Food & Sex: A Different Way to Think About Sex & Marriage

My Favorite Food
I LOVE Thai Cuisine!  A mentor of mine took my wife and I to a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant in Costa Mesa, CA off 17th St. called Madee Thai Kitchen.  I had never eaten Thai food before, but ever since that dinner, I’ve been hooked.  It changed my life.

One day a roommate of mine asked me, “If you had to eat one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”  In that moment, the answer seemed simple. "Thai food!"  I love the herbs, the flavors, the texture of the noodles, the spiciness.  I could eat Thai food everyday… Or so I’d like to think. 

I think that a lot of us would like to believe that we could eat our favorite meal everyday for the rest of our lives.  But the truth is, if you really think about it, it's is probably a lot more enjoyable in theory rather than practice.  Thai food for every meal, everyday, for a week… a month… a year… five years… ten… fifty… When I step back and truly imagine it, the thought of it makes me actually want to throw up.  The novelty of this hypothetical scenario quickly fades.  

Sex & Expectations
As I thought about this hypothetical question my friend posed to me, I also thought about another one…Sex.  As a young man, I was often posed these kinds of hypothetical questions and scenarios surrounding a lot of things like superpowers, women, marriage… and sex.  As young man, especially because I was raised in the church, I was often led to believe that marriage would one day become a no limits, free-for-all of sexual enjoyment and pleasure for me.  Every fantasy I’ve ever had, any longing, or desire could and would be fulfilled by the right "smoking-hot woman" I’d one day marry if I simply waited.  Some of you, especially women reading this, at this point might be thinking “Really?!”  Yes, really… I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true.  A lot of people in the Christian Evangelical tradition often convey a message that sex is bad until we get married, but then when we are married, sex will be everything we’ve ever dreamed of or expected.  When we finally get to that momentous day, we should let loose and have fun!  But any married person could tell you that this is not the reality of things.  Don't get me wrong, I’m a married man, and I have personally really enjoyed having sex with my wife, but sex can and does usually have a bit of a learning curve.  Learning how to be good at sex can take time, it can even be frustrating, and it’s only one of many facets to a fulfilling, healthy marriage.  Sex just like every other part of the relationship requires work to make it better.   

Developing a Pallet
A great professor I had in college would often say, “Sexual behavior inside of marriage doesn’t require less self-control.  It requires more.”  I would wonder, “What the heck does that mean?  That doesn’t even make sense.” Then I got married, and as it turns out, he’s right.  I found that along with millions of other young adults in the US, a certain culture and set of expectations for sex permeated my way of thinking, even if I didn’t realize it. That self-control he was talking about amounted to my ability to set aside my wildly misguided and contaminated expectations about sex and nail them to the cross to be crucified along with the rest of my distorted self.  I found that I have to learn to subdue those desires and allow my sexuality to be formed by Jesus.  I have to die to myself even in the bedroom.  So what does that look like?  Sex is a good thing right?  Am I not supposed to enjoy it deeply?  Absolutely!  Sex is a beautiful gift of intimacy, commitment, procreation, pleasure, yes, yes, yes!  But, we have to understand that we live in a broken world, and that includes broken sexuality.  Our pallet for what good sex should be is messed up.  We need to learn to develop a healthy pallet for sex, one that aligns with God’s heart.  

A Buffet Culture
In our Western, hyper-sexualized, pornified, individualistic culture, we are taught to think about sex like a buffet.  We are taught by popular culture that sex exists mostly for our personal enjoyment and self-gratification.  As long as all involved are safe and consenting, have fun, be safe and get yours.  People, especially in the porn and the sex industries, are treated like flavors of the week.  Would you prefer soup or salad?  Should I have Chinese or Italian?  Do I want to substitute one of my side dishes?  Would I prefer rare or well-done?  Everything in the porn and sex industry is catered to the individual desires of the consumer and can vary depending on mood or preference.  I can select my fantasy based on body type, skin tone, race, hair color, sexual act, etc…  The combinations seem almost endless.  

So it’s no wonder that the idea of marriage, a committed, monogamous, sexual relationship is becoming less popular with every generation in the Western world.  In a world of endless novelty in sex, why would anyone want to limit their experience by committing to a singular realtionship for the rest of their lives? 

“Why should someone refrain from sex until marriage?  There is so much out there for me to try first.  There are so many different kinds of food for me to taste.  I want to make sure I find my favorite meal, before I commit to eating it exclusively for the rest of my life.” 

“If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

See, we think that we know what we want.  After we’ve tried all these other types of food, we know that this kind is my favorite, so that’s the one.  Now I’ll commit.  Now I’ll get married.  We think about relationships and especially sex this way, so it’s no wonder, that after a while, the taste of that meal actually makes us sick.  

“This food doesn’t taste good to me anymore.  This person doesn’t make me happy anymore.”

If we think about sex and relationships with self-gratification at the center, we will surely be deeply disappointed.  No one meal can satisfy the human pallet, and in the same way, no one person can meet all of our unrealistic sexual expectations, because they aren’t meant to.  

Preparing a Meal
I would like to propose a different way of thinking about this.  What if we stopped thinking about the search for a spouse like we are a foodie on a culinary tour of Portland (Yes, that’s a thing).  Maybe we shouldn't think about sex like a consumer.  Maybe we should start thinking about sex and relationships the way people following Jesus should think about everything else in our lives, as worship.  Maybe instead of searching for that one meal that will surely not satisfy forever,  we should be looking for someone with whom we can share a kitchen, someone with whom we can craft a meal to offer to God as worship.  

Maybe instead of thinking of our spouses, future or current, as a meal that we can consume, maybe we should begin to think about them as our co-chefs in a kitchen.  Sex can be something we make together out of cooperation, respect, affection, and joy.  It can be something that teaches us to serve and honor others and Christ instead of something that serves to satisfy ourselves.  What if we did away with the unfulfilling journey of comparison, selfishness, and objectification and reoriented our relationships to be aligned with the heart of Jesus?  Then sex becomes a facet of the meal that is our marriage.  As we learn to love one another, we prepare a gourmet experience of sacrifice, patience, and kindness to be enjoyed by our Creator.  Then throughout every trial and hardship, throughout every victory, amidst every twist and turn, and yes, when death does us part, we can offer that marriage to God and say, “We made this for You”.  In this, I think we find true joy.  

“Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21

LAne Greenleaf-Perez

Lane grew up in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013, where he met his wife, Jayna. They are currently living in Portland, Oregon, where they lead worship for their local church. They have a dog, Watson, and by October 10th, they will be sharing their home with their first kid, William! Lane also works full-time for a Christian, non-profit organization called First-Image as the director of their sexual integrity program. He loves the local church and has plans to attend seminary to earn his Master's of Divinity.