In the March 2021 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, seven physicians, whose first names suggest that they are all female, wrote “Investigating Gender Disparities in Internal Medicine Residency Awards.” The authors began by recounting gender disparities in salary, academic rank, grant funding, and awards. They performed a multi-institutional study based on survey data from academic internal medicine residency programs starting in 2009 and extending through 2019. These physicians’ initial findings are in Table 1:
America and much of the world have undergone a sexual revolution. The Church and the Family have largely followed. How is it working out? Is there another way?
How are relations between men and women in American society? How about the rest of the world? Are they better than they were one thousand, one hundred, ten, or even two years ago? How are relations between men and women in the Church? Are they as God intended?
Is the Bible a misogynistic book? How can Paul, and the Scottish Presbyterian Preacher James Fordyce (1720-1796, in his Sermons for Young Women), and ministers like me even talk (“mansplain?”) about the differing roles of men and women in the Church? We can, and indeed we must, because the Bible is the word of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Long after our bodies, and those of our adversaries, return to dust, His Word will remain. In these and all other areas, the Word burns within us (Jeremiah 20:9).
Throughout history, religion and sexuality have been closely related in most cultures of the world. As a result, the images and vocabulary of human sexuality have often been used to express, and to experience, religion.
Sex is power. Sexual imagery is present in every world religious tradition and pervasive in some. Male Australian aborigines sang a sexually explicit song to attract young women. Sexual imagery is pervasive in the major Eastern religions. Hinduism sees men as fire and women as water, but simultaneously sees a man’s semen as water entering the fire pit of a woman’s vagina. Such sexual transformations suggest the religious transformations inherent in Hinduism. As Hindus represent the god Shiva with a phallus and his consort Sita with a vulva, Daoists represent male gods like Mu Kung and goddesses like Hsi Wang Mu in the same way. Many Eastern traditions such as Daoism and Tantric Buddhism represent female genitalia with the lotus flower. Siva worship, which involves anointing a phallus-shaped rock or other symbol, often with milk or water, is common. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern faiths sometimes teach that sexual intercourse itself is a pathway to perfection. Canaanite and Egyptian female figurines used in fertility rites had large breasts and prominent labia.
Sexual imagery is present, although much debated and much less prevalent, in the Abrahamic traditions. Islam forbids images, fearing idolatry, but sexual imagery describing Allah’s love for man and man’s love for Allah is widespread in the Sufi sect. Sufism is controversial, and is even considered heretical, by many Sunni jurists. Sufi mystics, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922 AD), have been executed for their beliefs. Still, Sufism remains a vibrant force in Islam. Paul described the Church as being like the “Bride of Christ.” Followers of Christian mystical traditions, epitomized by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), took this farther, describing a “spiritual marriage” to God, often in sexual terms. Jewish commentators such as the Rabbi Aqiba (50-135 AD) interpreted the Song of Solomon as an analogy of love between Israel and God. Christian commentators including Hippolytus, Origen, Gregory of Nicea, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and others saw the Song of Solomon as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church. Modern scholars often dispute these interpretations but cannot deny their influence in the history of Christianity.
In most cultures over the millennia of history, the phallus has been revered as a symbol of the divine in most cultures. The Vedas describe phallus worship as characterizing pre-Aryan inhabitants of India. Later it was incorporated as a symbol of the god Shiva in Hinduism. The Aboriginal myth of the Wawalag sisters includes Yulunggur, a (generally) male and phallic rock python. Dionysus, the Greek Olympian god of fertility, ecstasy, and wine, was represented in festivals with wooden or metal phalluses. In Egyptian mythology, Isis, goddess of fertility and wife of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, recreated a penis for her dead husband. As a result, he was able to impregnate her and his heir, the god Horus, was born. During a trip through the ruins of Pompeii in October 1993, my wife and I were surprised to find that most houses had stone or painted phalluses in entryways, courtyards, bedrooms, and altars.
Many people in ancient cultures understood human fertility in the same way they understood agricultural fertility:
- As the seed of a plant contains all of the plant within it, so the seed of the man (semen) contains within it all of the baby. No contribution from the ground besides nourishment is necessary, and no contribution from the women besides nourishment is necessary.
- As the farmer placed the seed into the ground, so the man placed his seed into the woman.
- As the ground incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown plant, so the woman incubated and nourished the seed to produce a full-grown baby.
These assumptions seemed consistent with the fact that men had obvious sex organs, and sex-related emissions distinct from blood and other body fluids. A woman’s sex organs and fluids were primarily internal and were therefore largely invisible. Menstruation looked like nothing more than blood. Without modern microscopes there was no way for ancients to know about the male sperm joining with the female egg – both sexes contributing to the new life.
If this is how early man understood human reproduction, his thinking becomes understandable. If agricultural seed is generally good and failures in the harvest most often arise from troubles in the ground (poor soil or inadequate water), then the male semen should be generally good and failures to give birth must be due to problems in the woman. This helps explain why the onus for infertility fell most heavily on women (examples in the Bible include Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah). Also, ancient people thought that agricultural fertility contributed to human fertility and vice versa. Sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes was intended to mimic sexual intercourse between a god and a goddess, thus gaining their favor. In response to such worship through coitus, the deities would grant reproductive and financial (usually agricultural) success. With its power to generate wealth and sire offspring, ancients found the presence of the gods in the phallus.
People in most cultures throughout history have used sex to understand, communicate, and experience religion. It is no surprise – the ecstasy of intercourse can seldom be exceeded by anything other than the ecstasy of religion. Further, the creative power of intercourse, the ability to make a new human life, exceeds every other type of natural human creative power. Georges Bataille wrote, “eroticism is primarily a religious matter.” Many people from many religions over many centuries would agree.
From a Christian standpoint, sex is a gift to mankind from God, part of common grace, but sex is not God. Further, sex is not a path to God. Believers should not fear, ignore, or be obsessed by sex. Our Creator intended human sexuality for procreation, for pleasure, and to provide a glimpse, albeit feeble and faint, of the rapture that followers of Christ will experience when we finally see Him as He is. In the meantime, Christians must use sex, as with everything else in life, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
 Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge, 1995), 35.
 Geoffrey Parrinder, Sexual Morality in the World’s Religions (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, ©1996), 82.
 Frank E. Gaebelein and Dick Polcyn, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 5, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1991), 1202.
 The Vedas: the Saṃhitās of the Ṛig, Yajur (White and Black), Sāma, and Atharva Vedas, single volume, unabridged. ed., trans. Ralph T H. Griffith and Arthur Berriedale Keith KB Classics ([United States?]: Kshetra Books, 2017), 104
 Tony Swain and G W. Trompf, The Religions of Oceania, The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1995), 37.
 Anthony Everitt, Rise of Athens: The Story of the World’s Greatest Civilization (S.l.: Random House, 2017), 236.
 Byron E. Shafer et al., eds., Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 44.
 Betsy Prioleau, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 70.
Sex outside marriage devalues sex, harms men and women, splits families, reduces the number of children, and weakens society. Sex outside marriage feeds the illusion that sex is the only thing, or at least the most important thing, in life.
“The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.” C.S. Lewis, the Screwtape Letters
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 poverty, and future fear. We talked many times about the challenges she faced. Shortly after her divorce, she began dating another man. This young woman hoped for a future with him, but worried that he didn’t seem interested in her work and other key parts of her life.
In 2010, I was the team physician for the US military women’s soccer team at an international championship. 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 gave him her body, but dared not offer her thoughts, her hopes, her fears, and her heart. She was terrified of losing him.
In both cases intelligent, successful, and attractive young women went to bed with men within weeks of starting a new relationship. They freely offered themselves in the height of physical intimacy without intimacy in emotion, commitment, or trust. In my research for this article, I discovered the phrase, “third date sex.”
Ancient gnostics believed that matter is evil and the body is no more than a tent enclosing, and limiting, the human spirit. They felt that what one does with the body doesn’t matter. Some people believe that sex is only for pleasure, that no one should deny themselves pleasure, and 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, without any other intimacy, was a trap.
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 lasts until 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, crazy 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 physical touch with your partner, first non-sexual and later 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, whether by the inevitable conflict, insensitivity, misunderstanding, or the intentional slight. Even betrayal, once repented, can be forgiven.
The love which supports intimacy, however, is not a feeling, fleeting as dry leaves in an autumn breeze. Rather it is a commitment, firm like a tree with deep roots planted by streams of water.
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. If they are blessed in this way, children will come, and a new generation will be born.
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 are 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, as with their other relationships, 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 with both men and women. So often in relationships, men demand more than the women they say they love are willing to give…and yet these women comply.
Society bears a large part of the blame. We discourage marriage, which we say oppresses women. 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. We tolerate or even encourage pre-marital sex. We eliminate men’s and women’s roles and rules for building relationships and are surprised when people don’t know what to do. Anything that makes one partner uncomfortable is punishable by breaking the relationship, or worse. If the societal standard is sex on the third date, many couples will follow.
Perhaps one day we will understand that maturity, not age, is the key to marital 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 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.
Our fundamental biology, assumptions and experiences, passed down through our families and environments, shape us more than we know. By identifying these influences, we can shape them.
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical the Sound of Music, 17 year old Rolf sings to his beloved 16 year old Liesl about her innocence as she makes the transition into adulthood. Rolf’s song, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, includes the line “your life, little girl, is an empty page, that men will want to write on.”
Though a charming sentiment, it is not really true. None of our lives are an empty page, ready to learn and experience anything that comes our way with complete accuracy and objectivity. We are each preconditioned by a host of factors to see and respond to life in a particular way: