Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet and coined the phrases “star-crossed lovers” and “wild-goose chase.” The expressions stuck, and quickly grafted themselves into everyday English.
In a somewhat different vein, 10 years ago Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby gave us the phrases “shake and bake” and, most famously, “smokin’ hot wife,” for whom Will Ferrell’s character was hilariously grateful to Baby Jesus.
I wouldn’t have expected catch-phrases from a Hollywood spoof to have quite the same stickability as the Bard of Avon, but I was wrong. Pastor Joe Helms opened a 2011 NASCAR race with a prayer of thanks for—among other things—cars, gasoline, and his smokin’ hot wife; and the expression has since become a regular feature on Twitter bios: e.g., Father. Jesus Follower. Husband to the smokin’ hot @whateverhiswifesnameis.
There is something to be said for Christians speaking up positively about marriage and sex, and the smokin’ hot wives and their proud husbands are quick to defend the phrase: No harm is meant, playful banter and an active sex life are indicators of a thriving marriage, and public statements of praise for one’s spouse build them up and also signal to the rest of the world that they’re happily spoken for. After all, Proverbs 5:18-19 tells us to “rejoice in the wife of your youth … may her breasts satisfy you always.” And then there’s that inspired erotica in the Song of Songs, with metaphorical fruits being tasted and trees being climbed and all sorts of poetic praising for the beloved’s flock of sheep-like hair, twin-gazelle-breasts, towering neck. Is Song of Songs not a sort of ancient ode to a Smokin Hot Wife?
“Everything is permissible,” writes the Apostle Paul, “but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase, there are good reasons why Christians may want to rethink the “smokin’ hot spouse” trope in the way we talk about our spouses.
It May Inadvertently Devalue Women.
First among these is that it can easily send the wrong message to hearers about the value of women. Scripture teaches that women are gifted, indispensable Spirit-filled co-laborers and co-heirs in God’s Kingdom—a message we preach to a sex-saturated world that pervasively demeans and objectifies women, viewing physical appearance as the highest virtue. As Christ-followers, we need to actively identify and resist a worldview that sees women and sex as commodities: Women should be welcomed as sisters, not feared as temptresses. Our culture says: “The most important thing about you is your good looks.” Our Creator says: “The most important thing about you is looking like Jesus.”
That’s not to say we shouldn’t appreciate beauty, but the wording and emphasis matter. Praising one’s spouse as beautiful could refer to both inner and outer beauty, but “smokin’ hot” carries a very specific, sexual undertone. A Christian referring to his wife as “smokin’ hot”—with all the female-sexuality-is-the-prize baggage the term carries—runs the risk of triggering a host of problems for his hearers in a culture where women are seen more as prizes than people. At worst, what was intended as a praise of his wife may well be a punch to hearers struggling with abuse, body-shame, loneliness, or their own sexuality. At best, the smokin’ hot trope might come across as off-putting and inappropriate, a gross verbal PDA of sorts.
It Sexualizes Your Wife to Others.
If the first reason Christians might want to quench the smokin’ hot talk is honor and protect women in general, then a second reason is to honor and protect their wives in particular. A public shout-out to your wife’s smokin’ hotness can sound a lot like “Hey, everyone, covet my sexy wife!”—a direct challenge to the seventh commandment.
To many, the phrase comes across like immature braggadocio, and it puts hearers in an awkward position. If they agree that your spouse is, indeed, off-the-scales sexually attractive, then they’re being lecherous. If they disagree, then they’re being rude. Of all the things you want others to think about when relating to your wife, surely her sexual desirability is not one of them?
The question is not, “Should I say my wife is smokin’ hot?” The question is, “To whom should I say it?” The issue is one of context, as a closer look at Song of Songs suggests. As steamy as Song of Songs is, the words of praise and sexual affirmation in it are directed personally to each other. The lover’s words are for his beloved, the beloved’s for her lover.
The focus throughout the book is on the intimacy in their marriage. The friends in the Song do play some role: They are witnesses and encourage the couple to love one another well, but they are not living vicariously through the couple’s experience or being invited to do so. Following Song of Songs’ example, admirations of our lovers’ wild attractiveness should be directed to our lovers, not our friends or congregants.
Our world believes—maybe even fears—that All The Amazing Sex is being had by the young, carefree and exceedingly attractive. If Hollywood is to be believed, the hottest sex happens on the first date, and the sexual adventure culminates (and begins a terrible and inevitable decline) with walking down the aisle.
Christians are right to reject that stereotype: Sex and sexiness belong firmly—and wonderfully—within marriage. The challenge, however, is to affirm the goodness of sex and sexual attraction in a way that is publicly appropriate and yet still retains a public modesty that protects bedroom intimacy.
So, Christians, when it’s just you and your honey, by all means praise her smokin’ hotness—and her wisdom, her skill, her kindness and her smarts: Put some Proverbs 31 in your Song of Songs playlist. But in public, say something better about your spouse: something that shows respect, honor and maybe a little poetic imagination in your praise. As one preacher said of his wife: “She’s the honey in my tea, the gravy on my biscuits, and the love of my life.” Gravy on my biscuits? Now there’s a phrase you can shake and bake.