Last year, while working as a counselor at a Christian camp for young adults, I had the pleasure of spending a few months with hundreds of young men from around the country. If you have ever spent a large amount of time with a group of young men discussing life issues, you know I received a variety of crazy questions about sex.
For example, one of the campers asked, “If I’m supposed to wait to be married to have sex, how am I supposed to know if my wife and I are sexually compatible? Don’t I need to try out a few other girls first?” I wasn’t taken aback by his question because I knew he was just another teenage boy looking for an excuse to bend God’s guidelines. So I brushed off the question with a shallow answer so I could get back to the topic I was discussing.
Since receiving his question, I hadn’t thought about the idea of sexual compatibility until last month when the Huffington Post published a piece titled “Sex Before Marriage: 5 Reasons Every Couple Should Do It.” As the title suggests, the article discourages young singles from waiting for sex until marriage. The chief reason, according to the author, is that premarital sex affords the opportunity to ensurethere is sexual chemistry and compatibility with the other person. In cruder, contemporary parlance this is often called “test driving.” Linked to the topic of sexual chemistry was another article called “My Virginity Mistake,” in which a woman shares her negative experience of waiting for sex until marriage in light of her recent divorce to one with whom she wasn’t “sexually compatible.”
After recent conversations with self-identifying Christians also embracing this idea, I fear this idea has become an issue that needs to be addressed. I’d like to share why our culture’s notion of “sexual compatibility” is anti-Christian and, ultimately, destructive.
The primary problem with this notion of sexual chemistry is that it focuses sex on pleasure and performance. Contrary to what Hollywood may suggest, great sex (which is a good, God-honoring thing) isn’t the pinnacle of humanity’s existence. Sex was created for man, but man was not created for sex. God gave sex as a gift to be exclusively enjoyed by a husband and wife as a means of loving, caring, serving, honoring, and enjoying each other in marriage. So sexual compatibility between a married couple comes neither from ecstasy (how good the sex is) nor frequency (how often you have it) but mainly from intimacy, which occurs as love, trust, security, and respect deepen through the longevity of a monogamous, self-giving, covenant relationship.
Lifelong commitment is something our culture struggles to understand and uphold. If “soulmates” should be tried out sexually, then what was intended for marriage gets ripped from its original context and instead becomes a litmus test for vague, fleeting feelings of compatibility and connection. But this selfish objectification, which involves viewing another as a tool made to meet our sexual standards, has never been God’s design for finding a spouse.
In the first marriage account, God declared it’s “not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). So he gave Adam a wife. He didn’t give him his own reality show where he could meet Erin, Erica, Emma, and Eliza in order to discover which one would be sexually compatible. He gave Adam one woman, with whom he’d never had sex, and called him to love her for the rest of his life. Why did God do this? Because, in his perfect wisdom, he didn’t design the purpose of marriage to be about great sex with the perfect person but about a lifetime of serving and staying with the inevitably imperfect person you’ve vowed to love.
True Sexual Compatibility
From the many conversations I’ve had with those who are happily married with healthy, God-honoring sex lives, I’ve learned that true sexual compatibility, if we must call it that, happens when two people commit themselves first to God, and then to each other. This covenant commitment affords an opportunity for a husband and wife to unconditionally serve and love the way Jesus loves his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is a journey in which two incompatible, selfish sinners learn to become one. There will thus be multiple things—including sex—that both parties will have to figure out together along the way.
Desiring a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage is a good and even wise thing. But for the Christian it’s not ultimate. As a single Christian man, I desire a spiritually healthy marriage before a sexually healthy one, though I trust the former encourages the latter. Therefore, I’m willing to trust God and wait, not because I want to have the most euphoric wedding night with someone I’m perfectly sexually compatible with, but because I want a healthy, God-honoring marriage after the wedding night with the person to whom I’ve just committed my life.