Everybody knows that men are obsessed with sex. Our predominant temptation is lust. The danger of being sucked into a dangerously coercive relationship with pornography lies around every corner or click. I must train my eyes and constantly monitor the film on repeat play in my head. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Sex is used to sell to men and to women (because what’s being sold will make them more sexually capable or desirable or both); men think about sex every seven seconds. Pull that last often-quoted statistic out in the company of any group containing men (or women, for that matter) and someone will inevitably reply … ‘What about the other six seconds?‘ Laughter, knowing nods and smiles. Men and women alike now Understand Something about themselves and each other.
Only it isn’t. It’s utter nonsense. It’s a fabricated myth spun around a kernel of half-truth with the status of near-divine revelation.
It’s a myth-as-fact proclaimed implicitly from magazine covers and advertisements, from preachers and counsellors. I’ve heard sermons based around it; I’ve experienced marriage preparation use it as a foundation for the evening spent discussing intimacy; I’ve been told – repeatedly – it’s how I function; I’ve heard it said that my wife must understand this if we’re to have a fulfilling and intimate marriage.
I do not think about sex every seven seconds. I don’t even think about sex every week. I’ve never really had a problem with lust; I am not an especially visually stimulated man. What more often stimulates me are kindnesses, time spent, words uttered. I love my wife deeply and truly and am attracted to her and desire her. That waxes and wanes as it does in all relationships, but after 14 years of marriage I know that our intimacy is far deeper and truer than simply what we do with each other’s bodies.
Sometimes I think about sex but can’t act on it because I experience chronic arthritic pain. More often I experience chronic arthritic pain so I won’t even contemplate sex or pretty much any sort of movement. Sometimes I just don’t think about sex because I’ve got plenty of other really interesting things to think about like work or a conversation with my wife or a movie or the dog to walk or the house move or the emails I need to send or the food I’m cooking or just about any of the other fascinating, thrilling, disturbing, inconvenient things which make up my life.
What am I to think, then? Am I not a proper man? Am I lying to myself? Am I pretending I will never sin sexually? Am I a deviant?
Imagine my relief at stumbling across something resembling actual proof that I am approaching normal. I like busting myths; I like discovering something assumed to be true isn’t. It brings a special kind of freedom. Experience plus the article you can read if you click here leads me to a confident conclusion that there’s little to back up this particular ‘fact’. As the article states, the Kinsey Institute’s research suggests that around 43% of men think about sex a few times a month. That’s a lot of men not thinking about sex a lot of the time.
Not quite every seven seconds, is it?
Now this report and article isn’t definitive; and to be clear I’m not ever suggesting I won’t fall into sexual sin, because I’m human and I may. I’m not suggesting I won’t ever find lust a problem, because I may find myself there. I’m not suggesting that every man who says he does have a problem of this nature is lying, because he may well do so. However my experience, my private conversations and what I’ve read suggest a deeper truth.
The truth is this. We have bought a lie, sold ourselves into captivity. We are liberated prisoners running back to prison. We do it as individuals, as preachers, as churches, as citizens, as partners. We do it as consumers and protestors. We do it in relation to sex, work, emotions, thoughts and almost anything we can relate consciously or sub-consciously to our identity as a man or a woman.
The truth is that we will accept definitions of what it means to be men or women so that we can fit in, not stand out, get help and be accepted into the group. We will do so to the extent of agreeing that we have a problem with something even if we don’t. I know because I’ve done that; I’ve nodded sagely at the preacher saying ‘All of us men here tonight have struggles with lust’. I’ve asked people to pray about it with me, totally convinced myself of having a problem that needs to be addressed.
I’ve done it, and other men have told me they’ve done similar. It makes you feel accepted by the church, you’re proclaimed as honest and down-to-earth and ‘real’. Because that’s what real men are like.
Best-selling Christian and non-Christian books alike proclaim this and so many more ‘facts’ about men and women as to leave you buffeted into submission. Men are this way, so this is how your church should be; men want to rescue and women want to be rescued (there’s even a course you can do). Men’s weekends away are full of outdoor activities and outdoor food, women’s with crafts and women’s food (yes, really). The often italicised caveat is that not all men or women are alike; it’s so brief you miss it in a blink and forget you even read it because actually saying that won’t sell, won’t get applause or laughs or money in the bank.
Men and women are different. Of course they are. Try to generalise that, apply it broadly and you end up with all manner of problems. What matters to me is not what all women are like; it’s what the woman I share my life with is like. What matters to me is not what all men enjoy, but what will bring life and hope to me or to the man I’m trying to understand. What matters is the person in the moment with me.
The wisdom of the lives of other men or women will help me. It will not define the other, though. It may shed some light, it may grant a glimpse of insight; but each unique creation is as spectacularly, gloriously different as the other. Men and women were not made to fit a shape; we were made to explore a creation, to bear the image of the eternal, to be saved by One bleeding and dying and rising to give us abundant lives, who said we could do greater things than He.
We will have problems and brokenness, fear and failure; we will sink into sin and messes of our own making. They are ours, though. They are unique to me and you; I may gain help or comfort or encouragement from a shared struggle. Or I may not.
However I do not walk alone. Which is enough.
Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message)