But isn’t it just sin?

But isn’t it just sin?

But isn’t it just sin?

In my experience, Christians often label sexual temptations and artificial sexual experiences, when acted upon, as sin. However, merely having these desires or impulses does not constitute sin. Rather, there are specific psychological and emotional reasons why one experiences attractions outside of marriage. To that end, it’s important to consider the developmental, environmental, and temperamental causes for these desires.

Keep in mind that unhealthy opposite-sex relationships also result in lust, unwanted desires, and behavioral compulsions that often lead the Christian who believes in the heterosexual model of Biblical sexuality into sinful patterns that are just as troubling and complex as our non-heterosexually-attracted friends.

Because of my history of emotional and sexual brokenness, I made the mistake of trying to pursue sexual gratification through my wife for many years in our marriage. Because of my sexual abuse and addiction background, I viewed the marriage bed as a way to experience pleasure, to feel good, and many times, to relieve stress. You might say: So what’s wrong with that… you’re married right? Sex can do all of those things!

Yes, sex can do all of these things, but those “things” are merely an ancillary result, not the objective or main purpose, for sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is sacred. It’s special. It’s literally the bonding of two halves into one to create a consecrated union between two of God’s children, for life. The Bible describes it as two becoming “one flesh.” (Matthew 19:5)

This tells us that sex is not about the husband or wife pleasing each other, or one another, for whatever reason. It’s much more than that. It’s an experience we share together. It’s a gift we give each other. It’s a union we cherish. When husband and wife view sex in this light, it becomes much more than just a physical act based on mere attraction or sexual desire.

As I said above, one can be attracted to many things – humans and non-humans – but sex between husband and wife, in it’s ideal form, results in a deep level of emotional and spiritual intimacy that promotes attachment and bonding. In that sense, it is relatively easy to dismiss the idea of non-marital sexual attractions as sinful.

It is important to really understand why non-marital attractions occur and where they begin. As we will discuss, the type of attachments we experience in childhood and adolescence have a great deal of significance in what and who we are attracted to as adults. To illustrate this principle, I will discuss sexual attraction formation in males, since that is the population I have the most experience with my clinical work.

Sexual attraction as a developmental milestone

During the first year of life, healthy development has a baby in almost complete symbiosis with the mother. She breastfeeds him. She smiles and coos at him. He sleeps on her chest. As far as the baby is concerned, he and mom are one. Without mom, the baby cannot survive (and I would argue that without dad, the baby cannot thrive). His identity is completely associated with the mother. Around the age of one, the child begins to crawl and take his first steps. While this is the beginning of his own identity, he is still in a very insecure position.

As he crawls and walks away from mom, the toddler smiles and looks back to see if mom is following him. It’s an instinctual game the baby is playing: “Am I strong enough to be myself, or do I need mom to hold my hands or carry me?” As the toddler grows and his brain develops, he starts to become curious at the world around him. This phase of exploration also causes him to look outside of mom and see himself as different. If dad is safe and emotionally available, the boy will begin to connect with him. Between the ages of two-three, he will start to attach and identity himself with the father.

I have personally experienced this stage with my own sons. Around the age of two, boys will begin to notice their penis. While I bathe with them, I begin to playfully point out to my sons that daddy and son are alike. We both have a penis. We point to each other’s penis. We laugh, compare sizes, and make eye contact with each other. When I use the bathroom in front of them, I invite them in to see how boys urinate standing up. I encourage them to look at me, never shaming their curiosity.

It’s natural and healthy for children to want to learn about their own genitalia, because it’s a part of who they are as male or female. God created them male and female, with every part perfectly constructed.[1] So why should we shy away from showing this part to our children in a developmentally appropriate way?

During this early period, the boy will become more secure in his sex, and eventually prefer the company of dad to mom. But this is not without considerable effort on the part of the father. If there is more of a reward or comfort with mom, the boy may feel safer with her, especially if he has a sensitive temperament and dad is not intuitive to understand his needs.

But dad still has the ability to call out the masculinity in his son by connecting with him, teaching him, and affirming the boy for who he is, not just his good behavior. During these times, dad and son begin to bond with each other and relate in a unique way.[2] They become intimately acquainted with each other; they know each other.

One of the phrases used for sexual relations in the Bible comes from the Hebrew word yadha, which means, to be intimately acquainted with. When the Bible describes sexual relations between Adam and Eve, the King James Version uses the phrase “to know.” [i] “Adam knew Eve, his wife (Genesis 4:1).”

So when we think about sexual intimacy between husband and wife, we are actually describing more than just a sexual act. In fact, it’s a deep form of intimacy that goes far beyond the intercourse of genitals. To know one another, in the Hebrew sense, is far more complex than the English translation would have us believe. It has implications for attachment, intimacy, and bonding.

When boys separate from their mothers and attach to their father, they know, or yadha, with the masculine. After they bond with dad they need to bond, or yadha, with other boys. So the father’s role is to first bond and connect with his son, and second, to encourage his son to assert himself and step into his masculinity by testing himself around other boys.

This causes his son to want to connect and bond with other males, which results in him feeling secure in his maleness as he attaches to same-sex peers and becomes one of them. This comes with a considerable amount of trial and error, but with some support from dad, the boy will use his father as a springboard into the world of men.

Without a strong, emotionally connected and secure father, the boy will have no launching pad and will be forced to retreat to mother for his emotional needs. But with dad by his side, he is able to step into his maleness and assert himself with his peers and take his place in the world of men.

By the time the boy reaches puberty, he has connected with both his father and male peers, and is becoming intimately acquainted with the masculine. It is at this point where God awakens his sexual drive and he begins to feel attractions for the opposite sex. It’s not by accident, or by chance, that he starts to feel sexual attractions for the feminine.

On a conscious level, the boy looks at a girl and has a sexual desire to know her intimately. But on an unconscious, spiritual and emotional level, his desire is to be intimately acquainted with her, or to yadha. He already knows others boys. But the female is different than him. She’s exotic. She’s beautiful. She’s mysterious. He wants to connect with her. He wants to bond with her. He wants to know her.

[1] In no way is this statement meant to be insensitive to persons born with ambiguous genitalia. While such occurrences do exist, they are very rare and this should be viewed primarily as a medical issue, not a spiritual or psychological problem. 

[2] It is my opinion that mothers instill good behavior in their boys, while a father balances the encouragement of good behavior and allows his son to take healthy risks to test his masculinity.

This is an excerpt from chapter 4 of The Meaning of Sex: A New Christian Ethos (January, 2018). For more information on how to obtain a copy, please contact our office at IHFINFO@InstituteforHealthyFamilies.org. Christopher Doyle, MA, LPC, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and the Executive Director of the Institute for Healthy Families. 

35 comments (Add your own)

1. Gene Chase wrote:
I've been appreciating this blog. I think I'll buy the book. :-) So far I only have one nit to pick. I think there is a scriptural theme of modesty which since the Fall links nakedness and shame. Your Chapter 4 here seems to link nakedness of father with son and no shame. I didn't bathe *with* my sons at all. When they were young I bathed them, but only until they could bathe themselves. "Why is your penis larger than mine?" got a simple answer: "Because I'm older than you."

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