The theology of sex

I’ve been thinking about sexuality this week (ha, ha, ha, very funny), and wanted to jot down a few thoughts I had on the subject. 

First, what do even mean by the term ‘sexuality?’  Are we talking about the physical act of sex and things related therein or is it something a whole lot bigger?  Rob Bell, in his new book ‘Sex God’ argues that sexuality is way beyond the physical act itself.  The word ‘sex,’ he writes, is derived from the Latin word secare which means, “to sever, to amputate, or to disconnect from the whole.’  This is where we get the words sect, section, dissect, bisect.  He goes on to argue that sexuality is ultimately about how as humans we are disconnected, cut off, from our environment, from each other, and from God.  Our sexuality is about how we experience this disconnect and how we try to reconnect with our world, God, and one another. 

Now, whether or not you agree with Rob’s argument from the Latin root of the word sex, I think he is onto something. 

Let’s start at the physical act of sex.  The hard wiring of the human body for sex is fascinating.  Our bodies are designed for face to face, body to body sex.  Humans are more of less the only animals the only animals that consistently have face to face sex.  Why?  Why are the majority of our erogenous zones on the front of our bodies?  Why do we have so many erogenous zones on our face?  Human females are the only female animals with breasts.  Many other animals have nipples for nursing their young but human females have breasts that actually make nursing more difficult than if they didn’t have breasts.  They are very effective for face to a face, body to body, sexual experience.  Its like our bodies are designed for sex to be relational. 

Or how about this, most animals go through cycles where the females become fertile, go into heat, advertise it through smell or sight, mate (often with as many partners as possible, usually refusing no takers), and then go without sex until the cycle begins over again.  Human females are entirely different.  They are capable of having sex anytime of the year, they don’t have to wait for a cycle of fertility.  In fact, they can have and enjoy sex when there is no chance of reproducing (while they are already pregnant, after menopause, etc).  Human females don’t advertise their fertility, and have the will and ability to say no and choose who they will and won’t have sex with.  They have control.  Its as if they are designed for sex to be about much more than reproduction.  Its as if sex has a higher purpose, of pleasure, and particularly of relationship.  Its like its hardwired in. 

How about the incredible cocktail of powerful chemicals released into the human brain at orgasm?  Oxytocin is once chemical released into the brain.  Oxytocin has been shown to be key in the development of trust and bonding in human beings.  Our bodies are releasing chemicals that encourage relational bonding when we have sex.  Or how about the endogenous opioids that are released at orgasm in our brains.  These are the human body’s version of heroin, Oxycontin, and morphine.  We are talking seriously powerful and pleasurable chemicals being released.  This pleasure is being associated in our brains with whoever or whatever we are with at the time of orgasm.  One friend of mine, a bio-chem major said it this way, “Our partner in effect becomes both the drug and the drug dealer.”  These are addictive chemicals we are talking about.  You will crave this experience again and it will be associated with whoever or whatever you first experienced it with.  Why are we surprised that one night stands and hooking up produce depression and alcohol abuse?  We are hardwired for sex and relationship to go hand and hand, not to be divorced from one another. 

I could go on to write about the women’s hymen, which serves no known purpose, but forces human females to make a real decision about the first time they will have sex.  Or we could talk about how the differences in sexual climax between men and women demands there be communication and serving one another for great sex to take place.  Its like our bodies cry out for sex to be relational.

The scriptures begin with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  After creating the first couple we are told that “this is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his his, they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24  They become one.  In this short little phrase we are given a picture of sexuality not divorced from relationship but integral to a covenant relationship between a man and a woman.  Sex is about relationship. 

Quick side note:  sex did not come after evil entered our world, sex is part of the original good plan of God.  What was the first thing God ever said to humans?  “Be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis 1:28  The first thing.  The very first thing he said to humans.  Let’s not be naive about what “be fruitful and multiply means.”  Gregory of Nyssa (335AD-394AD), an early church father, taught that if Adam and Eve had never sinned the race would have reproduced itself by some harmless form of vegetation.  If he were here today I would say to him, “Gregory, that the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”  The first thing God said to Adam and Eve was to go get it on.  God says sex is good. 

If sex is about relationship, its interesting to then take a look at some of the teachings of Jesus and Paul in this light.  In Matthew 19 Jesus says that some people will renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.  In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul talks all about how if you are single, great, more time to build God’s kingdom.  And if you are married great, less chance of sexual temptation.  In neither sayings of Paul or Jesus do you get the sense that A. single people are second class citizens or B. sex is something no one can live without.  Maybe this is because physical sex is just one small dimension of how we connect, and connection is something everyone can experience. 

Its interesting isn’t it, how we talk about sex.  If our sexuality is really just about the physical act of sex and expressions related to that, where does that leave the celibate, single, divorcees, etc?  They certainly aren’t asexual beings.  No, as Robert Capon has written, “Suppose I wrote a book called, The Sexual Life of a Nun.  You know what people would think.  They would be curious or shocked.  They would expect to find it either a big joke or a compilation of a slightly prurient propaganda.  How many would be able to see that, on the real meaning of the word sexual, it is a perfectly proper title?  For a nun’s life is of course utterly sexual.  She thinks as a woman, prays as a woman, reacts as a woman and commits herself as a woman….  Of course she omits, as an offering to God, one particular expression of her sexuality; but it is only one out of a hundred.”

Maybe sexuality is a lot bigger than we have been thinking.  Maybe it is about our disconnection after all, and all the ways we attempt to reconnect to God, our world, and others as uniquely created men and women. 

I think much of our culture’s mistakes in sexuality come as it is divorced from relationship.  We get it all freak’n backwards.  Sexual intercourse is meant to be one expression of the infinite ways we reconnect to other humans.  It is such a powerful experience that God has placed it within the safety of a lifetime covenant relationship.  Our culture reverses it.  It says that that relationship is only one way to experience sexuality, that sex can be with strangers, with someone you’ll never see again, or by yourself.  Could it be that our culture is actually experiencing a truncated form of sexuality?  That in a covenant love relationship, physical sex is enhanced and apart from it, sex is actually degraded?

Maybe in the tearing of sex and relationship apart we’ve actually been tearing ourselves apart.  Maybe this is why pornography can feel so empty.  Why using a girl for sex and dumping her can make us feel so guilty.  Why sleeping with someone and breaking up can leave us feeling so lonely.  Maybe this is why we can be married and sleeping together and still completely alone.  Maybe our experience of sexuality actually shrinks and becomes distorted as we pull the relationship out of it.  Maybe our experience of sexuality will grow and expand as we fill it up with a lifelong covenant relationship built on shared dreams, hopes, fears, past, and future.  Maybe God has more in store for us.

There is so much hurt in our world today from misused sexuality.  We are wounded, guilty, scared, and scarred.  I think the final word should come from the apostle Paul.  He cared for a new community of Jesus followers in the city of Corinth.  Corinth was famous for its sexual immorality.  It had a well known temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, lust, and sexual rapture.  Worship of Aphrodite usually included ritual sex with a temple prostitute.  They basically worshipped sex (way, way different from our world today, I know).  So Paul wrote to this new community who had this kind of sexual culture in their recent past, and in fact were still surrounded by it.  He wrote about how some of the community used to be sexually immoral, adulterers, and male prostitutes.  But he declared that now they “were washed, were sanctified, and were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Washed, cleansed, forgiven, a fresh start, healing, reconnection, these are what Jesus offers.  We are all sexual beings in search of connection.  May we embrace our sexuality as men and women in search of connection.  May we know where the physical expression of sexuality finds its proper place.  May we be healed of the hurts we have received and inflicted.  And may reconnect with our world, with one another, and with the God who created us in his love. 


3 Responses to “The theology of sex”

  1. 1 postalhoot May 6, 2007 at 2:39 am

    This is well written and I have learned some new ways of looking at relational/sexual things. I have been in a lifelong struggle to find trusting/lifegiving relationships where I can truly feel connected. I continue to learn new ways of thinking and changing my perspective to a correct God-view of my life. It is a long process but someday I hope to put what I learn here into practice with my future wife. I especially like the benediction style of the last paragraph. Thanks for the insights!


  2. 2 tayloru10 May 7, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    Glad you got something out of it!

  1. 1 Thinking about sex... « Thinks on Things Trackback on May 6, 2007 at 3:02 am

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