A sermon on Distorted Sexuality

Background: Below is a copy of a sermon that was given on the Howard College Campus of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in 2015. It was the 6th sermon of a 9 week series on Relationships.

 

The Relationships Revolution #6

Distorted sexuality

 

Distorted sexuality and contemporary sexual culture

Some disclaimers before we begin. Firstly, certain parts of this are explicit, so prepare yourselves. Secondly, this topic is tough and so if anyone, for any reason, feels the needs to chat to someone afterwards, both Jo (my wife) and myself are available. (Although if you do see someone chatting to us, don’t assume that there is some issue going on. They could just be asking a question or simply saying ‘Hi’)

 

Last week we looked at God’s design for sex: sex that cares for the other and a sex which flourishes within the covenant relationship of marriage. That’s good sex! But what happens when God’s good design becomes distorted?

We’ve been asking students for the last two weeks a series of true and false questions. One was: ‘all we seem to talk about is sex.’ Most people answered true.

So for instance, listen to our conversations:  we’re bringing it up ourselves. Turn on the radio, and if there isn’t some song lyrical about sex, then it’s in the DJ’s banter or jokes. It’s in our ears, and it’s in our faces. It could be a billboard selling the most non-sexual object, a USB disk for instance, but with a woman pouting seductively: ‘Oh if you had this USB stick, you could… have me.’ Sex sells, even computer equipment. Or we pick up a magazine and what do we see: Celebrity affairs; how to get the best sex; or just a sexy someone on the cover. Or think of the last ad or show or movie you watched that didn’t have either sex included in the conversations; or super sexual dress code; or actual scenes involving sexual intimacy. Turn on MTV, enough said.

Explicitly or subtly almost everything is touched by sex and sexualised. And it’s often presented as a good thing: freedom, enjoyment, and the way sex should be.

But instead of seeing sex in the context of right relationships, sex becomes an object to have, something we must have. And once sex becomes an object, the people who can bring us sexual gratification are in danger of becoming objects. Making sex an object can turn people into sexual objects.

What’s the problem with this?

From the sermons on marriage and sex in marriage we should have seen the incredible other-person centeredness in them: sex in its proper place has a genuine care and service of the other person. But objectification of people in our sexualised culture twists that. Most times it becomes about me/us. And frequently it doesn’t consider the other person: their needs or even who they are.

For instance: a group of guys, and a girl walking on by. When she’s gone past (if she’s lucky!) the guys start discussing who would ‘tap that’. Now, there are exceptions to the rule but it’s a fairly frequent situation as they make that girl an object for them to score and discuss. Who is that girl? She’s not a person with personality and hopes and dreams. She’s an object. The pornography industry does this too. Hardly anyone thinks of those people as someone’s sister or daughter, someone’s brother or son. We’re blinded to see them simply as bodies twisting with other bodies – objects.

A study done in the US showed that nearly all young boys have been exposed to pornography.[1] And recent stats (again US) show that 65% of women between the age of 18-30 at the moment view porn at least a few times a year.[2] So what, what’s wrong with a bit of porn?

  • A. Porn doesn’t do anything for real sex.

The feminist Naomi Wolf, relying on UK data, writes that porn is actually destroying the sex lives of couples.[3]

Firstly, she picks up the well-known data revealing how it’s rewiring our brains. Watching porn causes sharp spikes in the activation of dopamine – which makes people feel confident and good. But like a drug it causes desensitisation, you need more and something ‘more extreme’ to get the same high.

Secondly confirmed in men (and perhaps true for women) it results in problems reaching orgasm. Many men, young and healthy, just can’t perform sexually.

Thirdly, as a result of porn men start to see their own partners as less attractive and they’re less aroused by ordinary sexual behaviour. In other words real women can’t compete with the staged performances of porn stars and they can’t deliver the boost and the high that can be found at the click of the mouse.

Many people consider porn to be a sex manual – how sex should be. But instead it’s destroyed our ability and even desire to have sex, to even understand what sex is about. We’re druggies hooked on the images of bodies.

So A. porn doesn’t do anything for real sex.

  • But B. again it ties into objectification.

Let me read you this:

“A common misconception about pornography is that it is just people having sex on camera. However, in mainstream pornography violence is now the norm, with men inflicting violence and abuse against women who are forced to submit to body-punishing and humiliating sex acts. A 2010 study of the fifty most popular pornographic DVD titles found that 88% of scenes included violence. Of these, 95% depicted violence against women by men.”[4]

Think about this – if our sexualised culture encourages the objectification of people, especially women, then why shouldn’t violence be present? If people are just objects to meet our (sexual) needs then why not? Objects are to be used, when we say and how.

Here are some stats on rape in South Africa:[5]

  • There are an estimated 1.7 million rapes each year in South Africa, on average only 54 000 of those result in changes being laid.
  • 50 percent of all cases before South African courts are for rape, except in Durban and Mdantsane, where it is… 60 percent.
  • 75% of all rapes involve gang rape.
  • 41% of those raped are under the age of 12

Women are raped; men are raped; children are raped.

I came across another article talking about rape culture in the UK and a starling phrase stood out for me that brought this all full circle. This person is writing about rape culture and says:

“Many young people feel that they are given mixed messages about what sexual consent is, where the lines are, and when you can say ‘no’. Many young men hold worryingly common attitudes that say sexual pressure and even force, as well as physical violence, is acceptable.”[6]

‘Many young men hold the attitude that sexual pressure and even force, as well as physical violence is acceptable’ – that’s a very scary statement. Objectification and rape are not that far removed.[7] And so we have the sad moment when Dej Loaf adds her ‘hook’ to a song making herself a sexual object to keep a guy’s attention:

“I’ll be a lady in the streets, in a dress with my hair tied up.

Or I can be a freak in the sheets with her hands tied up.

I’ll be whatever you want”[8]

It’s 50 Shades of Grey meet porno meet contemporary sexual culture – all on a public radio.

General point? We’ve taken the generous, safe, and profound act of lovemaking and put it in a blender. It’s come out as mush.

Sex in marriage must be our only hope right?

Unfortunately marriages also experience distorted sexuality. You probably read recently about hackers getting access to the database of Ashley Madison right? Ashley Madison is a website that helps married people to have affairs with other married people. But their database got hacked and all those secrets are out for the world to see (secrets that God knew already though).[9] We’ve distorted sexuality that even married people don’t find sex in marriage enough.[10]

 

Distorted sexuality and Christian responses

What’s the Christian response to this distorted sexuality?

I need to admit that often it’s not been good. Christianity is well known for that ‘us and them’ mentality. We’re those who look down our noses on ‘those dirty sexual sinners’! It’s us versus them.

There are a number of problems with that.

  1. It misunderstands that sexual sin is often more than what we think it is.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 doesn’t go for the narrow interpretation of the law: ‘Oh sexual sin is only if you’ve had sex before marriage, or had an affair.’ No Jesus goes: ‘ah even if you’ve looked lustfully.[11]

How many of us are sexual sinners by that definition? I am. Are you?  There’s no place for pride, no ‘us’ and ‘them.’

What if by some miracle you’re not a sexual sinner? Well the second misunderstanding is that:

  1. It overlooks other sin by creating a hierarchical system of sin.

Christians can often give the impression that ‘sexual sin’ is the unforgivable sin. ‘Ah as long as you aren’t a “sexual sinner” then you’re probably ok’.

There are a number of lists in the New Testament. We read one in 1 Corinthians 6 verse 9-10:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”[12]

What does that show us? Look at what gets put together. Of course we have sexual sin, we noticed that. But ‘the greedy’ for instance, what’s that? That’s the average materialistic person in Durban, wanting more money and possessions, rather than God. Or slanderers? That’s a busybody gossiper or distorter of the truth about someone. Have you ever done any of that?

What’s my point? They’re all put in the same boat as a homosexual sexual relationship or a heterosexual person who cheats on their spouse. We’re all by nature sinners who sin. And sexual sin isn’t the unforgivable sin, rejection of Jesus is.[13] So, anyone who has come to Jesus in trust can’t hold an ‘us and them’ mentality. If that’s you, if that’s me, then we need to repent. Repent of our sinful pride. Repent even of our jokes about “fags” or “hoes” or whatever – how dare we! – there is no place for any of this in the community of saved sinners.

 

So what is the right Christian response?

It involves both a NO and a YES. The NO we expect. And the danger here is that Christians are simply known as the ‘NO people’. We say NO to sex outside of marriage and watching porn. We say NO to lesbians and gays getting married with a nice cake, and whatever else. We’re seen to be anti-sex, anti-love, anti-freedom, anti-pleasure. We’re seen as old fashioned, bigoted and judgmental. But that isn’t actually a fair reflection of Christianity in a number of ways.

Firstly, there’s the manner of our NO. Christians are those who do say NO, but we say NO not over people, but alongside people. As I’ve already mentioned there’s no space for pride, even as a Christian. We don’t stand over people wagging our finger saying: ‘naughty naughty you dirty sinner you.’ That is judgmental and often bigoted. But because Christians understand themselves as sinners for whom Jesus had to die, and because we recognize that even as Christians we still struggle with sin, we don’t talk down to people. Instead we come alongside people and we speak as saved sinners not holier-than-thou-arrogant-punks. So there is the manner of our NO.

Secondly, there’s the reason for our NO. Here’s often the biggest misunderstanding, both by the world at large but even by Christians. Why do we say NO? Is it just saying that ‘naughty naughty’ – as though life is just about rules and regulations and so sin is only about breaking commands? It is true that there are rules and commands and it is wrong to break God’s commands. But the reasons why God says NO are driven by sincere love for humanity: sex is not designed for *this*. And so, we as Christians say NO because we likewise care about people. We say NO because we think that not living God’s way is harmful for us, for how we live, for us simply as people.

In what way is sex outside of God’s purposes distorted, harmful for us? What would you say? We could talk about STDs. God knows we know the scourge of HIV-Aids.  A scourge often spread through distorted sex. We could talk again about the research showing that porn is rewiring our brains, or drop the stats of the study showing that an increase in porn use results in a greater likelihood of unfaithfulness.[14] We could talk about men having sex with men and the physiological dangers of anal sex: our anal tracts are not built for that kind of activity. We could talk about the relational baggage that comes with having had multiple sexual relationships and partners and the undercurrents of jealousy and comparison and the loss of intimate moments that you wish you alone could lay claim to. All of these in some ways point as evidence, that sex outside of God’s good intentions is harmful for us.

In the bible there are a few words for describing sexual sin but one of the major ones is the word porneia. Porneia, maybe you can already see the link to our modern day word pornography. The word is used in a broad way but in general it stands as catch phrase describing sex gone bad[15] – sex gone wrong – in other words sex outside of God’s design.

  • So it’s used to describe marital unfaithfulness in Matthew 5v32 and 19v9: it describes when a married couple might consider getting a divorce because there has been porneia – marital unfaithfulness. The sex created to bond two people has been abused and used to break a solemn covenant of love and faithfulness.
  • Or there is 1 Corinthians 5 where a man in the local church has been flaunting the fact that he’s sleeping with his stepmom. And Paul looks at that and says: ‘that’s porneia!’ – that’s distorted sexuality and messed up relationships.
  • Or there’s 1 Corinthians 6 where people are having sex with prostitutes.

The argument there is interesting because some people have been saying basically: ‘When we’re hungry, we eat, so if we’re feeling sexy, let’s just have sex. What’s the big deal?’

‘It’s just our bodies’ – some would say that on campus. Paul responds in at least two ways. One is specifically for Christians, I’ll leave that for now.[16] But the other is more general, in verse 16 he asks this:

‘Do you not know that he who unites himself with the prostitute is one with her in body?’

But then he quotes from Genesis 2 and the first marriage, this is how it was intended to be:

‘For it is said, the two will become one flesh.’

Notice that he didn’t say: the two will become one body but rather the two will become one flesh.[17]

In the bible flesh is often used in much broader way than just ‘body’.[18] It’s talking about the fact that we’re more than just bodies – we’re flesh/people. We have hopes and dreams and aspirations and fears and personalities and so much more. And here Paul’s going: ‘Listen when you have sex, yes you’re joining your bodies but don’t you understand? It should be so much more: sex is there for the joining of people (flesh), not just bodies.’

And so when we treat it like it’s just bodies, we’ve giving an intimacy of our bodies that is not placed in the context of an intimacy of knowing one another – truly knowing the other person. Sex should be placed in the security of knowing that the one you’re joining your body to has joined all of themselves to you.[19]

When God says NO, it’s because he wants what’s best for us. When Christians say NO it’s because we trust the goodness of God’s design for sex – we trust him. Porneia – sex outside of God’s good intentions is always sex gone bad – sex and us in a blender.

Thirdly, there’s also an eternity to our NO. Our misuse of sex at the end of the day isn’t our biggest issue. In Mark 7v21, Jesus says:

“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.” [20]

Notice a few points here:

  • 1. Jesus says this in the context of religiosity.

There were some people who looked good – did good things – religious things, even what we might call ‘Christian things’. But Jesus is reminding them that these religious things can be like an outside shell covering a rotting inside us.[21] It’s a challenge that needs to be said to many people who would call themselves Christian because they do Christian things: like go to church, speak in tongues, fast etc. That’s not enough.

  • 2. We’re reminded that the even the bad we do on the outside is just a symptom of a greater issue.

When a boyfriend and girlfriend are having sex their primary issue is not that they’re having sex. It’s a symptom of a greater issue. The big deal of our sexual activity (or whatever it is for us) is that our hearts are not ok. We don’t love God; we don’t trust him or his design. We look at all of that and go: ‘meh’, or ‘no ways’. Or we say ‘yup ok’ – but it’s just lip service.

The heart of the human issue is the issue of the human heart: us before God. We are not right with him and we will rightly be judged for this.

  • 3. We must understand then what the Christian message is.

It’s not ‘pull up your socks’ – ‘do good, stop being a sexual sinner’. Isn’t this often how the Christian message is perceived? But it’s not “do Christian things and you will become a Christian”. It’s none of that. The Christian message is: We need a heart transplant. We need to be given a new heart (and not a Chris Barnard transplant either). Rather, it’s God the Spirit giving us an ‘us’ that desires to love and serve God, to know him personally, to praise and worship the One who deserves our praise and worship. To find our joy and identity in this single relationship that should shape and can hold us together. The Christian message is: believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved from the eternal judgment for your sins, you will be given a new life as the Spirit gives you a new heart for God, this is eternal life.

So this is the other thing about the Christian message. Not only is it a NO to the old life of distorted sexuality. It’s not only a NO. It’s also a YES at the top of our voices! It’s a YES to life as it is meant to be lived. The sermons on marriage and sex in marriage we had, they were not intended as a message of: ‘look how bad we’ve been’. No, it was an opportunity to woo us, to see how good it can be. For us to look at marriage and sex in marriage as designed by God, to look at those things and go: ‘wow – it just works, it makes sense, it’s beautiful.’ When we have a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church we should be getting goosebumps. When we hear of the other person centeredness of sex within the commitment of marriage, the genuine care and desire for the best of the other, we should be going ‘ah man, just so lovely.’ (Better than any orchestrated porn scene)

And ultimately bigger than these things is the foundation of this all. The YES is to come back to loving God. Back from our unfaithfulness to him as we’ve run after other things. Back from our distrust of his goodness and his good designs. Back from ourselves and our selfishness.  He came to woo us back to him, with a great and deep sacrificial love. He gave himself, not for a beautiful bride but for a prostitute so that she (we) could become his beautiful bride.

The YES of the gospel is come back to the one who loves us and to live life knowing Him.

Distorted sexuality and our stories

Friends let me close by talking to three different groups as we look at one verse from the 1 Corinthians 6 passage. Verse 11, after the list of things that characterize those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul says this to Christians:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

  1. For the followers of Jesus:

The same NO we say to the world is the same NO we must keep saying to ourselves as we continue to have struggles with distorted sexuality. We need to keep coming back to this. When we sin, we mustn’t stay in that sin pretending it’s alright. We say NO!

And keep remembering why we say NO. It’s not just a wrong thing (although there’s an element of that). Instead we understand that we’re saying NO to what is harmful for us – not good – sex gone bad. We realise that God has better plans for us. We see through the lies of porneia and we trust our God: his goodness and his good design. And so our No is really a YES, it’s a YES to God. We don’t pursue sex gone bad, we instead concentrate on pursuing the God who is good.

There are some great images for Christian living and one is when Paul describes the Christian life like getting dressed.[22] He urges us to keep taking off the old nature – that’s like saying NO when someone offers us dirty beggars’ clothes. And he urges us, as we look at Jesus, to put on the new nature – he’s really saying:  ‘In Jesus you’ve been made a child of God – right, live like you are one.’

This is what the 1 Corinthians 6:11 is picking up on. It uses three words to describe salvation: washed, sanctified and justified. But the big deal is that they’re in the past tense and so they’re present reality. If you’re trusting in Jesus, they’re already yours. Now live (relying on him) as who you have been made. To not do so if to deny who you are. Or perhaps to prove that you do not understand the grace of God.

  1. Those of you not trusting in Jesus (yet).

1 Corinthians 6:11 is the offer being made to you – those three words.

  • Perhaps you feel the dirtiness of your distorted sexuality.

The offer here is to be washed: a deep cleansing that will wipe away even that grime you don’t think can be removed. (The blood of Jesus is sure to remove any stain, better than those products we see in the ads.)

  • Perhaps you feel the aimlessness of how you’ve been living.

The offer is for sanctification – being set apart to now live a new life in Jesus for the God who saved you.

  • Or perhaps you feel the guilt that you’re sure must keep you and God separate.

The offer for you is justification. The judge of the world passes a not guilty verdict on you. You’re free. Free to now confidently approach the Father who with open arms says: ‘welcome home my little child – come and give dad a hug.’

Against your sexual sin (or whatever it is that has made you feel dirty and aimless and guilty) God offers you a new life in Jesus. This is the offer – will you accept it?
  1. Lastly, some of you here consider yourselves sexual sinners, not so much because of what you’ve done but because of what was done to you.

For some of you what was done to you has destroyed your very soul and you feel too broken and ashamed to come to God. Or maybe part of the way you dealt with what was done to you is that you gave yourself over to further distorted sexuality. You’ve had those thoughts: ‘I am worthless and broken, too broken – so why not embrace what I was made by the sexual crime of another against me.’

My friend, the message to you is clear and simple.  Know that God hates what was done to you. He hates it as he grieves with you at the utter brokenness.

And then see that the washing and sanctification and the justification of verse 11 is for you! The Father has his arms open for you. You are not too broken or dirty for him. He will not reject you.

***********

The Relationship Revolution series followed this trail:

  1. Desiring God: the start of Relationships
  2. The Triune God of Relationships
  3. Church, the people of God
  4. Marriage, the union of a man and a woman
  5. Sex and the covenant of marriage
  6. Distorted sexuality
  7. Singleness and the kingdom of God
  8. The principles of Christian dating
  9. Christian friendship: closeness, openness, and brokenness

Relationships revolution

 

[1] “According to the June, 2015, data from the program, the average age of first pornography exposure for youth that reach out to the Fortify program for help is 11.9. Of the applicants to the program, nine percent have viewed pornography by age eight, 24 percent by age ten, and 77 percent by age 13.” (http://endsexualexploitation.org/wp-content/uploads/NCSE-Capitol-Briefing_Cordelia-Anderson_Why-Pornography-is-a-Public-Health-Issue_07-14-2015.pdf)

[2] http://www.covenanteyes.com/2015/02/13/do-women-look-at-porn/

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2522279/Porn-destroying-modern-sex-lives-says-feminist-writer-Naomi-Wolf.html

[4] http://collectiveshout.org/2014/07/the-sex-factor-mainstreaming-and-normalising-the-abuse-and-exploitation-of-women/

[5] I’m not sure when these stats were gathered, this could be an older document and thus outdated stats: http://www.hst.org.za/news/rape-has-become-way-life-south-africa

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/marai-larasi/young-women-sexualised-pop-culture_b_2685075.html

[7] Obviously the situation is far more complex than that simple link between objectification and rape culture. For instance in South Africa the absence of fathers or the presence of abusive men in families and relationships (which one is worse?) could probably be shown to be fuelling the situation in South Africa when it comes to the abuse of women and children, and even other men.

[8] “Tied up” by Casey Veggies feat. Dej Loaf. Copyright: BMG Platinum Songs, Artist 101 Publishing Group, Parisjones15, Casey Veggies Publishing LLC

[9] It’s a good image and reminder that even our most secret sin will be revealed at the end of the day, ultimately by God who doesn’t need to hack anything to see what he already knows about us.

[10] It’s no wonder why a gay couple might look at all of that and go:  ‘Oh so that’s marriage between a man and a woman – this sacred institution? Really?’ And so they say: ‘Don’t worry people, we can hold the same standard, we might even do better! Let us get in on this whole marriage thing.’

[11] Matthew 5:27-28

[12] 1Corinthians 6:9-10

[13] Mark 3:22-30 has people rejecting Jesus, which Jesus calls the ‘blasphemy of the holy Spirit.’ And that’s because to reject Jesus is to reject what God the Holy Spirit is doing in this world, helping us to see our sin, the righteousness of Jesus and the judgment to come. (cf. John 16v8-11)

[14] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/i-can-relate/201403/it-doesn-t-hurt-look-does-it

[15] ‘Sex gone bad’: This phrase describing pornia’s catch all definition isn’t mine. I haven’t read the book but I am pretty certain it comes from a book called ‘Faithful – a theology of sex’ by Beth Felker Jones.

[16] Actually sorry if this is misleading but the whole thing is to them! To Christians Paul basically says: ‘Guys, your bodies were bought by the blood of Jesus, and you now have the Holy Spirit living in you – they are not just your bodies to do with as you want. The body is not for sexual immorality (porneia) but for the Lord’

In other words: our bodies have their greatest function in being used to love and serve the Lord. And they belong to him because of the price of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

[17] I don’t want to make too much of this, and push it too far but I do think it’s helpful. I’m not sure where I first heard someone expounding this link.

[18] Not always though which is why I don’t want to push this too far. ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh’ (the quote from Joel that’s in Acts) is often translated as ‘people’. Similar idea in Mark 13:14 where sarx is linked to ‘people’ (‘no one would survive’). Etc etc.

[19] Paul returns in verse 17 to the greater context of united with the Lord.

[20] Mark 7:21-23 NIV

[21] I’m reminded of seeing young men going into a Musallah to pray. They could be praying devoutly for hours but then go home and watch porn. So many ‘Christian’ examples of that abound too where we have ‘faithful’ attendees of churches who are unfaithful in their Christian lives.

[22] Cf. Colossians and Ephesians