The challenge of a morality for sex
No one should doubt that the desire for sexual activity is a strong drive within human beings. And no one should fail to realize that the religious and cultural rules for expressing such activity are usually in a state of conflict. Individuals of both sexes naturally want to be seen as being attractive and accepted by members of the opposite sex, and this desire is not necessarily associated with their desire to produce children. But young men and women in all cultures and times have had personal difficulties in trying to understand and to abide by the various moral rules that are in place to direct them in their sexual activities as they grow through the period of puberty when their bodies and emotions begin to urge them into sexual activities. The traditions and culture and religions and family values and standards for entertainment and personal relationships all seem to address personal sexual activities between individuals to some degree, but the personal challenges of determining what is appropriate sexual activity for each young man or woman still remain. And the challenges will usually continue throughout life, even through periods of marriage and old age.
Various rules for sexual activity are seen in family rules for the dating of adolescent youth, in the rules of various religious systems for the moral behavior of the devoted followers of those systems, in the various demonstrations of physical attraction and "success" that are displayed by popular entertainers, by statements of philosophy and sexual ethics that are proposed and endorsed by various accepted "teachers", and by civic rules that are established to guide sexually mature individuals in their sexual treatment of others, particularly the treatment of women and children. Clear examples of the variety of rules that are in place in our current world are easily recognized in the civic changes that have recently been established in marriage laws in the US allowing for the marriage of same-sexed couples, in the current practice of polygamy in some religious communities, in the approval of prostitution in many parts of the world, including some areas of the US, in the practice of sexual "slavery" in some cultures, a variety of rules regarding what is an "acceptable" style of wearing apparel in public or in public expressions of entertainment, and more "liberal" rules for the publishing and distribution of sexual materials through mass media, the internet, and even in public libraries.
God’s special purpose for human sexual activity
It should be understandable by any sexually mature human being that sexual desires and sexual activities between human beings are not directly linked to the fertility cycle of females. If this were not the case in human sexuality, human beings would only be interested in sexual activity and receptive to it when sexually mature females were ready to become pregnant. So there must be another reason for this strong emotional drive and sexual activity between human males and females.
According to Moses, the reported writer of the first five books of the Bible, in his account of God’s work of creation in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, God created male and female human beings to have “dominion over” (Genesis 1:26–27) all of the other living creatures that he made. And Moses indicated that “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28) In the second chapter of Genesis, Moses adds some particular details regarding his creation of a human female. She was created by God because God recognized that, as Moses reports, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) So God proceeded to create “a helper for him” (vs. 18). God caused “a deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21) to fall upon the man, and he took “one of his ribs” (vs. 21) out of the man’s body and made it “into a woman” (vs. 22) and “brought her to the man” (vs. 22). And the man called this new creature “Woman, because she was taken out of Man”. (Gen. 2:23) And as Moses indicated, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”. (Genesis 2:24)
So it is God’s particular process of creation of this human woman as a “helper” and unified companion for the human man that he had created that gives the sexual drive and activity among human beings its special purpose to bring men and women together into a unified state of companionship as they “become one flesh” in which they are able to “help” each other to take care of other living creatures, including their own children, throughout all of their lives. The perspective of this statement on Sex is on “God’s particular process of creation” of sexually activity for men and women as stated in the Bible, and it does not attempt to give equal authority to other perspectives on this activity from other authorities or representatives of this world’s cultures or philosophies.
In the early chapters of Genesis where Moses mentions sexual activity between a man and a woman, he uses the Hebrew verb yada’ (OT: 3045 Strong).1 According to Vine, this word basically means “(1) to know by observing and reflecting upon (thinking), and (2) to know by experiencing personal qualities that are deeply imbedded into one's mind.”2 But Vine indicates that this second way of knowing “comes through experience with the senses, by investigation and proving…”.3 It is this verb that Moses uses to indicate that the Israelites could “know” in their hearts that the Lord God cared for them because he disciplined them as “his son” (Deut. 8:5), and it is this verb that Moses uses to refer to Adam’s sexual activity with Eve in sexual intercourse in Genesis 4:1. So sexual activity, specifically sexual intercourse, between a man and woman, has some very personal psychological and experiential effects upon the individuals that have to do with their knowledge of each other and their oneness in their ongoing relationship. So it is a deeper and more intimate experience than just “sleeping together”, which is a very common cultural expression for this activity.
So the emotional excitement of courtship and the physical pleasures of sexual activity between a man and a woman are more designed and intended by God to build unified male and female companions to care for his earthly creation than just to increase the human species. And the challenges of this responsibility and the need for this special bond between a man and a woman should be evident as sexually mature individuals contemplate the extended length of time when they will be responsible for the care of others. It seems to be evident that human infants and children are very dependent creatures for very long periods of time, at least 12-14 years. And after many years of productive and caring work, many adults will again encounter years of decreasing physical abilities and increased needs for the personal care from others, which will best come from devoted companions.
Rules regarding acceptable sexual attitudes and activities between men and women
It is the challenges of creating this bond of unified life-long companionship between a man and his woman that make the rules for moral sexual activity so necessary and so important. Unstable human relationships between men and women create unstable broken families and communities and multiple problems for any government. The process of creating such companionship is never easy, and it can be quickly and easily corrupted and damaged even during the exciting times of courtship and the blessings of family life by attitudes and actions that destroy or severely damage the elements of trust and respect and caring and love that are necessary to create a unified state of companionship between a man and a woman. So uncontrolled sexual activity is never an effective way to build a wholesome relationship with another human being, male or female, in any society, and the drive for sexual activity is not easily suppressed in most human beings. So rules for the courtship of young men and women and laws that define what is legal and illegal in sexual activities between individuals are necessary for the operation of any civilized social order for human beings. Such rules and laws whether promoted by various religious traditions or civic bodies are not intended to destroy the pleasures of sexual activities for sexually mature and active males and females, but only to make their relationships more personally stable and fulfilling and their participation in the social order of personal responsibilities and commerce more safe, effective, and enduring.
Various cultural and religious and civic and family rules are established in civilized social communities to guide and to seek to control the sexual attitudes and activities of young men and women even as they begin to become aware of their sexual natures and drives. These rules are necessary to discourage these young people from initiating sexual intercourse that could produce dependent children that neither they nor their relatives nor their communities could support and care for during the next twelve to eighteen years when they would be dependent creatures. But they are also necessary to discourage these young people from establishing unwholesome sexual experiences with others that are not based on any extensive and public commitment of personal caring, trust, and respect for each other in any sexual activity. Sexual petting, including that done orally, by men and women of each other’s bodies is designed to mentally and physically prepare them for sexual intercourse, so it should be controlled and recognized to be a personal activity that is more important to them and their families and their social communities than just recreational pleasure and entertainment. This is why there are various rules to discourage unmarried men and women, not just youth, from engaging in such sexual activity prior to their public commitment to each other in marriage. For an example of such a rule in the Bible see Exodus 22:16–17, which states that if a man had sexual intercourse with “a virgin who is not betrothed” he should pay the woman’s father the “bride-price” and “make her his wife”. But in many cultures and periods of history such rules to prohibit or to control sexual activity between unmarried men and women are not greatly emphasized or consistently enforced accept for those rules and laws that protect minor children from being sexually assaulted by adults.
Basically the laws of God as stated in the Bible prohibit any sexual activities or even mental attitudes that hamper or damage the union of a man and woman in a life-long relationship of marriage. Adultery, sexual intercourse with another man’s wife, is clearly prohibited according to Exodus 20:14, which is one of God’s initial Ten Commandments to Moses. This was so serious a matter that the penalty for such behavior was death according to Deuteronomy 22:22. And Jesus even condemned looking at “a woman with lustful” intentions as having “already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), which is the sin of covetousness that is prohibited by God in Exodus 20:14. In a discussion with some Pharisees regarding the matter of divorce, Jesus cited the importance of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” (according to Genesis 2:24) in their bond of marriage as the basis for his prohibition against such separating action between married men and women. (See Matthew 19:3–6), and he cited “sexual immorality” as the only legitimate reason for divorce. (Vss. 7–9) Jesus even stated, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. (Mt. 5:32) Paul adds some insights to these teachings of Jesus regarding divorce in his letter to the Corinthians, who lived in a city and culture where they were a lot of different standards for marriage and sexual activity between individuals. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1, 6:16–18, and 7:10–16)
Other specific laws against various forms of sexual activity that would hamper or damage the union of a man and woman in marriage are also cited in various passages of Scripture in the Bible. Incest, sexual activity with “close relatives”, is prohibited in Leviticus 18:6– 18; 20:11–12, 14, 20; and Deuteronomy 27:20, 22, and 1 Corinthians 5:1. Homosexuality is prohibited according to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26–27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Paul makes a strong statement against sexual activity with prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6:15–16, and the reason he gives for his prohibition against this activity is because of the role of sexual intercourse in building the bond of oneness between a husband and his wife in marriage. Bestiality, sex with animals, is prohibited according to God’s laws in Leviticus 18:23 and 20:15–16.
Paul has a very high perspective on sex. He indicates, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 6:13), asking this question: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (vs. 15) And he urges his Christian friends in Corinth and all those who would seek to “glorify God” (vs. 20) and to keep his laws regarding what they do with their bodies to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) The Greek term for “sexual immorality” in these passages of Scripture (and also others, such as Matthew 19:9, John 8:41, Acts 15:20, 29 and 21:25) is porneia (NT: 4202 Strong),4, which, according to Vine, refers to acts of adultery and incest.5 The Greek verb porneuo (NT: 4204 Strong),6 according to Vine means “to act the harlot”7 or to indulge in unlawful lust such as having sexual intercourse before getting married. Note that the English word “pornography” comes from this Greek term. This means that the activity of viewing graphic sexual images of individuals other than one’s spouse is “sexual immorality” and is mental fornication and adultery that comes under the condemnation of God because it harms and threatens the unifying bond of trust and respect and love that is to be generated and maintained by the exclusive sexual activity of males and females in their personal marriages.
Summary regarding good sexual activity between men and women
Men and women were created by God as special creatures in this created world. They were given a challenging responsibility to exercise “dominion over” all other living creatures that God created. In order to do this, they would need to “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) as they held “fast” to each other as husbands and wives in marriage. And their sexual activity with each other as sexual creatures was designed by God to emotionally and to intellectually create and maintain the unifying bond between them, because it was disconnected from the fertility cycle of females. According to Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, “among the mammals, only the human female is capable of enjoying sexual orgasm as well as the male.”8 This desire for the pleasures of sexual union in a woman is clearly stated and affirmed in Scripture; see particularly the Song of Solomon 1:2-4 and 3:1-5. And it is evidence for this conclusion that sexual activity between men and women is more of a bonding activity than it is a simple reproductive activity.
Because the drive for sexual activity is so strong in physically mature human beings and so basic to their relationships and roles in society and particularly in families, it must be controlled by some rules and authoritative laws. The necessary laws have been decreed by God and cited in various passages of Scripture in the Bible. These laws prohibit sexual activity between unmarried men and women, sex with someone else’s spouse, sex with a close relative, sex between individuals of the same sex, sex with prostitutes, and sex with an animal. Divorce should only be implemented in cases of “sexual immorality”, which include acts of adultery or incest, or in cases where the “unbelieving” spouse wishes to leave his or her marriage to his or her believing spouse. (See 1 Corinthians 7:15) And the possible marriages of divorced individuals are also clearly regulated. And the “sexual immorality” of viewing pornography is also prohibited because it is understood to be an act of mental adultery or fornication with another person.
Sexual activity between a man and his woman in marriage is especially good with some very special benefits for both the man and his wife. Even Paul, who was content as an unmarried man, recognized and recommended it as an important activity for men and women in 1 Corinthians 7:2–5. But trying to mix the popular standards of the world’s cultures and philosophies and idols of pleasure with God’s divine standards for sexual activity between men and women will only produce a mass of broken relationships and families and communities and nations that cannot give lasting joy and satisfaction to anyone. Sexual activity between a man and a woman can have some benefits that are GOOD for eternity if it is conducted in accord with God’s divine laws.
1. James Strong, Greek/Hebrew Definitions
2. William E. Vine Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words Copyright © 1985, (Thomas Nelson Publishers).
4. Strong, op. cit.
5. Vine, op. cit.
6. Strong, op. cit.
7. Vine, op. cit.
8. Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Marriage Covenant: A Study On Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, (Biblical Perspectives, 1991), cp. 3 “Marriage and Sex”.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.