfillment.
Being a part of a culture engulfed in endless choices, including the choice to have sex at any point in life regardless of the type of relationship between the partners, makes it necessary for Christians to bear witness to God’s intention for human sexuality. Using the guidance of the Bible, early Church fathers, and Christian scholars, Christians can promote God’s will for sexual intimacy as the exclusive and supreme physical act of unity between a man and woman who are drawn together under Him in marriage.
The Modern View of Sex
Contemporary Americans place utmost importance in their happiness and freedom of choice. What often defines happiness, according to Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, is summarized by the acronym PERMA: pleasure, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. Many seek their purpose, freedom, and sources of fulfillment in their activities, contribution to their environment, and ability to enjoy such pleasures as food, sex, and material comforts.
From the Christian perspective, true freedom is attained by dedicating one’s life to the glorification of God and living in liberation from sin. Paul the Apostle verifies this by asserting that man should glorify God in body and spirit and flee from sins, such as sexual immorality, in order to uphold God’s sacred gift that is the human body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). In the modern view, however, individuals tend to perceive their sexuality as a part of their humanness that demands and deserves total autonomy, and, as a result, use it to exercise their freedom of choice and self-expression.
Robert Buffington and his colleagues expand upon the value of sexual freedom in their book, A Global History of Human Sexuality: The Modern Era, by highlighting the way in which the fight for sexual freedom has become a major political issue in contemporary culture. Due to the strongly Western ideal of liberty, sexuality has become yet another aspect of life that can be expressed at the discretion of the individual and supported by advocates within mainstream culture who believe that one’s sexual identity can be self-created.
The Implications of the Modern View of Sex
The values of modern Americans show that what is deemed to be most important is the idea of choice. Choosing to be involved in relationships, to engage in one’s community, and to enjoy pleasure in proper ways are important for human flourishing, but they are often overemphasized. When we concede to the desire for personal happiness in this way, we distance ourselves from God and move closer to a false self-identity that dictates our choices. Aspects of sexual freedom, such as freedom from sex trafficking and gender-based bullying, are certainly important; but placing sexuality at the center of one’s identity and using it without discretion degrades God’s purpose for human sexuality.
In contemporary culture, sex is no longer the act of a man and woman united under God, engaging in sexual unity to raise a godly generation; rather, it is an act of personal choice and freedom where reproduction is often seen as an undesirable consequence.
Christians know that true freedom is not anchored in a sexual identity, but in an identity in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Christians have the opportunity to share with others that God’s intention for human sexuality is an exclusive act of union that follows, rather than precedes, deep, God-centered love. Genesis 1:24 demonstrates that kind of love by stating that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” making it clear that God first created men and women, then united them in one flesh by the goodness of marriage.
The Goodness of Marriage
Marriage is a profound mystery, one that God has planned from the beginning of time. When God created Adam, He gave him the task to name and rule over all the animals of the field and of the air; yet, God saw that Adam was lonely and had “not found a helper like himself” (Genesis 2:20). The beasts of the land, the birds of the air, and all living creatures brought a sense of joy and delight to him, but were not and could not be a fulfilling match for him.
So God created woman from the rib of Adam and brought her into Adam’s sight. He exclaimed, “This now is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman” (Genesis 2:23). God blessed this first marriage, saying “increase and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28) for they were to become the models of marriage for humanity as the first parents in complimentary union.
The Trinity and Marriage
Marriage is true, good, and beautiful because it resembles the oneness of the three divine Persons of the Trinity. The perfect bond and oneness of the Blessed Trinity makes them inseparable; this also occurs in the sacrament of matrimony when the marital bond of husband and wife is sealed by God.
Sam Allberry further reflects that “by virtue of their marital union, man and wife are able to arrive at a kind of oneness that can reflect the oneness of God the Trinity.” This oneness is possible by the gifts that proceed from the Trinity and should reflect in marriage: totality, unity, and fidelity. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:
…the characteristic traits of marriage are: totality, by which the spouse gives themselves to each other mutually in every aspect of their person, physical and spiritual; unity, which makes them “one flesh” (Gen 2:24); indissolubility and fidelity which the definitive mutual giving of self requires; the fruitfulness to which this naturally opens itself.
Marriage also images the Trinity by way of the Holy Spirit, which is the fruit of the Father and the Son’s reciprocal love. In the same way, a child is the fruit of the husband and wife’s love.
These traits seem to have faded away in modern society. The totality of marriage has been degraded to merely pleasure and selfishness. Pornography has objectified women and men by taking the sexual act out of its proper context within marriage, thereby debasing it by taking away its inherent beauty and unity. This perversion of marital fidelity and privacy, which continues to grow with an ever-increasing number of porn websites and a consuming public that justifies its consumption through a relativistic mindset, prevents the world from seeing the goodness and dignity of marriage.
The Purpose of Marriage
God’s oneness, which only He can give, can be seen in the creation of man when God made woman from the rib of Adam, her husband. God did not take a foot or a strand of hair from Adam to create Eve. No: He took a rib to show man the equal dignity of male and female. Matthew Henry expands upon this: “[T]he woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
The purpose of marriage is not, as John Chrysostom puts it, for “indecency and laughter,” but “for the sake of begetting offspring and in the fidelity of chastity” (Augustine). Chrysostom understood that the unique beauty of marriage will dissipate in the swamps of infidelity. Thus, marriage is and can only be between one man and one woman. Anything other than this is contrary to God’s plan. Its purpose is unitive and fruitful, and glows in the eyes of God. It is precious and holy, for it has the potential to bring into this world another human being that is capable of knowing God.
The nature of marriage is ordained for “the procreation and education of the offspring, and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.” Yet, God’s merciful love and compassion not only enriches the fertile womb, but exceeds in bounty to marriages that have gone through the hardships of infertility and miscarriage, thus making marriage not only procreative in nature, but also unitive. God’s love ensures that experiencing these great trials can still bear the fruit of unitive marital love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states: “Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” This shows the infinite goodness and love of God, whose love makes “the human person the authentic image of the Blessed Trinity, [the] image of God.”
Clara Ramos and Shania Burch are students at Regent University.