On the Necessity of Sex

Do people really need sex? I came across some people scoffing at the idea on Twitter recently:

But is the notion really as ridiculous as they think? Let’s set aside the absurd contention in the original tweet that a need must also be a right. (Rights only proceed from responsibilities, not from needs, but that’s another blog post altogether.) Instead, let’s focus on the main question: Is sex a need or not?

Any allegation of “need” should always specify “to what end?” In other words, what do you need it for? Needing something for survival is the answer that always seems to go without saying. That’s how one of my son’s school books defined need: something that you literally cannot live without. But is need really so cut and dry?

As it happens, even physical survival as an end is far more fluid than we might think. It varies in terms of urgency, first and foremost. The man thinking of air might scoff, “It’s not like you’ll suffocate if you go seven minutes without water” while the man thinking of water might boast, “You can go a few days without eating something, you big baby.” We have many such needs in this life, and while we shouldn’t become impatient over less urgent needs, neither should we A) pretend they aren’t truly needs, B) neglect preparing for them, or C) discourage others from preparing. After all, it’s not as though we wait to eat until we’re on the brink of death.

But urgency isn’t the only pertinent dimension. For example, as one’s life draws to a close and his health begins to fail, modern medicine may provide the option of an extraordinary and grotesque medical intervention which will allow him to survive just one more week. It’s both urgent and necessary for survival, but is that truly a need in the same sense as food or water? It’s hard to consider something like that truly needful when most of the humans who lived on this planet did without it, even though they all died without it as well.

That very inevitability of death should provide perspective on our need for survival. And as we all march headlong towards the grave, most of us have, at some point, subjected survival itself to the same line of questioning: What do we need to survive for? To what end do we go on living? It would seem that survival–as precious as it is–is not an end unto itself.

When we ask about the telos of survival, our answers are inevitably religious, for they concern our respective gods–whatever we consider to be the Most Important Thing. Fallen men have propped up many and various idols to fill that place, of course. Some of them have been natural, others supernatural. But as Christians, we look past the false gods to the one true God: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When Satan tempted Christ with a true need (food so that he could survive after 40 days of fasting,) Jesus replied: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Mere survival, it would seem, is not the true benchmark of need. Our real necessity comes in fulfilling God’s purposes for us. The Holy Spirit cast Christ out into the wilderness to be tempted; Christ was not going to defy the Spirit for the sake of mere survival.

This is where we find a richer and truer sense of need:  need for the sake of receiving God’s Word; need for the sake of fulfilling our God-given design; need for the sake of carrying out the vocations He has gifted to us. This sense of need includes survival, certainly, for God both designed us to hunger and provides us with food. But survival is put in its proper perspective in comparison to our far broader need for God Himself. When it comes to created things, need is as much a matter of priority as it is of necessity.

Where, then, does sex fit into this better understanding of need?

First, sex is a need for the sake of vocation. “Be fruitful and multiply” is literally the first command God gave to mankind. There are alternative callings, of course; Jesus and Paul are the prime examples of this. But both Jesus and Paul explained that those were alternative callings–that they were exceptional. Most people are called by God to marriage and family rather than celibacy. Therefore, most people need to have sex in order to fulfill their vocations.

Second, sex is a need for the sake of fulfilling our design. Jesus said that God could raise new children of Abraham up out of the stones, but He nevertheless chose to do it differently. Only Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and Eve from his rib. Every other human being who ever lived was born–and only Christ was born of a virgin. Humans reproduce sexually. We are, in many ways, designed around that very fact. Our being male and female is first expressed in the same breath as our being made in the image of God. It’s that important. And just as hunger propels us towards the proper food we need, our sex drives propel us towards the proper intercourse we need. Sin corrupts those desires, of course, but it does not undo them–or make them anything other than God’s handiwork.

Third, sex is actually a need for the sake of survival too as long as you can pause to think beyond just yourself. This is where differences in urgency comes into play. Sex is not as urgent as food, just as food is not as urgent as air, but it remains a prerequisite for life. We may not need sex to survive personally, but collectively, humanity absolutely needs sex to survive. The inevitability of death means that if we stopped having sex, humans would cease to exist before too long.

But survival is also at stake on less abstract levels than “humanity,” for nations and families are in the same boat. And as shocking as this might be to today’s globalist neo-babelites, Christians ought to love both their own families and their own nations enough to contribute to their survival. Many people are becoming keenly aware that their family name will not be passed on or that their nation is dying because they failed to prioritize proper sex. They chose to forgo marriage & children and instead defused their sex drives through fornication and pornography.

So yes, it is entirely appropriate that our God-given desire for sex speaks to us in the language of need, for that is precisely what it is. And if men’s stronger sex drives make us more keenly aware of that reality than women, well it’s hardly the only instance in which the male perspective happens to be more in line with God’s Word.

To be sure, we must keep our need for sex in perspective–just as we do with every other need. Man does not live by sex alone. We sin when we prioritize our need for sex above our need to be chaste, our need to be faithful, our need for God, and so forth. But we also sin when we put too low of a priority on sex. When spouses deny sex to one another, they put too low of a priority on sex. When people put off marriage and end up burning with lust instead for the sake of things which God never commanded, they put too low of a priority on sex. When people violate the Golden Rule by refusing to have children, they put too low of a priority on sex.

Christians need to realize that we can err in either of these directions. Denying our God-given need for sex for the sake of discouraging one error only encourages the opposite error. As always, it is far better to teach the whole counsel of God and let the chips fall where they may.

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3 Responses to On the Necessity of Sex

  1. Zaklog the Great says:

    Everything you say here makes sense. I think you do skip over another important component, which is the emotional side. It’s not as easy to quantify, but in the context of a long-term relationship, it matters quite a bit. It may seem shallow, but I think anyone who’s been married for several years can say that when you’re having sex on a regular basis, it maintains an emotional connection that makes a lot of other problems easier to deal with. When you’re not . . . it creates a feeling of distance, and that amplifies any other conflict you have.

    And yes, it’s not a survival-type need. But if you take the word “need” as in, “I need this in order to,” then it is a need in that sense.

    • Matt says:

      You’re absolutely right; I skipped emotional need precisely because it’s hard to quantify (and very open to the charge of just “feeling like” something rather than “needing” something.) But just because it’s subjective doesn’t mean it’s not real.

  2. OKRickety says:

    Note of encouragement: This article was recommended by a commenter at https://sigmaframe.wordpress.com/

    Zaklog: “It may seem shallow, but I think anyone who’s been married for several years can say that when you’re having sex on a regular basis, it maintains an emotional connection that makes a lot of other problems easier to deal with.”

    Although we disagreed greatly on sexual frequency, my now ex-wife even admitted this on one occasion.

    Matt: “You’re absolutely right; I skipped emotional need ….”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard sex described as an emotional need, but I would definitely agree it was for me. That’s an interesting categorization because one of the common reasons “Christian” women give for lack of sex is that their “emotional needs” aren’t being met. If sex meets an emotional need for men, why wouldn’t it also meet an emotional need for women, especially for the many who claim that they have a strong sex drive.

    I’m also suspicious that “meeting her emotional needs” is more of an excuse than a reason. When my ex-wife made this complaint one time, I asked her to define her emotional needs. She couldn’t do it. It’s my opinion that she is far from alone. I think it’s used as an excuse and its nebulous nature actually makes harder to counter.

    I also find the idea that her needs must be met before she will agree to sex to be selfish, not loving. If she instead agreed to sex and approached it with good will, perhaps she would be surprised to find that it met an emotional need for her and also resulted in him meeting more of her emotional needs later. Seems like a win-win to me!

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