I think it was my second year at Bible college when I first had this mini-revelation.
Like most young red-blooded Americans (especially of the virgin persuasion), I had this notion that marriage and sex would assuage all feelings of emptiness and quell all my upset desires. I looked forward to finding and marrying that one person who, once found, would satisfy me once and for all. As I’ve written about before, I have awoken from this misguided belief and cultivated more realistic expectations.
I specifically remember where I was this one night in college, though, when the seeds of this realization first took root. I had grabbed a couch from the sidewalk in Chicago and used it as my bed for an entire school year. At the time, I was reading Sarah F. Winner’s book Real Sex, which argues for a holistic and healthy view of sex and chastity, so the topic was heavy on my mind. I was grappling with this question of whether or not to continue pursuing a girl who was in my life at the time, and there on that tattered couch-bed, it hit me.
Sex will not satisfy me once and for all.
This ethereal entity which seemed like a haven of ecstasy and satisfaction would leave me no more permanently satisfied than a good meal fills up my stomach once and for all.
Give it enough time and the well runs dry again.
This thing which, since middle school, had seemed like the finish line to the human race would not satisfy me once and for all. I specifically remember the scene playing out in my imagination. I imagined myself married to a woman, regardless of how beautiful and (ahem) sexy, once the act was over, I would be in the same place I was in reality: Just trying to fall asleep, get a good night’s sleep, and go on with life.
The act of sex would not permanently fill the elusive voids within my soul. After the act, physically speaking of course, I’d be content for a while but life would continue madly on, and the urge would return again. I realized it is not a permanent fix-all for whatever ails the insides of me.
You could say I realized that sex is not sexy.
I mean, what sort of terms come to mind when we think of the word sexy? Isn’t it some sort of glamorous, polished, and unrealistic ideal which is constantly sought after but never actually grasped?
Sexy is arousing.
Sexy smells nice and doesn’t have morning breath or hangnails.
Sexy is airbrushed and may or may not have had some plastic work done.
But then I stir from this fantasy long enough to look around and tame my wild expectations. I look at those elderly couples who have weathered 50+ years together and are anything but sexy. Yet there is something which keeps them together all those years. There is something deeper and more attractive which draws him to her and vice versa for all those decades. In their essence, ‘sexiness’ and pornography depend on novelty. There are always new people and new bodies and new, flashy ways to turn someone on. Intimacy, however, is the opposite. It depends on getting to know the same person over a long time.
I remember something an older mentor told me a few years ago which has stuck with me, which I turned into a poem (read the full thing here):
“sure sex is great
and a good body is exciting at first,
it’s just good to be naked,
it’s nice to be naked with the same old person.”
Of course, this nudity runs far deeper than a physical lack of clothes. It’s a raw, performance-less sort of nakedness. Unlike Adam and Eve who realized they were naked and ran and hid, this sort of intimacy reveals itself to another in a beautiful and unabashed way.
Real sex is not a one-and-done sort of event, but an ongoing, dare I say, boring and mundane practice between a husband and wife. If we single people go into marriage expecting a cinematic (read: pornographic) experience every time we come to the marital bed with our beloved, we will be sorely disappointed. This is why thousands of married men and women still struggle with pornography after the wedding night. Because sex is not a cure-all for all of our desires and fantasies. No one person can satisfy all of our deep longings, as they have been programmed by media and magazine covers.
No, real sex is not sexy. It is intimate and longsuffering. It is selfless and other-focused in nature. It is not the object of marriage, but a reflection of the intimacy which should already exist between the two spouses.
Think of it like communion: At the table, we take into ourselves the bread and wine; the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. It is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. It is a shadow which points to something beyond itself. The bread and wine are not special in and of themselves, but they are important because of what they point to.
Sex, similarly, is the physical coming together of two people who have already united themselves to the other socially, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
It’s a visible symbol of an invisible reality.
Nowhere are we promised that the sex itself will satisfy us. In fact, if we expect sex alone to fulfill us without the fullness of the relationship being present, it will be hollow and lifeless and we will walk away empty. But when sex follows all the other areas of an intimate relationship, consummated in marriage (the covenant is the consummation), it is life giving and fruitful (literally).
And when we think of it that way, we must remember: Sex is not sexy.
It is real and it is ongoing. It happens amidst the vacuuming and the errands. It is not always made-up and gorgeous, and occasionally gets sick and vomits. The question is, are we going to commit to this person who will have very un-sexy days (increasingly so as the years roll on), or are we going to keep holding out for some sexy fantasy which will never materialize?
This year, I want to attempt to unprogram my mind from what our culture has taught us is “sexy” and reclaim a more holistic and realistic ideal of sex. I want to return it to its proper place in my mind, undoing years of being formed in the image of our pornified culture, and embracing a view which is sustainable, healthy, and quite frankly, un-sexy.
So are you with me? Are you ready to help reform our culture in favor of real sex rather than the plastic version we are bombarded with daily? It won’t be easy (or pretty) and will take a lot of rewiring our brains to think according to reality rather than Insta-glamour. Let’s be people with eyes who can see truly and not be deceived by what media tells us is ‘sexy.’