Sex and sexuality
Dr. Peter May on the background to the move to redefine marriage - part 1
Marriage is under attack in the UK. It has been humanity’s default mode of handling sexuality since the dawn of time. Whether or not it was accompanied by public ceremonies or religious rites, heterosexual marriage has been normative. Polygamy, by far the commonest alternative arrangement, has been the habit of only a few.
Such bonding is quite remarkable. Imagine what life would be like without it. If we treated sexual partners like holiday vacations, rarely returning to the same place twice, men would never know how many children they have or who they are. Women would be given the entire responsibility of bringing them up and providing for them. A moment’s thought shows how logical and inevitable heterosexual marriage is.
So the family unit has always been the basic building block of society. Alternative community arrangements have occurred, but few are enduring and have rarely found wide appeal.
Illicit sexual momentum
Jesus talked about the dynamic process that occurs in extra-marital sex. The moment desire is inflamed by lustful looking, adultery is already taking place in the imagination. Using robust imagery, he warns that it is better to be blind than to allow your eyes to lead you to hell.
Our eyes then lead on to flirting to establish a relationship. The process inevitably leads to touching… holding hands, but later holding glands. Jesus therefore warns that if your hand causes you to sin, you would do better to chop it off! These dramatic metaphors highlight the significance of limiting what we see and controlling what we touch, if we are not to get caught up in a dynamic process that leads first to adultery and then to divorce (Matthew 5.27-31).
This process gains momentum. It might be painful to refuse the smile of a pretty girl who gives you a welcoming look, but it is a lot less painful than to end a relationship that has progressed to fondling. Sexual ‘chemistry’ between two people is very subtle and difficult to analyse. Looking at a previous sexual partner triggers memories — and exciting ones at that. Familiar mannerisms are almost certainly communicated. There may well be a pleasant aroma, a subtle scent that we may not even be conscious of. Once sexual bonding, in all its subtle complexity, has already been established, it is very quickly reactivated.
The same mechanisms make it so difficult for people in an adulterous relationship to break free from it. If they still meet the same person in their community, for instance, forgotten desires are quickly re-awakened.
Jesus anyway implies that it is far better to control our behaviour at the level of desire, than to allow our eyes and our hands to draw us further into iniquity.
Homosexuality highlights the differences between male and female arousal patterns. Men are easily aroused. The sight or even suggestion of bare flesh sets the male pulse racing. Women also can be aroused visually, but nothing like as rapidly. Generally speaking, women need ‘wooing’. They tend to want a relationship rather than an orgasm. They are aroused when a potential partner takes an interest in them, asks them questions and listens sympathetically to their answers. Sexual arousal builds gradually as intimacy increases.
It follows that sexual relationships between two men or two women are very different things from heterosexual relationships. Women are looking for trusting and exclusive relationships. Many women turn to lesbian relationships because of former traumatic and abusive relationships with men. They are looking for loving tenderness and have given up on thinking that a man can provide it for them.
Men on the other hand are often looking for orgasms rather than relationships. Homosexual men have an enormous capacity for promiscuity. Visits to a ‘gay’ club or a weekend away at a ‘gay’ house-party may include multiple sexual encounters, with people whose names they do not know and whose faces they would never recognise. I have had male patients admitting to 50-100 such encounters over a weekend. Women never seem to do that.
Women are far more likely to establish stable and lasting relationships. Some men also achieve this, but the relationship is rarely exclusive. Two men living together for years might share a mortgage and enjoy good companionship with mutual care and affection, but on Saturday nights they may go to two different gay clubs and experience numerous sexual partnerships. Generally, their relationships are much less stable and they suffer many emotional disappointments. Ironically, the majority of male homosexuals are not looking for exclusive, same-sex marriage for themselves.
Clearly there are very different health outcomes between these two groups, related to their different risks of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. These in turn given them significantly different life expectancies.
Those calling for homosexual marriage usually justify the change in definition on the basis of equal rights. Politicians may feel there are votes to be won, but more often they will be concerned to bring stability to unstable relationships.
However, to redefine marriage would raise enormous problems for Christians. It would mean that society presents young people with two apparently equally valid and satisfactory types of marriage. This would leave them to sort out which they would choose to go for!
No doubt they would be encouraged to experiment to find out what their orientation really is. Many adolescents admit to experiencing an ambiguity, feeling, at least for a while, the pull in both directions.
When you do an experiment in the laboratory, you are — to a significant degree anyway — a detached observer. When you personally experiment sexually you are the major part of the experiment and can expect to be affected and changed by it.
Opening Pandora’s box
When people experiment sexually, they will awaken new desires. The Greek myth about Pandora’s box was that she was ordered not to open it. But curiosity got the better of her. When she eventually opened the box, all manner of evils were set loose. The only thing that would not come out of the box was hope. Similarly, sexual experiments can release destructive desires that stay with you. Once you have been sensitised to a particular lust, you may never be able to be desensitised to it. The desires and memories will live with you, be easily re-awakened and may always provoke you.
Most dramatically, this is demonstrated if sexual desires for children are aroused. Most of us, mercifully, have no insight at all as to why children might be sexually attractive. However, we would be well advised not to let our imaginations wander in order to find out. Once people have been aroused by children, they are destined to continue to look upon children sexually. Paedophiles are notoriously difficult to treat.
Other desires may be more socially acceptable, but if you allow yourself to journey down the line from thought to gaze, from gaze to touch and from touch to overt sexual activity, you may well plough a furrow that you keep entering. You cannot expunge it from your brain. The memory and the reflex responses stay with you. This is why the majority of homosexuals are actually bisexual. They are aroused by their own sex and by the opposite sex. It is a small minority of homosexuals who say they have never had heterosexual desires.
A patient told me that in his teenage years he never experienced any homosexual desires. He married early and had two children. Aged 23 years, his friendly barber asked why he seemed so fed up. He told him his marriage was on the rocks. The barber explained that he was going away for the weekend and invited him to join him.
He claimed that at this stage he had no idea the barber was gay or was inviting him on a gay weekend house-party. When he got there, it seems that he put up no resistance. He found homosexual acts were wonderful. He said, ‘It was like turning a switch’. He claimed that he had never had a heterosexual desire since.
I don’t know how typical this story is, but I have heard of others, who said that the awakening of new desires was like turning a switch, some of whom struggled in vain to turn it off again. Such experiments result anyway in indelible memories, which trigger desires. Even those who have brought their problems to Christ and experienced his forgiveness still have to live with the memories and temptations.
Furthermore, such experiments, by their very nature, imply that there are no boundaries. No ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ apply. All choices are assumed to be equally valid. All you need to do is follow your fantasies and use your imagination.
Dr. Peter May served on the General Synod of the Church of England from 1985 to 2010 and was Chair of the UCCF Trust Board from 2003 to 2010. He is a retired GP. His full talk on this issue can be heard online at http://www.bethinking.org
A second article by Peter will appear, God willing, next month.