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A Necessary Conversation

by Stu Johnson

Posted: December 14, 2017

Straight talk about sex and marriage…

No. 5 in the Thursday Morning Guys series (see list)

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the November 30 session focused on the prevalence of premarital sex in America today. .

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

Ephesians 5: 25:  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it,….

The Bible repeatedly consecrates marriage and denounces sex outside of marriage.  Yet premarital sex is prevalent. Barely half of all adults in the US are currently married.  We are inundated with news of men (married or not) who have harassed women.  Given the culture, what is our responsibility as husbands, grandfathers, employers, and members of the church? 

But in the United States, 46 percent of all high school age students, and 62 percent of high school seniors, have had sexual intercourse; almost nine million teens have already had sex.

Among those who were ages 25 and older in 2014, 65% of those with a bachelor’s degree or more were married, compared with 53% of adults with less education, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Roughly two-thirds (65%) of men with a bachelor’s degree could expect that, if they marry, their first marriage will last 20 years or longer, compared with 50% of men with a high school diploma or less. In addition, men with a higher level of education are more likely to get married in the first place when compared with less-educated men.

Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics estimate that 78% of college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010 could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years. But among women who have a high school education or less, the share is only 40%.

For more information see the Pew Social Trends report and an article in The Economist
[Also see my recent article, “The Changing Family,” a profile from the U.S. Census Bureau.]

THE CONVERSATION

Among the dozen or so men who had gathered, the topic was far from an abstraction, as stories were told of their own conversations and struggles within their own families. A few general comments before proposing several principles:

  • How do we relate to our children and grandchildren when today’s culture is saturated with sexuality and a sense of biblical morality is often ridiculed?
  • Running counter to this saturation with sexuality, but fueled by inappropriate behavior, we have lost the appropriate sense of touch that is part of being human.
  • We see many failures within the church.  It is time for a conversation.
  • There are implications for the culture, which are often dismissed, but supported by research.
  • How do we respond to Old Testament examples of multiple wives and concubines?  It is part of history, but not the model of marriage that prevails through the longer history covered by the Bible.

PRINCIPLES PROPOSED

Four important principles struck me on reflection about our conversation.

The sacredness of sexual intimacy

One of the guys suggested an analogy with the structure of the Tabernacle of the Old Testament. The Tabernacle was the focus of worship and the place of God’s presence for the Jewish people as they wandered through the wilderness (a journey that was prolonged from a few months to forty years because of the failure to trust God to conquer the land of Canaan after those sent to check it out reported fearsome opposition).  The structure of the Tabernacle had significant meaning to the Jews at the time, and as a precursor to Jesus Christ.  (There is far more detail than we need to cover here, but you can find out more at the-tabernacle-place.com). 

The point made in our discussion was the comparison of the inner-most section of the Tabernacle—the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could enter—and the intimacy of the marriage bond.  In the creation story, in the book of Genesis, we find this: “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Genesis 2:24 – referenced by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament (see Guidance from Scripture below for links).  Thus, it was suggested, the sexual intimacy that unites man and woman parallels the sacredness of the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. It is intended to be extraordinary and exclusive.

Marriage is a powerful metaphor

That marriage as an institution is a foundational part of God’s creation is emphasized by the way that Jesus’ relationship with believers through the church is portrayed.  We see Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his bride. The intimacy experienced by a married couple—including the sexual bond—demonstrates the depth of intimacy that believers (and the church) can have with Christ. Some examples from Scripture are listed below.   

This does not exclude singles. Indeed, the language places all believers (the church) in the role of brides of Christ. But it does add a powerful metaphor for those who are married (or the reflection of godly parents) that celebrates the humanity of Christ through his incarnation (earthly presence of God).

Research supports biblical truth

It is easy to say that porn is bad or that a person who has had multiple sexual partners brings all of them to the bed of spouse or current lover. But is that just a prudish attempt to limit sexual freedom and expression?

We live in a time when religion is often treated as irrational and in opposition to reason and science. I firmly believe that there is no conflict between the Bible and science—organized religion, yes, but not the underlying truth of Creation. The Bible is not a science textbook. It is, however, the mega story of the universe and redemption within which science and all human activity exists.  

In the matter of relationships and sexual intimacy, research supports the idea that an improper approach can have detrimental, even devastating effects, the point made throughout the Bible.   

The impact of pornography on the brain

A credible and easy-to-read article on the influence of pornography appeared on LiveScience in October, 2015 as “Bye, Bye, Playboy Bunnies: 5 Ways Porn Affects the Brain” by Tia Ghose, Senior Writer.  As I have pointed out in other articles, we have to be cautious about basing beliefs on one research study. To be fair to Ghose, while she cites a primary study for most points, she does go on to touch on some of the other research done in each area:

  • Same old, same old—Viewing sexual images activates parts of the brain that produce a feeling of pleasure. The appetite for more exposure and increasingly explicitness escalates. “A person will need bigger hits to feel a response, [researcher Joseph] Plaud said.”
  • The incredible shrinking brain—Ghose cites a 2014 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. “Men who regularly consumed porn had smaller brain volume and fewer connections in the striatum, a brain region tied to reward processing, compared with those who didn't view porn.”
  • Visual turnoff—“Watching porn seems to quiet a part of the brain that processes visual imagery, researchers reported in 2012 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It's not clear why this happens, but researchers speculated that the brain diverts blood flow from the visual cortex in order to focus on more pressing things, like being turned on.”
  • Short-term mentality—"Watching porn may also make people value immediate payoffs over delayed gratification, a study published in September in the Journal of Sex Research found.”
  • Problem or not?—this is an important point, so here is Ghose’s full comment on it (my emphasis in bold):

Is pornography use an unhealthy addiction that ruins men for relationships, or a healthy sexual outlet that both men and women enjoy? How people answer may affect whether they are harmed by porn. A study in the September issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behavior found that it was the perception of being "addicted to porn," rather than the intensity of porn use per se, that was tied with psychological distress.

And contrary to the notion that pornography fuels misogyny, men who viewed porn tended to hold more egalitarian views about women than did non-porn-using men. Frequent porn users view powerful women, working women and women who have had abortions more favorably than do other men, a study published in August in the Journal of Sex Research found.

That may be the case, but women in relationships with porn spectators reported being less happy in those relationships than gals paired up with men who didn't view pornography, found research published in 2012 in the journal Sex Roles.

Even though scientists are beginning to tease out the effects of porn on the brain, there's still a lot they don't understand, in particular about the long-term effect porn has on young viewers, Plaud said.

"We're being flooded by an immense amount of very hard-core pornography, and it's a question [what effect it has]," Plaud said. "I think it may have very large implications in the future."

The impact of early sex and multiple partners

Several articles reveal the following:

“Early initiation of sexual activity and higher numbers of non-marital sex partners are linked in turn to a wide variety of negative life outcomes, including increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth, increased single parenthood, decreased marital stability, increased maternal and child poverty, increased abortion, increased depression, and decreased happiness.”

That quote is from a report issued by the Heritage Foundation in 2003. Of course, you say. Consider the source. Why should I expect anything else from a conservative think tank? But, search on “impact of multiple sex partners” and you will find more recent research across a spectrum of academic and professional sources that essentially supports that view, if not in whole, at least with noted significance. Just one example:

From an article on “The National Marriage Project” by Galena K. Rhodes and Scott M. Stanley of the University of Denver. Reported on The Huffington Post in 2014.

“A widely reported new study claims that people—especially women—who have multiple sexual partners before tying the knot, report unhappier marriages down the line.”  According to researchers, the 23 percent of participants who only had sex with their spouse prior to getting hitched reported higher quality marriages versus those who had other past sexual partners as well.

They claim this finding is especially true for women, writing in the report, “We further found that the more sexual partners a woman had had before marriage, the less happy she reported her marriage to be.”

On top of that, researchers say that participants who lived with an S.O.—who did not become their future spouse—also reported unhappier marriages.

For more studies, search on “impact of multiple sex partners” – remember, reliable conclusions can only be reached when multiple studies over an extended period corroborate similar results.

Talk about it

Instead of simply saying “no” or not saying anything, we as parents, grandparents, peers, mentors, need to engage in conversation about the proper role of sexuality. And that is not just a “birds and bees” discussion with children or young people, it is conversation that affects all of society and should be ongoing. Talk about the implications of behavior.  (How many in politics and entertainment should have taken that lesson to heart to avoid career-destroying charges of sexual harassment?) 

We need to model and not just tell. Walk the talk—and be able to affirm loving relationships while also admitting the struggles of deeply-rooted sexual desires. President Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for his “lust in my heart” comment in a 1976 Playboy interview, but it reflects the fact that Christ raised the bar by considering our thoughts as serious as our actions: “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

Take appropriate action. Parental controls on electronic devices are not only useful for young children and adolescents with raging hormones, but for adults as well. Protect your kids, grandkids, and yourself. Avoid temptation—run from it, as Paul suggests! “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)

Pray. Pray for kids. Pray for fathers and young men, who may be especially susceptible to pornography. Pray for young people who are immersed in a culture that seems so attractive. Pray for pastors and church leaders, encouraging the strong proclamation of biblical values and discussion of sexuality and other important cultural issues.

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

The intimacy and sanctity of marriage

  • This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. (Genesis 2:24) – Quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7, and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31.
  • For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)
  • For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. (Ephesians 5:23-26)
  • Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery. (Hebrews 13:4)

Dangerous territory

  • “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
  • For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you. (Mark 7:21-23)
  • For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. (1 John 2:16)

Personal responsibility

  • Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
  • So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:5)

Redemption

If it all this seems only judgmental and beyond your ability to cope, take heart. The real story of the Bible is one of redemption, the story we celebrate again during this Advent season.

  • For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
  • Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:24)
  • Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

About the Scripture references: NLT = New Living Translation,  ESV = English Standard Version,  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: December 14, 2017   Accessed 169 times

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