“A Brief Note on the Ethics of (Christian) Sex and Purposes of the (Christian) Marriage”
In the Christian tradition, the Christian marriage is a binding covenant between the husband (the male gender) and the wife (the female gender); the underlying goal of the christian marriage is to contribute to human flourishing and to showcase the goodness and glory of God in the world. Throughout the centuries, Christian thinkers have suggested four central purposes of the Christian marriage: procreation, sexual fulfillment, companionship, and spiritual connection. In this brief post, I will reflect on these four objectives of the Christian marriage.
Within this mindset, the Christian couple defines marriage as an institution through which God has graciously gifted them with both the opportunity and access to bring children into the world; with the divine help, the Christian husband and the Christian wife ought to populate the earth through their offspring because they believe that God has designed marriage as the only union in which children must be conceived. Consequently, procreation as an important function of marriage is construed as an act of obedience to God, and to the husband and the wife, procreation is a (their) sacred duty. To bear, love, nurture, and teach the children of marriage fulfills the divine command of procreation; second, sexual intimacy between the husband and the wife should contribute to this mutual and consensual goal of marriage.
On the other hand, I would suggest that the Christian couple who is unable to bear children because of some medical reasons is not disobeying God nor are the husband and the wife not satisfying this purpose of marriage. As both would find it necessary and meaningful to their union, they can contribute to that purpose through adoption or committed child sponsorship.
The married couple who is unable to conceive children is not a failure to the church and society nor do the husband and the wife bring disappointments to God. While childbearing has been construed as a divine gift to parents in the Christian tradition, it does not imply that childlessness is a mark of divine disfavor or curse upon the couple that can’t biologically produce children.
Second, the Christian marriage as a permanent covenant facilitates human flourishing through covenantal faithfulness, mutual love and respect, mutual support, interpersonality, and reciprocity, between the husband and the wife. Marriage, as defined as a social community, graciously facilitates mutual growth in the social realm, establishes psychological connection and solidarity, sustains mental stability, and fuels meaning to the shared life of marriage, between the wife and the husband.
Companionship as a secondary purpose of marriage becomes more meaningful and constructive in the union if it is actively nourished through the act of friendship, service, and hospitality. Companionship means more than physical presence, proximity; it anticipates the joined couple to share the married life together, to equally experience all of its benefits, and to anticipate all of its future potentials and possibilities.
Marriage as companionship necessitates that the husband becomes a servant to his wife, and the wife as the beneficiary to all his kindness, care, and generosity. In the same way, when the wife pursues her husband comparatively or returns the same favors to him, the husband will not feel that he’s been taken for granted.
In a nutshell, we should construe companionship as an opportunity for the married couple to plan to spend quality time together, to invest sacrificially in each other’s future and growth, and to create life meaning as one unified body. All should be understood as a life-in-process and a union of many complex (series of) phases and dimensions.
Marriage will not be a productive event without the practice of companionship as presence, proximity, service, and (time) investment.
3. Sexual Fulfillment
Third, the Christian tradition maintains the idea that God created sex to be used and enjoyed only within the boundary and union of marriage. This same tradition also upholds that sexual intimacy outside of the marital vows undermines both the divine purpose and the sacredness of sex. Comparatively, throughout the centuries, Christian thinkers and clergy have consented that not only marital sex between the husband (the biological male gender) and the wife (the biological female gender) is morally, theologically, and biblically justified, they have also believed that both marital sex between the same genders (between two males and/or between two females) and sex between two unmarried people, what they have labelled “fornication,” are unethical, unbiblical, and untheological. They rejected such forms of sexual intimacy as a violation of the divine intent for man and woman.
While many Christian churches and clergy in America and other countries today have blessed same-gender sexual intimacy (sexual acts between homosexuals, lesbians, transgenders, etc.) and legally perform same-sex marriages, this is a drastic departure from historic Christian belief and practice about marriage and sex. Ancient Christianity bluntly rejected the modern understanding of (same sex) marriage and homosexual relations on reasonable and acceptable grounds including cultural practices and traditions, moral principles, biblical exegesis, and theological interpretation.
How is then sexual fulfillment construed as one of the purposes of marriage? To put it simply, in what ways precisely is the covenant of the heterosexual marriage presented as a solution to sexual desires and cravings between the husband and the wife? Toward this end, I would like to offer the following three suggestions:
A. The idea that marriage provides sexual fulfillment, not necessarily sexual satisfaction, to the married couple is an affirmation of the divine design for sexual intimacy to be practiced within the confinement of marriage. When married couples express their love to each other through sexual intercourse, they’re practically actualizing God’s “revealed will” and his very (desiring) intent for sex and marriage. (To say this differently, through the doctrine of divine providence, God has so purposefully ordained marital sex.) Through consensual sexual activity and performance, both the husband and the wife are submitting themselves to God and effecting the divine resolution for human relationships and the divine ordering structure for sexual exchanges between both sexes and genders.
When a man and a woman fail to live sexually within and according to God’s decree for sexual practices, they are reordering and/or disordering the structure for sex and equally they are deconstructing the organization of life and human interactions. In this matter, humans become the sovereign of the universe; God’s laws regulating sexual ethics and relations become subservient to human control and will.
B. Sexual fulfillment in marriage leads to the idea of marriage as God’s designated and only “sacred space” for sexual interplays and practices. The notion of sacred space renders other spaces, (in the non-marital zones”) inappropriate, questionable, and profane. The reciprocity between marriage and sex can be explained in this way: (a) marriage as a “sacred zone” confers upon sex itself both respect and dignity, in the same way it brings value and honor to those (both the husband and the wife) engage in this activity, and (b) the Christian sex as a relational activity, exercise, and playful event makes the married space delightful, distinctive, and wanted.
C. When I say that practical sex also fulfills the goal of marriage, I am making connection between desire, bodily anatomy, and pragmatism. (Desire: the strong human feeling and emotion linked to the human mind; Bodily anatomy: this refers to the most intimate parts of the male and female body such as the male penis and the female vagina and breasts, or any human anatomy that can be used to achieve sexual pleasure; and Pragmatism: by this term, I am alluding to sex not as idea, but sex as a human practice: the doing or making of sex between two individuals (the wife and the husband))
As each physical part of the human body is so ordered by God to carry out its singular and proper function (i.e. the human eyes provide sight or vision to the body, the mouth for speech and food, the hands for touch, the feet for walk), the “sexual bodily parts” (i.e. penis, vagina, breasts, and the mouth, as it is also used, for example, for oral sex) become functional when they are used adequately to participate in such a pleasurable activity, between the two sexes: the husband and the wife. In other words, the aforementioned physical parts of the male and female body contribute to the sexual fulfillment and sexual gratification shared by the husband and the wife, as these sexual anatomies accomplish the divine intent God has so purposed them.
4. Spiritual Connection
The Christian marriage is not only a social institution, it has a deep spiritual dimension. It is a place wherein the husband and the wife grow together in various dimensions: socially, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. Specifically, the Christian marriage provides a safe zone for the Christian couple to experience God together, grow in godliness, and advance in Christian piety and sanctification. God created marriage so that the husband and wife can undergo holiness translating into practical sexual purity and godly living. The Christian husband has a duty to help his wife to know and love God in a more intimate way; in the same way, it is a responsibility for the Christian wife to encourage her husband to grow in love, understanding, wisdom, and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is also the responsibility of the Christian husband and the Christian wife to raise a godly heritage and children who will honor and praise God. Through the Christian marriage, God spills his holiness into the married life, so both the husband and the wife could be imitators of Jesus Christ.
***To engage the biblical witness, here are a few texts that cover all the major points in the article: Genesis 1-2; Songs of Solomon; Genesis 2:24; Genesis 1:28; 1 Cor 6:1; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Cor 7:4; Thessalonians 4:4-5;1 Thessalonians 4:3-4; Romans 1:27; Matthew 19:12.