byFaith | 10.1.12
By Alan Dowd
Those who pushed the sexual boundaries in the 1960s fancy
themselves as revolutionaries throwing off the shackles of centuries of taboos
and stigmas. “Emancipation is now a reality,” as
Margaret Drabble wrote in 1967, cheering what she called “the golden age of
adult sexual equality.”
The reality is quite the opposite—in two ways: First, the
sexual revolution did not usher in a golden age. And second, God is the real revolutionary,
challenging us to aspire to something more than the base instincts of human
The free-love sexual revolution of the 1960s was anything
but a revolutionary step forward. Instead, it was a step backward, to the ways
of the ancient past.
The context of Genesis 6 and 7, for instance, strongly
suggests that human kind had taken an anything-goes approach to sex. The twin
cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so hungry for sex that some 4,000 years later,
they are still synonymous with depravity. Lot’s life was deformed by the misuse
of sex. Even the patriarch Abraham agreed to a plan to conceive a child outside
of marriage—and outside of God’s will.
David took a whatever-feels-good approach with Bathsheba and
stole another man’s wife. In following their impulses, his sons followed his
example: Amnon was blinded by lust and assaulted his half-sister. Absalom
disgraced his father and his father’s throne by having relations with David’s
concubines—“in the sight of all Israel” no less (2 Samuel 16). Solomon was so
controlled by his flesh that he had 1,000
wives and concubines (I Kings 11).
The gospels tell us that Herod took Herodias, his brother’s
wife, as his own. Then he cast his eyes on Herodias’ daughter. And the Roman
world of Paul’s day, as underscored by Paul’s letters, was a society consumed
by aberrant sex.
In short, there was nothing revolutionary about our own
sexual revolution. In our time, as in Paul’s, Solomon’s, David’s and Lot’s, the
enemy’s promises are never fulfilled—and the consequences are never fully
considered until it’s too late. Think about it: Our sexual revolution promised
love without commitment, freedom without responsibility, sex without
consequence. What it delivered was death, disease, divorce and distortion. That
may sound like the crescendo of some fire-and-brimstone sermon, but it’s not only
biblically true—it’s statistically true.
It’s no coincidence that the Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand
during the sexual revolution. Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion has erased some 50 million unborn
children in America. One out of every four pregnancies in the United States now
ends in abortion. The National Abortion
Federation estimates that at current rates, “35 percent of all women of
reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they
reach the age of 45.” As Mary Eberstadt concludes in Adam and Eve after the Pill, abortion became the sexual
revolution’s “permanent backup plan.”
The tsunami of extra-marital, multiple-partner sex triggered by the revolution led
to an explosion in sexually-transmitted diseases and the emergence of entirely new
ones, like HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) notes that the rate at which females had gonorrhea tripled
between 1960 and 1970; the rate for males doubled. Today, the CDC estimates 19
million new STD infections every year.
The divorce rate exploded after the sexual revolution. The generation
that didn’t wait for marriage had a much easier time shrugging off the vows of
marriage—and moving on when marriage failed to deliver the excitement promised
by the revolution. America’s divorce rate began ticking upward in the late
1960s and skyrocketed in the 1970s, according to a recent AP report. The divorce
rate peaked at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981. Today, it’s around 3.6
per 1,000 people. But what sounds like good news is actually a function of
not-so-good news. “The number of couples who
live together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960,” the report concludes.
That hasn’t stopped cohabitating couples—or non-cohabitating couples, for that
matter—from having children. Out-of-wedlock births, which hovered in the
5-percent range in the 1940s and 1950s, began to rise rapidly in the late
1960s, passing 10 percent by 1970 and exploding in the decades thereafter. Today,
a staggering 40 percent of births in America are to unmarried women. And according to a New
York Times analysis, “More than half of births to American women under 30
occur outside marriage.”
The revolution has forced kids
to confront sex too soon. And as Eberstadt observes, it paradoxically has
allowed adults, especially men, to live in a kind of “perpetual adolescence.”
First, let’s look at an
example of kids confronting sex too soon. A Colorado first-grader was recently suspended
for singing lyrics to the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It” to a female classmate.
Like a rotten onion, the episode reveals layer upon layer of cultural problems.
To begin, it’s hard to blame the kid for imitating what’s all around him. If he
hadn’t heard the hit song on the radio, he surely saw the commercial featuring
an animated M&Ms candy dancing to the song. Indeed, in our post-sexual
revolution age, he sees sex everywhere—on the magazines at the grocery-store
checkout, on TV commercials pushing soft drinks and chips and beer and lingerie
and Viagra (and candy), on TV shows celebrating the hookup culture, in the way
women (and girls) dress. And to pile hypocrisy onto the irony, it’s quite
possible that the very same school that suspended him for “sexual harassment”
when he was six will be passing out condoms when he turns 12.
That brings us to the
perpetual-adolescence problem. The sexual revolution has quite literally bred
men to act like oversexed high-school boys. As Eberstadt notes, the
institutions that are supposed to help men grow up—marriage and fatherhood—have
been diluted by the revolution. The result is a kind of self-feeding cycle that
allows men to act on instinct, expects women to do the same, and enables men to
satisfy their sexual desires without any of the constraints or commitment that
come with fatherhood or marriage.
This has led to another kind
of distortion unleashed by the sexual revolution: the distortion of womanhood. By
God’s design, men and women are wired differently when it comes to sex. By and
large, the physical act is what drives men, while the connection behind the act
drives women. In this, God empowered women to play a tempering, civilizing role
by helping men focus their physical energies and passions on their wife. But the
sexual revolution distorted these roles. It gave men license to be
ungentlemanly, and it encouraged women to let men get away with it. As a recentNew York Times essay timidly asked, “Are young women who think that they should be more
like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward
emotional fit?” The answer is yes. And the sexual revolution is to blame.
This is largely a function of one of
the main drivers of our sexual revolution: the birth-control pill. “Imagining
the sexual revolution without the Pill simply cannot be done,” Eberstadt
contends. To be sure, the Pill empowered women to prevent pregnancy while being
sexually active. But in so doing, the Pill seduced women into becoming less sexually
responsible and more like men—at least the stereotypical notion of men: driven
by the physical, self-interested and self-focused, ambivalent about commitment
and connection. In the post-sexual revolution age, as Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage, “All too often women
are hearing the call to become as self-serving and self-absorbed as men.” As
followers of Christ, we know that’s not “emancipation.” And it’s not what the
Lord wants for men or women.
A final distortion of the
sexual revolution is its depressing effect on sexuality within marriage. Citing
a growing body of evidence, Eberstadt notes that “modern marriages” are
becoming “sexually barren.” This paradox of our age—sexual hyperactivity before
marriage and sexual inactivity within marriage—actually makes sense. Once the
excitement, the wonder, the mystery of becoming one flesh is turned into an
everyday exchange between strangers, we shouldn’t be surprised if sex becomes boring.
Again, that’s not what the
Lord had in mind.
The Way Forward
That brings us back to God’s way. If mankind’s sexual
revolution—put on display in Sodom and Woodstock, David’s courtyards and
Herod’s palace, the licentiousness of Rome and Hollywood—offers death, broken
promises and shamelessness, God’s revolution offers life and truth and the
opportunity to be what we once were: unashamed.
God’s view of sex has never been the puritanical caricature
painted by His critics. Sexual expression does not make Him blush or launch
fire and brimstone. Indeed, God sees sex as something to celebrate and consecrate.
Look no further than the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. “Be fruitful and increase in number,” the
Lord exhorts in Genesis 1. Thomas argues that this is God’s “explicit
commandment to engage in sexual relations”—but in the context and confines of marriage.
By creating Adam for Eve, and Eve for Adam, God made His design for
intimacy plain: one man and one woman sharing their life and love within
That’s God’s way. It points the way forward — not backward —
not to the impulse-driven existence the world offers.
Consider Herod and the woman at the well. It’s hard to find
two people less alike than this pair. One was a powerful king. The other was a
poor, neglected woman. Yet these two were similar in one significant way: both
had sexual sin in their lives.
Herod’s story is laced with lust, underscoring how the sort of sexual swinging
and swapping that characterizes our revolution has been around for ages. Matthew’s
account tells us that Herod took his brother’s wife. John the Baptist called on
Herod to repent and to end his unholy marriage. “It is not lawful for you to have her,” John said to Herod.
Luke’s account tells us that John “rebuked Herod…because of his marriage to
Herodias.” In that same third chapter of Luke, John offers “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of
But instead of repenting,
Herod had John arrested to appease Herodias, who used her daughter as a sexual
lure. With Herodias’ encouragement, the young woman danced for her stepfather.
“Her dance was unquestionably lascivious,” one scholar explains. It gave her
control over Herod. And her mother used it to silence John, permanently.
The woman at the well, a Samaritan who probably knew the Law and its rules
about sex and marriage, wasted her life in a cycle of loveless, physical
relationships. After five marriages, after a lifetime of broken promises, after
being used up and tossed aside by every man in her life, she had given up on
God’s way. In fact, when she encountered Jesus, she was living with a man who
was not her husband—“living in sin,” as they used to say. “I have no husband,”
she conceded during her encounter with Jesus. You can almost hear the shame in
But what separates the shameless Herod
from the woman at the well, who seems bowed and broken by shame, is that she
accepted the transforming gift of grace.
She and Herod both lived shameful
lives. Both were confronted with their sin. Both were shown a way out, a way
forward. But only the woman at the well took that path.
Ruled by the flesh, Herod complied with the demands of the flesh. Luke tells
us that Herod was smug and self-indulgent to the end, mocking Jesus just hours
before the crucifixion (Luke 23). But the woman at the well was transformed by
her encounter with Jesus—feeling a sense of shame for her sin, turning away
from a shameless life and finally becoming unashamed in Christ.
That’s the path God offers all of us. His way leads us from
being shameless about our sexual sin—whether it be lust, pre-marital sex,
extra-marital sex, using sex to manipulate, withholding sex, demanding sex—to
being unashamed once we follow His design.
His design, of course, is for sexual intimacy to be reserved for marriage.
Genesis 2 tells us that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no
shame.” The text doesn’t say Adam and
his wives (sorry, King Solomon), Adam and his prom date, Adam and his fiancée,
Adam and his college sweetheart, Adam and the person “who makes him happy,”
Adam and his girlfriend, or Adam and his boyfriend, for that matter. “Adam and
his wife were both naked” and yet felt no shame precisely because they were
It’s as if God is using this passage to share a timeless
message with every generation: The choice
is yours. Follow My design for sexual intimacy and live unashamed. Or go your
own way and live with the consequences.
How does living
“unashamed” look in our daily lives?
Some of you may already be living unashamed by waiting until
marriage; by being a faithful and loving spouse; by seeing your spouse as part
of you, deserving of affection and attention, compassion and connection; by
keeping the promise you made to your spouse and to God long ago. As a wise man
observed, “It takes guts to stay married. There will be many crises between the
wedding day and the golden anniversary, and the people who make it are heroes.”
However, some of us are nowhere near hero status. Poisoned
by the world, some of us are far closer to the shameless side of the spectrum
than the unashamed side. A few questions help us plot where we fall on that
you living outside God’s will for sexual intimacy? No matter what the
world says, God’s word is timeless. He reminds us in Genesis that “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his
wife.” And He repeats this truth in the gospels and the epistles, which means God is really serious about His
plan for intimacy. There is hope in the stories of David and the
woman at the well. Both repented, were forgiven, and took the unashamed path.
In this regard, the book Love and
War offers some powerful prayers for healing sexual wounds.
- Are you
using your spouse just to meet your needs, or are you neglecting your
spouse’s needs? Neither way is God’s way. As Gladys and Keith Hunt caution
in I Do, both extremes are
destructive and dangerous. “When sex becomes demanding…or is denied for
invalid reasons, the sexual part of marriage is in trouble, a trouble that
will threaten your oneness.”
- Are you
filling your heart and mind with junk that leads away from God’s design: trashy
TV, trashy novels, trashy magazines, trashy movies, trashy music? Instead
of being conformed “to the pattern of this world,”
Paul advises, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We do that by reading the Word, by encountering
Christ in worship and prayer, by sharing burdens with other imperfect
people, by clearing out the junk from our iPods, bookshelves, computers,
- Are you
visiting the seedy side of cyberspace or using Facebook to flirt? According
to Christ’s standard, these are forms of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). He
knows that for married people to seek physical or emotional fulfillment
somewhere other than marriage is destructive. Proverbs 5:15 offers a
solution: “Drink water from your own cistern,running water from your own well.”
If we answer “yes” to any of these, we are not living
unashamed lives. The good news is that if we feel a sense of shame about what
we have done, like the woman at the well, we are halfway home. The better news
is that Christ can transform the sexual dimension of our lives with His grace
and mercy. He still makes “all things new.”