Chapter 1.
Sexuality: A Historical, Sociocultural Context

Few contemporary issues generate as much heat and conflict in society, and within the church, as those having to do with human sexuality. Controversy continues over homosexuality, including debates over causation, legitimization and the ability to change orientation. Subtle and not-so-subtle sexual messages and innuendos in the media—television, music, movies and so forth—generate controversy over the issue of free speech versus censorship. The easy access and sheer amount of pornography that even a child can access on the Internet yields consequences that we do not yet fathom. Increased rates of sexual compulsion have resulted in a number of therapeutic and twelve-step programs addressing sexual addiction as a new dimension of their addiction programs. Reports show that three out of four single adults will engage in sexual intercourse before they reach age 20, one out of two will cohabit before marriage, and 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women will have engaged in extramarital sex. Also disturbing are the high rates of uninvited and nonconsensual sex that are reported, especially by women, ranging from sexual harassment to sexual abuse, rape and other violent sex crimes.

It would be a mistake to think that Christians less than members in society at large struggle with issues of sexual morality and behavior. Sexual indiscretions by leaders within the Christian community serve as a reminder that no one is immune from failures in this area. Although Christians may have a solid biblical foundation that provides a meaningful theology of authentic human sexually, it is more difficult to live consistently by that value system.

In writing this book, our starting point is to acknowledge that, as part of a fallen creation, all human beings struggle with their sexual nature and come short of the sexual wholeness that God intended. This recognition means that we approach this topic with humility and compassion. We must balance truth and mercy as we develop biblical guidelines, principles and models for dealing with authentic human sexuality. While boldly asserting the truth of Scripture in building a foundation for sexual morality and behavior, we do so with an attitude of mercy and grace as extended to us in Christ Jesus. The vigor with which some condemn the sexual shortcomings of others is not only nonproductive; it is also hypocritical. Here we remind ourselves of William Shakespeare's observation that we can "protest too much!" as a way of denying sexual sin in our lives (Hamlet, act 3, scene 2, line 230). We must be careful to acknowledge the beam in our own eye, before we cast stones at others (Mt 7:1-5; Jn 8:7). On the other hand, it behooves the Christian community to join against the devastating ills of our postmodern society, which seems to tolerate every type of inauthentic sexuality. This "anything and everything goes" mentality leaves people without clarity and vision about how to develop authenticity in their sexual lives.

Although we could use terms like normal, functional or healthy sexuality, our focus in this book is authentic sexuality. So, what exactly do we mean by authentic sexuality? A simple definition of authentic is to be real, genuine, believable and trustworthy. We describe sexuality as something that is authentic (real, congruent, integrated), as opposed to something inauthentic (a counterfeit version of the real thing, incongruent, distorted). Our presupposition is that God intends for our sexuality to be a genuine, believable and trustworthy part of ourselves. To be authentic in our sexuality means that we affirm the sexual in ourselves as an integral part of our total being. In this way we embrace what God has created and declare with God, "It is very good!" (Gen 1:31).

Though our sexuality is created as God's perfect design, we are also excruciatingly aware of the distortions that have occurred through the consequences of sin, fallen nature and deviation from God's original design. This good gift of sex has been perverted and corrupted in our secular world, which is why it is such a struggle for most people. Inauthentic sexuality, a consequence of our fallen condition, leaves us open to unreal, false, convoluted and unreliable messages about sexuality and sexual behaviors. This happens through the interplay of societal attitudes and beliefs, sociocultural structures, biological and psychological factors, as well as individual choice and human agency. In short, authentic sexuality has to do with human beings seeking to live as sexual beings according to God's design and purpose.

The purpose of this book is to consider biological, psychological and sociocultural factors as we bring a biblical focus to authentic human sexuality. Due to the complex factors contributing to sexual development and barriers hindering it, our task of defining authentic sexuality is far from simple. Human sexuality must be understood in terms of a variety of influences that include biology, sociology, psychology, theology, gender, emotions, behaviors, attitudes and values. These multiple layers present multidimensional levels at which authentic human sexuality has an interactive and interpersonal dimension. While authentic human sexuality at the individual level is most obvious, it incorporates relational, communal, societal and even global levels. In this chapter we begin at the individual level by addressing the relationship between sexuality and gender; then we provide a historical-sociocultural context for understanding the development of authentic human sexuality.

Sexuality and Gender

The term sex is used to refer to either sexuality or gender; although the two concepts are closely related, they are separate constructs. Gender or gender role refers to one's gender identity as defined by a particular culture. This includes such things as manner of talk, movement, expression, style of dress, as well as gender-based attitudes and interests, stereotypes and behavioral expectations. Given the changes in gender roles in recent years, we focus here on the relationship between sexuality and gender.

The sexual revolution that began in the first half of the twentieth century was followed in later years by a revolution in redefining gender roles. The combination of these two revolutionary changes has multiplied the complexity of understanding sexual development in modern societies. Until the 1960s it was generally assumed that little girls would naturally grow up to be women, with certain well-defined "feminine" roles and identities, and little boys would grow up to be men, with corresponding roles and identities. Social sciences helped us realize that sexual scripts determined much of what was assumed to be "natural" cultural distinctions of male and female.

From the time they are newborn babies, the traditional script for boys was physical courage, toughness, competitiveness, strength, control, dominance and aggressiveness; whereas girls were scripted to be gentle, expressive, responsive, sensitive and compliant. The discovery that much of the expressed difference between males and females is learned rather than genetic has challenged traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity. Rather than giving a detailed account of current changes in gender roles, we shall limit our comments here to the aspects of gender redefinition most directly related to sexuality.

The fact that females were regarded as "less sexual" than males, social scientists discovered, was largely due to the greater sexual restraints placed on females when compared to males. As little girls grew up, parents took a more protective stance toward their daughter's sexuality. Girls were cautioned to show modesty in their clothes, to keep their dresses down and their breasts covered, and to guard themselves against sexual advances. These messages were generalized and reinforced by society at large.

On the other hand, messages that boys received from their parents and society were much less restrictive. Boys were given more freedom to uncover their bodies and to explore themselves physically. As boys grew into puberty, they often became part of adolescent male subculture, where they were encouraged to make sexual advances toward girls as a sign of their masculinity. This message about sexuality is reflected in the language of the adolescent male subculture even today. The boy who fails to "score" can be in danger of having his sexuality called into question. By the time adulthood is reached, males have traditionally been conditioned to be sexually active, while females have been culturally conditioned to resist sexual stimuli and advances.

It is also through culture that males and females come to learn which symbols and objects to associate with sexual meaning and stimuli. The following story, told by a female missionary on her first term in the mission field, illustrates the cultural basis for sexual arousal. While walking through a rural village for the first time, she realized that the men of the village were whistling at her. Since she was modestly attired and the women in the village were bare-breasted, she was quite surprised by this reaction. Later, an experienced missionary explained to her that men in this culture found plump legs to be a sexual stimulus. This demonstrates how a culture defines its sex symbols and corresponding response to these symbols.

The extent to which human sexual responsiveness is culturally conditioned can also be detected through the change in women's bathing suits over the last hundred years. During Victorian times men and women were not permitted to bathe together on a public beach. Around the turn of the century, when mixed bathing finally became more acceptable, bathing suits covered the body down to the ankles and wrists. During the twentieth century, bathing suits have steadily shrunk, exposing ever-increasing expanses of anatomy.

Increased exposure of the body has also diminished the sexual stimulus of various body parts. While a bare knee could have caused quite a stir around the turn of the century, it is not the focus of erotic attention today. To emphasize this point, suppose a young man living at the turn of the century were placed in a time capsule and transported to a typical bathing beach in the United States today. A man conditioned to sexual conventions of the 1890s would be totally shocked, to say the least! Thus, a person's sexual response can be understood in part by social and cultural conditioning.

Since the changes brought about by the sexual and gender revolutions, social scientists have increasingly tried to decipher how much of the difference in sexuality between males and females is biologically hardwired and how much is a result of sociocultural factors. A leader in this field, Eleanor Maccoby (1998), suggests that assessing the role of biology in human sex differences is based on four kinds of evidence: (1) the age at which sex differences emerge, (2) the consistency of sex differences across cultures and over time, (3) the consistency of sex differences across species, and (4) the relationship of physiological factors such as sex hormones and brain structures to behaviors that show sex differences such as aggression.

Based upon these criteria, it is possible to offer some summary observations on male/female differences in sexuality. Research on differing hormonal levels in both women and men indicates a relationship to sexual arousal and sexual passivity/aggressiveness. Though there are biologically produced differences among women and among men, there are also normative (as in average) differences between men and women. The bottom line is that a proportion of the difference in sexuality between men and women is based on biological as well as sociocultural factors. Oliver and Hyde's (1993) meta-analysis of 177 individual studies of sex differences boil the differences down to a summary statement: Men's attitudes and behaviors are characterized as more nonrelational sexuality and female sexuality as more relational. For instance, men are found to masturbate more than women, hold more sexually permissive attitudes, regard casual intercourse positively, be more sexually promiscuous, and have a higher incidence of homosexuality.

These differences between men and women are also found in sexual attitudes. A study of over 16,000 people in 52 countries found that men more than women have a desire for multiple sexual partners (Schmitt 2003). In a later study based on over 14,000 persons in 48 countries, Schmitt (2006) reports that men more than women had unrestricted attitudes that permitted more promiscuous relationships, while women more than men had restricted attitudes that tended to prefer committed and monogamous sexual relationships.

This type of evidence has led to a book by Levant and Brooks titled Men and Sex: New Psychological Perspectives (1997). Based on their premise that the major developmental task facing men is integrating sexuality within a relational context, they write about this as a common struggle for men. As they define it, nonrelational sexuality is "the tendency to experience sex primarily as lust without any requirements for relational intimacy or emotional attachment" (p. 1).

There are the two major explanations of the origin of male nonrelational sexuality. Evolutionary psychology refers to natural selection as the culprit, reasoning that males are physiologically programmed for nonrelational sexuality (Buss and Schmitt 1993; Archer 1996). This theory suggests that men and women employ different strategies in selecting mates, based on the assumption that creatures act in ways that will best assure that their genes will be passed on in the future gene pool of a species. Men are sexually promiscuous since dispersing sperm to a number of women maximizes the continuance of their genes. Women, however, are "discreet shoppers" since they only have so many eggs and must carefully mate with a man who will stay with them and thus increase the probability that their offspring will survive.

The differences between evolutionary psychology and the biblical perspective in regard to the origin of male-female differences are critiqued by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (2002). In contrast to the biblical worldview, "evolutionary psychology has no basis for sorting out what is created from what is fallen in human behavior" (p. 146). Since evolutionary psychology seeks to replace the biblical ideal "with a thoroughly materialist worldview, [it] is not the foundation on which to build a sexual ethic, either for men or for women" (Van Leeuwen, 2002:147). While evolutionary psychology can be opposed for theological reasons, it can also be refuted on the basis of psychological theory and research. Moore and Travis (2000:48) report, "There is no evidence that promiscuous men have more offspring than men who invest heavily in the nurturing of their children." Based on their cross-cultural comparisons of thirty-seven cultures, Eagly and Wood (1999:408) conclude that evidence "supports the social structural account of sex differences in male preference."

Alternatively, social constructionists admit to some biological basis for differences between males and females in sexuality, but they argue that nonrelational sexuality is in large part a reflection of how male sexuality is culturally defined within traditional gender ideology (Chodorow 1999; Pleck 1995; Maccoby 1998). Social constructionists contend that gender-role socialization has a differential effect on male and female psychosexual development. Socialization patterns allow for the expressing of feelings in girls but discourage it in boys; this can result in males having greater difficulty in distinguishing between their sexual feelings and emotional feelings. This socialization pattern may also account for a male's greater vulnerability to nonrelational forms of sex, while a female's sexuality and desire is tied much more to romantic or love-based relationality (Balswick 1990; Pollack 1998).

Gilbert Bilezikian (2006) and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (1990) bring out a theological explanation for gender differences in sexuality. Their beginning point is to draw upon the differential participation of Adam and Eve in the Genesis account of the fall. Genesis 3:6 indicates that whereas Adam and Eve both disobeyed God when eating the forbidden fruit, each sinned in a distinctive way. For her part, Eve went beyond God's command and transgressed God's directive of dominion accountability when she willfully refused to submit to God's dominion. Adam sinned by disobeying God when he chose his relationship with Eve over relationship with God, violating the bounds of relationship accountability.

Consequences of Eve's and Adam's sins were expulsion from the Garden of Eden, struggle with pain in childbirth and work, difficulty in raising children, making a living, and eventual death. There were also personal and relational consequences of their particular sins. For overstepping God's boundary of dominion, Eve's punishment was that she would now have to endure being dominated by the man: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16). For overstepping God's boundary and choosing Eve over God, Adam would blame her and seek to dominate her rather than be in a relationship of respect and mutuality. The curse for Adam was that his decision to dominate would thwart closeness and intimacy with his mate. As a result of both their sin, there would be a propensity in males to dominate and in females to submit, making it difficult to achieve person-centered intimate connection in relationships.

Although a nonrelational orientation to sexuality may be rooted in the Fall, it is a condition that has been reinforced by sociocultural structures throughout the developmental process.

This interpretation of the Genesis account can be recognized in expressions of the nonrelational/relational aspects of sexuality. Men more than women struggle with integrating their sexuality into a personal, relational context. Nonrelational sexuality can be recognized in a person's inability to experience a deep emotional connection during sexual encounters with a partner. Sexual expression is more focused on the pleasure and less on the person. Serious forms of nonrelational sexuality include repetitive infidelity, compulsive womanizing, obsession with pornography, sex via phone or computer, strip shows, "gentlemen's clubs," prostitution, sexual addictions, sexual harassment, rape and child molestation (Levant and Brooks 1997:14-15).

While women also struggle with nonrelational sex, the greater tendency is to be so relationally focused that there is failure �