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Volume 14, Issue 6: Husbandry

The Graying of Sex

Douglas Wilson

While the baby boomers grow old, we have little indication thus far that they have any intention of doing so gracefully. Nurtured in a narcissistic self-absorption, they have come to expect anything they want as their own peculiar birthright. Having grown up in the nursery of the sexual revolution of the sixties, and having since carried this over many years in middle class variations on the same theme—e.g. marriage, adultery, divorce, marriage, adultery—we should not be surprised to find that the reality check that age bestows on sexual habits is not going to be gracefully received.

Pastors are going to find themselves with an increased number of counseling situations involving sexual dysfunction, and Christian husbands and wives are going to have to figure out what they are supposed to do if problems arise in their sexual relationship. Some of these problems can be the result of aging, some the result of sin, and some a combination of the two.
I am going to address two such problems here, and they can serve as representatives of other related problems. The point is not "the particular solution," but rather the biblical principles that should direct those who are involved in such problems. The main question I want to ask is whether or not it is lawful for Christians to employ the help of medical science in solving sexual problems that may arise.
The first thing to remember is that a person in the grip of any lust has low sales resistance. And any person who has had an email account for more than ten days has likely received spam trying to sell products for anything from breast enlargement to penile enhancement. You name it, and someone probably has a product for you. And because there are many who are now losing their stamina for sexual sin, they now want the help of the chemists to keep their sin going for a little longer. Many such products are of course bogus, but people who are driven by lust keep such merchants in business. If a man like Hugh Hefner is using Viagra so that he can die the way he lived—rebellious and unhappy—then of course the use is illicit.
But suppose a Christian couple are not in this category. Suppose they have learned to honor the marriage bed and have done so for many years (Heb. 13:4). Although affected by the surrounding culture, they have not given way to it. They do not come together with the passionate lust of the Gentiles (1 Thes. 4:4-5) but rather with the godly sexual drunkenness of the couple in the Song of Songs (Songs 5:1). But after years together, they begin to experience equipment break-down. Should they do anything about this?
The answer is—it depends. If they are both ninety-six years old, and they are both well content with the hand of the Lord on them in the aging process (Ecl. 12:1-7), of course they should do nothing. While the apostles of sexual liberation might demand that we all copulate until we die, such a grasping approach is not a biblical one. We live in a fallen world and are all approaching death where, as Marvell put it, "none do there I think embrace." As the philosopher put it, we need to deal with it.
But suppose the circumstances are different. The couple are both in their fifties, and sexual temptation from the surrounding world remains a potential snare. Paul tells us that one of the purposes of sex in marriage is the prevention of immorality (1 Cor. 7:2-6). When problems develop in a marriage relationship when the couple are still comparatively young, there is a biblical duty to get help if it is availalble.
When women go through menopause, a significant percentage develop a form of vaginitis, which can make intercourse very painful. Now what? This can lead to conflict, obviously, as well as contributing to a man feeling rejected. This, combined with his declining powers, can lead to erectile problems. In short, you can have a real sexual mess and enough hurt feelings to go all around.
Suppose further that this couple is in a very "conservative" church where such things are not mentioned to anyone under any circumstances—not to a pastor, not to a doctor, not to anyone. It would be too humiliating, too embarrassing. But this means that the husband (or the wife, as the case may be) is more willing to defraud his spouse than to go through the embarrassment of seeking help. That is how the Apostle Paul describes it—fraud. It is true that the fraud was provoked by extenuating circumstances. If a man neglects his duty to mow the lawn because he has a broken leg, that is fine. But if he refuses to get the leg treated, then at some point he becomes responsible for his continued inability, even if he didn't initially break his leg on purpose.
What should a couple in a situation like this do? The first thing is that they should talk and confess any sin related to their problems—any resentments, bitterness, self-centeredness, and so forth. Having done so, they should seek out godly and competent help. If the problem is more directly spiritual, they should seek help from their pastor. If it is physiological, then they should go to a doctor, and if one is to be found, a godly doctor. If they are unsure about the treatment the doctor prescribes, then they should ask their pastor about it.
The short form is that any treatment that restores or enhances natural function should be considered as a blessing from God, like any medicine. But if the treatment is being sought in a effort to "supercharge" natural function, then the chances are good that lust has driven love away.

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