Sexual Immorality: The Purpose vs. the Misuse of Sex

In light of recent events, I thought it would be interesting to post this theology paper I wrote on the topic of God’s intention for, and human misuse of sex. This paper contains research that I and a few of my friends have done, as well as research on original Greek/Hebrew translations of the Bible. All of this has been compiled after personally researching both sides of “the gay debate,” as well as past/current views of sex as a whole. This is in no way intended to be fueled by hate because I have no hatred towards any person; it is simply research and deductive reasoning.

Many of the biggest issues of today have to do with sex.  Society argues over the morality of abortion.  Gay activists are becoming more vocal about marrying the person of their choice.  Marriages and careers are ending because of affairs or pornography.  The list seems to go on and on.  What causes all of this?  Why do we struggle so much, and why does sex seem to be so dangerous?  The answer is that sex has been distorted from what it was meant to be; we are using it wrong.

Before we are able to understand how and why our culture uses sex wrong, we need to understand the different ways that sex is defined and used.  Sex in today’s culture can range “from one-time encounters to ongoing sexual relationships,” (Wentland + Reissing, 75).

“It is important to note that the definition of virginity loss appears to be commonly understood, albeit with some variability. Carpenter (2001) found that all of her participants viewed first penile-vaginal penetration (coitus) as constituting virginity loss. Trotter and Alderson (2007) found that 98% to 99% of their participants defined virginity loss as the first experience of penile-vaginal intercourse, with some slightly lower agreement depending on whether the couple was dating and who achieved orgasm.” (Eriksson + Humphreys, 107)

This is, of course, mainly referring to sexual intercourse.  While this is the most common definition, it is not necessarily a universal definition.  The most insightful conversation about sex could mean absolutely nothing if the one person defines sex differently from the other.  The definition of sex can vary based on who is asked.  “Regardless of terms used to escribe the various forms of casual sex, it is often unclear what form of sexual activity determines the definition (e.g., intercourse vs. kissing), the temporal characteristics (one encounter vs. ongoing), or the degree of intimacy in the relationship (none vs. sharing activities/revealing emotions),” (Wentland + Reissing, 76).

The term “technical virgin” is common among teens within media and pop culture.  This term usually refers to teens who haven’t had intercourse, but have done sexual things.  This term is not something most adults would be used to because pop culture is always changing; new trends, terms, and slangs are created every year to better define one’s self.  Because this term, (and terms like this) exists, it can be difficult to understand what is meant by someone who is self-identifying as “virgin,” “sexually active,” or even “gay/straight.”   Oral sex and heavy petting are listed in the top 10 lies Christian teens tell themselves about sex. (About.com).  Whether sex is defined as “anything that causes arousal” or “strictly intercourse,” everyone seems to have their own opinions.  It is imperative that this be understood before talking about how sex is misused.

Sexual Identity plays a huge part in this.  In his book, Understanding Sexual Identity, Mark Yarhouse talks about how all teens go through phases where they ask themselves questions about their identity, regardless of sexual experience or orientation (Yarhouse, 36-37).  This is the phase in their lives where they figure out who they are and what makes them unique; everyone goes through this.  Around this time in their lives, teens want to fit in; they want to belong to something and be accepted (Yarhouse, 46-49).  This is very evident in pop culture, which is greatly influenced by teens going through this identity formation.  It is not surprising that we live in a culture that loves to label things.  If there are labels, it is then easier to compare characteristics and adopt the label, or move on to the next.

The existence of labels provides a new way to influence youth in the church.  If we are aware of, and understand, the labels that exist in pop culture today, we can better influence how these labels are seen by adolescents.  We can then use our understanding to answer the questions that developing teens have about their identity.  These questions are already “difficult for anyone to answer, but especially teenagers.  And they aren’t answered in isolation.  Teens answer these questions in relationship to others: their peer groups, their local churches, their youth ministers, their parents, and others who have influence in their lives,” (Yarhouse, 36).

In the past, churches have been a rather negative source of identity confirmation.  Instead of identifying God’s plan for sex, we have given it a negative connotation.  In terms of today’s pop culture, we have merely labelled all sex as bad.  If churches take advantage their influence over sexual identity development, they can answer questions, such as, “How can I be accepted?”, “What do my urges say about me?”, and “Are my urges and actions good?”  We can start by removing the taboo feeling of sex and defining it as good; God created sex to be good.  It has a specific purpose, and ceases to completely fulfill that purpose when we remove it from what God intended for us.

There are three main components that are part of God’s intention for the use of sexuality:  “pleasure, personal communion, procreation.  Thus human persons engage in sexual activities because they (1.) desire the unique enjoyment of bodily union, (2.) the transcendence of personal loneliness, (3.) full family life.” (Novak, 14).  All of these components are not separate from each other; they may be different components, but they go together to make one experience.  Sex is something that is supposed to be holy, as in it is set apart from everything else.  There are boundaries that are not to be crossed, creating an exclusive relationship.  Only the spouse is included in this type of relationship.  This, in turn, creates a sense of ownership between the couple. (Baldwin, class 4-16-15).

If we look at all the various definitions of sex and, for example, define it as “directly involving erogenous zones for the purpose of resulting in orgasm,” then what makes it immoral?  The biblical description of marriage in Genesis says,

“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:22-24, NIV).

Based on these verses, sex is supposed to unite a man and a woman following a marriage that is blessed by God.  Note that they are both naked, yet there is “no shame” between them.  Shame in sexuality does not exist until after the fall of man, when it becomes distorted, and later removed from God’s boundaries.

The verse referenced above says that God “made” the woman and “brought her to the man.”  If God was not happy with the union of this man and this woman, why would He have taken the action to bring the woman to the man?  There is nothing immoral here since the two “felt no shame.”  Next, the author of Genesis explains that a man is supposed to leave his parents and be united with a woman, his wife.  They will then become one flesh.  The reasoning for this that is given by the author of Genesis is that part of the man was “taken out of man” in order to create the woman.

“The male and female know themselves only in relation to each other because they are made for each other. This is the deep origin of the powerful drive of the sexes to come together.  It arises from the body-life we share, with a difference.  Male and female are driven toward each other until they again become ‘one flesh’ in intimate body-union.” (Smedes, 16).

Their marriage and their sexual relationship will cause the part taken from the man (the woman) to be physically, and spiritually united to him again, making them “one flesh.”  From this, it is concluded that an immoral sexual relationship is one that (1.) exists outside of the bond of marriage that is blessed by God, and (2.) does not unite two into one flesh.  This includes prostitution, adultery, rape/molestation, and premarital sex, since these are all outside of the bond of marriage.  This also includes pornography/masturbation, oral sex, and all gay sexual relationships since they are outside of the bond of marriage and also cannot unite two into one flesh.

Paul talks about sexual immorality more than a few times in the New Testament.  He says it must not be part of our lives, (1 Cor. 6:18a, Eph. 5:3) and he also says that sexual immorality is worse than normal sin.  “…All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body (1 Corinthians 6:18b, NIV).”  When Paul says that all other sins are outside the body, he means that “The body is not the instrument, but the subject.  But in fornication, the body is the instrument of sin, and ‘inwardly as well as outwardly is made over to another.’” (Vincent, 217).

Not only does this harm the body and spirit, but, for the believer, it defiles the temple in which God resides (1 Corinthians 6:19, NIV).  Paul argues that sexual sin was not meant for the body.  “His argument is that there is a law of adaptation running through nature, illustrated by the mutual adaptation of food and the digestive organs; but this law is violated by the prostitution of the body to fornication, for which, in God’s order, it was not adapted” (Vincent, 215-216).  Paul says that we should put to death, “whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5, NIV).”  The word here for sexual immorality is translated as fornication, which is “denoting the modes in which the members [of the body] sinfully exert themselves (Vincent, 502).”  This would imply any sexual act done with the body that is outside of God’s intended purpose.  In Romans 1:26, Paul says that God gave the sexually immoral over to “shameful lusts.”  Vincent translates this as “vile affections” or “passions of dishonor.”  This term refers to “the whole world of active lusts and desires… (Vincent, 19).”  This does not necessarily mean that they were suffered for what was in their hearts, but for the impulses that became active.

Paul uses the Greek word Porneia when describing what should not exist among believers, in Ephesians 5:3. This word is used as a “broad term covering all kinds of illicit sexual behavior, not just fornication or premarital sex.  The term is used abundantly in Jewish literature written in Greek with reference to sexual sin of all kinds (Arnold, 31, 96).”  This word is also used about 20 other times in the New Testament, and can also be translated as adultery, fornication, or Idolatry (biblestudytools.com).  Again, sexual immorality is sex outside of God’s intended setting, which is in the marriage of a man and a woman into one flesh.

If marriage between a man and a woman is the only appropriate place for sex, where do gay people fit in?  One could make the argument that if two men are actually having sex, then wouldn’t that be “two becoming one flesh” in the same way it would be for straight couples?  Because the 3 components cited from Novak include the reproduction of life, homosexual relationships would be excluded from this (Novak, 15).  How, then, can a gay person have sex and still have all three components of a God-honoring sexual relationship?  Simply put, he or she must seek any possibility for change, and be married to someone of the opposite gender.  Essentially, the only other options are changing his or her orientation, or remaining celibate in order to stay faithful to God. But can orientation be changed?  There are a few options given by Smedes for this topic:

“a. He ought to believe that change is possible. Statistics on homosexual conversion are certainly not promising; but no homosexual person can be absolutely sure of what is possible for him. He has no right to be fatalistic. b. He ought to seek change… [If there can be no change,] He ought at least to consider whether his affliction is a call to celibacy… he ought to keep himself away from vocations where the temptation of seduction is high.  He ought to develop the nonsexual sides of his life with intensity, so that the sexual side may at least be kept proportionate to other parts of life (Smedes, 56-57).”

Smedes continues to affirm that developing a morality for a gay lifestyle is not the same thing as accepting it as morally acceptable.  But it is to be as moral as one can be when faced with this situation (Smedes, 58).

In Matthew 19:12, Jesus says, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it (Matt. 19:12, NIV).”  Here, the disciples have just come to the conclusion that if divorce and remarriage is adultery, then it would be better to stay single.  Jesus affirms this, therefore saying that celibacy is an appropriate response in avoiding sexual immorality.  Some people are born without the desire for God’s intention for sex because of physical deformity or because of their sexual orientation.  Some people are made eunuchs by accident, and many in ancient civilizations were made eunuchs so as to better protect important women.  When Jesus says that some also “live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” he is speaking of celibacy for the sake of avoiding sexual immorality.

Paul even says that not everyone needs to be married:

“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.  Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.  Are you pledged to a woman?  Do not seek to be released.  Are you free from such a commitment?  Do not look for a wife…I would like you to be free from concern.  An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.  An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.  But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband,” (1 Corinthians 7:25-27, 32-35, NIV).

Here, Paul is addressing marriage, and faithfulness to the Lord.  In this chapter, he also talks about how to avoid sexual sin.  If a man cannot stay away from sexual immorality, he should marry a woman so that he can have a sexual relationship without sinning.  He does add, however, that if sexual immorality can be avoided within singleness, a person should remain single, so as to better focus on God’s concerns.

How should Christians, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, respond to all of this?  Regarding homosexuality in particular, we have not done so well in the past.  In discussing what he calls a “script,” Mark Yarhouse discusses the different scripts for homosexuality that the local church has been using.

“One of the reasons why youth in the church seek out a Gay-identity script is because they don’t find a good identity script in their church community—not one that fully addresses their questions and struggles…Our surveys of young people who experience same-sex attraction suggest that most churches do not talk about sex, let alone homosexuality…Others tell us that when the topic of homosexuality is discussed, it is presented in a singularly negative way that confuses people and behavior,” (Yarhouse, 72-73).

Some scripts that do address homosexuality have “high expectations of ‘easy’ change… (Yarhouse, 76).”  Yarhouse continues to explain that many of these scripts have not been doing anything good, as they carry a lot of judgment and shaming.  In order to successfully minister to individuals struggling with finding their sexual identities, the church should be careful to not label, and to listen to the questions that they may have about their identities.

For overall sexual sin, we should absolutely follow Paul’s advice and run from it.  If sexual sin can separate us from God, then we should take it upon ourselves to put God first.  Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 remind us that some people choose to remain celibate as an alternative to sexual sin.   If we can change our ways, so as to become obedient to God, we absolutely should.  If our lust is going to cause us to sin, then we should marry so we are within the bond of marriage.  As Paul says, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9, NIV).”  If we cannot have sex without being sexually immoral, we should refrain from it and become celibate for the sake of honoring God.  For Christians, it is important to realize that everything that we do, concerning our genitals, we do as people who are united bodily to Jesus Christ (Smedes, 66).

This sexual sin, previously identified as porneia, refers to physical actions; sexually immoral actions are, in fact, actions.  If this can be designated as truth, can a sexual preference really be designated a sin?  If a straight person’s sexual attraction to the opposite gender is not a sin, then a gay person’s sexual attraction to the same gender cannot be a sin.  To say that it is a sin for one, and not the other, would be to create a double standard.  What can be said about a gay orientation is that it becomes sin when the attraction is acted upon.  The acting out of heterosexual attraction can also be sin, but according to what was previously said about Genesis 2, it isn’t sexual immorality if it is within a marriage.  The difference is that there is no way to act on a gay sexual attraction without sinning.  Outside of marriage, gay sexual behavior is a sin; within a gay marriage, sexual behavior is still a sin.

That being said, can a gay person still be a Christian?  Based on what I have previously established, the only possible way to be a Christian, and still have a gay orientation is to let go of the Gay label and adopt Christ as one’s only label.  The name of Christ breaks down every dividing wall, even the wall between the “gay” and “straight” labels if we are all identified by Christ.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29, NIV).

But Christ has to come before personal feelings or orientations.  This means that one must embrace a life of singleness and celibacy for the sake of remaining faithful to God.  Being faithful to God means that we have to choose the most righteous option in every situation.  In sexual matters, there is singleness and there is marriage; these are the only ways to stay faithful.

In conclusion, sex is a difficult thing to identify in our society.  It is utilized and manipulated in commercials, but people also argue whether oral sex is actually sex. In addition, many men and women struggle with addictions to pornography.  Ultimately, I have determined that God intended sexual interaction to be holy and exclusive within the marriage of a man and a woman only.  Sex becomes immoral when it is outside of this marriage context, and also when two cannot become one in flesh.  This includes adultery, pre-marital sex, rape, pedophilia, and prostitution; these all normally require two parties and it is outside of a marital context.  This also includes oral sex, homosexuality, pornography/masturbation, bestiality, molestation; these are all interactions in which two cannot become one in flesh, and also exist outside of a marital context.

I have determined with scripture that God did not intend our bodies to have sexual sin, and sexual sin is directly against the body.  It is for this reason that it is of the utmost importance to avoid sexual sin, and keep it only within the boundaries that God has set.  There are many options within the Bible for people struggling with sexual sin to follow.  We are told to focus on righteous things instead of immoral things (Philippians 4:8).  We are told how we can overcome temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).  We are told what to do if we cannot control our lust, so as not to sin (1 Corinthians 7:9, Matthew 5:30).  We are also given the option of singleness or celibacy (Matt. 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:7).  Ultimately, it is up to every Christian to be responsible sexually, since we are all responsible for our own bodies.  We must do the best we can in our situations (Smedes, 58) because we will all be held accountable for our actions on the Day of Judgment.

Works Cited:

Eriksson, JonasHumphreys, Terry P. “Development Of The Virginity Beliefs Scale.” Journal Of Sex Research 51.1 (2014): 107-120. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Wentland, Jocelyn J., and Elke D. Reissing. “Taking Casual Sex Not Too Casually: Exploring Definitions Of Casual Sexual Relationships.” Canadian Journal Of Human Sexuality 20.3 (2011): 75-91. Sociological Collection. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Mahoney, Kelli. “10 Lies Christian Teens Tell Themselves About Sex.” Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://christianteens.about.com/od/dating/tp/liessexdating.htm&gt;.

Smedes, Lewis B. Sex for Christians: The Limits and Liberties of Sexual Living. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976. Print.

Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament. Vol. III. New York: Scribner, 1887. Print

Olyan, Saul M., Novak David. Sexual Orientation & Human Rights in American Religious Discourse. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.

Biblica, Inc. The Holy Bible: New International Version. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2011. Print.

Baldwin, Brian. BTH/CMY 453 Seminar: Teen Sexuality and Ministry. Spring. 16 Apr. 2015. Kentucky Christian University. Lecture notes.

Arnold, Clinton E., and Frank Thielman. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Softcover ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002. Print.

“Read and Study the Bible Online – Search, Find Verses.” Bible Study Tools. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/&gt;.

Yarhouse, Mark A. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Zondervan. Grand Rapids MI. 2013. Print.

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