Jessie’s knuckles were now bleeding. So far, mother had hit the back of each hand a dozen times with the wooden spoon, and didn’t look like she was going to stop. Jessie was sobbing quietly, because she knew her mother would be more violent if she protested.
Eventually, after another few hits, she stomped out of the room and left Jessie to deal with her pain.
Jessie’s mother had come into her bedroom late one evening and discovered her masturbating. This had happened a year before and that time she had publicly shamed her before the pastor and his wife. This time, she decided her 15 year old daughter needed a stronger lesson.
Jessie reported these events to me during trauma therapy 20 years later. Through Internal Family Systems therapy, I had helped her stay in Self and not blend with the younger self in this memory. As a result, she was able to help 15 year old Jessie to feel better about life. She invited her to notice how she lived her life in the present day. She showed her that she was able to have the sex she wanted, that she had cut her parents out of her life, and she was feeling confident.
Back in teen years, her preachers and parents had peppered her with predictions of great destruction if she ever embraced her own sexuality. By the time we were in therapy together, Jessie was no longer married and was as sexually active as she wanted to be. She had not gotten an STI, been pregnant, or had mental illness.
The main emotional struggles she faced surrounded her strict upbringing in Purity Culture.
She asked me at one point: “Mike, I know you used to be a preacher. Why is Christianity so negative toward sex?”
At the time, I was only sure it had a lot to do with patriarchal culture. But in the years since, I have learned a lot more.
There actually is an historical reason that Christianity adopted a very strict moral viewpoint toward sexuality. It has everything to do with fear.
If you want a much deeper look at this and other issues regarding early Christianity and Sexuality, read this lengthy article I wrote earlier this year.
In this summary, I’m going to rely on the work of William Loader. Specifically, I am going to draw upon the historical evidence in his book “Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition” and his landmark article, “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World“.
After the Jews returned from captivity around the ancient near east, they re-settled in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and rebuilt the temple. This is known as the Second Temple Era. For the next 400 years, the Jews faced pressure from an ever-changing landscape of nations wanting to conquer them.
The Greek armies under Antiochus Epiphanes finally did just that.
When the Greeks conquered Jerusalem and the Second Temple, they instituted new laws forbidding Jewish men from practicing circumcision, reading the scriptures, or worshiping in the temple. They also practiced a much different set of sexual standards, which included homosexuality in public bathhouses and gymnasiums, freer access to sex workers, use of young boys for sex (catamites), and an open policy on having sex with slaves in public places.
In short, the Greek conquerors exploded the Jewish male’s understanding of what was allowed sexually. When the Maccabees were successful in chasing the Greeks out of Israel during the revolt, a backlash started against all the Greek sexual practices. As I write about in the paper mentioned above, the Jewish religious leaders hated the incursion of Greek ideas about sexuality into the lives of the average Jewish male.
What was the concern about sexuality centered on? Why were they so afraid of allowing any Greek sexual practices to become part of their culture?
After the Jews returned from captivity to Jerusalem, they began to wonder: “Why did our god allow this to happen to us? Why did we go from such a free-spirited, powerful nation to become a nation that other nations trod upon?
The answer they came up with emerged from many sources. But the general gist is that they had not kept themselves pure. Because they were seen as impure, their god abandoned them to slavery and captivity. If they wanted to avoid being judged by their god again, they wanted to purify themselves. But that meant they had to figure out what purity meant.
One prophet said one thing–another prophet had another theory. But they all focused on the concept of syncretism. This is the practice of allowing the behaviors of other nations/cultures to become part of your own. The Hebrew word for “holiness” has the twin ideas of being pure and being unmixed with the practices of other nations.
Several religious sects formed to combat the slide into syncretism. The Pharisees began to emphasize the importance of following all of the rules of the Torah. By this, they hoped to garner their god’s favor and eliminate all Greek influences. The Saducees decided the way to approach this was to gain political power and enact laws and regulations to prevent any foreigner from influencing their nation. In this, they seized control of the dominant political structure.
Finally, a third group emerged, more home-spun and rural. It was known as the Essenes. This movement had a grass-roots appeal and it reached into the sensibilities of most Jewish families. Even Jewish communities as far-flung as the North African city of Alexandria were affected. We read the Jewish historian Philo and we can see the Essene influence in their lives.
Essentially, the Essenes believed that the wrong practice of sexuality is what caused god to be angry at them.
When Philo first begins to write about Jewish history, he has a very expansive view toward sexuality. He sees the legitimacy of men having sex with slaves, with sex workers, and even with foreign women. But over the years, as the sexual purity ideas of the Essenes caught hold of Jewish culture, he began to be more strict about what kinds of sex were legitimate.
By the end of his writing life, he recommended that Jewish men ONLY have sex for procreation. He considered a man having recreational sex with his wife to be akin to making her a prostitute. In this, he echoes the teachings of the Essenes.
The christian scriptures only makes a passing reference to this movement, and that is in the description of John the Baptist. He was the quintessential Essene male–and perhaps the most famous adherent to their approach to faith. He was unmarried, solitary, lived in poverty, and preached a message of repentance and moral purity. He was eventually killed by the king for criticizing the king’s sexual practices.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were collected in a place called Qumran and represented this community’s dedication to the Essene views. From these documents we learn that they believed the following about sex:
Sex was only to be practiced in marriage
Sex with foreigners was forbidden
Sex with another man’s slaves was forbidden
Masturbation was forbidden
Sex with one’s wife for any purpose other than procreation was discouraged
Sex with sex workers was forbidden.
Finally, the ultimate spiritual man was one who lived a celibate life. This was the highest ideal. Sex with a woman was considered an act that made a man impure. The book of Revelation reflects this attitude.
Many theologians, myself included, believe that not only John the Baptist was heavily influenced by the sexual mores of the Essenes, but also Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Paul’s viewpoints on sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 reflect the party line of the Essenes.
Look at that list of names: Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul. These three represent the dominant leaders of the origins of the christian era. Add to this Peter, James, and John who were originally followers of John the Baptist and it is clear that even if they were not Essene members, they were sympathetic to the teachings of this group.
From the very start of Christianity, there was a repressive element to the faith. The first five centuries of the church reinforced this. By the end of the fifth century, most christian leaders considered celibacy to be the highest station regarding sexuality. In no wise were any christian leaders sex positive. There are occasional sex positive mentions in early christian writings, but these are almost completely from writers considered heterodox (heretical) by the early church.
In short, the early christians inherited their fear of judgment if people strayed from sexual purity. This was always fear-based. Repression is always more powerful when it is based on the fear of punishment. These are the roots of the christian approach to sexuality. They are the roots to the endemic sexual repression we see all over the church today.
In next week’s article in this series, we’ll look at what sexual repression does to a person and how it affects a person’s behavior.
As I sometimes do, let me start at the end of the story and then show how I got there.
The end of the story: I was not only fired from being a pastor, I had my license terminated, my career all but snuffed out, and barred from attending any of their churches unless I made a public confession of my sins.
Officially, they were removing me from all my duties present and future because I refused to attend any of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches.
I had told them, in writing, that I would not attend any of their churches until they made some changes.
I iterated that I would not attend “unless and until the denomination came clean on their involvement with the cover-up of Ravi Zacharias’ crimes, AND renounced christian nationalism AND renounced Donald Trump.”
They had no intention of doing any of those things, and so I have not attended any of their churches since. So their official reason for blackballing me was my refusal to attend.
It was a clean severing, and it was easy to make. It was much easier to do that than to explain the real reasons. If they had gone into the real reasons, it would have been messy and painful for them as well as for me.
They hated the changes in my doctrine, which became many.
They hated how I would not stop talking about their cover-up of Ravi Zacharias’ crimes.
They hated how I would not submit to their authority.
But maybe more than anything, they hated how I supported LGBTQIA+ people. They were confused and bitter about how sex positive I had been for years. I openly taught that all sexuality was good except sex that was illegal, non-consensual, or involving people with more power seducing people with less power.
But, in this article, let me tell you about one of those elements of sex positivity that thoroughly disgusted them and delighted me at their disgust.
For years, I had been a thorn in the side of leaders of the denomination with my insistence on being sex positive. At the same time, pastors, pastor’s wives, and other church leaders sought me out for therapy on sexual issues. One area they wanted instruction and direction was in the area of BDSM. BDSM is about using practices of domination and submission, pain and pleasure, role-playing and costumes. In short, BDSM adds spice to a sexual relationship. It is also focused on many fetishes and kinks. In my therapy practice, I have become very knowledgeable in most variations of kink. The denomination apparently was unaware of how many of their leaders talked to me about it. I was not going to reveal it to them either.
I am, after all is said and done, a therapist. Pastoring became more of my hobby than my calling. As a therapist, I am bound by HIPAA regulations that will not allow me to disclose personal information about clients without their consent.
In the process that led to my blackball, a group of people from one church spied on my Twitter account. They compiled page after page of tweets I had made about anything to do with sexuality. These were not hard to find. I tweet a lot about sex because people need accurate and safe information about sex.
They sent this collection of out of context tweets to my district superintendent. He convened a panel of three national leaders of the denomination due to my notoriety. They spent two months grilling me on every tweet I had sent expounding on sex positivity. To their minds, they had done a ‘gotcha’ on me. They wanted me to know they found me to be morally repugnant and in need of a verbal spanking.
Spanking had a lot to do with their objections to me actually. So did bondage and torture, St. Andrew’s crosses, and dominatrixes in leather outfits.
They hated that I liked kink and wrote about it.
They sent email after email demanding I explain the terms used in my tweets. You might have suspected they had a prurient personal interest in the subject. They were THAT interested.
Like most christians, they approached sexuality from the repressive angle. Repression is the act of subduing or denying sex as a basic human need so that any thoughts about sex and any actions about sex are expressed only through the unconscious. Or, in the case of many evangelicals, expressed only in particular types of marital sex. To their minds, this did not include kinky sex.
They pointed out to me that the “S” in BDSM could stand for Sadism, which they considered evil by its association with the Marquis de Sade. I remarked that they were about a half century behind the times. The “S” could also stand for submission or slave. That’s when I decided to get theological with them (I do have a theology degree after all).
The bible is big on submission; submission to god, submission to one another in the church, submission to the elders or deacons, submission to the governing authorities, wives submitting to husbands, couples submitting to each other. One would think that the concept of submission would get their genitals all in a tizzy. It did not. At least, they didn’t like the idea of submission being applied differently than a church-sanctioned way.
I also pointed out that the Apostle Paul, a supposed author of half the christian scriptures, described himself as a slave of christ. He also describes himself as a slave to his gentile friends on behalf of christ. In addition, he didn’t have any problem with telling actual slaves to be good slaves and to obey their masters. In short, the bible is quite fond of the master/slave dynamic.
“But” they pointed out to me, “you are taking all those things out of their context and applying them to sexuality.” I don’t think I am. The context of most teaching in the bible is patriarchal, meaning that built into all sexuality is the concept of a man being the master over a woman. This is also true in biblical ideas about sex. Please note: I am NOT patriarchal, and I hate all of the tenets of the patriarchy. I just made this argument to them because they could understand it. Then I went further.
I pointed out that Hebrews 13:4 where it says “Marriage is to be respected among all and the marital coitus to be undefiled.” It’s a difficult verse to translate into English because there are no verbs at all in the verse. And really, there are no verbs that can be borrowed from nearby verses either–which is the other way of finding a common verb. In essence, the writer of Hebrews is saying that marriage is a respectful institution. And as such, the sex that two people in marriage have should not be defiled.
What did the ancients considered defilement? It wasn’t BDSM or any equivalent. It was adultery, plain and simple. In other words, the writer here is saying, “These married people are doing something worthy of respect and no one should interfere from the outside in their fucking around.” Yep. That’s what it says. We get the word “coitus”, meaning good old fucking, from this greek word sometimes translated “marriage bed.”
The ancients knew that most people like sex. The writer here is saying that if you are going to be married and have sex, keep it among yourselves and don’t stray. Pretty clear teaching. It also implied, I believe, that whatever the two of them do is fine if it’s consensual.
Now, why did I bring that up to them? I pointed out that in most surveys, the majority of people who practiced BDSM do so in the marriage relationship. Role-playing, bondage and impact play, toys, mind games, etc. are done in marriages. They are done in christian marriages. They are done in the marriages of christian leaders.
I know this, because I counseled many of them to do it with an eye toward SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) behavior. For instance, I taught them where they could safely use a flogger and where a crop could do permanent damage.
The leaders who were examining me were horrified. I’m not sure what they were horrified about. That their colleagues enjoyed kink? That I would counsel people on how to do it? That upwards of 70% of adults have tried BDSM in the past year? That this 70% includes christians?
Their horror pointed out one more of the many instances where sexual repression is harming church people. Next week, we will dive into the harmful effects of sexual repression.
Willa Cather was the world renowned author of “O Pioneers”. Edith Lewis was editor of several of New York’s better known publications. Over time, Lewis also edited all of Cather’s work. Eventually, the two of them moved in together. The world assumed they were two writers functioning as each other’s muses. In reality, though they hid this from many people, they were also lifelong lovers. But two became three. Later in life, they added socialite Isabelle McClung to their triad. The three of them traveled the world and reveled in their unique love for each other.
Virginia Wolfe was another famous author in love with another female writer, Vita Sackville-West. But this time, both women were married to men. Both couples had open marriages and both husbands approved of their relationship. In time, though Vita and Virgina did not have sex with each other’s husbands, a deep bond formed between the four of them. Eventually, they split up, which actually caused more pain for the husbands than the women.
Janeane Garofolo and Bradford Cord are much different people, one an actor and the other a singer. They are both asexual and very proud to be so. Though they have had many loves, each of them describes how they enjoy living as a person for whom sexual attraction has never been part of their lives. Because of this, both of them have met confusion and opposition from other people. In interviews, they both regret how their asexual status has closed doors for them in their professions and in life.
What do all of these famous people have in common? In essence, they have all bucked a belief system that almost all of us were given as a legacy. It’s called Amatonormativity. It’s a word you may not have heard before. Most people have not.
Amatonormativity is a word author Elizabeth Brake coined in her book “Minimizing Marriage; Marriage, Morality and the Law” to describe the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.
There are so many implications of this for our modern world. Amatonormativity marginalizes so many groups of people: singles who want to stay single, asexuals, polyamorous, open relationships, triads and quad relationships, long-term nonsexual friendships, aromantic married people, divorced people, etc. In our American cultural setting, our laws are geared toward those who are in Amatornormative relationships.
Triads cannot have the same parental rights as couples.
Asexuals and single allosexuals are not afforded the same rights as renters compared to amatonormative couples.
Abiding friendships often must relinquish inheritance rights if adult children contest wills in court.
But beyond the legal stipulations against all these individuals, the culture itself looks down upon all people who do not buy into the idea that the ultimate goal in life is to find one person, fall in love, have children, and stay married until you die. Though most adults in our culture do NOT fit into this scenario, most movies, television shows, books, and songs have this concept as a bedrock belief.
In the 90s sitcom “Seinfeld”, the main characters were always quizzing each other on whether they had found “The one”. At times, they played around with other options, like never having kids, open relationships, remaining single. But they ultimately rejected all of those options. In one case regarding open relationships, Jerry remarks caustically,
“Don’t you know what it means to become an orgy guy? It changes everything. I’d have to dress different. I’d have to act different. I’d have to grow a mustache and get all kinds of robes and lotions and I’d need a new bedspread and new curtains I’d have to get thick carpeting and weirdo lighting. I’d have to get new friends. I’d have to get orgy friends.”
Joanne and Mick made out in the car at the drive-in every Friday and Saturday night. They made sure they were in all the same classes together. They ate lunch at the same time, in the same place, facing each other. They drove to school together and drove home together. They did homework together.
They shared every moment of their senior year of high school with each other.
And for some inexplicable reason, both of them resented all that time together. At the same time, they loved each other deeply and without reservation. This confused each of them so much–but their love blocked them from ever talking about it.
Mick decided to work longer hours at his after-school and weekend job. He told Jo that he had no choice, but he had volunteered to do it. Joanne had her own phone line in her bedroom–this was before the Internet age–and she chose to leave it off the hook more often in the evenings.
By the end of their Senior Year of high school, they saw each other less and less. This made Joanne sad and she started to put her phone back on the hook. This made Mick sad, so he told his boss he needed to work less hours so he could focus on end of the year exams.
By May, they were back to spending all their time together. It felt right and they were both happy to do it. But then again, in July, they both started to pull away. This went on until Mick went away to college and Jo got a job at a local food coop. They were still in the same town, but now their time was completely given over to post high school necessities. This made them all the more desperate to be together.
Finally, after months of yearning for each other, Mick proposed marriage. Joanne accepted.
Throughout the 44 years of married life, they have gone through many of these seasons of intimacy followed by isolation. In the numerous counseling sessions and marriage seminars they’ve attended, they have sought to figure out why they alternate between wanting to be with each other fanatically, and also wanting to isolate with the same amount of vigor.
Some day, I’d love to write an essay on the psychoanalyist, Erik Erikson. Even though he taught at Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, his academic accomplishments consisted of a certificate from a Montessori school, and another certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. He earned no advanced degrees.
But his understanding of human nature and the human condition far surpassed most of his contemporaries.
His most significant contribution to psychology was his chart of the psychosocial development of the human being. He broke down the human condition as a learning process of eight parts. Each of these parts highlighted a different tension between two opposites:
Trust and Mistrust
Autonomy and Doubt
Initiative and Guilt
Industry and Inferiority
Identity and Confusion
Intimacy and Isolation
Generativity and Stagnation
Integrity and Despair.
I want to focus attention on his sixth stage of development: Intimacy and Isolation. He recognized that all of us have this growing need to be connected to others. In later years of the development of Psychology, Dr. William Glasser would identify Love and Belonging as the second most basic human need behind only Safety and Security. After Glasser, others would notice that our early years define how we will attach to others–or in some cases, seek not to attach.
This gave birth to the Attachment Styles movement.
But no one denies we have a need for others in our life. This is the Intimacy Stage in Psychosocial development. At the same time, as Jo and Mick discovered, there are so many things that can make this stage difficult. We may have been betrayed by intimate friends or family, lied to, abandoned, rejected any number of ways, abused, neglected, or marginalized. Individuals may do this to us or collective groups may hurt us.
In addition to this, most people try to control our lives either actively or passively, and this makes us afraid or aggressive toward them.
In addition, a lot of time spent with another person can invoke boredom and a sense of over-familiarity.
Therefore, along with the need for intimacy we also develop a need for isolation from others.
All of our life reflects this tension between wanting to be close to others and wanting distance and agency from others. Each person finds their own path to it. But the balance of both intimacy and isolation is not easy. The reason we struggle with this path is that too much emphasis in our society is placed on the supremacy of intimacy.
Psychologist Esther Perel notes that
“I see others who believe that Intimacy means knowing everything about each other. They abdicate any sense of Isolation, then are left wondering where the mystery has gone.”
Esther Perel, “Mating in Captivity”
This is the problem that has plagued Mick and Joanne for years. They have a pendulum swing toward total intimacy, but it leaves them without any autonomy. When they swing back to isolation, they lose a sense of closeness.
Within Christianity, the goal of monogamous marriage is stated this way: “That a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife. And the two of them shall become one flesh.” Many modern interpretations of “one flesh” teach that this one flesh concept applies to more than just bodies joining together sexually. The idea is that two people would be dyadic–which means they will find all of their emotional, sexual, and psychological needs met primarily through this person they married.
Since this ideal supposes that the couple will meet most, if not all, of their psychosocial needs through each other, isolation feels like failure. Even couples who take a break from sex, sleeping together, or even hanging out with each other are seen as “in trouble”.
But many couples find seasons of isolation from each other to be rejuvenating and restorative. This is not just true of people in long-term relationships, but can apply to friendships, family relationships, and even co-workers at job sites.
I have spent many hours with couples in crisis in my counseling practice. Though I don’t give this advice to many of them, I have suggested some pairings do in house separations where they do not spend much time together. Almost all of them found this period of time therapeutic.
Perel writes about this in “Mating in Captivity”. In working with one couple, she noted that the husband was doing so much care for his sick wife that they had lost the closeness seen in other elements of their relationship. Here is what she advised them:
“To John I said, “You are such a caregiver that you can no longer be a lover. We need to reestablish a degree of differentiation and re-create some of the distance you had in the beginning. It’s hard to experience desire when you’re weighted down by concern.”
In the next few months Beatrice did move out. In a remarkable turnaround she found her own apartment, sent in her application for a PhD program, took a trip with her friends, and started earning her own money. Gradually, as John became convinced that she had two feet to stand on, and as it became clear to Beatrice that she did not need to abdicate her own person to merit love, they created a space between them into which desire could flow more freely”
Excerpt From Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
Not every couple needs that degree of separation. There are many reduced levels of isolation that can be helpful.
Here are a few:
Have one day every weekend where each person just does their own thing with no expectation of getting together and no need to account for what was done.
Adopt markedly different hobbies
See your own therapists, not for relationship work, but for personal growth and fulfillment
Take separate vacations occasionally.
Many people reading that will immediately think this is a recipe for people having affairs. But that fear is based on a false presupposition. Many affairs are chosen because a couple already feels isolated from each other. Rarely do affairs happen with people who feel too close to each other.
I worked with Jo and Mick on two occasions. Once when they had been married just over 30 years and the second time coming up on their 40th wedding anniversary. They both noted they felt over-enmeshed with each other’s lives and were becoming bored. During our discussion, Jo mentioned she had always wanted to take a three-month sabbatical. Her profession allowed for paid time off to do this, so she asked Mick what he thought.
He answered, “But I can’t take that amount of time off.”
“I know” she said.
“That’s why I want to do it.”
In the end, Mick agreed to her sabbatical and to the relative isolation from him this would bring.
During those sabbatical months, Jo did a lot of things that Mick was not included in. I met with them at the end of that time, and both of them told me it was so refreshing. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t see each other, but that they felt no pressure to spend time together. Several times, Jo went away for a weekend with friends or by herself. She went mountain biking and slept in a tent for three days without Mick.
He told her when she returned how impressed and turned on he was with her independence.
They are still going strong together at 44 years. Perhaps we do need a balance of intimacy and isolation in all our relationships.
Recently, a close friend and fellow writer asked about my latest writing projects. This person knew I had been writing an article on what the Bible has to say about unmarried people having sex. They also knew it was taking a long time.
I started to tell them it was almost done, but I stopped. I have started and restarted this article four times in the past 12 months. With each reboot, I do new research and approach it from a different angle. I joked to my friend that I now have enough research to write a book.
Even the primary question of the article is difficult: Does the Bible allow people who are not married to have sex? Do you think you know the answer? So did I. But four reboots have shown me how complicated the answer is.
First, the bible doesn’t have a definitive position on non-marital sexuality, no matter how many preachers and theologians say it does. Second, the sexual ethics of the cultures that produced the answers within the pages of the Bible are just as important as the question itself. Third, most of the discussion about the bible’s position on non-marital sexuality concerns the meaning of one particular word–Greek: Porneia–a word that is both ambiguous and culturally adaptable.
Finally, I aim to make this article relevant for those who profess faith and believe the Bible is without error, as well as those who do not believe the Bible is inerrant. Doing both is what makes it really difficult.
With all of those distinctions in mind, this article follows these parameters:
I will refer to the so-called “Old Testament” as the Hebrew Scriptures. The “New Testament” I will call the Christian Scriptures. I do this to distinguish them for the purposes of the cultures represented.
Though I am following some of the conventions of an academic research paper, I am keeping those conventions to a minimum. For instance, though I will cite every source I use, they will not be in footnotes, but rather in a separate document. The link to that document is here!
I use the word “non-marital sex” instead of “pre-marital sex” because not every unmarried person who has sex will get married, or even desires to.
I will not list all the scriptures where the word Porneia is mentioned. Rather, I will summarize the findings about those verses according to the three scholars I rely on for the meaning of this word.
I will not be addressing the issues surrounding the Jewish, Greek, and Christian views and practices regarding male-male homosexuality. I hope to address that in a later article.
So let’s begin our discussion with understanding how Jewish, Greek, and Christian cultural biases radically affect how we view sexuality from a biblical vantage point.
Patriarchy and Female Agency
As I said, I have enough background material on this subject to write an entire book. More than half of that research focuses on how sexuality was viewed in the Ancient Near East (ANE) during the centuries that people wrote the documents in the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. I don’t want to belabor the point, so allow me to condense it down to one proposition:
Women had no official social standing or agency to consent regarding their own sexuality.
The only thing a woman was expected to contribute to sexuality was a vulva which had never been penetrated sexually. Today, we refer to that as Virginity. The Hebrew language only had one word for “virgin” and that word only referred to women. There was no such thing as a male virgin. The issue of whether men had to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage is not addressed in the bible.
Women could not choose their mate. That was done by a woman’s father or nearest male relative. Female slaves could be sexually violated by any man who owned them. (Glancy, “The Sexual Use of Slaves: A Response to Kyle Harper on Jewish and Christian Porneia”, page 216). Foreign women were not allowed to be married to Jewish men, but they could be made sex slaves (also known as concubines).
If a woman was raped in the city and did not scream, she would be held liable as an Adulteress. The Law allowed for her to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-29). There is a story in the Hebrew scriptures of a man whose concubine was raped by many men. The slave’s owner retaliated by cutting her into parts and sending those parts to the various tribal leaders in Israel.
The point of that story was to show the slave owner’s outrage, not the ignominy of the crime against the woman.
Men had sex regularly outside of marriage in the bible. Women did not. Men took concubines. Women did not. Men could have multiple wives. Women could not have multiple husbands. So even though it is said that the Jews practiced polygamy, it was actually polygyny (multiple wives, not multiple husbands).
On these points, I am summarizing. No Jewish or Christian theologian would disagree with those conclusions.
In short, a woman had no say over her own sexuality. She had to sexually perform whenever her husband or owner wished it. This isa feature of the cultures who wrote the Christian and Hebrew scriptures.
After the Babylonian captivity, when the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, the ideas about what was sexually allowed began to change. We will cover the most significant of those changes later in this article.
But no change was made to the sexual fortunes of a woman. She still had to be a virgin before marriage. She still had to meet the sexual needs of her husband, or he would be allowed to divorce her. She gained no sexual freedom. It was a world in which patriarchy prevailed among the Jews. And the Romans. And the Greeks. And eventually, the Christians.
These are all the cultures that wrote the Christian scriptures and the Hebrew scriptures.
These cultures showed contempt for women, afforded women no sexual agency, and practiced total male domination over women.
Therefore, everything written in the bible about sexuality is patriarchal, covertly and overtly misogynistic, viewing any female agency negatively.
The Shift of Sexual Ethics in Judaism
The first five books of the Hebrew scriptures are called the Torah. These books tell the story of the Jewish tradition and explain the development of the nation from its roots in Abraham. This is also where the roots of their sexual ethics began.
The Patriarch Abraham and his grandson Jacob had both wives and concubines. Concubines were slaves whose work roles included providing sex for the slave-owner. It would have been unlikely a later Jewish teacher would teach against sex with slaves or polygyny. If they had taught against either of these, they would have been criticizing their patriarchs. At no point were either polygyny or sex with slaves condemned in sexual ethics.
Many Hebrew scriptural sources give ample proof that though women were forbidden from having sex with anyone other than their marriage partner, the same was not true of men. We read about the lives of King David and King Solomon, and their sexual practices include multiple wives and sex slaves. The so-called harems of the Ancient Near East were just as prevalent in Jewish leadership as they are with Sumerian and Babylonian leaders.
Judaism did differ from other nations around them in a few areas. During the 1000 years of formation, the Jewish religion developed distinctive sexual ethics that clashed with the nations around them. This was part of the unique identity that their god Yahweh demanded of them.
In the Torah, the book of Leviticus, chapter 18 lays out the distinctive elements of this formational sexual ethic (Omanson, “How Does It Fit Together” page 419):
No incest of any kind
No marrying sisters
No sex during a woman’s menses
No male homosexuality
At the beginning and the end of chapter 18, the writer of Leviticus emphasizes that these rules are given to distinguish the Jewish men from the men of other tribes and cultures surrounding them. The land of Palestine has always been a small but strategic land bridge. Cultures constantly clashed and intermingled. It was clear from Leviticus that Yahweh did not want any intermingling with the practices of those cultures.
The sexual ethics of Leviticus were given to further distinguish Jewish men from men of other cultures. For example, in Leviticus 19, Yahweh instructs the men that they should not have sex with the sex slaves of other men. Nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures is sex with one’s own sex slaves disallowed. This was the purpose of a sex slave, and even Yahweh did not disallow this sexual act. (Glancy, page 217).
These sexual ethics remained in place for many centuries. But something changed when the nation of Israel began to be scattered by various conquerors. First the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity for many hundreds of years. Then, the Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylonian forces. Finally, during the reign of King Darius of the Persian Empire, the Jews were slowly allowed to return en masse to Jerusalem. Eventually, the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians was rebuilt.
During this era, Jewish sexual ethics began to shift. (Loader, “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World” page 3). At this time, the priests and scribes, under the direction of Ezra, began compiling the books that make up the current Hebrew scriptures. As Loader remarks, the compilation of the documents of the Tanakh showed a shift to more restrictive sexual ethics.
First, the writings of the prophets compared the nation of Israel to a man who committed adultery with foreign gods. Therefore, the priests began teaching against marrying foreigners. This included having sex with foreigners. The purge against marrying foreigners associated with Nehemiah had this focus. The practice of having sex with a foreigner (also known as Exogamy), though tolerated for centuries, was now forbidden.
The prophets also wrote about Israel chasing after other gods as if one were going to a prostitute. In other words, Israel toyed with worshiping other gods much like men might have casual sex with sex workers. As a result, the teaching of the second temple era discouraged Jewish men from having sex with prostitutes. Up until then, sex with prostitutes was tacitly allowed, though sometimes ridiculed (see Proverbs, chapters 2-9 for examples).
Again, sex with household slaves and sex with multiple wives is allowed. There is some indication that unmarried men were not forbidden from having sex with sex workers, though this is disputed by some researchers. There is no written prohibition against it. The prophet Hosea is told to marry a prostitute. Later, he is told to buy her out of slavery and remarry her. We can assume then that these were not completely forbidden practices.
The longer the Jewish people followed Yahweh, the more restrictive the sexual practices gradually became. But then, suddenly, this change accelerated. This occurred because the Jewish culture came into contact with the Greek culture which had emerged as the world power.
The Greek Influence and the Late Second Temple Sexual Practices
I had several theology professors while working on my theology degree. Occasionally, they would address the period of time between the last book written in the Hebrew scriptures in the Protestant Christian Bible (Malachi) and the first book written in the Christian scriptures (either James or Galatians). This period of time is known as the Inter-testamental Period by Christian scholars.
The rest of the world knows it as history. The Jewish people know it as their history.
My mentor in those days was a professor who had doctorates in both history and church history. He scoffed at this demarcation of the testaments. He told me that there were many important documents written by the Jewish people after Malachi. He introduced me to the Maccabees, Jubilees, and 1 and 2 Enoch among others. Through those documents, I learned that Israel continued to adapt and change their code of ethics regarding sexuality among other practices.
I also realized that as a nation, the Jews went through a difficult, but significant transformation during those 400 years.
My mentor also encouraged me to read some of the Jewish historians of that period, specifically Philo and Josephus. They shed light on so many of the subjects discussed in the scriptures of the Christian church. And these documents certainly show us the progression of thought about sexuality both within and outside of marriage.
A considerable volume of scholarship has recently been devoted to tracing the understanding of the Jewish teachings on sexuality from the ancient patriarchal period, through the early days of the second temple, to the late Second Temple practice of Judaism.
Two of the most prominent christian names in this research on Jewish sexual ethics are Kyle Harper and William Loader. Since I am trying to simplify this paper for the non-academic readers, please refer to this appendix for more information on both men. Between the two of them, they have published the most significant papers and books we have regarding Jewish and Christian sexual ethics around the time of Jesus.
Both men are convinced that the Apostle Paul, Jesus, and the leaders of the early church were in general alignment with late Second Temple sexual ethics. So, to put the New Testament teaching on non-marital sex into perspective, allow me to trace the development of that particular ethic and show how it related to what we read in the Christian Scriptures.
As the Greeks conquered the Ancient Near East, they brought their distinct practices with them. These included their ethics involving sexuality. In some ways, they practiced the same sexual ethics as the Jewish people. The practice of incest was forbidden. This is evidenced in the Christian scriptures in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul admonishes the man who was sleeping with his step-mother as doing “what even the heathens do not permit.” Adultery was similarly discouraged and frowned upon by many. But sex with slaves was very much in vogue with both cultures.
However, the Greeks were much more open to sexuality outside of marriage. Sex work was common, especially sex work connected to various temples devoted to goddesses. The Greeks also permitted young boys to be used sexually as catamites, and this brought the Jewish culture in sharp contrast with the Greeks. The practices of the Symposiums and Gymnasiums were heinous to the Late Second Temple Jews, who created rules outlawing good Jewish men from attending either.
Loader summarizes the Jewish attitude toward Greek culture this way:
Maintaining one’s Jewish identity in foreign cities was paramount for most and included closely knit settlement patterns, careful observance of rituals and laws that reinforced Jewish identity, such as the sabbath observance and food laws, and the rejection of what were perceived as the dangers to which they were exposed, including idolatry and what they saw as sexual immorality.
William Loader , “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World” page 8
The crucial breaking point between the Jewish and Greek cultures happened when Antiochus IV of Greece conquered Jerusalem. He looted the temple, forbade Jews from possessing their own scriptures, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple. Jewish men were ridiculed by the Greeks for being circumcised. These sacrileges caused many within Israel to rise up against him. The rebellion of the Jews against the Greeks is written about in the Maccabees.
The result was that the Jewish people sought to distance themselves from Greek culture completely. Sects within Judaism rose up devoted to complete separation from Greek culture. Many of their restrictions focused on dietary laws, laws concerning the Sabbath, and Exogamy. But among these growing restrictions were some focused on sexual practices.
In the Book of Jubilees, we see an entire leitmotiv of prohibitions on sexuality. Sex outside of marriage was seen as a “Greek” thing, and the Jewish man of good standing sought to stay pure.
Kyle Harper, remarking on the teachings in the Jubilees and The Damascus Document notes,
Fornication, here, is sex that falls outside of marriage according to the Jewish law, but the requirements of legitimate marriage are interpreted very restrictively. Fornication is said to include polygamy and remarriage after divorce (CD 4.12b–5.14a) Fornication also includes incest, specifically uncle–niece marriage. Fornication is thus deployed polemically to describe any sexual contact violating the law, even this rigorist sectarian interpretation of the law.”
Kyle Harper in “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm”, page 373
This is the critical part for our discussion on how the Christian scriptures deal with sexual ethics. By the time of the second century BCE, the Jewish religious leaders were reacting strongly against any sexuality outside of marriage, since they defined most sexual practices as reflections on debauched Greek culture.
Philo, writing from Alexandria, a place where the Jewish and Greek cultures both found strong representation, spent many pages calling on his Jewish brothers to be sexually set apart. He focuses on incest, homosexuality, intermarriage with foreigners, and adultery for special condemnation. But as Loader points out, the more he writes about sex, the more acts he wants to prohibit. His earlier writings condone prostitution for young men, but in later writings, he condemns it. Loader notes that in these later writings he encourages married men to only have sex with their wives for procreation and to “not treat them as harlots” (Loader, page 12). The implication is that he considered recreational sex to be a Greek focus and thus to be avoided.
The overall impression we find during the five centuries from the re-establishment of the Temple to the emergence of the Christian sect is that of increasing prohibition against sexual practices the Jews used to find acceptable. The only exception to this was that men were allowed to have sex with slaves living in their household.
Recent research by both Catherine Hezser and Jennifer Glancy have shown that sex with slaves was common in all the cultures of the Ancient Near East. Hezser says,
“Slaves were sexually exploited in both Jewish and Graeco-Roman society. The phenomenon that masters would sleep with and produce children with their slaves is taken for granted by both Jewish and Roman writers.”
Catherine Hezser “Jewish Slavery in Antiquity”, page 175.
As noted above, Glancy shows in her research that no Jewish writer in antiquity ever claims that having sex with one’s own slave is immoral. To our modern sensibility and ethics, this screams as a huge oversight and mistake. Yet, it was part of their ethical system of sexuality.
With all of these things as background, let’s now turn to the Christian scriptures specifically to see how the Jewish christians introduced sexual ethics to the fledgling church.
The Word Porneia as the Basis for Christian Sexual Ethics.
Now we come to the heart of the matter for discerning what the Christian scriptures have to say about non-marital sexuality. The only word used to describe non-marital sex is the Greek word Porneia, which is often translated immorality or sexual immorality. In the history of preaching on this word, the primary meaning given is that of non-marital intercourse.
Therefore, if we can understand what is meant by this word in light of the historical setting of the Jewish and Greek peoples, we can better discern the full gamut of early christian sexual ethics.
Bruce Malina, whose significant paper on Porneia is foundational to all the other studies on this word, has this critical observation about non-marital sex from a Jewish context:
Pre-betrothal, pre-marital, non-commercial sexual intercourse between man and woman is nowhere considered a moral crime in the Torah. Aside from the instance of Rabbi Eliezer, there is no evidence in traditional or contemporary usage of the word Pomeia that takes it to mean pre-betrothal, pre-marital, heterosexual intercourse of a non-cultic or non-commercial nature, i.e. what we call “fornication” today.
Bruce Malina, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication?, page 11”
This flies up against most modern understandings of the word. But as we will see from further investigation by other scholars, Malina’s statement holds to be true in all but one instance.
We start our investigation into the meaning of Porneia by looking at its most unusual occurrence. In Acts 15, the leaders of the early Jewish Church were meeting to decide how to deal with a rapid influx of Greek/Gentile christians into church meetings, primarily in Syrian Antioch. Many people felt these new converts should be circumcised. Contrary to modern beliefs about Christianity, they saw themselves as a Jewish sect. They did not perceive themselves as a different religion from Judaism.
It confused and infuriated many of them that these gentile believers did not consider themselves to be Jewish. Thus, they argued about whether these new converts should have their foreskins removed. If the same people had sought to become Jews, the men would have been required to be circumcised. It stood to reason to these Jewish followers of Christ that these new converts were asking to become Jews.
Paul, Barnabas and others in the church did not agree. A huge church fight ensued and it was all brought to the council of leaders in Jerusalem. In the end, we read this in Acts 15:19-21:
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Acts 15:19-21 (NIV)
Here are the four requirements they laid upon them:
They needed to avoid food offered to other gods
They needed to abstain from sexual immorality (Greek: Porneia)
They needed to abstain from strangled animals
They needed to abstain from meat that still had the blood in it.
Three of these were dietary restrictions, and one was a moral imperative. Because of this strange combination, some scholars doubt the accuracy of this list. Westcott and Hort, compilers of one of the Greek manuscripts we use for translation, attributes it to one of the two major traditions of copyists, but not the other.
That means they do not think this list is what the original author of Acts actually wrote.
But for the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume this was the correct list.
A few things to note. First, this list is probably a summary of chapters 17 and 18 of Leviticus. One can assume from this that “immorality” is referring to all the sexual ethics of chapter 18 we discussed earlier and not non-marital sex. If that is the case, and both Loader and Harper believe it is, then this was a list of bottom line issues the Jews of that days had with the Greeks. Remember that Late Second Temple Judaism was being taught everywhere in synagogues and that sexual ethics and food restrictions were at the top of the list of things that made Jews angry about Greeks.
Therefore, this was a list of appeasement.
Apparently, Paul and his fellows were okay with this list. As long as it didn’t have any requirement for circumcision on the list, Paul was satisfied his work was done.
But what is this word Porneia referring to? How are we to understand it.
For this, I am indebted to two renowned scholars and their exhaustive work regarding this word. Bruce Malina (see the appendix for more information on this paper) traces all uses of this word throughout the literature of the Ancient Near East. Kyle Harper’s “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm” took the research of Malina and expanded on it with more recent discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls. And though these two wrote many years apart, they come to most of the same conclusions. In addition, I will note one very important contribution brought by German scholar Christiane Nord on how this word should be translated for modern languages.
Seeking to avoid turning this paper into a 200 page book, let me summarize the primary points of each of these scholars:
Malina on what Porneia means:
The word is used often to refer to spiritual idolatry. This is its most common use in Revelation
The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (The LXX) uses this word to translate the Hebrew word Zanah. This word often means adultery (this is how Jesus uses it),
Sex with a prostitute
Sex between men
Sex with another man’s slave
Incest. Malina believes this is the primary meaning. Paul uses it this way in 1 Corinthians 5 and probably several of the times he uses it in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7
It also refers to cultic sexual practices.
The Essene community (the community that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed it referred to all sexuality outside of marriage and used the word in that respect.
Marriage with a foreigner, ie. non-Jew.
Harper on what Porneia means:
Incest. Harper believes that most uses of Porneia in the LXX, the writings of the Late Second Temple Jewish writers and the writers of the Christian scripture books are referring to incestuous relationships
Sex with prostitutes, especially cultic prostitution.
Sex that is forbidden. He believed that many groups used the words to describe sex that their group did not agree with. He quotes Carolyn Osiek: ““To say that Porneia means “fornication” is circular, and the concept of illicit sex only begs the question of what is considered illicit.” (Harper, page 364). One of the most thoughtful contemporary interpreters of Christian sexuality has warned that “the precise meaning of porneia is simply uncertain given the lack of evidence we have” (page 365).
Any sex with a woman who is not an “honorable” woman. Harper indicates that women were categorized in two groups by Jews and Christians. The first group were the Eleutherai. This meant “women of integrity”. These included Jewish single women who had not had sex with a man and lived in their father’s household. The other group were women who were married to Jewish men, had been virgins when they married, and had never committed adultery. To have premarital or adulterous sex with an Eleurtherai was called Moicheia. And it was a violation of the covenant that the woman had with her father or her husband. It was NOT considered Porneia.
The second group of women were not Eleutherai. These are the foreigners, the prostitutes, and women who were household slaves. To have sex with the prostitutes and foreigners was what was considered Porneia. It all depended on a woman’s status.
Reiterating a point I have made a number of times, sex with a household slave was not considered wrong by any group.
Christiane Nord on translating Porneia:
Sexual intercourse or marriage with non-Jews
Now here is where Nord adds one more intriguing observation. She writes,
The Dictionary of Contemporary English (DCE 1978) defines fornication as “sexual relations outside marriage”, whereas Unzucht, the german word for Porneia, is a juridicial term referring to sexual practices sanctioned by the law (e.g. sodomy). While English readers may find St. Paul’s attitude rather old-fashioned, German readers would not see why they should take the appeal seriously: “Unzucht” is something we do not practice, we think it is immoral, and St. Paul is right to tell the Corinthians they should refrain from doing these dirty things. So contrary to St. Paul’s intention to make people change their ways of life, the translation may even cause the opposite reaction: readers feel they are fine as they are and need not worry because they actually avoid “Unzucht”
Nord in “Function plus Loyalty: Ethics in Professional Translation”, page 8
Nord is telling us that Porneia is simply the word used to denote sexual practices that are illegal by the definition of whatever culture or group is defining the term.
We seem to have taken a long time to get to the point, but it is substantial. All of the researchers into this word Porneia come to the same conclusion. It refers to incest, to sex with prostitutes, to spiritual adultery, and sex with outsiders.
Additionally, Harper summarizes that Porneia is sex with non-sanctioned women.
In my opinion, Nord summarizes it even more adequately. Porneia is the sum total of all the sexual expressions a particular group doesn’t permit. For all the cultures of that day, it meant incest. For the Jews, it included prostitution, but that only applied to the later Second Temple Jews. To the Essenes, it referred to all sex outside of marriage. For Philo, it was sex within marriage for any other reason beside procreation. (Harper, “Porneia” 373-374).
None of the cultures had a problem with men having sex with their household slaves. We have no evidence that was a problem for early christians either.
I worked for a number of years in bible translation work. It is never the goal of a translator to take a word in one language and find a single equivalent word in the other language. Many times, that is not possible. Every word is a picture, and one must be part of the culture that created the word and lived in that culture to fully understand what the picture means. Therefore, when we translate, we look for suitable pictures in the other culture even if it uses more words to translate it over.
The hardest cultures to do this with are cultures that are dead and have no living members of the culture to help us understand the meaning. When this happens, we rely on guesswork by reading what has been written by the people of those cultures. This is what we are doing in this paper. We are looking at what little is written on the sexual ethics of people we will never talk to.
In this discussion, we are hampered by some other things that are missing. They lived in realities and with segments of society we do not have today. For instance, slavery plays a major role in the sexual ethics of their day. We do not own any slaves today, let alone concubines. There is no way to draw parallels, and we would be foolish to try.
Even more significant is a group of women that exists now that didn’t exist back then. I am speaking of the single woman who has had sex but is not a prostitute. This is a category that the Jews and Christians at the turn of the first Millennium CE did not understand. Either a woman was married, single under her father’s control, or she was a prostitute. The Greek world had single women who had sex, but the Christian and Jewish world did not understand them and certainly would not have an ethical system prepared for them.
So, taking these differences into account, here are the implications I draw from this short study into the sexual ethics of the Scriptures.
1. Immorality means “sex that is illegal”
In the ancient world, many expressions of sexuality were illegal. Incest, adultery, and sex with another man’s slave were considered illegal by all cultures. The Jewish people also considered homosexuality, rape, sex with a foreigner, and sex with a sex worker illegal. The early church didn’t have much to add to that.
Can we live out that biblical concept today? In America, incest is illegal. So is sex with anyone under 18. Rape is illegal, regardless of the low percentage of men who are convicted of it. Sex with a sex worker is illegal, though there are some cases where this is not true. A sex worker can have sex in an erotic video and not be charged. Polygamy of any kind is also illegal.
Therefore, if a person wants to be biblical in their practice of sexuality, they will uphold the nation’s laws regarding sexual ethics.
In addition, certain religious groups also have sexual ethics they expect their members to live by. For some groups this includes all of the above laws plus abstaining from homosexuality, premarital sex, adultery, polyamory (sex with other partners while one is married, with full approval of one’s partner). Some groups even disapprove of sex outside of procreation. Regardless of what each group believes and teaches, if a person is a member of a religious group, to be biblical means to practice the way that group wants you to practice.
However, if one is not a member of a particular religious sect, the only restrictions laid upon them would be the ones that are laid on all citizens of the country.
2. Virginity is a meaningless concept today
By American law, we do not live in a society which gives different rights to men and women. Though men are treated much differently than women in practice, by law this should not be allowed. We live in a culture which recognizes that men and women are equal and all privileges and responsibilities of one should apply to the other.
In this, I apologize to people of other genders, since your rights have not been recognized by law as of this writing. But the principles I’m writing here apply to you as well.
There is no doubt that men and women in the Ancient Near East were seen differently in terms of sexual ethics. Men were not required to abstain from sex before marriage. Granted, the only women they could have sex with were sex workers and slaves, but this double standard did not apply in any way to women. We abhor the idea of categorizing women into clean and unclean categories. We abhor allowing men to do things we do not allow women to do. I conclude from this that as we move into a more expansive view of the application of scripture, that the idea a woman needs to be a virgin before marriage is meaningless.
Virginity in the ancient world was not primarily about sex anyway. It related to whether a husband could be sure his wife was the mother of those sons who would inherit his lands and property.
The biblical ethic of a woman having to be “more pure” than a man is not something we can ascribe to. And the opposite directive–requiring that men be virgins–is not something the scriptures support either. If a person wants to be biblical in their sexual ethic, then men and women have no reason to be virgins.
3. Slavery and Nonconsensual Sex are equivalent
Just as we eventually opposed slavery as a culture, even though the bible gives approval to it, so too we must stand against all nonconsensual sex. Our opposition to this kind of sex is built on the same reasons as we opposed slavery. Both slavery and nonconsensual sex are centered on taking away the right of a person to have agency over their own life.
Nonconsensual sex is not just rape. It is coercing someone to have sex who does not enthusiastically agree to it. “I’m not sure” is not consent when it comes to sex. In addition, a wife who does not want to have sex with her husband should not be guilted or shamed into doing so. This is unbiblical to the extent that we believe all humans have agency over their own body. If we reject slavery, we must reject marital rape.
All consensual sex that is legal is therefore allowed, unless someone is prohibited by their religious membership from taking part in it. This does not imply people must have sex or should want to have sex. Asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. But that is not in the scope of this article.
If a person wants to live as someone who follows the bible ethics regarding sexuality, I believe there is ample evidence that consensual sexuality that is legal is a proper ethic to practice.
4. Lack of Matching Sexual Categories Makes Strict Adherence Impossible and Unnecessary
Today’s follower of the bible and Christ will struggle to maintain the same sexual ethic as those of a first century CE person. We have much different sexual categories now. We do not have sex slaves: at least we don’t have them in modernized, western society. We do not practice polygyny. Our sex workers are usually not connected to cultic organizations. We have laws against using boys as catamites.
Much of western society has come to grips with the validity of marrying and having sex with members of other racial and ethnic groups. That was not true for them and represented a major category of what they called Porneia. In addition, today’s woman is legally allowed to withdraw consent for sex, even with a spouse. Though this is not enforced universally, it is still the law. And even if churches do not teach consent for all, they must adhere to the law like everyone else.
But the biggest category related to sexual ethics currently, is the large number of single people who are not looking to get married but are having sex with others. This was not a category the ancient near east conceived of. Either you were a virgin woman living with your family or you were married off to a man and expected to remain sexually faithful to him. If a woman had sex outside of those boundaries, she was labeled a sex worker and marginalized as such. So the category of single woman who has sex but is not a sex worker did not exist.
And as much as some modern church leaders don’t want to admit it, we have this category now; and we have had this category for a long time. Does the concept of Porneia cover this category? If we adhere to a strict reading of the scriptures, it does not. It also doesn’t cover polygyny or sex with one’s own slaves. It would only prohibit single men having sex with other men’s slaves, sex with other men’s wives, and sex with foreigners.
Glancy is very pointed in her paper on the matter of sex with slaves. She notes from many sources that Jews, Greeks, and subsequently, Christians, were supportive of the sexual dynamics between a slaveowner and female slaves. She remarks
More disturbingly, in a passage condemning the seduction of wellborn, unmarried females, Philo rails against treating free women as though they are (unfree) servants (ταῖς ἐλευθέραις ὡς θεραπαίναις), a tirade reflecting a double standard between treatment of respectable women, whose honor should be protected, and women of lower social status, who have no honor to protect (Spec. Laws 3.69.4).
Jennifer Glancy, “The Sexual Use of Slaves”.
This category allowing sex with slaves puts all modern christians on the horns of a dilemma. There is no reasonable way to match up their ethics with ours, except in a few areas: Adultery, rape, incest, and homosexuality. And since adultery and homosexuality are not currently illegal, only rape and incest are the universally shunned and illegal sexual practices in both cultures.
Any ethics added to that are sectarian in origin. They are not necessarily biblical in origin.
Starting in the early 1990s, I had couples in therapy start to mention something about their “love languages”. As a trained therapist, I was confused by this term “love language”. I had never heard it used in any context before, and I asked my clients to explain it to me.
Eventually they pointed me to the book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages”. I did a quick read and felt it reflected the approach taken by many pop-psych books. I mistakenly predicted it would have no impact on the counseling world.
I was wrong. At least, I was wrong about one aspect. It certainly does have an impact on the counseling world, if one refers to people going to marriage counseling. It has virtually no impact on therapists. There are some pastoral counselors who made extensive use of the material in their pastoral offices. But the concept itself does not line up with any therapy modality accepted by psychologists.
The premise of the book is very simple.
There are five ways we show love to others
Each of us prefers two of these languages
Our partner will appreciate us more if we express love in their language.
Couples should buy the book, identify their love languages, share this information with each other, and have a happy life together.
Boom! Instant marital success. Well, to Chapman’s credit, he never says this is a panacea to solve all difficulties in long-term relationships. Though, after reading the book, that implication is not hard to pick up. More to the point, desperate people in difficult relationships viewed it as a fix-all for their relationship. And on the surface, following this formula can improve some elements of a marriage.
But it can also make some existing relationship problems worse.
Long-term relationships are difficult and nuanced. Tricking out one element of the relationship may mask other problems. Following the principles in this book produce only a temporary fix. And when a couple puts all their hope in a temporary fix, the result can be devastating.
Chapman’s concept, and all the subsequent spinoff books, has several significant problems connected to it.
It is a Reductionistic List
Some people claim that Chapman never said this was a comprehensive list. But he actually does claim that. He goes into detail explaining his background in pastoral counseling and that the love languages that made the cut are the five he sees most often with couples. In fact, he claims several times that all expressions of love can be placed in one of these five categories.
To be fair to Chapman, research psychologists are always trying to reduce relationship and personality characteristics to three, four, or five categories. And Chapman may have seen that and wrote his thesis accordingly.
So in essence, these are five love CATEGORIES. But he doesn’t say that.
My first caution about the book is that it is dead wrong. Not only are these five love languages not the only ones, they may not even be the most important ones.
Let me give several examples of other love languages. Note that these are not even close to being all of the remaining love languages. There could be thousands of love languages for all I know. The five that Chapman chose are very Americo-centric, cis-heteronormative, and very much based in white culture. I am sure that individuals from other cultures would have a tough time identifying Chapman’s five as their subset of love expressions.
Sex: Chapman mentions several times that sex is just a type of Touch. But in this, he is wrong. There are many people that come into sex therapy with me who distinctly don’t like being touched. But they love sex. And then there are some who love to be touched and held, but do not have any desire for sex. Sex would never mean love to them, but touch would.
Sex is a completely different category on its own. Some find rough sex to be loving. Others find the same with oral sex, slow sex, BDSM, group sex, ethical non-monogamy. There are ways that other people find some sex to be unloving. As a love language, sex can have many expressions. But it is ludicrous to place sex under the Touch category.
Respect: Some would say Respect is different than love. But that argument could be made about quality time, and any of the other love languages. Many people believe that if a person shows respect, this shows their love for a partner. And there are hundreds of ways respect can be offered.
Example: A University of Washington study showed that couples married more than 40 years had one thing in common more than any other: The husbands respected their wife’s opinion. That is the only common identifier they found in interviews with these couples. Yet it does not show up on Chapman’s list.
Gentleness: In this sense, I am using the word “gentleness” as the opposite of “violence”. This is one of my major criticisms of Chapman. He does not differentiate between the five love languages shown in a gentle atmosphere versus a violent home. If a person is violent and then buys their partner gifts, the gift does not equal love. Neither does quality time if there is violence. Affirming words do not mean much if someone has bruises from last night’s fight. On their own, gentleness and safety are important ways that love is expressed. Most people would identify that as their first love language if they knew it was an option.
Partnership: This is the willingness to partner with someone you love as they attempt something difficult or painful. There are many examples of this. Being willing to sacrifice money, time, and effort to see your partner get a degree or a better job. Going with them to a funeral. Standing by them as they confront a difficult person. All of these rise above and beyond Chapman’s limited categories of ‘acts of service’ or ‘quality time’.
Listening With Understanding: One of the most loving and effective things a partner can do is to listen in a conflict with the goal of understanding. Most of us in conflict get defensive or want to win. But when someone listens with the goal of understanding, this shows the partner there is a greater goal; to love and work through the issue. The Gottmann Method, a standard in partner therapy, claims this is the greatest of the expressions of love.
There are too many more love languages to mention. Food, giving space for your partner to have time alone, inability to be easily offended, telling the truth, living in integrity; these are all love languages in their own right and should not be diminished because they didn’t make Chapman’s five.
The Basic Premises are Simply Not True
Since the book has now been in existence for over 30 years, it is not surprising a number of studies have been done to determine if the book is accurate.
This study looked at the questionnaire that Chapman uses, the five languages themselves, and whether participants could adequately measure their own preferences from the list. Their study showed that one could not determine their love language consistently from this questionnaire. So, the bottom line is that Chapman’s questionnaire is not accurate by any metric.
You should be aware that Chapman is not a psychologist. Neither is his theory based on any scientific research at all. He never claims it is. He simply says that the book is based on his own observations as a marriage counselor with no degree in counseling. That’s it. He is very up-front about it. So it should not surprise anyone that his results cannot be reproduced by scientific research.
There are several other studies that debunk his hypothesis, but I’ll just mention one more. In 2013, Polk and Egbert published this study in which they proved that people do not have two primary love languages, that they do not respond better if someone shows love in those languages, and that it can’t be proven that learning about and utilizing love languages helps relationships.
That pretty much says it all.
‘Love Languages’ Concept is Manipulative
We manipulate others when we do something for the purpose of getting them to behave the way we want them to. This is the underlying premise of Chapman’s book. He is telling us that if we learn another person’s love language and use that love language with our partner, they will respond better to us. This is manipulative and many people have identified it that way.
I was in therapy with one person who made it quite clear how he felt about his partner doing this. He knew when his partner was trying to get him to agree with him when he bought him expensive gifts over a short period of time. His partner would always follow it up with a big “ask” for something he wanted him to do. It was blatant manipulation. He wasn’t buying gifts out of love or concern.
Now, not everyone does this. But the book lends itself to this kind of use. And though this is an obvious misuse of the book, Chapman’s only caution about it shows up in a subsequent edition, suggesting that he didn’t see this kind of misuse until long after people were trying to implement the book into their relationships.
(Note: It is impossible to find original copies of the book unless you already own one. The book has been revised many times due to outlandish claims in the original edition).
Many therapists have written about the co-dependent nature of the Five Love Languages. They note that many people who are already co-dependent can be easily manipulated via love-bombing using this format. Though I would hope Chapman would be mortified by narcissists and other abusers using the Love Language modality in this way, it is exactly what love-bombing does. Nowhere in any edition of his many derivative books on the Love Language subject does he warn about love-bombing.
Nowhere is Trauma/Abuse Accounted For
One classic symptom of those who have been abused as children is the inability to trust that they are safe with other people. Therefore, a traumatized/abused person will notice how someone is using love languages and will immediately distrust it. If the person who is trying to love notices that the response is distrust, this will create further tension from the non-traumatized partner.
The best way to love a traumatized person is to keep checking in with them, holding space with them, and ask them how they would like to be shown love at any given juncture of the relationship. This is much better than trying to read your trauma-affected partner and guess what their love language might be on any given day.
Sometimes, the best expression of love is for one partner to leave the other partner alone for awhile.
Janine’s ex-boyfriend called the HR department of the marketing company she worked for. He believed that her co-workers were lying about him, and this is why she broke up with him. In his call, he threatened to initiate a lawsuit against the company.
Her friend in HR told her about all his nonsense and laughed it off. She assured Janine that this kind of thing happens, but they were going to ignore it completely.
Janine heard all the HR person said, but she could not ignore it for some reason. She had persistent thoughts of being fired from her job, dragged into court, ending up in the newspapers, and having her career completely destroyed. By the next day, her thoughts carried her into ideas of being homeless and living in her car.
She even went so far as to entertain the obsessive idea that she needed to take her car in to be serviced in order to be ready when she had to live in it permanently.
As she was being bombarded with these thoughts, she felt a gripping feeling low in her stomach. She felt paralyzed and unable to move very quickly. All her breathing slowed down too far. She was also flooded with fear and terror. It felt like she was trapped and would die.
All of this because of an over-reaction by an ex-boyfriend. By the way, he never did follow through on any of his threats.
In Internal Family Systems therapy, we call the process she was experiencing a “Blending”. Blending happens when an internal mid-brain part of our psyche—either a Manager/Protector, Exile, or Firefighter—takes over the Core Self and seems to be in control of all emotions and thoughts.
In order to understand this, let’s do a little bit of brain physiology. Please note: This is a huge over-simplification. But it helps to see some of what is happening in the mind.
I believe the “mind” is a metaphoric extension of our brains. Our brains cannot see their own functions until played out in the mind. All the brain knows is biochemical reactions, neural networks, lobe structures, and electrical currents. But when the mind gives meaning to these things, the brain knows how to change and rearrange its own structures.
The mind gives the brain meaning and direction.
The prefrontal cortex is at the front of your brain. This complex of lobes and structures has many functions. You have your sense of self here. You make decisions here. You apply logic, reason, structure, pathways, plans, goals, meaning and purpose here. You also command all the mid-brain functions from here. The prefrontal cortex is your Executive Brain. No decisions can be made without it.
The mid-brain complex (made up of over 60 structures) is where your emotions, sensory data, memories, and body feedback loops reside. These structures are all controlled and manipulated by the prefrontal cortex, but they are separate from it.
In terms of Internal Family System (IFS), the Prefrontal/frontal cortex is where your sense of the Core Self exists. The mid-brain functions are where all your Managers, Exiles, and Firefighters live. This is how we can have complex conversations with ourselves. We have a Core Self, but many sub-personalities. These sub-personalities cannot make decisions, so they have to influence/overpower the Core Self to achieve their goals. And the Parts have goals, to be sure.
Take Janine as an example. Janine has an Anxiety Part that scans the future for danger. This Part saw that her ex-boyfriend was threatening her job and reputation. This caused an Exile who had been betrayed by loved ones in the past to act up. The Exile triggered the Anxiety Manager, who then flooded the Core Self with fear and dread.
Janine also has a Catastrophizing Firefighter. When the Anxiety Manager could not keep the Exile quiet, this part came in to completely flood the mind with worst-case scenarios. As Janine focused on those, the Exile’s cries could not be heard. As she obsessed, her mind was not focused on past hurts and pain. The purpose of all Firefighter parts is to distract the Core Self when there is too much inner reactivity.
She also had a Isolation Manager who was working to keep her feeling that others would not help her. Every time someone tried to cheer her up or assure her, she isolated from them. She refused to talk to them until all things had been resolved. This manager was helping an Exile who found that friends in high school had used information she had shared with them to reveal her problems to a vice-principal. This resulted in her being forced to see the school counselor. She vowed to never let anyone know about her problems that deeply. She stopped seeing her therapist during this time.
She was experiencing Blending. The Managers and Firefighters are seeking to get her to do things her Core Self didn’t want to do. The Blending often has three signs:
The body experiences polyvagal response. Somewhere in the body, the person will experience some kind of involuntary reaction. This is usually an uncomfortable feeling that they can’t shake. In Janine’s case, it was a parasympathetic freeze response where she felt her whole system shutting down when the Anxiety Part gripped her.
The brain is flooded with emotions. These are more than passing emotions. They are overwhelming feelings. In her case, it was fear, panic, catastrophe and helplessness. These feelings would only stop if she did something to distract herself. Binge-watching television, porn viewing, and cannabis helped alleviate the flooding. Often, firefighting responses mess our lives up as much as the Blending does.
Persistent and obsessive thoughts. These thoughts do not leave but grow in intensity. When this happens, the Parts try and get the Core Self to think in particular pathways. In Janine’s case, they wanted her to plan for a future of homelessness.
Why do our Parts, which are supposed to be protecting us, act this way? Simple: The Parts do not have the whole story. And they were originally created to deal with our lives when we were children or teens. Many times, these sub-personalities still think we are young. This entire system was created by young people for young people. The system doesn’t work that well with adults.
But it is our system. We cannot ignore what our Parts do to try and influence the Core Self.
The Core Self is the most up-to-date version of who you are. Because most people do not update their parts–or even know they need to–the Parts act like belligerent children inside of us. We feel “childish” when our body and emotions are influenced by the Parts. How can this be changed?
Internal Family Systems was designed to do just that. In this article, I am only addressing Blending and Unblending. But understand the Parts really do care for you. They are trying to protect you. They don’t want to hurt you–but they often do just that. The most pain is felt when they blend with the Core Self. The cure for this is to unblend them.
A simple unblending starts with acknowledging the Part and asking it to back off. I usually start with the effects on the body. I might say, “Thank you Part for wanting to protect me by speeding up my heart rate and causing my stomach ache. But you’re hurting me. I want to talk to you, but not until you let go of my body.”
Then wait until the Part lets go. It may take a little while if you have never talked to your Parts. Once the Part lets go of your body, then move on to the emotions if they are using those also. Also be pleasant with them. Assure them you will listen and help them out. But be firm on two things:
You won’t listen to them until they stop hurting you.
Make sure they understand they are hurting you.
If they won’t let go, ask them how this is protecting you. Be insistent you will not approve this activity. In many situations, the Parts will unblend. Then, you can listen and dialogue about their concerns. Often the part is trying to convey something they are afraid of. Listen to them as you would a teenager or a child. Let them know you have heard them and appreciate their help. Then ask them to turn the volume down.
If you find you agree too much with them, then maybe see a therapist to help sort this out. It is possible a permanent blending has occurred because of trauma.
But most of the time, if you unblend the Part, you can get separation from them. This helps you to lead the process. Ask the Part what they do for you. What is their role? What are they afraid will happen to you if they aren’t doing their job?
“I don’t know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can’t see any solution.” Adeline slumped over in her chair and sighed. James just rolled his eyes and sighed a different sigh than hers.
She sighed out of hopelessness. I thought his sigh had tints of anger in it. I asked him to explain how he saw it.
“She’s making something out of nothing. Every time we fight it’s always about sex. And I don’t understand it. I give her all the sex she wants. And it’s never enough. And I hate that we have to keep talking about it all the time. Can’t we talk about something else in marriage besides sex?”
James and Adeline had met in a short-term Bible training school. They knew instantly they were perfect for each other. They both loved God, loved to travel, and wanted to get married and have a family. They had so many things in common. They shared so many of the same basic goals in life. Soon, each of them felt they had found their soul-mate
James planned to get a job in computer-aided design and already had his degree. Addy still had to finish her professional year in preparation for teaching high school. When James proposed marriage, she accepted and they began to plan the wedding. They were both ordered and structured people. They knew what they wanted and when they wanted it.
In 1998, the broadcaster Tom Brokaw published one of the most significant cultural books of the 20th century. He called it “The Greatest Generation”. It told the story of a generation of men and women who survived the Great Depression and then immediately went on to fight and win in World War II. There are many things I could quote from that book, but here is one which summarizes his thesis:
“There on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness….when they returned home,they married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”
Brokaw wrote these 464 pages to pay tribute to the bravery, sacrifice, and solid principles lived out by the survivors of that generation. There is one glaring problem with the book though. It only tells one side of the story.
And the other side of the story is dark and ominous.
In this article, I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. We are identifying sexual abuse, sexual assault, leadership abuse, and significant trauma by victims in every corner. Some are asking if the Millennial generations are over-reacting or if things have gotten worse.
The primary thing I want the reader to know by the end of this study is that what we are experiencing now is hopefully the final season of healing for almost 100 years of PTSD as a nation.
Let’s begin again with Brokaw and his own words. In this video, he is remarking on people’s reaction to his book. One grown daughter of a WW2 veteran says this, “As I read your book, I realized that I never really knew or understood my father.”
I have heard this story too often in counseling. It is not just younger generations saying it; I hear it from baby boomers who grew up with parents of the Greatest Generation. Here are the most common observations of those parents:
I never really knew them
They seemed distant
They were cruel, angry, and hurtful
They seemed locked into their own world
They weren’t very affectionate.
What caused the Greatest Generation to react this way?
I contend they are not the only generation that has manifested strange and harmful behavior to their children. I believe that harmful and destructive behavior has been on display in American families for several generations. Where did this all start?
I believe it began with the 1st World War. The soldiers returning home from the war brought devastating post-traumatic stress with them. And this was never diagnosed. And if it was diagnosed, it was called something different. And then it wasn’t treated properly.
Long before the effects of this world war began to wear off, the entire nation entered into a brutal Depression. This Depression caused PTSD through hunger, danger, malnutrition, familial suicide ideation, alcohol abuse and many other reactions.
Then, before this trauma could be processed and treated, the second World War happened. The effects of this, as I will show, were even more devastating than the first war. Within a generation of the first wave of trauma-recovery, an even bigger double wave came made up of survivors of the Depression and WW2.
Before the country had any chance of recovering from the effects of WW2–which we will describe in the next article–the Korean War happened. Then, before the effects of that war had diminished, the Vietnam War took place. There are many trauma scholars who feel the Vietnam War may have been the most devastating of them all in terms of its effects on the American family.
So now, from WW1 to the end of the Vietnam War, three straight generations of Americans had to cope with the effects of trauma. That is when we had hoped for a lull in the activity. But, by the time the Baby Boomers were entering adulthood, the Vietnam vets had all returned and were affecting their families with all the devastation of the other wars. The Baby Boomers experienced what is known as Secondary PTSD which can be almost as life-threatening as primary PTSD.
Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix.
Thus, it would be proper to understand how trauma effects a person, that person’s family, and the culture which has to embrace it.
including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. Some individuals may clearly display criteria associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors.
Literally hundreds of books have been written to chronicle the possible effects of trauma. But, for the sake of this article, I want to highlight some of the most common ones which have affected families in America, and therefore, America as an entire society.
Look at this list, and see if you can figure out how this may have changed the very nature of the American family.
Trauma can cause:
Emotional dysregulation. This can result in emotional outbursts, completely shut down emotional response (known as Flat Affect), shame, sadness, out-of-control anger, panic attacks, and paranoia.
Body reactions, such as autoimmune responses, weakness, proneness to injury, injuries that won’t heal, back pain, migraines, digestive problems, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological disorders, etc.
General distrust toward people
Scan that list and ask yourself this question: If this trauma is not treated, how would it affect the family of the person who suffers the effects of trauma.
In the next article, we will explore the ways that trauma was perceived and dealt with by the four generations since 1914.
This final premarital counseling session was a warning about disaster looming. This is the first wedding I had ever officiated or counseled someone about, and ten minutes into our time together, the bride-to-be looked at me and said, “I don’t think we should get married. This is a mistake.”
Up until that evening, they had both expressed positive feelings about getting married. Neither had voiced any real concerns about their relationship. In this session however, she pointed out a half dozen things she didn’t like about her fiance. Most of them were minor, especially the details of his personal hygiene.
At one point we heard a siren. It was the tornado warning. We trundled down to the shelter and waited until the all-clear. When we got back to the apartment, I wondered aloud if this warning was some kind of a sign. They both smiled. I went on to convince them they just had cold feet. Both of them finally agreed that despite their misgivings they still wanted to get married.
Two weeks later, we had a beautiful and uplifting ceremony. Immediately after the reception, they left on their honeymoon for two weeks. Since this was my first wedding as officiant, I wanted to know how they were doing as soon as they got back. I called the bride and casually asked how the trip went from her perspective.
“We’re getting an annulment Pastor Mike. So, I guess you could say it wasn’t a great trip.”
I could not convince her to stay married. Neither could the groom or her mother.
About a month after she applied and received the annulment, we sat down again and she went into more detail about her reasons. Surprisingly, neither her decision to get married nor her decision to annul the marriage was made hastily. The man she had intended marrying was a good man. He lived a moral and ethical life and she really liked him.
But there were several things about him she could not abide. Each day of the honeymoon, she asked herself one question repeatedly: “Could I live with this for 50 years?” Because she answered “no” too many times, she decided not to waste his time or hers on a marriage which would not work.
I asked her to list what she found objectionable about him. They were all variations of the same three categories: approach to money, their sex life, his personal hygiene. She noticed all these things before they got married (Note: don’t judge. They wanted to know if they were sexually compatible before marriage, despite the Church’s strictures against it. That was their choice). These grievances were the basis of her telling me at the premarital session she didn’t want to get married. She apologized for heeding me and going through with it even with her doubts.
At the time, I was only recently married myself, and I didn’t know her decision may have been based upon a very faulty premise. She believed these incompatibilities were insurmountable and would bother her all their married life. I wish I could have that proverbial Time Machine and go back to give her the wisdom I have garnered through time and experience. Here’s what I would tell her:
Almost every couple on earth is incompatible. It takes several years to clear a lot of that up. Many couples are very successful at doing that; some are not.