This talk on 'Sex and Sexuality' was given by Dr Peter May at Highfield Church, Southampton on 19th February 2012. Dr May, a retired GP, talks openly about topics of marriage, sex, homosexuality, gay marriage, paedophilia, pornography, sexual orientation and sexual experimentation.

Before listening please be aware that Dr May speaks plainly about these issues. Please do not listen if this may be disturbing or distressing to you.

The article below was written by Dr May and covers much of the same material as his talk although some topics are covered in more detail in the talk and other topics in more detail in the article.


Universal Marriage

Marriage is currently under attack in the UK. It is important to note that marriage has been humanity’s default mode of handling sexuality since the dawn of time. Originating before recorded history, monogamous marriage appears to have been the norm across ancient civilisations. From the Inuits to the Aborigines, from ancient China, throughout Africa and in South America, whether or not it was accompanied by public ceremonies or religious rites, heterosexual marriage has been normative. That is not to say there have not been variations on a theme. Polygamy, by far the most common alternative arrangement, has been the habit of only a small minority.

Such inter-personal bonding is quite remarkable. We might pause to imagine what life would be like if such powerful bonding did not occur. For instance, while some people holiday in the same place year after year, most do not. If you have had a nice holiday in Bognor, why would you go back there again if you could visit the Mediterranean instead! There are endless nice places to go and relax.

If we treated sexual partners like holiday vacations, men would never know how many children they have or who they are. Women would be given the entire responsibility of bringing them up, with all the financial responsibility of needing to earn enough money to do so. A moment’s thought shows how logical and inevitable heterosexual marriage is.

So the Family Unit has always been the basic building block of society. In it, primary responsibilities are defined. Mothers and fathers take on complementary roles. These roles may change over time and indeed within one lifespan. Between them, the parents work out how best to care for their offspring.

Alternative arrangements have featured in various societies. Sexual communities of one sort or another have occurred but few are enduring and they have rarely found wide appeal elsewhere.

Illicit Sexual Momentum

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the dynamic process that occurs in extra-marital sex. First of all he mentions lust and warns that the moment that desire is inflamed by lustful looking, adultery is already taking place in the imagination. Using robust imagery, he warns that it is better to be blind than to allow your eyes to lead you to hell.

Jesus implies that it is far better to control our behaviour at the level of desire, than to allow our eyes and our hands to draw us further into iniquity

Our eyes first identify a person to lust after and they then lead on to flirting to establish a relationship. The process inevitably leads to touching … holding hands initially, but it leads on to holding glands. Jesus therefore warns that if your hand causes you to sin, you would do better to chop it off! These dramatic metaphors highlight the significance of limiting what we see and controlling what we touch, if we are not to get caught up in the process that leads first to adultery and then to divorce (Matthew 5:27-31).

This process gains momentum as the powerful bonding of our sexuality kicks in. It might be painful to refuse the smile of a pretty girl who gives you a welcoming look, but it is a lot less painful and is much easier to do than to end a relationship that has progressed to fondling.

I have often been struck by the number of female patients who have attended my surgery over the years, often on a Monday morning, in great distress. They tell me that they had broken up with a former partner, perhaps several years ago. The split had been very acrimonious. Sometimes, it had been violent. She never wanted anything to do with him again. The relationship was finished. And yet…

Much to her chagrin, they met again by chance in town. They started talking. She invited him back for coffee. And lo and behold, would you believe it, he stayed the night and they had sex together. "I can’t understand how it happened", she would say to me.

Sexual 'chemistry' is very subtle and difficult to analyse. Clearly, looking triggers memories – and exciting ones at that. Familiar mannerisms are almost certainly communicated – much more subtle than "Nudge, nudge…wink, wink".  There may well be a pleasant aroma, a subtle scent that we may not even be conscious of. When sexual bonding, in all its subtle complexity, has already been established, it is very quickly reactivated.

The same mechanisms make it so difficult for people in an adulterous relationship to break free from it. If they still meet the same person in their community, for instance, forgotten desires are quickly re-awakened.

Jesus anyway implies that it is far better to control our behaviour at the level of desire, than to allow our eyes and our hands to draw us further into iniquity.

Homosexuality

Homosexuality highlights the differences between male and female arousal patterns. Men are sexually aroused all too easily. The sight or even suggestion of bare flesh sets the male pulse racing. Women also can be aroused visually, but nothing like as easily or as rapidly. Generally speaking, women need ‘wooing’. They tend to want a relationship rather than an orgasm. They are aroused when a potential partner takes an interest in them, asks them questions and listens sympathetically to their answers. Sexual arousal builds gradually as intimacy increases. (Men are always liable to rush this process and get a smack for their trouble!)

It follows that sexual relationships between two men or two women are very different things from heterosexual relationships. Women are looking for trusting and exclusive relationships. Many women turn to lesbian relationships because of former traumatic and abusive relationships with men. They are looking for loving tenderness and they have given up on thinking that a man can provide it for them.

Men on the other hand are often looking for orgasms rather than relationships. Homosexual men have an enormous capacity for promiscuity. Visits to a ‘gay’ club or a weekend away at a ‘gay’ house-party may include multiple sexual encounters, with people whose names they do not know and whose faces they would never recognise. I have had male patients admitting to 50-100 such encounters over a weekend. Women never seem to do that.

When it comes to living together, women are far more likely to establish stable and lasting relationships. Some men also manage to achieve this, but the relationship is rarely exclusive. Two men living together for years might share a mortgage and enjoy good companionship with mutual care and affection, but on Saturday nights they may go to two different gay clubs and experience numerous sexual partnerships. Generally, their relationships are much less stable and they suffer many emotional disappointments. Ironically, the majority of male homosexuals are not looking for exclusive, same-sex marriage for themselves.

Clearly there are very different health outcomes between these two groups, related to their different risks of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. These in turn given them significantly different life expectancies.

The prevalence of male homosexuality is much greater than lesbianism – perhaps by a multiple of three or four.

Those calling for homosexual marriage usually justify the change in definition on the basis of equal rights. Politicians may feel there are votes to be won but more often they will be concerned to bring stability to some unstable relationships.

However, to redefine marriage would raise enormous problems for Christians. It would mean that society presents young people with two apparently equally valid and satisfactory types of marriage. This would leave them to sort out which they would choose to go for!

No doubt they would be encouraged to experiment to find out what their orientation really is. Many adolescents admit to experiencing an ambiguity, feeling at least for a while, the pull in both directions.

When you do an experiment in the laboratory, you are – to a significant degree anyway – a detached observer. When you personally experiment sexually you are the major part of the experiment and you can expect to be affected and changed by it.

Opening Pandora’s Box

When people experiment sexually, they will awaken new desires they had not previously known. The Greek myth about Pandora’s box was that she was ordered not to open it. But curiosity got the better of her. When she eventually opened the box, all manner of evils were set loose upon the world. The only thing that would not come out of the box was hope. Similarly, sexual experiments can release destructive desires that stay with you. Once you have been sensitised to a particular lust, you may never be able to be desensitised to it. The desires and the memories will live with you, will be easily re-awakened and may always provoke you.

Most dramatically, this is demonstrated if sexual desires for children are aroused. Most of us mercifully have no insight at all as to why children might be sexually attractive. However, we would be well advised not to let our imaginations wander in order to find out. Once people have been aroused by children, they are destined to continue to look upon children sexually. Paedophiles are notoriously difficult to treat.

Other desires may be more socially acceptable, but if you allow yourself to journey down the line from thought to gaze, from gaze to touch and from touch to overt sexual activity, you may well find yourself permanently liable to return to such activity. You cannot just turn it off, any more than you can expunge your brain of the memory of the activity. It stays with you. This is why the majority of homosexuals are actually bisexual. They are aroused by their own sex and by the opposite sex – and their changing partners reflect this. It is a small minority of homosexuals who say they have never had heterosexual desires. Most of them are bisexual.

I was very struck by the story of a new patient, who told me when he first registered with me that he was homosexual. He was a nice guy who seemed quite relaxed about the matter, so it was easy to ask for his story.

He told me that in his teenage years he never experienced any homosexual desires. He married early and they had two children. However, his marriage turned into a nightmare. Aged 23 years, he went to get his hair cut and his friendly barber asked why he seemed so low in his mood. He explained that his marriage was on the rocks. The barber explained that he was going away for the weekend with some friends and invited my patient to join them.

He claimed that at this stage he had no idea the barber was gay or that he was inviting him on a gay weekend house-party. When he got there, it seems that he put up no resistance. He found homosexual acts were wonderful. He said, "It was like turning a switch". He claimed that he had never had a heterosexual desire since.

I don’t know how typical this story is, but I have heard of others who said that the awakening of new desires was like turning a switch, some of whom struggled in vain to turn it off again.

Such experiments result anyway in indelible memories, which trigger desires. Even those who have brought their problems to Christ and experienced his forgiveness still have to live with the memories and temptations.

Furthermore, such experiments, by their very nature, imply that there are no boundaries. No ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ apply. All choices are assumed to be equally valid. All you need to do is follow your fantasies and use your imagination.

Is Sexual Orientation a Myth?

With this wider range of sexual activities in mind, what are we to make of 'orientation'? If, at least for a while, many adolescents experience attraction to both sexes, if some people suddenly change their orientation after previously being exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, if a far greater number seem to enjoy sex with both men and women rather than being exclusively homosexual, and if diverse sexual practices prove to be strongly addictive, is a fixed orientation actually a myth?

Studies of identical twins have repeatedly shown that sexual orientation is not genetically determined. Identical twins have identical genes. They are clones of each other. If our sexual preferences were determined by the way we are genetically configured, identical twins would have the same sexual orientation as each other. But they do not. There is an increased likelihood that the twin will have a similar orientation, but if one twin is homosexual, their identical twin, in a large majority of cases, is actually heterosexual. So whilst there may possibly be a genetic ‘tendency’, orientation is not genetically ‘determined’.

Studies of identical twins have repeatedly shown that sexual orientation is not genetically determined

To say it is not caused by our genes, does not reduce same-sex attraction to the level of a straightforward sexual ‘preference’. It is clearly not just a matter of choice, as everyone who has ever tried to change from one ‘preference’ to another will testify. But as to the cause or causes of homosexual attraction, we frankly do not fully understand them. Our sexual formation is more complex and deeply rooted than mere preference. But what exactly shapes it?

The American Psychiatric Association stated in 2000, "No-one knows what causes heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality."[1] Is orientation then a biological phenomenon or a social construct?

A broad coalition of American Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Social Workers committed themselves to this statement in 2007:

"Currently there is no scientific consensus about the specific factors that cause an individual to become heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual – including possible biological, psychological, or social effects of the parents’ sexual orientation."[2]

They added this footnote:

"Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation – heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality – is determined by any factor or factors."

Instead of being heterosexual or homosexual, might it be not more true to say we are just sexual? If that is true, then as we enter the world of sexual experience, the delights of our eyes and the joys of physical encounter would direct and shape our sexualities. Furthermore, if those experiences are pleasant and rewarding we would pursue them; if they are hurtful and upsetting – for whatever reason – we would turn away from them. To a significant degree then, by our imaginations, by what we see and by what we chose to physically experience, we would develop, alter and shape our own sexual sensitivities, memories and responses.

Furthermore, sexual ‘orientation’ is not a matter of polarities but falls along a continuum between two extremes. Neither is it always fixed but is capable of developing across a person’s lifetime. So a heterosexual man – even a bishop – who has been married for years and has a grown-up family, can declare himself to have changed and become homosexual. From my clinical experience, I get the impression that lesbians undergo such changes more easily than men, expressing changed preferences and entering into satisfactory heterosexual marriages after several years of living in a lesbian relationship or vice versa.

We carry a lot of romantic ideas with our sexual understandings. We may believe there is only one person in the world for us, so that we deny all others until we find that person with absolute certainty. We may believe that we have a fixed orientation and could never enjoy same-sex or opposite sex activities. Perhaps there are more things in Pandora’s box that could delight us than ever we realised. The hedonist wants to try them all but wisdom urges care and restraint.

Young people are vulnerable and need to keep a careful guard over their sexual experiences. Every sexual ‘experiment’ and encounter alters the fine-tuning of our sexual desires and sensitivities – for good or ill. A major area of adolescent  vulnerability is in their mental health. There is a strong correlation between guilt and depression. Broken relationships usually cause both low mood and self-blame to at least one partner. In particular, recent research shows that male homosexuals have significantly increased risks of mental illness.[3] [4]

Hence the scriptures tell us to "Flee youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22). The Song of Solomon repeatedly urges us "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Genesis tells us that Joseph ran out of the house when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39:7-12), while the Proverbs tell us to "rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:18).

Sexual Addictions

Sexual activities can be highly addictive. If you enjoy them, you will almost certainly want to repeat them. The first addiction that many teenagers experience is flirtation. This can be enormously rewarding and become something of a full-time preoccupation! Some seem to have real difficulty growing out of this adolescent phase. Similarly, masturbation can be immediately rewarding and comforting. In an alienating and difficult world, insecure and depressed young males in particular can become very addicted to this readily available escape mechanism. Pornography can be highly addictive. Any bored or frustrating time spent in front of a computer can be transformed immediately into a world of sensual delights.

Even those with no strong moral objections to pornography may nonetheless become distressed at their inability to resist it. Breaking the habit can require a good deal of support and encouragement, as well as some strategic decisions to enable people to break free (e.g. see this promising recent development: www.cybersafe247.com). Furthermore, pornography is intrinsically unsatisfying and therefore can lead on to other more ‘rewarding’ activities. It almost certainly is responsible for the growth of prostitution and is probably responsible, in some instances anyway, for crimes of sexual violence.

The sexual act is highly addictive as happily married people readily admit! For them, that addiction is ideally locked into the relationship with the particular person they have chosen to marry. However, many heterosexual as well as homosexual 'sex addicts' have a relentless desire to have intercourse with as many different people as possible, and some claim to have had sex with literally thousands of people.

For some, the really exciting people to have intercourse with are prostitutes. Whether it is the impersonal character of the experience, the very idea of paying for sex, the illicit nature of the event, the associated risks or the sleazy environment of such encounters, they add to a toxic concoction which can make the experience highly destructive as well as hugely addictive.

Serial adultery can be an addictive activity (not just for famous politicians) and so can serial rape, where presumably the ‘hunt’, the identification, the ensnaring and the controlling power all combine to make such crimes so addictive.

The addictive nature of paedophilia is well recognised. This sexual attraction to children has been described as an orientation and as a preference. Its cause is not understood. Neither is it a discrete condition. There are a wide range of definable variations lumped together under the term. What is clear is that those attractions which lead people (usually, but not exclusively, heterosexual men) to abuse children are very difficult to treat. They certainly can’t be simply cured, though various drastic treatment methods have been employed. Even if they do not act on their desires, having been aroused by children they are liable to find children sexually arousing throughout the rest of their lives.

All these examples should serve as a warning. Sexual experimentation can be a one-way street. Desires that are awakened cannot just be turned off. We remain sexually sensitised and liable to be quickly aroused again if we revisit that experience and opportunity.

We know what a mess we get into with superglue if we get it on our fingers and furniture. We can get disastrously stuck in all sorts of ways, getting the glue anywhere but in the right place. Well, sex is another very powerful bonding agent, which needs to be handled with great care.

Are there any Ethical Guidelines?

A common confusion in the British Press is to assume that equality and sameness both mean the same thing. As a result, if men and women have equal rights in law, then people of the same sex are as entitled to marry as people of opposite sex.

A common confusion in the British Press is to assume that equality and sameness both mean the same thing

This sleight of hand makes a simple mistake. Apples and pears are both equally fruits, and may grow on rather similar trees, in the same conditions of the same orchard. But it would be crass mistake to assume they are identical. They are equally fruits, but they are evidently different fruits. Men and women have equal rights in law – to free them up to be men or women. However, their anatomical, physiological and genetic differences are profound, and of course, those differences are essential to producing children naturally.

In Matthew 19, Jesus was asked a very particular cultural question. In 1st century Judea, men were able to divorce their wives for literally any cause. Some Pharisees wanted to know Christ’s opinion of this widespread practice. They probably realised his answer, whether he affirmed the practice or decried it, was going to upset a great many people.

He replied, "Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female? For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.... what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:3-6)

So Jesus answered this very specific cultural question by going back to very general principles of Creation, found in Genesis 2:18-25. What were these principles?

  • It is not good for mankind to be alone
  • God made male and female to complement one another
  • We all originate from such male and female unions
  • We in turn should form our own male and female unions
  • This one-flesh bond was intended to be unique and lasting

Jesus went on to add that:

  • Divorce is permitted though it is not God’s intention, Matthew 19:8
  • Marriage is not compulsory, Matthew 19:10,11

He gives three examples of people who cannot marry. Some by their state at birth are incapable of sexual reproduction. That would include a range of uncommon congenital malformations and would include genetic hermaphrodites and physical developmental malformations of the sexual organs.

The second group were those rendered incapable of marriage by others through physical trauma, including deliberate castration.

The third group were those who renounce marriage for themselves in order to devote their lives wholeheartedly to the work of the Kingdom of God, of whom the much travelled apostle Paul may well have been an example.

So Jesus took a very specific, cultural question and answered it in terms of very general creation principles. Presumably, he would today answer many of our specific cultural questions in similar terms. What might people like to ask him today?

  • What is wrong with free love?
  • Surely, adultery is OK if you are using contraception?
  • What is wrong with wife-swapping?
  • Why isn’t same-sex activity allowable?
  • Isn’t same-sex marriage an equally valid option?
  • What is wrong with polygamy or other ‘group marriage’ arrangements?
  • Since ‘rape’ is natural among animals, why is it wrong for human animals?
  • Isn’t bestiality just a matter of personal preference?
  • Isn’t paedophilia OK if the child consents?

And Jesus would reply:

"Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.... what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Some Conclusions

  • Sex drives are powerful forces and for humans were intended to be expressed in the special framework of God-ordained, heterosexual marriage.
  • ‘Orientation’ is not genetically determined; neither is it always fixed.
  • Sexual experimentation is highly dangerous because we experiment on ourselves as well as on others. We are not the same afterwards.
  • Sexual addictions show that diverse desires can be awakened, from which it may be very difficult to extract yourself.
  • The law should protect the vulnerable and not put them at risk. Young people are clearly at risk of sexually damaging themselves mentally and physically.
  • We can nurture heterosexual desires, but may well find some degree of difficulty if we have previously nurtured homo-erotic desires.
  • We nurture non-heterosexual desires at our peril.

References

[1] Fact sheet, American Psychiatric Association, May 2000.
[2] Briefing for the Supreme Court of State of California, (Case no S147999, Proceedings no. 4365) on 26 September 2007.
[3] Chakraborty, A. et al. 'Mental health of the non-heterosexual population of England' British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 198, February 2011, pp.143-48.
[4] Tracy McVeigh 'Breaking the taboo over the mental health crisis among Britain's gay men' The Observer, 22 August 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/aug/22/gay-attitude-depression-isolation.

© 2012 Dr Peter May
This talk was first given at Highfield Church, Southampton and is reproduced by the kind permission of Peter May.
This article was first published in the European Leadership Forum newsletter in two parts and appears here by the kind permission of the author and ELF.