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    The Making of Love...
the Purpose and Meaning
of Sexual Intercourse

F. Earle Fox
See also, Jesus - Circumcision & Name

The following material will be greatly enhanced if read in the context of the distinction between the two primary Worldviews, Yahweh or the Great Mother, and Man & Woman in the Image of God.  The latter two are available on audio cassette.  Also, Psychology, Salvation, & the Ordination of Women available in printed form.  And also especially, The Song of Solomon in the BibleSee Sex & Gender Library.  

The language below is direct, to the point, and literal.  Parents must be just that way with their growing children age appropriately.  Children are hearing the distortions and obscenities on the streets daily.  If parents cannot speak directly and appropriately, lovingly and in a Godly way, the children will listen to the streets.  If parents are honest, direct, and caring, the children will listen to them.  Godly teaching about sexuality is the most powerful way to tame sexuality and make it wonderfully productive. 

A. The Purpose of Sexual Engagement

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer gives us, at the beginning of its Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage the following: 

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony.  The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.  Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God. 

That is a powerful statement of marriage, which, if studied and meditated upon, would help many a troubled marriage recuperate and get on track.  But there was a long debate in my mind whether the bonding of the couple- or - the having of children was the more important.  At first I thought that, "Of course, children are the important thing!"   

But more mature wisdom has taught me otherwise.  The bonding of man to woman, husband to wife, is the prior foundation to the raising of children.  Children are the ultimate goal, but husband and wife should prepare themselves to be parents before they run headlong (or "oops!") into having children.  Children should not be unintended consequences. 

The image of bonding begins, of course, way back in childhood with being parented and discovering one's own childhood -- at first children of human parents, then "born again" to God, our heavenly Parent.  In marriage and child-raising, parents become as God to the children.  Human parents are God's introduction of the child to Himself as Parent.  And in God, the masculine and feminine, though distinct, are totally and seamlessly bonded, as suggested in Genesis 1:26-28.   

The act of sexual intercourse is, perhaps paradoxically, a part of that preparation, not only for physically having the child, but for being spiritually unified in a way as to raise the child into substantial and Godly maturity.   

At the beginning of a plane trip, the stewardess instructs the passengers how to put on their emergency oxygen masks, and that, if they have children present, they should first put on their own mask, not that of the child.  If the parent should pass out while first putting on the child's, they will be no good to anyone.  Likewise, we must prepare ourselves for parenting before having children.  Man and wife must be bonded to adequately raise a child.  Children cannot be substantially raised except by parents who reflect the unity in God of father and mother.   Sexual intercourse is meant to facilitate that bonding. 

B. "Feel-Good" or "Relationship-Building"?

But the world has divorced sexual intercourse from marriage, sadly with the same display of ignorance and rebellion even among many alleged Christians -- since our "enlightenment" of the 1960's.  But, as Jewish commentator Dennis Prager tells us, the Hebrews were the first culture on earth to put the sexual genie into the marital bottle, the first to restrict sexual intercourse to marriage, a fact which helped make Western Civilization possible by disciplining our passions.  We learned how to channel our passions in with reason rather than fritter them away on lust.  Monotheism seems to have that effect of driving toward faithful monogamy.  But monotheism is in ill repute in the West, and the weight of increasingly public (not just bedroom) practice is pushing toward abandonment of all barriers to promiscuous sexual behavior. 

A trinitarian understanding of God gives us a much more richly nuanced experience of our own personhood because gender relationships are part of our being, made in the Image of God.  They are not just a cultural behavior to be defined any way our culture chooses.  Gender relations are fixed in the most stable thing in all the universe, the Image of God  Every human being reflects the trinity in God.  A unitarian view of God will singularize personhood, and thus tend to isolate persons and to diminish the richness of selfhood and relationship. 

For example, sex is seen in the West as just entertainment, quite literally defended as such in many sex-education programs, such as those sponsored by the Unitarian-Universalist Association, by growing numbers of once-Christian denominations, and by our government-run schools.  The pseudo-moral-principle behind such tragedy is the idea that feeling good is the highest state of being. 

In a world bereft of God the Father, the first persona of the Trinity, there is no objective moral principle -- that is, there is no moral principle.  There is only power-struggle to see who can dominate the "feel-good" contest.  And God tends to be distant, not the Comforter whom Jesus tells His disciples He will send them (John 14:16 ff.).  In Christian theology, the Trinity supplies the family image of God, into which we can by grace be adopted.   In unitarian theology, God tends to be either very distant and abstract, or we turn Him into our "buddy".   

So then, how could the intense delight and attraction usually experienced in sexual intercourse possibly help prepare a husband and wife for being parents? 

C. The Space Between....Mother & Father

One theory of why God made sexual intercourse so pleasant is that children are such a bother that no one would have them without that seductive pleasure.  Maybe so, but God has greater things in mind.  

My perception of sexuality had a defining moment many years ago.  I had been counseling a woman -- whom I asked whether she and her husband could express affection appropriately in front of their children.  She lit up, and replied, "Oh, sure!  Whenever we give hugs, the children all cry, 'That's corny!', and then try to squeeze in between!"   I replied, to my surprise without missing a beat, "Sure!  The place of love between mother and father is heaven on earth for the child!" 

That thought has stayed with me since then, and become a defining principle for sexual relationship. 

As we learn in Genesis 1:26-8, we are made in the Imago Dei (Latin for "the Image of God"), male and female.  God is making women in the image of Himself as Creator, the giver of life, spiritual power; and, He is making men in the image of Himself as Sovereign, the decision-maker, spiritual authority.  That is not an absolute distinction between men and women, we each do some of both.  But we are to major in our respective gender, and minor in the opposite gender. 

There is a psychological-emotional-spiritual "space" between mother and father in which the child is raised.  The child does not look just to mother or to father individually for his raising.  The child looks, importantly, to how the two are relating to each other.  Is the space between them a level playing field?  Is it a place of cooperation and good will?  Is it a place of mutual love?  Or is it a battle ground?  an emotional and spiritual desert?  Do mother and father keep the playing field level, or do they jockey to tilt it in their personal direction? 

How the child sees mother and father treating each other is key to the successful raising of the child.  The child is raised ideally in that dynamic space where both mothering and fathering are happening.  In a kind of dance, the child is swayed to and fro, spun around, embraced -- where each parental half is necessary to the growth of femininity and then masculinity in the child (for both boys and girls).   If the child sees mother and father loving, taking care of, and being honest with each other, the child will have little trouble knowing that he/she is loved. 

That complementarity of masculine and feminine is what makes stable marriage possible, and the sexual union so delightful.  Unlike pursuit of feel-good, pursuit of relationship does not cloy.  Pursuit of feel-good gets shallower and shallower.  Pursuit of Godly relationship gets deeper and deeper, and is that foundation from which sturdy children go out into the world carrying the law and grace of God in their hearts and minds. 

Even pagans understand.  Cicero reportedly said, "The first bond of society is marriage..."   And Homer some 500 years before him, "There is nothing more admirable than two people who see eye-to-eye keeping house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends."  The family and home created by that "space between" is the smithy where souls are forged.  

D. A Wider Space

But there is a wider space being created.  The bonding of husband and wife in sexual union is meant to create that unity and space for coming children -- but it is for more than children only.  That bonding is what turns a house into a home.  The whole of the living space is transformed by the union of man and woman in marriage.  It becomes a welcoming place, then, for friends, sojourners, travelers, guests, and others to find rest, recuperation, and friendship.  The living space takes on the personality of the couple, reflecting the Imago Dei.

That is why the family is the basic building block of any successful society.  When the family begins to erode, so does the rest of society.  Homes today have become largely places of consumption, of less and less serious child-raising, and hardly at all economic centers or production centers.  Homes are becoming radically self-centered rather than relationship centered, no longer homes, just houses, at best entertainment centers, or places where people stop in to sleep and eat so they can go somewhere else -- to be entertained.  And so we have children growing up (more or less) with no secure sense of who they are sexually or genderly -- much of that being deliberate manipulation and seduction by vested interests. 

Sexual union outside of marriage, that is, outside of 'til-death-do-us-part faithfulness and loyalty, cannot create that same space.  It thus cheapens the very act of union into a personal pleasure event, with each person jockeying to keep their share of the feel-good. 

E. Making Love

The Hebrew word for 'father' is 'AB', as in Abraham, 'father of a multitude'.  The root meaning of 'ab' is 'the deciding one' or 'he who decides'.  That is the meaning of spiritual headship.  Such headship and authority come from God alone, and are always under the superintending authority of God Himself.  And God has shown us that to which His authority is eternally dedicated.  

In Matthew 22, to a query about the law, Jesus responds with the Two Great Commandments -- to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor just like we love ourselves.  "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."  To make love the pinnacle of the law is to make love the very meaning and purpose of existence. 

Love means doing good for others, doing things which substantially help (not pamper) them, which increase and strengthen their lives.  Apart from the command of God, love is not an obligation, just a "good idea".  One is just lucky to be loved, there is no inherent obligation for anyone to love me. 

But when God makes love the two highest commandments in all the universe, then loving one's neighbor becomes an obligation, not just an "if you have a mind to..."  I am required now to love everyone who becomes my neighbor, and they are all required to love me.  (For more on this, see Law & Grace in Imago Dei.)

We typically talk of "making love" when what we mean is "having sex".  If we were honest and accurate, we would more often talk of "making lust".  Probably most of what is called "love" among us is actually lust, a self-centered pursuit of feeling good, the eternal orgasm. 

So what might "making love" mean in a Godly context? 

The male and female physical bodies are constructed to reflect their masculine and feminine spiritual natures -- the male organ is penetrating, the female organ is receptive.  The gift of masculinity is spiritual authority, which means purpose-giving, commanding -- a spiritually penetrating quality.  The gift of femininity is receptivity, a welcoming
"Yes!" so as to bring forth life, the spiritual power of being.  The command of God can course through like a lightning bolt.

The sexual act of the husband, far from focusing on his own feel-good, then represents and gives that highest command which can come from the Father alone -- to love, to care for each other, to be concerned about another's welfare.  Thou shalt love...  

And the receptivity and then giving of the wife represents the life-giving power of God the Creator, responding to the command to love, to be a life-giver, a relationship-enhancer.  The response may be physical, a child, and it should be, always, relational and spiritual -- relating to husband, family, and friends in that loving, life-affirming manner of God Himself.  The wife is then a channel of that power of being which flows from God alone (see Jesus with the woman at the well, John 4). 

There is a mutual giving, like an electric current, flowing between husband and wife.  The man gives, speaks, with his penis, bringing order and direction, the woman gives, speaks, with her breasts, nurturing and sustaining.  That exchange will be subverted into self-centeredness to the degree that either one is seeking only pleasant feelings rather than Godly relationship. 

In that union, a man (command to love) with a woman (power of being) represent the Image of God and the relation between Christ and His Bride, the Church -- the command to love and the response of joyful, life-giving obedience. 

And in the light of that understanding, all the commands of God will be received by all the children of God as joyful bearers of light.  "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." 

That could legitimately be called "making love". 

F. The Archetypal & the Particular

 An archetype ("arche-type") means a "first-pattern" for other things.  In secular and pagan philosophy, the archetypal is abstract, and that for which it is a pattern is the world of concrete and particular things.  So, abstract "appleness" is the archetypal pattern for all particular apples.  Appleness is the essence of applehood.  The adoption of that mode of thinking from Greek philosophy by Christians has created endless problems with Christian theology.  It is always difficult to get those abstractions (i.e., the Greek philosophical notion of God) meaningfully related to the concrete particulars (created persons). 

But in the Biblical worldview, the archetypal being is a personal God, THE personal being, the Creator of all else that exists, and the most particular and concrete of all beings.  "I AM" (see Exodus 3) is not abstract.  Because God is a person, it makes perfect sense to say that we creatures are made in His image, that we are like Him in fundamental (but limited) ways.  Being made in His image means that His communicating with us, and even visiting us in the flesh, are not absurdities, they are very naturally part of the package.  

An abstraction cannot have purposes or give commands.  A person can.  God can give His whole creation a reason for being, and that becomes the command for all beings with freewill.  That means that all creatures are feminine with respect to God because -- we are all required to be obedient, submissive.  Men, in that sense, are just as feminine as women. 

And, all women have freewill, they can "decide".  Women, in that sense, are just as masculine as men.  We both are given a domain to be governed by ourselves -- the kingdom of "self".   Self is not a bad thing in God's world, it is a good and precious thing.  But we are to order our little domains according to God's archetypal, all-encompassing purpose for existence.  We are to love God and one another, and so build that community of mutual love and respect. 

The woman is the queen of her little domain, just as the man is the king of his.  The 19th century image of the suitor on his knee before his hoped-for bride rightly pictures that reality.  The suitor, the king of his realm, must persuade the queen of her realm to become one with himself, to join his realm.  He bears no authority over her decision to say 'yes' or 'no'.  A woman who knows and protects her boundaries like that has most likely been well mothered and well fathered.  She knows who she is and where she is going.  And a man who can unashamedly treat her with such dignity without feeling that he has demeaned himself -- likewise. 

G. The Drama of the Gender Division & Union (the Sacred Marriage)

It is in that context that the drama of gender happens. 

The word 'sex' is derived from the Latin 'secare', which means 'to divide'.  Our sexuality indicates the division of personhood into two parts, the masculine and the feminine.  Male persons are instances of the masculine gender, and female persons instances of the feminine gender.  Gender, a spiritual quality of personhood, exists in God, and our sexuality, a physical quality, is made sacramentally in that image.

One can ask, "Why are we 'divided'?"  There may be many reasons, but one of the most important has to do with the raising of children to be children of God. 

Mother is the infant's first dependency relationship.  Her primary task is to impart to the infant a stability and security of being, a sense that "I am" a somebody, not a nobody.  God is the "I AM", and we persons are all little and created "I am's".   We get that awareness of our importance by being important to someone, like mom, who freely and willingly meets our fundamental needs. 

Father, on the other hand, represents purpose, direction, morality, right vs. wrong. 

If the infant does not take on board a secure sense of his/her own being, then when the ought's begin to be enforced (pick up your toys), the child will assume that "doing the right thing" is what gives the child his/her stability of being.  "I am a somebody when I obey...."   "I am loved when I do something."   The child then falls into what the Bible calls "salvation by works", trying to be myself by what I do, rather than by what God is already doing in me (creating me, holding me in existence...). 

Mother is to convey to the child that first gift of grace, a freely given love for no reason other than "you are my child".  With that security, the child can then enter the world of ought's and should's without threat to his/her sense of being.  If the child knows who he is, then he need not fear losing his selfhood when he disobeys.  He thus can obey with a free spirit.  And, in the case of disobedience, repentance does not feel like sacrificing one's self-respect and personhood, it feels more like getting rid of a cancer (sin). 

Both boys and girls need to be both mothered and fathered.  We both need to be given that sense of secure being and freedom, on top of which can then be built a sense of obligation and moral direction.  That is done on the human level by dividing ('secare') gender roles, a division which makes possible that sacred space in which the child can be raised. 

Gender and sex have nothing to do with the promiscuous and blasphemous (because warping the Image of God) "sexiness" which we see plastered everywhere.  They have to do with laying the foundations  for all life, the very meaning of personhood, family, and community. 

The response of the Virgin Mary to the archangel Gabriel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word," is the archetypal feminine response.  It is the archetypal feminine response for both women and men.  And the decision to make that response is likewise the archetypal masculine response for both men and women -- as we choose a particular direction in life. 

Given God's version of sexuality, if sexual intercourse means the husband communicating the Godly command to love, one can then imagine the wife responding, "Wow!  If that's your command, I gladly submit!"   And St. Paul's discussion on marriage in Ephesians 5:21 ff. makes perfect sense. 

All of that requires of both men and women submission to the Way of the Cross, a giving of oneself first to God and then to one another.  The union of these complementaries is sometimes called Hieros Gamos - Sacred Marriage.    (These topics are discussed in depth in Law & Grace in Imago Dei.)

H. The Purpose of Sexual Union

We conclude with where we began -- the purpose of sexual engagement. 

The sexual union is not about pursuit of the ever-elusive eternal orgasm, the non-existent eternal feel-good, it is about made-in-the-Image-of-God relationship-building.  It is about the (often painful) building and rebuilding of that metaphysical and spiritual space between husband and wife in which life can be brought forth, nurtured, and educated, wherein the lives of friends and strangers can be entertained, sustained, repaired, and made whole again. 

Any society which focuses on feeling-good rather than on good relationship-building will destroy both good feelings and relationships.  It will never endure through the heartbreak of relationship building, it will never pick up its cross daily and follow Jesus.  And it will never win through to that peace which passes understanding.

Stable good feelings are always the by product of steadily aiming at good relationships.  If we do not learn that lesson in the family, the chances of learning it later diminish as time goes on.   Turning around, repentance, is always possible later in life, but it is far more difficult, and seems to happen far less often. 

Good feelings come from good relationships, not vice-versa.  The husband and wife (and thus the society) which, under the law and grace of God, focus on good relationships (the two Great Commandments, the Decalogue) will build sturdy relationships -- which will then substantially and dependably.... feel good.

See also Jean Zampino, Radical Femininity, on the power of the feminine role.
And, Psychology, Salvation, & the Ordination of Women.  and Law & Grace in Imago Dei by Earle Fox.

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Date Posted -  07/09/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 04/07/2013