Category Archives: Marriage
When star-crossed Juliet was contemplating her difficulty with Romeo’s last name, she famously observed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In other words, Romeo’s hated name was not central to his nature; which was clearly good. Conversely, when we apply a pleasant-sounding name to something horrible, we do not thereby make it any less horrible.
This past week my wife and I took our son to Tallahassee for his college orientation. As we were driving around campus, we turned a corner and saw perhaps the creepiest billboard we’ve ever seen:
It starts off innocently enough: “Hey students, need a summer job?” Well, what college student couldn’t use a good summer job? This is targeted marketing at its best!
But then the horrible reality of this summer job opportunity is made clear: “Date a Sugar Daddy.” This message is reinforced by the image of a young woman applying a little too much makeup. So rather than encouraging college students to apply for an internship, work at a summer camp, or even flip burgers, this billboard is urging them to make an “arrangement” with a wealthy benefactor. And while this kind of arrangement is described as a “date,” it is all too clear that money can be expected in exchange.
The advertised website (which I’ve concealed because I don’t want to promote it) is even less subtle. The main page shows a woman dressed in lingerie standing provocatively in front of a fully-dressed business man with a wolfish stare. The tag-line beside this image reads “Intimacy with a Twi$t.” I guess that’s supposed to be clever, but a “twist” implies something unexpected, and exchanging intimacy for money is hardly something new. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as “the world’s oldest profession”!
Dating a “Sugar Daddy” is a nice way to sugar coat the exchange of money for sex, but prostitution by any other name still smells anything but sweet. What’s more, the attempt to lure female college students into thinly-veiled sex work reeks on numerous levels. It communicates to young women that their sexuality is a commodity they can use to get ahead in life. It urges them to look for a man who can take care of them—not a husband who will love and sacrifice for them, but a “sugar daddy” whose gifts come at a shameful price. Conversely, it encourages wealthy men to exploit young women who may be struggling to pay for college. Worst of all, it dresses the whole seedy affair up as a “date” with a wealthy man—the kind of fairy tale imagery many young women associate with romance.
As I drove away, it occurred to me that the decision to prostitute oneself in this way is really just the next logical step beyond the way many college students are already handling their sexuality. Rather than seeing it as something to be valued and saved for a future spouse, many girls offer it in exchange for a nice dinner, a few drinks, or a boy’s empty flattery. After giving it away to a few penniless college guys, they may wonder what’s so bad about using it to get something in return. American culture has so commoditized and cheapened sex that prostitution is no longer unthinkable—just as long as we are careful to call it by another name.
Some feminists might argue that it can be “empowering” when a young woman chooses to use her sexuality to benefit herself materially, but that line of thinking has always struck me as playing right into the hands of men who want sex without responsibility and commitment. My perspective on this is reinforced by the image used to sell these “arrangements” on the advertised website: it is the fully-clothed businessman who holds the power, while the woman is partially undressed for his enjoyment. In the end, she is just one more commodity for him to purchase and consume.
A woman’s sexuality is indeed a powerful thing—not when it is carelessly given away, nor when it is cynically bartered for material gain. It is at its most powerful when used according to God’s design: to bind a husband and wife together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That has the power to encourage a man to give his whole life to a woman, as opposed to merely handing her a few Benjamins.
I pray that the girls who see that billboard will learn Juliet’s wisdom in reverse: prostitution cannot be made to smell sweet by any other name.
Are Christians “called” to have “amazing sex”? According to a recent article for Relevant magazine, the answer is a resounding “no.” In that article, Rachel Pietka rightly takes the Christian abstinence movement to task for “exaggerating … the benefits of saving sex for marriage.” She also correctly points out that modern Christians’ preoccupation with having amazing sex within marriage “smacks of an inferiority complex that wants to compete with mainstream culture’s view of sex rather than modeling a rightly ordered sexual ethic to the world.” However, she also uncritically accepts one aspect of “mainstream culture’s view of sex” which I believe to be seriously mistaken: namely, the notion of “sexual incompatibility.” Consequently, while Pietka makes an important point, she appears to end up with a view of sex within marriage which is far too pessimistic.
Pietka begins by citing a few reactions against the Christian abstinence movement’s tendency to over promise the joys of remaining virginal until marriage. Among these, she focuses on an article entitled My Virginity Mistake, written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. Henriquez attributes her “quick divorce” to her sexual incompatibility with her husband and blames her teenage abstinence pledge for keeping her from discovering the lack of a sexual spark before she tied the knot. Henriquez’s account of her premarital commitment to purity was undermined by sarcastic references to her relationship with Christ, comments about underage drunkenness, and other indications that her “press[ing] on in stubbornness” was driven more by legalistic righteousness than a sincere desire to please God. In spite of this, Pietka draws the conclusion: “Henriquez’s story is important because it highlights an issue the abstinence movement rarely acknowledges: sexual incompatibility within marriage.”
Pietka never bothers to define “sexual incompatibility within marriage” or to explain its causes and symptoms; she merely asserts that “Couples may find themselves incompatible in the bedroom” and that sexual incompatibility is a “cross” that some Christian married couples will have to bear. The ethical point she wants to make is that “bad sex” (also never defined) is “neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage.” That is certainly an important point. God never promised that sex between those who were virgins when they married is inherently more ecstatic and satisfying than sex between the promiscuous or even the perverted, yet much Christian teaching about abstinence seems to make that very promise. Marriage is about more than “amazing sex,” and the absence of “amazing sex” is not a reason to “put asunder” what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6).
While Pietka’s point is an important corrective to the excesses of much recent Christian teaching about sex, the idea that a husband and wife may be “sexually incompatible” strikes me as terribly pessimistic and rooted in worldly assumptions about sex. One such assumption is the notion that sexual pleasure is primarily the result of chemical attraction and physical stimulation. The implication of that belief is that great sex depends on finding the right partner and using the right sexual techniques. If a couple does not experience a sexual “spark,” they must try to generate that spark by employing the right technique. If every technique has been tried and ecstasy does not result, then the problem can be written off as a lack of sexual chemistry between the partners. No one is to blame; they just need to find someone who is more compatible. While Pietka would deny that those struggling with “sexual incompatibility within marriage” should look for a more compatible partner, she nevertheless seems to accept these basic assumptions about sex.
I’ve been married long enough to know that sexual intimacy and ecstasy have far more to do with what’s going on in each partner’s head and heart than on which nerve endings happen to get stimulated. The most erotic physical contact can be dulled if one or both of us is tired, sick, stressed out, distracted, frustrated, feeling unattractive, or worried about a child knocking on the bedroom door. Conversely, whenever we are absolutely enamored with each other, even the most incidental touch can feel electric. The aforementioned article by Henriquez on her “virginity mistake” revealed that she was distractedly making grocery lists during sex and that she and her husband no longer kissed with the same intensity once they were married. She likewise admitted that she “was not a willing student” but then complained that “he was no teacher, either.” I read all that not as an indication that this couple was “sexually incompatible,” but that they had unrealistic expectations and did not deal honestly with their deeper issues.
Many Christian advocates of premarital abstinence have oversold virginity as the key to ecstatic marital sex. Remaining a virgin until marriage is not merely a means to an end, a pragmatic delaying of sexual gratification so that sex will ultimately be more satisfying. On the contrary, premarital abstinence is a virtue to which Christians are commanded and called by God. Failure to keep that command does not ruin one’s chances for sexual satisfaction, and success in keeping that command is no guarantee of a great sex life. At most one can say that the virginal bride and groom may have less baggage to deal with in the bedroom than those who have had previous sexual partners. To the extent that such a lack of baggage can facilitate a frame of mind and condition of heart conducive to passion and intimacy, it can be understood to help lead to great sex, but it’s really just one ingredient of a much more complicated recipe.
As Christians, we are not “called” to have amazing sex, and sexual satisfaction is not a promised attribute of the Christian life. Nevertheless, Christians who are having problems in the bedroom need not resign themselves to bearing a cross of “sexual incompatibility.” Rather, they need to realize that their struggles are more likely a matter of head and heart than of chemistry and mechanics. It is then they will be able to turn for help to the God who has the power to change hearts and minds.
Like “amazing grace” and “amazing love,” amazing sex is a gift from God. We can’t demand it as a reward for premarital abstinence, but neither should we be afraid to ask him for it.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” —James 1:16–17, NIV
“Oh, the depth of the riches and
wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments
and how inscrutable his ways!”
Dear Family and Friends,
Lisa and I had been looking for a reliable second car for the better part of a year. Our oldest son, David, had begun taking dual-enrollment classes at the local community college, and we needed something he could drive to school. Unfortunately, we struggled to find a good used car that was not ridiculously overpriced.
Our youngest daughter, Alexa, was with us when we found a cherry-red PT Cruiser convertible. We test-drove it with the top down and my wife and daughter began grinning from ear to ear. I told the car dealer I wanted to act all cool and disinterested, but I knew my girls’ giddiness would betray me. We bought it the next day for a very good price.
Lisa had always thought these cars were “cute,” and the fact that it was a convertible made it especially fun to drive. I always scoff at the car commercials that promise happiness and serenity during a busy morning commute, but it’s hard not to smile when driving with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. After years of minivans, I was excited to get Lisa a car she could really enjoy—and doing that without breaking the bank seemed too good to be true. We regarded the car as a gift from God, and we repeatedly thanked Him for it.
You can probably guess where this is going. Over the past year, our “fun car” has turned out to be anything but. A string of major repairs has hit our pocketbook hard (in spite of our mechanic giving us generous price breaks), and each time the car has been in the shop it has been a challenge getting everyone where they needed to go. Thankfully, my mom and dad were gracious enough to loan us one of their vehicles for much of that time.
Each time we thought it was over, a new and costlier problem would arise. It can get very discouraging and confusing. Will one more repair do the trick, or are we simply throwing good money after bad? We’ve done our best to take it all in stride, but there have admittedly been times we have wondered how this “gift from God” could present so many challenges!
God’s gifts often bring challenges. When an angel told a young Jewish girl she would give birth to the Savior, he made it clear that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What a gift! What a privilege! But what a challenge! How would she explain her unexpected pregnancy to her fiancé? What would the neighbors think? Her cousin Elizabeth would call her the “most blessed of women” (Luke 1:42), but I imagine Mary didn’t always feel that way when faced with the disapproving glares of her family and friends.
When God gave me Lisa to be my wife, I marveled at how richly he had blessed me. Yet over the last eighteen years, she has challenged me more than anyone else. She balances out my excesses, softens my rough edges, inspires me to try harder, and helps me see things from a different perspective. That can be terribly frustrating when I want to be rash, grumpy, lazy, or selfish, but that’s all part of the gift. God loves me too much to leave me that way, so he gave me a wife who could help me become the man he intends.
When God blessed Lisa and me with five children, they certainly presented their share of challenges. Having David (17), Caleb (16), and Bethany (14) before our fourth anniversary really kept us on our toes, and any illusions we had of being perfect parents were shattered early on. Having three teenagers in the house now presents a new set of challenges. Yet by the time Alexa (11) and Jo Jo (3) came along, we had plenty of capable helpers. Our house is sometimes noisy, but it is a noise made up of music, laughter, and good conversation. We also have our moments of bickering, but loneliness is never a problem.
Too often in life, we focus all of our attention on the problems we face, the trials we endure, and the little annoyances that come with every relationship. We wonder why God didn’t make life easy and carefree. We look around at others and wonder why they seem to have things so much easier. Yet when we do that, we lose sight of the gifts from God those challenges accompany.
Each time our car was in the shop and I would see another PT Cruiser on the road, I would joke, “There’s a PT Cruiser that works!” But all kidding aside, if God chose to give us a “fun car” with challenges, I’ll have to take the setbacks in stride and enjoy the fun whenever I can. After all, doesn’t having car problems result from having a car? A lot of people in this world never have car trouble. But then, those are the people who walk everywhere!
In the same way, whenever you get frustrated with how difficult your job is, remember that not everyone has one. Whenever you get annoyed with your spouse, remember that it sure beats not having someone to love. Whenever your kids are driving you crazy, ask yourself what life would have been like without them. So often, life’s challenges are merely the flip side of life’s blessings. Would you give up the blessings to avoid the challenges?
This Christmas, take some time to thank God for the gifts he has given you, even if they come with challenges. You may not understand everything he is up to. You may ask with Mary, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). But if you are wise, you will also say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Then you’ll be able, like Mary, to face whatever comes and to “treasure” it, “pondering in your heart” (Luke 2:19) the wonderful “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33).
May you experience that wonder this Christmas, even if you have to deal with car trouble!
The Lang Gang
David, Lisa, David, Caleb, Bethany, Alexa, and “Jo Jo”
After eighteen years, I dared to call myself a man.
I was headed off to college, to learn and understand
The world I thought I held in the palm of my own hand.
Just eighteen years of age, and I thought myself a man.
Now eighteen years have passed since I first called myself her man,
And the wonder that she is I still long to understand.
My grip had proven weak until she offered me her hand,
And without her by my side I would be merely half a man.
These last eighteen years have been far better than the first.
Although we’ve known our share of “for better” and “for worse,”
I still gaze into her eyes and feel my heart about to burst.
Eighteen years have passed and I’m now eighteen years more hers.
My eighteen-year-old follies have all slipped away like sand:
I know the world cannot reside in my poor failing hands.
Yet my world stays in orbit like a golden circling band
Around she who after eighteen years still loves me as her man.