The great divorce of sex and marriage

Marriage
by Nick Eicher

Posted on Friday, February 5, 2016, at 1:36 pm

Each week, The World and Everything in It features a “Culture Friday” segment, in which Executive Producer Nick Eicher discusses the latest cultural news with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation.

Almost half of conservative, Protestant church-goers in America believe having sex outside of marriage is OK for consenting adults, according to a recent Barna survey

“The big story here is that people no longer agree when it comes to the purpose and meaning of sex—including people in our churches,” Barna editor-in-chief Roxanne Stone told religion writer Terry Mattingly.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found the biggest divide in attitudes toward sex is generational. Millennials were half as likely as their elders to say reserving sex for marriage was moral. 

John Stonestreet said the shift in attitudes about sex and marriage is the result of a long divorce between the institution of marriage and its God-given purposes. The advent of birth control separated the purpose of sex from childbearing. 

“Sex was divorced from procreation; now we divorce sex from marriage,” Stonestreet said. “All of this has to do with sex and its ultimate purpose.”

Churches have done a poor job teaching the purpose of sex in recent generations. They have taught that the purpose of sex is to bring together a man and a woman, but they haven’t driven home the reason why.

“When you separate [sex] from the legitimate, biological aspect of it, that this is … to create another human life, there’s really no physical purpose of marriage,” Stonestreet said. “That’s why it’s extremely hard for millennials to figure out why the God-given biological parts of male and female actually matter to this conversation. Already, procreation doesn’t fundamentally matter in how they’ve been taught. Why would ‘male’ and ‘female’ fundamentally matter?”

Listen to Culture Friday on The World and Everything in It.

Nick Eicher

Nick is chief content officer of WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. He has served WORLD Magazine as a writer and reporter, managing editor, editor, and publisher. Nick resides with his family in St. Louis, Mo.

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  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    My favorite Presbyterian minister said to me: "sex is for marriage."  This is clear. As the Bible says concerning marriage, man and woman, in the institution of marriage as delineated in the book of Genesis, are to cleave together and to become one flesh.  So sex is a blessing that should only be enjoyed by husband and wife, together. And, when the married couple do enjoy this blessing, there is no shame.  Also, there is the possibility of a miracle, which is a baby.

  • hawaiicharles
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    I always enjoy hearing from Mr. Stonestreet, and I absolutely agree that sex is meant for marriage only. However, I sense a hostility toward birth control that I think is misplaced.  Is it wrong for couples to limit the number of children they have?  I certainly don't think so.  Furthermore, I would argue that Song of Songs teaches that the *primary* purpose of sex is to enhance the intimacy between a husband and wife.  Or, at the very least, it's on par with childbearing.  Regardless, I don't think it's right to send a message, however subtle it may be, to Christian couples that they should feel guilty for using contraception.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    @Indiana Taylor - <like>Why do young unmarried guys swoon when their buddy shows up with his nice looking wife ? Everyone knows why. Old guys for that matter as well.And considering that for like 0.1% of the time, breasts are used for their primary purpose, it's amazing God made another purpose for them the remaining 99.9% of the time . . . hey, it's in the Bible !!!! Proverbs 5:19, not to mention Song of Soloman.

  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    @hawaiicharles, the entire Christian church was opposed to contraception up to 1930.  I understand this is incredibly unpopular nowadays, but contraception is ungodly.  I don't know exactly where Nick Eicher stands, but the widespread acceptance of contraception is a fairly new thing, and represents man's desire thwart God's design of procreation.  It puts pleasure over all else, and is actually a form of idolotry.  Who is man to stand in the way of God's design?  I would respectfully disagree that Song of Soloman teaches sex is primarily about pleasure.  Of course sex provides pleasure, and the book describes it well.  Pleasure is a wonderful compliment to what the designed purpose is; procreation. 

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    @Minivan Man - <like>

  • overflowingcup
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    So very thankful to see this article on World!! The impact of separating sex from procreation is incredibly far reaching and we are reaping the consequences today in so many areas. hawaiicharles--One note on your argument that Song of Songs teaches that the primary purpose of sex is to enhance intimacy--mandrakes, which were used as a fertility drug, are included in the setting--clearly the scene depicted is not one that includes birth control but instead the hope for a child to spring from the union. minivan man--So very thankful for your testimony--may God use it to help wake up the church!

  • hawaiicharles
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    Regarding Onan - his sin specifically was that he refused to provide an heir for his dead brother, which was his legal obligation.  I think it's a stretch to apply that passage to contraception in general.As for ancient fertility (or non-fertility) practices, it seems pretty clear that the sin lay in the connection with worship of false gods.  I admit that science can be a false god for many, but it's also a gift FROM the True God and has brought much good into the world.  Crop fertility was also widely connected with pagan religious rites in previous times.  Does that mean it's a sin to use modern fertilizers or herbicides?@ Minivan Man - are you suggesting that it's a sin for a couple with fertility problems to use any medical treatment other than prayer if they want to conceive but cannot? If not, then I think it's inconsistent to argue the other way around.We live in a time which many cultural and technological innovations have enriched our lives, and I believe those are God-given.  Through those, we have a wide degree of latitude in choosing the directions and circumstances of our lives that was unavailable to previous generations.  I think choosing the number and timing of children is one of those.

  • overflowingcup
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    I am glad for this discussion; I think it is so very important. @hawaiicharles - When technology is used to prevent a life that does not sound like a good use of technology that enriches our lives (it certainly did not enrich the life that was denied) to me. It is being used to prevent something God declares is a blessing--how does that enrich our lives? Even more, God is life; do you think He is in favor of us using technology to prevent life? Does that sound like an idea from God or Satan? Satan is against God making lives for His eternal glory. When we use technology to stop life from forming we are basically telling God we know better than He does when a new life should be made. We also reveal how little we value the lives that He would make through us. We think we know better than God the value of a life. In terms of the mandrakes being used for fertility, the point is not about it being wrong to use them as they were associated with pagan idols but that the woman's hope in the midst of sex is the hope of children. She may be looking to the wrong thing but the point is she is hoping for a child, not using contraception to prevent one. That hope for a child is integral to her desire to join together. Regarding Onan, consider that he did not simply refuse to lie with her. He decided to take all the pleasures of sex but deny the purpose God would have in it.

  • gibbs
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    Incredibly thoughtful comments back and forth, with Biblical backing, much to think about, pray about, hear directly from God via Holy Spirit and Scripture...like our free will ("whoever believes in Him shall...have eternal life" John 3:16) and His sovereign will ("The Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it," John 5:22) , this side of heaven we mortals may not be able to determine [in this non-essential-to-our-salvation issue] where the Hand of God ends and the arm of man begins--and when we think we've got it , we are in error. Speaking (forth) the truth in love invariably involves grace ...Thanks, WORLD mag for dialogue opportunity: To God be the Glory, in this and in all our discussions.

  • Rob's picture
    Rob
    Posted: Mon, 04/18/2016 10:12 am

    Behold, children are a heritage of the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Ps 127:3A monetary gift of $1000 would also be a blessing and unlikely to be turned down but certainly not sinful to decline.  It may not be sinful to use birth control but sometimes the implications of use are not well thought out and possible serious side effects (such as the well known association with DVT and pulmonary embolism) are downplayed.

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