IN OUR OVER-SEXUALISED WORLD
By Dr Hera Lukman
DR HERA LUKMAN muses on sex and thinks the Christian narrative on it should be “more celebrative”! But what exactly should be celebrated? Here, she shares her observations and thoughts regarding the question as a Christian psychologist working with young people.
In most English dictionaries, the noun “sex” usually depicts a person’s biological sex, i.e. a genetic male has XY sex chromosomes whereas a genetic female has XX sex chromosomes. “Sex” could also refer to an activity that one does with another involving the sex organs. I don’t think that Christians have difficulty talking about sex but I haven’t come across many Christians who explicitly talk about sex as something to “celebrate” – the word we use to express praise, admiration or approval for something or someone.
The lack of celebrative dialogues on sex among Christians may have contributed to the common public perception that sex is considered a rather taboo subject among Christians in general. When Christians talk about sex, our narratives usually involve a list of do’s and don’ts regarding sexual practices and the potential negative consequences of sexual immorality, from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases to breakdown in relationships and ultimately, God’s disapproval.
While Christian sexual ethics is essential for any serious believer to grasp, I can’t help but wonder if such instructive action-consequence form of narratives create dialogue opportunities with our young people or serve more like a repellant of such encounters.
Even if we manage to connect with our young people, would they find such narratives sufficient in helping them navigate the highly sexualised world we live in? How would they respond to the increasingly metamodernist culture where there is a movement away from a “binary-system” of understanding our reality in favour of “simultaneity”, “assimilation” and “inclusion of diversity”?
Quite often, I find myself listening to young people’s lamentations on how much they struggle with the Biblical sexual ethics. I am relieved that most young people I meet love God and associate godly living with sexual purity despite the tremendous pressure to conform to the current sexual climate. What disturbed me is the severe lack of platform in Christian communities where they can safely wrestle with sexual issues without feeling condemned.
Many young people I know struggle to live up to sexual purity. Shame and poor self-worth are commonly experienced. Their deep disappointment in themselves can drive them into despair, isolation and hopelessness. Their journey is a lonely journey because they fear repercussions of sharing their load with another in their Christian communities. Consequently, some cope by changing their belief system while others live a double life.
It seems that the Christian narrative on sex is not as effective in addressing the struggles our young ones face. How can the Church help them to develop a robust worldview of sex in a socio-cultural climate where sex is reduced to a mere physical act of self-gratification?
We desperately need a more positive and valid narrative about sex if we want to have a sustained and impactful connection with our young people. Our narrative on sex needs to focus more on redemption, hope and restoration. What would such a narrative entail? Other than informing about Christian sexual ethics, I would like to appeal to us to focus more on the following when we dialogue with another about sex.
“Our Christian narrative on sex needs to highlight more on the being and less on the doing.”
DOING Vs BEING
In his book, Sex for Christians, Lewis Smedes noted that sex is much more than a physical act, i.e. what we do. Sex is an important part of our personhood, i.e. what we are. Our Christian narrative on sex needs to highlight more on the being and less on the doing.
It is not so much of what we do that makes us who we are – “I have achieved sexual purity and therefore I am a Christian”. It is who we are by the grace of God that compels us to live in a certain way – “I am a Christian and this identity drives me to live in sexual purity”. This inside-out transformation is consistently advocated throughout the Bible. Jesus himself denounced and warned against mere doing when it comes to faith.
Christianity is not a religion. Our internal state supersedes our external condition. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
SEX IS INTEGRAL TO SEXUALITY
A narrative of sex isolated from sexuality would be a simplistic view of sex. People have sex not just to gratify physical needs although some may claim that that’s what sex is all about.
A more holistic view considers sex as integral to sexuality. Sexuality encompasses the diverse combination of ways in which human beings relate to themselves, fellow human beings and the divine. In the context of sexuality, sex is a way human beings express and obtain intimacy, sense of belonging and even completion in another.
Therefore, many who treat sex as merely a physical need fail to find fulfilment in sex per se. This is evident in studies investigating hook-up culture and other casual-sex encounters. Apparently, there is more expectations from sex than the mere exchange of bodily fluids.
SEX HAS DIVINE PURPOSE
As a Christian, I believe God created human beings with an innate need for affiliation not just because we are made in His image and that God is relational but more importantly, this need for affiliation will drive us to seek our Creator and find ultimate fulfilment in Him. In the Bible, the union between husband and wife is often used to symbolise the relationship between God and His people or Christ and His bride, the Church. References to this relationship can be found in Ezekiel, Hosea, Ephesians and Revelations, just to name a few.
Sex therefore has a divine purpose.
Although sex is a powerful mean to satisfy our relational needs, it is neither the supreme way nor the only way. In fact, sex per se cannot completely fulfill our needs as sexual beings, even in marriage, because the purpose of our sexual desire is ultimately an indication of our need for God.
As CS Lewis skillfully described in Mere Christianity:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo or mirage.”
CONCLUSION REGARDING CELEBRATING SEX
There is so much we could praise, admire and approve about sex within the Biblical narrative. Not only can we rejoice in the ecstasy sex brings within marriage relationships, all of us can celebrate our essence as sexual beings infinitely loved and valued by the One in Whom we find our ultimate intimacy, belonging and completion.
It is indeed liberating to claim that we don’t have to do sex to celebrate sex.
Dr Hera Lukman is a registered Chartered Health Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. She obtained her BA (Hons) at Simon Fraser University, Canada, her MSc at the University of Sheffield, UK, and her Ph.D at the University of Leeds, UK. For the past 15 years, Hera has taught Psychology at several Universities in the UK and Malaysia. She is currently the Head of Psychology and Learning Centre at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur. As a Christian pyschologist, Hera is passionate in integrating psychology with Biblical principles in understanding personhood and one’s indentity in Christ.
Asian Beacon: Oct – Dec 2017 (Vol 49 #3, p12-13)