Got your attention, didn’t I? Thought I might. Sex sells. We see it everywhere. It’s used to sell products from mouthwash to cars to sandwiches. The Internet is full of it. We also see sex itself for sale, in the form of trafficking and human slavery. Wives are commanded to have more of it; men are excused for wanting more of it. And apparently, it’s what keeps us from having friends of the opposite gender. Don’t hug a guy from the front, they tell us. He can feel your breasts, and then he’ll think about sex and he’ll lust. So hug him from the side, they say. Then he won’t notice that you have breasts, and he’ll forget that you’re a woman with anatomy, and he won’t lust and you will not have caused a brother to stumble. The men aren’t immune either. Don’t make eye contact with a woman that’s not your wife, they say. Because she (no matter who she is) is a home-wrecker who just can’t wait to get you alone and tear your clothes off—because of your eyes. Your highest need is sex, so be sure and think about it all day every day, with the intent of how to avoid it, of course. Women make decisions every morning about what to wear and how it will affect the men around them. Men make decisions every day about how to look at women. We heatedly debate the subject of marriage and how to define it—based on sexual preferences. Why all the sex??? I’m a big fan of it, myself. My husband and I have been married for twenty years, and I think we’re finally getting the hang of it. Just a few more years of practice… I believe that good sex is crucial to a good marriage and that the church should talk about it more. But what is sex really about? Why is it so fascinating? It sure feels good. It’s supposed to. For one thing, the pleasure inherent in sex ensures the propagation of the species. We’ll keep doing it if it feels good. It’s meant for pleasure in and of itself too. God’s just good that way. Sex also provides a window into the person on the other side of the encounter. Or it should. In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed.” They had complete access to each other and to God. They had intimacy. But in Genesis 3, that intimacy got interrupted. Their choice to unplug from God as their source of life and to plug into themselves as their source of life put barriers between Adam and Eve, and between them and God. They no longer enjoyed that unhindered, unashamed access. We’ve been trying to get it back ever since. When God created mankind, His desire was to create a race with which He could have close, intimate relationship. He intended for us to have unlimited access to Him and healthy relationship with each other. When we decided to do it our way, that access became necessarily limited. But we’re still hungry for it. We are created to be in close, intimate relationships with God and others. We want desperately to see and to be seen, to know and to be known. In a world of ever-increasing technological “connection,” we are lonelier and more disconnected than ever. But this problem of loneliness has been the mark of mankind since Eve chose to eat that blasted fruit (Adam jumped right in there, fellas; make no mistake). And sex seems to offer a solution to that loneliness. In some contexts, it does. In the context of the covenant of marriage, sex is meant to provide pleasure, procreation—and a refuge in which the two become one, sharing access and intimacy that only belongs to husband and wife. But is that it?? Is that all the intimacy we get to enjoy? What about single people? Are they just out of luck until they get married, if they do get married? Are they doomed? It’s time we separate the idea of intimacy from the idea of sex. It’s time we recognize and affirm that we are meant to live in close relationship, intimate relationship, with our spouse, yes—but with others as well, both male and female. Sex should always include intimacy (or it becomes something completely different), but intimacy does not always include sex. “But,” you ask, “how do we do that??” We do it by understanding what intimacy really is: vulnerability and honor. Seeing and being seen. Vulnerability is the practice of bringing me, as I truly am, to all of my relationships. There are some that warrant more access to me than others, but the level of access someone might have to me doesn’t mean I can’t bring my true self to the relationship. (It doesn’t mean practicing what I call “verbal vomit”—the practice of spewing your mess all over someone, theoretically in the name of “vulnerability” but really in the name of providing them with reasons to reject you.) It is when I allow you to see me; not just what I think you want to see, or how I think I need to be seen, but the real me. Just—me. Honor is when I see you, when I invite you to be fully you within the relationship. Not when I “allow” you to—that implies that you need my permission to be you. Instead, honor makes space for you to be fully who you are in our relationship. It means I can see you as a whole person, separate from me, with needs, wants, and inherent value. It allows us to be in the presence of the opposite sex and to see them as human beings, not just objects. See, even the sort of “purity” culture that we have created within the church reinforces the idea of objectification: every person of the opposite sex is a potential sex partner, not just another human being, worthy of love, respect and honor, with thoughts, feelings, and value. (Incidentally, if men aren’t supposed to make eye contact with a woman when they talk to her, where exactly are they supposed to look??) When I am a person of honor, I honor those around me—and I will honor my spouse. I will treat him or her as valuable, as precious to me, and I will honor the covenant we have, no matter the circumstance. If we can begin to understand honor and vulnerability, we will be able to put sex and intimacy in their proper contexts. If we can become people who know how to be vulnerable and how to honor one another, we can walk in relationship—in friendship—with those around us, both of our same gender and of the opposite sex. As humans created in God’s image, our highest need, whether male or female, is intimacy. We are designed for it. Sex is a sacred thing. The Catholic Church understands this: if a couple has not consummated their marriage covenant by having sex, the relationship can be annulled. Cancelled out. As if it never happened. When a husband and wife engage in the kind of intimacy belonging only to marriage, there is a mystical connection that takes place, where the “two become one,” and it should be protected at all costs. By beginning to walk in true honor with those around us, by understanding that intimacy without sex (and without trying really hard not to think about sex) is truly possible, we can experience the healthy community and close friendships we were designed for, while protecting the marital connection. Honor allows us to protect that primary relationship while truly seeing and valuing others. Maybe, if we become a people steeped in healthy vulnerability and true honor, just maybe we will begin to see sex put in its proper place—in marriage. Maybe, just maybe, we will see the divorce rate go down. And maybe, just maybe, we will live in relationship, the way we were meant to. Isn’t it worth a try?
About Nancy Smith
Nancy, alongside her husband Alan, is the Senior Pastor of Catch the Fire DFW, a new and growing church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. She and Alan have been married for 20 years and have three stunningly beautiful and ridiculously intelligent children. Nancy’s passion is to see people become all that they were created and redeemed to be, reconnected with their heavenly Father. Nancy loves all things coffee, and has a passion for the written word. She can be found making random observations and occasionally deep statements on Facebook and Twitter, and once in a blue moon where she blogs.