Please note that the initial paragraphs of this post are written from an Evangelical perspective. I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God. Further, I am not a medical doctor, nor am I an expert on human sexuality. I understand that human sexuality is a diverse subject; that there is no singular view about sex. I speak generally in this post. If my words don’t fit your particular sexual practices or experiences, there’s no need for you to object. I see you and understand that humans have all sorts of views on sex.
Fifteen years ago, Evangelical luminary John Piper wrote a post titled What Would You Say to a Young Man Who Is Considering Sleeping With His Girlfriend? Piper gives four reasons why this man should not have sex with his girlfriend. What follows is my deconstruction of Piper’s response to this young man.
Before I respond to the specifics of Piper’s post, I need to talk about several things that will provide background on this issue.
According to Evangelicals, their peculiar version of God created human beings 6,025 years ago. God gave men a penis with sensitive nerve endings that, when aroused and massaged by physical contact give men pleasure and typically lead to orgasm. (Male orgasm consists of the contraction and pulsating most men feel in their penis, prostate, and pelvic areas. These sensations are met by increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tensing, anal, sphincter, and pubococcygeus muscle (muscles at the base of the penis) contractions, and an increase in blood pressure, which then result in a massive and sudden release of pressure.) God gave women a vagina with sensitive nerve endings that, when aroused and massaged by physical contact give women pleasure and typically lead to orgasm. (An orgasm in the human female is a variable, transient peak sensation of intense pleasure, creating an altered state of consciousness, usually with an initiation accompanied by involuntary, rhythmic contractions of the pelvic striated circumvaginal musculature, often with concomitant uterine and anal contractions, and myotonia that resolves the sexually induced vasocongestion and myotonia, generally with an induction of well-being and contentment.) In particular, women have a clitoris — often called the Devil’s doorbell — that is hyper-sensitive to physical massage that also leads to orgasm.
God created males and females with sex drives that are strongest when men and women are younger — during childbearing years. We rightly say that teenagers and young adults have raging hormones; that God-given hormones drive most sexually aware humans to want, need, and desire copulation and sexual gratification.
It is clear, at least to me, that if there is a God, he created humans as sexual beings; that he designed their bodies in such a way that sexual intercourse and sexual gratification are very much a part of who they are. Certainly, sexual desire plays a big part in the biological drive to procreate, but this is not the only reason we want, need, and desire sexual gratification. Sex feels good; it’s fun; it can be an act of love and commitment.
Piper is a Fundamentalist Christian; a pastor who has repeatedly shown himself to be a sexually repressed, prudish, Puritanical man. For Piper, sex is an act of love and commitment between married heterosexual couples for primarily procreation purposes. While Piper thinks this man having sex with his girlfriend is a grievous sin, his moralizing goes much further than that. Piper believes, as the Apostle Paul did, that it is “good for a man not to touch a woman”; that any physical activity between two people outside of marriage that leads to sexual arousal is sin. Thus, petting, passionate kissing, and mutual masturbation are sin too. Why? In Piper’s view, these behaviors are driven by “lust.” Jesus said that looking on a woman with lust is akin to committing adultery with her in your heart. Ponder that thought for a moment. Just having sexual desires for someone else is a deadly sin, one that leads to God’s judgment and the Lake of Fire. God supposedly gave these desires to us, yet if we act on them in the wrong way, we are in danger of hellfire and brimstone. God could have created us otherwise, but he chose not to. He could have done all sorts of things that could make it less likely that humans would break his law, but he chose not to. Instead, he gave us raging hormones and then allegedly told us in an ancient religious text to not act on them unless we are married; and even then, we better have potential babies in mind when copulating.
In his post, Piper asked and then answered this question: what would you say to a young man who is considering sleeping with his girlfriend?
First, according to Piper, it is vitally important to determine whether the man is a Christian:
I would ask him if he was a Christian first. “Do you trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? Do you know that you’re a sinner on the way to deserved everlasting punishment, and that there is one way out, namely the blood of Jesus Christ to cover all of your sins? Do you know that?”
How he answers that is going to make a huge difference in which way I go here. Let’s just assume that he says, “I am.” Then I would say, “So that means that you cherish Jesus Christ as your Savior, your Lord, and as the Treasure of your life. Do you?”
He is probably going to weasel a little bit there, because he has sin crouching like a lion trying to devour him, and he wants this sin. And when you want a sin, you are very hesitant to affirm truths that seem to contradict the sin you’re about to desire. So he is going to start to get troubled at this point. But I’m pushing on him at the center, to confess Jesus as his precious Treasure, Lord and Savior.
That’s the only kind of obedience I want! Staying out of bed with your girlfriend doesn’t get you into heaven, right? It doesn’t make you a good person. There aren’t any good persons. The kind of person I want is a yielded person, a broken person, a person who is just stunned by the grace of God in his life.
One way is to just go the obedience route and say, “You confess him as Lord, right? He said, ‘Flee fornication.’ He says it in 1 Corinthians 6:18: ‘Flee fornication.’ And he gave arguments for it: ‘Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? Don’t be united with a prostitute [or with your girlfriend]!'”
Piper wants this young man to go against his nature; the nature, by the way, God gave him. Polly and I dated for two years before we were married. We were naive, immature Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians; a young couple committed to following Jesus and keeping his commands. We were also young adults with raging hormones. While we were virgins on our wedding day, by the time we reached the month before our wedding, we knew we needed to say “I do” as soon as possible; that we were dangerously close to rounding third and sliding into home. In retrospect, both of us wish we had acted responsibly on our sexual desires for one another, but threats of judgment and Hell kept us from doing so. (IFB churches, colleges, and pastors are notorious for promoting and demanding sexual repression.)
Piper’s first approach is to tell the young man “Just say no.”
That would be one thing. Just say, “Don’t do it! The Bible says, ‘Don’t do it,’ so don’t do it!” That’s one approach. Maybe not the most effective, depending on who you have before you. It’s what works for some people. They just need a sentence in the Bible that says they shouldn’t do it.
The man wants to have sex with his girlfriend. I assume his girlfriend wants to have sex with him. Both of them have sexual desires for each other. Maybe, their hormones are raging, saying, to quote the Waterboy, “You can do it!” Piper’s response? Tell the young man, “Don’t do it. The Bible says _________!” Rarely does this approach work. Paul Vanaman, a grizzled old IFB preacher who taught at my alma mater, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, told a group of ministers-in-training, “Men, a stiff prick has no conscience.” Crude? Sure, but Vanaman understood human sexuality. When a couple reaches the place of saying “Should we?” it is usually only a matter of time before the answer is “Yes!”
Piper’s second approach is this:
“You know (don’t you?) that Christ died for your sins—all of them—including your future fornication. When you penetrate this woman, you thrust a sword into Jesus’ side. Think about that. Do you want to do that? All your sins—if you’re a Christian—are on him. Every new sin you commit is a fresh sword thrust into the side of Jesus. Keep that in your mind, buddy. This pleasure that you’re getting is murdering the Son of God. Don’t do it lightly.”
To put it crudely, Piper is saying, “When you are fucking your girlfriend, you are fucking Jesus; that every pelvic thrust is you stabbing a knife in Jesus’ side.”
It takes one sick, twisted mind to come up with such analogies.
Piper then suggests that the man save himself for marriage; that marital sex is far better than intercourse or other sexual activity before marriage:
A third approach is to say, “Save it! I promise you, your life will be richer, your marriage will be deeper. God designed this so beautifully for you to enjoy. Save it. Save it! Don’t throw it away! It will hurt you and your marriage in the end. You’ll always wish you hadn’t done it in the end. I promise you. That’s the truth. This is a beautiful gift, it’s not an ugly thing. It’s a gift, designed to be the physical counterpart to an emotional, psychological, spiritual union with a wife. There is nothing sweeter—I say it from testimony—to lie with your wife, look right into her eyes at the moment of sexual climax and say, ‘Only you! Only you! Never another!’ That’s worth a billion dollars!”
Of course, Piper is giving this man terrible advice. No, marital sex is not always better than extra- or pre-marital sex. If sex is such a big part of our lives — and, for most people, it is — then it is prudent for couples to know if they are sexually compatible. When buying a car, we drive it first, right? Who would buy a car (or a home) without ever looking at it and testing it out? It is only religion that expects and demands couples trust God that they will be sexually compatible. This approach often leads to sexual and marital dysfunction, adultery, and divorce.
Finally, Piper pulls out the old Fundamentalist canard, “If you have sex with your girlfriend, she could give you a sexually transmitted disease (STD).”
A fourth and really pragmatic thing to say is, “You might get a very serious disease doing this.” That’s really low on the priority list.
Evidently, you can’t contract an STD if you are married; marriage protects you from syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and HIV. That’s sarcasm, by the way.
Piper goes on to give some advice to the girlfriend:
I would say all of that to the woman and add this: “If a man wants you in bed, you don’t want that man. Period! You don’t want him! If that man is willing to use you outside the covenant of marriage, why wouldn’t he use another woman outside the covenant of marriage ten years from now?”
According to Piper, if the man wants to have sex with his girlfriend he is “using” her. Evidently, sex without the benefit of marriage is “using” your partner; the moment you say I do, however, sex becomes mutual, holy, and pure. Evidently, Piper has never counseled any married couples where the wife or the husband thought their spouse was “using” them. You know, three minutes, and a grunt, and then rolling over and falling asleep. Marriage is no remedy for sexual dysfunction. Countless couples are in loveless marriages; relationships where sex is perfunctory or out of need, if it happens at all.
Thoughtful readers will likely conclude that Piper gave this young man bad, if not dangerous, advice; that such thinking can lead to sexual dysfunction and harm. If this young man is a real person — and I doubt that he is — I hope he ran as fast as he could away from Piper and his abhorrent advice. I suspect that nothing Piper said kept the man and his girlfriend from having sex. If Piper wants to blame someone, I suggest he blame God.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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