This morning I received an ad in my email in box pushing a tablet that promised to increase my “manhood” by three inches. Haven’t had much of such ads for a while but recently they seemed to have returned with a vengeance. Of course I constantly get ads for the blue pills and pills of various colours that promise to get me as many erections as I want when I want them. Should I be tempted to purchase some of these aids as I journey deeper into middle age? Nah. All these ads have one fatal flaw. They reduce sex to a mechanical experience of arousal-intercourse-orgasm. And sex is much more than that.
The prevalence of such ads tells me that many out there subscribe to this soulless view of sex. Which is why I was surprised and delighted to read an article in the secular press by Metz and McCarthy that spoke up against a “viagra” approach to improving one’s sex life. (See Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy, “Ageless Arousal,” Utne Reader, January-February 2009, 78-79.) They write about a man named Bill, aged 51, who had “occasional difficulties getting an erection.” Bill tried Viagra. Metz and McCarthy report the results:
… Viagra did improve matters, but the results were oddly disappointing. Because he wasn’t entirely sure of the longevity of his new chemically induced erection, Bill was often in an anxious “use it or lose it” mode. Cynthia (his wife) didn’t want to add to his anxiety, so she didn’t object to the speediness of the proceedings, but she (understandably) found sex uncomfortable when her body hadn’t had time to “get into it.” (Metz and McCarthy, 78)
Metz and McCarthy then go on to give their analysis and “treatment”:
At heart, the problem was the disabling, but very common belief held by both Bill and Cynthia that sex is a zero-sum game, a win-lose athletic performance, measured entirely by the “success” or “failure” of the arousal-intercourse-orgasm sequence. So the first step was to educate the couple to the amazing possibility that they could develop a new sexual life style, replete with desire, pleasure, and mutual satisfaction. (Metz and McCarthy, 78)
Metz and McCarthy correctly point out that the root of Bill and Cynthia’s problem was that they had reduced sex to performance and in doing so they had lessened their ability to see sex as an expression of their marriage. They forgot that sex was something that was meant for “mutual satisfaction” in a committed relationship.
The late Stanley J. Grenz writes about the integral connection between sex and marriage. He writes:
The sex act is intended to be an expression of the bonding of male and female in the community of love. In fact, it comprises the most intimate and meaningful act embodying the deep union of husband and wife that lies at the basis of marriage. But not only does it express that bond, the sex act also serves to solidify the unity of male and female in marriage … On this basis, the sex act may be seen as the sacrament of the marriage covenant. (Grenz, 84)
Grenz also goes on to point out the various ways sexual intercourse mirrors the marriage covenant. One, the sexual act expresses the commitment of the couple to transparency. As we shed our clothes, we are reminded that, as husband and wife, we also choose to share with each other our deepest “needs, dreams, and goals (Grenz, 85).”And two, with transparency comes acceptance. I see you for whom you really are and I accept you whole heartedly.
Likewise, the marriage covenant includes a commitment to total and unconditional acceptance… (This) helps to release the marriage partners from the performance orientation characteristic of contemporary society, that is, from the need to live up to the expectations of another in order to gain for oneself the acceptance of the other. Rather, acceptance by one’s spouse forms the context in which each marriage partner is free to act. (Grenz, 85)
It is ironic that the church has often been accused of having a low view of sex and of pleasure. On the contrary we hold the highest view of sex, seeing it as an expression of the deepest relationship possible between a man and a woman. That is why we refuse to cave in to any attempt to divorce sex from marriage. That is why we refuse to see sex as primarily a function of body parts, a pursuit of pleasure apart from covenant care. Indeed I suspect that the greatest pleasure that comes from sexual intercourse is intimately related to the commitment, transparency, acceptance, and of course the potential for creating life, that is inherent in the marriage covenant. The Bible has a high view of sex and understands that sexual pleasure is intimately linked to love and commitment. (See Song of Songs.) It is the world that has lost the plot on sex and sexual pleasure.
One of the professors in my doctoral programme once told the class about a key Christian leader who had lost his penis in an accident. He said the leader and his wife subsequently reported that their sex life had never been better. Here was a couple who didn’t confuse the means with the ends. So, no, I don’t think I’ll be buying any coloured pills anytime soon.