The Gift of Sex – A Review

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.

Gift of Sex“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.

2021-11-27 Milky Way LoveThe 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.

2021-11-27 When Sex Is Not WorkingAlthough “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.

2021-11-27 Happy CoupleThe 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

The 5 Love Languages – A Review

2021-11-06 Two In LoveFour books come to mind when anyone talks about love, marriage or personal relationships: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley and The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner.  Each author approaches relationships from a Gospel perspective, i.e., men and women are created in the image of God, expected to build relationships with each other, and are different from birth . . . and ‘vive la différence!’

The best life, they claim, is to follow God’s pattern established in Adam and Eve and explained by Jesus and the Apostles.  It is not a restrictive, “Don’t do that” theology, but a liberating, expansive and freeing philosophy which looks for the best in every individual.  Remember, in the Garden of Eden, Adam’s and Eve’s sin was to eat from a forbidden tree.  BUT that was the ONLY tree forbidden!  Genesis 3:2-3 has Eve telling the Serpent that they could eat from ANY tree in the Garden except ONE.  That left a lot of trees open for consumption.

And for those who think the nakedness was somehow sinful and Adam and Eve were just too stupid to realize it, read again.  They were as God created them, and had nothing to hide until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the forbidden tree.  When a child has done nothing wrong and a parent asks, “What are you doing?” he will simply answer, “I’m just . . .,” no big deal.  But if he has done something he knows the parent disapproves of, his response will be to cover up his tracks.  “Nothing!” . . . with eyes averted, hastily looking right and left, up and down for any excuse, hoping that his action will not be discovered.  That was the nakedness Adam and Eve were trying to hide.

That is the nakedness we now hide as well.  None of us is without sin, none has lived fully as God intended us to live, and the result is we need clothes to hide who we are.  All of us are afraid, at some level, of exposing ourselves fully, even to someone who loves us, just as Adam and Eve were afraid to expose themselves to their Father, who they knew loved them.  The nudist and the communist make the same mistake of trying to live free from guilt and selfishness before we are fully redeemed in the New Jerusalem (coming soon).

2021-11-06 - 5 Love LanguagesThe Five Love Languages presents the idea that each of us is wired to give and receive love in different ways, and that by recognizing the “language” in which you and your significant others express and accept love will help to identify the roots of conflicts, connect more deeply, and begin to grow closer together  The five languages Chapman describes in detail are Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch.

Everyone’s personality determines how we understand love.  We see love expressed in that language which is most natural to each of us and we usually attempt to show it in the same way.  However, if the person we love “speaks” a different love language, the communication breaks down and the loved one “feels” unloved; their “emotional love tank” becomes emptier without refilling and misunderstanding and conflicts emerge.

Chapman’s website has a Quiz that one can take to help identify your particular love language.   For a starter enticement to purchase one of his books, he provides a seven-day devotional, one for “him” and one for “her” that, even without purchasing a text, can go a long way into improving any relationship, especially a marriage (but not restricted to that).  There are several free downloads for anyone just wanting to learn if one of his books is worth buying.

In Dr. Chapman’s Gateway to the The Five Love Languages he summarizes each of the languages as this:

Words of Affirmation — Actions don’t always speak louder than words.  If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you.  Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important — hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward.  Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

Quality Time — In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention.  Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there — with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby — makes your significant other feel truly special and loved.  Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

Receiving Gifts — Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift.  If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.  A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous — so would the absence of everyday gestures.

Acts of Service — Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love?  Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an Acts of Service person will speak volumes.  The words he or she most wants to hear are, “Let me do that for you.”  Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them, tell those with this language their feelings don’t matter.

Physical Touch — This language isn’t all about the bedroom.  A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy.  Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face — they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.  Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.”

One of the best features of Dr. Chapman’s practice is that The 5 Love Languages is not just for married people.  The 5 Love Languages of Children is available for parents; a Singles Edition for the unmarried; a special edition For Men (probably for those of us who have a hard time getting it! 😏); a special one for Teenagers and another for Military Personnel.

Whether you are in a special relationship or just wanting to develop personal awareness of those around you; children, colleagues, friends; take a look at The 5 Love Languages and see if there may be insights that will help you communicate more clearly to those for whom you care.