Vitally Important…Yet Not Really a Big Deal.

As the mother of several children, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen cooking, which means that I also “get to” spend a lot of time cruising through the aisles of the local grocery stores. Just a few days ago, I was once again making a “small run” to the store (never less than $150 for our crew). As I stood in line to check out, my eyes were drawn – as they often are – to the magazine racks. I admit that I have a “yet-to-be-sanctified curiosity” about the lives of the famous, an interest that – while diminishing – still ends up drawing my eye to the covers of People, Star, Us…you get the picture.

On this recent grocery outing, “99 Sex Moves!” screamed at me from the top of the magazine rack as I waited my turn in line. Quickly moving my attention away from Cosmo, as if I’d done something wrong, my eyes then came to rest on two scantily-clad bikini bodies pasted across the cover of another questionable rag, its title encouraging potential readers to open it up and discover what these stars had done to achieve such beautiful “beach bodies.”

And I sighed.

It’s quite literally everywhere in our culture today, this frenzied obsession with sexuality. I find this cultural message to be particularly invasive as it’s shouted at me while I’m more or less trapped in the store check-out line with my cart of carefully-selected items. Often, at least one of my teenage daughters is trapped there with me. None of us can escape the bombardment of headlines, and the abundantly-clear message is that “sex is important.” And more than that, “Sex is of ultimate importance.” Who’s having it (and how often)…how to tell if you’re having “enough” and – if not – how to have more…how to be better at it…how to tell if you’re good at it. In America, having a healthy sex life is very clearly an all-encompassing obsession, a personal value of the utmost priority.

Or is it?

Lauren Winner is the author of “Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity.” I’ll admit that I have yet to read the whole book, but I’m certainly planning to do so. In it, Winner convincingly asserts that we Americans are being told two very great, very conflicting lies…and we somehow swallow both of them. How can this be so, given that they clearly are contradictory? Winner explains:

Our popular culture sends us some pretty mixed messages about the importance of sex. On the one hand, we’re told that sex is the most important thing there is. We find an interpretation of sexuality even in the seemingly innocuous and terribly commonplace phrase, sex life…the phrase is revealing. A sex life is something we have, something we can make and remake, something we can mold. When we attach another noun to the word life – love life, prayer life – we denote something of the utmost importance, something essential, something basic to life itself.

At the same time, the shapers of popular culture tell us that sex is meaningless. In an episode of the hit sitcom “Friends,” Monica asks her new paramour, “So, can we still be friends, and have sex?” “Sure,” he replies, “it’ll be just something we do together, like racquetball.” It could be a tagline for our age: “Sex: It’s just like racquetball.” It’s no big deal. It’s just a game.

There’s no lack of evidence to support this assertion, of course, but based on nothing more than the checkout lanes at Hy-Vee, anyone can see that what Winner is saying is very true. On the one hand, it seems magazines today cannot be printed without at least a few articles focusing on the Great American Idol of sex, the one thing we all ought to be pursuing.

Simultaneously, though, our culture also treats sex like it’s no big deal. These days, teenagers can have sex with multiple partners and their reputations aren’t even necessarily at risk because, after all, what’s the big deal? As Monica’s boyfriend reminds us, it’s not much different than a game of racquetball.

“The most important thing in life,” but then again…”not really a big deal” after all? Completely opposite conclusions and yet, somehow, we as a culture are able to validate both and embrace these two ideas at the same time. I find it amazing that so many in our country are taken down by not one, but both of these great lies. I find it appalling that I, too, was one of them.

Yet another lie gets stacked up on these first two, and all of them are devastating to the institution of marriage. Our culture then goes on to define the goal (“great sex”) as being something that isn’t really found within the context of the marriage covenant. Winner continues (emphasis mine):

Amid the contradictory messages about the importance of sex – it is vitally important, but it is just a game – is another message about sex, a definition of what great sex is. Great sex is readily available. It is unyoked from outdated and restrictive moralities. Above all, it is romantic and otherworldly. It happens in an alternate universe, a world removed from the ins-and-outs of daily domestic life. Great sex, which once was assumed to occur by definition only in marriage, is now understood as something that’s threatened by marriage. Magazines and advice columnists tell us that the best sex happens away from our ordinary lives.

As a volunteer in The Crossing’s divorce ministry, I see this sad error playing itself out over and over again. Marriage typically begins with great hope and expectation, and then “real life” sets in. Jobs, babies, car payments and house repairs drain our energy and change our priorities. The excitement of the new relationship fades, and instead of being replaced with the deep comfort of intimate emotional connection, boredom often sets in. One of the marriage partners begins taking a critical look at their lives and judges it “not good enough,” and a less-than-racy sex life seems like one strong indicator that indeed, the marriage is going south.

I don’t mean to insinuate that marriages survive or fall largely on the quality of the intimacy between husband and wife; far from it. We all know that when two people marry, two sinners are thrown together under one roof, and eventually conflict will arise. How those two people deal with that conflict leads either to growing intimacy (in and out of the bedroom) or a growing pile of resentments accompanied by a growing distance between the two. But I do think that what we have been led to believe about sex and its role in our lives greatly impacts how we see the relationship as a whole.

I don’t think that I can address this issue any better than Winner does, so if this topic concerns you at any level, I would encourage you to join me in reading her book for a much smarter person’s perspective on how we, as Christians, ought to look at sex – and perhaps learn to appreciate it as part of the great blessing God has given us in marriage.

Also, as a parent of teens, I think it’s worth our time to think critically about what they are being fed about their sexuality – constantly and continuously – in the check-out line, through television and movie screens, and just about everywhere else they look. Not only are you and I being bombarded by these messages, the teenage daughter standing next to you in the check-out line is being bombarded too. I, for one, hope my kids embrace a more biblical view of sex as they come of age than I did, and I want to be armed and ready for those discussions. If Dave can tell everyone to read Wayne Grudem, I guess it’s probably OK for me to humbly suggest that everyone add another 192 pages of Lauren Winner to their reading stack, too.

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