What’s the point of sex anyway?
Historically in the Church and in our society currently, we often misunderstand the real purpose of sex. There are three basic reasons for God’s gift of sex in marriage.
Reproduction. Genesis 1:27-28 says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.'” At that moment, He had created vegetation, animals, and humans — all with their own ways of reproducing. His design for us was a sexual relationship between husband and wife that had the potential to create new life.
When you really think about this process, it’s pretty incredible. Male and female come together, join their complementary bodies, and an egg the size of a grain of sand and a sperm 1/30th that size merge. From there, cells differentiate, a baby grows in the womb, and a full human being emerges months later. Let me tell you, when you look (up) at your man-sized teenage son, it’s particularly astonishing that this whole process started with a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence. And all that . . . began with the sexual act.
The first direct mention we have of sex in the Bible shows this purpose of reproduction. And Eve understood how incredible this was: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1). I can imagine her tone as she said, “I have brought forth a man,” like Holy canoli, how did that happen?!
And over and over, we see similar phrases:
- “Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).
- “Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth” (Genesis 4:25).
- “There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er” (Genesis 38:2-3).
- “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son” (Ruth 4:13).
- “Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (1 Samuel 1:19-20).
- “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon” (2 Samuel 12:24).
Throughout history, the Church has had this reason down pat. Just like we understand that we need to eat to keep our bodies going, we understand we need to conceive children to keep our families and our communities going. This was the official teaching of the Church for many years — that sex was for procreation.
“The early Church Fathers of the Patristic Age did indeed teach that the marital act was solely for procreation and that spouses should intend children when they engaged in intercourse” (Catholic Online, Sex: Only for Procreation?). St. Augustine famously believed sexual passions to be a consequence of The Fall and thought that, if sin had been avoided, humans would reproduce “by a calm act of the will” (Christianity Today, What Would Augustine Say – On Sex: God’s Blessing or Humanity’s Curse?).
Procreation has been an easy reason for Christians to embrace throughout the centuries. The Bible’s message is that children are a blessing (see Psalm 127:3-5; Proverbs 17:6; Mark 10:13-16). Given the first commands to man to “be fruitful” and the many times God blessed His people with children, it’s not surprising that reproduction has been championed for centuries as a main purpose of sex.
Pleasure. I started to write, “this reason is more recent.” But I don’t think that’s true. It’s both ancient and recent. That is, in Bible times sexual pleasure in marriage appears to have God’s high blessing (see Song of Songs 5:1). In Jewish tradition, pleasure was seen as a woman’s right in the marriage bed. She was not to be deprived of it by her husband (see Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 24:5).
Through a culmination of influences (Gnosticism, an attempt to avoid the sexual immorality prominent in secular cultures, the rise of monastic societies in the Church, etc.), the Christian Church came to view sexual pleasure as opposed to spiritual purity. Indeed, the Song of Songs became viewed strictly as an allegory of Christ and His Church, with this view perhaps best espoused by Origen in the 3rd century. He believed that Song of Songs was the “meat” of scripture and could only be fully understood and appreciated by the spiritually mature. He worried about those who, “not knowing how to hear love’s language in purity and with chaste ears, will twist the whole manner of his hearing of it away from the inner spiritual man and on to the outward and carnal; and he will be turned away from the spirit to flesh, and will foster carnal desires in himself, and it will seem to be the Divine Scriptures that are thus urging and egging him on to fleshly lust!” (Origen, The Song of Songs Commentary and Homilies).
But I wouldn’t put much stock in that, since Origen thought the body was so evil that he also slept on the floor, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself based on his interpretation of one line in Matthew 19:12: “There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Not to be too graphic, but a guy who’d cut off his own nuts probably isn’t too bothered by not having sex for pleasure.
This perspective — but not self-mutilation — was the official stance of the Church for many years: that we Christians should be careful not to enjoy sex too much. Otherwise, it smacks of loving the flesh overly much and not being sufficiently spiritual. Of course, this view fascinates me given the physical acts that many such proponents took to display their spirituality. For instance, charity — a definite Christian virtue — involves the physical act of actually helping people with bodily needs, like food, water, clothing, shelter. Are we not to take pleasure in helping people around us? Must it merely be duty and nothing else?
Anyway, the Church has thankfully moved away from that in recent years, with an acknowledgment that we allowed outside philosophies to taint what the Bible really says. Just look at verses like these:
“A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love” (Proverbs 5:19).
“I have come to my garden-my sister, my bride. I gather my myrrh with my spices. I eat my honeycomb with my honey. I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with love!” (Song of Songs 5:1).
“How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine” (Song of Songs 7:6-9).
If you need more convincing — note our biology, ladies. That handy-dandy clitoris has no role to play in reproduction, solely pleasure. God wanted us to enjoy the sexual act and the intimacy that we feel when we’re physically one-flesh with our beloved covenant mate.
Intimacy. Speaking of intimacy, I tend to think this is the crowning jewel. Because, to be honest, you could reproduce and feel pleasure during sex without marriage. We see it in society all the time. But there’s something special about sex that makes it an act God intended to gift husbands and wives. Yes, of course he wants daddies and mommies to raise kids, but not every sexual act creates a baby. What’s the purpose of those other times?
Ephesians 5:31-32 says: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Well, what’s that’s about? How is becoming united/one-flesh in marriage like our relationship with Christ? I think it’s about the deep, loving intimacy between lover and beloved.
This is not the only time marriage is compared to God’s relationship with His people. For instance:
“For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5).
“I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion” (Hosea 2:19).
God prizes intimacy. Between us and Him. Among His people. And certainly between husband and wife. In fact, He infused the sexual act with ways to make it feel especially intimate, like the vulnerability of nakedness and body chemicals like Oxytocin and Dopamine to make us connected to our lover.
And these effects are not seen in short-term bursts of sexual activity. Rather, the intimate feelings come when we are linked to a partner again and again, in longer-term relationships. As in marriage.
Sex is something to be uniquely shared with your spouse, and thus it creates a deep intimacy when you partake together regularly and lovingly. God intended sex for reproduction and pleasure, but also to nurture intimacy between husband and wife.
Those are the three primary purposes for sex I see in the Bible. What benefits have you seen from having sex in your marriage?
14 thoughts on “What Are the Real Purposes of Sex?”
You posed this question, What’s the purpose of those other times?” All intimacy is meant to bring us closer to each other, but all the other times we are to be open to life as well. That’s why contraception is wrong. We are to be open to life each and every time we unite. Not just when we want to be open to it. Which is what contraception does. It takes Away the openess to life, which is wrong.
I respect that’s the position of some Christians, particularly in the Catholic faith, but it’s not my stance. I do not believe that contraception is wrong, certainly not in all cases. For instance, I have friends who had serious health risks with their pregnancies and chose not to conceive again, but rather care for the children they had. I have a different take on this subject, and I can support my perspective biblically, but I respect others making a different choice. I’ll leave it at that. Many blessings!
I know there’s a stereotype that men just want to sleep afterward, but my husband and I have some of our best conversations after sex – sometimes about our love, sometimes about our faith, sometimes just silly stuff. But it’s the best.
From what I’ve read, I understand that Origen castrated himself when he became the headmaster at the Alexandria Catechetical school and was faced with the education of attractive young ladies not much younger than he (I believe he was 18 at the time). He wanted to ensure he wasn’t tempted too much by their sexual attractiveness. While I certainly wouldn’t encourage such an extreme step to avoid temptation, I have to admire Origen’s commitment to purity and the protection of his female students’ honor. I’ve also read that ancient Egypt was very free sexually and I have to imagine that more than one of his students might have enjoyed his extra-curricular attention had he given it. Despite this extreme act, I wouldn’t totally dismiss his allegorical view of the Song of Solomon. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Sure, it’s a song about marital sexual love, but as the Church is the Bride of Christ, the Song’s expressions of love can be applied to that relationship as well. In fact, when the Song was added to the Hebrew Canon, one Rabbi is reported to have referred to it as the “holy of holies” of scripture. If you allow yourself to read it allegorically, you see a very tender and passionate view of God’s love, which many of us could use more of.
e2 wrote, ” I wouldn’t totally dismiss [Origen’s] allegorical view of the Song of Solomon.”
J has done a masterful and much-needed job of summarizing, with some history, “the (three) Real Purposes of Sex” as they pertain to a wife and husband. In her third “purpose,” Intimacy–I prefer the term “Relationship”–she mentions Ephesians 5:31-32, “about Christ and the church,” which points us to a fourth, more important purpose: to show the relationship between Christ and redeemed humankind. Whenever a Christian married couple gets naked together–and “naked” is an important word here, since Christ wants us exactly that close to Him–“just as I am,” holding back nothing, no rags of self-righteousness to hide behind–and they make love, clumsily or sublimely, they become a picture of how God wants His people like naked babies in His arms, covered with His wings and feathers (see Ruth 3:8; Ezekiel 16:6-8, where “garment” is also the Hebrew word for wings).
Yes, e2, in a broad sense the Song of Solomon is an allegory. But to make it a point-by-point, metaphor-by-metaphor detailed allegory, as did Augustine et al, is to go beyond the Holy Spirit’s intent, I believe. Instead, we have here an unclothed virgin bride without shame inviting her groom into the “garden” of her body on their wedding night. They make love, not only in bed, but strolling naked at dawn to an orchard, then do it again beneath the same apple (or apricot) tree where her parents conceived her, and where nine months later her mom gave birth (see Song 8:5).
To some, this sounds like overblown, nonsense romance. To others–such as Augustine, who struggled all his life with the sexual sins of his youth–it is absurd blasphemy.
Yet this Song, for 3,000 years, stands as God’s primer for married lovemaking–which He created and still blesses. Adam and Eve sullied this, not by premarital sex, of course, but when they sinned at the Tree, and immediately felt compelled to cover with fig leaves the organs which Yahweh had blessed them with for mutual enjoyment.
God gave wives and husbands sacred body parts to cement their oneness of heart with a private oneness of the flesh–in uninhibited intercourse, unfettered childbirth and unashamed breast feeding. Though these body parts are indeed veiled in metaphor, the Holy Spirit was not squeamish about naming the flowers in the young woman’s garden, beginning with her feet and moving up her body to stop at delicate places not discussed openly in public conversation (and which many Bible translators have clumsily misnamed, in attempts to fit Augustine’s allegory theory (e.g. “navel,” where vulva is meant).
So it’s time that God’s people redeem eros, which the world has sullied, and enjoy this eros for what our Creator intended. “For freedom,” Paul writes, “Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” of legalistic, prudish rules (see Galatians 5:1, ESV). So, find yourself an apple tree where there are no curious eyes nor mosquitoes, and gladly fulfill the Lord’s “Real Purposes of Sex.” He will smile as you become “one flesh.” Believe it!
That is beautiful. I pray nearly daily for God’s truth in my marriage and marriage bed, so sullied by lies and legalism, fears and insecurities. Unfortunately, it takes two to tango and my husband seems content with worldly limitations and external perversions. I hope I am wrong in that, and God will open wife the doors of His intended garden for us and we will stroll in to find our Apple tree.
Thank you, Libl,
Leah, a woman whose story is told in Genesis 29-35 and 49:31, had problems like yours–a husband whose heart was distracted by business, family problems and other women. It took more than 20 years of marriage before her husband, Jacob, got the message, but I think he did at last. Leah seems particularly significant, since there’s probably more about her than any other woman in the Bible (including such great women as Eve and Mary).
Men, as you know, respond first to visual stimuli, and God made them that way. This is why they may crave raw sex, when their wives wish a love relationship that begins with emotional intimacy. It took me years of marriage for this to get through my thick skull, so there’s much hope yet for your hubs.
My wife and I were married in 1963, on the cusp of what was called the “Sexual Revolution.” I’ve seen this morph from the hippie rebellion, that rejected a Victorian attitude that was still alive in America in 1963, to a turnabout in attitudes in which American Christians have re-discovered the Song of Solomon for what God intended it to be. And along the way, I’ve learned much personal truth about how to treat a woman–especially how to treat her sexually.
Does your husband read scholarly books? A lot of the books out there re married sex for Christians possibly turn men off. But I picked up a book two weeks ago at the Christian Bookseller’s Association’s annual convention in Cincinnati that explores the Song of Solomon on an intellectual level as a basis for Christian married sex. SONG OF SONGS, by Iain M. Duguid (P & R Publishing, 2016). It’s a little pricey, since it’s in hardcover only ($22.50)–I got mine mail order for 60% off, since I was at the convention and talked with the sales person–sorry! Also SOLOMON’S SONG OF LOVE, by Dr. Craig Glickman (Howard Publishing, 2004) is excellent, with a strong appeal for men who read.
I’m praying for you and DH.
Sex as a topic is a very wonderful one, in all dimensions. I’m really glad with the things you are doing on your blog, wonderful works they are.
Nevertheless, as you keep concentrating on sex in marriage (the main benefactors are the married ones), you shouldn’t forget about teaching and encouraging the unmarried ones too to hold themselves till marriage (I’m sure not all of your readers are married yet). You are doing quite well, but do more.
In regards to approaching Premarital Sex as a Christian, I will recommend these two books (they were written by a young Christian youth- he wrote them in his teenage year)
– Effects of Pre-marital Sex (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LMKHHYO)
– WORDS OF A TEENAGER: WHY I WILL REMAIN A VIRGIN TILL MARRIAGE (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OW9S354)
God bless sis!!!
I don’t really know much about these books, other than what I could see on the “Look Inside” function of Amazon. Thus, I don’t have an opinion for my readers on them. I have recommended preengaged.com to many readers as a good resource for those dating and engaged.
As for your statement, “You are doing quite well, but do more,” actually I don’t feel like that’s my calling. I’ve certainly talked here and in guest posts about the problems with premarital sex, but single life is not my focus. I believe in the Body of Christ, meaning that even regarding sex I may simply be a pinkie. I can’t be the whole body, so when it comes to specifics (like porn addiction, sexual abuse recovery, or even singles addressing premarital sex), I’d rather point to other body parts; that is, resources where their expertise and focus is that particular issue. I’ll do all I can, but my priority is sex in marriage.
Thanks so much for your comment and encouragement!
In our marriage, the biggest benefit of sex has been procreation. Both my wife and I have immensely enjoyed raising our children and now we are enjoying many grandchildren. However pleasure and intimacy have not happened on a regular basis we have a sex-starved marriage (not my choice). I am happy for those couples who do experience pleasure and intimacy frequently in their marriage.
Anonymous wrote, “we have a sex-starved marriage (not my choice).”
Like Anonymous, I have grandchildren. My wife just turned 80, and we celebrated it with lovemaking–both naked, and we both had orgasms. Our first sex in two weeks, BTW. The summer we were married, 53 years ago, we made love at least 8 times a week; sometimes 14. Things have changed!
About 20 years ago I realized that our love life was in trouble. Not only were both our bodies slowing down, but DW was starting to lose interest. Then I made a discovery. First, it had taken me many years to fully appreciate that women put emotional relationship/intimacy WAY above physical sex. Yet, there’s the factor of physical beauty that girls and women are so keenly aware of–which explains why women get antsy when their man looks at a pretty girl, but that’s a whole nother story.
A woman’s backside is the part of her body that she’s most conscious of, possibly more than her face. “Do these jeans make me look fat?” is the classic female question, to which the wise husband always answers “NO!” Then I discovered Song of Solomon 7:1, “The joints of thy thighs are like jewels . . .” You bet they are–to her. What’s in view in this convoluted phrase from the King James Bible is the “prince’s daughter’s” bare bottom. A careful study of the Hebrew text will bear that out, I learned recently. But it’s too plain for prudish scholars to write into Scripture–especially since all but a few, until recently, have agreed with Origen and Augustine.
So I started praising her backside in as many ways I could think up–some of them pretty corny, and they’re private, so I won’t share them. Wife’s heart eventually heard that I wasn’t teasing, and I soon discovered that she’d rather hear me praise her beauty than say “I love you”–I do both!
So let the Spirit of God work on your heart re how you talk with your wife about her beauty. Love her–don’t give up. It may take a few months, but if you’re sincere, she’ll get it eventually.
And BTW, that “belly set about by lilies” is probably her pubic mound. So if she’d rather not shave, learn to appreciate it. Poet John Donne, writing 300 years ago, praised this feature of his lover as “that hairy diadem that on you doth grow.” Can’t we husbands take a lesson from Donne?
This is completely off topic, but I wanted to suggest a “husband brag” post…so we can share and appreciate all of the wonderdul things our husbands do RIGHT. Might give us a new appreciation for our husbands….and a great motivation for spicing things up to let him know how special he is. 🙂
I just want to note that if you go back further in church history(orthodox, coptic) you find that reproduction is not considered the primary purpose of sex. Also, origen’s doctrine is rejected by the church.
Actually, the Bible is the basis of what our Creator says about sex, and the Bible agrees with you that “reproduction is not . . . the primary purpose of sex.” This notion came about when monastics started adding the Greek Gnosticism of Plato to Bible theology. Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas all taught this, and I’m pretty sure that Aquinas’ version of Gnosticism is still official Roman Catholic doctrine.
But you say that “Origen’s doctrine is rejected by the church.” It’s true that much of what Origen believed is rejected by most churches. But which church did you mean? There are hundreds of denominations and thousands of local churches in America and around the world. Most agree on many things, but many disagree on issues such as marriage and sex. Of course these issues could be resolved if they’d all believe the Bible.
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