Apparently there are a lot of people really, really interested in why people have sex. So much so that there was a survey done titled 237 Reasons We Have Sex . Of about 2500 college students and the question asked was why have sex? Both men and women agreed on the top reasons for having sex: 1) they were attracted to the person, 2) they wanted to experience physical pleasure and 3) “it feels good,” according to a peer-reviewed study in the August edition of Archives of Sexual Behavior. Twenty of the top 25 reasons given for having sex were the same for both men and women. Sure expressing love and affection were in the top ten for both but were beaten out by the number one reason: “I was attracted to the person.”
Now when I heard these statistics, I could have engaged in the venerable evangelical pastime of ranting about how the culture is going to hell in a hand basket, making a list of what’s wrong with the world and blaming the Cable TV, music, and probably Lindsey Lohan. However, I was in my car and I had no one to rant to on the Ohio turnpike. Instead, what struck me was that if you take the reasons the college students gave for having sex, you could replace sex with a great meal or music CD and it would sound exactly the same. Why did you go to that restaurant and order that steak? “Well, I was attracted to the atmosphere and I saw several pictures of the steak before I got there.” Why do you enjoy steak at all? “Well, its fun to eat.” Why did you purchase and use that particular CD? “Well, I had seen the band and I was attracted to their music, so I bought the CD. That band’s music makes me feel good when I listen to it.” You could replace the “sex” with literally hundreds of other pleasures without missing a beat.
All of this wouldn’t be so puzzling if we didn’t also know that they weren’t really having that much fun. I say this because of another survey of women and orgasms, Your Brain on Sex . A survey of women in 1994 implies that there is good reason to correlate monogamy and orgasms in women. Monogamous religious women report more orgasms and Evangelical Christian women report the highest frequency of orgasms. Apparently “puritanical” evangelicals are having all the fun. In fact there may be a link between brain chemistry and monogamy. Monogamy produces oxytocin that leads to bonding. Promiscuity produces a dopamine flood not unlike the experience of being addicted to a drug. In fact in one study where rats could get a dose of dopamine by pressing a button, they just sat there pressing the button and ignored everything around them including food—not unlike college students on spring break. The point is the “fun and attraction” the college students are so excited about is a second rate pleasure. What struck me was the thought that if sex is just “fun” like a good game of scrabble with friends–how boring, trivial and commonplace is that? The good stuff, consistent mind-blowing orgasms and bonding, comes with a lasting commitment.
In the Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a senior devil, rejoices that through the mechanizations of modernity, human sexuality and affection have been twisted such that, “They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life as something lower than a storm of emotion.” It used to be the emotion was aimed at a person. Infatuation was the main cause for extra-marital sex, but Screwtape wasn’t ambitious enough. What the new survey tells me is that now the commitment of marriage is lower than a storm of emotion for a pleasurable experience not a person. Sex is just another pleasure. It is an exquisite one to be sure, but so is a really good meal or a great adventure or sporting event. How often do we hear comedians say, “____ was better than sex”?
The difference is that for Christians, sex isn’t another pleasure to be ranked with a good meal or a sporting event. It is what fancy philosophers call an incommensurable value. Comparing the sex that occurs as part of a partnership for mutual help, preservation of virtue, and the transmission of life, to a gourmet meal would be like comparing the thrill of graduating college to the thrill of whitewater rafting. They are in completely different categories. Graduating is not like rafting and sex is not like any other pleasure. That is the difference. That particular kind of life is only truly actualized within the committed relationship bound by the ties of covenant. And apparently monogamous sex within that greater activity of committed partnership produces better sex.
This brings me to one last survey. It seems that kind of worldview isn’t etched into someone simply because they hang around church or go to a youth group. According to columnist Michael Gerson In his Townhall.com article, Teenaged Morality , a survey of evangelical teenagers showed that making chastity vows aren’t all that effective. True love apparently doesn’t wait. Or at least doesn’t wait very long for true love. The average age for a Christian teen to lose his or her virginity is not much higher than any other teen and in some demographics actually lower. Bad news. Sure. One blog proclaimed, “Evangelical girls are easy.” However, things are not that simple. When the survey is correlated with level of spiritual commitment, the numbers change dramatically. Furthermore one sociologist notes that when you account for teenagers who are “embedded in a social network with shared norms,” chastity becomes much more attainable. Translation: Christian teens that have a network of accountability and support don’t succumb to the sex-is-like-a-good-steak or chocolate shake mindset. I could be wrong but that “embedded social network” of “shared norms” starts to sound like a worldview. Wearing promise rings and signing pledges are no substitute for good reasons to think great sex isn’t just pleasure like any other, its part of a way of a biblically integrated way of life. My son isn’t born for another two months, but he will arrive in a world that offers pleasures like a Chinese menu (one from column A two from column B), and I may be harsh or naive, but just loving Jesus won’t change that. He needs to have sound reasons as part of a Biblical worldview about sex and its incommensurable value to offer an alternative to the lackluster, boring, second rate, version of sex as just another pleasure.