Those who pushed the sexual boundaries in the 1960s fancy themselves as revolutionaries throwing off the shackles of centuries of taboos and stigmas. “Emancipation is now a reality,” wrote novelist and critic Margaret Drabble in 1967, cheering what she called “the golden age of adult sexual equality.”
The reality is quite the opposite — in two ways: First, the sexual revolution did not usher in a golden age. And second, God is the real revolutionary, challenging us to aspire to something more than the base instincts of human nature.
Promises and Consequences
The free-love sexual revolution of the 1960s was anything but a revolutionary step forward. Instead, it was a step backward, to the ways of the ancient past.
The context of Genesis 6 and 7, for instance, strongly suggests that humankind had taken an anything-goes approach to sex. The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so hungry for sex that some 4,000 years later, they are still synonymous with depravity. Lot’s life was deformed by the misuse of sex. Even the patriarch Abraham agreed to a plan to conceive a child outside of marriage, and outside of God’s will.
A Sexual Revolution that Satisfies
•“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24 ESV)
•“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)
• But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:1-5 ESV)
• Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:4-5 ESV)
David took a whatever-feels-good approach with Bathsheba and stole another man’s wife. In following their impulses, his sons followed his example: Amnon was blinded by lust and assaulted his half-sister. Absalom disgraced his father and his father’s throne by having relations with David’s concubines, “in the sight of all Israel” no less (2 Samuel 16). Solomon was so controlled by his flesh that he had 1,000 wives and concubines (I Kings 11).
The Gospels tell us that Herod took Herodias, his brother’s wife, as his own. Then he cast his eyes on Herodias’ daughter. And the Roman world of Paul’s day, as underscored by Paul’s letters, was a society consumed by aberrant sex.
In short, there was nothing revolutionary about our own sexual revolution. In our time, as in Paul’s, Solomon’s, David’s, and Lot’s, the enemy’s promises are never fulfilled, and the consequences are never fully considered until it’s too late. Think about it: Our sexual revolution promised love without commitment, freedom without responsibility, sex without consequence. What it delivered was death, disease, divorce, and distortion. That may sound like the crescendo of some fire-and-brimstone sermon, but it’s not only biblically true, it’s statistically accurate.
The Sexual Revolution Delivers Death
It’s no coincidence that the Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand during the sexual revolution. Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, some 50 million unborn children have been aborted in America. One of every four pregnancies in the United States now ends in abortion. The National Abortion Federation estimates that at current rates, “35 percent of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45.” As Mary Eberstadt concludes in Adam and Eve after the Pill, abortion became the sexual revolution’s “permanent backup plan.”
The Sexual Revolution Has Triggered Disease
The tsunami of extramarital, multiple-partner sex triggered by the revolution led to an explosion in sexually transmitted diseases and the emergence of entirely new ones, such as HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the rate at which females had gonorrhea tripled between 1960 and 1970; the rate for males doubled. Today, the CDC estimates 19 million new STD infections every year.
How does living “unashamed” look in our daily lives?
Some of you may already be living unashamed by waiting until marriage; by being a faithful and loving spouse; by seeing your spouse as part of you, deserving of affection and attention, compassion, and connection; by keeping the promise you made to your spouse and to God long ago. As a wise man observed, “It takes guts to stay married. There will be many crises between the wedding day and the golden anniversary, and the people who make it are heroes.”
However, some of us are nowhere near hero status. Poisoned by the world, some of us are far closer to the shameless side of the spectrum than the unashamed side. A few questions help us plot where we fall on that spectrum.
• Are you living outside God’s will for sexual intimacy? No matter what the world says, God’s Word is timeless. He reminds us in Genesis that “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” And He repeats this truth in the Gospels and the Epistles, which means God is really serious about His plan for intimacy. There is hope in the stories of David and the woman at the well. Both repented, were forgiven, and took the unashamed path. In this regard, the book Love and War offers some powerful prayers for healing sexual wounds.
• Are you using your spouse just to meet your needs, or are you neglecting your spouse’s needs? Neither way is God’s way. As Gladys and Keith Hunt caution in I Do, both extremes are destructive and dangerous. “When sex becomes demanding … or is denied for invalid reasons, the sexual part of marriage is in trouble, a trouble that will threaten your oneness.”
• Are you filling your heart and mind with junk that leads away from God’s design: trashy TV, trashy novels, trashy magazines, trashy movies, trashy music? Instead of being conformed “to the pattern of this world,” Paul advises, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We do that by reading the Word, by encountering Christ in worship and prayer, by sharing burdens with other imperfect people, by clearing out the junk from our iPods, bookshelves, computers, and DVRs.
• Are you visiting the seedy side of cyberspace or using Facebook to flirt? According to Christ’s standard, these are forms of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). He knows that for married people to seek physical or emotional fulfillment somewhere other than marriage is destructive. Proverbs 5:15 offers a solution: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.”
If we answer “yes” to any of these, we are not living unashamed lives. The good news is that if we feel a sense of shame about what we have done, like the woman at the well, we are halfway home. The better news is that Christ can transform the sexual dimension of our lives with His grace and mercy.
The Sexual Revolution Has Stimulated Divorce
The divorce rate exploded after the sexual revolution. The generation that didn’t wait for marriage had a much easier time shrugging off its vows and moving on when marriage failed to deliver the excitement promised by the revolution. America’s divorce rate began ticking upward in the late 1960s and skyrocketed in the 1970s, according to a recent Associated Press report. The divorce rate peaked at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981. Today, it’s around 3.6 per 1,000 people. But what sounds like good news is actually a function of not-so-good news. “The number of couples who live together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960,” the report concludes.
That hasn’t stopped cohabitating couples — or non-cohabitating couples, for that matter — from having children. Out-of-wedlock births, which hovered in the 5 percent range in the 1940s and 1950s, began to rise rapidly in the late 1960s, passing 10 percent by 1970 and exploding in the decades thereafter. Today, a staggering 40 percent of births in America are to unmarried women. And according to a New York Times analysis, “More than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.”
The Sexual Revolution Has Brought Distortion
The revolution has forced kids to confront sex too soon. And as Eberstadt observes, it paradoxically has allowed adults, especially men, to live in a kind of “perpetual adolescence.”
First, let’s look at an example of kids confronting sex too soon. A Colorado first-grader was recently suspended for singing lyrics to the song “Sexy and I Know It” to a female classmate. Like a rotten onion, the episode reveals layer upon layer of cultural problems. To begin, it’s hard to blame the kid for imitating what’s all around him. If he hadn’t heard the hit song on the radio, he surely saw the commercial featuring an animated M&Ms candy dancing to the song. Indeed, in our postsexual revolution age, he sees sex everywhere — on magazines at the grocery store checkout, on TV commercials pushing soft drinks and chips and beer and lingerie and Viagra (and candy), on TV shows celebrating the hookup culture, in the way women (and girls) dress. And to pile hypocrisy onto the irony, it’s quite possible that the very same school that suspended him for “sexual harassment” when he was 6 will be passing out condoms when he turns 12.
That brings us to the perpetual-adolescence problem. The sexual revolution has quite literally bred men to act like oversexed high school boys. As Eberstadt notes, the institutions that are supposed to help men grow up — marriage and fatherhood — have been diluted by the revolution. The result is a kind of self-feeding cycle that allows men to act on instinct, expects women to do the same, and enables men to satisfy their sexual desires without any of the constraints or commitment that come with fatherhood or marriage.
This has led to another kind of distortion unleashed by the sexual revolution: the distortion of womanhood. By God’s design, men and women are wired differently when it comes to sex. By and large, the physical act is what drives men, while the connection behind the act drives women. In this, God empowered women to play a tempering, civilizing role by helping men focus their physical energies and passions on their wife. But the sexual revolution distorted these roles. It gave men license to be ungentlemanly, and it encouraged women to let men get away with it. As a recent New York Times essay timidly asked, “Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit?” The answer is yes.
This is largely a function of one of the main drivers of our sexual revolution: the birth-control pill. “Imagining the sexual revolution without the Pill simply cannot be done,” Eberstadt contends. To be sure, the pill empowered women to prevent pregnancy while being sexually active. But in so doing, the pill seduced women into becoming less sexually responsible and more like men — at least the stereotypical notion of men: driven by the physical, self-interested and self-focused, ambivalent about commitment and connection. In the postsexual revolution age, as Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage, “All too often women are hearing the call to become as self-serving and self-absorbed as men.” As followers of Christ, we know that’s not “emancipation.” And it’s not what the Lord wants for men or women.
A final distortion of the sexual revolution is its depressing effect on sexuality within marriage. Citing a growing body of evidence, Eberstadt notes that “modern marriages” are becoming “sexually barren.” This paradox of our age — sexual hyperactivity before marriage and sexual inactivity within marriage — actually makes sense. Once the excitement, the wonder, the mystery of becoming one flesh is turned into an everyday exchange between strangers, we shouldn’t be surprised if sex becomes boring.
The Way Forward
That brings us back to God’s way. If mankind’s sexual revolution — put on display in Sodom and Woodstock, David’s courtyards and Herod’s palace, the licentiousness of Rome and Hollywood — offers death, broken promises, and shamelessness, God’s revolution offers life and truth and the opportunity to be what we once were: unashamed.
God’s view of sex has never been the puritanical caricature painted by His critics. Sexual expression does not make Him blush or launch fire and brimstone. Indeed, God sees sex as something to celebrate and consecrate. Look no further than the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. “Be fruitful and increase in number,” the Lord exhorts in Genesis 1. Thomas argues that this is God’s “explicit commandment to engage in sexual relations,” but in the context and confines of marriage. By creating Adam for Eve, and Eve for Adam, God made His design for intimacy plain: one man and one woman sharing their life and love within marriage.
That’s God’s way. It points the way forward — not backward — not to the impulse-driven existence the world offers.
Consider Herod and the woman at the well. It’s hard to find two people less alike than this pair. One was a powerful king. The other was a poor, neglected woman. Yet these two were similar in one significant way: Both had sexual sin in their lives.
Herod’s story is laced with lust, underscoring how the sort of sexual swinging and swapping that characterizes our revolution has been around for ages. Matthew’s account tells us that Herod took his brother’s wife. John the Baptist called on Herod to repent and to end his unholy marriage. “It is not lawful for you to have her,” John said to Herod. Luke’s account tells us that John “rebuked Herod … because of his marriage to Herodias.” In that same third chapter of Luke, John offers “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
But instead of repenting, Herod had John arrested to appease Herodias, who used her daughter as a sexual lure. With Herodias’ encouragement, the young woman danced for her stepfather. “Her dance was unquestionably lascivious,” one scholar explains. It gave her control over Herod. And her mother used it to silence John, permanently.
The woman at the well, a Samaritan who probably knew the Law and its rules about sex and marriage, wasted her life in a cycle of loveless, physical relationships. After five marriages, after a lifetime of broken promises, after being used up and tossed aside by every man in her life, she had given up on God’s way. In fact, when she encountered Jesus, she was living with a man who was not her husband — “living in sin,” as they used to say. “I have no husband,” she conceded during her encounter with Jesus. You can almost hear the shame in her voice.
But what separates the shameless Herod from the woman at the well, who seems bowed and broken by shame, is that she accepted the transforming gift of grace.
She and Herod both lived shameful lives. Both were confronted with their sin. Both were shown a way out, a way forward. But only the woman at the well took that path.
Ruled by the flesh, Herod complied with the demands of the flesh. Luke tells us that Herod was smug and self-indulgent to the end, mocking Jesus just hours before the Crucifixion (Luke 23). But the woman at the well was transformed by her encounter with Jesus — feeling a sense of shame for her sin, turning away from a shameless life, and finally becoming unashamed in Christ.
That’s the path God offers all of us. His way leads us from being shameless about our sexual sin — whether it be lust, premarital sex, extramarital sex, using sex to manipulate, withholding sex, demanding sex — to being unashamed once we follow His design.
His design, of course, is for sexual intimacy to be reserved for marriage. Genesis 2 tells us that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The text doesn’t say Adam and his wives (sorry, King Solomon), Adam and his prom date, Adam and his fiancée, Adam and his college sweetheart, Adam and the person “who makes him happy,” Adam and his girlfriend, or Adam and his boyfriend, for that matter. “Adam and his wife were both naked” and yet felt no shame precisely because they were married.
It’s as if God is using this passage to share a timeless message with every generation: The choice is yours. Follow My design for sexual intimacy and live unashamed. Or go your own way and live with the consequences.
Alan Dowd, a writer and researcher in Fishers, Ind., is the author of more than 700 articles.