Marva J. Dawn
"Sex is like a typewriter." I hope that statement makes you uncomfortable. We should dislike the flippancy with which our culture talks about "sex," for language influences our character. Whereas some persons in our society might chase after "sex," God's people search for his design for "sexual union," a permanent relationship rather than a fleeting experience.
More important, we should resist the notion that something so beautiful and deeply expressive as sexual union should be likened to something so cold and sterileso technologically non-intimateas a typewriter. Like all analogies, this one fails drastically in every other aspect besides the point it is intended to make. The analogy that "sex is like a typewriter" is useful only in the way it directs us to the true remedy for our inexplicable pain.
Before the personal computer era, I used an excellent typewriter to write books. It had a corrector ribbon that was especially helpfulexcept that I didn't have to change it often enough to remember how to do it. Besides, the corrector and typing ribbons had to be carefully positioned around certain sprockets and divider bars in order not to interfere with each other's functioning. In addition, my vision had already partially deteriorated, and, most important, I have always been a total klutz mechanically. Consequently, every time the corrector ribbon had to be changed I wound up with inky hands and a nonfunctioning machine. Then the most amazing thing always happened: I would get out the instruction book. A picture showed me how the ribbons were to be positioned, and written instructions guided me step-by-step through the process of threading them into place. Voilà! I could successfully type and correct!
Why could that instruction book solve my problem every time? It is because the company that built the typewriter wrote the instruction book. Those who know the design of the machine are the ones most able to teach me how the machine can be most effectively used and maintained. That is how our sexuality is like my typewriter. The Designer knows the design and is the best one to write the instruction book. God, who created us in the holistic unity of our bodies, souls, minds, and spirits, made our sexuality part of that wholeness and integrally related to every other aspect of our beings. God also graciously revealed his design for the care of our sexuality in the Scriptures. Just as with my typewriter, if we fail to follow the Designer's instructions and handle our sexuality our own wayor the way our society teaches uswe wind up with messy hands and a nonfunctioning instrument. But if we follow the Creator's instructions, the instrument works effectively, productively, delightfully. Its purpose is fulfilled.
God designed us for relationships with others, for social affection and caring in fellowship with everyone else. Specifically, he designed sexual intercourse as a special sign of a unique relationship, one that develops out of leaving former family bonds and cleaving to one and only one person for the rest of our lives.
What a beautiful design! It creates the possibility for a mysterious love, for human security and stability, for confidence and trust, for the welcoming of children into the world, and for nurturing them into well-being by holding up the trampoline of their social sexuality. Then they, too, will have the strength of character faithfully to reserve their genital sexuality for this precious gift of permanent commitment.
I can write this article only because I am a Christian. In general, the modern mind-set rejects the idea of a transcendent God, an Absolute, the belief that there is an order, a design, a supernatural realm beyond the material with which we deal, an ultimate meaning in life. That is why it is critically urgent that we who believe in a Creator offer the alternatives of our understanding to those who have been blinded by prevailing notions. We want to model for the world the delight of transcendent meaning in sexual union and open people's eyes to larger implications beyond their immediate decisions.
We who believe in a gracious Creator trust that our Designer's idea for our sexuality is a good one. We believe that if we follow God's instructions for our sexuality, we will be most fulfilled. (When I talk with kids about their sexuality, it is not because I want to "spoil their fun" with old-fashioned restrictions, but because I want to invite them to the most satisfying sexual life possible. I think our society is giving them a rotten story. The Bible has a much better idea for how to live and how to be sexually fulfilled.)
Only as Christians do we have the freedom of knowing that we are forgiven for our sexual sins. Jesus says that any of us who looks lustfully at another person commits adultery, so probably all of us are guilty. We all have regrets about our own confusions between social and genital sexuality, about our frantic attempts to get affection, or about our mistaken sexual choices. But we are forgiven, and we can begin again to make better choices. (When I talk with kids about "sex," I know that some in the room have already engaged in genital experimentation. I want to assure them of forgiveness and invite them to begin afresh by the grace of God to choose sexual faithfulness.)
Only as Christians do we know with delight that the Holy Spirit will empower us to be faithful in our deliberate sexual choices. It is difficult for Christians to choose to follow the instructions of the Designer when our milieu is saturated with suggestive displays and ridicules us for our biblical sexual perspectives. Yet we choose gladly, for the Spirit indwells us and floods us with satisfaction in our integrity. (When I talk with kids about "sex," I dare them to take God seriously and discover the great power available from the Holy Spirit for living intentionally the Christian alternative.)
In her March 26, 1991, column, Ann Landers responded to a letter signed "Matter Over Mind in Massachusetts." A young man wrote that he was not able to get rid of bedroom thoughts about his girlfriend's other sexual partners when he saw them at social events or when he and "Molly" became intimate. He asked how to get rid of those thoughts because they were ruining their relationship.
That anguished man's letter made me profoundly sad, for it shows clearly one of the great tragedies of our timesthat in our culture's rejection of the "old-fashioned" ideas of biblical morality we have failed to see that God's design for human sexuality is a good one and that we reject it to our own peril. Sexual intercourse is such a profound sharing of ourselves with our partner that it needs to be protected within the covenant of a lifelong, faithful commitment. When God's design is followed, how freeing it is for all the persons involved! For example, in his sexual relationship with me, my husband knows that he never has to worry about past partners. Two of the men whom I had previously dated came to our wedding, and both continue to be friends with both my husband and me. Furthermore, my spouse can be totally confident that, as I was faithful to him before marriage, so I will be faithful within the marriage.
We who are God's people have a wonderful alternative to offer to the world around us. We encourage others to choose God's design for their sexualitynot to spoil their fun, but to deepen it; not primarily because they should fear AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, but because the psychological, social, and spiritual disease from sexual unions outside of covenant protection in marriage is much more damaging. It is a great tragedy that the beauty of lifelong fidelity, the freedom of sexual purity, and the delight of sexual discovery with one and only one partner are never displayed and promoted by our society's advice columns.
Marva J. Dawn is the author of numerous books, including Reaching Out without Dumbing Down and Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. She has a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from the University of Notre Dame and works with Christians Equipped for Ministry in Vancouver, Washington. This article is excerpted and adapted from her book, Sexual Character (Eerdmans, 1993), with permission. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2004.