One of the big questions that comes up in many discussions about gender and sexual identity today is whether limiting sexual expression (as Christianity and other religions do) actually suppresses a person’s fundamental identity and self-expression by not allowing them to express love in the way they feel inclined.
In his book Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, Sam Allbery points out something that has been widely recognized and discussed: that Western society has made sexuality the foundation of self-understanding. Sexual behavior, in this way, is seen as the primary means of self-expression. To restrict sexual behavior, therefore, is seen as stopping someone from being who they are.
As Sam explains, this is a very problematic way to think.
The problem with this is that it leads us to think that a life without this is barely a life worth living: that those who, for any reason, are unable to fulfill their sexual desires are missing out on the one true chance they have of being fully who they are.
We need to realize how damaging this message could be to someone. It raises the stakes dangerously high. To say to someone that the person they sleep with is their primary means of self-expression is to imply that a sexually unfulfilled life is no real life at all.Sam Allberry, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, pp. 102-103
Does Sex = Love?
The assumption, common in modern pop culture that sex = love leads to the assumption that anything which seems to curtail sexual freedom is accused of being unloving.
However, everyone would agree that there is more than one way to love, and that different contexts call for different types of love. For example, the way you love your mother is different than the way you love your spouse, which is different than the way you love your dog. Each is a love, but the loves are different, and they are necessarily different. The love for a spouse should look different than the love for a dog, or the love for pizza.
Allberry goes on to explain that obedience to God will never mean we end up loving people less. God isn’t calling people to love others less, only to love them differently, which will really mean loving them more.
Allberry also points out that there are several cases in which the Bible limits sexual expression. For example, the Bible forbids sexual activity between biological siblings, even if they are romantically attracted to each other. This is not saying that they can’t love each other, only that the way they are wanting to love each other is not actually how they have been designed to love each other. Furthermore, God’s command is based on what is truly best for us.
Allberry then points out something that everyone can relate to and agree with:
Virtually all of us will find ourselves attracted to people whom God says we shouldn’t sleep with. All of us have to say no to certain romantic and sexual desires. It’s not because we’re against love – it’s because we’re for it, in the right sense.Sam Allberry, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, p. 116
A Full Life and the Only Love that Has the Power to Define Us
It is important to remember that Jesus Christ, the truest and fullest person who ever lived, who the Bible tells us was “anointed with the oil gladness above all his companions” (i.e.: He was a fulfilled, happy person!), lived a celibate life. What we learn from Jesus and from Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 7, is that a person can live a full and rich life apart from sexual expression. Sex, according to the Bible, is a gift of God to humanity, but not the basis of human identity.
Sam Allberry also points out how the Apostle John shows us a better way to think about identity. John was the disciple who in his Gospel account referred to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” Rather than finding his ultimate identity in his attractions, he found his identity in the person who loved him the most: Jesus. This, above all else, is the love that has the power to truly define us.