We talk about sex on this blog. A lot.
I’ve said why sex in marriage is important, helped women boost their libidos, and fought against harmful sexual behaviors whether it’s selfish sex in marriage or pornography use. But today we’ve got something different. Bryan A. Sands is here today and he’s got a great perspective on the emotional and spiritual sides of sex from both a scientific and a religious perspective.
It’s so interesting to have the scientific side of this talked about, too! Enjoy!
One of the reasons I was nervous on our first date (other than because my surfboard hit my date on her head, splitting it open with blood dripping in the ocean) is that I always believed that when two people with similar kingdom goals marry, great things can happen. And it was appearing at first glance that she may just have those similar goals. Fast forward to our wedding day a year later, after the infamous smack on the head (which looking back, did that contribute to her saying “yes?”) I was nervous because I knew God’s plan for sexual faithfulness but was not sure I would be able to live it out, not sure I wouldn’t give in to my selfish desires.
What’s fascinating is God’s view of sex communicated to the Hebrews in the book of Genesis. It is the highest view of sex I have ever come across. In fact this view of sex and the power of sex we read about in Genesis is also discovered through the sciences.
The more I study the sciences the more I can see God. This is true when we learn about sex and creation. What the ancient Hebrews refer to as echad basar, the scientific world refers to as oxytocin. Is it just a coincidence that what God set up at the very beginning has been revealed, studied, and verified through the sciences? Is it a coincidence that the Hebrews had such a high view of marriage that they thought sex was the only force that can contain it? And when we see the misuse of sex and its destructive abilities, the hurt, the pain, the loneliness, the heartbreak that comes with that; is it just a coincidence? Let me take you on a journey in these two worlds—the scientific and the religious.
Sex and Glue: The Emotional Bond of a Physical Act (The Scientific World)
During sexual activity, our brain releases a number of chemicals. Some of the chemicals include estrogen (the chemical that gets a woman in the mood), norepinephrine (the chemical that is like adrenaline and creates the palpitating heart), dopamine (the “got-to-get it chemical”), vasopressin (the “monogamy chemical”), and the chief of all these chemicals—oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone”).
Think of oxytocin as glue, promoting bonding and attachment. If all the hormones had an opportunity to vote for the “most popular” hormone in the yearbook, oxytocin would win every time, because it makes others feel good and close when it is active. It has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it does simply that. Oxytocin creates bonding, trust, and generosity in us.[i] In fact, whenever you feel comfort or security, you can thank oxytocin. Every form of human bonding from non-sexual to sexual interactions involves oxytocin to some degree.
The part of the brain where oxytocin is released is larger in women than men. So during sexual intercourse, the brain releases this chemical that causes the couple to bond on a deep level—but the woman’s brain actually is releasing more. Some have suggested that the reason a woman stays with a man who is abusive or a jerk is because she has a stronger chemical bond toward him. It also explains why, generally speaking, it is easier for guys to hookup and move on, without as much emotional turmoil.
Whether we like it or not, oxytocin creates a bond between you and your partner; and the more sexual encounters you have together, the stronger the bond. When oxytocin is released, it also floods the brain with endorphins, a natural opiate that activates the pleasure center in the brain. As our brain releases these chemicals during sex you are bonding on so many different levels—emotional, physical, sensory, etc.
In other words, oxytocin is a type of chemical bonding glue.
A person may choose to have sex once or many times with many different people, and whether they know it or not, a bond is formed each and every time. When this bond gets broken, it creates pain. It leaves a void. Sound familiar? Have you ever felt a deep sense of hurt or pain after a breakup? Ever felt a hollow void after a one-night stand? Do you find yourself repeatedly playing the scenario in your mind, maybe even thinking of different outcomes? Believe it or not there is a chemical reason for all this. Chances are you are doing these things because of the intoxicating attachment that was created between you and your partner when you were sexually involved. The emotional attachment that is created during sex, resulting from the release of oxytocin, binds two people together.
The Ancient Hebrews (The Spiritual World)
At creation God entrusted this newly created paradise to Adam saying, “Take care of it.” One of Adam’s first tasks was the naming of the animals, and he gave them names as he saw fit. Each had a mate. Each had someone—a companion. All seemed well, but there was a problem in paradise.
Adam was alone.
Even though he had God and all the animals, Adam wanted a partner—another like him. To relieve this loneliness, God created another like him—Eve. Now in this paradise, we have partners, Adam and Eve, who work together to tend to the land, care for the animals, and who enjoy one another in every way. They were able to look at one another in full vulnerability and not feel any insecurities or shame. It was God, Adam, and Eve living in the Garden of Eden—a picture of perfect harmony, perfect intimacy, and perfect unity.
Sadly, it would not last long. As the biblical account goes—Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree and everything changed. (Gen 3)
After all this, Adam and Eve no longer had the same intimate relationship. They now felt shame, insecurities, and deceit. They realized they were naked and ran and covered themselves, hid from God, and blamed one another for what happened. Their intimate bond of unity, of oneness, had been shattered. Now their world became what God had never intended.
What if Adam and Eve’s story is really our story?
The story of Adam and Eve is our story. It is the story of our desires, our choices, and the brokenness we all feel. It is the story of what we all yearn for: a deep, intimate, meaningful, trusting relationship with a partner—oneness. This is how God created us. This is his desire for us as well. The question is this, however: Is it possible for us to get back to that oneness?
In Genesis 2:24–25, the dynamics of marriage are introduced, noting that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, that the two would become “one flesh.” The word, “one” is the Hebrew word echad. Echad’s basic definition is, you guessed it, “one.” But it also has a deeper significance. Echad carries the idea of one in the midst of unity, and it is closely connected with another Hebrew word that means, “to be united.”[ii] The Hebrew word for “flesh” is basar and it can mean “flesh” or “body” among other things. When these two words are combined, it paints the picture of this couple being united at the deepest level, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.[iii] Husband and wife, one made from the elements of dirt, the other taken from a rib, now enjoy God’s gift of sex—a physical unity that envisions the becoming of one flesh once again—emotionally and spiritually. As Adam and Eve came from one body so now they would, once again, become one.[iv]
During sex, two beings—two souls—are uniting, becoming one. There is an intimacy and deepness unlike any other act. Sounds like what scientists communicate about the bonding power of the chemical oxytocin, doesn’t it?
It is interesting that the writer of Genesis 2 connects this sense of oneness—echad-ness—within the dynamics of marriage. It is as if to communicate that this bond is so powerful, so transcending, that marriage is the only force that can contain it.[v] Marriage was and still should be considered sacred.
It Makes Sense Why I Was Nervous
Fast forward from the first smack…I mean first date, to the wedding altar. I was nervous just like on that first date because of what was to come. We waited for sex, and cutting the bracelet I had worn on my wrist for 15+ years communicated this. I made the commitment because I wanted to honor God and my future spouse and I figured since God created everything he ought to know a thing or two about life, sex, and relationships.
I was nervous because of the gift of echad basar. Consummating our marriage was not only a physical union—but an emotional and spiritual union as well. That’s powerful! That is something to be nervous about—but nervous in a good, exciting way.
I believe God wants us to live a fulfilled life—and that’s the natural by-product of when we are in his will.
So as I look at the ancient Hebrews and see science collaborating it, I am even more amazed at how God made us. This gift of sex is not a bad act—rather it is to be celebrated and praised. Sex becomes harmful however, when used outside of what God intended.
Reflecting on our first date and our wedding day and seeing the interconnectedness of creation, it makes more sense now as to why I was so nervous. God has created us to live and honor Him—and the one who could mess that up was me.
The beauty of God is that even if we go against what he designed—there is redemption. Just like God brings us eternal redemption through the cross—he offers us relational redemption. Our shortcomings are forgiven when we seek his forgiveness. We are loved and cherished, and he has a life of fulfillment set before us. Let’s choose the road less traveled, and not give into our selfish urges and see what God will do in and through us.
American Psychological Association, “Two Faces of Oxytocin,” http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx (accessed June 16, 2015).
R Laird Harris et la., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2003), 60.
I am thankful to Old Testament scholar Dr. Tremper Longman III for his insights on this topic over lunch on May 21, 2015.
John H. Walton and Victor H. Matthews, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 20.
I appreciate John Mark Comer’s thoughts on this concept. For more information, see John Mark Comer, Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).