The tragedy of separating sex from relationships

The tragedy of separating sex from relationships

A great many people simply assume that sex and relationships are two completely different things. Sex is seen as only a physical act. For many decades now, from one-night stands to Tinder ‘dates’ to internet pornography, many seek out sex as a means to their own gratification. The connection between sex and a real relationship with the person you have sex with has been severed in the popular imagination.

How did this come to be the dominant viewpoint of society? The biggest influence would be the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s. Free love advocated for sex with whoever you wanted. The invention of the contraceptive pill made this far less risky by removing the likelihood of pregnancy. And now, several generations on, it is simply assumed that sex and relationships are different things.

Many far more informed and cleverer modern historians than me have explored the impact this thinking has had on society more widely. However, some of the effects are clear to see for anyone. This freedom with regards to sex has not led to wider contentment and satisfaction; if anything, it has driven people to chase new experiences and never find satisfaction for very long. Ironically, it has led to less young people having sex, and having real relationships, than any period in recent history. The better society this promised us has only led to more selfishness and less real benefit.

The Song of Songs in the Old Testament is a love poem. It tells the story of a young couple passionately in love with one another. Part of this is their desire for one another in a sexual sense; there are all kinds of interesting metaphors used as the couple try to describe the body of the one they love. Yet it is clear that they don’t only wish to enjoy sex with one another, even though that is part of it. They love one another and dream of a future life together. For them, love, sex and marriage all go together neatly. That is the way it has been seen for much of human history, and something we have lost in our modern world.

You might wonder why this is such a problem. Why not just have sex with whomever we want, and then later on look for a more permanent relationship? If everyone consents, what is the problem? Let me give you some brief ways to answer this:

  1. Sex is a good gift from God but using it in the wrong way will damage you and those around you. Song of Songs has a chorus to it, to “not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). Sex apart from marriage will hurt you. Think of a car, for example. You can use it responsibly to get you places, or you can use it as a weapon to commit crimes. The car is the same each time but the outcome is not. Using sex only for your own satisfaction, apart from marriage, is far more serious than some physical recreation.
  2. We risk making the sexual act the main focus instead of the person. This means we only use the person for what we want, being relatively uninterested in the other person for themselves (which is also true in pornography). This is both selfish and unsatisfying. This will end up with you chasing only your own pleasure and new experiences which will never be enough.
  3. Even secular society is starting to see this. Unnecessary sex scenes in TV and movies are now being criticized; adding sex everywhere it is not needed cheapens it and damages the wider story. People are writing accounts of how their chasing free sex led to danger and deep psychological problems (such as the recent book by Kitty Ruskin). This is apart from any religious convictions, just showing that the reality doesn’t match the promise when it comes to free sex.
  4. We lose the picture of the gospel that marriage and sex is supposed to be. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Jesus loved his people and gave himself for us so we could be in a relationship with Him. That relationship is where we find true satisfaction and joy. Sex within marriage illustrates this; this most intimate of relationships is a picture of a better intimate relationship to come. Making sex the goal, and discarding the committed relationship, breaks the illustration God has built into creation.

Sex is a great gift in its proper place and has terrible potential for destruction in the wrong context. Don’t believe the lie of our culture that sex is only for your own pleasure and disconnected from relationships.