The Truth About Sexual Desire
Love, lust, intimacy and the Church
Whatever one thinks about sex, the one thing we can agree on is that more people are having more sex than ever—even in the Church. Which means the best attempts within the Church to steer people away from sex is not working.
When I was in high school, sex was often addressed in a shameful, embarrassing way. Young women were told if they had sex, their worth was somehow lowered and they would become, at best, second-hand goods. It was as though their self-worth was connected only to their sexuality.
Young men did not fare any better. We were often made to feel guilt for our sexual urges and lust. Never mind that our hormones were going bonkers—we felt like perverts for the thoughts that were streaming through our minds. Many young men were guilt-ridden because of this and had difficulty being honest because of their attending shame.
On top of this, we heard Christian leaders blame culture and the media for popularizing sex. They blamed the media for its constant barrage of sexual messaging and accused our culture for eroding our moral foundation.
What critics like these fail to see is that the reason sexual messaging is so effective is because, as humans, we have sexual desire hard-wired into us.
The media is simply tapping into something that is already there, and the Church needs to tap into the same thing. We must speak to the God-given sexual desire that exists within us. This has rarely been done, as we often confuse our God-given desire for sex with our misguided, self-centered feelings of lust.
I’m not entirely sure that what people want, at the deepest level, is sex. I think what our sex-crazed culture really wants is what sex promises: the feeling of being desired.
When we feel desired by another person, we tap into the deepest longing of all people who have ever lived: the longing to be loved for exactly who we are. Sex offers this opportunity to us.
But we seem to have confused sex and love—you can have one without the other. In our world today, there is a surplus of sex and a deficit of love.
Perhaps this is why so many people are having more sex than ever. People are increasingly hungry for another moment in which they feel desired, accepted and loved by another person. Sex offers a tangible way for anyone to find this longing fulfilled, even if only for a few moments.
Some scoff at this idea, thinking that sex is simply fun and that it feels good. Yes, physically speaking, sex is wonderful, but sex is far more than a physical act.
If sex is only about a physical reality, then we are nothing more than copulating animals. I, for one, believe men and women are so much more than that. Our sexuality is deeply connecting—emotionally and spiritually—in a way that most want (or need) to ignore.
Many wrongly believe that desire itself is evil. As a result, they attempt to curb and deny it. This frequently proves to be too much, and many give up, while others spend years wracked with guilt while they privately battle lust and sexual impulses.
We can never forget that sexual desire is God-given.
The Bible is filled with positive talk of it. It does not only speak of desiring God, His words, or His presence—the Bible gets sexual.
There is a book of poetry in Scripture that is steamier than any Danielle Steele novel and has better one-liners than a Cameron Crowe movie. The book, Song of Songs, details a conversation between a man and a woman.
In the second chapter, the woman says to the man, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste” (Song of Songs 2:3). This is unbelievably provocative language. In speaking of her lover, she uses the Hebrew word chamad. Here it’s translated “delight,” elsewhere it is translated “desire.” This woman speaks openly and without shame about her sexual desire for her lover.
Desires are hard-wired inside of us, and we are meant to live as people who attend to them. To want something is not bad, even if what you want is to give yourself away in a sexual relationship. The warning is that, like all good things, when desire gets twisted, we get ourselves into trouble.
This does not mean we should run from desire, rather we must teach a proper understanding of it. When we deny it, stuff it or pretend it’s not there, we are not living truthfully. When this happens, we open ourselves to feelings of fear, guilt, anger because we ignore our desires.
These desires are not ultimately about sex. While our sexual desire can, at times, seem overwhelming; our desire to be loved, accepted and desired is even stronger. Any discussion about sex that does not begin with our deepest, truest desire for love begins in the wrong place.
Those within the Church should never encourage people to stuff or suppress desire—we need to encourage them to acknowledge it and embrace it. We must act as guides walking with them and speaking honestly about our desires. In this, we have an opportunity to point not only to love, but to the source of all love—a merciful, compassionate, loving God.
And when we do this, we just might find what we have really wanted all along—when, at last, we discover a God who desires us.