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.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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6 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!

  3. Moe Hailstone says:

    As a bachelor who hasn’t been able to find a wife, I am rather torn about this issue.

    I get what you are saying, but it seems to be that you are very much expanding the definition of “need” to a point where it goes beyond survival of the person. I am still a virgin, and although it is true that I have not been crazy about being single for this long in my life, I also am still alive.

    Maybe I am making the mistake of having a too narrow definition of “need.” I do believe you mention this. Still, I have gone 51 years without sex and am still alive. I could not go 51 years without food, water, or shelter and still be alive.

    I appreciate the article, though. I will think more about this. But perhaps given the negative attitude that I have towards sex, given that even if I look at a woman sexually then I am committing adultery with her, this has colored my perception of it. Thanks for writing this.

    • Matt says:

      You’re right; I am deliberately expanding “need” beyond survival. And I think that’s appropriate because there are more important things in life than survival. In that broader sense, sex isn’t a *universal* need because some are called to celibacy, and like any need in a fallen world, it’s not always available regardless of necessity. But understood properly, it is a need.

      Your other comment that caught my eye was “But perhaps given the negative attitude that I have towards sex, given that even if I look at a woman sexually then I am committing adultery with her.” There is a sense in which we sin if we look at a woman sexually, but also a different sense in which we must do so– no one would ever marry if they could not look at women sexually, or even with sexual intent. So you might be interested in another post, “Should Christians indulge in Sexual Fantasy” (https://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=1893) where I parse that difference at length.

      • Moe Hailstone says:

        I’ll check it out, thanks.

        It’s a hard line for me, being a bachelor and trying to change my life so I’m no longer a simp in hiding. I’m taking steps and one of the things that has helped is the reading of sensical articles like yours. They are a good help in encouraging and convicting. But I will say this- there is a LOT of things out there that we have to deal with, and it can really be discouraging and overwhelming.

        However, I am reminded of a story I heard an Army veteran of Vietnam tell- it was about a platoon lost way behind enemy lines. The platoon commander told his men to not think on the distance between where they were and their home base, for that was a huge distance. Instead, he said, concentrate on getting to “that hill,” as he pointed to a hill about a few miles away. Then, once they got to that hill, he would tell them, “Now, let’s get to that treeline.” They would get to the trees, then he would say, “Let’s get to that river.” And so on. Soon, they made it home.

        They were discouraged because of the distance. But because the platoon commander broke up the travel into much smaller and much more attainable goals, the platoon didn’t lose heart.

        Maybe this is what I need to do here. Find one thing and fix it, and THEN move on to the next.

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