Article ID: JAF4412 | By: Nancy R. Pearcey


This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 41, number 2 (2018). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.


Editor’s Note: This article includes descriptions of disturbing sexual activity.

SYNOPSIS

Human life and sexuality have become the watershed moral issues of our age. The daily news cycle chronicles the advance of a secular moral revolution in areas such as sexuality, abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, and transgenderism. As a former agnostic, I give an insider’s road map to postmodern moral theories, showing how they devalue the human being and destroy human rights.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the hookup culture. The rules of the game are no love, no relationship, no commitment. Critics say the hookup scene gives sex too much importance, but in reality, it gives sex too little importance. It derives from a materialist view of the human being as a mere physical organism driven by sheer physical drives.

No wonder people keep grabbing for more sexual experiences, while enjoying less real fulfillment. An ethic based on “consent” is not enough. There will not be a genuine turnaround unless people address the underlying worldview.

A biblical worldview offers a higher, more fulfilling view of sexuality. While Christians often come across as negative (“thou shalt not”), it is possible to draw people in with a message that is more affirming, more appealing, and more attractive than the secular ethic.


Most of us picture the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley as brilliant if geeky walking intellects hunched over their computers inventing new gadgets.1

But in January, Vanity Fair published a book excerpt by Emily Chang revealing that Silicon Valley is as sexually debauched as Hollywood, politics, and the media.2 The entrepreneurs and founders of tech companies regularly host drug-fueled sex parties.

Female tech workers often feel compelled to attend in order to get ahead in their careers. But in reality, joining the party often stalls their careers, as they are reduced to sex objects instead of respected as competent professionals.

These women face a Hobson’s choice: they lose professionally if they don’t attend the sex parties, and they lose if they do. But since either way it was their choice — they “consented” — their objections are dismissed.

Chang’s book is fueling the post-Harvey Weinstein wave. Yet merely exposing scandals may not “produce a revolution or a reckoning or a sea change in attitudes,” warns Jim Glassman, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.3

For real reform, we have to dig deeper.

Where did the icons of Silicon Valley pick up their ideas about sex? Well, have you checked out the campus hookup culture lately? If not, you may not realize how soulless it is. Young people know the rules of the game all too well: no love, no relationship, no commitment. All that matters is consent (as though agreeing to perform an act makes it right).

Researcher Donna Freitas interviewed hundreds of students and concluded that the hookup culture “creates a drastic divide between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy.” It teaches young people not to “reckon with someone’s personhood”4 (emphasis added).

In other words, even if college students are not reading the philosopher Descartes, many have fallen into a “drastic divide” that reflects a Cartesian dualism. They assume that sexual relationships can be solely physical, disconnected from the mind and emotions. Young people desperately need to hear the biblical ethic framed in positive terms, showing that it overcomes the inner divide and teaches them how to connect as whole persons.

When young people learn how to “reckon with someone’s personhood,” the result is sexual relationships that are healthier and more fulfilling.

THE HOOKUP SCRIPT

The dualistic mindset was captured neatly by a college student named Naomi in Rolling Stone magazine: the hookup culture has made “people assume that there are two very distinct elements in a relationship, one emotional and one sexual, and they pretend like there are clean lines between them.”5 According to the hookup script, sex is merely a recreational activity that can be cut off from any hint of love or emotional attachment.

A college student named Alicia says, “Hookups are very scripted….You learn to turn everything off except your body and make yourself emotionally invulnerable.” A senior named Stephanie chimes in: “It’s body first, personality second.”6

Living out such an internal dualism is not easy, however. In Freitas’s interviews, students admitted they find their meaningless sexual encounters disappointing. They feel hurt and lonely. They said they wish they knew how to create a genuine relationship in which they are known as whole persons.

To suppress their disappointment, students often turn to alcohol. One student admitted that without alcohol, she and her hookup partner could not even sustain a conversation. “We don’t really like each other in person, sober,” she told the New York Times. “We literally can’t sit down and have coffee.”7

Hookup partners are referred to as “friends with benefits” but that’s a euphemism, because they’re not really even friends. The unwritten etiquette is that you never meet just to talk or spend time together. A New York Times article explains, “You just keep it purely sexual, and that way people don’t have mixed expectations, and no one gets hurt.”8

Except when they do. The same article features a teenager named Melissa who was depressed because her hookup partner had just “broken up” with her. No matter what a secular ethic tells them, people cannot disassociate their emotions from what they do with their bodies.

The fact that the hookup script does not work ought to tell us something. It means the hookup scene rests on an inadequate conception of human nature. People are trying to live out a dualistic worldview that does not fit who they really are — one that drains relationships of their moral and emotional depth.

SEX DE-EDUCATION

Unfortunately, adult culture is not helping. Sex education typically focuses solely on the physical dimension: on the mechanics of sex and the avoidance of disease and pregnancy. Universities invite sex toy companies on campus to display their wares. Porn stars are invited as speakers, with names like Dirty Lola and the Pussy Posse. “The message: Don’t be boring. Be like porn stars.”9 Sex education reduces the meaning of sex to a how-to manual.

Adult culture is essentially telling young people that they are mature, and they are ready for sex if they can be uncommitted and emotionally detached. The message in this kind of literature, writes Wendy Shalit, is that those who can separate sex from love are sophisticated: “They are ready to embark on a lifetime of meaningless encounters. Conversely, those who still dream of love are immature, and should return to playing with dolls and trucks until they can be callous enough to seek sexual non-intimacy.”10

And let’s not forget other segments of adult culture that push young people into early sexual experimentation. Businesses and corporations are complicit in the sexualizing of ever-younger children, producing “slut” style fashions for little girls — all the way down to infant clothing that says “I’m Too Sexy for My Diaper.” Dolls have morphed into “tramps” wearing fishnet stockings and red-hot lingerie. Advertisers use sex to sell, filmmakers use sex to entice viewers, and musicians produce raunchy videos.

The irony is that when young people experiment sexually, they think they are rebelling against adult culture. But in reality they are following a script that adult culture is giving them. They are falling for a sales pitch. The real rebellion in our day is to practice chastity. That requires genuine courage.

THE BODY AS “WET MACHINE”

What is the root of the secular ethic? Every ethic stems ultimately from a view of nature. The key to understanding the secular ethic is that it is based on a materialist view of nature. In Cartesian dualism, nature was reduced to a machine operating by blind, material forces. Descartes’s view of the human being was summed up as “the ghost in the machine.”

Though Descartes himself tried to retain a theistic framework, his concept of the world as a machine was quickly secularized. As a recent New Yorker article said, “The loyalty oath of modernity” is that “nature is without conscious design [and] the emergence of Homo sapiens was without meaning or telos” (purpose).11

And if Homo sapiens has no meaning or purpose, the self is free to use the body any way it chooses, without moral consequences.

What does this amoral view look like in practice? In an interview, one student said, “We are so tightly scheduled. Why get to know someone first? It is a waste of time. If you hook-up you can just get your needs met and get on your way.”12 This bleak, one-dimensional view of sexuality assumes that sex is just a physical urge — that there is no deeper, more wholistic yearning to connect with another person. Anonymous perfunctory encounters are enough to “get your needs met.”

We might call this the Proverbs 30 picture of sexuality, with its portrayal of someone who has committed adultery: “She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’” (Prov. 30:20).13 In other words, sex is just a natural appetite, like eating. When you feel a sexual hunger, you satisfy it. No big deal.

It is a dishearteningly low view of sexuality.

Some may think sexual hedonism gives sex too much importance, but in reality, it gives sex too little importance. It treats the body as nothing more than a physical organism driven by physical urges. It treats sex as a strictly physical act isolated from the rich inner life of the whole person. No wonder it is leaving behind a trail of wounded people.

“Beneath all the pageantry of free sex and self-love, there is a fundamental belief that the body doesn’t mean anything, that it is insignificant in a literal sense: signifying nothing,” explains Catholic writer (and former lesbian) Melinda Selmys. “You can do anything that you like with it…you can give it away to anyone for any reason,“ Selmys writes. “It’s just a sort of wet machine, a tool that you can use and exchange for whatever purpose suits your fancy.”14

The ghost in the sex machine.

Literature on the ecology movement often accuses Cartesian dualism of alienating us from nature, leading us to mistreat and pollute our environment. Yet the same dualism has alienated many people from their bodies, leading them to mistreat their bodies sexually. Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilaender says the environmental movement has taught us that we should not objectify nature — that is, we should “not treat nature as simply an object over which we exercise dominion.” Yet many people are “strangely unconcerned when we objectify and instrumentalize the body.”15

THE SCIENCE OF SEX

The irony is that science is constantly uncovering new evidence of the profound interconnection between body and person. Pick up any recent book on sexuality and you will read about the role played by hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Scientists first learned about oxytocin because it is released when a mother nurses her baby. It stimulates an instinct for caring and nurturing, and is often called the attachment hormone.

Imagine scientists’ surprise when they discovered that oxytocin is also released during sexual intercourse, especially (but not exclusively) in women. Consequently, the desire to attach to the other person when we have sex is not only an emotion but also part of our chemistry.

The upshot is that even if you think you are having a no-strings-attached hookup, you are in reality creating a chemical bond — whether you mean to or not. As one sex therapist puts it, when we have intercourse, we create “an involuntary chemical commitment.”16 An advice columnist for Glamour magazine warns that because of hormones, “we often get prematurely attached.” Even when you intend to have casual sex, “biology might trump your intentions.”17

The main neurochemical responsible for the male response in intimate sexual contact is vasopressin. It is structurally similar to oxytocin and has a similar emotional effect. Scientists believe it stimulates bonding with a woman and with offspring. Vasopressin has been dubbed the monogamy molecule. As a UCLA psychiatrist observes, “You might say we are designed to bond.”18

Paul’s words ring even more true today than in his own time: “Whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Sex involves our bodies down to the level of our biochemistry. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (v. 16). Lauren Winner at Duke University translates Paul’s words like this: “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise, whether you do or not?”19

The tragedy is that when people repeatedly hook up, they also repeatedly break that bodily “promise.” As a result, deep attachment becomes ever more difficult. Even when young adults want to marry, they have a harder time making the lasting commitment necessary for a happy, fulfilling marriage. A YouGov poll found that almost half of millennials have given up the hope — or even desire — for a monogamous relationship.20

The latest science is confirming that the human being is a unified whole. The body/person dualism is not true to who we are. In fact, the reason all the sex education and deprogramming aimed at young people is necessary is precisely because they do not, by nature, thrive on casual, meaningless sexual encounters. They crave emotional intimacy and fidelity.

ROMAN SLAVES AND PROSTITUTES

People often denounce Christians as prudes and Puritans who hold a negative view of the body and its functions, especially sex. A Salon article charged that the real goal of the pro-life movement is to make it harder for women “to have happy, healthy sex lives.”21 But the truth is that Christianity has a much more respectful view of our psychosexual identity. It is not anti-sex; it is pro-body.

We get a clearer picture of the biblical view if we know something of the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written. In verses such as Galatians 5:21, Paul says Christians should not engage in porneia (the root of pornography). Older translations rendered the word “carousing” or “reveling,” which made it sound like the Bible was opposed to simple fun and partying.

Recent translations use the term “fornication” or “sexual immorality.” But those expressions are still too tame. The word porneia comes from the word meaning “to buy,” which in the New Testament period meant “prostitution” or “whoring.” And the practice was at least as dehumanizing then as it is today.

In ancient Rome and Greece, a porne or prostitute was normally a slave. Sex slaves were often physically abused. “Greek vase paintings show men beating them, evidently for fun,” says classicist Sarah Ruden.22 Horace, the leading Roman lyric poet in the age of Augustus, offers recommendations on how to shop for your sex slave. Comparing it to buying a horse, Horace warns that traders know how to hide flaws, so inspect your wares carefully.

Herodas, a Greek writer of the third century BC, tells of a pimp who complained that one of his prostitutes had been abused — she was “shredded” and “torn” by a customer who “dragged her, beat her silly.” Still the pimp immediately tries to sell her to a new customer, inviting him to “bruise your goods up any way you want.”

The essence of porneia, then, “was treating another human being as a thing,” Ruden explains.23 What Paul’s early readers would have understood is that it is no longer acceptable to treat a person as an object. “Put to death” the old life, Paul says, with its porneia and other sins (Col. 3:5). The body is not meant for porneia “but for the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:13).

From the beginning, Christianity was not traditional; it was radically countercultural.

YADA YADA

The first biblical passage that talks about sex is the Genesis account of Adam and Eve: “A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Does the phrase “one flesh” refer only to the bodily correspondence between the two sexes? Clearly not. The reference to physical unity was intended to express a joyous unity on all other levels as well — mind, emotion, and spirit. Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons.

Genesis uses a charming euphemism for sexual relations — the verb to know. “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” her first child (4:1 ESV). The English word know is a translation of the Hebrew yada, which means a deep, experiential way of knowing. It is the same word used in that most personal of psalms, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know [yada] me” (Ps. 139:1). The godly king Josiah is described in these words: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy.…Is that not what it means to know [yada] me?’ says the Lord” (Jer. 22:16). When the term is used as a sexual euphemism, it means that sex is meant to be a profound connection of two persons.

Scripture teaches that the relationship of husband and wife even has the supreme dignity of reflecting the relationship between God and His people. Through the prophet Hosea, God says to the people of Israel, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know [yada] the Lord” (Hos. 2:19–20 ESV).

In the New Testament, the same imagery of marriage is applied to Christ and to the church as His bride. In his vision of the end of the world, John says, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Covenant marriage is intended to be a visual image of the human–divine relationship.

WHAT KIND OF COSMOS DO WE LIVE IN?

It may seem a long way from Silicon Valley to a biblical view of sex, but to make a difference, we have to see how ideas connect. The sexual jungle that has opened to our vista since Harvey Weinstein will be reformed only if we go back to fundamental worldview decisions. At the root of moral issues is the question, What kind of cosmos do we inhabit? Are we products of blind material forces, or are we the handiwork of a personal God whose bodies reflect His loving purpose?

Nancy R. Pearcey is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University. Her books include Love Thy Body (Baker Books, 2018), Total Truth (Crossway, 2008), Finding Truth (David C. Cook, 2015), and Saving Leonardo (B and H Books, 2010).

NOTES

  1. Article adapted from Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018).
  2. Emily Chang, “Oh, My God, This Is So F-ed Up: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side,” Vanity Fair, February 2018. See Nancy Pearcey, “Silicon Valley’s Drug-fueled, Secret Sex Parties: One More Reason to Hate the Hookup Culture,” Fox News, January 6, 2018.
  3. James Warren, “Why the Post-Weinstein Wave May Not Be a Reckoning,” Vanity Fair, November 22, 2017.
  4. Donna Freitas, The End of Sex (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 31, 177.
  5. Janet Reitman, “Sex and Scandal at Duke,” Rolling Stone, June 1, 2006.
  6. Quoted in Laura Sessions Stepp, Unhooked (New York: Penguin, 2007), 243; and Nancy Jo Sales, “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse,’” Vanity Fair, September 2015.
  7. Kate Taylor, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too,” New York Times, July 12, 2013.
  8. Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “Friends, Friends with Benefits, and the Benefits of the Local Mall,” New York Times, May 30, 2004.
  9. Alice Owens, “My Rape Convinced Me That Campus Hookup Culture Is Really Messed Up,” Verily, July 6, 2015.
  10. Wendy Shalit, Girls Gone Mild (New York: Random House, 2007), 85.
  11. Stephen Metcalf, “Jerry Fodor’s Enduring Critique of Neo-Darwinism,” The New Yorker, December 12, 2017.
  12. Naomi Wolf, “Casual Sex Finds a Cool New Position,” The Sunday Times, January 12, 2013.
  13. Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are taken from NIV.
  14. Melinda Selmys, Sexual Authenticity (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2009), 85.
  15. Gilbert Meilander, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2013), 20.
  16. Theresa Crenshaw, The Alchemy of Love and Lust, cited in Emily Morse, Sexual Revolution and Its Victims (San Marcos, CA: Ruth Institute Books, 2015), 150.
  17. Emily Morse, “Sunday Sex Tip: How to Keep It Casual without Getting Attached,” Glamour, July 27, 2014.
  18. Miriam Grossman, Unprotected (New York: Penguin, 2007), 8.
  19. Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 88.
  20. Peter Moore, “Young Americans Are Less Wedded to Monogamy than Their Elders,” YouGov, October 3, 2016.
  21. Amanda Marcotte, “Conservative Relatives Can’t Let the Planned Parenthood ‘Scandal’ Go?” Salon, August 5, 2015.
  22. Sarah Ruden, Paul among the People (New York: Image Books, 2010), 15.
  23. Ruden, Paul, 16–18.