50 Shades of Real Intimacy

This post is addressing the book and soon-to-be released film 50 Shades of Grey. At the end of the post I want to point to something better – a variety of resources for Christian couples who want to enhance their intimacy and sex lives. If you don’t know what 50 Shades of Grey is, or simply don’t care one bit about it, feel free to skip ahead to the resources.

Let’s think of this in a somewhat stark and blunt way. I always feel a good blunt description helps put things in perspective once in a while. Would you rather: a) read a poorly written book about fictional characters engaging in unmarried sex that involves use of force, bondage, and abuse, OR b) read a book aimed at developing godly sexual maturity and intimacy?

I suspect that the average person would look at the first description and naturally shy away. Which is why I’m completely baffled by the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. 100 million copies sold, mostly to women. An entire trilogy of books. And now a movie. And it was originally a Twilight fan-fiction!

On second thought, no, I’m not baffled by it. Not in the least. It is nothing else than a testament to the pernicious nature of sin that all it takes to justify what is essentially pornography, dress it up as literature, and sweep millions of people into it. Including Christians.

That’s the part that’s most frustrating to me – there are Christian women who I know personally who have posted on Facebook about reading it. There are self-professed Christians who have come to the book’s defense when someone criticizes it. Many have tried to justify its gratuitous use of sexual description by claiming that it has a really good storyline (which, from what I’ve heard, is simply not true). But even were that the case, does that really justify it? Try to make the same argument for a movie that has dozens of graphic sex scenes.

What is it that makes this thing so compelling to people? I think one particular woman – Lindsay Marks Harold – hits the nail on the head when she says this:

I think women gravitate to 50 Shades of Grey (and other similar erotica) because they haven’t embraced the proper roles in sex and marriage. Feminism has taught them that they can never, ever, in any fashion submit to a man…unless it’s during sex, if that sort of thing is their cup of tea. Anything goes in the bedroom. Feminism told them that it’s degrading to be a stay-at-home mom or to submit to a husband or to want a lot of children. They should never have sex with their husbands unless they feel like it. They should never let a man make decisions for their family. But having a stranger use and abuse you sexually? Well, that’s empowering, don’t ya know.

She goes on in her blog post about this to point out that our culture has also convinced men that being masculine is bad, which only leaves a void in the lives of many women who want a man to be masculine in the bedroom. The fantasy of a strong and dominating man is attractive because it fills that void, but sin twists and warps that desire into fascination with the idea of dominance.

This is what it all comes down to – sin has twisted and warped the perfect thing God intended with his creation of male and female and the sexual relationship. God’s intended design was that a man would be a man, strong and protective and assertive, eager to initiate the sexual relationship with his wife, and that she would be warm and open and responsive to him. That this was the design is evident in Scripture as well as in psychology and anatomy. But the presence of sin has disrupted the process, leaving us frustrated, lonely, and addicted to that which is harmful to us.

In the end, the only real solution to this is Jesus. It is his love, his cross, his power that redeems us and our sexuality from the messed up world around us. I think it would be very hard to have a deep devotional life and also deeply enjoy reading something like 50 Shades of Grey, because when you see how much Jesus loves, values, and demonstrates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, 50 Shades becomes nothing more than a pale imitation of true intimacy. Those who know the spiritual intimacy of Christ will long for a reflection of that kind of intimacy in marriage.

So, if you’re sitting here reading this and saying, “Yeah, but I kinda like that book (or others like it)!” Here’s my advice: spend more time with the Gospel. Sink into what it means to know Jesus and his love for you. Dig into his death and resurrection, and then keep digging into all the riches the Word has to offer.

Now, if you’re already sick and tired of what the world has to offer, but you want to some guidance when it comes to enhancing your sexual relationship in a godly way, here are some resources that I consider worth checking out:

  • Sheet Music by Kevin Leman: Dr. Leman is a fabulous writer. He’s funny, he easy to read, and he’s incredibly practical. I’ve enjoyed all of his books. In this one he addresses many of the issues that married couples tend to face in their sexual relationship, but does so in a way that is so easy to read and grasp.
  • The Song of SolomonYeah, reading the Bible is kind of a no-brainer here, but specifically the Song makes it evident that God is no prude. It is a good encouragement to be romantic.
  • The Marriage BedA website put together by a Christian couple seeking to help other Christian couples develop deeper sexual intimacy and overcome the many obstacles sin puts in the way. It contains dozens of helpful articles, tastefully written and (mostly) Biblically based.
  • For Women Only and For Men Only by Jeff and Shaunti Feldhaun: While these books aren’t primarily about sex, they shed light on a lot of the issues between men and women, most of which do contribute in some way to the sexual relationship.
  • Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray: All of the books in John Gray’s landmark series are worth reading. While they generalize a lot about the nature of men and women, for many couples the things he says hold true. This one addresses the differences between men and women in the bedroom.
  • The Gift of Sex by Cliff and Joyce Penner: The authors are Christian and the book addresses sexuality from a Biblical perspective. It is a bit more clinical than others, which can be both good and bad. If couples are trying to address issues relating to physical or psychological issues, this one might be especially useful.
  • Laugh Your Way to a Better MarriageThis is a video series presented by a pastor about how men’s and women’s brains operate differently, and how it impacts everything from dealing with stress to how we approach sex. Funny, insightful, and just plain entertaining, it’s well worth watching. Pro-tip: you can find most, if not all of it, on youtube.
  • Covenant SpiceThere is nothing wrong with a husband and wife acquiring products once in a while to assist their sexual relationship, especially when trying to overcome specific challenges. But it is hard to get those products without being exposed to all kinds of shameful advertising. The folks at Covenant Spice are Christians who wanted to help other Christians by offering an online shop without the smutty ads and images. They ship stuff in discrete packaging and are very respectful of the intimacy that exists in marriage. ‘
  • Hot, Holy and HumorousThis is a blog run by a Christian woman who wants to encourage other women (and men too) in god-pleasing sexual intimacy. I have often found her stuff to be some of the best written available online.

 

 

 

The other side of the story

I’m not usually inclined to pay a lot of attention to the shenanigans that take place on Reddit, a site that, as far as I can tell, is devoted to sharing with anonymous strangers all the things you find interesting, amusing, entertaining, or inappropriate. So, basically like Facebook, only they aren’t people you kinda sorta know/have met once/are related to.

But today someone posted something on Facebook about something that happened on Reddit (how’s that for going down the rabbit hole?) that really caught me. It caught me because I think it is illustrative of a much too common problem in our culture. Several problems, really, but all related, and all have a major impact on marriages.

I’ll explain what I mean in a moment. First, here’s what happened: A woman was on her way to the airport to go on a business trip. While in the taxi she received an email from her husband, a somewhat sarcastic rant about the fact that their sex life had become nearly non-existent, along with a spreadsheet in which he documented 7 weeks worth of his attempts to initiate sex and her response – usually excuses not to do it. The article that explained this presented just the facts, mostly in the form of quotes from the woman. But that is, of course, part of the problem – we have only her perspective on the issue. There’s no clear information about how long he’s been frustrated, how many times he’s brought it up, how she responded to his attempts to talk it through. All we have is the story of his – admittedly – terrible approach to dealing with the issue. So everyone can point the finger at the puerile and inconsiderate man.

I feel like I see this more and more, and it really bothers me – a husband and wife come into conflict, somehow the details become public online, and all we really get is the wife’s perspective on how awful her husband is. And I’ve seen this everywhere from friends posting about their own issues on Facebook to articles posted on sites like Huffington Post. Almost universally, the wife receives all manner of love and support and people join her in bad-mouthing the husband, and meanwhile we never really hear his side of the story.

The thing is, with this Reddit story I’m not sure I need the husband’s side of the story to have some serious questions about the woman’s character.

1. Why is a young wife with no kids withholding sex from her husband? This is actually a significant problem in marriages today. Marriage researchers estimate that about 15-20% of marriages could be defined as “sexless,” where the couple has sex 10 times or fewer in a year. But an anatomist will tell you that the average man needs a sexual release about every 72 hours. Which means that the ideal total for a year should be more like 100+.

2. Why is his frustration and record keeping such a surprise to her? Her husband regularly tried to initiate sex with her. She regularly rebuffed him. It’s one thing for sex to not be on a woman’s radar – for many women sex is only on the radar a few days out of the month unless she makes a conscious effort. It’s one thing for her to not be entirely aware of how infrequent it is – most women believe they make love with their husbands more often than they actually do. But she should have had at least an awareness that him asking for sex and her saying no was becoming a pretty common scenario.

3. Why is she sharing about it on Reddit!? I mean, really? Don’t wait until you can address it with him, just hop online and give everyone you don’t know the scoop? How is this a wise way to address the problem?

4. Why doesn’t she see herself as at least partially responsible? When a person feels they are in the wrong, it is not typical to go and smear the other person. Usually this kind of behavior is reserved for those who are oblivious to their own faults. It seems a little strange that she couldn’t look at something objective like a record of the high incidence in which she has said “no” and say to herself, “Gee, I kinda caused this, didn’t I?”

Here’s where I think all these things tie together: They all are a natural outgrowth of a growing culture that emphasizes female empowerment and female value while simultaneously devaluing male characteristics and roles. As our society lurches away from the traditional like it’s a bad small, it is naturally going to stumble into exactly this kind of problem – a marriage in crisis with a wife unable to see her role in the problem, looking instead to the world around her for validation and affirmation.

The problems with modern feminism and progressivism are points for a different day. But it is important to see how they have a tendency to hamper perspective. They make assumptions about who or what is at fault, and refuse to examine their own motives critically.

What if instead of viewing this through her own lens, and instead of giving it up to the people of the internet to look at it through their lenses, she had instead tried to look at it through her husband’s lens? What if she had made herself consider it all from his perspective? What if she had done so weeks, months before? Wouldn’t that have gone a long way to making this better?

We’re all a little myopic, though. We all have the tendency to only look at our own side of the story. We think we understand the situation perfectly already because we’ve examined it from our own perspective. But this story demonstrates two very important things:

  • We cannot afford to look at things only from our own perspective. Only God is omniscient and truly understands all things. We have to force ourselves to look at it from other ends. When we don’t, we’re likely to not realize that there’s a beam of wood sticking out of our own eye.

 

  • We cannot afford to listen to the world’s doctrine of who we are. In the case of this story, a negative outgrowth of progressive feminism seems to be at the root of the problem. Maybe in another case it is the libertarian approach to sexual activity that poisons a marriage. Or the addiction to entertainment or work or success that pull a couple’s focus from each other and onto other things. Whatever the case, Paul’s instruction remains valid, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world.”

How do we avoid these two big problems in our lives and in our marriages? Actually, it’s kinda simple: Gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Dive into what it really means that you are a sinner in desperate need of salvation, and that completely out of undeserved love God became that Savior for you. When you understand you are a sinner, you know your perspective cannot be 100% valid. When you know your Savior’s voice, you hear the falseness in the world.

I say this is simple because the Gospel is not a murky thing. The real murky thing is trying to get through life in this world without the Gospel. Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Who is right about what is right? How can that offer any perspective? Life without the Gospel is like, well, only seeing one side of the story – we can only see our failure, but not the solution.

The Gospel – the other side of the story – is crystal clear: Jesus saves you.

What the Birth Control Debate is really about

The other day I received a letter from the benefit plans office that handles my health care. They wanted me to be informed about how the Affordable Care Act would and would not impact my health care plan, especially in regards to the issues surrounding mandatory birth control coverage and so on. My reaction as I read through the letter went from bland curiosity to mild concern to outright frustration.

The letter explained that while the ACA requires that all employers make birth control – including abortion-causing methods such as IUDs, the “morning after pill” and so on – available to all female employees, because we are a religious organization we are exempt from that “mandate.” (For clarification, my health care is handled through my church, which participates in a group health care plan for church workers). However, it went on to explain that because the ACA still requires these options to be available, our health care plan does include those options, but that portion is subsidized by the federal government.

So, we object to these abortion-causing birth control methods and neither want them available nor want our money to go to them, and the federal government responds by saying, “We will make them available, and you will just pay for them out of your taxes instead.”

In other words, they don’t get it. The problem isn’t whether or not the money comes directly out of our pockets. The problem is that they exist at all, compounded by the fact that we are asked to pay for it one way or another.

Continue reading “What the Birth Control Debate is really about”