Livid at the Evangelical Sub-Culture & Its Epidemic of Sexless Marriages
This blog is Musings of a Hardlining Moderate. The usual tone to which I aspire is convicted civility, restrained passion, and critical exhortation. Yet I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde’s writing, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Every once in a while there comes a time when the only appropriate response is catharsis and denunciation. This is such a time.11.Brace yourself. I’ve been holding in this one for years.
My primary emotion is not sadness, disappointment, or annoyance. I’m irate, incensed, livid. The reason? Early this week an internet friend called to confide in me that his marriage is on the brink thanks to the evangelical sub-culture.22.He needed to talk to someone he knew was safe. This post is written with his permission under the condition of anonymity. I’ve kept the content general enough that no one could identify him. I hate that sub-culture so much. It chews people up, waters everything down, and substitutes unbridled zeal for critical discernment. It’s unbiblical and awful.
The moment I received his Facebook message I had a suspicion I knew what was up. Sadly, my gut feeling proved exactly right: Yet another one of my friends is slogging through a sexless marriage.33.Do you have any idea how many guys I know who are in that boat? It’s absurd. This ordinarily cerebral fellow is battling intense feelings of brokenness, weariness, confusion, rejection, and hopelessness. How many times have I heard this same story?
- His wife grew up in a conservative home in which almost her entire life, whether in school or church or around family, was permeated by the evangelical sub-culture.44.She successfully Kissed Dating Goodbye, fought Every Young Woman’s Battle… yada yada yada.✓
- Motivated far more by fear and guilt than by hope and love, they were both able to stay sexually pure… until their engagement.55.They both gave and received oral sex, and suffice to say it was completely consensual. It was clear they both had strong sex drives.✓
- Yet not too far into their marriage her desire for sex precipitously fell off, which came as a shock to my friend.✓
- Despite all his concerted efforts, they now have sex at best once every other month.66.That’s being incredibly generous. The present drought has lasted most of a year.✓
- The entangled problems are many, but nearly all of ’em stem from the prudish culture that does little more than tolerate sex.✓
- Sex and shame are profoundly linked in her heart, mind, and spirit.77.Intertwined may be more accurate. Maybe even conjoined.✓
- To be sexual is to be ungodly, to be tainted, to be unpure, to be a whore.✓
- She was taught and now, even after much counseling, cannot shake the deeply held belief that sex is gross, men are pigs, and restraint (i.e. abstinence) is more holy.88.All of which is to say nothing about her self-righteous attitude toward lingerie, oral pleasure, sexual positions, vibrators, and all of that.✓
- Parroting what she has heard, with regularity she quotes Gospel and Pauline passages about sexual immorality while ignoring 1 Corinthians 7 and the Old Testament’s book on sex.9✓
- 9.I desire to punch people who say Song of Songs is about Christ’s love for the Church. No. No it’s not. Jesus isn’t going down on His Church, OK?To even close friends and family theirs appears to be a strong and healthy marriage, but her continual rejection has eviscerated their marriage.✓
- His trust is shattered, and she thinks he is being selfish.✓
- This has been going on for years and he doesn’t know how much more he can endure.1010.Oh, and he’s a pastor so most of the private responses he gets from friends and mentors alternate between the unhelpful, “Try harder!” to the condemning, “You’re not being self-sacrificial enough!”✓
- His heart is growing cold and it terrifies him.✓
- Everyone around him is telling him the answer is that he needs to be more loving, more sensitive, more compassionate, more patient, more romantic, and more self-sacrificial.✓11.“…The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion…” – 1 Cor. 7:3-9
- No one is telling her that she needs to take decisive action to save their marriage, let alone that everything she believes about sex is awful and unbiblical and is destroying her husband.✓
- Worse still, no one is wanting to deal with the elephant in the room of what happens when a spouse absolutely refuses to heed Paul’s teaching on this matter.11✓
Why am I so livid? Because the evangelical sub-culture instilled in these guys a commitment to following Scripture’s teaching, which is why they got married at a young age rather than burning with passion. But that same sub-culture also set their marriages up for failure by making their wives resent their sex drives. It’s a no-win scenario.12
12.Damned to sexless marriages if they do get married and don’t for sexual immorality if they don’t get married. Lovely choices, huh?Look, I don’t think the answer is for evangelical Christians to uncritically embrace the hedonism of the larger culture. Followers of Jesus living according to biblical teaching will, to be certain, have a radically different understanding of human sexuality that will put them at odds with the prevailing culture. Got it. No problem. But this doubling down on Victorian cultural moors is insane.1313.A reactionary swing from one extreme to the other is as dumb as it is unwise.
I’m furious about the bitter irony of the whole thing. By trying so hard to protect sexual purity for marriage, so many of these parents and pastors have established precedents that later devastate relationships in marriage. I suppose it’s an inevitability. When people participate in a reactionary swing away from one extreme, there are bound to be unintended consequences.14.Just in case there’s anyone who reads this blog post who has bought into this crap, let be clear about some things. Oral sex isn’t unnatural. Sex multiple times a week isn’t unreasonable. Missionary style isn’t the only acceptable position. You’re not sinning if you moan or grunt, as the case may be. Creativity in bed… or on the kitchen counter… or up against the wall… or out in the woods when no one is around… is a good thing. It’s great when slow love-making comes at the end of the perfect date night but serving your spouse with a quickie when he/she needs sex, and you don’t particularly feel like it, is also what marriage is about. Oh, and “we’ve been married for quite a while” is not a good excuse to stop having regular sex with your spouse. Without a valid medical or psychological reason, that’s a sin against your husband or wife.
Allow me to suggest that the answer is that we need to be truly biblical Christians. By that I mean re-embracing the sexual celebration and wild exploration found in the Song of Songs. Get it on!!! Husbands and wives should be intimate, enjoying one another’s bodies, serving and providing erotic pleasure. The renewing of the marital covenant is a beautiful and wondrous act.14
I’ve never read James K.A. Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom, but from what I’m told one of the themes is that of differing visions. That is, a lot of the conflict and division within Christianity presently and throughout history boils down to believers pursuing different Kingdom Visions. With different destinations in mind, is it any wonder they head in different directions?15
15.I find this to be most helpful. It explains a lot. A miniblog about this is on the way.It strikes me that the same problem exists regarding marriages. The problem, the reason I’m so pissed, is that the evangelical sub-culture has cast a “Marriage Vision” in which sex doesn’t hold its biblical place. Sex is seen as secondary rather then the primary thing that distinguishes spouses from roommates. It’s seen almost as a tragic necessity, a biological weakness. How messed up!1616.The Marriage Vision too many young evangelicals hear is that you get to have sex when you get married, not that it’s encouraged to have the time of your life. (Somebody cue Green Day.) It’s like people think that sex is so automatic that you don’t have to lay a healthy, encouraging foundation for sex in marriage. Wrong.
Yes, my heart is broken for my many friends who’ve shared about their virtually sexless marriages. My dominant emotion, however, is just plain anger. The evangelical sub-culture has got it wrong. It needs to repent and openly laud the beauty, wonder, pleasure, and fulfillment of marital sex. I had just one youth pastor along the way who did that, and it made all the difference in the world.1717.If by any chance Dan Johnson should read this, I want him to know how thankful I am.
Here’s a tip to engaged couples: Not only is pre-marital counseling a must, you need to be explicit when you talk about sexual expectations.18.Examples: Guys, if you expect to receive oral sex until you orgasm, and if you expect to cum in her mouth, you’d better have that settled upfront. Ladies, if you expect your husband to sometimes go down on you without the act always being reciprocated, you’d better say that. All, if there’s some fetish or type of lingerie that is your thing, share it beforehand. It’s important to build the expectations and trust before marriage. Honesty now prevents frustration, resentment, and heartache later. If you expect fellatio or cunnilingus, don’t say, “Are you OK with oral?” That’s too vague. Define everything.18 Pressing past any discomfort will not only get you on the same page, it will ensure that the doors of open communication are flung wide open.
Evangelical men and women alike: If you have a low sex drive, you need to be brutally honest about that before you says, “I do.” The commitment you’re making of “to have and to hold” is about more than physical intimacy, but it sure as heck includes sex. To mislead your fiancé about your sex drive and then trap him/her in a sexless marriage is an indescribably horrible thing to do.1919.Unfiltered version: It pretty much makes you a horrible person. The plain truth is that you’re setting your marriage up for failure. If you agree to infrequent sex before marriage, great. But if you commit to multiple times a week and then only do a couple times a year, I guarantee you’re seriously harming your spouse.
For the longest time husbands could force their wives to have sex and few really saw this as a real problem. A marital rape culture existed. Just awful. But today I think we’ve unwisely polarized to the other extreme. When evangelical wives refuse to have sex we tend to assume it’s the husband’s fault.2020.Pastor: “Do you compliment your wife?”
Counselor: “Do you romance her?”
Parents: “Do you buy her presents?”
Friends: “Do you really listen to her?”
Husband: “Yes… YES… YES!!! The problem isn’t me!” Few of these women are ever told, “It’s not OK to not fulfill your sexual responsibilities.”
Sex is to a marriage as water is a garden. It’s life-giving, preserving the vitality that remains strong or reinvigorating what has begun to wither. Yes, it meets physical needs but it’s so much more than that. Sex renews the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual union between a husband and wife. It’s astonishing these marriages have remained intact with these long-term drought conditions.
In conclusion, I’ll reiterate the major themes of this post. The evangelical sub-culture has, through its priggish reaction to secular hedonism, linked sex with ungodliness and shame. That’s just plain wrong and warrants repentance. It’s quite clear biblically that sex between a husband and wife is an amazing thing that God intended as an ongoing blessing for their marital covenant. Enjoy it!