A View on Sex the New York Times Won’t Publish, But I Wish They Would

There’s more to the Christian sexual ethic than a despotic list of don’ts.

The New York Times just ran a well-written piece about hook-ups and the sexual encounters of young adults on the dating scene called, “For Best Hookup Results, Use Your Words, O.K.?” The author, a recent college graduate named Gabrielle Ulubay, opened up with intimate details about her recent experiences with casual sex after the first date. She was thoughtful, honest, genuine…and completely, utterly lost.

I’m ashamed to admit that for far too many years my attitude towards opinion pieces like this was less than charitable. I’d find annoyance in what I saw as poor counsel from the author and would seethe with frustration at any serious publication that helped promote it.

But truthfully, Gabrielle Ulubay is doing the best she can – and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that’s far better than I would be doing without the saving relationship I found in Jesus.

Think about it. She’s a graduate of a prestigious university and is being published by the New York Times. In her hook-up article, Ulubay exudes compassion, an earnestness to do the right thing and help others do the same. As a hopefully maturing Christian, I find myself less inclined these days to criticize her for failing to come to the proper conclusion, and more impressed at her apparent desire to find it in the first place.

As she narrates the tempest of emotions she felt the morning after her one night stand with a companion she met on the dating app Tinder, she vulnerably expresses her concerns over being perceived as a “slut,” “morally deficient,” or “dirty.” She acknowledges “falling for” her partner’s unsolicited compliments that she was “smart, funny, creative.” And Ulubay voices her persistent desire to “have a man who wants me despite how fallible, loud or political I can be. Someone who, with a kiss, can snap me out of my self-pitying reverie.”

It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that what Ulubay wants is love. She wants real intimacy. She wants the safety of what marriage was always intended to be. And like so many, she finds herself adrift in a culture of shallow romance coupled with sexual excess. A culture that clutches its chest and sighs longingly as it watches the third make-out session on that night’s episode of The Bachelor, while simultaneously relegating abstinence, virtue, and Biblical sexual morality to a bygone era. A culture that has become so over-sexualized that hand-holding has in many ways become a more personally intimate and emotionally meaningful act than intercourse.

I feel sympathy for Gabrielle Ulubay; not in a condescending way, and not because she asked for it. I feel it because I can’t imagine trying to navigate the pressures of relational intimacy without a guidepost grounded in something more foundational than the wise counsel of my parents, without a compass calibrated by something more reliable than my fickle emotions. In short, I can’t imagine attempting to find and express love without the living personification of love a permanent resident of my heart.

Yes, I’m talking about Jesus. And I know that’s not fashionable, culturally relevant, or likely to land my opinions in the Times, but that doesn’t really matter. If we’re all doing the best we can, if we’re all trying to piece this thing together as we go, if cultural wisdom says that no one’s perspectives are any more legitimate or valid than another’s, then what’s the harm in expressing mine?

After all, Gabrielle writes of soliciting the advice of her friends, whose counsel included a perplexing call to “find it within yourself.” Ulubay’s exasperation at that recommendation is not unlike my own as she asks, “How do I search within myself?” That’s just it. We’re the confused ones in the first place – Gabrielle, me, you, all of us. If we’re honest, that should be enough to tell us the answers don’t lie within us, but without.

There’s more to the Christian sexual ethic than a despotic list of don’ts. There’s a holistic and healthy ideal that includes recognizing the person you are dating is someone’s future spouse, and should be treated with the same dignity that we would want another treating our future spouse. There’s an enduring commendation of the formation of lifelong, loving relationships built not upon tawdry lusts but self-sacrificial commitment; the recognition that love is not something we feel, but something we do.

It’s God’s way, and because no one knows better what will bring us lasting contentment than our own Creator, it’s the better way. And I am willing to bet it’s the very thing that a culture of Gabrielles are looking for.

Well said. When a relationship starts with sex, the odds are that it will never develop the emotional connection that she longs for. Eventually the thrill will wear off and one or both people will move on to another relationship build on lust. Most people that date are attracted to one another or they wouldn't be dating in the first place. When the phase of getting to know each other, sharing common interests and developing friendship and love is skipped, there is no foundation to the relationship other than mutual sexual satisfaction. And no matter how great and satisfying that it, without true love and commitment, it will fade over time.

Women, even more so than men, are motivated by the desire to be wanted and needed, more than just as sex objects (although that is often used to try and fill that void because it is easy to get a man that "needs" in that fashion). As James Eubanks (Director of Counseling - First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA) often says, women want to know that they are wanted and needed. They want the question "Do I matter to you" answered. Men want to know that they are enough. We want to know that we are enough to take care of our wives and families. Men and women are wired this way to make marriage work. When just use relationships for mutual sexual satisfaction, those other deeper needs are not met. Thus both men and women end up feeling shallow and unsatisfied, no matter how good the sex is. That euphoria doesn't last.

You can certainly make the case that a society that promotes monogamy and marriage will lead to a better outcome than one which doesn't. But even so you'll still have loveless marriages, cheating husbands and women struggling to find meaning and fulfillment. There still will be trade-offs, still be unsatisfied customers. And fully embracing Christian morality, whatever its other merits, won't do anything to change that.

Excellent article, Peter, and Jack, you couldn't be more mistaken. It's not about Christian morality, it's about the personal relationship with Christ, the anchor that holds through the worst temporal tempests. With Christ as the center of their lives, couples don't look outward for meaning and fulfillment. In it, not of it.

@Reaganite : Shrug. Perhaps I am but I've seen no evidence to convince me of that. God-fearing people are just as prone to vice as the rest of us. Perhaps even more, much like how environmentalists are more likely to litter because they feel they have more lee-way or are otherwise entitled due to how "virtuous" they are. People have been more God-fearing in the past and yet still suffered from every problem Mr. Heck rails against here. Why, then, should it be any different now? What exact evidence do you have to convince me or anyone else?

@conversation Jack_Krevin: Born again Christians know that their faith is not a "get out of jail free" card. They strive, they seek, they stumble, and they overcome, but their instinct is no longer to run to sin but to run from it. I go to prisons to speak. The recidivism rate for inmates is close to 70% within the first three to five years of their release. For inmates who attend and commit to a Christian ministry while in prison, the recidivism rate falls to 10 to 15%. I consider that pretty good evidence of the power of Christ in their lives. They are given a second chance to be the person and parent that God intended them to be and to break that generational curse where sons follow their absent fathers into a life of crime. I talk to so many who never received any forgiveness or love in their lives, and Christ means everything to them. They thought no one could love them, that they were beyond redemption, but His death, His payment for their sins, is real to them. They are the thief on the cross asking Him to remember them.

I read this poor girl’s story, and this 63-year old man almost weeps. It appears that what she is really looking for is a special person to have in her life, someone to settle down with. Someone who would love and support her for the rest of her life and who she would love and support. This is a good thing, a normal thing. Most women want this. Most men want this, though they are not as vocal about it.

So how do you go about finding this special person? Probably not by having casual sex with random guys. Is it so radical and old-fashioned to think that sex is only meant for a committed relationship with a person you love? No wonder she is so frustrated. If she wants hook-ups, that’s one thing. If she wants a committed partner, that’s something else altogether.