A wholesome attitude toward sex is part of the good life

Sex is supposed to be a very sophisticated matter today. The new ethic is: There are no moral absolutes. In Sex and the College Girl, Gail Greene pointed out that although some areas (namely the South) have not yet gone as far as others (the North and Far West) in the new morality, the direction in all parts of the country is the same: toward a loose, more “sophisticated” attitude toward sex.

What follows will not be a sophisticated discussion. Its premise may be stated simply: Sex is moral, for sex is of God.

We are ever a part, not only of the present, but also of the future in terms of the past. We are always moving. A student of history must learn to evaluate the present in terms of the past. The wise student will also try to evaluate the future in the light of the present and the past. It should prove both comforting and alarming to know that, although we are very “sophisticated” in our present attitudes toward sex, we are not yet so sophisticated as we can get.

Consider Rome. For those of the Catholic faith, Rome is the religious capital, and it has indeed played a large part in the history of Christianity. Yet film director Fredrico Fellini flatly listed his own city of Rome as one of the most corrupt cities in the world today, stating his premise in La Dolce Vita. Few films have been so revealing and so depressing.

Fellini chose his characters from the elite set in today’s Rome and traced them through an average twenty-four-hour period of obscenity, lewdness, and debauchery. In the next-to-last scene, a dozen or so people sit in a room staring blankly at one another. They are completely bored, for they have run out of things to try in their game of sex. Every woman is so familiar with every man in the room that all sit silently in utter disgust. They seem to have reached the end of the line.

The final scene presents a parable that cannot be soon forgotten. It is the morning after, and the same people are on the beach looking at a fish that has been washed ashore. It is a peculiar fish, completely round. The group cannot decide which part is its head and which its tail. Thus Fellini describes the circle of illicit sex that moves from frustration to boredom and finally to despair. Standing apart from the group is a girl dressed in white, who symbolizes the innocence of the past. She keeps calling to the group, but the waves are so noisy and she is so far away that they cannot hear. As the film ends, they are still trying to determine where the head and tail are. The voice in the distance keeps calling, “Come back. Come back.” But they cannot hear. We are not yet so sophisticated as we can get.

Article continues below

What we have chosen to call “sophistication,” God in his holy Word still calls sin. After recording man’s repudiation of God, three times the first chapter of Romans says: “… and God gave them up” to carnal sin. Men “burned in their lust one toward another”; women “changed the natural use to that which is against nature.” Both men and women were “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness.” God gave them over to a reprobate mind.

God has a morality of sex. And there are points beyond which he simply will not allow a society to go and still survive. In the eyes of God, sex, when used rightly, is wholesome and purposeful. But when it is misused, it is the deadliest sin with which a person can tamper. Pregnancy, illegitimacy, early marriage, forced marriage, and disease are nothing compared to the hostility, shame, and anxiety that come as a result of this sin.

What is God’s ethic of sex? Does the Bible present specific guidelines? Can a firm, clear sexual morality be found?

Sex, as far as God is concerned, primarily and basically involves marriage. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5). This passage does not say merely that, after two people marry, the sexual relationship is acceptable. “… they twain shall become one flesh” is not simply a phrase given to a preacher to say at a wedding altar. It does not imply that in that moment, at that altar, the two have become one. It is not a wedding pronouncement at all, but rather a statement of fact. In the eyes of God, two people become one in bed.

When one is joined to another sexually, in the eyes of God marriage takes place. This might help to explain why the only biblical ground for divorce is adultery. Ultimately, a marriage is violated in the same manner it is consummated—in the act of sex. As far as God is concerned, sex is immediately, primarily, and directly related to marriage.

Again, as far as God is concerned, sex involves responsibility. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife.…” He shall subordinate all other responsibilities and assume primary responsibility for the person to whom he is joining himself.

It is at the point of responsibility that most extramarital and pre-marital relationships are doomed to failure. An “affair” can never have a happy ending, no matter how it begins or how long it lasts. For though a man can offer a woman his attention, money, time, and even love (he thinks) outside marriage, he cannot offer her what she primarily needs, and deserves—security. A woman craves the feeling that someone is responsible for her. Sex must be undergirded by responsibility.

Article continues below

A girl may say, “I know he really cares for me.” But what if tomorrow she were paralyzed from the waist down and had to be pushed around in a wheel chair? How long would he remain interested in the relationship? Sex involves the responsibility of a person to another person regardless of the circumstances.


Cynically, boldly I gazed

At that from which all others shrank in horror—

But I fell back shuddering—dazed:

Repulsed by filth;

Sickened by rotteness;

Scared by naked evil—

But none of these convey my shock of horror

When I looked into God’s Law-mirror!

How much less can words express the black distress

That came of abandonment

When, in terror, I destroyed the mirror,

and turned my gaze nearer

To earth’s enchantments—

Only to see the same, self-sodden me

(whom I cannot flee).


As far as God is concerned, sex involves love. The cry today is: “As long as we are in love, everything is fine. And love is what we have plenty of.” This is the new morality, in which sex is love.

How strange that a word can come to mean the opposite of what it was intended to mean. “Love” should describe a selfless devotion between two people. Instead, it has come to mean selfishness.

During the harvesting of fruit in the orange groves of Florida, a worker will occasionally take out a knife and cut away the top of an orange. He will then take the fruit in both hands, suck and squeeze until the pulp is dry, and cast what is left to the ground. “I just love oranges,” he may say. What he means is, “Oranges do something for me.”

How can a woman be so blind? How can she let a man take so much from her, simply because he said the magic phrase, “I love you”? What he meant was, “You do something for me, and 1 am going to take what I can get.” That is not love, not at all.

Genuine love involves respect, a respect that can be tested with the question: “Does he (or she) really look upon me as a person, or as a thing?”

In Rostand’s The Last Night of Don Juan, the devil comes for Don Juan dressed as a puppeteer. Don Juan pleads for mercy. “I am innocent,” he says, “because i sincerely loved all the Women I ever had.” He begs the devil to call the women back to testify in his behalf.

Article continues below

Satan does this. However, he has each one wear a tiny mask over her eyes. Each woman comes to Don Juan and speaks to him, and he is to respond by calling each by her name. But not once can he get the right name for the woman before him. He not only never loved the women he knew; he never really knew the women he knew.

He had lost all respect for each woman he was supposed to have loved. In so doing, he lost respect for himself as a person. That is why Satan came dressed as a puppeteer. Don Juan had lost control of his own life, lost his identity as a person. He had become a puppet, completely controlled by his own appetites.

Ultimately, as far as God is concerned, sex involves the love of God resting upon a relationship. The final test is whether the man and woman can say, “God’s blessing is resting on our relationship; we have sought God’s guidance and control in our lives.”

We all shy away from the word “control.” All of us want freedom—freedom from control, freedom from restraints. We do not have the foresight or insight to see that there is no such thing as complete freedom! Anything that is alive must, to remain alive, be tied to something else. A tree is fastened to the earth. If someone “frees” it by pulling its roots from the ground, it is free only to die.

To remain both free and living, we must be tied to something life-giving. We shall never be completely free. Basically, we have the choice of three sources of control: the people around us, our own passions and appetites, or the guidelines God offers us.

The way to achieve a wholesome attitude toward sex is to place oneself in an attitude of prayer and to search for God’s will in this deepest of all relationships.

The other clay I poked my head over the back fence and saw my neighbor, Bishop Golightly, that eloquent exponent of avant-garde Christianity, ruminating in his garden.

“Hi, there! Going to the university?” I said, for he was wearing his turtle-neck sweater.

He gave me a dreadful frown. “Yes,” he replied, quite unlike his usual expansive self. I sensed that some problem weighed upon his mind, and, never loath to offer advice, I leapt over the fence.

“What,” I asked, picking myself up out of his hollyhocks, “is the trouble?”

He let out a despairing sigh and as he steered me past the geraniums said, “Well, if you must know, it’s one of my students. He’s badgering me for some concept of the devil.”

Article continues below

“You mean Old Nick?” I said, taken aback. “Or something new and distinctive?”

“Who knows what the present generation wants?” grumbled the bishop, as we took a melancholy turn around the mulberry bush. “It isn’t easy to preserve one’s intellectual reputation these days, you know.”

“Well, then, did you try the agnostic silence bit?”

“I did. He won’t take that for an answer.”

We wagged our heads at the sheer gall of today’s youth. “But it seems to me,” the bishop went on, beating around the bush again, “that any approach to the problem must be experience-centered—one that the young student can incorporate into his being and reflect.…”

“You’re right!” I broke in joyfully. “Experience! That’s the ticket! Now supposing next Sunday you look down from the pulpit and find the devil sitting in the front pew. How’s that for an experience?”

The bishop looked stunned. “In my church?” he asked. “In the front pew?”

“Oh, he’d be down front all right. Not crowded in the back with the rest of the congregation. They say he’s a bold fellow, you know. Probably pleasant-looking, too. Shoes shined, good silk suit, handkerchief in pocket. But you’d know him, bishop. You’d sense the dark presence of evil, wouldn’t you?”

“I would?” said the bishop.

“And you’d denounce him for the terrible and ancient adversary that he is, wouldn’t you?” I cried, carried away by the grandeur of the spectacle. “And you’d chase him down the aisle and kick him down the front steps, wouldn’t you? Or cast him in the fiery furnace in the basement, wouldn’t you? Or put him in the lockup for a thousand years?”

Fortunately, at this point the bishop’s saner thought prevailed. “A situation such as you describe,” he said severely, “cannot be acted upon without thorough and prolonged study. In fact, any attempt to drive anyone out of the church would undoubtedly be taken as a rebirth of intolerance.”

“I never thought of it exactly that way,” I admitted, shamefaced. “Then what do you suggest?”

“Why, I should hope I’d be open-minded enough to invite him to a panel discussion with the Wednesday afternoon study group, or perhaps to the pulpit the following Sunday.”

“Marvelous!” I gasped. “Then the congregation can jeer and mock him! Or even throw tomatoes at him!”

“Of course not,” the bishop snapped, leading me down the garden path. “There will be no emotionalism! After all, if the devil thinks he belongs in the church, then he should be accorded the right to expound his theories as best he may in an atmosphere of restraint and calm. There is no denying that the devil is an able theologian, and one can think him mistaken without hounding him like a heretic.”

Article continues below

“You mean any attempt to heave him out of the church would hurt the church’s image more than the devil’s?” I said, picking a raspberry from a nearby shrub.

“Now you’re beginning to get the idea,” said he.

“But supposing,” I said, giving him the raspberry, “supposing the congregation decide they’d rather have the devil than you. That might do you out of a job.”

“Nonsense, my dear chap,” the bishop said, and he laughed so heartily I had to whack him on the back to bring him round. Then, wiping away tears of laughter, he walked toward his red sports car in the driveway. “You are assuming that my congregation will see no difference between the devil’s old heresies and my new and radical insights, which, as you know, are as fresh as the breezes in this garden.”

“I’m certainly glad they’re not cold blasts from outer darkness,” I said, greatly comforted. The bishop couldn’t hear me, however. He was off to the university with engine roaring and horn tootling like a loud but uncertain trumpet

—E. N. BELL, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.