The Word We Call It

Sex—the “it” word. Kids say it through giggles; teenagers whisper it behind parents’ backs; adults are captivated by it. Amazingly powerful for such a wee little word. It’s a word that makes mice of men and bumbling fools of perfectly intelligent women. Freud thought the word so powerful that it could drive our every thought and action; Socrates considered it so vital to development that young men should be tutored in its ways from boyhood. And me? Hmmm. The jury’s still out.

My sex education at home was simple: “Don’t do it.” Okay then, easy enough. But pretty soon you’re not 12 anymore, and your body takes on a mind of its own, more often than not betraying you when you need its stability most. Then, before you know it, it’s not a matter of just s-e-x anymore. It’s about love and in-love and oh, man, are we in love?

The American societal standard is pretty clear: whatever feels right is right. Want a fling? Go ahead. Want a relationship? Wait for that special person, but not too long, lest you hold out for a level of perfection that simply doesn’t exist. Be fruitful and multiply—just don’t forget protection (you don’t want anyone else’s coodies or, heaven forbid, to pass on any of your own). “Safe sex” has opened the door to a whole new world of sexual exploration. No babies and no coodies—just two people becoming one and separating again, no strings attached. But I can’t help but wonder, Is that thin sheath of latex 99 percent effective when it comes to protecting my heart?

As a liberal, educated Christian (and a somewhat old-fashioned woman) I am a hodgepodge of conviction, emotion and, yes, hormones (which, contrary to popular belief, rage at this age for women as well as men). I believe in open conversation, sex education in schools and Riot Grrrrl. I could confidently ace a test on the exact physiological process by which babies are made. I know precisely how bodies react to sexual stimuli, and I have on more than one occasion been able to recount human sexuality theory at its most intellectual level.

On the other hand (why does there always have to be another hand?), I believe intercourse belongs in marriage; I have the conviction that God has designed one man for me to love, and I know in my spirit that God will not bless anything less. Presumably this dichotomy can happily perpetuate in peaceful mutual exclusion—you do your thing, and I’ll do mine. Presumably …

Until you throw in the coup de grace, the clincher, the curve ball you never saw coming and will relive in your mind for the rest of your life. Our friend, testosterone—that which drives otherwise practical men and women to the brink of heaven or hell.

I am aware at the most inconvenient of times that my motley mix of sentiments does not lend itself to easy decision making. Like when my young and virile body says yes, yes, yes and my cautious and convicted mind says no, no, no. Like when the candle is lit and his arms just feel so good, and I would love nothing more than to show him just how much he means to me because words will no longer do. Like when he’s sitting two feet away, and I somehow have to muster up the courage to admit to us both that conviction trumps libido, and I will not be sleeping with him tonight, tomorrow or any day between now and matrimony. I simply can’t take that risk, because I haven’t found a condom strong enough to hold back my tender heart from fusing itself to his irrevocably. Furthermore, I don’t want to.

But tonight the mood is right and we have to make a decision, or the decision will make us. I try to avoid his ocean eyes so as to not throw my life preserver to the sharks and willingly sink into their depths until I am little but a foregone conclusion. There is no earthly way, I realize, that we will be able to reach a conclusion that satisfies us both—in the emotional and the carnal sense. S-E-X turned out to not be such a small word after all.

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There’s simply no earthly way.

And then I remember …

I am not of this earth. My body is not my master. I am not meant to drift aimlessly through the landscape of indecision in a bewildered stupor. I am meant to run free, and when the weight of the world starts to drag my feet down, I am meant to cast all my cares on God, for He cares for me and is able to sustain me (Ps. 55, 1 Peter 5). There is no earthly way I can reconcile my twentysomething-year-old hormones with my ageless faith. But there is a Godly way, or He would not be God. After all, He invented sex, you’d think He’d be willing to help us figure it out. And He will—that’s just the kind of guy He is.

Now that’s the kind of risk from which I don’t need a condom to protect me.

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