In one of the most watched and celebrated television series of the past half century, Sex and the City chronicled the lives of four women in their thirties and forties who confided in one another in the midst of their ever-changing sex lives. The series’ six seasons explored sexuality, promiscuity, safe sex, femininity, and the similarities and differences between friendship and romance. Consistently and thoroughly undermining the Christian view of sexuality, it received wide acclaim, winning seven Emmy Awards and eight Golden Globe awards and being rated one of the best television series of all time by Time magazine.
For Christians, it is no longer surprising that the most popular television series and movies receive acclaim precisely for their antagonism of Christian values. But it remains disappointing that our society so easily dismisses the Christian moral framework that undergirds our nation’s founding and has guided most citizens’ aspirations for centuries. And it reminds us of the need to remember God’s purposes for sexuality in which his design for sex is superior to the alternatives.
Thus, this article will briefly outline God’s design for sexuality before noting the deficiencies of today’s alternative views.
What is the purpose of sex?
The purpose of sex—as is the purpose of everything God created—is to glorify God. But exactly how can we go about glorifying God in the way we view sex and handle our sexual desires? What should we do or not do about our sex drive? The answer in Scripture is that there are four distinct but overlapping means by which we glorify God in our sex lives.
First and foremost, God designed sex for the consummation of marriage. The Bible defines marriage as the covenanted union of one man and one woman, initiated by a public declaration of the couple’s exclusive commitment to one another. This purpose was foregrounded in the Bible’s opening narrative, as God declared to the first couple that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
Second, God designed sex for procreation. This purpose was also foregrounded in the Bible’s opening narrative, as God commanded the first couple to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…” (Gen 1:26, 28). Through marital sex, families and communities and nations are populated. And from among “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” God redeems worshipers by the blood of his Son (Rev 5:9).
Third, God designed sex as an expression of marital love. Because marriage is a “one flesh” union of husband and wife and husband and wife together with Christ, sexual intercourse is a powerfully symbolic expression of affection and commitment. In other words, love is not merely an emotion or state of mind; it involves emotions, cognition, and conjugal acts. This type of whole-self love is what the wisdom writer had in mind throughout Song of Songs (e.g., Song 2:4; 7:7; 8:6-7).
Fourth, God designed sex for pleasure. The human desire for pleasure is God-given, and marital sex is a wonderfully constructive form of God-glorifying contentment. Scripture alludes at least in part to the pleasure-experiencing aspect of sex when it instructs men to “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecc 9:9) and “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times” (Prov 5:18-19).
When the sexual act participates in these four aspects of God’s design, it glorifies God uniquely and powerfully. Yet, no fact is more readily acknowledged than the prevalence of non-marital sex in our Western societies. Thus, it is helpful to explore alternative views of sexuality, exposing the ways these corrupt and misdirect God’s good design.
Why does “hookup culture” offer a counterfeit view of sex?
Since the 1960s, many Americans have latched onto “free love” as the defining characteristic of a happy life. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this view had coalesced into a phenomenon known as “hookup culture,” in which individuals approve of and encourage casual sex, including one-night stands, threesomes, orgies, and other phenomena. Although hookup culture is generally associated with adolescents and high school students, the phenomenon increasingly includes individuals of all ages and social classes.
In a hookup culture, the primary purpose of sex is pleasure. Sex is a way to play, with satisfaction as its goal. Therefore, Christians, we must reject hookup culture because it deifies pleasure rather than God. Once pleasure has been elevated to the level of deity, many negative consequences ensue: marriage is undermined, selfishness is glorified, male predation is encouraged, sexually irresponsible behavior is condoned, and—ironically—genuine sexual pleasure and lasting satisfaction are never experienced.
Why does “romantic culture” offer a counterfeit view of sex?
For several hundred years, a “romantic culture” has developed in which the Christian view of sexuality is replaced by a value system in which sentimental feelings are deified. Individuals who hold this view believe that affectionate feelings justify sexual intercourse, and they often believe strong affectionate feelings cannot or should not be stifled by abstention from sex.
As Christians, we must reject romantic culture because it deifies personal feelings. Once people worship their feelings, they displace God from the throne. Further, they poison the institution of marriage by justifying divorce once the level of shared affection sinks below an acceptable level. They turn marital vows into lies, justify the shirking of covenantal responsibility, and never experience the deep-level “romantic feeling” that comes from remaining in marriage through thick and thin.
Why does “therapeutic culture” offer a counterfeit view of sex?
A third aberrant view of sexuality is espoused by “therapeutic culture.” In this view, sex is regarded as good or based on whether it contributes to individual development or mental health. Therapeutic sexuality encourages people to “fulfill their potential” or “become whole” through sex. Thus, a given sexual act is not right and wrong in itself because the rightness or wrongness of a sexual act is determined by whether it helps the individual achieve their therapeutic goals.
As Christians, we must reject therapeutic culture because exalts the individual and makes psychotherapists the “high priests” of our secular age. Instead of promising personal fulfillment to those who obey God’s law, it promises moral affirmation to those who seek their fulfillment. It encourages egocentrism, undermines the relational aspect of sex, disattaches sexuality from a broader framework of meaning, and justifies aberrant forms of sexuality.
Sex and the City of God
Twenty-first-century American Christians are not alone in church history in defending Christian morality against competing views. The early church faced the same challenge when Roman pagan sexuality was one of the primary reasons for the early church’s persecution. The great theologian Augustine addressed God’s design for sexuality clearly in his excellent treatise City of God, as did many other Christians in those days. And, as Augustine argued in his great treatise, we who follow Christ are primarily members of the “City of God” and must eagerly embrace God’s design for human life—including sexuality—so pagan society will see God’s goodness through our lives.
Therefore, we must not capitulate to the predominant sexualities of our day. Instead, we must remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors, his representatives in a secular age. And in a secular era so beholden to sexual desire, there is no aspect of our obedience more important than the sexual component of our lives. For God’s glory, therefore, and the good of our neighbors, we must remind our neighbors of Who designed sexuality and how he wants it used.