I remember the exact date I lost my virginity. It was July 19, 2008. That date is easy to remember because something else happened the very same day that I’ll never forget. In fact, that other thing was so important that every year since I’ve celebrated it on that date. You see, July 19, 2008, was the day I got married.
I’ll spare you all the details, but let’s just say my first time didn’t have anything in common with any sex scene in any movie. Ever. But you know what? I cannot put into words the beauty of that moment. Without even the slightest tinge of guilt or shame or regret or unwillingness or doubt, two people gave each other a gift that night that had never been given to anyone else, a gift as unique and unrepeatable as a fingerprint. It was the gift of a heart and body that had been kept entirely for one single person.
I’m unabashedly calling you to hear and enter into a better story about sex and sexuality than perhaps anything you’ve ever heard or experienced before.
And while you may not believe it, I can tell you as surely as I can tell you my own first name, the fact that my first time took place within the bonds of a commitment to lifelong marriage did not in any way dampen the moment. In fact, it liberated the moment. It was my first time. Hers too. Not so great this first go around? That’s OK. We’d just have to try again. And again. And again. And I never once had to worry she’d split if I didn’t measure up to the last guy. There was no last guy. And I never once had to worry about her not being quite as good as the last girl. There was no last girl. No comparisons. We were free. We still are. And we’ve improved since July 19, 2008.
There’s a purpose for which I’m telling you all this. I’m unabashedly calling you to hear and enter into a better story about sex and sexuality than perhaps anything you’ve ever heard or experienced before.
From before your first sexually charged thought, you’ve been told story after story about sex. Probably, the plot has gone something like this: Boy lives under repressive, Puritanical systems of control meant to rob him of fulfilling every last whim that flitters through his head. Boy meets girl. Boy thinks girl is hotter than an August sun. Girl makes it clear she’s picking up what he’s laying down. Boy follows his heart (or perhaps some other organ slightly more south) and with no inhibitions has steamy sex with girl and feels great about it. He’s free. He’s liberated. He’s broken out of the chains of tradition and proven that he charts his own path. No one tells him what he can and can’t do with his body. The end.
But there’s a problem with the above story. They don’t mention that the very thing that promised to free him has actually enslaved him. He’s now a slave to fear and doubt and constant insecurity about how long this partner will last. And once she bolts—and she will as soon as a better looking model comes along—then he’ll be enslaved to finding someone else to hook up with to scratch his itches. Or he’ll stoop to other, baser means. And you want to know the kicker? I’m willing to bet he doesn’t get as much free sex as he signed up for. The story lied. Lied big. And he’s the one paying the price.
I’ve got a better story. It’s not easier. Not by a long shot. But it’s better. It’s better under any microscope you may choose to examine it. It puts every other story you’ve ever heard about sex to utter shame. The better story goes something like this:
A good God created a good world and everything in it. He fashioned the first man and woman in his image, meaning that they were to God what a sculpture of Julius Caesar is to the actual man. And whether or not you’re willing to believe it, sex was God’s idea. He actually designed the process, the drive, and all the mechanics. (And if you’re thinking that God must be some pervert, you only think that because your mind’s polluted and can’t imagine sex apart from shame and embarrassment and something dirty.) It was God who brought the first man and woman together and joined them to complement each other as a committed couple and together display in the flesh for all the universe to see the amazing attributes of an invisible God.
Boy’s not meant to walk through his days alone.
God designed the story of human sexuality to go something like this: Boy grows up and at some point begins to notice the mind-numbing works of priceless art called girls that inhabit his world. Boy likes girls. Boy likes girls a lot. And that’s good. God designed boy that way. Though for the life of him he couldn’t put into words why, boy finds himself wanting to be spend time with girls, hear their laugh, see their smile. And it’s there that boy must realize something. Regardless of the indoctrination attempts of his high school science teacher, boy is not actually an animal, which means these good and powerful desires within him are not meant to master him. He’s not a leaf on the breeze of hormones that fire faster than lightning splits the sky. In fact, boy’s Maker wants boy to learn to control his body in holiness and honor, and not in the passion of lust like so many who deny the Maker’s name.
The Maker designed boy to be drawn to girls like flower petals seek the sun, and one day to be drawn to one very special girl, because the Maker knows something. He’s known it since he watched the first man all alone in the garden. Boy’s not meant to walk through his days alone. The Maker’s not alone. It’s not good for boy to be alone, either. The Maker knows he’ll need someone with whom he can join forces to walk this path called life, up mountains steep and through valleys deep. And to ready boy for all that life will throw at him, the Maker calls boy learn things like self control and respect for young women and how to order one’s life not merely for self-fulfillment but for the good of others. And the Maker calls boy to learn these things at tender ages, knowing that the clouds of life won’t wait forever before they start unburdening their heavy loads.
The Maker knows that for boy’s good, he’ll need to learn what it means to love another immortal human soul not only with a fierce, passionate love, but also with a rock solid, committed love, not only with a love that springs from an admiration of form and beauty but also with a love that springs from a God-fearing promise that he will stay true to his word to love and protect his chosen one in hurricane and placid waters, when bombs fall and in times of peace, till death takes his priceless complement from him. The boy’s very happiness depends on him learning such deep, Godlike love. And so the Maker insists. He knows it’d be much easier to let boy give himself away at the first pretty smile he comes across. But such a one won’t stay when all hell breaks loose, and so the Maker asks him to wait for someone better suited, someone who won’t abandon ship at the first signs of choppy water.
And one day, wonder of wonders, unless the Maker has called boy to a special assignment in which lifelong celibacy is a prerequisite, boy meets girl, a girl the Maker’s been preparing with as much kindness and compassion and discipline as he’s been preparing boy. Boy notices girl and sees that she’s not like the others. She’s learned her lessons, too. She, too, is looking for a lifelong partner with whom to scale the heights and with whom to boldly storm even the very darkest valleys. The Maker knows it’s not good for her to be alone, either, and so he arranged a meeting.
And though they feel the good and proper and deep urges that God designed to draw them together like magnets, they have also learned that their physical union is not merely some animal, bodily act. It’s a sacred union to be held in the highest and holiest regard, a gift they will give away once and to only one other person on the planet, a gift that will knit their very souls together with as much emotional intimacy as the physical intimacy they will experience. And so they decide, in honor of the incalculable gift that sex is to mankind, to refrain from it until a set day, the day they will before God and family and friends declare themselves the exclusive, lifelong partner to a single member of the opposite sex as God has designed it to work, that as Christ binds himself exclusively and unwaveringly to a single bride, his church, so, too, will they stand together as one until death parts them.
While others are pulled beneath the waves, while others abandon ship and plunge into the raging seas to their demise, they endure to the end and make it to port safe and sound.
And as it happens to everyone, life happens to them, too. The ups and downs and joys and sorrows wash over them as they wash over us all. But they’ve got something most don’t: a bedrock upon which they will stand until their very last breath, a commitment that they will hold the other up whatever may come because they know someone who’s holding them up whatever may come. The winds rage and the skies turn black and the lightning falls with unspeakable terror, and they are not undone. And when each of them disappoints the other with painful cuts that go all the way down to the bone, as their mighty Christ has given of himself for them, so, too, they’ve learned to continue to give of themselves for the good of the other, even and especially when the other is the least deserving of such grace, for they’ve tasted such grace from their God, tastes too sweet to put into words. While others are pulled beneath the waves, while others abandon ship and plunge into the raging seas to their demise, they endure to the end and make it to port safe and sound. And sex will have played its role in cementing their unbreakable bond.
This, my dear friends, is my better story of sex, and I hold it up unashamedly for your consideration. And no matter where you are, no matter where you’ve come from, no matter how different your personal story may have been, today is a new day. Yesterday is past, and the way you decide to chart your path from this moment forward is up to you. There is no need to continue to live within the paradigm of an inferior story. From the very beginning God’s been in the business of taking messes and offering to them a new beginning. It’s an offer to the humble, of course. It takes a lot of humility to admit you’ve been singing God’s song of sex off tune for however many years it’s been now. But he’ll teach you to sing it right, if you’ll come and ask him.
So come and ask him. Dare to believe that a better story about human sexuality is possible.
For more on this topic, consider reading Glynn Harrison’s book A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing, a book I read this past summer that has served as a major source of inspiration for this post.