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Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness

Our views of sex and human sexuality have changed dramatically over the last 60 years. If you go back to the 1950s, there was a recognized moral standard when it came to sexual behavior. Sex within marriage was moral and the expected norm. Though people had sex outside of marriage and adultery might have been commonplace, it still was considered to be morally wrong.

That has all changed. Today, for single people, and even for some who are married, sex has gone from being a sacred act between two people in a covenant relationship to nothing more than another form of recreation. It exists for the sole purpose of providing people with pleasure. There is no purpose, meaning or beauty between the two parties involved. Modern people desire to be sexually free, to be liberated to have sex with whomever they please with no strings attached.

Several years ago, Dr. Darrin McMahon, a professor at Florida State University, wrote a landmark book on the history of the pursuit of happiness titled, Happiness: A History. In the book, you learn that the more traditional approach to happiness was found by following the path of virtue. Happiness was a by-product of having a strong character.

Dr. McMahon says this is more of an age-old approach, “tying happiness to higher things: to God, virtue, or the right ordering of the soul.” Happiness is considered a reward for living well.

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson is the author of the Declaration of Independence. Within the written documents are the famous words that guarantee the rights of all citizens to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In reference to the word happiness, Jefferson said, “Happiness is the aim of life, but virtue is the foundation of happiness.”

Benjamin Franklin, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration, added, “Virtue and happiness are mother and daughter.”

In other words, both men believed you can never find happiness without virtue. As our country grew, progressed and became more prosperous, a slow transformation took place in our approach to pursuing and finding happiness. Nowadays, much of society believes a life filled with pleasure leads to happiness. Pleasure generally makes us feel good, and good feelings are a major component of living a happy life. For this reason, we equate happiness with pleasure.

It was Sigmund Freud who came along saying that, when you look at people’s lives, their only purpose is to be happy and that genital sex is the primary source of all human happiness. Many believe it is Freud’s teachings that gave rise to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and have vastly influenced today’s view of sex—a culture that believes that sexual pleasure (whether real or imagined in the world of pornography) is essential to our well-being and sense of happiness.

Ironically, what most people do not realize is that Freud’s views on sex and sexual boundaries took an apparent shift. He remarked that, when sexual standards disappear, the same thing happens to us that happened “in the decline of ancient civilization, [when] love became worthless and life empty.” Surprisingly, Freud actually raised his children with clear-cut sexual boundaries. Dr. Armand Nicholi, who studied the life of Freud in great detail, says we can only speculate, but Freud resolved in later years that finding happiness in this world requires a great deal of self-restraint. At this stage in my life, I conclude that pleasure can bring temporary delight into your life, but not lasting happiness. The demand for pleasure is forever at war with reality. It has the potential to enslave you and over time, destroy you.

To truly understand the great transformation that has taken place in our views and beliefs about sexuality, one must go back nearly 2,700 years to a single sentence uttered by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. His words seem timeless, as if they were written for us today:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good, evil; who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

This is what has happened to us. This is precisely what the media, Hollywood and those who create our entertainment have done. They have taken what God has said is healthy, what is beautiful, and what is good, and they have made it appear to be antiquated, boring and uninteresting. God’s laws are in place for a reason, but the secular world minimizes the consequences of sex and overstates its benefits. The secular world has taken what God has said is wrong, evil and unhealthy and has made it appear to be exciting and intriguing.

When was the last time you saw a movie or television program depicting a married couple in a healthy, loving relationship and sex life? Hollywood loves to highlight dysfunctional relationships, infidelity and sex that has no boundaries. People believe this somehow makes for an exciting, magical life.

Another example is how many college students react when they hear the phrase sexual purity. Most respond with some wisecrack, particularly if someone suggests the notion. They think the idea is prudish and outdated. But, what the word purity means may surprise you.

Christian author Elisabeth Elliott shares a few profound words about purity, particularly in the context of human sexuality:

Purity means freedom from contamination, from anything that would spoil the taste or pleasure, reduce the power, or in any way cheapen what the thing was meant to be. It means cleanness; clearness; no additives; nothing artificial; in other words, all natural; in the sense in which the Designer designed it to be.

In reading this, several words catch my attention— contamination and the phrase reduce the power. When you think of the future, when you think of your future with your spouse, your soul mate, do you want to risk contaminating and reducing the power of your future sex life? Because this is what is at stake. Reading her message for the first time, I thought, “This is really what I want for my children.” Then it struck me. This is also what I want for my marriage. This is what God offers when we live our lives in harmony with His design.

Today’s blog comes from Richard’s book Wisdom: Life’s Great Treasure. You can find it on our online bookstore and Amazon.com.


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