How Should We View Sexuality Today?
Chris Grace: Welcome back to the Art of Relationships, I'm Chris Grace.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.
Chris Grace: We get this great joy and pleasure and privilege, actually, of just working together and talking about a number of topics relating to relationships. We work at the center together. We work here as faculty at Biola University. But now we have a website, cmr.biola.edu. We have podcasts and blogs and events.
Tim, I think if there's anything, when it comes to the art of relationships, that you and I have known we're going to start talking about, need to talk about now, it's the area of sex. It is a huge area for people to be processing, thinking about, and dealing the idea of sexual intimacy, the cultural changes that have gone on in this topic. Let's spend some time talking about it. What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, because people don't talk about it. That's what's really surprising to me is that married couples seldom sit down and have the sex talk. Then, parents, my experience has been that they are just really leery to talk about sex with their kids for a multitude of reasons.
One, I think all of us feel a little bit unprepared. How do we do this? But second, this weird idea that somehow I'm gonna plant thoughts in the minds of my kids by talking about it. But we live in one of the most sexualized ages in the history of humanity, certainly via technology when it comes to sex.
So we do wanna talk about it and talk about it from a biblical perspective, talk about how the rails kinda went off, and we got away from a biblical perspective, some of the ramifications of that. We're gonna touch a bunch of different issues and invite people to come to our website and give questions. I'm sure this is gonna surface a lot of questions. But yeah, where should we start? How about starting with a biblical view of sex?
Chris Grace: Well, I think it always seems to start there. And just to make sure that we cover some of these fundamental things ... Of course, we can't do a deep dive into this, but there's a lot there. I mean, literally, when we start talking about the proper boundaries or context or ways to interpret all of these issues, much of it comes down to where we start from. And that's start in the creation account, in God's created order, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: It starts in this idea that God designed male and female. There's gotta be a reason why. Why did He design us male and female in this dimorphic type of experience that we all have? What does that mean?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and that's not necessarily a very obvious point, is that we have a reference point. Today, one of the biggest problems we have in culture is that we've kinda lost a reference point. If we're gonna talk about sexuality, if we're gonna talk about marriage, if we're gonna talk about these different issues, our culture has lost a reference point.
It's kinda like we're doing this big jigsaw puzzle, but we don't really know what the picture looks like. We want to affirm that we believe that God's not ashamed to talk about sex. The scripture's not ashamed to talk about sex. We need a biblical reference point if we're gonna have a healthy, robust conversation about human sexuality.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, Tim, let's do that. There's going to be a number of podcasts you and I'll do on this, simply because I think when it comes to issues that are, even today, now front and center in society, in the news, it just comes to the point where we realize how you view this topic influences a lot of the reactions that we're finding out there, including areas of sexuality gone awry, areas of sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
But we have to start at the beginning, so let's do that. Let's walk through a little bit of some of the foundational things about how sex was created and designed by God.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, so here are just some introductory comments. Let's just kick these around. First, and again, this seems obvious, but not obvious to a culture that's really confused about how to define things, is that sex was created by God, defined by God, and designed for our own good. Each one of those is really important.
God is not ashamed of sex. Remember Howard Hendricks, the famous Dallas professor? Howard Hendricks is famous for saying, "We shouldn't be ashamed to talk about what God wasn't ashamed to create." Sex is a good thing created by God. It's defined by God.
He has the right to define it, right? He has the right to say, "Since I created it, here's the context by which it's going to flourish." Again, God wants our wellbeing. He wants us to be sexual creatures, but to do it within the right kinda context, because outside of that context, it's really gonna warp sex.
So the first context is that sex was meant to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. There's a multitude of reasons why that's true. But sex is really an intimate form of communication at the end of the day. For that communication to really happen the way that God wants it to, it's gonna have to happen within a system. There's gonna have to be commitment. There's gonna have to be love between two individuals, a commitment to God's design of sex, and God's design of marriage, and that sex was created for that marriage relationship.
Chris Grace: I think the idea, Tim, and we'll spend some time unpacking a little bit of this, the idea of commitment and what it means, and this public vow, many of these things that occur.
We'll talk about increasing cohabitation rates that are right now just really shaping some of these conversations and the problem that that leads to. A lot of researchers, some of the leading researchers at major universities, are finding problems with this spike in cohabitation.
Simply because, when we talk about this idea that it's designed and created by God within this context of marriage, people are then avoiding this by simple promises made to somebody that really don't carry a lot of weight.
Because usually when it's cohabitation, there is no public demonstration of my love for another person. I'm not on the hook then, because my commitment to another person ends up being something that is done in secret rather than in a marriage ceremony that's done in a broader scale with witnesses all around.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and cohabitation is merely one example of something that already happened in what you mentioned, Genesis. You have this Genesis relationship between Adam and Eve and God. God is placing certain parameters around the relationship and certain things that they can do and things that they can't do.
One parameter He puts is, "Listen, you have to follow my guidance, and so I'm gonna put one thing off limits. And that thing off limits is the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. Do not touch that. If you touch that, that signals that, in essence, you're in rebellion, and you're gonna move away from what I wanted to do."
Starting there, we can now see how the United States has gotten to where we are today with cohabitation and a bunch of other things we'll talk about, is fundamentally, we've said, "God, we do not want your standards. We don't want your limitations."
We'll even talk a little bit about the sexual revolution of the 60s, which was this huge cultural moment of saying, "We don't want traditional views of sex. We don't, certainly, want a biblical view of sex. We want to be liberated from all of that."
Going back all the way to Genesis, is that God designed it. He knows how it's supposed to work. He knows how sex is supposed to flourish. We need to trust God that He knew what He was doing when he created these kinda things.
Another point I wanna make then, I think, is really important for us to talk about today, is that sex was intended for mutual pleasure, right? Sex wasn't just for Adam. It was for Adam and Eve, and for both of them to enjoy it, because I do think a bit of a Christian stereotype that exists today within conservative circles is that, really, sex is for the man. A woman's job is to pleasure a man. That is not the biblical view of sex whatsoever.
In a minute, we're gonna take a look at the Song of Solomon, one of the most interesting books of the entire Bible for a multitude of reasons. You will get a view of how God views sex. But it's important to say to our female listeners, sex wasn't created just for the man. It was created for you just as much and is meant to be mutually pleasurable within the confines of a traditional marriage.
Chris Grace: Right. Yeah, and I just find that the idea behind God's creation of us as sexual beings really has set in course, in action, His response. And somehow, we look back towards purposes there.
But I think, Tim, your point and this idea that this is something that is part of His planned creation order. This is built into the very fabric of creation. Our sexuality, somehow mimics, models, does something, or pulls out the creative order that has always been part of the underlying moral fabric of the universe.
That is, we understand who we are in light of what God has done. And that involves this idea of being sexual beings. And it involves this notion that God created and set boundaries around this created order.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and Adam and Eve are given two very interesting mandates. One, they're given a creation mandate, which is, "Hey, this beautiful world that I've created, I want you to care for it. I want you to be the caretakers of it." That still applies today.
The second one is a cultural mandate, which God says now to Adam and Eve, "Hey, I want you to be fruitful and multiply," which is really gonna be important later in this series.
When we try to define marriage culturally, I think from God's perspective at the heart of marriage is this idea of procreation, is this idea that the love between these two individuals, the physical union between these two individuals, the scriptures use this beautiful metaphor, you're now one flesh with each other, is that there is, within that, childbearing. And again, we'll take a look at-
Chris Grace: Yeah, because there's a lot to unpack with that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes, in a fallen world. Certainly, we're not saying that couples who can't have kids, for whatever reason, aren't married. We're going back to Genesis. This is before the fall. This is before all of that.
So they're given a cultural mandate. They're given a creation mandate. They need each other to do both of these. You take sex, which was never meant to be isolated. That's the biggest problem I have with sex today, is we just isolate it, right? We isolate it through pornography. We isolate it through even these crazy, romantic movies that we see today, is that sex isolated away from companion, commitment, and all of those other factors. It was never meant to be isolated like that.
Generally speaking, God created sex. It's a beautiful thing. It's done within a particular context. And that is Adam and Eve, one-flesh relationship with each other, commitment to each other. God is saying it's an absolutely beautiful thing.
Chris Grace: In fact, He calls it a gift, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: It's a gift to us that we are given in order to enjoy, not only in the companionship and the intimacy, which humans have unique needs for, but also, Tim, I think what you're also saying then that there is this idea that there's something even more profound that's occurring in this creation of this union between one man and one woman, that does something bigger and greater and grander on this scale.
That grander idea and notion is that there are purposes to this union. And that we have ... In our disordered state, we tend to isolate, pull aside from, and create realities that can either get us in trouble, create shame, but also this hiding in fear, running from something. What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and again, listeners might be thinking, married couples, "Hey, our sex life is not a gift. It's a source of great tension. It's a source of isolation." Just remember, we're taking it back to the beginning. This is before the rails go off. The world's in rebellion. Adam and Eve rebel against God. We're just trying to give readers ... break some stereotypes about what people think about what the Bible has to say.
That's why I wanna talk just for a second, Chris, about the Song of Solomon. All my education was done at UNC Chapel Hill. Loved UNC Chapel Hill, loved my professors, but boy, did they have weird ideas about Christianity when it came to sex. They honestly thought the Bible is anti-sex, that God is just not pleased with this. And He's always trying to stomp down on it, get rid of it. That's why it was so much fun to introduce to my friends the Song of Solomon on a multitude of levels.
Chris, I wanna read to you, actually, parts of this. But first, let me say this about the Song of Solomon. It predates Plato. It was written during a time when women were not ... One, they didn't have a public voice whatsoever. If they did have a public voice, you're certainly not talking about sex in public. Women did not have that kind of power, right?
Chris Grace: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: So along comes the Song of Solomon, where the woman's voice is the dominant voice the entire book of the Old Testament, right? It's the woman's voice. Then you have the chorus. Then you have a male voice. In a time that women had no political voice, here comes the Song of Solomon that says, no, the main character is the woman and she's talking about sexuality. She's talking about, in a proper way, her sexual desires.
Let me start off by just reading a couple, and we can make some observations as we just go ahead and read this. First, let's start with the man's perspective. Here's what he says.
Now let me just say this. There is a book called Love Life by Ed Wheat that is really an interesting book. He's a Christian author. He recommends that couples actually read these passages to each other. I think that's a great idea. I'm just gonna suggest that you update some of it, right, modernize some of this. But here we go.
This is Solomon speaking to his bride. "How beautiful are your feet in sandals, oh prince's daughter. The curves of your hips are like jewels, the work of the hands of an artist." My goodness, how is he doing right there, right? Life and death is in the power of the tongue, and he is speaking life to this woman.
"Your navel is like a round goblet, which never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is like a heap of wheat fenced about with lilies." Now I know what he's trying to say, Chris, that in a time of famine, it's good to have wheat in storage, that you'll survive the famine. How would Alisa react if you said, "Honey, your belly's like a heap of wheat?"
Chris Grace: I think it all depends on the context.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, okay. I'd be on the couch, I'm just saying. Then he continues, "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like a tower of ivory, your eyes like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rebbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon ..." right? Okay, that's up to you, guys. I would maybe paraphrase that.
"... which faces towards Damascus. Your head crowns you like Carmel. And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads. The king is captivated by your tresses. How beautiful and how delightful you are, my love, with all your charms. Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I said I will climb the palm tree. I will take hold of its fruit stalks. Oh, may your breasts be like the clusters of the vine and the fragrance of your breath like apples and your mouth like the best wine."
God bless the public reading of His word. But the reason I love that, Chris, is how much it shocked my UNC Chapel Hill friends. They're like, "What? That's where?" Man, that's the Bible, right? God has a passionate view that is totally appropriate for a husband and wife to speak to each other in those kind of glowing, sexual terms, right?
Chris Grace: Yeah, I think what it does is it reminds you again of what we have lost in this whole cultural notion of sexuality, that really, it originated in a deeply powerful way with God, in language that was poetic, that was deeply profound and recognized the creative nature of who God is. And to think that this can strike people as odd or shocking today, in and of itself, holds this. What have we lost to get to the point where this seems odd or strange or shocking.
Tim Muehlhoff: And let me just draw one principle from this for our male listeners. In today's crazy body-image culture, where women constantly look at unrealistic body images, that come through covers of magazines or movies, where women have to, literally, starve themselves, get professional trainers to look like that, it is so important for a husband to look at his wife's body and compliment her, right, and not ever shame her, or not ever say, "Honey, should you really be eating that? Or right now we all need to get in shape, and it's good for us to ..." whatever. But husbands, we look at our wives in today's crazy, abnormal body-image culture, and we praise our wives.
I remember when the kids were young, Noreen would walk downstairs, and I'd say in front of the boys, "Guys, look at your mother, hubba-hubba." Right? "Stay away from the frozen foods, yow," which is a Steve Martin line. Right? But it was so good for the kids to hear that, right?
Now here's the really cool thing, Chris, about the Song of Solomon. You would expect that to be it. You would expect, okay, well of course, it's the man's perspective on sexuality, because this is a make-dominated culture. But then, as I said before, the woman's view is the dominant view. So now, listen to how she talks about her husband's body.
This is what Solomon's bride says. "My beloved is dazzling and ruddy, outstanding among 10,000." I love that. In a crowd of 10,000, my eyes are drawn to you immediately. "His head is like gold, pure gold. His locks are like clusters of dates and black as a raven." I always say to Noreen, "Sorry, I have no locks."
"His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk and reposed in their setting. His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, banks of sweet-scented herbs. His lips are lilies dripping with liquid myrrh." Now commentators have been a little bit confused by that. Either he had a drooling problem, or she's describing a passionate kiss.
"His hands are rods of gold set with beryl. His abdomen is carved ivory inlaid with sapphires. His legs are pillars of alabaster set on pedestals of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon ..." She's from Lebanon most likely, and it's just comparing him to her favorite places.
"... choice as the cedar. His mouth is full of sweetness. He is wholly desirable." Now notice this, "This is my beloved. This is my friend, oh daughters of Jerusalem," not isolating sex from the friendship, but saying it is the friendship that causes me to look at you with a passionate gaze. Again, I love the fact that she was free to speak her mind led by the Holy Spirit to do so.
Chris Grace: So Tim, in thinking through this notion of sex created and designed by God, that sex was meant to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, that sex is this gift from God, and that it's for our mutual pleasure, it creates all of these. Tell me what is the reaction for people then that have never read this or are for the first time hearing this, do they just simply start to see patriarchy in here? Or do they realize, wait a minute, this breaks that completely and establishes this notion of a very different way of looking at sexuality in a marriage?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, I would say in some ways, it's anti-patriarchal, in the sense that, of course, this was written during a patriarchal time. This predates Plato. This is Near-Eastern literature. No doubt, it's a patriarchal context.
That's what makes it so remarkable that the woman's voice, via the Holy Spirit, in a patriarchal time is ... No, no, no, the woman's gonna speak here. She's gonna be the dominant voice in the Song of Solomon. She is going to talk as freely about sexuality as the husband was allowed to do, which we know, based on dating of the Song of Solomon, that is counter-cultural as you wanna get.
That is God's wonderful, "Hey, I'm gonna shock you by saying what I really think about sex, and that is that women are coequals when it comes to the sexual realm, and they are fully allowed to experience it and vocalize it as much as men do." That's why, Chris, I think it's so cool to think of how forward-thinking the Song of Solomon was.
And again, I love to shock my non-Christian friends who tend to think, "Boy, the Bible is so backwards when it comes to sex." Man, here's a forward-thinking book stuck right in the middle of the Old Testament. That's a great message we need to have as Christians today.
Chris Grace: That's good. There's language that you read, Tim, that also provides for us ways to recapture something as well. That is this idea of a celebration, that this idea of created order that provides for us a good, which also then, I think Tim, validates the other idea that when we are outside or working outside of this boundary, or outside of this created moral order, the results must be a chaos and a disorder that is clearly being seen today, that is sending us in places where some of our greatest concerns, some of our greatest disconnect from each other, for whatever reason, seem to revolve around this area of a broken sexuality.
The degree to which this is seen as a joyful, powerful, pleasured gift from God given to us, the greater that gift and the more powerful is, when it's broken, then the amount of things that we see going awry into disorder kind of tells us, again, the significance of this gift. So much can be pointed back to where this has gone off the tracks for us.
Tim Muehlhoff: The gift is complicated. See, I think culture today wants to say it's not complicated. It's two people in the backseat of a car and all that kind of stuff. But what we're gonna look at in future sessions is how complicated sex is.
Let me leave you with a quote. This is Peter Ustinov, said, "Sex is a conversation carried out by other means. If you get on well out of bed, half the problems of bed are solved." In other words, it takes a lot to have a robust, healthy sexual life. Maybe we can talk about that in a future podcast.
But I think of systems theory, which is it takes a bunch of different components to come together to have a vibrant view of sexuality and to have a vibrant sex life. Maybe we can discuss that in the future.
Chris Grace: Yeah, let's do. Let's unpack a couple of things, Tim, as to not only when this started to get off the rails, when the conversations, when this idea of sexuality began to change.
How do we recapture something? How do we recapture that which is a moral good, a created-order good that has done so much in the way of directing and calling us back to who God is, and then not only who God is, but then what is our creation mandate as human beings to bring others to Him? It's done somehow in this context.
We seem to have really lost a little bit of this in our culture today and even more over the last number of years. How do we then recapture some of this, is by understanding how He designed us, how He made us, how this is given to us for our pleasure and our joy, but also to bring Him glory. There's a lot to talk about.
Tim Muehlhoff: My goodness. Yeah, that went by fast. I can't believe it. That went by fast.
Chris Grace: Okay, as we'll continue this series next time, we'll begin to look at some of the ways in which this has an impact in our world, and in our lives, and then in these personal relationships that are so important, so clear, and do so much for us.
Tim Muehlhoff: We're sex experts, Chris.
Chris Grace: Yep.
Tim Muehlhoff: You and I have always thought that. No, we're not, but we certainly have some thoughts.
Chris Grace: That's right. All right, well let's continue this next time, Tim.
Tim Muehlhoff: Talk to you all later.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.