Interact with people in our society about issues related to sex, and you’ll quickly discover how everyone seems to be a libertarian.

The dominant assumption is that religious people shouldn’t voice their opinions. Government should stay out of the bedroom. People ought to be free to engage in sexual relations with whomever they want whenever they want, as long as it’s not considered harmful to anyone. Even Christians who believe certain sexual activities (adultery, sex before marriage, homosexuality) to be morally wrong often grant the assumption that people ought to be free in their sexual decisions.

But there is no such thing as absolute freedom when it comes to sexuality. The moment we celebrate or endorse certain behaviors, we curtail freedom in other areas. This is the nature of freedom.

Male Friendships

Here is an example.

  • 100 years ago, men were known to be openly affectionate with one another.
  • Men like Teddy Roosevelt wrote letters to other men that expressed great love and tenderness, to the point it makes modern day readers feel uncomfortable.
  • Men took pictures of themselves holding hands and demonstrating physical affection.
  • Abraham Lincoln was open about sharing a bed with Joshua Speed. Though some revisionists have sought to refashion this friendship a homosexual relationship, Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin is most certainly right: the fact Lincoln spoke so openly about Speed is a clear sign that his male friendships were just that, friendships.

Today, there is little freedom for men to be physically affectionate toward one another. Writing an affectionate email might be seen as “girly” or “unmanly,” although it’s hard to imagine Teddy Roosevelt as a wimp.

What happened?

The Sexualization of Everything

As society has rushed to embrace homosexual behavior, the normal bonds of friendship between men have been curtailed. When Hollywood produced Brokeback Mountain, a movie that celebrated the relationship of gay cowboys, people began joking about men who go camping together and sleep in pup tents.

Men no longer express affection and friendship in ways they did a generation ago. The increasing acceptance of homosexuality and horror stories about child abusers like Jerry Sandusky  are enough to cause men to think twice before doing anything that could be misconstrued in a sexual manner.

What were once normal expressions of affection and love have been romanticized and sexualized. Our culture is losing the opportunity to have men who resemble Sam and Frodo – lasting friendships forged through trial and suffering, and yet whose affections were not romantic in nature.

The Frightening Future

So what happens next?

Our society’s propensity for sexualizing everything frightens me. What other relationships will get sexualized?

Here’s an example. My four-year-old daughter loves to jump in my arms, kiss me on the cheek, and hold me tightly. She is a physically affectionate little girl, and I hug and kiss her right back. I cherish the moments I have as a dad with a little princess who has no inhibitions of expressing her love to her daddy.

But let’s say society’s path of celebrated sexuality continues to move forward. Let’s say a Lolita type movie were to come out in a few years that celebrates incest. Let’s say the elite in Hollywood praised the movie, scorned those who were morally outraged, and decided to celebrate the sexualization of the father/daughter relationship.

What would eventually happen? Over time, fathers would be less likely to hug and kiss their little girls, to twirl them around like princesses and snuggle with them as they read bedtime stories at night. They’d feel weird about it because the culture has romanticized and sexualized what was once a normal affectionate expression. (I feel sick to my stomach even alluding to such a thing.)

This scenario scares me. But surely it’s not unrealistic. (Want proof? A new movie is out that celebrates an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister.) Our culture’s hyper-sexualization of everything could eventually poison a family’s innocent hugs and kisses.

Once we celebrate all sorts of sexual freedom, we slowly eliminate expressions of normal physical affection between human beings. Everything gets interpreted sexually, and this causes human beings to move farther apart, not closer together. In the name of freedom, we put ourselves in chains.

There is no such thing as absolute sexual freedom. Our society’s choice to celebrate and elevate types of behavior once considered out-of-bounds has ramifications for interpersonal relationships.

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Comments:


52 thoughts on “Sexual Freedom Always Curtails Other Freedoms”

  1. LJ says:

    “Writing an affectionate email might be seen as “girly” or “unmanly,” although it’s hard to imagine Teddy Roosevelt as a wimp.”

    You think that people being openly homosexual is the reason that sexist ideas about being seen as girly persist?

  2. That’s a courageous and very insightful post, Trevin. I’ve thought similar things about my children (in my case, I feel it more with my son), and I think the way you’ve expressed this is really wise. Well done.

  3. Kevin says:

    Are you confused how the church is losing its moral ground to protect biblical marriage [and how gay “marriage” seems reasonable to some, even in the church]? You should be. Gay marriage is linked to contraception (a practice widespread in the church, rarely discussed). A homosexual couple won’t naturally conceive, nor will a heterosexual couple using contraception. Why discriminate? Neither sex act is procreative. Once you treat marriage solely as a vehicle for individual pleasure, devoid of God’s procreative design, a non-Christian government has no footing to say what consenting adults can do for pleasure. This gets into the question of “Why is the government involved at all in recognizing marriages?” What does society have to gain from a marriage? Is it not stable, productive, taxpaying citizens [brought into being through heterosexual, stable marriages]?
    Is it the role of the government to endorse any person’s own pleasure-seeking? There are some deviants who desire polygamy, incest, bestiality, etc. Should the government recognize such unions?

    1. Drew says:

      Kevin, if the purpose of sex is purely for procreation, then please explain how there’s entire book in the Bible talking about sex (within the confines of marriage) and never once mentions procreation or having children. Song of Solomon is a book that celebrates sex as a gift from God for those who are joined in marriage. I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of “pleasure” in that book and not much “procreation.”

  4. Rebecca says:

    I second the first commenter. Excellent post. We were stunned watching old “MacGyver” episodes with our teenaged boys to see him pick up, hug, and snuggle a pre-teen street girl. Even since the 80’s the concept of childhood has been marred.

  5. T.Newbell says:

    I really appreciate this post, Trevin. I was just thinking about how difficult it is for people to even express the words, “I love you.” I wonder if this restraint men can feel might even affect their marriages–less expressive or affectionate in general. Great post.

    1. Gary says:

      I know men that cannot say “I love you”. They use a form of it, but cannot say it. I am happily married and have a daughter, but have no issue telling a close male friend that I love him. I end many of my emails “much love” or “much love my friend”. I think it’s necessary and the more real men do it and say it maybe at least in the church it will become a little more natural again…

  6. buddyglass says:

    That there is no absolute freedom to do {whatever} doesn’t imply that the believer should support legislation that prohibits it. Moreover, the believer can support the legal freedom to engage in an activity without endorsing it as acceptable before God. I’d go one step further and suggest that the bible enjoins the believer to support such legal freedom in most cases (e.g. adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, etc.)

    1. Brandon says:

      Where exactly does the bible encourage us to support the freedom for mankind to rebel against God? I would imagine you would still endorse the prohibition of murder, rape, pedophilia, that sort of thing, why is that different?

      1. buddyglass says:

        It encourages us to support earthly liberty when it enjoins us to love our neighbors. It would seem fairly unloving to, for instance, advocate that blasphemy be treated as a crime. As a thought exercise, suppose blasphemy were already a crime and you happened to accidentally record your next door neighbor uttering some blasphemy. Would you turn him in? Does that seem like the loving thing to do? If it’s unloving to participate in the prosecution of a law, does that not call into question whether the believer should be supporting it in the first place?

        When it comes to murder, rape, theft, etc. I very much support their continued treatment as crimes since each has a fairly obvious victim and do demonstrable harm. It would be cruel to oppose their criminal status given the effect that would have on the many new victims.

        1. Zack Skrip says:

          Before your comments can go further, please define “love.” Do you mean love in the biblical sense, where I point them towards their creator? Or do you mean “love” where I look the other way and let people destroy themselves?

          1. Phil says:

            Be very, very careful in describing Do you mean love in the biblical sense, where I point them towards their creator? Or do you mean “love” where I look the other way and let people destroy themselves?

            Because if we aren’t going to “look the other way” and “let people destroy themselves” (and bring others down with them) then we are probably going to have to end up burning some people at the stake (in the name of “love.”)

          2. Zack Skrip says:

            I’m not saying we must enforce adherence to all of our beliefs (slippery slope-much?). Just as it would be unloving to look the other way when your son is addicted to meth, or pursing pornography at night, so it would be unloving to a) redefine an ordinance that God instituted and b) take said redefined ordinance and tell them that their new relationship is just “great.”

            Do you see how it could lead to something other than stake-burning?

          3. Phil says:

            What do you do with the unrepentant sinner who advocates further sin and draws in (corrupts) others? Keep “not looking the other way” (whatever that means)?

            But good to know you draw the line before stake burning.

          4. Zack Skrip says:

            I’m just suggesting that there might actually be a category difference between saying something is sinful and contrary to human flourishing and saying that something should be legally recognized as a societal good.

            Can you see a difference?

          5. buddyglass says:

            I mean love in the sense that I speak truth into their lives and acknowledge the destructiveness of sinful behaviors, but don’t treat them like children and force them to do the right thing at gun point.

          6. Zack Skrip says:

            Buddy:

            Ha! Well I hope we can all agree that forcing people to do things at gunpoint is not an option!

  7. Spendomai says:

    You certainly have hit the nail on the head. As a society we are being desensitized sexually (and morally, and ethically) and the mainstream media has a lot to do with it. We used to joke when I was younger and say “watch me do this, I saw it in a movie once, I am sure I can do it!” Sadly this is becoming more and more true today…

  8. Dan says:

    buddyglass,
    That’s a fairly provocative statement you make about the Bible enjoining believers to support legal freedom for sinful conduct. I’d be interested in reading your theological argument in support of it – because I’m struggling to see where you might find that.

    1. buddyglass says:

      That it’s perceived as provocative doesn’t surprise me, but does make me sad.

      I have that view mainly because of the commands to love one’s neighbor as one’s self and the command to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. That, and the understanding that God cares about making disciples and not coerced moral behavior.

      That’s not to say I’m against coercion altogether. Far from it. Murder should be illegal. Theft should be illegal. These are actions that cause direct harm to others; it would violate the command to love one’s neighbor to not punish actions like murder, rape and theft.

      If I could put a question back to you, Dan, what criteria do you use when deciding which moral behaviors should be legally coerced and which shouldn’t?

      For instance, should homosexual acts in private between consenting adults be a crime? What about heterosexual fornication in private between consenting adults? Adultery? Drunkenness? Gluttony? Blasphemy? Immodest dress?

  9. Samantha says:

    I agree with Buddyglass. There is nowhere in the Bible where we are told that as Christians, we are called to make sure that sins are treated as crimes. That doesn’t mean that we “celebrate” sin, or stop preaching sin in the churches. But God is not pleased with a “nation” because sins like homosexuality or adultery are illegal…He is pleased with individuals who are in Christ. It is too easy to get smug and think that you are right with God because you support “family values” or “traditional morality”.

    1. Gary says:

      Where are you guys getting “crime”? NO, we should NOT support the legalization of gay marriage, but that does not mean we are saying “make it a crime”…God defined marraige and they are trying to change that and we should not support it. Period. If they want the “rights” afforded “couples” – fine, great. Call it something else. Don’t trample on the institution God set up.

  10. Les says:

    Good article, thank you for posting it. I’m 48 and single and hate being labeled a ‘cougar’ simply because I chat with the young single men who live next door to me. How did neighborliness become synonymous with seduction?

  11. Dan says:

    Samantha,I see what you’re saying. But it’s a big step from tolerating the sinfulness of unbelievers to legally endorsing it. As Christians we are called to be light and salt, specifically to hold back the darkness and to preserve from decay. Advocating for the legalization of sinful behaviors seems to me to be the exact opposite of that.

  12. Samantha says:

    Being salt and light does not necessarily mean criminalizing sin. And something being legal is not an endorsement. But I know I am in the minority with my libertarianism ;-)

    1. Dan says:

      Samantha, homosexual conduct hasn’t been actively prosecuted as criminal in this country for quite a while. But that’s not the question. It isn’t a matter of making it criminal, it’s a question of legally endorsing and approving of it. Libertarian idealogy aside, my question still stands, to both you and buddyglass is what biblical, theological argument can you make in evidence of your premise that Christians should be actively involved in legal recognition of activities and behaviors that the Bible clearly indicates are sinful? And thus far all you’ve presented is the assertion that I want to criminalize sinful behavior – something I’m not doing.

      1. buddyglass says:

        “homosexual conduct hasn’t been actively prosecuted as criminal in this country for quite a while.”

        But it was on the books as a crime in many states until Lawrence. Do you consider “taking it off the books” as tantamount to “endorsing and approving”? If so, then shouldn’t your position be that homosexual conduct should continue to be regarded as a crime, even if, strangely, it’s not actively prosecuted?

        “what biblical, theological argument can you make in evidence of your premise that Christians should be actively involved in legal recognition of activities and behaviors that the Bible clearly indicates are sinful?”

        Because the alternative is for Christians to act as moralistic bullies, compelling proper behavior at gunpoint.

  13. Samantha says:

    So, when you say not endorsing, what exactly do you mean if it’s not criminalization? I want to make sure I understand your position. I think the Biblical argument is simply that there is no legitimate theocracy since OT Israel and nowhere in the NT are we told to try to affect secular policy using the weapons of the world (politics being one of the worldly favorites). Sin is a heart issue and not committing a certain sin does nothing spiritually beneficial for a person in and of itself.

  14. David says:

    For those of you unaware of the Biblical teaching on the Christian democratic ethic:

    Romans 1:32, “…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

    This is why we don’t support practices in direct opposition to God’s revealed will.

    1. David says:

      I ran out of time apparently to edit my own comment, so I will just reply to myself.

      In approving/condoning/endorsing (perhaps even “tolerating” silently) grotesque, sinful practice, we become equal partakers with the practitioners. That is a dangerous place for a Christian.

  15. Dan says:

    Okay, Samantha, let me try to re-frame my point a little bit. It seems to me that you’re falling into some inaccurate either/or thinking. So as I understand your position (and forgive me if I’m misunderstand), you present your argument in this way: Either we as Christians are full advocates of endorsing full legal recognition of homosexual rights/marriage, etc. OR we want to make it ILLEGAL. My concern there is with your use of the word “illegal,” implying that engaging in homosexual conduct should be a punitive criminal offense and that we should throw them in jail. There seems to be no middle ground in your thought process that would allow for society to simply not grant full legal status to homosexual relationships without criminalizing them. I’m not advocating for jail or other punishments. I’m simply saying that to recognize homosexual “marriage” on equal terms with heterosexual marriage is something we as a society ought not do. I also think you fall into either/or thinking with your views on the role of the Christian in politics. So again, either Christians withdraw completely from political discourse and keep our faith safely confined within the walls of the church OR we are advocating for theocracy. And I think that we’re just going to fundamentally disagree on this point. I do believe strongly that Christians have a biblical responsibility to engage and attempt to transform culture. When we have that obligation, politics is not a “worldly weapon” as much as it is an inescapable reality. I believe this is the historical practice of the Church. My concern is that it seems to me you are advocating a change in that historical position. As such, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate biblically and theologically why that is the correct choice. If Scripture is our sole standard for belief and practice, then convince me of your positions scripturally.

    1. Samantha says:

      Thanks for clarifying your position. I really didn’t know you weren’t advocating criminalizing these sexual sins, and I definitely don’t think you need to “support” gay marriage, but I don’t believe it is a hill any of us need to die on for God. We are talking about what the secular state does, not about compromising the purity of the church….the unchanging job of the church is to preach the gospel, and one reason I am wary of using law to “stem the tide of immorality” is that So. Many. People. confuse the gospel with Republican/Conservative political ideologies and moral crusades. Christian and non-Christians do this.

      I am absolutely not pulling an either/or. I never said that total political approval OR criminalization were the only two options NOR did I say that Christians should withdraw from politics OR will be advocating theocracy. I said this was not a theocracy, and because it isn’t we are not obligated to make sins into crimes.

      True Christians can come down on totally opposite sides of the political spectrum, it’s part of Christian liberty. And I am not talking about church liberalism that erases the idea of sin, but the individual Christian’s political positions. Believe it or not, some Christians (and I am not one of them) really do believe that having a strong social safety net is a legitimate expression of the Christian call to care for the poor. Some believe that having gay marriage is a natural extension of civil rights that even awful sinners have (that’s not me, either – I think the State should get out of marriage altogether).

      And I’m not a Church historian, but I am not sure that being involved in politics is the historical position of the church. In a book I have of early church writings, the quotes seem to indicate that a Christian holding public office was not looked upon in a favorable light – in addition to across-the board condemnation of Christians in military service (which is definitely not seen as an acceptable Christian position today) And then, the fact is that the very idea of anyone “participating in politics” is a new one, and there are plenty of non-coercive, non-political ways to engage and attempt to transform the culture. Politics is overrated as a strategy and becomes an idol for many people, in addition to being inherently violent. Most people don’t remember that everything the State does is done at the point of the sword. We are called to be at peace with all men, as far as it depends on us, and are called to be ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation. And trying to keep people from sinning by law has already been tried and proven to be a failure in the pages of Scripture itself.

      1. Mary says:

        The problem is that the homosexuals will not leave Christians alone. They will force us to accept their behavior or else. They aren’t a live and let live group of people. They will force their will on us and make it a crime to speak out against the sin of homosexuality. Do we shut up and go along or do we stand for the Truth that is Christ Jesus and the Holy Bible come what may?

        1. Annie says:

          Excellent point Mary. I am amazed you were the only one to point this out.

  16. Samantha says:

    Be back later to continue the discussion – I have some errands to run today!

  17. Phil says:

    I generally find Trevin Wax to be pretty reasonable–one of the reasons why I read this blog.

    This post, however, is utter nonsense.

    Kevin writes:
    Men are no longer free to express affection and friendship in ways they did a generation ago.

    Wait, Kevin–why are you pointing to 19th century (and early 20th Century) behavior as “a generation ago”? Were the 1950s a time of open, affectionate male friendships? Men holding hands? Men sleeping with men? Of course not. The 19th Century behavior you are describing stopped happening long before society “embraced” homosexual men. So don’t try to pin any change on society’s acceptance of homosexuality, which didn’t happen in any meaningful sense until at least the 1970s (or even later).

    Again, this attempt to “blame” society’s acceptance of homosexuality as the reason why men have “little freedom to be openly affectionate with each other” is complete nonsense.

    1. Phil says:

      Opps. Not Kevin. Trevin. Sorry about that.

  18. James Jackson says:

    GREAT post, Trevin! The day after Lincoln premiered, the History Channel was running a marathon of seemingly every Lincoln doc they had. They seemed to be fixated on the possible homosexual relationship between Lincoln and Speed. But I am in the midst of reading Team of Rivals, and realizing how common displays of affection between heterosexual men were in Lincoln’s day. Goodwin does such a great job placing them in an appropriate, non-revisionist historical context. Your “what if” scenario about parents showing affection for their children is so frightening because it is so plausible. I appreciate your insights. I’m gonna give you a great big hug next time I see you at LifeWay!

    1. Mark G says:

      I read in David McCullouch’s book “John Adams” that John Adams and I think it was Ben Franklin slept in the same bed in an inn when they travelled together. That was common practice and there was nothing homosexual about it. They weren’t staying at the Marriott.

      My brother inlaw is Italian and they’re always hugging everyone.

      In some of my foreign travels I’ve seen women nursing their babies in public and there’s nothing sexual about it. Here some people act as if nursing, even if done discretely, is gross or perverse.

      We live in a weird messed up culture where innocent behavior is considered perverse and perversion is acceptable.

  19. Dean Bailey says:

    You are so “spot on” with this observation and commentary! I made the exact same observations in my own Christian struggles to overcome unwanted homosexual behaviors (a journey I’ve also outlined in my book, “Beyond the Shades of Gray”). The point was that true “healing” in this area CAN’T come about by abandoning masculine affection alltogether! One absolutely MUST learn the key points of what you’ve just outlined here: This differentiating between one’s inward need and desire for non-sexual affection, and what has otherwise become so “sexualized” and stigmatized by our environment and very manipulated modern society.

    I applaud your observations, and your willingness to voice them here! It is encouraging to see that real men are finally rediscovering what we’ve lost in our relationships with each other, specifically because of this “normalization” of so-called “sexual freedom.”

  20. Max says:

    I completely agree with this article. I find it deeply disturbing and saddening that I can’t give my friend Jacob a reach-around anymore without being called gay. Homosexuality is definitely a problem for good Christian morals in this day and age.

  21. David Sanderson says:

    “Today, there is little freedom for men to be physically affectionate toward one another.”

    C’mon, now. I can’t be the only Christian who perceives this as being a *positive* development. The whole idea of men hugging/kissing each other in a friendly way has always seemed quite repulsive to me. I’ve been avoiding male “huggers” in church settings as long as I can remember. Yes, I understand it’s innocent but it’s quite creepy nonetheless.

    “Our culture is losing the opportunity to have men who resemble Sam and Frodo ”

    I’m not convinced society needs men that emulate magical hobbits from a childrens’ book. Your point is still valid. I just wish you wouldn’t have used hobbits as your example.

    All in all, good post though.

    1. Samantha says:

      Wow, what about greeting one another with a holy kiss, or the love between two men (David and Jonathan) surpassing the love of women? Even though I am disagreeing with some other commenters here, I agree with the idea that oversexualization of love has some very bad consequences, and thinking that any physical or verbal affection between men is somehow “gay” is one of them.

    2. Gary says:

      If you find hugging another man “repulsive”, you have some very large problems indeed…
      when (hmmm…”if”) you get to heaven and Jesus wants to hug you, are you going to tell Him “no” cause you think He’s “creepy”??
      and clearly he wasn’t referring to magical hobbitts, he was referring to true friendship which is obvious you wouldn’t get…

    3. allend says:

      Give lord of the rings a read. I think Sam and Frodo’s relationship is a great example of manly friendships (I call them manships). The movies don’t capture this very well.

    4. John says:

      “I’m not convinced society needs men that emulate magical hobbits from a childrens’ book. Your point is still valid. I just wish you wouldn’t have used hobbits as your example.”

      Do you realize that the friendship among Sam and Frodo was based on the friends the author experienced in the trenches of WW1? Just because they’re hobbits doesn’t mean they are written as “real” characters. The example is, in fact, an excellent one.

      Furthermore, I would argue that your revulsion is in itself probably proof of the point Trevin is making.

      Grace,
      John

  22. Annie says:

    I applaude your articulate and courageous post Trevin. The first link “openly affectionate” (by Anthony M. Esolen) , was probably the best explaination on this hot button topic I have ever encountered.

    Thank you for being willing to wade into the fray and battle against the flow of culture. You are opening eyes and minds, so keep up the good work.

  23. Jon says:

    One time, on a mission trip to South Africa, a grown man and friend tried to hold my hand. At first, I freaked out and pulled my hand away. Later, I realized that’s normal between heterosexual friends in that culture, and that my gesture was offensive. An equivalent would be not shaking a friend’s hand upon greeting.

    Now, I’m secure being a friend who hugs his close guy friends. We often tell each other, “I love you…” proceeded by “…, bro, man or dude.” Also, it’s common for us to honor the other with words of encouragement and praise, i.e., “You mean a lot to me. I don’t know who or where I’d be without you, etc.”

    The Apostle Paul wasn’t scared with some affection, neither am I with those God has placed on this journey with me.

  24. Willy Mzenga says:

    Trevin, that is some great insight. I have never looked at this issue in the way you articulated it in your article. Thank you for the new perspective.

  25. Bruce says:

    Logical fallacy 1:
    Even Christians who believe certain sexual activities (adultery, sex before marriage, homosexuality) to be morally wrong often grant the assumption that people ought to be free in their sexual decisions…. The moment we celebrate or endorse certain behaviors….”
    So, being libertarian means celebrating and endorsing certain behaviors? No, you’re clearly trying to bash libertarian Christians by implying they celebrate and endorse sin.

    Logical fallacy 2:
    “The moment we celebrate or endorse certain behaviors, we curtail freedom in other areas. This is the nature of freedom…. As society has rushed to embrace homosexual behavior, the normal bonds of friendship between men have been curtailed.”
    You completely ignore the fact that Europe is far more “tolerant” of alternative lifestyles than America, and yet two men holding hands or sharing a bed is nothing there.

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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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