[Note: This material may be inappropriate to young readers.]
BY ALLAN R. HANDYSIDES*
INCE I AM A DOCTOR, A LOT OF PEOPLE figure that I can talk
about sex and intimate things without embarrassment. The truth is, as a profession,
doctors probably are not overly knowledgeable. But the truth is, neither is
any other group. However, because of the experience I have had as an obstetrician
and gynecologist, delivering thousands of babies and counseling lots of people,
I'm not shy about talking about intimate things.
The purpose of this article is to present a Christian philosophy
for healthy sexual relationships. All healthy relationships, including
a healthy sexual relationship, require emotionally stable, supported, well-balanced
people. The marital or sexual relationship is a fundamental relationship.
The Power of Bonding
The electricity of sexuality welds bonds between a man and a woman. I was reading
a woman's magazine--yes, we men do. There was a question-and-answer column,
and the woman wrote, "I just wanted to enjoy some sex without any strings
attached. The guy was not really my type, but good in bed, but now I find I
am becoming very emotionally involved with him, and I'm confused. What's going
on? He doesn't want anything more than just a sexual relationship."
It doesn't work like that. We are not made that way. Sex is
a glue. An emotional crazy glue. Donald Joy, in his book Bonding: Relationships
in the Image of God, recounts the following true story.
In 1964 Karen Waterfill and Roger Caldwell became instant sweethearts.
She was 13, and he was 16. They met in the church choir. Roger was a good boy,
a good worker, and soon started working on the Waterfill farm. They were leaders
in their class at school, and in the fall of 1965 Roger went to the University
of Kentucky. About February 1966 Karen confided in her mother that she was pregnant.
Karen's father cried. Her mom went into high gear; arranged for Karen to go
to a home for unwed girls; made up a story about Karen going on a tour with
a traveling singing group; made contact with Roger and forbade him to contact
Karen, and did not disclose Karen's whereabouts. She intercepted all phone calls
and mail, and Karen felt that Roger had abandoned her. September 11, 1966, Karen
gave birth to a baby boy, which she gave up for adoption.
Things stood that way until June 4, 1991 (24 years later) when
a telephone call from Frankfort's Human Resources office informed Karen that
a young man had initiated a formal inquiry into the birth of a baby boy on September
Now 24 years later, her father dead from a motor vehicle accident,
her mother dead of cancer, two marriages ended in divorce, a third ready to
fold, Karen had been unable to forget Roger. She always took September 11 off
in remembrance of that "dark day" she gave birth to the son that she
gave away. Karen agreed to meet the young man, and through information in the
records she was able to make contact with Roger. After 24 years, she learned
about Roger's silence. Roger ended their conversation by saying, "Karen,
you are the only woman I have ever loved." As time passed and Roger never
heard from Karen, he thought she didn't want to talk with him. He later got
married and dropped out of school because he couldn't think straight. A son
had been killed in an auto accident, his daughter had gotten married, and he
A four-hour reunion on June 14 led them to a meeting two weeks
later with a young man and his wife. Mark Kitts and his wife, Dee Dee, were
expecting their first baby. For the next five hours they caught up on the years
On August 3, 1991, in a church garden, the pastor said, "Twenty-four
years ago you became my father and my mother. Today it is only right
that I am the one to announce that you finally are recognized as husband and
wife. Mark Kitts married Karen and Roger.
This story, so full of pathos and pain, highlights the persistence
of bonding, and the need to treat sexuality with the utmost respect.
In the biblical sense, sexual intimacy, or consummation, was
equated with marriage in situations of consensual sexual intercourse. The public
ritual of a wedding service is to give society's approbation. When done in a
church setting, it requests God's blessing, and in the sense that God does the
joining, the bond becomes firm. The glue of sex is God's gift, God's bonding
The Steps of Bonding
Donald Joy in his book reports Desmond Morris's description of 12 steps to pair
bonding. He stresses the following:
- The steps appear only in the sequence he describes.
- If steps are missed, the bond will be weak.
- Humans are intrinsically programmed for these steps.
The "discovering" look: Eureka--just look at that! Such an amazing
person exists! This is not a predatory sexual look. Even if a lifelong friend
becomes a bonded mate, there will have been the moment of recognition that the
person is special. This specialness is not related to physical beauty or physique.
We can all ask, "What does he see in her?" It is the magic of attraction.
After an individual has focused on a person, the object of the attention becomes
aware of the focus--a flush of self-consciousness, a quickening of the heartbeat.
Eye-to-eye contact is the hallmark of emotional energy exchange. Extended eye
contact is not engaged in at this stage, as it indicates more than looking at
the eyes--it is like peering into the soul.
This step describes the guy who goes to the pet store because he wants to talk
to the "pet" at the cash register! Some use someone else's voice--"Ask
her what she thinks of me." Some use the phone--safe because she/he can't
see them, only hear their voice. It permits vocal expression without too much
exposure. Some have called this fascination from afar.
Tarrying in these next three stages (4, 5, and 6) leads to
better bonding, especially when they are done in public. The stages of watching,
talking, and conventional public touching form the lifelong basis of bonded
faithfulness and trust. They give a gentle naturalness to the relationship.
This is not explicitly sexual at first, but will trigger an awareness. The four-square
inches of human skin trigger new electricities. A sense of a growing friendship,
but it does not require privacy. In fact, it is best not private. The
public eye "cools the jets," and gives time to learn the answer to
the question "Is this really a keeper relationship?"
Not a hug, but a subtle display of ownership. The statement is "Yeah, we
have a little something going here." But at this stage there is no advanced
focus or touch. This is a good phase to stretch out. Discover the friend and
cement the friendship.
At this point the arm-to-waist draws the other closer: the bodies bump; the
talk is explorative; secrets, hopes, dreams, and memories are shared.
This step is "the last exit before you can get off the
freeway of love without leaving skid marks" (Donald Joy). In other words,
steps beyond this stage will involve much more emotional bonding and commitment
so that grief work will be necessary to repair and normalize the emotions should
the bond be broken. At this stage partners are wise to search their hearts for
problems that may exist. If there are definite problems, the brakes need to
If there are definite problems at this point, it is wise to
back off. Perhaps you will have to say, "You are a good friend, but we
both deserve someone who can dream our dreams with us."
Light contact, extended conversation, and communication are the basis of strong
sexuality in its more advanced phases. Any sexual contact that does not have
a long, strong, deep foundation in the primary six stages will be less than
the kind of intimacy possible, desirable, and ultimate.
This is the gazing stage: sitting across from each other gazing at each other,
all secrets are out, the focus is on the eyes. The couple reads each other's
mind--or so they think!
This step is not the conventional peck on the cheek, the floating
kiss in the air. This is the first step of sexually stimulating courting. Restraint
needs to be the priority if the bonding is to proceed to full attachment. I
suggest at this stage to stay public, avoid being alone in bedrooms, and date
with friends who share similar beliefs.
A person's head is a very intimate part of their anatomy. Who touches your head?
My father steadied mine while I vomited as a child. My wife holds my head in
tenderness as a man. I cradle her face when I kiss her. My head is only my wife's.
Even a hairdresser has to keep their touch carefully professional.
In this step, knowledge of the body excludes the genitals. There is an admiration
for the body of the beloved--even the defects. One becomes aware of the shape
of the hands, the crooked toes, the birthmark. Satisfaction and peace with the
body of the partner appear here.
When a relationship breaks at this stage, the hurt is deep and intense. The
exposure, the vulnerability, knowledge, and intense acceptance and understanding
of the partner's imperfections have come at great emotional cost.
Not only partners, but parents need to appreciate the meaning
of this stage of a relationship. There is heavy emotional investment. Youth
should be told about this and recognize how much danger there is in permitting
a relationship to develop this far.
The Glue of Heaven
When emotions have been examined, when commitment has been pledged, then in
the exclusive privacy of the couple, granted publicly by the wedding, come the
last three stages: Mouth-to-Breast, Hand-to-Genital, and Genital-to-Genital.
This completes the pair bonding.
Many problems confront young people today and present difficulties.
Many young people have progressed rapidly down the stairway to full sexual intercourse.
Neglect of the understanding of human bonding and sexual behavior has caused
many problems. A young couple having sexually consummated their relationship
needs to carefully reexamine all the steps.
It is my desire to enable young and old alike to enter the
most healthily bonded, intimate, monogamous relationship possible--and to keep
the glue of heaven sticking!
*In the writing of this article, I drew heavily from the
book Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God, by Donald M. Joy, Ph.D.
The content of this article was taken from a more
extensive presentation on healthy sexual realtionships.
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., F.R.C.P. (c), is director of the General
Conference Health Ministries Department.