As family physician, minister, father or friend, I am privileged to talk to a wide variety of people. I recently met a young woman, not long divorced, who is struggling with past abuse, present financial difficulties, and future uncertainty. We talked many times about the challenges she faced. Shortly after her divorce became final, she started dating another man. This young woman wanted to see if they could have a future, but worried that he didn’t seem interested in her work and other key parts of her life.
Years ago I was the team physician for the US military women’s soccer team at an international competition. One of the players came to me for a gynecological exam, concerned that she might have contracted something from her new boyfriend. We had long and personal discussions about her and about their relationship. She wanted to share her most intimate feelings with this man, but did not dare for fear of losing him.
In both cases intelligent, successful, and attractive young women went to bed with these men within weeks of starting a new relationship. They freely offered themselves in the height of physical intimacy without intimacy in other areas like emotion, commitment, and trust. My college-aged daughter told me that such happens on campus, terming it “third date sex.”
Some gnostics believe that matter is evil and the body is no more than a tent enclosing, and limiting, the human spirit. They may feel that what one does with the body doesn’t matter. Some people believe that sex is only for pleasure and that no one should deny themselves pleasure. They may feel that having sex without limits is good. Some women believe that since many men push for sex without commitment, they should have that right also. They may see no need for other forms of intimacy to coincide with physical intimacy. Yet none of the women with whom I have spoken wanted sex without love; physical intimacy alone.
The word “intimacy” suggests closeness, attachment, affection and confidence. In human life, there is no greater expression of physical intimacy than sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This intimacy is unique because it alone can result in the ultimate human creative act, the creation of children. This intimacy is binding because with children comes responsibility, a responsibility that only ends with death.
There are many kinds of intimacy between people. To have mental intimacy is to share information but also to share and enjoy thoughts; scary thoughts, unique thoughts, and incorrect thoughts. To have social intimacy is to recognize each other as special, and you as a couple, in the presence of others. To have spiritual intimacy is to agree on the most profound questions in life, including the source, purpose, and end of life, to rejoice in the answers to those questions, and to understand and accept each other on lesser questions. To have emotional intimacy is to cry together, to laugh together, and even more to cry and laugh at the things that make your beloved cry and laugh. To have physical intimacy is to enjoy touch with your partner, first non-sexual and later non-sexual and finally sexual. Sex without non-sexual touch is not physical intimacy. All intimacy presupposes trust between the partners; that the bonds of love which create intimacy will not be broken by the inevitable conflict, whether insensitivity, misunderstanding, the intentional slight, or even betrayal, once repented.
The love which supports intimacy, however, is not a feeling, which is as fleeting as dry leaves in a breeze. Rather it is a commitment, which is as steady as a tree with deep roots in the same breeze.
God brings all people together. His plan is that, at the proper time, a man and a woman will meet, and like the oak tree, their intimacy will grow. They will share thoughts and emotions, hopes and dreams, fears and trials, and innocent touch. The man and the woman will talk of ultimate things, such as purpose in life, and begin to see their role, together, in these things. They will become a couple in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Their feelings will grow as their commitment does, and they will decide to love. In the presence of the most important people in their lives, they will commit to one another for a lifetime. Finally, in the ultimate physical expression of their love, their intimacy, and their lifelong promise, they will share sex, the ultimate physical experience.
How many people, in their heart of hearts, do not long for such a relationship? How many used to long for it, but in their disappointment at the vicissitudes of life, have given up in anger and despair? How many are bitter? How many have simply resigned, settling for far less than their best? Imperfect people cannot have a perfect relationship, but imperfect people can align their intimacies with their commitment and have a more wonderful marriage than they ever thought possible.
Ultimately, it is “not good that man (or woman) should be alone”, and a person’s relationship in marriage reflects their relationship with God.
“Third date sex” may be the best Western culture in its current state can offer, but our Creator intends for us to have so much more. The fault lies at least as much with men as with women. So often in relationships, we demand more than the women we say we love are willing to give…and yet they comply.
Society bears a large part of the blame. We call on people to marry late, preferably after age 25, and tempt them ceaselessly with stories and images during their teen and early adult years, and so we tolerate or even encourage pre-marital sex. People lose much when they have sex outside of its proper context, but if the “societal standard” is sex on the third date, most couples will follow.
Perhaps one day we will understand that maturity, not age, is the key factor in marriage success, help the young to be mature, and encourage couples to marry when they are ready. Perhaps families and friends will help each young couple put boundaries around their physical intimacy. Perhaps older people will teach the truth, and exemplify it. Perhaps men, young and old, will learn to treat women with the love and respect of a husband, not a chattel. On that day “Third date sex” will be a memory, like many ill-advised flings, which we try to forget.