What is the purpose of sex? This may seem like an odd question to ask in our day and age. Almost everyone has roughly the same answer: the purpose is pleasure.
One of the key distinctives of the so-called “sexual revolution” was that sex was principally, if not exclusively, recreational. Unless you wanted children, sex was not primarily intended for procreation, but for pleasure. Even in many Christian circles, this “pursuit of pleasure” motif became very prominent. When I was preparing for marriage, for example, I was told to read a hugely popular evangelical Christian book about sex entitled, Intended for Pleasure.
At the time, this idea did not seem strange or out of place in my Christian thinking. After all, God created sex and meant it to be fun and enjoyable, right? Back then, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine (let alone purchase and read) a Christian book on sex called, Intended for Procreation.
This is unfortunate since Christians have long understood that sex is not designed merely for recreation. It is also intended for procreation. These two aspects are not a comprehensive description of its purpose, of course. Things like emotional and physical well-being, social bonding, and intimate communication are also important features of the experience. But how you frame these purposes and how you rank each one fundamentally alters your understanding of the sexual act itself. In this sense, our understanding of sex’s primary purposes makes an enormous difference in how we look at it and one another inside and outside of marriage.
If, for example, the purpose is primarily (or perhaps only) for pleasure and recreation, then it is no surprise that pregnancy becomes an unintended, inconvenient, and therefore decidedly undesirable aspect of the overall experience. The idea that sexual relations might have more consequential purposes than simply orgasms and other physiological and emotional benefits seems to be nearly forgotten in our contemporary discussions of why sex matters. If sex is only intended for pleasure, pregnancy becomes not only an unfortunate consequential byproduct, but something to be ardently avoided and ideally eliminated.
Abortion, then, becomes the “final solution” to this inconvenient “problem.” The purpose of sex is no longer to produce children, but only to experience physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction. Thus, rather than pregnancy being something to look forward to, share, and celebrate with the mother, father, and community, it becomes an annoying inconvenience, a source of shame, and something to be evaded and ultimately eliminated. Rather than a desirable sexual goal, it comes to be seen as a punitive and negative consequence. In the words of Anglican rector Barton J. Gingerich, “In the recreational view, when a woman conceives a child, it often means something has gone wrong.”
In essence, after birth control, abortion becomes the ultimate “failsafe” and guarantor that anyone and everyone can enjoy unregulated sex without fear of any lifelong repercussions. But to make the barbarous act of killing a helpless and innocent child into something socially, morally, and emotionally acceptable, the personhood of that child has to be obscured, ignored, and ultimately obliterated. This is done by describing the child in deceptively dehumanizing terms like “a fetus, ” a product of conception,” and “a ball of cells.” To further the duplicity, abortion is now being called “a medical procedure,” “women’s healthcare,” “a constitutional right,” and more recently by abortion activist, Sarah Lopez, “an act of self-love.”
To pursue and promote this kind of ethical obfuscation is, at its root, morally bankrupt and repugnant. Mothers and fathers are being openly lied to and crowd-shamed in an attempt to preserve the insidious myth that sex is simply for fun and self-fulfillment—and nearly nothing more.
Please don’t misunderstand my point. The purpose of sex is not purely for procreation any more than it is solely for pleasure. Sex has several important purposes, but when only one of those purposes is elevated above all others, it tends to destroy a holistic and healthy understanding of sex. We can also openly affirm that God invented sex to be pleasurable. The clitoris, for example, appears to be created for only one purpose: to provide pleasure for the woman during intercourse. And when sex occurs within the boundaries of a loving, safe, and secure marital between a man and a woman, it can be a truly magnificent experience for both. But when ecstasy becomes the primary or even sole focal point, the things that make sexual intercourse enduringly meaningful and significant get distorted, obscured, and sometimes altogether lost. Other important purposes become ostracized and even vilified at the almighty altar of recreational pleasure.
Up until very recently, most societies strongly affirmed that procreation was a vital and desirable aspect of sexual union, making a critical contribution to human flourishing and the common good. By separating sex from the purpose of procreation and making pregnancy an undesirable and eliminable “byproduct,” many societies now face a precipitous and precarious population decline that has become a significant national crisis.
In response, Christians must reemphasize and celebrate the necessity, beauty, and power of self-denial, personal and social responsibility, as well as the preservation and limitation of sex within the safe and enduring confines of a committed covenantal, loving, and traditional nuclear family—one man and one woman married for life, raising their children together.
In the helpful words of Anglican rector Barton J. Gingerich, “women should deny sex to men who aren’t willing to marry them and raise their kids. Men ought to oblige and accept the honorable script of marriage before sex. . . . Interestingly, all of this turns marriage into quite a productive, involved, cooperative enterprise—because it is. . . . Our forebears . . . believed in the importance of the household. Households—like sex—should be productive rather than merely recreational. A man and a woman come together in matrimony to create, build, and manage a most important enterprise, ideally cooperating with their extended family and close neighbors. This was the norm, and it must become the norm once again if our society is to flourish.”