It’s a line often heard in well-intentioned lessons on sexual purity:
God created sex. It’s His. Pornography and premarital sex are just distortions of what God made that is good: sex within marriage. Those sexual desires you feel are good, you just need to channel them into marriage. (Or as often said, “toward your wife.”)
All of the above is true and I have taught most of it myself in bits and pieces. But there are some major shortfalls to this type of teaching and mindset.
Channeling Your Sexual Desires Toward Marriage?
First and foremost, if you’re single, this advice doesn’t help you at all. Except to be told, “Go get married!” Which, for obvious reasons, can’t exactly be done this afternoon.
The second and more subtle shortfall in this well-intentioned, and mostly true, teaching is it points to sex as the answer to our desire for sex. But what I really mean by that is it points to a human being as the answer to our desire to be desired.
This might be the most revolutionary thing you’ve ever heard about sex, so prepare yourself.
Let me take you to John 4 and the famous passage of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman has had five husbands, and the man she is currently sleeping with is not her husband. She’s thirsty. But what is she thirsty for? Is she thirsty for sex? Is she thirsty for body parts?
No. If she were thirsty for these things, she’d be more than satisfied by this point.
The solution to her deepest desires was not sex, body parts, or marriage. Yet, in the vast majority of Christian sexual purity talks that I hear, the solutions that are offered are sex, body parts, and marriage. Specifically: getting your body-part-fix within the confines of marriage.
Symptoms of a Deeper Illness
Jesus saw through all of this. He saw what many pastors and Christian sexual purity leaders fail to see. He saw that this woman’s desire for sex and for marriage were symptoms of a deeper illness. John 4:13 says,
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
If Jesus had been a leading sexual purity author of his day, he likely would have had the woman repent of her infidelity, then poof, he would have given her a ruggedly handsome, God-loving, husband whom she could live happily ever after with. Isn’t that what most woman are hoping for when they pray that God would help them in their sexual temptations? With men hoping for the same thing in a beautiful, God-loving wife? These prayers are virtually identical for married and single folks. Singles praying for the perfect spouse, while married folks praying that their spouse would become perfect.
These prayers will never be answered.
Because a perfect spouse doesn’t exist.
A spouse that will satisfy your deepest desire to be desired doesn’t exist.
Jesus could have provided this band-aid-on-cancer for the Samaritan woman in John 4, but he didn’t. He didn’t give her a husband. He didn’t give her our go-to solution for sexual sin.
He gave her himself.
He gave her the unlimited treasure of the gospel.
He gave her love, acceptance, value, approval, comfort, and desire, all from him and all for her.
Satisfying Our Deepest Desire for Intimacy
For all we know, the Samaritan woman may have never married again. This woman whose whole life revolved around desiring sex and desiring the perfect man may have finished her days single and celibate, yet having her life’s prayer answered and satisfied in the deepest and most meaningful way possible. How can this be so?
It can be so because sex and marriage are metaphors of the deeper and truer reality of the intimacy God desires to have with us. We’ll never find that intimacy fully in a human being and in fact, marriage folks will continue to long for this intimacy if they don’t have the depths of their life’s foundation grounded in who Jesus says they are.
I’m not saying marriage is bad.
I’m not saying sex is bad.
If you’re married, use your entire marriage to try to symbolize the intimacy God has with his Church, just as Ephesians 5 instructs us to do. But don’t get a symbol confused with the real thing.
Sex and marriage are both good and created by God, just as the hypothetical teaching given to us at the beginning of this article. But both are very poor substitutes for God.
What I’m saying is that beneath your desire for sex is a deeper desire. And just like the woman at the well, Jesus’ top priority is to satisfy that deepest desire and he knows he’s the only one who can.