Sean McDowell | May 16, 2019

Is Sex A Big Deal or Not? Living in the Tension

Is Sex a Big Deal or Not? Living in the Tension.

There is a strange contradiction in our culture about sex. On one hand, we are obsessed with it. Sex is a constant theme in movies, music, social media, politics, and many other venues in popular culture. It is ever-present.

But on the other hand, we are often told that sex is not a big deal. Sexual revolutionaries have worked hard to convince us that sex is merely a physical act, without deeper meaning, that consenting adults can enjoy together at their own discretion. It is not meant for marriage. It is not about procreation. And it has no deeper spiritual significance.

Which is it? Is sex a big deal or is it merely a physical act without deeper significance?

Sex is not the be-all and end-all

It seems to me that both of these extremes are mistaken. It is deeply misguided to assume that sex is the be-all and end-all of human existence. Yes, sex is a wonderful gift gave to married couples for procreation, unity and pleasure. But even King David recognized the power of his friendship with Jonathan, which he considered “extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (1 Sam. 1:26).

It is a mistake to overestimate the role of sex for human flourishing. Jesus and Paul are clear that singleness and marriage are both ways to live honorably before the Lord as a flourishing human being (Matt 19; 1 Cor. 7).

Sex does matter

Yet, it is also a mistake to downplay the importance of sex. Professor Brian Neil Peterson writes:

“The belief that sexual ethics is just ‘one small part of human existence’ is to underestimate and belittle the fundamental aspects of sexuality for the human race. To be sure, this is why we are witnessing the seismic shift and cultural war in the West. Western society is tearing itself apart due to this ‘one small part of human existence.’ It is anything by small; it is the basis upon which all humanity and society rests![1]

Peterson is right­ about how differing views of sexual ethics are tearing apart the west. We must remember that at the heart of the “culture wars” lie differing cosmological views about reality. In other words, beneath contrary sexual ethics about abortion, marriage, and gender lie deeper questions related to the existence of God, the nature of human beings, and the authority of Scripture. Our answer to these deeper issues shapes how we think about sex.

Here is the bottom line: As Christians, we need to learn to live in the tension. Sex is a big deal. God calls us to honor him with our bodies (1 Cor. 6). We are called to keep the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 13:4). For the sake of our neighbors, we need to lovingly proclaim and defend a Christian sexual ethic. But sex is not the be-all and end-all of human existence. The purpose of life is to love God and love other people. And that is entirely possible without sex.

*Sean's newest book with J. Warner Wallace is So The Next Generation Will Know, a practical guide for passing on the faith to the next generation.

[1] Brian Neil Peterson, “Deconstruction of the Creation Mandates,” in Journal of the Evangelical Society, Vol 62, No. 1 (March 2019): 128.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: