Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is Sex Important For Relationship Building (Oneness) In Marriage?

WARNING - As the topic suggests, this post discusses mature subject matter. Although it is not explicit in content (it doesn't discuss acts, only purposes), it deals with adult relationships and activity. If you are under the age of 13, I would ask that you be responsible and not read further without first speaking with your parent(s).

A recent post in the Women in Ministry (WIM) blog took a brief sidebar to discuss sex in the Garden of Eden. Commenter Charis began the discussion with this query:

Can you tell me from the passage where we know that the first man and woman had marital relations before the fall? I don’t see it in there. I’m not saying they did or didn’t nor would I ever claim “sex is a consequence of the fall” as God told them clearly to “be fruitful and multiply” before the fall, and they would not be able to do that apart from sex. But I don’t see any indication in the text that they did have sex before the fall. Maybe they were just busy enjoying each other’s and God’s company, the great fellowship and non-sexual affection and intimacy? (read full comment)
Although blog author Cheryl Schatz effectively (IMO) answered the fundamental question - yes, they "did it" before the fall - Charis followed up with some commentary about the necessity (or lack thereof) of sexual relations for fostering oneness in the marital relationship, both pre and post fall. That was further off topic in the WIM post and so was not pursued at length. But it is still a valid question and one I would like to explore in more detail. Is sex important outside of its procreative purpose?

Charis summed up her dim view on sex in comment 46:

There is another dimension in the Garden that we DON’T HAVE ANYMORE. The man was NOT frustrated before the fall. The intimacy they had was satisfying FAR BEYOND anything mere sex offered...You [the blog author] are IMPOSING frequent sexuality and your own experience of the centrality of that to marital intimacy. Its not in the text...Good and frequent sex does not a good marriage make- I know of what I speak. IF they had it (which you have convinced me they did on occasion), it was a nice perk (like chocolate to a child) but was NOT a centerpiece of the Garden experience. That experience was so far beyond sex and chocolate that Adam felt satisfied and so did Eve.

Wow! This is quite a statement. It draws two conclusions that need to be addressed: that Adam's and Eve's "needs" - biological, psychological, and emotional - were fundamentally different than ours (or even their own post fall); and that the only "need" that sex satisfies related to relationship is a physical one stemming from sex drive.

Before I delve into these conclusions, I want to discuss the purposes for sex that are not at issue here. There are basically three purposes for sex that do not primarily impact "oneness" (they may impact it secondarily).

One of the purposes for sex is procreation. Since the mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" was given to Adam and Eve at creation, it is presumed that sex for procreation was a part of their experience, just as it is part of ours. And although having children can have a profound impact on the marriage relationship (positive or negative), and although scripture decrees that children are a blessing, the primary purpose for procreative sex is simply to "fill the earth".

Another purpose for sex within marriage is prevention. We see this plainly in both the Old and New Testament. In Proverbs 5, we are exhorted to "drink water from your own cistern" (v. 15), an idiom for keeping sexual intimacy within the marriage bed. Later, in vs. 18-19, it gets more explicit: "Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. {As} a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love." And why is this? "For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress And embrace the bosom of a foreigner?" (v. 20) Sex within marriage helps to prevent us from seeking sex outside of marriage. Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 7, when he suggests sex within marriage keeps us from immorality outside of marriage (v. 2) and also from satan's temptations within marriage (v. 5). This purpose is only post fall, as Adam and Eve were not subject to adulterous temptation in the garden.

And finally, sex within marriage can simply be for recreation. Sex feels good and is fun. Like procreation, this purpose can have relational benefits. It is good for the relationship to spend time with your spouse just having fun. But these benefits are a by-product, not the main purpose for recreational sex. Ironically, at least it seems ironic to me, that is the only purpose seemingly acknowledged in the argument above for sex in the garden. Clearly, recreational sex is accepted as being experienced in both the pre and post fall settings.

There is one remaining purpose for sex: edification. Put in simple terms - sex meets certain needs we have. I will now address the conclusions at issue here because they have everything to do with what needs we have, how they are met, and what role if any those needs (and therefore, sex) played in the garden.

I will start with the most obvious needs related to sex, the physical ones. Both men and women have a sex drive. It is generally, although not in every case, stronger in men because of both anatomical and chemical (i.e. hormonal) realties. But what is important to note is that our sex drive differs significantly from every other species in creation. Whereas the animals are driven to have sex almost exclusively by instinct triggered by procreational cycles and stimuli, human sex drive is a constant part of our experience. Put another way, we do not desire sex only when the woman is physically ready to make a baby.

So, did Adam and Eve have a sex drive? Although the argument against sex presumes they did not, there is no biblical reason to believe it. Nothing in scripture even alludes to a differing sexuality within humans pre and post fall. Now, the assertion that "the man was not frustrated" is certainly true, because frustration would indicate unmet needs and by extension, a selfish spouse. Since Eve only knew how to be selfless prior to her eyes being opened to sin, Adam would never have know sexual frustration. In other words, his lack of frustration does not in any way indicate a lack of sex drive, only a lack of selfishness on the part of Eve. And if Adam had a perfectly normal, functioning sex drive, there is no reason why Eve would not have one also, with Adam being just as selfless in meeting her needs.

But the physical benefits of sex do not end with quenching sex drive. There are also a number of health benefits to having sex[1]. But weren't Adam and Eve immortal, and therefore without need for the health benefits sex provides? The bible doesn't exactly tell us that. For one thing, Adam and Eve were not inherently immortal. They needed the tree of life in order to live forever. Without it, as pointed out by God in banishing them from the garden, they "would surely die". Even beyond the issue of life, Adam and Eve were still flesh and blood; they weren't inherently even perpetually healthy. They needed food, exercise, and other factors to maintain their physical health. Sex could have been an integral part of that healthy regimen.

Physical needs are not the only component of our needs system. This was as true for Adam and Eve as it is for us, unless, of course, we want to think of them as emotionless robots. All humans have a wide variety of psychological and emotional needs which run along side, and even sometimes are directly related to, our physical needs. Often these needs play out differently along gender lines, which is one of the main reasons why Eve was not another Adam. The meeting of these non-physical needs is integral to our marital relationship. And although sex is not the only way these needs can be met, it is certainly one way, and a most unique way at that, which I will illustrate momentarily. But first, I want to delve into these non-physical needs in some detail.

Men have an inherent need to feel respected and admired. They evaluate themselves based on their performance and have a drive to pursue. Women have an inherent need to feel loved and cherished. They evaluate themselves based on their relationships and have a drive to attract. Both the Old and New Testament comment on these needs in a number of places, although they are summed up by Paul in the quintessential marriage chapter: Ephesians 5. Interestingly, Paul highlights the meeting of these needs as a kind of path back to the pure godly type of marriage found in the garden, which means that these needs existed even in that environment. Genesis tells us the same thing, for "it is not good for the man to be alone". Adam had needs, primarily psychological and emotional, that neither the animals nor even God could meet. Only Eve could meet them. And she, being the "helper standing opposite from him", likewise had needs that only Adam could meet.

What does this have to do with sex? It is true that we can meet our spouse's needs through means other than sex. In fact, we are charged with doing that as consistently and unconditionally as possible. In that way, we point our marriage back to the pre fall model. But in the course of normal human interaction, this need meeting is comprised of two one-way streets. I meet my wife's needs, then she meets mine, then I meet hers, and so on. There is no way for us to both have a selfish need met and selflessly meet our spouse's need at the same time. Or is there? Yes! There is! It is through the uniquely designed, God given gift of sexual intimacy. Only through sexual intimacy are each gender's very different physical, psychological, and emotional needs met simultaneously! Only through sexual intimacy can we have our own selfish needs met by engaging in the selfless act of meeting the other person's needs. There is simply no other activity in the human experience that accomplishes this amazing mutuality in meeting needs.

Charis is a point. Adam and Eve did have amazing intimacy. But it wasn't accomplished in a sexual vacuum; it was accomplished because they had "good and frequent sex". How can I draw that conclusion when, as Charis points out, "it's not in the text"? I can because of the simple fact that selfishness was not present in the garden. Every other form of need meeting that humans engage in is one way - one person's selfish need being met by the other person's selfless act. (Actually, there is very little unselfishness post fall, but we strive for it). But neither Adam nor Eve was selfish at all. The only way they could have met each other's needs in an environment where neither was selfish is through sexual intimacy. There simply is no other way.

The difference between the garden and now has everything to do with "another dimension in the Garden that we DON’T HAVE ANYMORE", but it isn't a physical, psychological, or emotional dimension as Charis believes. What Adam and Eve had different was a lack of selfishness. Their relationship was different not because they had different needs than now but because they went about meeting those needs through mutual, uninhibited, unconditional sexual abandon. They lived out Paul's admonishment in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4: "The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband {does;} and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife {does.}" Unfortunately, after the fall, we introduced such selfish, ungodly concepts as "sex is a weapon/dirty thing/bargaining chip/right/chore". That is why we "deprive each other" (v. 5) and some people come to the conclusion that "good and frequent sex does not a good marriage make". I am sure that people in a (intentionally) sexless marriage can find ways to build oneness and meet each other's needs. But they are going about it abnormally, outside of God's design, and in a way that would have been completely foreign to Adam and Eve. Sex may not be the only way to edify the marriage relationship, but it is the best way, and more importantly, it's God's way.

And that is why sex is important.

1. A good review of the health benefits from sex for women can be found in the articles Oxytocin in Women and How Frequency Affects Women at Note that this site deals with adult subject matter and should not be viewed by children. The health benefits from sex for men is discussed frequently in the magazine Men's Health and include: reduced risk of heart disease, reduced depression, improved prostate function, pain relief, and an improved immune system. WebMd also has an entire section devoted to the health/sex relationship.

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