I have a reader (who I won’t out, because I didn’t ask if I could), often sends me emails with questions related to married, Christian sexuality. I love getting them, because, thinking about this stuff and sharing it is one of my passions (thus this blog). Plus, their good questions. I’ve written a few posts based on his questions in the past. So, today I have another set from him, and I thought I’d answer them publicly.
The subject of the email was “Is Christian Hedonism an Oxymoron”? and he asks:
Q: Is pleasure in the marriage bed considered Hedonism?
Q: Is pursuing “toys” for pleasure a hedonistic pursuit?
Q: How do we square our Christian Theology with the Hedonistic philosophy?
What is hedonism?
For those who don’t know, hedonism is defined as:
- The pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence.
- the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
So, hedonism is not only the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence, but the pursuit as the primary goal and aim of a life, supplanting all other goals. It’s the belief that everything you do in life should be aimed towards making you not only happier, but to bring you sensual pleasure. So, you work to go on vacation, you have friends in order to feel good, you have sex in order to get an orgasm.
This is largely the core teaching of our world today. This is what our children are being taught, implicitly, if not explicitly.
Is Hedonism bad for the Christian?
The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. – Luke 8:14
For those who remember the parable of the sower (where he scatters seed and it falls on different grounds), Jesus warns us that we can just as easily be choked with worries as with riches and pleasures. But, that if we are chocked, we will bring no fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 7:19
Now, if we bear no fruit, then our salvation is at risk. Not because God will remove the gift of salvation…but because we may ultimately reject it. I know that will rattle my “once saved always saved” readers, but I’m going to stand by it. After all, the seed (the gospel) was sown, the seed took root and grew (they were convicted), and then they were choked out (their faith died) and then they are thrown into the fire, because they don’t bear fruit (they are destroyed). The constant pursuit of pleasure can risk your salvation. This isn’t salvation by works. This is a failure to continue to accept God as the Lord and Master of your life.
So, yes, hedonism is not only bad for the Christian…it is salvation threatening.
Is pleasure in the marriage bed considered hedonism
It can be. I think it depends on what your aim is. For my wife and I, our goal is connection, not pleasure. If pleasure has to be sacrificed for connection, then so be it. It has happened that we try to have sex, but it turns out we need to talk instead. So, we talk instead, and by the time we’re done talking, we’re too tired to have sex, so we go to sleep. We sacrificed sexual pleasure for our connection.
But, at other times, that process of bringing your spouse sensual pleasure is very connecting. In order to be a skilled lover, you have know your spouse, which is what we are called to do in marriage. In fact, in Hebrew, the euphemism for sex that is used most often is the verb “to know”. When it says Adam and Eve had sex, it says Adam “knew” his wife.
I think that’s an apt euphemism, because bringing someone to orgasm (particularly if they are having trouble) means watching them closely, studying their facial expressions and body language. It means judging how they are moving and anticipating their needs. Sometimes it’s means continuing a certain motion even when you’re beyond exhausted, or your back is sore, or your arm feels like it’s going to fall off, or your tongue is numb, or your jaw is tired. It is sacrificial love.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex that’s fun. Sex can also be recreational for couples. But, the sensual pleasure should not be placed above the relationship. If you are willing to damage your relationship in exchange for an orgasm, or are forcing your spouse into a particular sex act, then, I would say that’s hedonistic. You have placed pleasure above your relationship.
That’s not to say you can’t go to your spouse and say “Hey, I’d really like to try this.” or “I’d love to do this particular thing tonight.” That gives them the opportunity to decide if they can participate in love, or if it would be damaging to them and thus your relationship. If they are willing to try and it, then it’s them willing to give a gift to their spouse, to try something new, then that’s an act of love, something that connects you.
Is pursuing “toys” for pleasure a hedonistic pursuit?
I’ve written in the past that toys can be something that connects you, or something that disconnects you. If you are using the toy to aid in your connection, then I think that’s a good use. Orgasm releases a lot of oxytocin that can help bond a relationship, and dopamine, which will make you want to come back and have sex again. So, sex that includes an orgasm is a really good thing (not that sex always needs to, but it’s nice if it happens regularly, if possible). For many couples, achieving orgasm without a toy is difficult, if not impossible. We’ve had this happen in our own marriage, especially after the birth of our fifth child. It took over a year for us to be able to bring my wife to orgasm without the use of toys, and it’s still not a sure thing by any means. So, toys are very helpful in establishing that connection.
Even if you aren’t having trouble, different sensations are pleasurable, and the issue isn’t pleasure, the issue is chasing pleasure at the expense of more important things. It’s not a bad thing to give your spouse pleasure.
Now, if the toy becomes the focus of attention…then there is a problem. If you start sneaking off and using the toy on your own, then I’d say that’s an issue. If you’d rather experience pleasure alone than with your spouse, that’s concerning. If you can’t wait to have an orgasm with your spouse, but have to chase one on your own, then I think there’s something going on that needs to be addressed.
How do we square our Christian Theology with the Hedonistic philosophy?
I don’t think we can. I think they are mutually exclusive ideologies. Hedonism puts pleasure above everything else. Christianity puts relationships (be it with God, or with others) above everything else. In short, you cannot have a “Christian Hedonist” or “Christian Hedonism”. Furthermore, Christianity promotes the idea of sacrificing sensual pleasure in order to build up relationships. We are called to love sacrificially, not with a “me first” attitude. If we focus too much on pleasure, then we will start to kill those connections that we should be living for. Especially that relationship with God, which is so vital to our salvation. So, no, we don’t square them. There is no overlap even.
Those are my thoughts. What you do think?