From Daniel Eaton at Theologica:

I know this is a touchy subject (no pun intended), but are Christians, as a whole, sexually oppressed? Recently, I came across this article on an Apologetics news feed that I watch and most of what is in this blog post is from some posts on the topic that I made on another forum.

Is a more conservative lifestyle in the area of “marital relations” “more Christian“? Or are Christians free to do anything consenting partners want without guilt and a lot (most?) of our limitations in this area more cultural? Is it a sin to go against our cultural/traditional beliefs about these things when we have no real Biblical basis for it or against it? Can we feel guilt or shame over something when it isn’t the Holy Spirit inducing it, but our culture? And if it is just from our culture, should we follow it or are we free to overcome it? The news story I linked to above prompted me to think about these questions.

Here are my thoughts. Something tells me that if an accurate interpretation and translation of Song Of Solomon were to be published under another name, the average church would protest its inclusion in the local library. It would be called porn or, at the very least, seen as “dirty” erotica. We generally don’t like to think of those kind of passages in the Bible. The Bible is purity, and we *know* that that “dirty stuff” can’t be pure. But upon closer reflection, I believe that most of our taboos related to the marriage bed are cultural, not Biblical.

This is a topic that the Bible spends a lot more talking about than the average pastor. I think we’ve gone so far into the direction of limited pleasures that are never discussed and only partaken of in the dark that it is one of the reasons why Christian marriages are in just as much trouble as non-Christian ones. At one end of the spectrum, we have a liberalism and “alternative lifestyles” that is unhealthy and unbiblical in many ways. Yet when we go so far in the opposite direction that it, in effect, limits intimacy, we have become just as legalistic and oppressed as any Muslim in a Hijab.

A good Christian marriage should promote intimacy on many different levels, physical and otherwise. When Churches don’t discuss it, it suggests that it is wrong and “dirty”. It propagates bad cultural ideas of what a good marriage is. If the “S” word is mentioned at all in church, it is done in a negative connotation. We preach strongly against sex before marriage. Bold youth pastors may even get into what acts that it may or may not include (because of some of the things kids are now thinking isn’t sex). But more often than not, they would be criticized for doing so by parents that just want someone to babysit their kids. We preach strongly and frequently against adultery and lust and porn. But when marriage is discussed at all, it is in generalities about “relationship” and “communication”. But if we actually followed the Bible’s example, wouldn’t we NOT skip from Ecclesiastes to Isaiah in our Bible study and teaching. If the Bible is going to devote one entire book on the subject of the love that a person can have for their spouse and the desires it produces, why is a sermon on sex viewed with a motivation of doing it “because it draws people” when done occasionally in a very circumspect manner? If discussing physical attraction was so was “dirty” or “worldly”, and only for “drawing people”, why is there an inspired book of the Bible that focuses so much on it?

Ultimately, in my opinion, I believe Christians have drawn boundaries as to what is “dirty and sinful” versus what is allowed and even encouraged in the confines of a Christian marriage that it is hurting our marriages. We are too Puritanical in our zeal *not* to be seen as worldly. When we are *so* conservative that *ANY* movement at all from that position is considered becoming more worldly, I have to wonder the Biblical basis for that kind of extreme position that still keeps Song of Solomon in the Bible.

I’m not saying that we should have sex-ed from the pulpit for all the kids to hear. That would be gratuitous. My point is that it isn’t talked about at all. Even on weekend Marriage Retreats that I have been on, they were announced at church, but sponsored by other organizations. And they didn’t get into anything that would even slightly resemble gazing on your spouse with desire, much less what the Biblical limits are to physically expressing that side of our humanity. It was all “romance” and “communication” and “parenting” and personality types and so forth. Nothing wrong with that. It is needed as well. But not even in the frank single-gender break-out sessions did they ever get anywhere near as open as what is talked about in other, less-Christian venues. Every guy in the room would, I’m sure, have loved a frank discussion on the topic. But it is guidance that Christian couples seem forced to get somewhere else.

By totally avoiding the information, it leads to a “missionary mentality” (if you get my drift) and the only source of information is the “world” and we know that it has to be “dirty” if it is from the world and not something that cannot even be discussed in an adult Sunday School class. Most youth groups are open enough to talk about what the limits are for the unmarried, why is it that when we get married there isn’t something equivalent? It’s a beautiful thing. Why turn it into a taboo subject? When the church is ashamed to even broach the subject, again in a circumspect manner, it makes the whole subject appear shameful. In a way, it is almost Gnostic – the physical becomes bad. We *say* it is OK, but heaven forbid anyone finds out Christians do something for fun and not merely for procreation. And heaven forbid someone finds out that you did some reading somewhere to find out how much of “it” it OK and what crosses Biblical lines!

A lot of people go to the marriage bed with all kinds of hangups because of guilt that they have over things that they should have no guilt over. For example, my wife went to a Christian college. One of the dorm matrons there taught the female students that all nudity was a dirty thing. They were told that, even after marriage, they should always stay covered and modest. Being unclothed was OK if you absolutely had to be, but you better make sure the lights are off! The idea was that if you didn’t stay modest at all times that it was being “loose” and a “temptress” and that if it caused your husband to have impure thoughts that you’ve led him into sin as well. But aren’t husbands supposed to think thoughts like that about their wife? Needless to say, I/we take that as an unhealthy approach to the subject. It causes guilt and shame where there should be none. It puts up barriers to intimacy that shouldn’t be there. In effect, I believe that a lot of Christians have been actively taught (as in this example) or been led to believe by what they haven’t been taught that in the spectrum of marital activities that the line between right and wrong is way over on one end of the spectrum. To even think of adding something different into a rigid routine becomes something “kinky” and “worldly”. I believe the inference (mostly from silence on the topic) that marriages can’t be fun and adventurous (within Biblical limits) leads a lot of men into getting hooked on porn instead of addicted to their wife.

But, I’m from the land that brought us Southern Belles and petticoats. I could be wrong. There is a certain level of modesty and propriety that is still deep in the cultural psychy of the South. And the more the culture changes away from that, the more the “good” people cling to the propriety of yesteryear. It may not be the same in other places. Here in the Bible Belt though, most Christian ladies that I know would die of shame if one of their friends from church found out that they had purchased a revealing piece of lingerie from somewhere. And the activity on the church grapevine “prayer chain” would be enough to light up Vegas for a night if someone actually saw the head deacon’s wife in Victoria’s Secret! I think if the church was a bit more open to discussing the subject, you wouldn’t find so many Christian men addicted to porn and so many unhappy Christian marriages. It’s great to say that married couples should satisfy each other, but typically you end up with different interpretations of what all that can/should entail and it becomes a source of stress instead of pleasure.

People need to know the physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological dangers and limits to certain behavior. We get it drilled into our heads a “don’t do NOTHING!” mantra prior to Marriage. *Everything* is seen as wrong. It’s all “dirty”. But once you get married, *some* stuff is OK. But “some” is a relative term, and the church, which hasn’t been bashful in preaching “all is bad” to the unsaved youth student, is totally absent when it comes to telling them what part of “some” is good or evil in a committed Christian marriage. As such, it all remains “shady” and left as one huge gray area. One spouse may think one thing is OK and the other has been taught something different. There is so much “gray area” that good Christian couples are afraid to venture into anything “adventurous” or different for fear of being in sin, and have guilt over even thinking about it.

The bottom line is that we spend a great deal of time in parenting discussing the need for boundaries. Where the boundaries are clear, there is more freedom. Kids in a fenced yard take advantage of the whole area. Kids who are told not to cross the property line, but don’t really know or can’t agree where it is, stay close to the house. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be fences. I’m saying that the church is great at building fences and yet, in this area, tell married couples that the “gate” is now open but “don’t stray too far”. Not knowing what “far” is, we stay close enough to the old fence to touch it. That isn’t freedom. The church owes it to the marriages of its members to do better than that. They should not be embarrassed or shamed for seeing the green grass on the other side of the fence and wanting to take a stroll in it, but being afraid because they don’t know where the boundaries are. And considering the dangers of even thinking certain thing in this area, there is a lot of guilt and shame that people have for even bringing these subjects up in case they were thinking sinfully. It’s a huge gray area that the church doesn’t really shine a light on.

Why is it that the church seems to have no problem with all the “thou shalt not’s” and fences before and outside marriage, but is eerily silent about what is and is not permissible within the confines of the Christian marriage bed? Is that a good thing? Or, do you agree with me that the church needs to supply some information on this topic before people go to the world for it? Is it a sin to go against your conscience about something that is only based on cultural norms (do we even still have those?) when there is no Biblical reason for it? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them…

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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