Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
In our culture, every sexual orientation gets a label and a definition. A 26-year-old anonymous female listener has been considering those categories. She writes in to us, saying, “Hello, Pastor John! What are your thoughts on the sexual orientation category of ‘asexual’ — of people who experience no general sexual attraction to others? This seems to be me currently. Am I broken? Is something wrong with me? Or do you think in a Christian’s life this would be a God-given signal that one has the permanent gift of singleness? At first I thought so, but then I see another category for those who are ‘demisexual’ — those who experience sexual attraction to someone, but only after a close emotional connection has first formed. I think I may be asexual, but I don’t know. Perhaps I could be sexually attracted to a man later on?
“In light of 1 Corinthians 7:6–11, does the Bible applaud asexuality? And how should a currently asexual young woman proceed in thinking about singleness and marriage that embraces singleness and ministry opportunities, but leaves open the possibility of marriage in the future?” What would you say to this young female listener?
I hadn’t planned to say this originally, but yesterday I took a walk with my wife, and I said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about some APJ questions,” and I paraphrased this one to her about a woman who thought she had no sexual attraction to men as a single woman. And my wife looked at me and said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “Okay, I’ll tell her you said that.”
That response might make a little more sense if I tell you what I was going to say anyway, but that’s a short answer.
Matrimony Without Romance
It might be helpful to start by saying that the vast majority of marriages in the history of the world have not been based on romantic sexual attraction. That’s a relatively modern criterion, in a way. It has skyrocketed to preeminence in the last couple of centuries in the West. But most of the marriages in the world have been arranged by family, or have been dictated by other relational and social circumstances.
“There are far bigger issues at stake in marriage than being or staying in love.”
So, just be aware that we live in a weird time with the elevation of personal romantic affection being the be-all and end-all of how you form lifelong relationships of commitment. Which also means that millions of human beings have been born into the world having been conceived in moments not of mutual sexual passion. Most human beings have come into the world not having been conceived that way. That kind of passion may or may not have come into being in a marriage, but it doesn’t take passion to make a baby.
To be sure, God has lots to say in the Bible about how a male and a female human being, created in his image, should treat each other with respect and honor and purity in the unique callings of manhood and womanhood in the act of sexual relations. I’m not saying those aren’t important and that God has nothing to say about it. But he does not say that the only valid sexual relations, or the only beautiful sexual relations, must carry the same mutual passions in a man and a woman. They do not both have to be fever-pitch intense for this thing to be right and beautiful. That’s not true.
Those passions vary tremendously from man to man, woman to woman, from season to season in a marriage relationship. They’re just not of the essence — they are not of the essence — of what marriage is. It’s not an accident that the very first chapter in my book on marriage is titled, “Staying Married Is Not Mainly about Staying in Love.” That’s the way I began my book on marriage. I wrote it when we’d been married forty years. I would say the same thing now that we’ve been married fifty years.
I think being in love, in the romantic sense of mutual desire, is indeed the ideal of God’s plan, but it is neither essential nor is it the primary means of staying married or staying happily married. There are far bigger issues at stake in marriage than being or staying in love. Marriage is about the covenant-keeping love between Christ and the church, and displaying that can happen profoundly, even where romantic affections rise and fall — maybe especially when romantic affections fall.
From what you have told me, I don’t see your relative indifference to sex as a flaw. But I would need to know lots more to make a judgment like that. I asked my wife whether she would say this, and she said sure. My guess is that you are closer to the norm of how women feel about sex, in general, than the sexually spring-loaded and predacious women glorified as normative in the entertainment industry — which, by the way, are almost all created by men who are always dreaming unrealistic things about women.
“Marriage is about the covenant-keeping love between Christ and the church.”
So here’s a key question for you: Can you imagine yourself spending the rest of your life living with a caring, mature, responsible Christian man? And do you have any desire for that to happen? Another question: Do you ever dream about this? Did you when you were a teenager ever dream about this? Or would you just as soon have an ordinary home of your own — maybe a housemate, maybe not — for the next fifty years, and you could very happily conceive of things that way? None of those are judgment questions. They’re just knowing-yourself kinds of questions.
If you say, “No, I don’t dream about spending my life with a man,” then my question would be, just to clarify, “Has any man, real or imaginary, ever awakened such a longing in you? Do sexual relations seem unclean to you when you imagine having sex? Does it seem gross?” You may wonder, Why are you asking that question? I’m asking that question because I’ve dealt with couples — I’m thinking of one in particular — that divorced within a year after I did their wedding. And she simply said, “It’s just gross. I can’t stand it. It’s gross.” So she clearly walked into this without knowing what she was in for, and had a horrific issue to deal with from her past that she hadn’t come to terms with.
Or does sex seem boring? Does it seem frightening? Does a sexual relationship with a man seem beautiful? Does it seem godly? Does it seem like a necessary evil for making babies? I would just want, in that conversation, to discern: Just what is your inner heart-world? What’s really going on in your heart? It would make a huge difference whether you thought sex would feel dirty or whether you thought it would simply be a godly way to bless your husband, even though you yourself didn’t have any passionate pursuit of it.
Pursue Godly Womanhood
Let me share one story from my experience and a closing encouragement. When I was madly in love with Noël in college, I desired everything about her. Sexually and every other way, I wanted her. I fully expected to marry her, which I eventually did.
There was another young woman, about a year into our relationship, about her same age, that I felt no sexual attraction to at all. But this young woman was a poet, and I was writing poems — lots of them in those days. And she liked my poems that I wrote, and she gave me some of hers. This created in me something that you might perhaps experience. I’m talking to the questioner now. I was deeply moved. She touched something deep inside of me when she appreciated what I wrote, and shared what she wrote. I was drawn to her. I wanted to spend time with her.
“The vast majority of marriages in the history of the world have not been based on romantic sexual attraction.”
I thought she was quite homely, but I was drawn to her. It was not sexual. I didn’t think she was pretty, but it was deeper than that. I had to stop talking with her. I had to stop reading her poems for a season and sharing mine. Something was going on inside of me that was profoundly bonding. And now here’s my point: You might experience something like that. If Noël had not existed, would that relationship have moved toward romance? Would I have been eventually desirous of her body as I was of her kinship in poetry? And I don’t know the answer to that; I don’t know. I felt like it was very possible.
So, my encouragement is this: Accept your present indifference to sexual desires. Just accept it. Like Noël said, “What’s the problem?” Seek to love and serve people with all your gifts, be joyful in the Lord, and be mature and wise and strong and humble and honest. In other words, be a great, mature, deep sage of a woman. Don’t go out of your way to make relationships happen, but if a worthy man shows an interest in you, go with it — in all purity — until it’s plain that there is or there isn’t a sense of desire or a sense of calling to spend your life with him in a growing intimacy of every kind.