'Don't Let Sex Become About Status or Power'

A letter from a reader about a Christian approach to intimacy

In response to the recent article, "When 'Do Unto Others' Meets Hookup Culture," a Christian reader who lives in New York City shares some non-sectarian advice for deciding when and why to have sex:

I belong to a category that seems to me to be growing spectacularly and entirely under the secular radar. I'm a 30-year-old Ivy grad, a software developer, living in Park Slope with my wife, who is currently clerking for a federal judge.
I was raised a Christian, but hung out on the atheist-agnostic spectrum from age 14 until age 28, when a series of personal experiences—deep personal failings, followed by a transformative new appreciation of the strength and wisdom of certain people in my life, all of whom were committed Christians—brought me back to Christ. I go to a Manhattan church called Redeemer that's full of people with similar backgrounds. Redeemer is big (6,000 weekly attendees) and growing fast, and there are a bunch of other young evangelical churches I could choose from in Manhattan, all growing really, really fast. According to my more seasoned brothers and sisters, Christianity's vitality among New York City yuppies is new in the last 10 to 15 years.
The central thrust of your piece today really resonates with me. I had some thoughts about what else I'd like hear in remarks like the ones by your imaginary campus minister. I don't think it's stereotypical Christian propaganda.
Here goes:
One of the most powerful pressures you'll feel in college, and maybe for the rest of your life, is the desire to maintain and improve your social status and to feel powerful. It's not something that we like to talk about, but it's true.
What does this have to do with sex?
In our culture, many of the thoughts and feelings you will be encouraged to have about your sex life—many of your desires and satisfactions, jealousies, insecurities and frustrations—won't actually be about sex, but about status and power. I'm talking about advertising and pop music especially, but it's seeped really deeply into our culture and the way we think in everyday life. It has polluted our whole way of doing sex, especially when we're young.
Very often this isn't acknowledged, and talking about it will often make people around you uncomfortable. As a society we're eager to talk about sex, but we're broken and dysfunctional when it comes to status and power. We don't like to acknowledge them or talk about them. This is a huge problem. It's way too big a problem for me to talk about today. The thing I want to point out is the fact that status and power constantly, constantly, try their best to hijack other things—especially sex, especially when you're young.
What I want to say to you is: Don't let sex become about status or power for you. If you can master the impulse to let your thoughts and feelings about sex be polluted by stuff that's really about status or power, you will naturally avoid many of the wrong paths—both the things our modern culture says are wrong and the things that Christ teaches are wrong—and you will be much more likely to find the real joy that sex is supposed to be about.
Don't let actual intimacy be about status and power, don't let dating be about those things, don't let flirtation be about those things. Don't let friendship be about those things, because if your friendships are about status or power, you've got a zero percent chance of keeping those things out of your sex life.
Getting this stuff right is harder for some people than for others. For many people it is the single hardest thing in life, a constant struggle where we're constantly getting tripped up by our thoughts and our feelings and our sheer desire and especially, especially our pride. If you know you're someone who finds this stuff impossibly hard, find people who seem to be able to manage it better. Don't ever get the idea that they're managing it better because it's not as much of a challenge for them. This is about character. They have learned something and made it part of themselves, and you can learn it too, if you work at it for years. Find these people. Do it now, when you're starting a new chapter in your life. And hold onto them for dear life.