Exploring Sex, Seniors, and Spirituality

Growing Old Has Spiritual Advantages

Jack may be retired, but he isn’t dead. Watching his ever-beautiful wife’s shadowy figure behind the shower curtain heightens the still-employed passion within. He thoughtfully relives memorable nights when it was “all systems go.” Automatically, his ero-system starts to hum. The mingling of hunger and hope feeds the genitive engine while her soft touch energizes it. This is, until “what’s under the hood” breaks down with the finish line far away. 

“Damn it!,” Jack screams at himself, irritated by his “incompetence.” “What is my problem? I’ve got to do something about this. No way am I going to live for the rest of my life unable to perform. I’m a man, not a wimp!”

Are you less human if you are not sexually active, unable to engage in sexual relationships, or choose not to? Some anthropologists think so. Since we are sexual beings, they reason, we must engage in sexual activity or we are not truly human. This is what can happen when God and His ways are missing from the discussion. Secularism struggles mightily to know the true nature of humans and sexuality. 

3 Reasons Sexual Activity is Not Essential To Being Human (Christian perspective): 

  1. The Church Fathers are nearly unanimous in understanding that in paradise, before the fall, sexual intercourse was unknown. It is first mentioned after the fall. 
  2. In eternity, when we will be more human than ever, sexual activity is not necessary. We will experience a union with God, our spouses, and others that will transcend anything we could imagine on earth. There will be no marriage or physical union, yet real oneness will be experienced. 
  3. Jesus, John the Forerunner, Paul, Mary (according to Church tradition), many Bible characters and saints never engaged in sexual intercourse. Jesus was a perfect human being. A few others have come close. Most were celibate. 

This sounds totally foreign to us who live in a sex-dominated culture. We are inundated with messages that sexual activity is normal. It’s OK to engage in sex as early as you can and as long as you can. To limit its practice is to be narrow-minded, odd, and, worst of all, “goody-goody.” 

The multimillion dollar male enhancement industry is a global phenomenon made possible by internet e-commerce. Worldwide market data for the industry is unavailable, but 2008 sales were estimated in excess of $100 million U.S. (Male Enhancement Blog) 

Most moderns see less sexual activity and/or sexual desire as a problem. The solutions? See your doctor. Try this lubricant or pill. Set up an appointment with a therapist. You must stay sexually active as long as you’re alive.

Even as I wrote this post, I realized I’ve been deeply influenced by these messages and away from a Christian perspective. I keep using the term “sexual intercourse” when the term I need to be using is “marital intercourse.” According to God, the Church, and the Bible writers, proper sexual activity is always marital intercourse. 
 
3 Fundamental (& Traditional) Purposes of Marital Intercourse 
  1. Tame the passions – In 1 Cor. 7 Paul teaches us to escape lustful temptation through conjugal union in marriage. Since the man usually has the “hotter flame,” the wife is the one who cools him in the intimacy of marital intercourse. This is God’s design.   
  2. Create life – Procreation is passing on the image of God to another human being and is not just physical. Married couples can birth eternal human beings. To “be fruitful and increase” (Gen. 1.28; though there is debate as to the exact meaning), is foundational for most married couples.  
  3. Promote marital unity – Marital intercourse demonstrates and solidifies a strengthening bond of sacred companionship and friendship to enable humans to make it through this life  Described in Proverbs 5.15-23, beautiful intercourse nourishes a spirit of friendship and harmony in marriage. 

How do these fundamental purposes apply in various stages of life? 

  • In young couples (20-40), #1 is often the dominate purpose followed closely by #2,  then #3.
  • In middle-aged couples (40-60) – #1 and #3 may be the purposes that dominate.
  • In older couples (60+) – #3 purpose will dominate with #1 always in the picture.    

Christian Marriage

Marriage is a Christian reality not secular. In Ephesians 5.22-33, marriage is described as “a great ‘mystery.’” Mystery is the same word as “sacrament” leading the traditional church to understand marriage as a sacrament infused by and infusing God’s grace. This is no trivial matter. In the marital relationship, God is pictured and seen in his sacrificial love for humanity through Jesus Christ. Only the crucifixion provides a more powerful picture. 

Dr. Josiah Trenham, pastor, scholar, and author of Marriage and Virginity according to St. John Chrysostom, says that a “husband and wife living together [is] the 

tangible expression of the gospel. The husband represents the self-denying love of Christ pouring himself out for the salvation of his bride, the Church, his wife, and the woman functions as the humble church. This is the most profound tangible expression of the gospel. People should be able to look at Christian couples and say, ‘Wow! There is a God who loves humanity; and a humanity/church that loves God.'”

Ancient writers, old age, and sexuality 

Please indulge me. Let me pass on to you a “revelation” about these matters that was introduced to me a few years ago and continues to play out in my life.

The purpose in getting older is to help you live more deeply in union with Christ and to prepare you for eternity where you’ll live together with God forever.

Aging, even with all its challenges and “malfunctions,” is to be celebrated as a struggle to become like Christ. 

This reality emerges from a patristic understanding of the resurrected state and thus the nature of the body in the afterlife. A Patristic worldview on the nature of the resurrected state and transformation of the human body has practical implications for all Christians. Here I quote Dr. Trenham: 

Here [on earth, currently] many are seeking a “Viagra condition,” and doing all they can do, at great expense, to avoid the effects of the aging process…I have counseled an ailing and aging parishioner who is poignantly frustrated at the growing number of impediments he faces as he nears death. When I suggested to him that perhaps these very bodily impediments were actually gracious blessings bestowed by God to enable him to calm his bodily passions, detach himself from the world, and ready himself for a successful transition from this life to the next (and therefore should be embraced and plumbed wholeheartedly for all the grace inherent in them), his countenance was transformed and his whole perspective on what was happening to his body changed.

The Christian perspective on aging is reflected beautifully in Kontakion 9 of the Akathist Hymn for the Repose of the Departed

Bless swiftly passing time; every hour, every moment bringeth eternity nearer to us. A new sorrow; a new gray hair are heralds of the world to come, they are witnesses of earthly corruption, they proclaim that all passeth away, that the eternal Kingdom draweth nigh, where there are neither tears nor sighing but the joyful song: Alleluia! 

Preparation for the next life includes a lessening of the sexual passions and physical “performance.” This reality can be grudgingly tolerated, passively accepted, or positively embraced. What begins as a thoughtful choice becomes a transformational heart and mind attitude that morphs and develops over time. This is all preparatory for the next life where there is no marital intercourse even though we will experience a “oneness” only tantalizingly known in earthly marriage.

You can embrace getting older or keep worshiping youth. But, it’s wiser and healthier to understand that your physical limits are happening because God desires you to become less attached to the things of the earth and to make the transition to the next life. Your physical limitations are actually freeing you to become a fuller human being already experiencing the Kingdom of God. 

Dr. Trenham reminds us:

This is the natural process of infertility. So get ready. Dispossess yourself, set your life in order. Spend your last years really seeking the Lord. Positively give up the earthly pleasures of sexual union knowing that a greater pleasure of eternal union with our spouse and with Christ in heaven is coming.

 

Preparation Through Moderation and Regulation.

Moderation: Just as it is necessary to be moderate with food consumption, so with sexual activity. Enjoy your sexual meal times yet include sexual fasting days as well. Follow a personal rule of “no sex” days. Use these days to focus on prayer and communion with God. St. Paul encourages this in 1 Corinthians 7.5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 

Regulation: Regulate your sexual activities. Monitor how your body is functioning and allow it to guide you. You need to be in control of your “urges” not the other way around. Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) writes about regulating human activities which is applied to marriage by Dr. Trenham: 

Christian marriage is to be characterized by a sexuality both reasonable and disciplined. One need not separate those whom God has joined together in order for self-discipline to exist. Marriage is “disciplined pleasure,” and as such is harmless. Chastity, which ought to exist in marriage, is the body’s holy robe. Clement’s pedagogical goal was not to eradicate the things which came naturally to men, but to regulate them for holiness. (Marriage and Virginity, p. 47)

I hope you’ll gain a fresh perspective on aging as a Christian from this post. Now you have a few more reasons to celebrate getting older (besides “Senior discounts”). 

How have you struggled with the aging process? How do the realities I highlight give you a different perspective? Please, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K