Sexual purity in marriage
Sexuality is a controversial topic and one that is difficult to discuss. Particularly in UK and US cultures it is a topic loaded with guilt and shame, making it virtually taboo. This view of sexuality as shameful is part of what causes us to misunderstand sexuality and prevents us from being all we can be. To be ashamed of sexuality is to be ashamed of who we are.
Your sexuality, your existence as a sexual being, is merely the expression of your life force, your creative impulse and power, through a physical body. Being a "sexually released" person has nothing to do with how much sex you are (or aren't) having. A confident man or woman, at ease with themselves and fully expressing the life within them is a released person. Conversely, the papers are full of stories of people (usually celebrities) checking themselves into clinics for sex addiction. They're having a lot of sex, but they're ultimately frustrated people ruled by desires that are never satisfied.
This flow of life through us is only noticably sexual when it flows through our genitals, but sexual attraction is really only the force of attraction of one person to another. When one soul meets another one it's a pleasurable thing, whether that be a physical union or the meeting of souls. Love is what happens when two naked people meet; naked souls free of barriers and defences. The meeting of two souls is amazing, and no body parts need to be touching! Coitus merely amplifies the opportunity for this spiritual union. Until lust gets in the way.
Being excited by the presence of another person is pleasurable. But if you allow yourself to focus on the pleasure you instantly turn something that is about another person into something that is about you, you make it something selfish. This is lust. And lust is bad, this is the sin the bible condemns. Lust isn't bad because it's a sin, lust is sin because it's destructive. Something that is creative, the life released when people are together, becomes an opportunity for you to take. Attraction is an opportunity for life, and we turn it into something ugly. So what's the alternative? More on that shortly.
What we tend to experience in mutual attraction is a combination of lust and love, so it's easy to think that they're the same - or merely different sides of the same coin. The distinction however is clear. Lust is the desire to consume, to possess, to take personal pleasure from another. Lust is selfish. Love is giving, a genuine care for the other without regard to self. To lose lust is not to lose attraction, but to lose selfishness.
Lust, and his equally ugly brother greed, shred beauty. If you give yourself over to lust the beauty gradually fades from your life, and as beauty goes so does joy. Conversely, as you are able to release your life from the grip of lust you will start to see more and more and more beauty in everything and everyone around you.
Masturbation isn't a sin, it's entirely normal. However your life energy, your creative power that should flow through all your being enlivening your mind and soul, instead literally leaks out of your genitals. The answer to pent up tension isn't sexual release but to become a more expressive person, put your sexuality to work in all you do!
Lust is not just destructive, but weak. Lust is only capable of consuming. A fully expressed sexuality, a powerful person, does not have their life force stop at their genitals. As a habit, masturbation can be a cultivation of weakness.
Not lusting does not mean not feeling, but life is able to flow fully through you without impediment, and this takes strength (both of self control and of character). The bonus is that you simply see more of another person if you're able to view them without lust. If you want to see the depths of another person, their strength and beauty, you need to lose the lust. I'm by no means perfect in this, but a lot better than I used to be.
A few years ago I realised that I often judged woman, subconsciously (i.e. automatically), by their appearance. This dehumanised women in my eyes, instead of seeing a person I was entirely superficial. I realised what a debt I owed to all those women over all those years whose humanity I had failed to see. I also realised what a lost opportunity it was for me, instead of pursuing my own momentary pleasure at the appearance of a face I deemed attractive I could have been growing in love and friendship and meeting many interesting and wonderful people. This is a debt I still owe. Thankfully, through deliberate effort (and the grace of noticing when I'm failing) I've managed to change my behaviour. I've been learning self control, choosing to reject lust, and as a result I see more beauty than I ever did before!
The other revelation that has changed my life happened within my marriage not long ago. We've been married about eleven years, so a bit late in the game but thankfully not too late. I discovered that intercourse completely without lust, where I'm completely focused on loving my wife and meeting her soul, really seeking to love her and know her with everything within me, is completely different. This was sex as I'd never known it. Indelicate though it seems to air this in public, sex now lasts longer than it ever has and is dramatically more fulfilling for both of us. (You can ask us about it if you dare.) Our love making has now become part of our spiritual life; we not only seek to know and love each other more, but to know the purest form of love within our love - and that's God's love. I'm genuinely quite happy for the presence of Christ during our lovemaking, and indeed it's something I actively seek. I often pray during intercourse as I strive with all my might (and these days I'm a man of more might than ever before) to bare my heart, to connect with the deepest part of my love, and to find the heart of my beloved.
Within the church we tend to (although we'd never say it out loud) see marriage as the permitted bastion of lust. Sex is OK in marriage (only just in the eyes of some), and so it's the legitimate way to get sexual release and to express lust.
But lust is still lust. Lust is still destructive. Lust is still a poor substitute for the love and life that is released when two souls really meet. And sex, within a relationship of deep care and love, is an amazing opportunity for souls to meet. The sexual organs are made in such a way that we can be exquisitely sensitive to another person! We can derive personal pleasure from that sensitivity, or that sensitivity can be a wonderful way for us to be joined to another person and connected to their soul. To feel what they feel, for our life to flow into them and to receive life from them. And this is very different from what I used to know. Not even in the same ballpark.
But sex is not "a thing by itself". When two souls meet, or attempt to meet, they come as they are - including the baggage of the day and the days. Two souls that don't care about each other, that harbour resentments, that aren't open to each other, can't really meet like this. When we come to God in worship we bring our lives, and if our lives are far from God then our worship will be weak. In the same way the physical coming together is two lives coming closer together. And if those two lives are far apart from each other, if there's no care or attraction, then the joining is weak and not much life can flow. But if those two souls really love each other deeply, give themselves for each other daily in service, really know - and want to know - each other. Well then the opportunity for a deepening of that bond is great.
The beautiful thing in the marriage relationship is that when two become one, two lives are joined, it creates something new and wonderful. And that new thing, the power and love of that marriage, itself has power to bring healing and life. People can trust, and receive love from, a married couple in a way that they couldn't from either of the individuals in the marriage. Sex should be the ultimate symbol and pinnacle of that union of lives, not a mere adjunct nor a guilty pleasure or tedious duty.
The technique is to ignore the physical pleasure, it's a distraction and side-effect of the goal of the coupling which is to reach out for one another through intimacy. To genuinely, with tenderness, passion and force, pour your life and love out into each other. This is the path to mind blowing sex, but waaay more importantly is part of forging (in heat) a closer relationship and a deeper friendship. It cannot be separate from lives genuinely devoted to each other and it fails apart from this devotion. As you open up and trust yourselves to one another, without fear or barrier let each other right inside, this is where the two become one. Sex becomes the expression of two lives and souls co-mingled and entwined in genuine giving love.
Life is a search for God. This search can be a weak and passive thing, in the background, forgotten until we come to worship. Worship is then unsatisfying, preferably short, which you pretend to enjoy more than you really do and wondering why it isn't better and if this is really it. Or if your life is an active search for God, to know him and his love, then worship can be the noisy climax of that love - releasing yourself to God and feeling him in a deeper and more intense way. So it is with sex and marriage. Intercourse must be the pinnacle experience of two lives already pouring love into each other - in reality not in mere words or aspiration. Fulfilling sex is a deepening expression of the love that is already and actively between you. A reaching out for each others' hearts just as we reach out for God in worship. In fact marriage is the very imagery used to describe the relationship between Christ and his church, the bride. Needless to say, it's an utterly pure relationship but not one without passion and the joy of passion.
Sexual purity is not the absence of sex or sexuality. Sexual purity is the expression of sexuality without lust. We mustn't be afraid of sexuality, as the church has tended to be, taking the injunction to "dress modestly" as a command to excise every potential expression of sexuality from the church, because sexuality is merely part of who we are and our expression of life. But marriage should also be sexually "pure". A healthy marriage can have lots of copulation, but let it be love. Let it be a deepening of love. Let it be the union of souls in the love of Christ.