What is the Purpose of Sex?

Is sex merely for pleasure?

Is sex merely for procreation?

Which is it?

The two poles of pleasure and procreation have been so polarized in our culture that often it seems sex is only intended for one or the other. The Tinder-using teen lives to have sex for mere pleasure. The married-with-kids-but-struggling couple has sex almost exclusively for procreation. At least, this is how the lines are drawn in pop culture portrayals of sex and in funny memes.

What is the purpose of sex?

Purpose

At least one reader might snarl at me for asking this question. Polarized once again, sex becomes either meaningless or meaningful.

For many people today, having sex is no different from shaking hands with someone else or giving a hug. It’s a common, human relation that just so happens to feel good too.

To others (and I fall in this camp), sex is meaningful. Sex is a God-given gift. It comes with many benefits (pleasure and procreation) and it also comes with much responsibility.

The most popular view of sex today doesn’t want to deal with the responsibility part—and frankly, many today don’t want procreation either. This is true in work too, not just sex. A lot of people don’t want to work, but they still want to reap the benefits of the working class. (I am not talking about those with disabilities or those who have legitimate unemployment reasons; I am talking about people’s desire in general—work less, get paid more).

For my own generation (Millennials), we want to succeed at our dreams but we want to get there right now and don’t want to wait and possibly work a second or a third job just to make our dream a reality. Giving up something to get something better is a basic principle to living, but it’s one that we don’t have patience and time for. We want to get everything, and we want to give nothing in return.

Meaning

What makes the Christian story so grand is that God is someone who continually gives himself to the creation that he made and sustains. When we think of how any marriage should be, it should reflect this giving of self for the sake of the other. The Christian story continues to the most climactic point ever—Jesus, the Son of God, is hanging on a bloodied cross. There, God gave himself over to us and to death in order to breathe new life back into a meaningless world full of dead bodies. Jesus gave himself for the sake of others.

That beautiful, good, and true story is what gives meaning, life, and purpose to my own understanding of marriage. Marriage is a reflection of this divine gift. It is a picture of the God who gave and keeps on giving.

When we reduce sex down to procreation, but without pleasure, it becomes cold and dark. When we reduce sex down to pleasure, we miss out on the myriad of ways sex continues to give to us—and to the world—when we enjoy it for all that it is. Sex is not just sex. It is not an end in itself. Sure, it can be that—the porn industry is built on that lie—but when we believe in that lie we are deprived of the fullness of sex.

Sex has so much more potential than “just sex.” It brings together and unites a husband and wife, that with procreation creates a new family with new possibilities of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That tiny act of sex becomes greater than sex ever was on its own, and it begins to fuel the economy and breathe more life not just into the home itself—but into society itself.

So, at least according to Christianity, sex is never merely for pleasure or for procreation—it’s always for both. It's always for more and never for less. Sex is gifted with meaning and divine generosity from a benevolent, gift-giving, and sacrificially selfless God.

Nicholas Davis

Rev. Nicholas Davis is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

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