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Rules for Sex

I recently read a transcript from an interview with Jordan Peterson, who is the author of the best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life. In this interview he said:

We’ve had relatively reliable birth control since 1960, that’s not very long, and we underestimate the unbelievable technological triumph of birth control. It’s the hydrogen bomb, it’s the transistor, it’s a major-league transformation in human interaction. Women are now free from involuntary reproduction. That’s never been the case in the entire history of the planet.

We don’t know exactly what to do about that. So, the first idea in the 60’s was, let’s party, and you know, you could see why. It’s like, what the rules for not engaging in promiscuous sexual intercourse seemed to have vanished so, we had a couple of decades of experimentation. Well, how’d that go?

A little hard on the family I would say. That’s not so good for kids. AIDS. That wasn’t a plus; could have killed us all, and it mutated, particularly to take advantage of promiscuous sex, because viruses are very tricky things. So, it turns out that sex is a little bit more complicated than we thought. Well, it actually turns out that it’s a lot more complicated than we thought.

Now it’s 40, 50, 60 years later, and we’re trying to sort this out. It’s like, well, when is it okay to have sex? And when is it not okay to have sex, and what does it mean that it’s okay, and what does consent mean, and the answer to that is, well, we never used to have to think these things through because the rule was don’t have sex until you get married. That was the rule. Now, that isn’t the rule? So, what’s the rule? Well, we’re not having a conversation about the rule.

Peterson’s words remind me of George Leonard, an American author, and educator who died in 2010. He wrote fifteen books and at one time was editor of Look magazine. For a number of years, Leonard was a big proponent of the sexual liberation movement. He believed in complete sexual freedom— that one should enjoy sex with multiple partners. At the time, he would have been a real advocate of the hookup culture we live in today.

But years later, Leonard wrote a book ironically titled The End of Sex: Erotic Love after the Sexual Revolution. Leonard says, “I have finally come to see that every game has a rule, and sex has rules. Unless you play by the rules, you’ll find sex can create a depth of loneliness that nothing else can.”

Think of all the damage done by the misuse of our sexuality: sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, abortion, the psychological damage from rape, sexual abuse, and incest, and sexual addictions, including the devastating addiction to pornography. Then think of the shattering effect to the family caused by adultery.

It is as if people today live without any standards when it comes to sexual conduct. This is why I find both Peterson’s and Leonard’s words about rules for sex to be so intriguing. If sex has rules and ignoring these rules leads to painful consequences, then one must ask two simple questions: What are the rules and who makes them?

Sometimes I am not sure if it has ever dawned on modern people that sex was God’s idea. It seems only logical that if sex was His idea, then he must have a blueprint that reveals the healthiest and ultimate sexual experience.

In the Old Testament, when a man has sex with his wife, the English translation generally is, “he lays with her.” But the actual Hebrew word for sex in the text is yada. In English, yada is shorthand for “boring, empty talk.” But in Hebrew, it is a verb of action that means “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected.” In fact, it sounds like a synonym for the best definition of intimacy. Using the Hebrew definition, sexual intercourse is not just for pleasure, but rather its function or purpose is to know or be deeply known by someone.

There is also a frequently used Hebrew word that is parallel to yada, and it is the word hessed, and it means “deep friendship and loyalty.” Clearly, God designed sex so that two people can experience intimate love with his or her very best friend.

In the New Testament, in Matthew 19: 4-5, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament:

He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

The word cleave is an interesting Hebrew word that means “absolute unity.” Total unity. It is a deeply profound solidarity. To cleave to someone is to say, “I completely belong to you. Exclusively! Permanently! Everything I have is yours. I am yours.”

This is what marriage is, and this is why God created sex: for cleaving. Sex enables us to truly cleave to another person. God made sex to be able to say to one another, “I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you. All of me. Everything.”

This is what I believe everyone longs for.

I leave you with the eloquent words of author Philip Yancey:

Our desires, including sexual desires, are not wrong. They are, rather, like the rungs of a ladder that leads us toward beauty, toward relationship and intimacy, and ultimately toward God who granted us these gifts. Remove the rungs from the ladder, though, and you are left with scattered sticks of wood leading nowhere.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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