Teens: ‘Sex Has Nothing To Do With Love’
For the past two years my wife, Sara, has been teaching abstinence education in schools around our area. She and her teaching partner always ask students their opinions on why people have sex. “Fun!” is a frequent answer. Another one came back loud and clear this week: “Urges.” But there’s another answer they hardly ever hear: “Because they love each other.”
That answer doesn’t even occur to them; not unless someone prompts them. Lately, therefore, Sara’s been putting the question right out in the open: “Does love have anything to do with it?” Several times students have shouted out, “No!” Far fewer than half raise their hands to say yes.
This may not be a huge sample of today’s youth, but it’s a telling one. Sex without commitment is old news. Even in the 1960s, though, people gave lip service to love, even calling it “free love.” Now I suppose it would be “free urges.”
Tearing Their Souls Apart
I grieve for those who do not know what sex — and love — are meant to be: Who think intimacy can be merely physical, that the rest of ourselves doesn’t need to be involved in it.
And it’s a measure of how what we’ve lost through the sexual revolution: much more than we ever realized. Yet I believe it says more about the status of love in our culture — marital love, in particular — than it says about the state of our morality. For if teenagers’ parents — their actual, original birth or adoptive parents — truly loved each other, teens would have no trouble seeing how physical intimacy fits in the whole grand sphere of human closeness we call committed, marital love. But they don’t. The students Sara’s been teaching see sex as a physical act and nothing more.
She and her co-teacher always explain that it’s a whole-person experience: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual, and that it’s always that way, whether they realize it or not. They can try to keep it purely physical, but that means cutting most of their own selves out of it. They tear themselves apart in the process.
And if anything it’s even worse in the case of pornography, where there can’t even be the pretense of a real human connection.
How Did We Lose So Much?
What have we done to ourselves? Do we recognize how much we’ve lost?
The great writers and filmmakers of old knew that sex was no mere event, not just “recreation,” but a piece of a story connecting two people’s lives for the long term. Sex for them was a great capstone, the private celebration of two people who have grown together as whole persons, and have committed to keep that story going forward. The great writers and filmmakers knew enough to keep it appropriately private, too; for some stories are meant for just two to share.
But the story matters. On those rare occasions when I’ve asked myself, “Could I cheat on my wife?” my immediate gut-level response has always been, “No way! Boring! Why would I want a purely physical connection with some woman’s body, when I’m married to a woman whose whole life story is so interconnected with mine?” It’s part of the real difference between having sex and making love.
Today’s storytellers don’t know that kind of story. Rarely do they see sex as a marker for commitment; rarely does it have anything to do with love. Filmmakers settle for “like,” instead. And that’s when they’re at their best. Frequently they put sex at the beginning, on the pair’s first meeting. No real story there; no journey underway; no real people coming together. Just urges.
And rarely do their characters’ stories last. How could they? They (or their scriptwriters) don’t even know that intimacy is meant to be part of a journey.
Meanwhile, tragically, real-life “relationships” mirroring these film-and-TV fall apart just as quickly. There’s no sense of journey there; no sense of story; no sense of whole persons coming together as whole persons. So there’s no sense of love, either.
The Bible’s Wisdom on Sex
The Bible wisely instructs us not to live life this way. God knew we need to build our stories together; that there’s a natural progression for these stories to follow; that physical intimacy is best saved for a couple’s celebration of their commitment to journey together. He knew this was true even apart from the great fact that sex is meant to produce life, new life, for parents to raise together.
God’s way is good. The way of “urges” is the way of loss, grief and spiritual death. I grieve for those who do not know what sex — and love — are meant to be: Who think intimacy can be merely physical, that the rest of ourselves doesn’t need to be involved in it. Who don’t realize they leave a part of themselves behind every time; that they’re ripping their souls apart in the process.
Sara and I went for a walk together last night. That’s pretty meaningful in our marriage, since I’ve been through multiple foot surgeries over the past few years. Sara’s been through those surgeries, too, from her side as caregiver, which must have been harder than what I’ve gone through.
Our journey hasn’t been easy. No married couple’s story is. Last night as we walked, though, we held hands. It was another small, yet very real celebration of our two stories becoming one together.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.