We’re honored to be joined again by author and speaker Paul Tripp on the Ask Pastor John podcast. He is the author of several books including the book Sex and Money.
I have a bigger question for Christian leaders, but first, Paul, we frequently receive heartbreaking emails from listeners of this podcast, specifically from wives who are feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the sexual expectations their husbands bring to the bedroom. Not all, but many of these women recognize these expectations as the influence of pornography on the men — pushing husbands to expect increasingly lurid acts. What would you say to women in this situation, and what would you say to the men?
It should never be the situation where a woman after having sex with her husband feels put upon, feels demeaned, feels dirty, feels guilty, thinks that maybe she has done something that is not pleasing to God, walks away with shame. Shame in marital sex is a screaming, flashing alarm, because shame should not be part of marital sex. It is the one place where sex isn’t to be shameful.
Now if I have those shame feelings, it means that I have been forced to do things that I don’t understand, that my conscience is pushing against because the person who I am having sex with is demanding rather than serving. How could it be anything else? So I am pushed to places that I am not comfortable in. And that is clearly what is going on there.
Now to the men, I would say the following: I think that one of the lies of the cultural view of sex is that sex is all about titillation, that it has got to have that almost dark titillation to it or it is not exciting. I am going to say something, and I believe any honest married couple will say, “I am glad he said this.” Marital sex is not titillating. It quits being titillating. It becomes normal and regular and it is a regular expression of the love and the pleasure that God has given us in our relationship with one another. But the titillating thing has got to have more — I have got to do more — I have got to do more wild and weird things. I have got to do it in secret.
All that stuff I don’t think is fundamentally what God meant sex to be. It is this regular expression of exciting physical love and pleasure between people who know themselves well and who are doing this together, who are seeking to please and to serve one another, and they end the act feeling loved by God, loved by one another, satisfied, and thankful — not guilty and shamed or mad because you wouldn’t do what I want you to do.
As porn spreads, is this reality becoming a greater problem?
Absolutely. But it is not first a pornography problem. It is an ownership of my pleasure problem that makes pornography a problem. So if I own my pleasure, then I am going to keep looking for things that give me more pleasure regardless of what it means to the other person. So if I get pleasure wrong, again, I have weakened my defenses against pornography and the demandingness that I carry into the marital bed.
Looking at it from a bigger context, the church seems to have a strategic role in de-mythologizing sex (dethroning the cultural idol of sex), and re-mythologizing sex (showing God’s full intent for it). How would you encourage pastors to do both?
I think that here is the state of things: While the world — the culture around us — never stops talking about sex, the church has been strangely quiet, strangely embarrassed, strangely reticent. Sex is a pure gift that God has given us. It is a beautiful thing. It points to God’s holiness, his glory, his life, his faithfulness, his grace. You could argue that the gift of sex preaches the gospel of who God is and what he does for his creatures. So we don’t have to be embarrassed about sex. Sex belongs to the church. It belongs to people who honor God, because it is only those people who are ever going to understand it properly and participate in it properly. So we should not be silent. We should celebrate human sexuality, because that celebrates the glory and the wisdom and the goodness of God.
And then what we need to do is teach people how to think in distinctively biblical ways about sex. And I think that is actually fairly simple. Here is the distinction I make in the Sex and Money book between big picture sex and little picture sex: What the culture does is isolate sex as a thing unto itself. Sex is sex, end of story. It is not necessarily connected to anything, but my pleasure. That is a heinously unbiblical view of sex. Sex is connected to everything. It is connected to the doctrine of creation. God created sex. He owned sex. It is connected to the authority of God. God has the right to tell us what to do in sex. It is connected to the nature of the fallen world and the surprise that this area gets distorted and bent and twisted. It is connected to my relationship with people. I am called to love my neighbor as myself. Sex is never an unrelational thing. It is always about relationship.
So there is all these cords that connect sex to bigger, larger things and, when it is pulled by all those cords, it lives in the middle where it is supposed to live. And what we need to do is connect all those cords for God’s people in good preaching and good teaching because, once you understand that, it is impossible for you to think of sex in isolation anymore.