PART XI: Chapter 10 - "'Single = Celibate'" (The Sex Mandate?)
Imagine a preacher standing up before his congregation on Sunday morning and declaring, "Single people, God commands you to get married and to have sex!" I am certain there are plenty of singles in their late teens and early twenties that would secretly delight for this pronouncement to be made. A young man, with his hormones raging and his frontal lobe not fully developed, can declare, "I have no choice but to fulfill God's mandate and pursue that really good-looking sister in Christ I met in Bible camp last Summer. We'll get married and our ticket to paradise will be punched!" You may think I jest, but in Chapter 10 of Getting Serious About Getting Married
, Debbie Maken defends the notion that we are "hardwired by our Creator to want sex and to pursue sexual fulfillment" (p. 128).
Are we really "hardwired" to want and pursue sex? Forgive me for turning on the cold shower, but the idea that we have no choice but to have sex and therefore we should marry is a naive and harmful myth. It is not taught by the Scriptures. I am certain a few jaws will drop at this statement; therefore, permit me to explain why I have come to the conclusions that I have.Design and "God-Given" Desires
When religious leaders talk about human sexuality and God's design, they often assert that marriage is the proper avenue for the expression of our "God-given desires." The truth, however, is that our desire for sex is not
"God-given." How can this be? Simple. We must distinguish between sexual response (which is biological), and desire (which is an act of the will). We make a similar distinction when we consider food. For instance, a woman may notice that someone has brought in some store-bought turtle cheesecake at her workplace. Her mouth may salivate, but if she is on a diet, she may lose her desire after reading the nutrition label and the list of ingredients on the side of the packaging. In this case, we see the desire for food, which is even stronger and more necessary than the desire for sex, can be extinguished by choice.
We need food to survive and sooner or later, we must desire and eat food. The same cannot be said about sex. Paul corrected the Corinthians when he declared:
"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (1 Cor. 6:12-13, NKJV)
If there was ever a time for Paul to concede that our reproductive organs had to be used for sex the way our stomach must be used for food, this verse would probably be the place. Paul, however, makes no such concession. He simply tells the Corinthians that the body is "not for sexual immorality." Sexual activity is not an inevitability. Indeed, when we declare that God indiscriminately gives people a desire for sex, then we call into question what the Bible plainly declares about his nature:
"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. " (James 1:13-15, NKJV)
"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13, NJKV)
Remember, that sexual arousal like hunger does not wait on a time table. Your body does not know whether your are married or not. When it responds to stimuli, it is prepared for an act that might as well take place immediately. If we confuse innate sexual responses with "God-given desires," then we are claiming that God hasn't really programmed us to want sex in marriage, per se, as much as he has programmed us to want sex right away
Debbie Maken says, "There must be hope of a timely marriage for abstinence to be successful" (p. 132). This hope, however, is often dashed by unrealistic demands placed on both sexes (especially demands placed on men). We must also acknowledge that there will be some people who cannot get married under any reasonable circumstances. So how can we say to a single man that he is programmed to want and pursue sex when there is no immediate prospect of him getting married
? What "way of escape" does he have from his desires in that case? Sexual activity outside of marriage would most certainly be a problem for him. I cannot but wonder how many Christians have succumbed to this defeatist thinking. Christians might say, "God made me this way. I am so lonely. I have needs and they have to be met." Then they might give themselves permission to get angry at God, use pornography, sleep around, get unscripturally remarried, or commit adultery.
I anticipate someone will point to 2 Thess. 3:10 and claim that just as men have to work in order to eat, so they must work to obtain the favor of godly women in pursuit of marriage. This line of reasoning fails under closer scrutiny, however. We give food to who are starving, disabled, or unable to work, but we don't grant sex to those who will never have a chance to marry through no fault of their own
. Is God a respecter of persons that we should supply benevolence for one perceived human need but not for another? The restrictions God places on sexuality are much more stringent than what he places on other biological drives. Moreover, as a man, I realize that finding some sort of employment to secure the basic necessities of life is not as difficult as finding the kind of employment needed to satisfy the demands of many a religious woman in this consumeristic society. We don't tell a male teenager that he has to wait to get out on his own before he can eat, but we say that he must do so if he wants to get married. We don't tell a young man that he has no choice but to buy all of his food from the most expensive grocery store in town, but we declare he has no choice but to embrace the expensive proposition of marriage in order to gratify his sexual desires. If you balk at the idea of equating sex with a cheap commodity like food, then you should not talk about men having to labor as if such were the case.
In short, the desire for sex is not like the desire for food, drink, sleep, etc. When we tell single people that God programmed them to seek out sex, then we set them up for failure. This is why the Marriage Mandate Movement is not a harmless fad. We must stand up and combat any false doctrine that causes Christians to yield to temptation in a fit of helplessness or causes them to question God's justice and love.Is Marriage the Cure for Being Hot and Bothered?
Debbie Maken claims in Chapter 10 that our sex drive "was designed to find release in marriage" (p. 128). She then references 1 Cor. 7:1-2 as a proof-text for encouraging single people to get married. I have already indicated in Part 3 of my review that an application of 1 Cor 7:1-2 to single people is a violation of the context. Paul was addressing married Christians in that passage.
When I recently pointed out the context of 1 Cor 7:1-2 to some people, one critic wanted to know why Paul would demand married people have sexual relations to address the problem of self-control, but not demand something similar for single people . After all, doesn't sexual temptation affect single people to a greater extent than married people? In answer to this question, let me point out that the being married to someone and yet being forced to go without sex is more frustrating than not being married at all. We kid ourselves if we believe someone who is accustomed to having a physical relationship with another person can continue to live in close quarters with the other person and yet have no problem when the intimacy suddenly stops. In response to this observation, my critic declared my viewpoint to be a "bald assertion." I suppose if we follow my critic's line of reasoning, boyfriends and girlfriends who live together are no more susceptible to sexual tension and temptation than those who live apart. Do we really believe that?
At any rate, Mrs. Maken continues her misapplication of 1 Cor. 7:1-2 by pointing to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:28: "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (ESV). Mrs. Maken suggests that since a lot of Christians are already guilty of sexual impurity according to Jesus, they need to get married to "avoid fornication," as per Paul's instructions.
Quite frankly, the idea that marriage can prevent people from having impure thoughts about others is downright laughable. There is no strong guarantee that marriage can keep you from falling into sexual sin. If such were the case, then adultery, online affairs, and married men looking at pornography would not be widespread problems. A well-known book among Evangelicals, Every Man's Battle
, has this to say about marriage stemming lust:
"That marriage doesn't eliminate sexual impurity comes as no surprise to married men, although it does for teens and young singles ... Young singles believe that marriage creates a state of sexual nirvana.
"If only it were so. First of all, sex has different meanings to men and women. Men primarily receive intimacy just before and during intercourse. Women gain intimacy through touching, sharing, hugging, and communication. Is it any wonder that the frequency of sex is less important to women than to men, as Mark woefully discovered? Because of the differences between men and women, forming a satisfying sex life in marriage is hardly a slam dunk. It's more like making a half-court shot ...
"Your purity must not depend upon your mate's health or desire. God holds you responsible, and if you don't gain control before your wedding day, you can expect it to crop up after the honeymoon. If you're single and watching sensual R-rated movies, wedded bliss won't change this habit. If your eyes lock on passing babes, they'll still roam after you say, 'I do.' You're masturbating now? Putting that ring on your finger won't keep your hands off yourself.
"When marriage doesn't immediately solve our problem, we cling to the hope that, given enough time, marriage may yet free us. Andy told us, 'I once read that a man's sex drive drops in his thirties and forties, while a woman's sex drive reaches its peak during that time. For a while, I thought that Jill and I would meet in some blissful middle ground. It didn't happen.'
"But freedom from sexual sin rarely comes through marriage or the passage of time. (The phrase 'dirty old man' should tell us something about that.) So if you're tired of sexual impurity and of the mediocre, distant relationship with God that results from it, quit waiting for marriage or some hormone drop to save the day." (Stephen Arterburn et al., Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2000), 40-41) [emphasis orig.]
Here we have the unglamorous truth about sexuality in marriage. As a man, I cannot depend on any woman to keep me pure. I must do that myself.
With respect to 1 Cor. 7:1-7, we might presume that conjugal duties might offer some insurance against sexual frustration in marriage, but even here there is no guarantee. Apart from the differences between men and women in how sex is viewed, there are the stressors of life to consider such as caring for children, illness, and separation. If a man thinks he can clobber a less than willing spouse into having sex with him by using 1 Cor. 7:1-7, he will find himself disappointed by the half-hearted compliance given to him. Do you know what it is like to embrace someone who is frigid towards you?Nice Ladies Who Don't (At All)
Debbie Maken says in her book:
"Let me be totally honest with you. Though I got married at age thirty-one, I really could have used a husband at sixteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-three, twenty-seven, twenty-nine, thirty. Especially at twenty-five--a year of numerous cold showers. Let's be honest, being single doesn't make you not want sex. Whoever said that age thirty-four is a woman's sexual peak needs to be shot." (p. 127)
I find this confession to be mildly humorous. Quite frankly, as a man, I could have used a wife at age twelve or thirteen if we want look at the matter this way. Where were the Christian women with Debbie Maken's level of desire when I was in my twenties? I suppose that today's Christian woman is more in touch with her sexuality than women of the past, and yet I wonder if Mrs. Maken is an exception to the rule just the same.
There are still probably women who see sex only in terms of having children or something to be bartered for a husband's good behavior. They may otherwise regard the act to be a major inconvenience. Just how understanding can men expect women to be about male sexuality? Consider this quote from Every Man's Battle
regarding how women react to the sexual struggles men face:
"Remember, our habits are rooted in our maleness. We understand them. Women don't. Almost without fail, women who hear about your sexual impurity will think of you as a pervert ..."
"I know some men will disagree with me on this point, and that's fine, because you know your own wife better than I do. But most wives react with shock and revulsion rather than mercy and prayer." (Arterburn et al., 116-117) [emphasis orig.]
Perhaps the authors of the book are basing their observations on what they've experienced with their female contemporaries. Maybe younger religious women have a more sympathetic and long-suffering understanding about male sexuality. Who is to say? Whatever the case, I daresay many young religious men have allowed popular culture to mislead them about what they can expect from women. Most religious women probably do not have the time, inclination, knowledge or stamina to play the part of the full-time seductress for their husbands.
In fact, Christian men have done a disservice to themselves by the swallowing the lie that pretty woman hold the key to sexual nirvana. Commercials, risque movies, and pornography deceives us with the myth of the Sex Goddess. She doesn't exist, or if she does, she'll never sleep with you. Men need to be more discerning with regard to women that they find physically attractive. Such women have probably already had more than their share of attention from suitors. What incentive have they had to develop a personality or make themselves appealing in other ways since men lavish attention on them so freely? Is it any wonder when physically attractive women turn out be utterly ignorant, narcissistic, or both? Do we expect such self-centered creatures to pause a moment and consider to how best satisfy the physical and emotional desires of the men in their lives?
On top of this, consider that our culture in its misguided spirit of chivalry has given deference to female sexuality at the expense of male sexuality. Female sexuality seen as a complex, mysterious thing demanding the unqualified reverence of men. Male sexuality is regarded with exasperated disdain or regarded as a simplistic matter that requires little, if any, attention. Is it any wonder that many men end up sexually frustrated in marriage because their desires are counted as a trivial matter? As Mr. Spock would say, "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting."Is That All There Is?
Religious leaders and popular culture have much in common by being guilty of sensationalizing the "first time." Young Christians may foolishly believe their honeymoon will usher in a state of inexplicable marital bliss. In actuality, their first experience with the conjugal act may be a very awkward and disappointing affair. Sex is more than hot bodies and technique. The amount of satisfaction married people get from sex depends upon mutual understanding and respect between the husband and wife. Such mutual understanding and respect takes time and effort. Hence, satisfying sex is the blossom, not the taproot of a good marriage. This is why I take umbrage with the cheery attitude of Evangelical writers who sell some rosy picture of sex in marriage. The humdrum of marriage life is a reality. Habituation and boredom is an ever present threat. Marriage takes hard work. Mrs. Maken's sexually frustrated readers probably haven't thought through these matters, though.
In essence, it is dangerous to base our relationships with the opposite sex on physical attraction. Even in a good marriage, satisfying sex is not always a guarantee. Being trapped in a loveless marriage can be just as destructive in its earthly consequences as having sex outside of marriage. Sex is never safe, even when sanctioned by the church.
When Single People Fail
Debbie Maken writes:
"We are lying to adolescents if we tell them to save themselves for marriage when at the same time we are telling their older siblings stuck in protracted singleness that singleness and celibacy are the same thing. Any fifteen-year-old looking at the average twenty-five-year old single will hardly be inspired to wait for marriage. The sheer hopelessness of seeing that marriage isn't going to come any time soon becomes incentive to pursue immediate gratification. I'll say it again: Why wait for something that may never come?" (p. 130)
Thus, Mrs. Maken's general premise in Chapter 10 is that Christian singles need to hurry up and get married because so many of them are failing to stay sexually pure. I note Mrs. Maken's line of argumentation is inconsistent with something she says later:
"We cannot point to the high divorce rate and say that it's better not to marry. That's like saying you shouldn't go to high school because the dropout rate is increasing. The failure of other people's marriage is no reason to scrap marriage altogether." (p. 138)
Let's be consistent. If we can't point to other people's failures as an excuse not to marry, then we can't point to other people's failures as an excuse to rush into marriage, either. I admit that premarital sex and the divorce rate are both
problems. Mrs. Maken's radical pro-marriage agenda doesn't really get to heart of either of these issues, though.
Why do so many religious singles have a difficult time staying pure? The main reason is they have internalized the false notion that human beings are programmed to have sex. This like saying that human beings are programmed to play soccer. We may be biologically equipped to perform both acts, but we have a choice about having sex, just as we do about kicking a ball. I have already refuted the idea that our desires are "God-given." We are human beings, not fish making a salmon run.
It is a mistake to believe that we will necessarily cause ourselves physical or psychological harm if we refrain from sex. Some experts may point to some ways in which sex benefits our bodies, but in terms of physical well-being, I believe good nutrition, adequate rest, and exercise can easily make up for any loss that comes from celibacy. As for psychological well-being, celibacy does not intrinsically pose a threat in this case either. Even Abraham Maslow, the humanist psychologist who formulated the "hierarchy of needs," conceded as much:
"An ever-recurring question is: Does sexual deprivation inevitably give rise to all or any of the many effects of frustration, e.g., aggression, sublimation, etc. It is now well known that many cases are found in which celibacy has no psychopathological effects. In many other cases, however, it has many bad effects. What factor determines which shall be the result? Clinical work with non-neurotic people gives the clear answer that sexual deprivation becomes pathogenic in a severe sense only when it is felt by the individual to represent rejection by the opposite sex, inferiority, lack of worth, lack of respect, or isolation. Sexual deprivation can be borne with relative ease by individuals for whom it has no such implications. (Of course, there will probably be what Rosenzweig calls need-persistive reactions, but these are not necessarily pathological.)" (A. H. Maslow, "Deprivation, Threat, and Frustration," Psychological Review 48 (1941): 365-366.)
While some may not believe that celibacy will cause harm, they still maintain that sex is a transcending event that no average human being should go without. Our popular culture considers the lives of those who don't have sex as being sad and pitiful. However, we don't talk about emotionally empty souls who hop from one bed to another in a string of failed relationships. We don't talk about the sexually addicted who become numb as they fall into a downward spiral of trying to seek out more intense experiences and new highs. We don't talk about people stuck in loveless marriages who have sex in a perfunctory manner, but are intensely unhappy. As Eleanor Daniel writes: "What a single person perceives as sexual needs may, in fact, be desires for companionship, emotional security, closeness, affirmation, love. Very often, a person's specific physical needs are significantly reduced when the other needs are met" (Eleanor Daniel, What the Bible Says About Sexual Identity
(Joplin, MO: College Press, 1981), 235). Of course, I would argue that sex is not a "need" at all.
Besides inaccurate beliefs about our biological programming, the second main reason many single people fail to stay pure is that it's hard to resist something if you have already made up your mind that you want it
. Again, what does the Bible say we are led away by when we are tempted? Our "own desires!" John Piper puts it another way: "It's a burden to be sexually chaste if you believe the message of the world that fornication or adultery really will give you more satisfaction " (John Piper, "His Commandments Are Not Burdensome
," accessed from www.desiringgod.org). If you look at something as forbidden fruit, you are still looking at it as fruit, period. Some fruits, however, are downright poisonous. Many people need to change their desires if they want to stop struggling with staying sexually pure. We need to do some soul-searching and ask ourselves some pointed questions. Why do we want things that we know that we are not allowed to have? What do we expect to get by receiving what we desire? Are our expectations realistic? Have we weighed the costs and benefits? Have we considered what receiving what we desire will do to ourselves, to others, and to our relationship with God? I suspect that many Christians do not go through this type of examination, so they leave themselves unprepared when temptation hits them. In short, a major cure for sexual temptation is deciding that you don't want sex
!!Self-Control and Celibacy
On page 128 of Debbie Maken's book, she tells her readers: "Celibacy and abstinence are not the same. Celibacy and singleness are not the same. Celibacy and self-control are not the same. Celibacy is a gift of God in which he has removed the drive to pursue sex." In contrast to Mrs. Maken, however, the American Heritage Dictionary
provides us with a different definition of celibacy: "abstention
from sexual intercourse, especially by reason of religious vows" or the "condition of being unmarried" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000)). I daresay our English dictionaries are probably a better guide than Mrs. Maken on understanding what celibacy is. Remember that in Matthew 19 , Jesus said some "made themselves eunuchs." Clearly, celibacy is a matter where one exercises free will. Mrs. Maken seems to confuse celibacy with asexuality
, but these two "are not the same."
You may express disbelief at my claim about celibacy and free-will. You may think that very few people have the ability to remain single and chaste indefinitely. Indeed, many people talk about self-control being a gift. Self-control, however, is not a gift. It is a commandment in the Bible. Indeed, some readers may not realize that the terms "sober" and "temperate" in our English Bibles are merely translations of the Greek word for self-control (1 Cor. 9:25; Gal. 5:23; 2 Pet. 1:6).If They Cannot Contain
What are we to make, then, of 1 Cor. 7:8-9? Here the Apostle Paul says, "But to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (NKJV). Shall we assume from this verse that the Apostle is admonishing sexually frustrated singles to get married (as Debbie Maken asserts in Chapter 10)? I have examined this passage in Part 3 of my critique, and as I noted, this is verse is not addressing the sexual desires of unmarried people, per se, as much as it is addressing those ensnared in illicit relationships. First of all, let us remember that the phrase "cannot contain" is a bad translation; the verse should be rendered "if they will not
exercise self-control." Also, we should note that to "burn in passion" is an act that the Apostle casts in a bad light. It cannot be defined as sexual arousal, per se, for the simple fact that married people, like single people, experience this sensation. If we define the phrase "to burn" in 1 Cor. 7:8-9 as sexual arousal, then we are put in the awkward position of demanding that married people be asexual (it would be "better to be married than to have sexual desire")! Yet, the Bible commends sexual arousal for married people (Prov. 5:18-19). The phrase "to burn" must, of necessity, refer to some sinful sexual behavior.
Paul is basically putting forth a conditional commandment in a less than ideal circumstance. This is not something unique to Paul; we see the same sort of reasoning employed in 1 Cor. 7:10-11. In v. 10, the ideal circumstance is that people are not to divorce their spouses, but if they do, they are to remain unmarried (v. 11). Likewise, in 1 Cor. 7:8-9, the ideal circumstance is that single Christians will practice self-control (as commanded by the Bible), but if they yield to their lusts, then it is better that they get married instead of continuing in sexual immorality. One individual has mistakenly assumed from my interpretation that I am condoning fornication before one can get married. This is absolute nonsense which arises from the foolish belief that sex is an inevitability. I am not suggesting that one first fall into temptation before considering marriage, nor am I suggesting that Christians seek to avoid marriage at all costs. What I am simply suggesting is that sexual frustration need not be a major reason for getting married (and it shouldn't be).Celibacy Is Doable
Abstention from illicit sexual activity for an indefinite period of time is doable. Otherwise, the Bible is lying to us. The Apostle John tells us that God's commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). This must, of necessity, include the commandment to be chaste. Those who have no hope of marriage have the promise of 1 John 5:3 or else Christianity doesn't apply to them.
Someone asked me how I account for single Christians who struggle with masturbation. What of it? Christians struggling with masturbation is proof of nothing except that Christians struggle with masturbation. If masturbation is a sin, then single Christians must have the assurance that they can resist it indefinitely without too much effort. If refraining from masturbation is an inherently difficult act that only a few can undertake, then the theology of some religious leaders who forbid masturbation is a sham. We must be consistent, regardless of what our convictions are about this issue.
At any rate, there are some sensible steps a single person can take to avoid sexual arousal and thus the uncomfortable tension that results from such arousal. In the book Every Man's Battle
, the authors suggest, among other tactics, that men "bounce" their eyes away from looking at attractive women. They also have the following to say about masturbation, which is worth some consideration:
"Masturbation is a symptom of uncontrolled eyes and free-racing thoughts. When you create the new habits of bouncing your eyes and taking your thoughts captive, masturbation will cease. Until then, it won't. There's no sense in targeting masturbation itself, because you won't be attacking the real source of the problem. Target the eyes and mind instead." (Arterburn et al., 112)
In addition to "bouncing" the eyes, another line of defense is to think realistically about those that we are tempted to lust after. It is all too easy to drift into a fantasy about people that we don't really know. However, when we realize that person we desire is married, has emotional problems, is selfish, or has some other quality that makes a relationship with them an odious proposition, then we are not inclined to pursue them any further.
Regardless of whatever tactics we use to keep ourselves chaste, we must keep in mind that God's commandments are not inherently difficult. God does not set out to doom us to failure. We cause ourselves to fail when we yield to self-deception. The choice is ultimately ours.Church-Sanctioned Sex - The Flip-Flopping of the Preachers
Religious leaders are oftentimes abysmally inconsistent about sexuality. Somehow many think they can use sexuality as a both a carrot and stick to get people married. All the same, there is no middle ground in the matter of self-control. If we are not predestined to lust or commit fornication, then we are not predestined to marry either.
If sexual desire is biblical proof for the need to get married, then we should demand that boys and girls marry the moment they reach puberty. Yet we don't do this. Somehow we assume that teenaged Christians can stay pure into their mid-twenties but are unable to do so well into their thirties, forties, or fifties. This line of thinking is absurd. Our bodies do not know anything about the socially acceptable time that religious pundits want us to get married. Sexual tension builds up in a matter of days or months, not years. If biology is destiny as Mrs. Maken and others seems to suggest, then teenagers are predestined to have sex sooner, not later.
Yet, as we have noted, the real reason that so many singles fail to be chaste is not because of biology, but because of discouragement, self-deception, or selfishness. Let's face it: The sex drive of older singles does not increase; it tapers off. Hence, the suggestion that older singles have an insurmountable problem controlling themselves in a way that young singles can is nothing short of hilarious. We can't have it both ways. We can't hold up a copy of Every Young Man's Battle
and preach "self-control" to teenaged boys, but then turn around, hold up Mrs. Maken's book, and preach about "God-given desires" to thirty-something men. If we say an average man can be chaste in his sexual prime, then logic dictates that he can be chaste for the rest of his life.
There is something else that I find noteworthy about the current emphasis many Evangelicals place on marriage these days. It is that Evangelicals must confront the legacy of their own faith communities about sex. Perhaps preachers have done such an effective job of making young religious people afraid of sex that churches are now paying the price for their "success." For better or for worse, hostile and ambivalent messages about sexuality from our religious leaders are only going to make relationships between the sexes more difficult, not less. Granted, sexual purity is important, but one cannot be anti-sex and pro-marriage at the same time. Marriage and sexual desire stand or fall together.
If we go overboard in maintaining the purity of young people to the extent that we fail to present a positive, balanced, biblical view of sexuality, then we should be prepared to reap the consequences. There have been studies that indicate a correlation between judgmental attitudes towards sexuality and sexual dysfunction. Healthy marriages won't happen in this regard. As it is, I wonder if Mrs. Maken and her allies would really be so upbeat about marriage and sexuality if some conservative pundits weren't so anxious about declining church membership and shifting demographics in our culture.
Furthermore, what shall we do with those single Christians who, because of their ambivalence towards sexuality, find relationships with the opposite sex to be an uncomfortable matter? Shall we belittle them and tell them to just get over the emotional programming that may very well have been the result of their religious upbringing? In our attempt to get these people married, would our disregard for their conscientious scruples be a disregard for the convictions of "weaker" Christians, thus a violation of Romans 14? We need to ask ourselves these questions before corralling single Christians into the institution of marriage.What Attitude Then?
One may wonder what my own attitude about sex is. I think that while it is an intrinsically positive aspect of God's creation, it is nonetheless overrated. Most of society's obsession with sex probably comes from an unprecedented openness about the subject matter and an unprecedented degree of interaction between men and women in public spaces. Society's obsession with sex is also probably the reason we have so much sin and sorrow in this world. This obsession has lead to the kind of status-seeking behaviors we see in our world today where women base their worth on physical beauty and men based their worth on having a woman. It also probably contributes to bigotry against single people. Just the same, sex only represents one facet of the human experience at best. At worst, it can be destructive, ruining the lives of the unmarried and married alike.
I have no antipathy towards sex, but neither does my happiness depend on it. The notion that men "only think of one thing" is a notion that I personally find insulting as a man. Many seem to think that men will tolerate various forms of mistreatment as long as they are thrown some meager scraps of physical intimacy on the side. I reject this dehumanizing viewpoint. I also reject the naive optimism of those who seek ineffable sexual bliss either beyond or within the confines of the marriage bed. Eleanor Daniel says it best:
"When a person comes to grips with a his sexuality, he is no longer dependent upon his marital status, or lack of it, to give him feelings of worth. He can go right on living with purpose and excitement, regardless of the stereotypes others may hold. He is well aware that he is neither biologically abnormal not totally unattractive if he isn't married. He need not be frustrated sexually--he simply finds creative, moral channels by which to express his sexuality. Self-acceptance is the key." (Daniel, 234-235)
The operative phrase is "self-acceptance." Consider the alternatives. You can heed the message of Debbie Maken, other religionists, and the rest of popular culture and hang your head in shame because you are single. You can allow the devil to discourage you and make you feel less than human because you are not having sex. You can get angry at God when no one accepts you as a mate. You can be a slave to fashion and to the shallow tastes of ignorant and immature souls found among the opposite sex. You can sink into a mire of desperation, enter into ill-advised relationships, and ruin your happiness and peace of mind. You can be married to someone that you should have never married and be trapped in a prison much worse than the prison of loneliness.
I used to balk at the notion of going without sex for the rest of my life. Then I realized how my discontentment was only leaving me vulnerable to bitterness, depression, humiliation at the hands of others, temptation, and sexual sin. One has to learn self-control or end up being controlled by others. Also, a person should realize that the best reason for staying pure is not because one expects to get married, but because one desires to please God.
In short, you can unplug from the ungodly status quo. You can have your sexuality serve you instead of you serving your sexuality. You need not put yourself in a situation where you feel obligated to form an intimate relationship with someone. You can be open to the possibility of marriage; however, you can also defend your principles and say no to the opposite sex, if need be. Again, the choice is yours.
In closing, I like to address something Debbie Maken says in Chapter 10 of her book: "God did not design us to be third wheels to married couples or buddies for other singles" (p. 133). If this statement is true, then I wonder why God even bothered to create the Church. We could all just practice family religion instead. I obviously think Mrs. Maken is incorrect in her assumptions. In our attempt to extol earthly families, let us not denigrate God's family. Marriages, and indeed sexuality, will cease one day, but the kingdom of the Lord will stand forever.