"Sexuality beyond Sex: A Biblical Understanding" is a Christian Bible based perspective on how God given sexuality can enrich life and help us grow in faith, while strengthening family relationships for spouses, parents, teenagers and mature adults.

Sexuality beyond Sex:
A Biblical Understanding

 by Dér Stépanos Dingilian, Ph.D. © 2000

           “Sexuality is one of the most important issues in our life today.” Many young and adult faithful have said this directly through discussions and surveys. They have also expressed this indirectly by reading certain website articles as opposed to others. But sexuality has always been an important topic. Not surprisingly then, it is also a crucial topic in the Bible. The whole relationship between God and us humans is described through relationships based upon sexuality. For example, God is seen as the faithful ‘Husband’ while the people of Israel are seen as the ‘wife.’ Christ is described as the ‘bridegroom’ while the Church as the ‘bride.’ However and unfortunately, there is generally very little talk about ‘sexuality’ in ‘Christian circles,’ be it in Church or other organizations. Why? Because the general public tends to confuse sexuality with the act of sex. As a result, parents blush and find very few words when the time comes to talk to their children about sexuality. It is not surprising then that young people speak of the act of sex, try to dress ‘sexy,’ learn about ways to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases but have very little concept of the intent and scope of sexuality that is above and beyond the sexual act. Relating the old adage “They know about the price of everything but have no idea of their value” to this situation, we can say: “They know a great deal about the act of sex but have no concept of the value of sexuality.”

        Let us then first discuss ‘sexuality’ from the perspective of the Bible. In Genesis, when describing the act of procreation, we read “Adam knew Eve.” [Genesis 4:1, RSV] Thus the sexual act is placed within the larger context of two people making a commitment to understand each other not only for a moment and for the sake of an act, but forever. (We must be careful though since some Bible translations state this verse differently, as for example “Adam lay with his wife Eve.” [NIV] This latter translation may sound more practical and simple to understand, yet it tends to reduce the concept of ‘sexuality’ to the ‘act of sex.’) The emphasis of the Bible is on the long-term relationship between Adam and Eve and not just on the momentary act. In other words, as a male and a female make a commitment to know, love and continually share their life together, they create a new relationship. One of the fruits of combining their sexuality within this new relationship is procreating children and nurturing them. Thus, the sexual act and the subsequent birth of a child is only one aspect of the commitment to share the sexuality of both spouses.

        We can then define sexuality in this way: Sexuality from the perspective of the Bible is that spiritual, mental and physical aspect of each person related to his or her ability to create, and is an integral part of every relationship that he or she forms with others. The desire for and the choice to practice the sexual act is only a portion of the overall sexuality of a person and a relationship.

        For Adam and Eve sexuality was described between two human beings. However, there are numerous examples in the Bible where sexuality related terms are used to illustrate the supportive and destructive aspects of the relationship between God and humans. For example, this is how God described His ultimate relationship with Israel: “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” [Hosea 2:19-20] However, when the people of Israel were straying away from the worship of God, the Lord exhorted them through the Prophet Hosea in this way: “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” [Hosea 3:3] And again, when the people of Israel failed to be faithful to God, here is how the Prophet Amos described the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel: “Fallen is the virgin Israel never to rise again.” [Amos 5:2] And sure enough just a few years after this prophecy, the Assyrians destroyed the northern portion of Israel which eventually came to be known as ‘Samaria.’ These are examples of how God describes the constructive and destructive aspects of His relationship with human beings through illustrations that are full of sexuality related symbols.

        Based on these illustrations, it is clear then that sexuality is an important part of not only human life but of the relationship between God and us humans as is shown in the Bible. If we are to comprehend the intimacy that God expects of our relationship with Him, if we are to grow in the “image and likeness” of God, then we need to understand these images that are illustrated through terms relating to sexuality. In turn understanding sexuality not only helps us put our relationship with God in the proper perspective, but also gives greater meaning and direction to our life and relationship with fellow human beings.

        Another important implication emerges from the above illustrations. Note that both in the case of a faithful wife as described in Hosea 2:19-20 and the prostitute described in Hosea 3:3, the emphasis is not on whether there should be a sexual act or not. But rather, the emphasis is on the intent of the sexual act. Thus when a sexual act is for the intent of glorifying God, then it is seen as worthy, as in Hosea 2:19-20. If on the other hand it is the result of losing faith in God, then a sexual act is seen as prostitution. Therefore, an important implication emerges out of this reasoning: If God views and assesses the faithfulness (or unfaithfulness) of a sexual act based upon the intent and context within which it takes place, then it follows that there is no such thing as a sexual act by itself independent of an intent. In other words, there is no such thing as “Sex for the sake of sex!” Every sexual act has a conscious or unconscious intent, it is a part of the larger human creativity known as ‘sexuality.’

        Even though the distinction between the intent of sexuality as opposed to the act of sex required illustrating in the Old Testament as we read in the prophecy of Hosea, but in the New Testament the point is clarified. Christ very simply put it this way: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” [St. Matthew 5:27-28] In this verse from St. Matthew, Christ very succinctly sets the intent and context of sexuality above and beyond the act of sex, even if there is no sexual act involved!

        Now then, how does this proper understanding of sexuality help us in our daily life? Let us consider some examples. It is a well-known fact that teenagers go through physical and emotional changes. As parents, the proper understanding of sexuality on our part helps us guide the young person through the maze of information about the sexual act towards the understanding of the value and dignity of sexuality in relationships. Long before and at an earlier we can explain to the young people the importance, the respect involved and complementary nature of the male-female relationship. The best and first illustration can be the relationship between mom and dad. As the young person grows a bit further, we can explain to them why those young people who consider themselves ‘sexually active’ hardly ever grow up and establish emotionally and spiritually intimate relationships. Thus, from the beginning, we as parents place the appropriate biblical context within which the teenager discovers sexuality and asks questions about the sexual act. As adults, if we are looking for a soul mate in life, the appropriate understanding of sexuality helps us seek and choose the person with the correct priorities with whom we can share our life’s journey. If we are spouses overwhelmed with the stresses of life, placing sexuality in the proper context, helps us sense greater fulfillment from our marital relationship. Finally, if we are persons moving towards our so called ‘golden years,’ then the biblical understanding of sexuality helps us overcome the constant bombardment of the demeaning and defacing sexual act oriented advertisements, and assures that we maintain a sense of God given worthiness and dignity. We can write a great deal about every relationship described here. However, it suffices to say that understanding and living a faithful life utilizing the God given creative gift of sexuality is far above and beyond a life simply full of human sexual activity!

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