When it comes to attitudes about sex in America, I often find myself somewhere between cynical and hopeless. I read statistics about 95 percent of adults losing their virginity before marriage. I look at the magazine rack in the grocery store and the headlines that encourage promiscuity and multiple sexual partners. And I tend to conclude that Christians who believe God intended sex to be a joyful, mutually edifying expression of commitment and love, a mirror of God's love for his church, a gift that binds a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife—I tend to conclude that such Christians (myself included) have lost not only the battle but also the war. As cynical or hopeless as I might become, two recent articles have inspired me to try to articulate a view of sex that counters the mainstream assumptions and calls individuals to a different way.

Both articles appeared in The Atlantic, a publication that routinely engages topics such as marriage, divorce, sex, and pornography in a thoughtful and even-handed way. For instance, there was the essay in which Ross Douthat argued that viewing pornography could be considered adultery, and the blogpost about Hephzibah Anderson, who decided to abstain from sex for a year. So when the January/February issue arrived, with two articles about sex and porn in the United States, I was looking forward to reading them.

The first, "The Hazards of Duke," by Caitlin Flanagan, analyzes a PowerPoint presentation created by Karen Owen, a recent Duke graduate. This slide show details Owen's sexual escapades with 13 campus athletes. Flanagan concludes that despite Owen's bravado, crudity, and "desire to recount her sexual experiences in a hyper-masculine way," she is really just a girl wanting affection from boys. Flanagan laments the culture of random hookups on college campuses: "We've made a culture for our college women in which they have been liberated from the curfews and parietals that were once the bane of co-eds, but one in which they have also shaken off the general suspicion of male sexuality … Maybe they're all the better for it. Or maybe an awful lot of these young women at our very best colleges are being traumatized by what takes place during so much of this mindless, drunken partying … " Flanagan has no answer for the problem Karen Owen represents. But at least she understands that there's a problem.

The next article, "Hard Core" by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, explores the world of Internet porn and what it tells us about our humanity. I have chosen not to link to it because I cannot recommend reading it due to its depraved view of men, women, and sex.

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Despite its content, the article deserves comment. In fact, it deserves rebuttal. Its subheading reads, "The new world of porn is revealing eternal truths about men and women." According to Vargas-Cooper, the sexual acts portrayed on many porn websites merely reflect natural human, or rather, natural male, desire: "porn doesn't plant [ideas] in men's minds; instead, porn puts the power of a mass medium behind ancient male desires."

Men, she argues, are violent creatures. Sex is a sometimes pleasurable experience "largely driven by brute male desire and therefore not at all free of violent, even cruel, urges." Furthermore, she suggests that women are complicit in this "truth" about sex. Even for women, the "best sex" comes "where the buffers of intimacy or familiarity do not exist."

Despite the many false premises Vargas-Cooper asserts, in the end she too identifies a problem with no solution. Although porn divorces the physical act of sex from the emotional connection of a man and a woman coming together, and although Vargas-Cooper's own claims support that divide, she concludes, "The most frightening truths about sex rarely exist in the physical, but instead live in the intangible yet indelible wounds created in the psyche."

For Flanagan, the new sexual mores take away women's needed protection. For Vargas-Cooper, porn is simply a representation of sex: a brutal, male-dominated, and harmful act. If either of these women is right, then sign me up for lifelong virginity.

The Biblical perspective on human sexuality offers a counter-narrative, a counter-narrative of faithfulness, hope, and love. Jesus quoted Genesis 2 when the Pharisees asked him about divorce: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?" (Matthew 19:4-5). The eternal truth about sex, according to the Bible, begins with Adam and Eve, whose union reflects the image of God. God intends sex to be a physical expression of an emotional and spiritual reality, an expression of love protected by the vows of marriage. Furthermore, sex, in contrast to Vargas-Cooper's argument, is about mutual giving and receiving. Paul writes, "The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife" (1 Cor. 7:4). Sex in marriage, in other words, is an expression of self-sacrifice and submission for both the man and the woman. Sex involves pleasure, of course, but receiving the physical pleasure of sex is intimately related to giving of oneself—giving oneself to the other and also giving oneself to the possibility of bringing life into the world.

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Secular culture assumes that a Christian view of sex is repressive and boring, not to mention virtually impossible to achieve. And yet the options offered by the secular culture lead to subjugation of women, violence, and despair. It is up to Christians to hold forth a radically hopeful alternative to the porn industry and hookup culture. It is up to Christians to articulate the eternal truth about sex as a gift from God intended to bring life, freedom, and joy.