What does the penis, or male genitalia in general, teach us about God, about marriage, about the sexes?

This month I’m trying to expand on sex ed for adults in our Wednesday themed posts, and I want to talk today about what the penis tells us about God. So far we’ve looked at 10 things to know about women and arousal, and about the theology of the clitoris. So now let’s turn to the theology of the penis!

I’m going to be honest: this was much more difficult to write than the woman’s one. For a while, all we could think of was,

“Sometimes, life gets hard. Then it’s not. Then, at inconvenient or awkward times, it gets hard again. Especially during the teenage years.”

But we decided that would be in exceptionally bad taste.

Many (including Pope John Paul II) have written more doctrinal works on this (and have been in much better taste), that have encompassed far more than just the sexual function of the penis. Today, though, I want to focus just on the sex act here, since that’s what I tend to write about. So what do we learn about God and God’s design for sex from how the male anatomy works?

Sexual attraction is natural

First, at its most basic, intercourse only works if the man is aroused. On the arousal timeline, he feels desire (libido); excitement (arousal); stimulation (intercourse & orgasm) and recovery.

But he has to be aroused, or nothing works! So God created men to be quite easily aroused (in general). If you compare bell curves of women’s libidos and men’s libidos, you’ll find that they overlap, with men’s libidos, in general, being higher. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some women with higher libidos than some men; but in general, men tend to have an easier time getting aroused and staying aroused than women do.

And this is the way that we are designed! Sexual attraction, then, is a natural thing that most men feel. It is not a sin. They’re wired to be attracted to women sexually so that sex is easier to do. If men were as hit and miss regarding arousal and sexual response as women are, then sex would be far less frequent and far more disrupted.

(Again, this is not to say that some men don’t suffer from sexual dysfunction or low libido; only that in general men’s arousal is more automatic than women’s.)

We should stop framing sexual attraction as a sin, then. As I’ve said before, and as I’ll write more about soon, noticing is not lusting. You can notice a woman is beautiful and then do absolutely nothing else with that thought. By telling men that every time they notice a beautiful woman they’re in sin, we’re putting men in an impossible situation.

Sex, for men, is about being accepted and “let in”

While women can have sex when they don’t want to (something that is tragic for all too many women), men tend to need to be into it to perform. (This doesn’t mean that men can’t be raped; bodies will respond to stimulation even if you don’t want to, and that’s called arousal non-concordance. Additionally, men can be raped via anal sex. But in a relationship, in general, men can’t have sex unless they want to).

What many men are looking for, then, is for a woman who also wants to have sex. Good husbands want to be wanted; they don’t want to be placated. Sex is actually about a man entering a woman’s body and leaving a part of himself there. Sex is, then, about a man being accepted. Her wanting sex means that she wants him. She wants to experience his desire and his excitement, and she wants to be the object of it. When she is enthusiastic about sex, then, he feels wanted and accepted.

Sex requires men, in general, to woo women

Men feel arousal quite easily and often quite intensely, but they also have this need to feel accepted (literally “let in”). For this to happen, then, they have to get women to actually want them. Certainly a bad man can force a woman, but that only satisfies lust; it doesn’t satisfy the emotional need to be accepted that men also have. Their libido and easy arousal, then, becomes a God-given impetus to woo their wives. If they want willing partners, they need to build the relationship and the emotional connection so that she is willing to be vulnerable with him. His libido, when channeled correctly, actually feeds a more intimate relationship.

Men’s area of greatest pleasure is also their area of greatest vulnerability

Men’s genitalia is the focus of the greatest pleasure that they can feel–but it is also their most vulnerable point. Want to bring a man to his knees? Kick him you-know-where. Every basic self-defense course teaches women this. Go for the testicles!

Why is that? I’m going to suggest that it’s to remind men that this part of themselves that can all too easily take over the relationship and dominate a woman can also become his biggest downfall. It’s to remind him that he is vulnerable. He needs to use his body correctly, or he risks being hurt, and hurting others.

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Men need to stay in control–of themselves

If men want to avoid this vulnerability, then, they need to stay in control–of themselves. One of my faithful readers, Phil, pointed this out to me in the comments last week. If sex is going to go well, men can’t let themselves get carried away. They have to think of the woman who is with him, to make sure that she is enthusiastic, enjoying herself, and accepting him. He has to make sure he doesn’t overpower her, which is all too easy to do.

Sex can become like a conquest–you dominate her and she submits to you. But for sex to be all that he wants it to be, with a partner who accepts him and is enthusiastic, it must be so much more. And that means not allowing your base instincts to run wild. You must instead temper them with love, with deliberation, with generosity. That makes the stronger look out for the weaker, and it makes sex far more about giving than it otherwise could be.

You’re supposed to serve God–even with that part of you

While we know from the New Testament that circumcision is no longer a requirement to be a part of God’s covenant family, it was the marker of covenant faithfulness from the time of Abraham to the time of Christ. In fact, Paul uses the analogy of circumcision in Romans 4 to describe baptism, which has now replaced circumcision as the sign of our belonging to the people of God. Circumcision was only performed on men, not on women, as circumcision of men does not inhibit their sexual function while female genital mutilation definitionally does affect a woman’s ability to enjoy sex.

By submitting to circumcision and participating in circumcision rites for their sons, the Israelites submitted their whole selves, including their genitalia, to God’s covenant. So what does circumcision actually tell us about how God sees men’s sexuality?

Circumcision is a sign of being in covenantal relationship with God–and that sign was done on that part of the body. There’s all kinds of reasons for that (it was the part of you that had children; it was the part of you that was the most intimate), but I think one of them is telling us that at its most basic, we must serve God even with that part of us. We’re in a covenantal relationship with God, and that includes our sex drives and our sexuality.

So your sex life is supposed to come under submission to God. It isn’t an animalistic force that cannot be contained.

Much teaching about sex in the church describes male libido as an unwieldy force that every man must battle at all times. It is as though many in the church believe the Spirit is impotent when it comes to the problem of male lust. Of course, that is ridiculous. While many men struggle with lust, many others do not. God’s original design was not that we serve God in everything EXCEPT our sex drives, which can’t be tamed (so women have to tame men for them by not causing lust). No, God’s design was that we serve God in everything, ESPECIALLY our sex drives. So let’s stop talking about sex as the one area that men are unable to submit to God because lust is so overpowering. We as a church should come alongside the struggling while nevertheless expecting holiness and “spurring one another on towards love and good deeds” (Heb 10:23, NIV).

Theology of the Penis: What male genitalia teaches us about God and sex

What do you think? Is there something that I missed? I did find the women’s version easier to write! So let’s talk in the comments!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - Sex Ed for Christians: The Theology of the Penis Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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