There is an ironic issue of disconnectedness in our progressively sexual culture. Why would it be that as we increase in what is most intimate that we would simultaneously increase in isolation?
I believe one essential reason is because we have confused ourselves to be primarily sex-seeking creatures rather than primarily love-driven creatures and as a result have deprived ourselves of something necessary for relational flourishing. In this post, I hope to articulate what I mean by that, so that in the posts following I may be able to lay out some of the repercussions of operating off this sex-seeking framework.
Okay, so first a bit of clarification, when I say that we are love-driven creatures, I do not mean that we are necessarily kind or benevolent creatures. It is true that often in our misguided attempts to find and receive love, we can actually be quite unloving. Without a doubt, we can still very well be love-driven and yet terribly selfish. For example, there is a stark distinction between appropriately attempting to fill our desires for love with intimate conversations, self-giving sex with our spouses, and sacrificial acts of service to our friends versus inappropriately attempting to fill them with desperate, manipulative words, illicit sex, and suffocating codependent acts. But it remains, we are attempting to fill these desires with something that we hope will make us feel that we are loved and/or are capable of loving. And yes, sex is a part of this. It can be both a beautiful gift when used in the context of marriage and comparatively a destructive force when utilized outside of its proper context.
Let me clarify just a bit further as I do not mean to argue that we are exclusively love-driven creatures. As I was talking to a wise friend of mine about this idea of being a love-driven creature, he mentioned that he believed that we are actually and ultimately worship-driven creatures as Timothy Keller would say. Essentially, Keller argues that we are all worshiping something whether that be money, sex, relationships, or something else, and worship of anything but God is idolatry— making a good thing an ultimate thing. Keller says in his book Counterfeit Gods, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'” I agree with my friend, but I do not believe that it runs contrary to being a love-driven creature. If anything, it would seem to me that we are love-driven because we are worship-driven that we seek that which will make us feel loved or lovely and thus satisfied by something… We love that which we worship. And yes, we can still be idolatrous in our affections. For the sake of this post, I will be operating under the assumption that to be love-driven is a byproduct of being a worship-driven and desiring creature, so bear with me.
To partially address this issue of isolation, I believe we must begin to deconstruct the idea that we are fundamentally sex-seeking creatures – at least not as Freud would have it. I would agree with Freud that our relationships are operating out of our sexualities, but our views of how sexuality manifests itself are quite different. First, in contrast to Freud, our sexual desires are not simply consuming desires for sensory pleasure. Also, while properly functioning, we do not seek relationships because we simply want sex. And last, we do not have a sexual appetite that if left unsatisfied will cause us psychological maladies.
Consider the modern comedy series “New Girl” whose premise is derived on the suspicion and awkwardness of a house full of guys living with a female roommate. It seems a comical idea considering our culture’s obsession with sexualizing nearly all forms of relationships. How could a woman and three men live together without there being at least some form of promiscuous behavior? The male protagonists in the show seem to divide up relationships into two categories: friends and sexual partners. Friendships (I use this word lightly) being reserved for the same sex and sexual partners reserved for the opposite sex. This show is fueled by a sex-seeking anthropological framework. For example, it is not infrequent that the male roommates encourage other male roommates to “get laid” after they act unusually [feminine] after a prolonged amount of time since their last sexual encounter. Most episodes seem to imply that a life without sex is 1) unfulfilling 2) unhealthy and 3) wrong. The show essentially revolves around a social-sexual order— an order that reflects our culture. It assumes that for a relationship to exist between two people of the opposite sex the relationship must ultimately end in sex while to believe otherwise is nearly comical enough to produce an entire comedy series. This is a flawed and crippling view of human sexuality.
So if we are not as Freud interpreted then what are we in regards to sex?
I believe sexuality is far deeper than just a longing for sex although it certainly does not exclude it. Jonathan Grant’s words from his book Divine Sex resonate with what I believe to be a better step into what it means for us to be sexual creatures: “to reduce sexuality to sex is to miss the deeper essence. The greater part of sexuality is affective or social, including our fundamental need for relational intimacy across a broad range of nurturing friendships.” We are far more driven by love and connection than the act of sex itself. To put it in a different way: we are not relational creatures because we desire sexual union… we desire sexual union because we are relational creatures. That ordering is important. It is true that we are sex-driven creatures insofar as it is true that being a sexual creature does not mean we just want sex from people but actually want people. Again, this does not mean that we do not desire sex. Clearly a majority of us do, but I believe we appropriately desire sex precisely because we desire the type of intimate love that it suggests – both on the giving and receiving end of it. Unfortunately, I must emphasize the word “appropriately” because we do not live as originally intended.
I do not want to sound insensitive or naive as I recognize some of the tragedies of sexual abuse in this sin-tainted world of ours. It would seem that all I have said is sentimental trash in light of the harsh fact that people are often malevolently and sometimes casually used by others for sexual gain. These are a result of mankind’s desires being horribly mangled by sin and not at all how we were intended to be. The last thing I want to do is teeter on a sentimental view of our reality. If sexuality is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, it is also the area where Satan and sin can bring about the most vile of distortions. As Adam once walked in glorious intimacy with God and rightfully desired intimacy with a creature like himself before the Fall, we now walk in the disorientation of those desires seeking that which can not fulfill us if not for the Spirit’s work upon us and in us. Grant, again from his book, articulates this superbly by drawing off of Bernard of Clairvaux, “the divine ‘image’ refers to our being created as desiring creatures (our essential nature), while our divine ‘likeness’ (our virtuous character) is something we lost when these desires became disordered through sin.” The Fall does not eliminate the fact that we have the image of God in us, however, it does mean that we are inherently sinful and our desires must be reordered and redeemed. But as G.K. Chesterton once said, “I should always believe the good in the world was its primary plan.” Our desires for love remain, though our quest for fulfillment of those desires are sometimes rampant and despicable.
We may seek sex improperly to fulfill us, which may lead us down some scary roads, but as St. Augustine once famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” As I mentioned previously, it is not that we are asexual creatures, but that we are sexual creatures because we long for our Creator’s love and subsequently the love of those created in His image. Our greatest longing is for a Love that knows us in our nakedness and still desires to be one with us. And if sex and marriage are both representative of Christ’s union with His Church and the communal nature of the Trinity, the link between our sexuality and spirituality should come as no surprise, and Freud’s view of sex would seem dim if not completely antithetical in comparison.
We are restless creatures in this Fallen world of ours, and we seek that which we believe will allow us to be loved. And if it is truly the love and communion of our Creator that we (sometimes blindingly) seek, it would seem evident that our apparent unrest in a hypersexual world would indicate that we are creatures who have sought sex for fulfillment and have been left alone and restless for the love of something far greater.