Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.
The term “sex-positive” describes an open and approving attitude toward various sexual identities and behaviors. It is meant as a contrast with the traditional view that sex is properly reserved for the exclusive, permanent union of a man and woman in marriage. This traditional limitation of sex, we are told, is unnecessarily restrictive, merely evidence that traditionalists dislike sex.
Of course, traditionalists are not the only ones with rules for sex. Consider the labyrinthine protocols around sexual consent in the modern workplace and university campus. Anyone paying attention to the aftermath of the #MeToo movement knows that there are certainly not fewer rules or expectations than there used to be. The difference is that the traditional rules, though frequently broken, were relatively stable and objective. Our new rules, on the other hand, are often unspoken, arbitrary, and subject to constant change.
Furthermore, it is not at all obvious that modern open-mindedness about sex is indeed more “sex-positive” than the traditional view. In today’s culture of pornography, dating apps, and casual hookups, teens and young adults are actually having sex less frequently than previous generations. It seems that the complexity and turmoil of modern relationships works against our enjoyment of sex. This leads us to ask: Is it really “sex-positive” to recommend that people have sex whenever they like, with whomever they like, and to talk about it however they like? Perhaps it is the traditionalists, with their expectations of privacy and modesty, who refuse to cheapen and trivialize sex.
All the same, traditionalists must not give the impression that sex itself is bad. Our attitudes to sex should be punctuated with joyful thanksgiving, as we humbly receive God’s goodness by submitting ourselves to the form and meaning of his gift of sex.
The Bible shows us how to be sex-positive in the deepest and truest sense. Like Isaac and Rebekah, Husbands and wives should “laugh” with each other in such a way that onlookers would know we are married (Genesis 26:6-11). Like the writer of Psalm 45, we should delight in the pageantry of wedding ceremonies. All Christians should sing about the blessing of children and the beauty of a wife’s fertility (Psalm 127-128). We should honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4), where a wise husband delights in his wife’s breasts and avoids the deadly allure of sexual sin (Proverbs 6:15-23). We should recognize with Solomon that marriage is one of the great delights of a life spent toiling “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). We should follow Solomon in searching out the limits of human language to describe romantic love: strong as death, fierce as the grave, burning with the very flame of Yahweh, withstanding floods of water, and surpassing all the wealth of a man’s house (Song 8:6-7).
Above all, we should remember that the one who is “greater than Solomon”—who himself is stronger than death and the grave, and who is himself the burning flame of Yahweh’s light—honored marriage by attending the wedding at Cana and performing his first miracle there.
God has a view of sex that is truly positive. Do we?
Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.
"Courageous Christian Sexuality" by William Boekestein
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
"Identifying Our Identity" by Jared Nelson
Revoiced Spirituality by Jonathan Master
Biblical Personhood & Gender Confusion, with Derek Thomas, Richard Phillips, and Rosaria Butterfield.