Why consent alone won’t satisfy 

Written by Bonnie Pue

I was a virgin when we got married. Not a scared virgin, mind you, but an excited one. It was delightfully awkward. We were joyful amateurs in our early twenties, learning to communicate and trust one another on a whole new level.

I began to consider how so many young men and women in this generation face conflicting emotions and confusion after their sexual encounters. Perhaps they wake up, roll over, find their partner gone, and are completely ghosted. Or maybe they are the ones who quietly slip out from between the sheets in the early morning hours.

As a twenty-two-year-old, I started thinking about the frequently used phrase “safe sex.” In so many sex education classes, this is always the goal, isn’t it? I started to wonder, What if safe sex is about far more than preventing a sexually transmitted infection? What if we could somehow inform a generation about the emotional, relational aspects of sexual intimacy?

Consent, disease prevention, and wise decisions about pregnancy are all important. But good sex is about more than that.

In Scripture, whenever there is a sexual encounter between two people outside of the marriage covenant, the Bible describes it as “he lay with her.” However, if they have sex inside of that commitment, it’s explained this way: “he knew his wife.” It’s as though the Bible is gently showing us that sexual experience within marriage provides a unique space for deeper disclosure than any other relationship can.

In fact, scientific and anecdotal reports are being released as evidence that the freedom promised by the sexual revolution of our grandparent’s generation is not coming through the way people hoped it would. Maybe an increased amount of sex can’t make up for what is lacking in the department of true intimacy; maybe true intimacy is what we’re actually made for.

Despite the strong cultural pull in the direction of “greater sexual choice,” it’s increasingly clear that this generation is not actually any happier with how things are going.

Washington Post columnist Christine Emba recently released a book entitled, Rethinking Sex: A Provocation, where she outlines some of these same considerations. While consent is certainly an essential component for sexual interactions, her proposition is that sex was always made to be more than just about the physical.

In the opening pages, she explains, “Hopes are high, outcomes trend low. Social expectations seem at odds with our true desires. And for something meant to bring pleasure, sex is causing a lot of pain … Yet things don’t have to be criminal to be profoundly bad. And the fact that so many of the women around me relate to stories of harrowing dates and lacklustre encounters shows that a lot of us are having a lot of bad sex. Unwanted, depressing, even traumatic: if this is ordinary, something is deeply wrong.” 

Consider also a study released in 2021, by Rose Wesche of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University on the impact of casual sex relationships on an individual. The study showed that while people reported positively about their casual sex experiences, they then also acknowledged that their emotional health was negatively impacted in the time following these encounters.

Though the stigma surrounding casual sexual experiences is fading away in Canadian society, relational satisfaction is not rising to take its place. A rising percentage of Canadians report feeling lonely often or sometimes, and acknowledge that this loneliness is negatively impacting their mental health and overall life satisfaction.

In all the years that I have been a follower of Christ and a student of the Bible, I’ve seen no indication that this is how our Heavenly Father and kind Creator intended us to feel. All those years ago, as a young married woman considering the ramifications of safe sex, I was only beginning to understand the depth of intimacy that was available to me within my marriage.

I thought we knew each other when we first got married. I thought we loved each other. And I thoroughly enjoyed our sex life in those early years.

However, over time, through the hardships and the tension, through the celebrations and the successes, our intimacy grew. Our trust in one another grew, as did our honesty (and our ability to find the words to explain how we really felt). We got faster at confronting what divided us and learned to humble ourselves a little more often.

We have come to know each other more now, and correspondingly, to love each other more. And being known like that has brought a satisfaction in the bedroom that 22-year-old-me never could have imagined.

And now, when I read in Scripture that a man “knew” his wife, I understand that God’s intention for us is not merely to be sexually active and safe, but to be completely seen and embraced. The faithful space of a marriage covenant is a powerful earthly reflection of God’s wonderful intention.

Bonnie Pue is a mother of six and co-founder of The Union Movement along with her husband, Bryan. The Union Movement exists to help people find wholeness in the areas of identity, sexuality, and relationships with a gospel-centred approach. You can find more from her on Instagram at @theunionmovement and @bonniepue.