Sex in America
The world today seems pretty bleak, especially as it pertains to sexual ethics. Consider the following examples:
- Over 40 million Americans regularly view pornography, which is as readily available as running water. One adult website boasts 120 million plus viewers a day (the U.S. being the largest consumer).
- Human trafficking is a global epidemic, with over 45 million people enslaved around the world. Sexual exploitation is the number one reason people are trafficked. According to the State Department, the U.S is one of the top three nations perpetrating this egregious human rights violation.
- Pre-marital sex is the rule, not the exception, in America. Studies show that “by age 20, 75% of Americans have had premarital sex. That number rises to 95% by age 44.”
- Sex outside of any kind of committed relationship (i.e. hookup culture) is not only in high demand (e.g. upwards of 80% of college students have engaged in some form of uncommitted sexual behavior), but apparently just a swipe away. Although not always used for promiscuous purposes, dating apps have evidently “created an incredibly easy marketplace for casual sex.”
- Explicit sexual content is ubiquitous in media and entertainment. For example, a popular TV show like ‘Game of Thrones’ or a movie like ‘The Wolf of Wall-Street’ romanticize devious sexual behavior.
- Transgender ideology, which asserts that gender identity is a matter of one’s subjective perceptions and feelings, as opposed to one’s biological sex, has infiltrated virtually every arena of life (education, politics, business, sports, medicine, etc.). For instance, four states have already passed laws, which mandate LGBTQ+ curriculum be taught in public schools, and there is a bill in Congress (The Equality Act) that, if passed, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes under federal law.
The sexual revolution is close to being in full bloom. And, tragically, Christians are not entirely exempt from these types of statistics.
This isn’t the first time the Christian sex ethic has seemed strange.
The Historical Oddity of the Christian Sex Ethic
In our hyper-sexualized culture, the biblical sex ethic has become as foreign and antiquated as owning a cow for milk or a horse and buggy for travel. However, this isn’t the first time the Christian sex ethic has seemed strange. In the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century, when the Christian sex ethic first came on the scene, it was even more unusual than it is today.
For instance, in contrast to the Christian sex ethic, in the Greco-Roman world:
- Monogamy was, legally, a one-way street. Roman men, married or not, were expected to have pre-marital and extra-marital sex with slaves and prostitutes.
- Prostitution was not only legal, but considered a public good—because it satisfied the sexual appetites of Roman men, helped safeguard the reproduction of legitimate Romans citizens (by indirectly protecting Roman women from pre-marital or extra-marital sex), and brought in additional tax dollars.
- Roman men were legally allowed to have forced intercourse with their wives and certain women of a lower social status (e.g. slaves and foreigners).
- Pederasty—a sexual relationship between a man and a young boy—was an accepted practice.
In a culture rife with sexual immorality, Christianity established a viable sexual counter-culture; one where women and men were expected to be sexually chaste prior to marriage and sexually faithful within marriage. Anthony Thiselton, in his pastoral commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes:
Paul [appears to be the first writer in history to] assert that neither partner (husband or wife) has exclusive rights over his or her own body…Paul’s concern for mutuality, reciprocity, and most especially the presupposition that sexual intimacy provides mutual pleasure remains distinctive and far ahead of its times.
In other words, the idea that women also had rights to a monogamous spouse, consensual sex (i.e. not forced), and psycho-physical pleasure during sex, was new and revolutionary.
The Christian sex ethic elevated women, dignified marriage, and redeemed male sexuality. The effect: a slow, but efficacious, reform of sexual ethics in broader Roman society. In short, the ancient world discovered that the Christian sex ethic was better for men, women, children, and the state. It might not seem like it, but the modern world can discover this as well. Just as God used the church to change Rome, he can do so to change the United States.
God’s will for men and women with regard to sex and marriage is not arbitrary, but rooted in the very nature of humanity.
Knowing and Living the Christian Sex Ethic
For the church to play her part in reforming the sexual morals of our nation, she must know and live the Christian sex ethic; she must display the beauty of godly living and the greater joy that is derived from it than from the fleeting pleasures of sin. In brief, Christians have to make a case that the godly sex life is the good sex life.
Contrary to what our cultures behavior suggests, sex is not a commodity to be bartered or sold to satisfy a merely physical appetite. Sex is, as Timothy Keller says, “a collaborative covenant renewal ceremony in which two covenant partners confirm, celebrate, and deepen their one flesh union.” Sex is a sacred act; one that as Daniel Heimbach writes, “[wraps] physical pleasure, emotional satisfaction, psychological fulfillment, and spiritual meaning into one complex relationship.”
And God’s guidelines (i.e. his ethical boundaries) for sex are pretty clear: In Genesis 2:24 we read, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” And in Hebrews 13:4 we read, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” So, according to the Bible, this particular activity was designed for operation strictly within the confines of marriage, which God defines as a lifelong, one-man, one-woman, monogamous relationship.
But why does God restrict sex to marriage? To live the Christian sex ethic and be able to rationally persuade others of its superiority, it helps to have a strong understanding of the logic behind God’s law:
First, if sex, by definition, is a covenant consummating and renewing ceremony between two covenant partners, then sex cannot fulfill its purpose if there is no covenant to consummate or renew. The whole meaning of the event would be lost, as sex presupposes that two people have already become one (legally and relationally) in the eyes of God and the community.
As Keller explains, sex is a way of saying to another person, “I belong completely, exclusively, and permanently to you.” Outside the context of marriage, you just can’t say that, at least not honestly. Outside of marriage, sex says something not quite so romantic. Outside of marriage, sex is a way of saying, “I belong partially, openly, and temporarily to you.” Premarital and extramarital sex force you into committing what we might call a contradiction of non-verbal communication.
Second, if you look closely in Genesis you will see that complementary pairs (e.g. heaven and earth; man and woman, etc.) are woven into the very fabric, structure, and constitution of creation. “Humans are body and soul, in two genders,” as J.I. Packer writes. Which means that God’s will for men and women with regard to sex and marriage is not arbitrary, but rooted in the very nature of humanity.
Therefore, sex outside of marriage (the supporting foundation and framework for sex) will always cause some measure of bodily, psychological, and relational harm—because it goes against the grain of God’s design. Outside of marriage, sex can never provide the level of pleasure and satisfaction that are only possible inside the boundaries of marriage.
In fact, according to the Wheatley Institution Global Family and Gender Survey, “highly religious, gender traditional couples” are the most satisfied couples. And according to the General Social Survey, “religious men who do not use porn” are the happiest husbands. Explaining the significance of the data, Stone writes:
Protestant sexual norms are highly conducive to individual and marital happiness. Our…lifestyle model of chastity until marriage and commitment within marriage is, in fact, the most strongly happiness-associated lifestyle in America today.
Third, in addition to eroding joy, sex outside the context of marriage also hinders cultural development—specifically with regard to making and raising children. Obviously, a homosexual relationship can’t contribute to cultural development in this way, as the nature of the relationship eliminates the possibility of procreation. But heterosexual sex outside of marriage also hinders cultural development, as it neglects to establish the appropriate environment for raising children (and promotes conditions conducive to an abortion culture and mindset). As Jane Anderson notes, “Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.”
It is, without a doubt, in our and others’ best interest to live the Christian sex ethic.
Hope for a Sexual Reformation
Our culture, like the Greco-Roman culture is rife with sexual immorality. Sadly, as recent events constantly remind us, this sexual immorality too often finds a home in the church as well. However, if Christianity can establish a plausible sexual counter-culture — one that elevates women, dignifies marriage, and redeems male sexuality — then perhaps like in Rome, the effect can be a slow, but efficacious, reform of sexual ethics in broader American society.
 For instance, Lyman Stone reports that a third of Protestant men have watched a pornographic film in the last year. However, Stone also encouragingly reports that, “Protestant men who attend church regularly are basically the only men in America still resisting the cultural norm of regularized pornography use.” (Source: https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-truth-about-conservative-protestant-men-and-porn)
 Pew Research Center: “The share of children living in a two-parent household is at the lowest point in more than half a century.” “Two-parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise…”