Evangelicals appear to be preoccupied with sex. One megachurch pastor and his wife have written a book challenging married couples to a “sexperiment” of making love for seven days straight. Mark Driscoll’s controversial new book on marriage contains a chapter titled “Can We?” in which he and his wife answer questions they are typically asked in counseling situations, questions related to different sex acts.

This post is not meant to be a critique of Driscoll’s book (I haven’t read it and don’t plan to). Nor do I want the comments section to degenerate into a fiery back-and-forth about what activities are appropriate for married couples.

Instead, I want to offer a pastoral look at the underlying issues that prompt these questions and encourage pastors to go for the heart, not merely the surface, when approached with questions of this kind.

1. Recognize the legitimacy of the questions.

First, we should not be surprised that new converts are asking pointed questions about what activities are appropriate for a married couple. We live in a pornified culture. The majority of young men today have drunk from the polluted wells of porn for years. Perhaps previous generations of young couples didn’t find it necessary to seek pastoral counsel regarding sex acts. (Many of these discussions have historically been relegated to the family anyway.) But we must also recognize that previous generations were not drowning in a sea of simulated sex acts in the way ours is.

Therefore, we cannot and should not chastise new converts for asking specific questions regarding sexual activity. Paul did not chastise the Corinthians for asking about meat offered to idols. We should expect that new believers (and old believers, for that matter) who have at some time or another been hooked on pornography will have a view of sexuality formed (or better said, deformed) by what they have witnessed. There are specific, graphic kinds of questions that arise in this cultural context, and a pastor who seeks to be a missionary in a pornified world ought to expect the uncomfortable questions.

2. Go beyond the surface of the questions.

Many pastors recognize the legitimacy of the questions but don’t go any further. They offer a few reflections about mutual consent, relegate the decisions to the couple in the privacy of the marriage bed, and stress the principle that all (or most) acts are permissible.

This approach may be regarded as relevant and in touch, but frankly, I don’t think it is culturally contextual enough. I believe we are better missionaries and pastors when we use the questions as a way of discerning the heart’s motivations. The questions are the entryway into deeper, richer conversation about the beauty of marriage.

Imagine this scenario. A wealthy couple in your congregation comes to you for advice regarding some purchases they’d like to make. “Would it be okay, pastor, for us to buy a bigger TV for our living room? We already tithe and give to missions, but our current TV is a little small.” Most pastors will appeal to the freedom they have in Christ to make the purchase and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But the conversation continues. Their next question is about purchasing two more TVs the same size. Then the husband asks about getting a fourth car, although there are only three drivers in the family. And the wife says something like, “Well, our neighbors have four.” Next thing you know, they are pelting you with questions about making this purchase or that. And suddenly, you realize that the way you might answer the first question about an individual purchase is not the way you should approach all these questions. The stream of questions reveals a problem with materialism.

Or imagine this scenario: A young man who appears to be in great shape physically asks you about the appropriateness of eating fast food. You explain that in moderation one can enjoy a Big Mac. But he then asks what moderation consists of. Can he eat fast food three or four times a week? If he works out, can he eat all the junk food he wants? And is it wrong to plan each day around one’s meals? Suddenly, you realize that your initial answer to a question about fast food is not the way you should answer all his other questions about food. This guy is obsessed with food, and so now your tactic changes. You begin to ask him questions in order to discern his heart and get to the underlying issues.

The same thing is true of sex. You may answer one question in a particular way, but if a husband or wife is constantly asking, “Can we? Can we?” there are probably bigger issues under the surface. There are presuppositions regarding sex, satisfaction, reproduction, intimacy, neediness, lust, and servanthood that may need to be challenged by the gospel.

3. Challenge our culture’s obsession with sex.

If we only recognize the legitimacy of the questions but never go beyond the surface of those questions, we are missing an opportunity to counter our culture’s obsession with sex. It’s not enough to stress our freedom in Christ and grant carte blanche permission for couples to mutually consent to an assortment of sexual activities. Instead, we ought to use the questions as an opportunity to challenge our culture’s warped view of sex and to offer something of beauty in response.

The reason our world is so enamored with sex (evangelicals included) is not because it is so satisfying but because for many it is so unsatisfying. We know there is something cosmic going on when a husband and wife come together. We know there is supposed to be something sacred about the act of marriage. But so many in our society are missing it. And too many times, evangelicals respond to sexual disillusionment by turning our focus toward the act and not the marriage, and thus we fail to lift up something substantive. We offer a Christianized version of RedBook magazine’s “tips to spice up your love life.”

Perhaps it’s time that we shift focus from “Can we?” and “Can’t we?” to a better question: “Why do you ask?” The conversation following that question will surely be more pastorally fruitful in discerning the heart than if we focus merely on the do’s and don’ts.

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Comments:


12 thoughts on “Go Beyond the Sex Questions”

  1. Brian says:

    Great post Trevin! Thank you for elevating the discourse on this topic.

  2. Steve Martin says:

    Great post!

    Why do we as Christians waste time with topics that the heathens can discuss? That end no where in the grand scheme of things?

    God’s law and His gospel ought be the primary focus of the church so that we stay out of the cul de sacs of death that preoccupy so much of the culture.

    Thank you.

  3. My wife and I just finished reading the Driscoll’s book together. It is not the only book on marriage that should be read but it helped us out a great deal.

    The book seems to have a disproportionate amount of material on sex in marriage. It seemed strange to us at first but it turns out that is why we are most thankful for the book.

    We don’t agree completely with everything but the husband-wife conversations that sprang from our reading have been and will be very profitable.

  4. Ryan says:

    To be found in Christ is to be aligned with Him & sex is now no longer our God. We are free to discuss it and pastor people who still bow to it, and as pastors, we must. I love this post – as we drill down into the “why” behind these questions we see the status of one’s heart and the need for the Gospel to penetrate it. We are always about the heart.

  5. Ryan says:

    It is strange that Driscoll’s book keeps getting lumped with Ed Young’s and being primarily about sex. It’s not.

    The book is about the practical redemption and healing of marriages. Sad, that you take such a strong stance that you won’t read it Trevin.

    I might propose that the motivation is not as polluted or dirty as you are assuming Trevin, as to why people ask the questions they are asking. It could be they just want to know how to think theologically about how they have sex and what their sex life looks like. Just like people want to think theologically about their career, how they spend their money, and how they parent.

    I am confused that we don’t chastise anyone for wanting specific and practical insight into how to think theologically about how to raise children, but we automatically assume impure motives if they would like to do so about sex. Might be more the issue with those who are being asked the question…

    1. Rebekah says:

      I agree with Ryan– while idolatry can very easily become a motivation for pursuing sex, idolatry can creep in anywhere, and we shouldn’t assume that a couple asking questions about sexuality is wrongly obsessed with it!

      They may simply feel like I did as a newlywed: curious, excited, and sincerely wanting to make sure I was glorifying God. They want to “think theologically” about it and make sure that they haven’t confused worldly messages with the Bible’s. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of conversation.

    2. Brian Warshaw says:

      “Why do you ask” is always a fair response question, particularly in this arena. Thinking theologically about how to raise children is much different than asking a bunch of questions about what you can and can’t do in the bedroom. Questions about kids–at least the ones I’ve asked and have heard others ask–tend to focus more on the “how” of a “what” that is already known. They aren’t usually asking permission, so much as seeking the Bible’s wisdom on a task that the Bible has clearly called parents to.

      “Can we” questions are typically seeking the Bible’s wisdom on something that arises in the asker’s desire. This doesn’t make the questions wrong to ask, necessarily, but it does require scrutiny of motive if we want to serve the asker well.

      In summation (maybe I should have just summed up first and skipped the hot air):

      Parenting:
      ———-
      God commands us to raise our children to fear him, and our parenting questions tend to ask “how do I do this”

      “Can we”:
      ———
      We desire to do something to increase pleasure (whether it’s something we’ve been doing or want to start). The question starts with the heart of man instead of the heart of God, and so it requires a little more scrutiny (and not just by the person answering the question).

      I hope I’ve been gracious in my reply. Please let me know if I have not.

  6. donovan says:

    Every concern that was brought up in this post is addressed in the Real Marriage book, current sermon series and the participants guidebook. My wife and I have benefited exponentially from the Driscoll’s vulnerability.

    Let me demystify the book. Real Marriage is broken into three parts: Marriage, Sex, and The Last Day.

    The Marriage portion is about friendship, biblical roles for men and women in the marriage, repentance, and reconciliation. He defines friendship with an acrostic Fruitful, Reciprocal, Intimate, Enjoyable, Needed, Devoted, Sanctifying. He talks about how men need to reflect both Jesus’ “tough and tender” character. He tackles the issue honoring your wife, physically, emotionally, verbally, financially, technologically. Driscoll addresses the importance of the husband leading spiritually by finding a good church and worshiping at home together as a family. Regarding women, the books defines what it means for a wife to respect her husband and how to disagree respectfully. In the Real Marriage sermon series Mark teaches that the wife needs to be respectful and the husband needs to be respectable. The fifth chapter is called “Taking Out The Trash.” He mentions the “four horsemen” that will destroy communication in a marriage: 1. criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. This chapter also defines repentance, forgiveness, bitterness and how to have “a good fight,” which should always lead to reconciliation.

    Yes, the second part of the book is about sex. However, the content of this portion of the book or sermon series is not dangling from the thread of the “Can We____?” chapter. Driscoll lays out a biblical foundation for what sex is and isn’t (god, gross or gift?) Here are the types of questions that are being asked in the participants guidebook, “how does American culture at large reinforce the idea of sex as a god?” or “How does having a redeemed view of sex as a gift from God refute the distortions of sex as god or gross?” The book also addresses the hurt, pain, and shame of sexual sin or abuse. As these issues are addressed people are pointed to find identity, forgiveness, healing, and renewal in the person and work of Jesus. Real Marriage also addressees the porn epidemic or to quote Driscoll the “marriage killer.” It is not until chapter nine that he starts going into specifics about sex and when he does, it is about looking after the needs of your spouse rather than yourself. He deals with issues of pride and humility. Now, the hinging chapter of Driscoll’s reputation, “Can we____?” is built on the foundation of three questions based off of 1 Corinthians 6:12. 1. Is it lawful? 2. Is it helpful? 3. Is it enslaving? He goes into specific questions that all of us have asked or thought at some point in time.

    The third and final part of Real Marriage ends with a chapter called “Reverse Engineering Your Life and Marriage.” It covers planning for your future, setting up your priorities for life. There is a template of questions that help you process the future in a very detailed way.

    Real Marriage has dove head first into “why” and “heart” of your concerns about the preoccupation of sex.

  7. Taylor says:

    The recent Christian media flurry about sex has actually served to do the opposite of its intent for me. I can’t help thinking that the priority we’re giving to questions of sexual liberty in the bedroom are only necessary because we (too often pastors included) have put sex on a pedestal where it doesn’t belong.

    The whole scenario calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ analogy of his culture to a food obsessed culture attending burlesque shows featuring food rather than women.

    I appreciate that the questions are legitimate, but I think maybe even the initial answer needs to go beyond a simple explanation of freedom and put sex in its appropriate place; as a thing intended to be accessed and applied as a function of loving God and loving my neighbor. People from my generation aren’t necessarily asking ‘can we ___?’ with the same motivations as our elders would.

  8. John Mureiko says:

    Excellent post. This is definitely the most sane treatment of the subject I have seen yet since Driscoll’s book came out. “Why do you ask?” is the key question if you want to get to the root of potential idolatry.

  9. You should read the book. I like many were skeptical of “Real Marriage”. I was very surprised that I was not offended as an elder brother type. I would recommend to any and all my married friends.

    For the record, I love reformed theology and studying the Bible. I have a passion for evangelism and follow many Gospel Coalition blogs and reformed writers. CONCERNED: the tone of these blogs has become much less grace and lots of truth. Authority figures weighing in on books they have not read or responding to what others say about someone else.

    Let’s be careful that the Pharisee and Sadducee in all of us stays in check.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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