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THE PASSION PRINCIPLES
Celebrating Sexual Freedom in Marriage
By SHANNON ETHRIDGE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Shannon Ethridge
All rights reserved.
One + One = One
1. WHAT WAS GOD THINKING WHEN HE CREATED SEX?
SEX IS THE MOST SCANDALOUS, SINFUL, SHAMEFUL THING IN THE world ... so be sure to save it for someone you love.
If we are honest, this is the mind-set of far too many Christians, whether we recognize it or not. Most of us were raised by well-intentioned parents and church leaders who wanted the best for us, so they attempted to "sanitize" our thinking about all things sexual.
For example, growing up I heard more than a few sermons or youth group lessons about how destructive sex can be ... how sex should be avoided at all costs ... how sex is Satan's favorite tool to use to bring Christians to their knees (and not in a good way). But I never heard a sermon about how beautiful, powerful, and pleasurable sex within marriage is ... how a husband and wife should freely indulge in sex as often as possible ... about how God can reveal Himself through healthy sexual intimacy in ways that absolutely blow our minds (to an even greater degree than the proverbial mind-blowing orgasm).
Another common scenario is that we were raised in families and churches that said nothing at all about sex, leaving us to draw our conclusions mainly from peers, music, magazines, romance novels, TV, and the Internet. With such teachers, we learned that the human sex drive is about as controllable as a raging waterfall or stoppable as a freight train ... that if we want to have good, hot sex, we had better do it while we are single because once we are married we won't be getting any ... that the forbidden fruit of an extramarital affair tastes far sweeter than simply savoring the spouse to whom you have committed your life.
So many sex-negative messages, so few sex-positive messages. How in the world are we to see sexuality through a crystal-clear lens? How can we recognize the goodness and perfection of what God had in mind when He created sex in the first place?
That is the challenge of this book—and one that I am grateful to have the opportunity to tackle—because, quite frankly, if Christian couples cannot have phenomenal sex lives given the personal spiritual connection we have with the Author and Originator of sex, then who in the world can? But because sex is such a touchy subject with many Christians, I most likely will offend you at some point in this book although that is certainly not my intention. I only ask that you not throw out the baby with the bathwater. (Feel free to get a Sharpie marker and black out any sentences that ruffle too many of your feathers, but keep reading anyway.)
It is easy to tell when a man or a woman has been indoctrinated into a sex-negative way of thinking simply by the words that come out of his or her mouth:
Tina, age 23, who just six weeks before her wedding day posed the question, "Does a marriage really have to involve sex? I mean, I know I'll need to have sex to conceive children, but other than that, I'm really hoping my husband will be satisfied with just living happily together because the idea of him putting 'that thing' inside of me makes me nauseous." (Obviously no one has told Tina that intercourse is the most natural and pleasurable thing known to man—and woman.)
Carla, 54, who declared after almost thirty years of marriage, "Every time my husband touches me, I feel used and abused. I've told him many times that if he can't leave me alone, I can't stay married to him." (And the shocking thing about this situation is that Carla is married to an ordained minister. Not even an experienced spiritual leader with a PhD in theology has found the words to help her embrace God's gift of sexual intimacy in marriage.)
Pamela, 36, who insists, "My husband wants to look at me naked with the lights on, but I can't stand the thought." (Do women really think they can starve their husbands' appetites for visual stimulation by hiding behind frumpy clothes and fuzzy pajamas? Why can't we just get comfortable baring all in the bedroom?)
Brenda, 27, who says, "I always thought men wanted sex all the time, and that women typically rejected such advances. It's the other way around at my house, and I'm wondering how I cannot take his lack of sexual interest personally." (I know from dozens of e-mails I receive each week that Brenda is not alone with her sexual frustration and feelings of rejection.)
You may think it is only women who are sexually confused and frustrated. Think again. Here are a few snippets from men:
Brandon, age 29, who complains, "I keep asking my wife what she wants in bed to become a more interested sex partner, but she has offered little in the way of guidance. I want to be her 'dream lover,' but I can't read her mind." (Why does sexual communication have to be so awkward? Why don't we have the vocabulary skills to discuss our most common denominator—that we all are sexual beings?)
Craig, 37, who admitted, "I simply don't desire sex nearly as often as my wife, and I suspect that makes me a freak of nature, especially when compared to the stereotypical horny guy. If men are the ones who supposedly want sex all the time and women are the disinterested ones, then what does that make me?" (How sad that Craig compares himself to stereotypes, and that such comparisons lead to feelings of emasculation.)
Kirk, 45, who says, "My wife has no idea that I go to bed absolutely burning with passion for her practically every night. If I admitted that, she'd surely feel 'put upon' or that I am some sort of animal. I settle for once a week out of fear that she might cut me off completely." (How horrifying to imagine that some men feel as if they are broken or dysfunctional for simply wanting what God wired them to desire.)
Is this what God intended when He created sex? That wives would feel fearful, abused, put upon, objectified, rejected? That husbands would feel inadequate, frustrated, emasculated, animalistic?
No, it is not. It is absolutely, positively not what He had in mind.
How do I know?
I know God. Granted, He did not appear to me in the flesh and sit down over a cup of tea as I was crafting this book. But because He has given us His Word, we can certainly know His character and nature—which is to bless, not to burden ... to protect, not to punish ... to delight, not to discourage. And I believe His gift of sexuality is intended to bring us overwhelming pleasure, not intense pain ... to fascinate, not to frustrate ... to add and multiply good things into our lives and relationships, not subtract and divide.
But how do we make that transition from sex-negative thinking to sex-positive thinking so we can enjoy such a grand and glorious gift? How do we go from hypervigilant self-protection to freely sharing our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls with one another as God intended? How do we enjoy our one-flesh union so that we are captivated, mesmerized, and blissful, as if we are one step away from heaven's door? While there is no established formula for accomplishing such a paradigm shift, I would like to tell you about a pivotal experience in my life that opened up all kinds of mental, emotional, and spiritual pathways through which I could more fully embrace the physical side of my sexuality without feeling like a "bad girl."
I was working toward my master's degree in counseling/ human relationships at Liberty University when my human sexuality professor, Dr. David Lawson, posed this shocking question to the class:
"How is your relationship with God sexual in nature?"
Silence. All of us students sat there at our desks wondering, Is this a joke?
It was no joke. It was our honest-to-goodness, serious-as-a-heart-attack assignment to discuss this deep theological question in a small-group setting for the following two hours.
Two hours? Wouldn't two minutes be enough? I thought.
Little did I realize that we could have chewed on this topic for two full days and still not have exhausted all the possibilities. Our small group tossed around all kinds of insightful responses, such as the fact that in both our sexual relationships with our spouses and spiritual relationships with God there is:
· trust · vulnerability · genuine interest
· full acceptance · deep desire · true communion
· closeness · connection · life-giving transference
· openness · honesty · humility
· risk · intimacy · passion
· purpose · pleasure · transcendence
· euphoria · completion · synergy
As I have continued to contemplate this question and even discuss it with audience members at some of my speaking events, I have realized that our sexuality serves all kinds of amazing purposes. Before we even look at Scripture (which we will dive into in the next few questions), just consider: what else in all of creation can so effectively ...
comfort you when you are sad?
calm you when you are anxious?
provide an outlet for expression when you are excited?
help you forget your current trials and tribulations?
make you sleep better?
provide intense, guilt-free pleasure?
help you feel deeply connected to another human being and to God?
erase feelings of loneliness and isolation?
give you an interesting break from your daily routine?
relieve stress and even certain aches and pains?
enhance your overall health and vitality?
fulfill your hopes and dreams of parenthood?
rev your engine, float your boat, light your fire?
send sparks through your brain and shivers down your spine?
make you feel so giddy, so special, so cherished and celebrated?
Yeah, only sex can do all that. And it does all that quite well!
So what was God thinking when He created sex? I believe He was thinking, I am going to make their day ... and their nights too!
If we grasped these concepts fully, how would it change our sex lives? Our spiritual lives? Our marriages? Our family dynamics? Could we learn to see sexuality as the tremendous gift that God surely intended? Would we be inspired to give God all the more thanks and praise in our daily lives? Would we experience even more passion and pleasure as we fully allow ourselves to get caught up in the rapturous experience of fully loving and affirming one another?
All of that and more is possible. And instead of sounding like any of the individuals previously mentioned in this chapter, perhaps you will begin to sound a lot more like:
Cindi, who declared publicly in her Sunday school class, "I love the fact that my husband is a wonderful spiritual leader, provider, and father, but what I really love most about Jeff is that he is a great lover."
Nick, who stated with tears in his eyes in a recent coaching session, "The highlight of my day is coming home to my wife. To me, she just oozes sex appeal, and it's so easy to forget all of my problems from work and get lost in her love for me."
Ruth, who was asked by a nurse if she would like a one year's supply of free condoms. When she responded positively, the nurse asked how many exactly would she need. Ruth stated matter-of-factly, "Three hundred and sixty-five." (I'm guessing it wasn't a leap year.)
To be held in high regard as a "great lover," to feel "lost" in one another, to assume that you can be sexually intimate with your spouse on any given day that you desire without fear of rejection ... Wow! Who doesn't want that?
So enjoy this journey of exploring the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical dimensions of our sexuality, celebrating the many freedoms that Christians have in the marriage bed, and learn to incorporate these passion principles into our relationships so that we can enjoy this gift to the fullest.
PONDER THE PRINCIPLE
* What kind of sex-negative messages have you received in life? what were the sources of such messages, and in hindsight, how reliable were those sources or the information they provided?
* Are you ready to reject any view of sexuality that doesn't measure up to the passionate, pleasurable acts of intimacy that god intended for married couples to enjoy? why or why not?
* If you are reading this along with your spouse, will you commit to one another to keep reading this book all the way through to the end so you can both develop the healthiest sexual mind-set possible?
2. WHY DOES GOD SAY WE HAVE TO BE MARRIED TO HAVE SEX?
I have received a few e-mails over the past two decades from people insisting that the Bible doesn't expressly forbid sex between two consenting adults. Funny how this question is always posed by single people—most likely sexually active single people is my best guess—but never by married people, and certainly never by married people who have really great, God-fearing, earthshaking, soul-stirring sex lives. I think those couples totally get it. But since this is such a common question, let's go there for a moment.
While you won't find a passage that says, "Thou shalt not have sex prior to marriage," you will find scriptures that address the seriousness of "fornication" (sex between two people who aren't married to each other) as well as a commandment against "adultery" (sex between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse). We will discuss some of those scriptures later in this section, but for now let's just take a look at Genesis 2:24, which I think explains what God envisioned when He created both marriage and sex (in that order): "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one."
Notice that there is a distinct sequence to this passage:
First, a man will leave his father and mother completely—no boomeranging back. He will prepare to establish a family of his own apart from his family of origin.
Next, he will be "joined" to his wife. God is not talking about joining in the sense of "meeting at a party and hooking up at her place afterward." He is referring to a fully devoted lifetime commitment, which suggests "a permanent attraction which transcends genital union."
Finally, the two will become "one flesh" (NKJV), which means physically intimate, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually connected as well, as "flesh" refers to mind, body, heart, and soul.
Here is the SEV (the Shannon Ethridge Version) translation of this verse: "Grow up, get established, find a suitable mate, get married, and then feel free to have all the sex you want because it is going to bond the two of you together like crazy in every way!"
Think about it. God is the only Mathematician in the universe who can submit an equation such as "One + One = One" and have it be so undeniably true. This one-flesh union is no doubt God's absolute best for us. We humans, though, sometimes have our own ideas of what is best, which are often far cries from what the Creator originally had in mind. We will talk more in question 3 about what can happen when we lean on our own judgment in this area, but for now, let's establish why God would place such a boundary around sexuality as to endorse it wholeheartedly in marriage and forbid it in any other relational context.
I think we can best grasp this concept by examining how God designed individuals to best function and how God designed society to best function. Physically, our bodies are simply not designed to have multiple sex partners. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, emphasized, "When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the past ten years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last ten years." And that is why medical clinic waiting rooms are overflowing with very nervous patients awaiting the results of STD screenings and HIV blood tests. And why so many people wound up on my embalming table in the prime of their lives—in their twenties or early thirties—instead of their eighties or nineties, as it should be. (Yes, I was a mortician for four years before becoming "the sex lady.") We simply cannot deny the fact that multiple sexual partners can wreak havoc on our health.
We also cannot deny that going from sex partner to sex partner wreaks havoc on our mental and emotional health. It is incredibly painful to go through a bitter breakup after having already given yourself to another person sexually. It is like the ultimate rejection. "Yes, you gave me your all ... but that wasn't good enough. Next person in line, please." Ouch. Not what God intended. And when we subject our hearts to this kind of pain over and over, it is like a worn-out strip of Velcro on an old pair of tennis shoes. Over time something that is intended to provide security and safety and protection loses its bonding ability and serves only to leave us vulnerable to exposure and even humiliation.
Think about it. One of the greatest abilities of human beings is our ability to bond tightly with other humans. Take that away and we become empty shells, searching for the next sexual high, with no heart for anyone to hold on to. This is reason enough to protect the sanctity of sex only within a marriage relationship. Yet there is another reason worth mentioning. Spiritually speaking, lovemaking between a committed husband and wife is intended to be the ultimate height of the human experience—not just sexually through an awesome orgasm but also through the enormous spiritual euphoria experienced together. (More on that later.)
Excerpted from THE PASSION PRINCIPLES by SHANNON ETHRIDGE. Copyright © 2014 Shannon Ethridge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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