"Good sex comes to those who wait." That was last week's claim by Her•meneutics blogger Courtney Reissig. Only, I should clarify that she ended the sentence with a question mark: "Good sex comes to those who wait?" And then her words decried the efforts of the abstinence and purity movement—my efforts, really—charging that we are guilty of "incentivizing abstinence with personal pleasure."
To her credit, Courtney—whose work I've examined rather thoroughly and I'm fairly certain that if we shared a cup of coffee I'd enjoy her and find more common ground that different thinking—cited last year's New York Times article "In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns." The article explained that women report having better sex in committed relationships than those having casual sex. Courtney argued that using studies like this to encourage virginal Christian singles to wait was akin to demanding a "cosmic exchange" with God. My purity now in exchange for great sex later, Ok God? "Promising great sex to those who wait for their wedding day is feeding off of our desire for self-fulfillment, not other-oriented service," wrote Reissig.
Is it wrong to teach our children and young single adults that there are practical, pleasure-filled rewards in waiting for sex? Are we falling prey to using the world's model of sex education when we use studies revealing that sex is better inside committed relationships? And—what you really want to know—is sex better if you wait?
Is sex better if you wait? If anything can be proven over and over again it is that the quality of sexual pleasure is generally better within committed sex when compared to those participating in hook-up culture. (By hook-up culture, I referring to the fact that most women graduate college with an average of 7.1 sexual partners and most men graduate with 9.7.)
- A University of Illinois study found that those having the hottest and most frequent sex were not college co-eds with a variety of sexual partners but middle-aged people in mutually monogamous life-time partnerships. The women were more orgasmic.(1)
- A more recent Penn State study of students who experienced their first sexual encounter in college found that women reported a decline in body image after sex. Ground breaking research at the University of California told us why: women who aren't in the context of commitment don't produce oxytocin in the same magnificent way that those in committed relationships do.
- The news is good for men who wait, too. An Indiana University study found that having more partners in their lifetime was a predictor for men of less sexual satisfaction compared to those who had one lifetime partner. (2)
Does this mean sex is always better if you wait? Of course, not. But sex is for pleasure and God blesses the marriage bed with pleasure...most of the time. (Sex is also for baby making, and God blesses the marriage bed with babies...most of the time.) There are plenty of married couples who face obstacles to orgasm, an occasional decrease in labido, or much larger challenges in their sex lives. Sometimes a woman will find herself to be literally frigid after years of being told to wait in legalistic environments. Other times a recent pregnancy will throw things off balance for a time. And those who are virgins but not pure—having fallen prey to porn or habitual masturbation—may need to do some sexual healing and retraining. While no one is presenting a logical fallacy when they say that married sex is more fun than hooking up, we live in a fallen world and there will always be exceptions to the good things God planned for us. This does not prohibit us from celebrating the fact that we do often get to experience his good gifts—like sexual pleasure—when we trust his plan. I've never heard one abstinence educator cite the science of sexual pleasure and also promise "universally satisfying sex," as Reissig calls it, but it is a teaching tool that's available to us. Should we use it or not?
Should research on sexual pleasure be one of the tools we use to teach our teen children and single Christian adults to abstain? I treasure the growing development in my heart and mind of a deep theology of sex and the body. Distinct gender—maleness and femaleness—reflects the image of God. (Genesis 1:26,27) When one man and one woman join together in marriage, they become the picture of Christ and his bride, the Church. (Ephesians 5:31,32.) The language of sex in the bible paralells the language of knowing God. (Genesis 4:1, for example, uses the word yada to describe the intimacy of Adam and Eve. This word is also used to describe knowing God hundreds of times in the Old Testament.) We should defend a biblical view of sexuality for one reason alone: it glorifies God in a way that nothing else can. We protect the image God and picture of his love when we teach our children and the Church to honor sex. And yet, there is very little statistical difference in the overall sexual behavior of the Churched versus the unchurched. I will—with integrity, care, and thoughtfulness— use any tool available to me to encourage my children to live lives of purity and holy sexual passion within marriage.
As for any concern that this promotes self-centeredness, I would argue that following Christ is the most selfish of pursuits. After all, the Westminster Confession cries out for us to embrace the truth that the chief end of man is to "glorify God and to enjoy him." We cannot separate the act of glorifying God from the pleasure of it. They are two sides of the same coin. The Bible says our body is necessary to accomplish this. (I Corinthians 6:20) And it takes great sacrifice to glorify him and find the joy. It is our duty to present our bodies as living sacrifices to the glory of God. (Romans 12:1,2) Through sacrifice we find the pleasure of glorifying God. I find the appropriate teaching of the reward of sexual pleasure to be very consistent with our purpose to glorify God. The fact that one of the most liberal studies on sexual pleasure discovered that protestant, religiously active women in married relationships were more orgasmic than non-churched women in married relationships gives me a little extra dose of muscle to add to the backbone of Scripture for this argument. (3)
As for any concern that a man or woman would fail to be other-focused when the come to their marriage bed if we use this as a teaching tool, I would argue that the discipline of waiting is not an easy one. Practicing abstinence until marriage will not only produce the peace and righteousness (Hebrews 12:1,2) from which the sexual pleasure of marriage can rest contentedly free of guilt, but also the ability to wait within marriage when your partner needs to be the one receiving pleasure, has other needs that need tended to such as sleep in the long months after the birth of a baby, or cannot provide sexual pleasure for a season or at all. An appropriate teaching of waiting for the reward will foster other-focused love, not smother it.
Should research on sexual pleasure be one of the tools we use to dialogue with the lost world? By all means. We should not only use it, but applaud it. When secular researchers stumble onto evidence that argues that God's plan is good, we should avoid discrediting it. We don't win anyone to Christ doing that. And their own research just may be the seed that's planted in a heart making them want to be more thoroughly acquainted with the goodness of God.
I'll go ahead and use an exclamation point to punctuate my sentence: Good sex comes to those who wait!
Sources not provided as links:
(1) Robert T Michael et al., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Warner Books, 2007), 157.
(2) “Couples report gender differences in relationship, sexual satisfaction over time.” July 5, 2011, Study conducted out of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana and reported on States News Services
(3)Robert T Michael et al., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Warner Books, 2007), 157.