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Bethany Torode

The Soul of Sex

Do we need Christian sex manuals?

It may have been Victorian prudishness, although I was looking forward to lovemaking and had enjoyed a number of open discussions with my fiancé. Or maybe it was my romantic sensibilities. But when someone gave me the classic evangelical sex guide Intended for Pleasure, I could skim only a few pages before setting it aside.

Looking at similar books (Tim and Beverly LaHaye's The Act of Marriage, Dr. Cliff and Joyce Penner's The Gift of Sex) confirmed my dislike of the genre. When I was engaged, the notion of having a Christian sex manual in my bedroom seemed analogous to landing on a beautiful deserted island, only to be met on shore by a previous explorer with a detailed map. I didn't want to read the books because I didn't want to kill the joy of discovery.

Now that I've been married a few years, and have also listened to the struggles of married friends, I've mellowed out a little. I see the need for Christian sex therapy, and I respect the courage of those authors who have braved offending the cba market by writing about sex.

Still, most of the evangelical sex guides lack soul. They focus mainly on technique (at times reading like Cosmo columns with Bible verses tacked on) at the expense of the deeper realities of which sexuality is an expression. I doubted that any such book could aptly capture the meaning of lovemaking—until I read When Two Become One, by Christopher and Rachel McCluskey.

The McCluskeys understand and speak to the inextricable connection between body and spirit. "There is a world of difference between having sex and truly making love," they write. "The phrases are used interchangeably and, indeed, the acts themselves are the same. But the spirit of making love is entirely different from simply having sex."

They view sex as a form of communication, an exchange between persons (hence the term "intercourse"). So it's natural that they focus on what's being communicated. It's at this deeper level, they contend, that most sexual problems and frustrations begin. And they can only be cured at the source—in the soul.

Most of the book is devoted to discussing the spiritual state of your marriage, which becomes manifest, for good or ill, in physical intimacy. The McCluskeys primarily address communication problems and sexual and theological misunderstandings. They also suggest some beautiful ways to increase intimacy. "Many people find it extremely difficult to look into their spouse's eyes as they kiss, and even more difficult as they actually begin to make love. ... But if we are willing, we can peer into the soul of our mate through their eyes as we become one."

Their language is candid without being crude (unlike another of the evangelical sex guides, which relies on terms such as "Mr. Happy"). They avoid the degrading lingo that most people, Christians or otherwise, default to in discussions of sex. While mechanistic language has invaded discussions of all areas in life, including sexuality, the McCluskeys protect the dignity of the person as a physical/spiritual whole.

Although they comfortably use medical language when needed, the McCluskeys' words are mostly reminiscent of the poetic-yet-explicit imagery in the Song of Songs. Showing their own romantic sensibilities, they conclude the book with a lengthy and beautiful quote from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, part of which reads: "It is impossible that this sacred festival of destiny should not send a celestial radiation to the infinite. ... When two mouths, made sacred by love, draw near each other to create, it is impossible that above that ineffable kiss there should not be a thrill in the immense mystery of the stars."

Christopher is a licensed counselor and sex therapist, so at times the book feels like a counseling session (in a good way). Each chapter begins with a character sketch of a marriage from Christopher's casebook, and the stories resonate, touching on issues all couples struggle through. My cheeks flushed as I saw my own mistakes woven through others' experiences. But the book's gentle tone makes this bearable.

My one quibble is that I wish the McCluskeys had discussed fertility. An overview of the female fertility cycle (and its effects on moods and desire) can be invaluable for both husbands and wives. Also, some discussion on how hormonal contraceptives alter a woman (and hence affect the marriage relationship) would be a plus. Many of my young Christian friends have gone on the Pill, and it's been the source of unnecessary (and sometimes extreme) emotional, physical, and marital problems. As Dr. Richard Fehring of Marquette University writes, "Fertility is a good, being a whole person is a good, and integrating one's fertility is an essential component of wholeness." In my own marriage, grappling with my fertility (instead of suppressing it) has tremendously helped my husband's verbal and sexual communication skills.

"Christians ought to be the most sexually fulfilled people on the planet," the McCluskeys write. "That doesn't necessarily mean the most sexually active or the most sexually varied in their practices, but simply the most sexually fulfilled." Their book will help this become a reality in many marriages. It's an invaluable resource for pastors and priests doing marital counseling, especially since it lays a clear, solid theological foundation in the first few chapters. I've been giving it as a wedding gift (though, like me, I suspect most couples won't fully appreciate its wisdom until they've had a year or two to allow problems to surface).

With this book, the McCluskeys have set a new standard for the genre. Much more than a manual, When Two Become One speaks to and about the holy longing in each of us, a longing for God in our physical experience of each other.

Bethany Torode lives with her husband Sam and their two sons in South Wayne, Wisconsin. She is a frequent contributor to Boundless webzine.

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