The last three weeks (1, 2, 3) I covered book reviews of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love And Respect by Emerson Eggerichs and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley. Today’s book review, The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, more than any of the others, is for married people, although singles can benefit by understanding some of their married friends’ issues. Remember, the best expert on ANY relationship is Jesus, who was an adult single and never experienced sex, even though He “invented” it.
“Men and women are different. Women desire sex and open up sexually when they feel loved by and connected with their husbands; men connect and feel loved through sex.” This preliminary explanation in the preface sets the tone and direction for the rest of the text. Men traditionally start this connection by asking a woman for a date and getting to know her. The Penners compare this process to Christ loving the Church and initiating the model by which a man is supposed to love his wife illustrated in Ephesians 5:22-33.
“The husband loves, adores, and connects with his wife;
His adoration allows her to open up sexually;
His affirmation ignites her passion;
She invites him sexually;
He feels validated, so they both end up happy;
It’s a win, win!”
Two major contentions of the Penners are 1) that a man is never truly satisfied unless his wife is; 2) that a woman must believe she is worthy of pleasure and that she has a right to be sexual; her body is designed not just for reproduction, but also for sexual satisfaction and pleasure. They note that there are many individual permutations of the assumptions they lay out in the book, but there are general principles that can be applied to enhance sexual function in marriage to make the partnership most satisfying to both.
The first major section of the book is subtitled “A Biblical Perspective.” They point out that sex was not a result of the fall or a human idea. Maleness and femaleness was God’s design to enable humans to understand the relationship between Him and His creation. “It is part of the original perfect creation of mankind.” There is nothing dirty or sinful about sex as long as it is practiced in the guidelines the Designer set up: an exclusive monogamous husband and wife in a covenant commitment for as long as they both live. Throughout Scripture the husband-wife sexual relationship is used to symbolize the Divine-human one.
The Bible teaches sex is for unity, procreation and pleasure and assumes a healthy passion. “Our sexuality is not something to be diminished as we become more ‘spiritual.’ It is part of us as spiritual, godly persons and is good.” Its guiding foundation is that men and women are equal – not identical in either roles or behavior, but in terms of value, ability and position before God. We are expected to give ourselves to each other in marriage under the mutual command of 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.”
Paul recognized, that while he would prefer people to be unmarried as he was (he was most likely a widower), human passions are very strong and for many, marriage is the best way to avoid falling into sins of adultery or fornication. “Let them marry (i.e., and enjoy sexual release) – it is no sin.” (7:36)
From this basis, Penners go on to describe as clinicians in “The Physical Dimension,” the body parts involved, with more details about the sex organs than many need to read. However, this also provides helpful material, especially if one is in any measure uninformed about sexual responsiveness of the opposite sex from a biological perspective.
Following this, Penners characterize “The Total Experience” with such chapter titles as “Getting Interested,” “Having Fun,”… “Meshing Your Worlds,” … “By Invitation Only,” “Letting Go,”… and “Cleaning Up.” With skills developed by teaching hundreds of Christian Perspectives in Sexual Enjoyment seminars, they adeptly address pragmatic details many texts on marriage relations omit, usually on the assumption that Christ-followers will discuss intimate details – an assumption that is often inaccurate. Frequent references back to the basics of 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 ground their advice solidly in Scripture.
Although “The Total Experience” mentions a few obstacles that may come up, “When Sex Isn’t Working” goes into great detail to help couples find and explore the roots, evidences, and solutions to problems in a sexual relationship. The longest section in the book suggests that there are lots of dysfunctions that may occur within marriages. From “You Want To Do What?” to “Pornography and the Internet,” the Penners take us on a survey of some of the most common obstacles to sexual fulfillment in marriage.
Parts of this section hark back to The 5 Love Languages, Love and Respect, and His Needs, Her Needs. “The starting point for resolving any difficulty is always effective communication.” While the Bible strictly confines sexual activity to the marriage relationship, no guidelines are given about what is acceptable in lovemaking activity. Again, using Biblical ethics (e.g., Paul’s concern not to offend a brother by eating meat sacrificed to an idol; see Romans 14:13-16) they proficiently address differences in views husbands and wives may hold toward lovemaking actions and move a couple toward a satisfying acceptance of each other. The entire section is filled with very practical and explicit advice for how to meet and overcome apparent dilemmas in sexual satisfaction.
The final brief section, “Enhancing the Sexual Experience,” explores how to invite God into the bedroom. Remembering that sex was His idea, the Penners go on to address how to talk lovingly with each other about sexual issues, if outside help in the form of counseling is needed, and they close with some questions asked in various seminars.
Good reading for any couple considering marriage, for enhancing an already good one, and great helps for any in conflict over sexual issues. And it is helpful for the unmarried to sympathize with married friends. The underlying assumption, only addressed specifically in Love and Respect, is that the involved parties are people of good will toward each other. If this in not the case in your life, there are other issues that need resolution first, with books and resources available to help.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Hebrews 13:4