Are We Defined by Our Desires?
One of the great drivers of the major changes in attitude and perspective about sexuality in modern Western culture involves sexuality and identity. Many today take for granted the idea that a person can be defined by their sexual desire. Thus, to condemn a way a person exercises sexual desire is to condemn the person for who they are, and that is understandably seen as unjust and unfair. And yet, by common confession, the conceptualization of people as being biologically determined by their sexual desires—that a person is bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, etc., like they are male or female, tall or short, etc.—has only existed since the Victorian era (ca. 1850). This view has become so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely questioned; it has become “common sense” to 21st century Westerners. Yet is it so? Are people biologically determined by their sexual desires?
Sexual desire, like many facets of humanity, is complicated; there are no doubt many genetic antecedents and predispositions involved. Yet how are infants and small children to be defined? They should be asexual. It has been found that many young people, on account of hormonal changes and/or environmental issues, go through a phase of interest in members of the same sex; for most this phase passes. Are they “gay” because they go through such an experience? By no means! Recent YouGov surveys in the United States and the United Kingdom show that younger generations increasingly no longer identify as exclusively “heterosexual” or “homosexual” but fall somewhere on the “bisexual spectrum”1. There is a greater awareness, even among the members of the LGBTQ community, of “fluidity” in sexual expression and identification.
“Nature,” both in its good created order and in its corruption on account of sin and death, certainly influences one’s sexual desires (cf. Romans 5:12-19, 8:18-25). So does one’s environment: one’s parental heritage, education, and cultural attitudes also influences whether a person exercises sexual desire, and how. Secular culture cannot have its cake and eat it too: if it is becoming aware of the existence of many types of sexualities and fluidity in sexual identity and expression, then it must admit that we are not biologically determined to be our sexual desires.
In Biblical times, humans did not consider themselves in terms of “-sexual” identities; no one in Scripture is called a bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or anything else of the sort. Instead God made man and woman in His image, and intended for a man to leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and become one flesh (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). God thus made men and women with sexual desire, and God provided the appropriate covenantal relationship, marriage, in which sexual desire could be satisfied and celebrated (Proverbs 5:15-19, Hebrews 13:4). Any exercise of sexual lust or behavior that does not manifest mutual indwelling of a man and woman who are joined by God in marriage is condemned as lasciviousness and porneia, sexually deviant behavior (Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Such is why Paul condemns same gender lust and sexual behavior in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
Christians must maintain confidence in God’s revelation to humanity in Jesus and not the presuppositions of the culture in which they live (Colossians 2:1-10). We should not buy into the assumption that people are to be defined by their sexual desires; God’s concern is for all of us to remain chaste, maintaining our bodies in holiness and purity, avoiding sexual lust and behavior outside the confines of a marriage in which God has joined a man and a woman (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). We are more than our desires; we must all learn to exercise proper self-control and not allow temptation to become lust and sin (James 1:13-16). May we affirm God’s good purposes for human sexuality and warn about the sins surrounding its abuse!
Ethan R. Longhenry