This post is part of an ongoing series. If you have not read Part 1, I would highly encourage you to do so before continuing.
In the previous post of this series, I argued that we have mistaken ourselves to be creatures simply looking for sex rather than creatures who are fundamentally driven by love and in result have been left lonely and disconnected. In that post, I sought to define those two contrasting frameworks in detail while in this post I have sought to present some of the more specific consequences of operating out of that sex-seeking framework. To clarify these consequences, I have broken this post into two parts: “Consequences in Culture” and “Consequences in the Church”. The final third of this series will seek to explore some of the possibilities of moving forward within a love-driven framework.
1) Consequences in Culture
One of the most day-to-day consequences that I have seen played out in our culture while operating out of this sex-seeking framework is the sexualization and decline of friendship. As a man in our culture, for instance, I have found it increasingly difficult to pursue rich and intimate friendships with people of either the same or opposite sex without eyebrows being raised. If I put an arm around another guy, will people assume that we are sleeping in the same bed? If I give a big hug to a female friend of mine will people assume we are romantic lovers? As a male, the solution it often seems to maintaining reasonable friendships is to remain at a physical and emotional distance with anyone who is not considered my romantic interest. Closeness would seem to be reserved for only those I want to be sexually intimate.
If we are creatures that are primarily just seeking sex and in result use relationships for that end, this consequence should come as no surprise. When we are seen as creatures fundamentally in need of sex, nearly any relationship could devolve into a sexual one. Why would they not if we are truly wired to use friendships as a means to an end? With this in mind, friendships are and have been on the decline in several ways.
If sex is the primary thing we need from people, those friends of ours that we are not sexually attracted to will always become secondary to those friends of ours that we are attracted to. Or for those married, when attractions waver for our spouses so will doubts arise of the one in whom we are committed. Only those that we are or continue to be romantically or sexually attracted to can really offer us what we most desperately need in this life (so we think). Not only will marriages suffer, but as singles we will often feel at arm’s length with friends because we do not want to or appear to sexualize a seemingly non-sexual relationship. And these fickle relationships will typically deteriorate when we are offered a relationship that will give us what we think will finally fulfill us. If you have ever been in your early to mid-twenties as a single person watching your friends get married, you might know this sort of experience.
To clarify, when I say “friendships” I mean both friendships existing outside and inside of marriage. Certainly friendship between spouses must exist in a healthy marriage, and it is evident that the sexualization of friendship has had a significant impact on friendships within marriage as well. As a celibate person, I have obviously never experienced what it is like to be married, but as far as I know when a marriage is built upon how good the sex is within it, it will eventually crumple. When sexual gratification becomes the glue of marriage, marriages will fail. Seeing ourselves as ultimately sex-seeking creatures, instead of love-driven creatures, has devalued marriages as well as the friendships within them. This I assume is because as soon as the other is unable to fulfill us sexually we will assume we are being denied “the good life” and/or our proper “soul-mate”. We see sexual satisfaction as a sort of evidence or indicator of true love rather than sex as a gift within committed and covenantal love, and as a result, we have brought an incredible strain on marriage.
If we continue to believe that love is contingent on sex rather than sex being contingent on love, marriages will begin to fail as soon as you board the flight back from your honeymoon. Of course sex is good and healthy for flourishing marriages, but like all good things that become ultimately necessary things, they cripple us. This seems to be a significant reason why this generation has such anxiety about marriage and why “Tinder” and other outlets for easy hook-ups have become more and more common. Why get married when you can find uncommitted erotic pleasure outside of marriage? Why not live with your significant other before you get married so you will know for sure if the sex will be good or not? Marriage within this framework becomes constrictive and unsustainable, and still, it is not the singular victim either… chaste singleness also becomes an absurdity.
As a person in campus ministry practicing chastity, it is interesting to see the response I get when I mention to people on a progressive campus that I am both committed to vocational singleness and yet still believe sex is reserved for the context of marriage. Responses like these are not unexpected: “Aren’t you hurting yourself by doing that? That seems really repressive.” If this sex-seeking framework were true, this response would absolutely be right. If we need sex to live, chastity could very well be considered a form a self-harm. However, if we actually need love to live rather than sex, sex should be treated as supplementary rather than necessary. I would even go so far to say that because we treat sex as something necessary to live, we will inevitably use others for the sake of sex.
It is not hard to spot how destructively sex-saturated our culture has become with the rampancy of pornography, sex-trafficking, and casual sex. If sexual freedom has become one of the gods of our time, using others (even consensually) for our own sexual gain would seem to be the worship of that god. Our culture of consumeristic materialism has made our own pleasure and happiness the ultimate good. Like a post-apocalyptic story in which people resort to cannibalism out of a need for food, it seems we will treat sex the same way if we can not find it by normal means. If we continue to operate as simply sex-seeking creatures we will do whatever it takes to continue to hopelessly seek after that sensual end even at the expense of others or ourselves. The astronomical rise of pornographic films and pornography usage should be clear evidence of this. Not only as we pursue sexual freedom and fulfillment do we slowly diminish the value of sex but this materialistic view of sex also leaves sex devoid of its spiritual purpose.
There are spiritual consequences of reckless, consumeristic sex that are easy to become immune to if we continue under the assumption that it will eventually meet our deepest longing. As sex loses its material purpose so too does it become easier to lose sight of its transcendental purpose. To put it another way: if our sexuality and spirituality are fundamentally linked (as I briefly argued in Part 1) then there is a correlation between the mishandling of sex and the increased harm of our own souls. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce says it far better than I ever could, “There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” A dramatic consequence of stopping at sexual liberation for what we think will give us ultimate joy is missing out on what we were intended for. And I believe we as a culture have been duped into worshiping brass as gold… and sexual freedom as God.
2) Consequences in the Church
While our culture has found it tempting to undervalue and overuse sex, I believe the church, out of the sex-seeking framework, has been tempted to overvalue and idolize sex in its proper context: marriage. However, in response to our culture’s materialistic views of sex we have begun to swing towards an almost Gnostic view of all other non-marital relationships. As a by-product of the sex-seeking framework, we have inadvertently assumed that marriage is the only place in which it is appropriate for two bodies to be remotely close to each other both literally and in the sense of consistent physical community.
As culture has made sexual liberation the cardinal virtue, it seems the church has similarly responded by making sex within marriage the cardinal virtue. While sex within marriage is certainly a beautiful thing, an over-emphasis of it has seemed to under-emphasize that we as humans need so much more than just sex to flourish relationally. If we continue to operate under the assumption that we are creatures who need sex to stay sane, we will continue to push for all people to get married, and in the process will undervalue intimate friendship outside of marriage because it seems too risky a thing to pursue.
This is where the consequences in culture and church overlap the most. Whereas culture condones or even applauds friendships that become sexualized, the church on the opposite end seems terrified of them. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons there is such a push to get married and not to remain single or celibate within the church. It is as if we believe the quick fix to sexual licentiousness is getting married while being single is asking for some grand, sexual failure to occur. And as a single person in the church I feel this. It is not uncommon that I find myself increasingly pushed to date this or that woman in the church so I can finally become a mature individual. It is also not uncommon that I find myself increasingly hesitant to get too close to another single person for the fear that people will assume we are either romantically interested or sexually intimate. This sort of fear breeds isolation and kills community.
Do not get me wrong, the church still seems to value friendship and community. However, it often feels as though it is a Gnostic form of friendship that we are seeking… or in simpler terms, a view of friendship that excludes bodily contact or physical presence. This gnostic view of friendship seems to be a by-product of the sex-seeking framework in which has significant consequences within the church. I understand that living in a hyper-sexualized culture means that healthy physical affection can quickly and easily be overstepped, but in our attempts to remedy the situation, we have also been too fearful to take any steps at all. In a similar way to our social-media crazed culture, our church communities have often neglected to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship that includes consistent physical presence or sensory connection (outside of the friendly handshake or once a month meeting over coffee). Tragically, we have been left clueless on how to provide that sort of atmosphere and continue to just push people to marriage. Not only does this leave single people without a script for vocational, chaste singleness that includes healthy amounts of intimacy, but it also places an ungodly amount of pressure on these marriages.
This lack of a script for singleness and this huge weight upon the script of marriage has serious ramifications for those in our churches, whether married or single. For those married, this over-emphasis can often leave many families feeling isolated and left to survive on their own strength. If marriage is supposed to be the exclusive route to human flourishing, what happens then if aspects of those marriages feel empty? If marriage is supposed to be the solution for physical and emotional loneliness, how then do we give support and a voice to those struggling in marriages? Single people need close friendships, and families likewise need those friendships. Marriages should never exist in a vacuum, nor should singles exist to themselves.
Whether it is the woman who has yet to have a man pursue her or a man who is celibate because of his sexual orientation, there are people in our churches who may never get married. That is a reality. And as someone in this category, I have found this lack of a script for singleness troubling. Not only does it unintentionally feel like there is no room for me (and others like me) in the church, but I often feel as though I become either the object of people’s pity or suspicion. Being single in the church often feels like being Pluto among the planets in our solar system… (Pluto is not a planet). And if I do not belong among the planets, do I belong among the asteroids or in the solar system next to us? This lack of a script encourages many of us to move on rather than to utilize the benefits of celibacy and singleness for the greater church community- both among families and other single people. On missing out on this script of singleness, I believe we also miss out on a fundamental characteristic of God.
I have often wondered why God created Adam initially by himself without Eve. Certainly, it was incomplete without Eve, but I still am struck by the fact that God created in the order that he did. It is not as if he just created Adam and Eve at the same time, but he created Adam, then put him to work in the garden, and then declared that it was not good for man to be alone. I have a hunch that in God doing this He wanted to show us something of his nature. Not only do we reflect God in marriage but we also reflect him in singleness. And I think Johnathan Grant nails it in his book Divine Sex. He says, “Whereas marriage reflects the intimate bond within the Godhead, singleness expresses God’s ever-expanding love for his Creation…Christian singleness must be affirmed as a positive vision of life because it engages our sexuality rather than ascetically rejecting it.” While most of the sexual energy in marriage goes primarily towards the cultivation of the marriage (and subsequently on the lives of those around it), singles have the benefit of using that sexual energy more widely in the cultivation of the Earth and in the lives of those around them. Without this affirmative view of singleness, I believe we have deprived our communities of a reflection and embodiment of God’s character in the lives of single people within the church.
Not only do we lack a compelling script for single people in the church and increase the burden on marriage with a singular script, but we have also bought into a reductive view of human sexuality in presupposing the sex-seeking framework. If sexuality is really just about the pursuit of sex, then we are essentially reducing ourselves into animals. And one of the greatest arguments against this anthropology is in the person of Jesus who was both fully God and fully man – which includes a sexual nature. Even with this sexual nature, Jesus remained chaste while simultaneously being perfectly sexual. This seems ridiculous to even write out, but Jesus did not move towards others so that He could sexually gratify Himself. Rather, out of his sexuality, He moved towards people in love. In Genesis, we learn that God created sexuality before the Fall, and that the Fall has seriously disordered our originally good sexualities. Yet, Jesus the Incarnate Son of God used his sexuality as it was intended – to move towards others in love and to cultivate life. His sexuality expressed in singleness was used in his “ever-expanding love for His creation” and, yes, his sexuality expressed in marriage was, is, and will be used in the love, pursuit, and consummation of His Bride in the long-awaited marriage of the Lamb. In reducing our humanity not only do we reduce the image of God in which He has specifically placed in mankind but we also lose sight of the Love our love-driven natures were intended for.
These consequences have certainly forced us into paying a heavy toll on ourselves, our relationships, and in our communities. However, these consequences should help lead us to believe that perhaps our assumptions have been drastically off. Rather than just trying to survive as creatures in dire need of sexual gratification, instead, we can begin assuming and seeing the fruit of living out of the reality that we are in reality, love-driven creatures.
I hate to leave posts hanging like this. It absolutely bothers me when people make mention of loads of issues but leave it as if there is nothing to be done but be miserable and despair, and it seems as if I am doing that very thing here. I urge you though to please wait for the final part of this series in which I hope to begin a conversation on what it may look like as we begin to address these issues and grow in intimacy as love-driven creatures.
*Stay tuned for “Intended for Love – Part 3: The Fruit of Love-Driven Creatures”*