Who Has It Right?

"But sexual liberals also worry about something even more subtle, and it's something that took a great deal of digging to uncover. For sexual liberals, "marriage" is a verb, while for conservatives it is a noun, and liberals at some level intuit this and are concerned about it. That is, sexual conservatives (at least in the ideal) marry once, and once married they are (again in the ideal) forever in the state of marriage. For sexual liberals, in contrast, being married is not only a verb but an active one. For them, a good marriage requires work and discipline, communication and honesty, and it's a process that's pretty much ongoing."
//from When Sex Goes to School by Kristin Luker//

Luker goes on to quote one of her interview subjects who said that in the conservative view there is just a sense of sit down and shut up about marital and/or sexual satisfaction. I hesitate to use the word "satisfaction" because the connotation in this instance is probably almost entirely one as synonymous with pleasure, but please understand that I don't think the subject meant only that.

While her research has been well-presented (specifically in terms of bias, something I am grateful for after reading Sex Seen: The Emergence of Modern Sexuality by Ullman), her conclusion here is one that I would disagree with. Perhaps I don't qualify to enter this argument, since I have never been married nor even in a serious relationship, but if I might I would offer myself and the various Christian influences in my life as counterexamples.

Based on Luker's definition of sexual liberals and conservatives as people who either view sex as natural or sacred (respectively), I think the majority of my teachers in high school, my extended family, and the mentors and friends that I've met along the way would fall under the category of sexual conservatives. But I have never been given the impression that once married, that's it. Even Liederbach's belief that divorce is never sanctioned in any situation by Jesus does not strike me as contrary to the liberal concerns that Luker expressed. But perhaps that's because I have a better idea of what it arises out of: his parallel belief that couples work through conflicts in a healthy fashion and consistently seek to orient their lives around God that they might honor and worship Him through their relationship. Divorce, from such a perspective, is the ultimate give up, the failure to view marriage as a verb.

I do understand her position because she does have a good underlying point. Say that you view sex as "natural," as just one of the various and sundry urges that contribute to one's humanity, and think that it is only healthy to satiate it, inside or outside of marriage. Then you are not likely to get married solely for sex because you've already had that experience and theoretically you can evaluate a potential spouse based on more meaningful factors. In contrast, I can think of at least one "Christian" couple that probably got married more so they could goshdarnit just have sex already, thank you, whether that was the best choice for the moment or not. But I think this view understates the emotional connection of sex that can blind an ordinarily sensible person to detracting factors, and overstates the "noun" nature of the conservative view of marriage.

Perhaps, though, another view lies in the middle ground between her natural and sacred battle lines. After all, sexuality is a part of our created being. We were created male and female with the injunction to be fruitful, and once he got a good look at Eve, Adam wasn't too shy about getting to know her in the Biblical sense. But at the same time, in Ephesians 5 Paul points to the sacredness of that same "natural" sexuality. Within that union, there is a picture of something bigger. So we recognize the natural element of sexuality, but also realize that it is not quite like food and drink, that we can live without it if necessary and that if we are to use it well, we ought to use it in a way most glorifying to God.

And if Luker wishes to restate her argument that sexual conservativism rushes people (like my aforementioned friends) into marriage, and hence, the natural view is more freeing and healthy for the modern man or woman... "All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:6c-7) Culture, however much it might value control, efficiency, and choice, cannot preempt God's design and purpose.

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