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Sexual Release and Sex are not the same

Let me be that psychologist for a second. I am referring to that psychologist who throws charts and graphs at you as if they carry weight in an argument.

A reasonably accurate description of a person’s needs is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The chart shows Maslow’s belief that you must address the needs at the bottom of the pyramid before you can adequately meet the needs at the top of the pyramid.

Take a look at the bottom level of this pyramid. He mentions breathing, food, water, sleep, excretion….and sex! There are many people (including both followers of Christ and atheists) who cannot fathom why sex should be included in that list. Some suppose that Maslow was influenced too heavily by his early research in primates and extends the understandings of primate behavior into the realm of people. That may have some validity, but I still think Maslow is correct. Sex, as defined by sexual release, is a basic human need. Even though it is the one element of the bottom layer of the pyramid that we can live without, that does not negate its significance.

Medical science has shown that sexual release (aka “orgasm”) is somewhat regulatory in nature, helping our brains to focus more strongly and aiding in the development of several of the body’s primary systems (circulatory, excretory, immune etc.). I do not have time to mention the thousands of studies that have shown the incredible benefits of regular orgasms on the human body. And indeed, that is not the purpose of this entry.

Notice the third level. Sexual intimacy is placed there under “love/belonging”. Maslow is differentiating between sexual release and sex between two people. On the bottom level, orgasm is simply a physical function, as is eating and peeing. In a male, orgasm and peeing involve exactly the same apparatus. It isn’t until one actualizes the need for love and belonging that sex becomes more than a function.

What are the implications of Maslow’s insight for Christians?

First, as followers of God, we must recognize that God designed the body to function sexually, in such a way that orgasm is not initially connected to intimacy. The body can orgasm quite naturally when one is sleeping and not aware of any intimacy at all. The body can orgasm when one masturbates with no one else present. As we will see in the series I am doing next month on the meaning of masturbation, we need to have a theology of masturbation divorced completely from sin and shame.

Second, orgasmic release does not carry the same emotional baggage as sex between two people does. Intercourse is an application of sexual release in the context of intimacy…or at least that is the application God intended. When intercourse happens between two people who do not love each other or share a covenant relationship, all number of emotional and spiritual problems can follow. More on those problems in a later entry.

Third, if the body needs sexual release and sexual release is not the same as sex, then this changes some current teachings on masturbation, fondling, kissing, oral sex and dating than we have previously taught as Christians.

This is what we will do in the weeks to come. I intend to do this utilizing the Word of God (which I believe to be inerrant and inspired by God) and the best of logic and reason.