Why are religions so concerned about people’s sexual behaviour? In ‘Does it matter who I sleep with?’, Sam Allberry explains why our relationships do matter and how our desires speak of a deeper story.
In 1999, Bloodhound Gang released the track ‘The Bad Touch’. Its main lines were ‘You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals. So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel’. We sometimes tend to think this way: that when it comes to sex, we’re just animals. We’re just obeying the same physical instincts for mating that we share with the rest of the natural world. So why be so precious about it? But we know that is not really true. In every single other area of life we say the exact opposite: ‘Don’t act like such an animal’. Whatever we believe about what sets us apart from the beasts, it clearly needs to apply to sex as much as anything else.
We are not just animals. Sex is not just physical. However much we have in common with the animal world, it is clear we have different expectations of what sex should involve. Just because certain things happen in nature, and just because we too are creatures, it doesn’t mean we can behave in any way we observe in nature and expect it to work. We may be animals to some extent, but we are also much more than that.
The fact is, that we care enormously about who we sleep with. Our instincts tell us it matters. Experience (our own or that of others) shows that sexual harassment and assault affects us very deeply, as the harrowing accounts of so many people has shown us. It is undeniably the case that sex involves so much more than our bodies. Sexual activity is not trivial. So much seems to be at stake in how human sexuality is approached that it is fair to say that there really is no such thing as casual sex.
Writer and speaker Glen Scrivener pointed out to me once that the pain of sexual assault is not the pain of a grazed knee, but the trauma of holy space being desecrated. Maybe our bodies are less like playthings and more like temples. And we can sense these things. Sometimes experience forces us to confront them. Surprising as it may seem, the Bible has the resources to help us truly account for these feelings and experiences. It is incontrovertible that it matters who we sleep with. The Christian faith, more than anything else, shows us why this is – because it matters deeply to our Creator.
When we first experience romance, it can seem so glorious and resplendent with significance that we easily think it must be ultimate. How else do we account for how it can make us feel? But the fact remains that it is the purpose of such things to point us to where fulfilment is really meant to be found. One of the ways that happens is when we realise that our relationships cannot deliver all that we expect from them. If we look to them to provide ultimate satisfaction, we will only be disappointed.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
To make sexual freedom our ultimate good is to think that sex and romance is simply an end in itself. But if we realise that our fascination with romance is actually a memory-trace of a deeper story – an echo of a greater tune, a signpost to the ultimate destination – then we will find the reality that can transcend even the most intimate of relationships we can experience.
This is what God invites us to do. It’s why he cares who we sleep with. It’s why we care who we sleep with. Our sexuality is meant to tell a story: the greatest story because it’s all about the greatest love – the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ. A Christian friend of mine has written about how the sexual ethic of the Bible is, in some respects, ‘an inconvenient truth’. And yet she can write that she believes in ‘a greater truth than my small mind can fathom, a deeper desire than my weak heart can muster, and a closer relationship than the best human marriage can attain’.2 Each of us has our own story to tell when it comes to this issue, with our own unique ups and downs.
We care about who we sleep with because we sense something significant hinges on this
The fact that the question at the heart of this article is asked at all – let alone so urgently – reflects that we’re thinking of sex both too much and too little. Too much because we’re tempted to find our deepest fulfilment in sexual intimacy. Too little because we are missing what our deepest sexual and romantic yearnings are meant to be pointing us to.
We care about who we sleep with because we sense something significant hinges on this. It does. But it tends not to be the something we were expecting. Our sexuality as human beings is meant to speak to us of the ‘greater truth’, ‘deeper desire’ and ‘closer relationship’ that my friend writes about above. God cares who we sleep with because he cares who we spend eternity with, and he wants us to know him and experience his ultimate love for ever.
This article has been adapted (by permission) from an excerpt of Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? by Sam Allberry, a new book in the OCCA, The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics series (published by the Good Book Company).