range of gender-typical and gender-atypical behavior during prepubescence can best be understood in terms of both biological and sociocultural influences and the interaction between them. The fact that some boys and some girls prefer male-typical competitive play while others prefer more female-typical relational or nurturing play is most likely the result of both biological and sociocultural influences and the interactive effect between them.
Adolescence is a time when hormonal and biological sexual drives begin to take more prominence. Most boys find their masculine identity in male- typical behavior and girls in female-typical behavior. However, there is a wide range of gender-typical and gender-atypical behavior among teenagers. Parental values and spiritual teaching impact this decision as well.
The above example describes the complex interplay between biological drives and processes associated with sexual development and how society channels these drives into gender-segregated activities. Parents tend to take a more protective stance toward their daughters. Girls are warned to show modesty in their apparel; they are instructed to keep their dresses down, their breasts covered, and to guard themselves against sexual advances by boys. In the United States, females bear (no pun intended) more of the costs of pregnancy, childbirth, and rearing than males, so parents and society tend to foster more protective and restrictive practices for females as compared to males.
Although the interaction of the biological and sociocultural contributors to human sexuality is complicated, we offer some generalizations. First, rather than writing about causation, it is more accurate to cite the factors that contribute to the development of human sexuality. Second, both biological factors and sociocultural factors contribute to the formation of human sexuality. Third, human sexuality emerges as part of a developmental process, influenced by physiological, psychological, social, and cultural factors. One’s beliefs and attitudes based on an effective value system become an important element in developing a healthy sexual self.
The Meaning of Sexuality Explanations of sexuality are important but incomplete. Moving directly from biological and sociocultural information to value judgments about sexuality
is a premature leap. It is one thing to examine sexual behaviors and norms and quite another to make decisions and judgments about moral issues.
While biological factors are most crucial in establishing sexuality early in life, sociocultural factors become increasingly significant as the child matures. As children develop the capacity to use language, they correspondingly learn the meaning of sexual attitudes and behavior. An understanding of God’s design for human sexuality becomes increasingly important if the individual is to construct a truly meaningful, authentic sexuality. Because the meaning of sexuality is learned within a social context, it is imperative that the family and community powerfully live out and communicate God’s design for human sexuality.
Families, churches, communities, and societies vary in the degree to which they reflect God’s design and meaning for human sexuality. Since every individual belongs to a variety of groups, many of which offer competing perspectives on human sexuality, internalization of contradictory views is likely. The more the various groups to which the individual belongs consistently reflect God’s ideal for sexuality, the more internally consistent will be his or her development of authentic sexuality. Where contradictions exist, our nature as choice-making creatures with emotive, volitional, and moral qualities can help us achieve authentic sexuality.
A Biblical Perspective on Human Sexuality With this understanding of the development of sexuality, we are now in a place to expand on the biblical meaning of human sexuality. Theologically, human sexuality can be understood as a reflection of God’s design for creation. Genesis 1:27–28 declares, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” This passage shows that the two sexes are distinct in God’s design, yet in God’s sight they are also equal and to be united as sexual beings. Both men and women are commanded to be fruitful, to subdue the earth, and to rule over the rest of God’s creation. The beginning point includes an acceptance of one’s unique sexuality, with the ability to acknowledge and be thankful that
it is part of God’s creation, design, and intention. Our sexuality is good in God’s sight.
The biblical account, however, does not end with the creation story; it is followed by the fall, and then redemption and restoration. The first chapter of Genesis speaks of the differentiation of male and female and the harmony between them. Human sexuality is a good gift meant to draw us to deeper levels of knowing and being known (ourselves, others, and God). Our bodies are equipped with a nervous system, hormones, physical sensations, and an emotional capacity to help us connect with others. As embodied beings, sexuality incorporates our physiological and spiritual identities, and living authentically means expressing our image bearing physically. In this way, our identity is expressed functionally (Strachan 2019). We are born with an innate capacity for sexual pleasure; God’s intended design for expressing and experiencing sexuality occurs within an emotionally caring, trustworthy family, and eventually a loving person-centered relationship. Sexuality and spirituality are intricately connected and must not be separated.
After the fall, sexuality was distorted and in need of redemption. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were perfect sexual beings just as God created them to be, yet they fell from that perfect state. Our fallen nature includes our sexuality. It is clear from the Genesis account that the fall has affected both sociocultural and biological life. Forever after, humans must face physical death and various mental and physical consequences of the fall (Gen. 3:17– 19).
The comprehensiveness of the fall means that achieving an authentic sexuality involves conflict and struggle for everyone. Brokenness is evidenced in the home through distorted views of sex as well as the reprehensible acts of sexual and physical abuse and neglect. Family structures, along with other social and community structures, all play their part in contributing to the distortion. It becomes difficult to achieve an authentic sexuality in the midst of these distorting influences.
Because these systems are imperfect, we are also imperfect in our sexuality. Some people suffer from deficiencies in the genetic package they have inherited; some lack a sexual wholeness because of inadequate socialization in the home and community; some are victims of societal ills such as rape and pornography.
Despite all the obstacles, the sexual authenticity God intended for us is a goal worth striving for. Authentic sexuality is most attainable for those who
are born with a normal genetic and physiological makeup, who are socialized in a home where parents display healthy attitudes regarding sexuality, and who live in a community where societal values are consistent with biblical teaching.
Sexual distortion can take a variety of forms as a result of differing combinations of sociocultural, biological, and spiritual factors. Some people have the disadvantage of living through circumstances that result in a devastating sexual brokenness. This is especially true when sexual encounters have been deeply harmful, creating scars that make healing a long-term process. The good news of the gospel is that we can find hope and wholeness in Jesus Christ, who, having once been wounded for us, shows compassion for and heals our wounds. Christ offers restoration and renews our potential for authentic sexuality.
Sexual Wholeness in a Broken World The preceding analysis points to the development of sexuality as a complex process of multidimensional factors. Achieving sexual authenticity in a broken world is equally complex. We all have wounds that need to be healed as we struggle to authentically express our sexuality in relationship. In the remainder of this chapter, we will address four aspects of sexual expression that are important concerns to the Christian community: sex and singleness, masturbation, sexual orientation, and marital sexuality.
Sex and Singleness Not wanting to wrestle with the difficult question of sex and singleness,
churches sometimes seek an easy out by declaring that single people should deny their sexuality, or they ignore the question completely. This often leaves Christian singles insufficient guidance as to how they are to live as sexual persons in a singles’ subculture that endorses standards in direct contradiction to biblical values.
In 1994, Lewis B. Smedes wrote a book called Sex for Christians. He advocates three important principles:
1. The sexuality of every person is meant to be woven into the whole character of that person and integrated into his or her quest for human values.
2. The sexuality of every person is meant to be an urge toward and a means of expressing a deep personal relationship with another person.
3. The sexuality of every person is meant to move him or her toward a heterosexual union of committed love.
Living out these principles keeps sexuality and personhood connected at every level. It also calls to mind our theology of relationships. Sexuality is to be exercised within a context of covenant, an unconditional commitment to a personal relationship. We are challenged to work toward deepening this personal relationship by establishing an atmosphere of grace (acceptance and forgiveness), empowering one another, and increasing the level of intimacy. As Smedes puts it, “Sexual fulfillment is achieved when a personal relationship underpins the genital experience, supports it, and sustains a human sexual relationship after it” (1994, 25–26). This will be our basic premise in discussing premarital sexual relationships.
In the United States today, there are four major standards of premarital sex: (1) sexual abstinence, (2) the double standard, (3) permissiveness with affection, and (4) permissiveness without affection. Although sexual abstinence is the traditional Christian value (and one of the two most strongly held beliefs in the general population), when it comes to behavior, a majority in today’s society do not adhere to it. The double standard, which allows premarital intercourse for males but not for females, has declined during the last hundred years. However, in their book Premarital Sex in America (2011), Regnerus and Uecker report that the double standard is alive and well today. They explain the persistence of the double standard with two theories: (1) sexual scripts, which define the male role as more permissive than the female role; (2) sexual economics, which presumes that the rational pursuit of reward maximization, rather than love or intimacy, governs the sex lives of young men.