You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The reality of promiscuity is that it leaves people more empty and broken, believes Mark Smith.
Justin Bieber, in recent weeks, has had to defend himself against a paternity claim. People are quick to assume that someone his age and in his position will be involved in sexual activity. Sex is a big issue in our culture. Teenagers are "sexting", the media is often heavily sexualised, movies are sexually explicit, pornographic websites proliferate and our youth culture is one where promiscuity is normative. Sadly, our social commentators condone the trends, claiming it is natural and what youth do. They will experiment!
A New Zealand news site ran an article entitled, "No dating, thanks, just sex" claiming that the dating culture is dead. They quoted a TVNZ Sunday correspondent, "There's a new kind of mating ritual; sex is the point of entry into the relationship".
Similarly, a survey by Durex found New Zealand women were the most promiscuous in the world, having on average 20.3 sexual partners. This is double the total for Australian and British women and almost three times the world average of 7.3. Many argued this isn't the full picture. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has tracked more than 1000 people since 1973, found the statistics not that extreme. It appears a small sample group boosted the averages.
A recent Colmar Brunton poll also showed New Zealanders to be aligned with the world average.
Nevertheless, promiscuity has increased rapidly in the past 25 years, provoking some important questions. Is this approach to sexuality liberating or enslaving?
Does this sort of promiscuity produce better relationships or is it corrosive to long-lasting intimacy?
Does it enhance our emotional wellbeing or does it quash it?
Is it ultimately helpful or harmful to the individual and society in general?
Many would argue that this sort of promiscuity is indeed harmful, dangerous and emotionally destructive.
Robin Salisbury, director of Sex Therapy New Zealand, says "Certainly when people talk to me about promiscuous pasts, it is usually with regret. They are reflecting on a lack of confidence they had, or belief that they would get love through sex or feel good about themselves".
The Christian response to the issue of sex should not be a Victorian era abhorrence or a subject too taboo to speak about. Instead, it should be seen as a wonderful gift from God designed for pleasure in the context of a life-long relationship. Sex is intended to be a beautiful expression of unity, harmony and oneness. This oneness is not just physical, but spiritual, emotional and intellectual.
It is not to be the entry point into the relationship nor the pinnacle of the relationship. It is to be a vital part of healthy lifelong covenantal commitment between a husband and wife; hence the term "till death do us part" often used in traditional marriage vows.
In Psychology Today, T. Bram Karasu calls sex a physical and spiritual embrace, a dance of two souls, quoting the book of Proverbs, "Why would you trade enduring intimacies for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger". He goes on: "Above and beyond recognising the partner's sensibilities, needs and desires, you must recognise lovemaking as a gift from God to the two of you to enjoy together and only together.
Lovemaking is a form of unwrapping God's gift with your partner, cherishing the moment and feeling cherished, experiencing real passion and exaltation of blissful merging".
Christianity views the world as wonderful but fallen, beautiful yet broken. This brokenness affects every dimension of life, sex included. Sex as a God-given gift can be used or abused, be a blessing or a curse. I would suggest that sex is often used to deal with a spiritual emptiness or restlessness and often the deeper the emptiness, the more the promiscuity. The reality however is that it leaves people more empty and broken. This emptiness can't be filled with the occasional one-night stand or even a wonderful life-long romance.
The human soul longs for intimacy, to be valued, to connect "soul deep" with another, to be understood and to be accepted. But this longing can't be satisfied superficially. They are deep desires wired into our souls.
St Augustine, who himself struggled with promiscuity before he became a Christian, prayed, "God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You". God, in selfless love, offers through Jesus to remove the emptiness, deal with the guilt, relieve the shame and bring healing to the soul through forgiveness and restoration. This means we approach sex differently: not selfishly but selflessly via deep intimacies and not dalliance with a promiscuous stranger. It is lifelong commitment and not a one-night stand, it is enjoying the dance together exclusively "till death do you part".
• Mark Smith is pastor of Grace Church, Dunedin.