We have been very carefully taught.

So he worked.
He lost weight; he walked light on the earth.  Lack of physical labor, lack of variety of occupation, lack of social and sexual intercourse, none of these appeared to him as lacks, but as freedom.  He was the free man: he could do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it for as long as he wanted to do it.  And he did it.  He worked.  He work/played.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

I saw a piece of a TV show today, in which a talk show host was asked by someone in the audience how to explain to her 10 year old son what sex was like.  Oh, my!  What a show he put on, rhapsodizing over how it was literally the most wonderful thing in the world.  I have to admit I was kind of surprised.  Here was an man in his late forties, apparently successful, who seemed not to know anything at all.

I’m a married man.  I have four children. I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience.  Sex has been a lurking bogey for most of my life, either the act or the niggling desire.  I have to say it has not fulfilled as advertised.  And I don’t meant that I’ve had some sort of disappointing experience. But my love for my wife is wider than just the right sort of caress.  Our kids are small: a long walk alone in a quiet park is a far grander experience together (and far more rare and costly!) than an evening alone in the bedroom.

But moving beyond interpersonal relations, sex is just too narrow to be the final all-consuming joy.  John Stuart Mill was right when he broke with Jeremy Bentham and said that there were different tiers of pleasure, and that the pleasures of the mind and the spirit were to be valued on a qualitatively higher level than the pleasures of the body.  As Paul said, physical (er…) exercise is of some value, but godliness…!

I shouldn’t be surprised.  I know.  But honestly, it saddens me to think that so many people are manacled to the idea that desire, especially sexual desire, is identity.  I suppose that most people go through a phase around puberty where that feels like it’s true. But they used to learn differently, by culture and experience, so that an adult who talked that way was an obvious embarrassment to himself. Not so any longer. 

Room Enough in Bag End

When all was at last ready Frodo said: “When are you going to join me, Sam?”

Sam looked a bit awkward.

There is no need to come yet, if you don’t want to,” said Frodo. But you know the Gaffer is close at hand, and he will be very well looked after by Widow Rumble.”

“It’s not that, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, and he was very red.

“Well, what is it?”

“It’s Rosie, Rose Cotton,” said Sam. “It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so.  And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first.  But now I have spoken, and she says: “Well, you’ve wasted a year, so why wait longer?” “Wasted?” I says. “I wouldn’t call it that.” Still I see what she means.  I feel torn in two, as you might say.”

“I see,” said Frodo: “you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in with Rosie.  There’s room enough in Bag End for as big a family as you could wish for.”

It’s been so long since I read Lord of the Rings, that I had forgotten Rosie was in the book at all.  I had taken her as one of Peter Jackson’s additions, specifically for the point of demonstrating that Sam and Frodo weren’t gay.  I do remember reading that Jackson felt obliged to play her up a bit, and I think the difference is in our culture, rather than the needs of the plot.  Today the assumption is, that if a man isn’t think a certain way about a woman, then he is most certainly thinking womanly thoughts about another man.  Tolkien’s assumption, that he puts in Sam’s mouth is that, if a man isn’t thinking about a woman, it’s because he has some more urgent business to attend to, and that it isn’t nice to burden a lady with commitments and then forbid her to fulfill them because of other requirements.

So Claudio says:

O my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.
Today, of course, we think both more and less of the cornerstone act of making families.  The act itself is sacred: nothing more important, to be fulfilled on earliest occasion.  But the commitment, the promise, the house itself, is fleeting, unimportant, effervescent.

Christians and “Amazing Sex”

I thought this article was helpful, if still a little bit off.

It’s true that putting a lot of emphasis on “sexual compatibility” by trying out a lot of partners before marriage will probably result a more interesting time in the bedroom after marriage.  And, as a corollary, is no method at all for ensuring a long-lasting marriage, or preventing divorce.  Similarly, It should be obvious as the day that people who pick up tips and tricks from multiple partners will acquire more skill in the physical act than people who abstain until marriage, and never wander after.

Rachel Pietka’s answer is 100% correct, if only half-way there.  She points out that not having sex like a pro isn’t a bug, but a feature of marriage, because marriage isn’t primarily about the quality of your sex life.  It’s about honoring God by making a family.  Good sex isn’t God, and it shouldn’t be an idol in your life.  So Christian marriage says something by not placing sex first.

All to the good.  But may I point out that “like a porn star” is probably a pretty awful definition of “good sex” to begin with.  In a Christian marriage, part of the loyalty of love that you show there is in caring for someone who is very much different from you, tending to their needs especially when it isn’t convenient, and when it goes against all your own preferences.  If that kind of love can’t be demonstrated in the marriage bed, what good is it at all?

Yes, Virginia, there really is a line

See my previous post for thoughts on books that needn’t bother to be books. Nevertheless, I agree wholeheartedly with Tim Challies’ review of Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach. There is no Biblical category for “girlfriend.” A girlfriend is a practice wife, and the only reason to practice being married without actually getting married is so you can practice getting divorced.

BUT (wanting to justify himself, he said) is there a Biblical category for betrothed? I’m looking at you, Song of Solomon.

Sex and Romance vs. the Glory of God

It looks like my blogging is going to go way down for a while, since my new job doesn’t involve sitting much at a desk, where I might type up a few thoughts now and then as I work. However, I did have this little nugget to share:

As I was talking to one of my new coworkers, I noticed that he had a copy of Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God sitting on his shelf. I made some comment on it, since it was probably given to him by a Sovereign Gracer (which it had been – another coworker). But the guy had a strange response – he said he wasn’t very happy about it, and it sounded like the book brought down his opinion of CJ Mahaney (the book’s editor). The issue was the title: Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God. After a little discussion, I made out that his problem was related to the likelihood of dishonoring the glory of God by associating it with things like sex and romance. He understood, he said, that the goal of the books contributors was to explore how things like sex and romance could be related to the glory of God, but that Christians need to be aware of what a title like that might imply, namely that sex and romance could somehow be put on the same level as the glory of God.

I’m really not quite sure what to make of such a position.