“I don’t think there are any men who are faithful to their wives.”
—Jacqueline Kennedy (wife of U.S. president John F. Kennedy)
“Husbands are chiefly good lovers when they are betraying their wives.”
—Marilyn Monroe (alleged conquest of John F. Kennedy)
“I belong to the one I love and his desire is for me.”
—The woman, Song of Solomon 7:10* (way ahead of John F. Kennedy)
’ve been traveling for a month making a film, and today the airline seated me next to someone with a soft Irish accent, a wicked laugh, blue eyes, long dark hair, and dangerous curves. We talked through the flight, and as the plane made
its approach over the lights of New York, she made her approach and invited me to her Manhattan apartment for coffee. I suspect “coffee” means more than a macchiato.
So why not? It would be fun and a compliment to my ego, but . . .
1. I have it all at home.
There is no pleasure like waking up on a rainy morning and snuggling into the neck of the woman I love, the person I know and like best. There’s golden hair, warm skin, and all that touch. We understand each other. It’s real. That’s as close to heaven as I’ve been. Would I risk that for a brief episode of sex in the city?
If I cappuccino this woman half a planet away, would Carla know? She’d hear it in my voice on the first phone call. It would hurt her probably more than if I’d died, and would threaten the intimacy we have. Even if I could lie, it would destroy my end of our openness and easy trust.
2. I want sex to link me to my wife, not pull us apart.
I don’t want to build up sexy memories and emotional frequent-flier miles with anyone else. I want my amazing wife to be the only woman who registers on my emotional-sexual radar screen.
Casual sex would make it harder to achieve intimate sex because it would train me in “splitting,” the mental ability to separate sex from love rather than learning to have loving sex. I want to keep sex and love together in my mind, not turn my sexuality into an unguided missile on its own. I want integrity, getting it all together.
Friends who’ve had flings say there was excitement and gymnastics, but they felt lonely even at the time and guilty and depressed afterward. In some cases it took down their marriage, and even those who stayed together felt they had lost something and are still wondering how to get it back.
Flings are airline food for the heart and can spoil your dinner at home.
3. No one has yet invented a condom for the soul.
Sex is physical—grrreat—but it’s more than physical because a person is more than physical. Sex lets our souls get naked, which is superb when you love the person and risky if you don’t. The human spirit doesn’t wait outside the bedroom door. Medical research is always finding new ways body and mind are connected, which actually means this woman and I would be playing with each other’s mind and spirit.
“Just physical”? It couldn’t be.
4. Fair’s fair.
If some man were in bed with my wife right now, I’d feel like battering him senseless with his own belt—then dying of grief. I want to be loved as the only one, and it’s simple fairness to give that back.
5. Imagination is an asset.
Sportspeople talk about the inner game, using positive imaging to previsualize their match. Every psych student knows about the basketball experiment in which two groups of people practiced shooting hoops for half an hour a day, and only one group had a basketball—the other group just stood there and imagined. And both groups improved by the same amount. So why not the inner game of lovemaking? It’s worth focusing all the power of imagination and fantasy on the person you love, not wasting it on others. That requires mental discipline—but then so does any athletic encounter.
6. I want our children to believe in love.
I showed my seatmate a photo of my wife and two children soon after we started chatting, but that seemed to have an effect that was the complete opposite of what I intended. I guess it proved I’m not a serial killer.
But the largest influence on my children’s future happiness in relationships will be what they learn from watching their mother and me. Maybe the greatest life skill we could give them—even greater than singing harmony or my amazing party trick of catching a grape in my mouth when someone throws it from the other side of the room—is how to love somebody for life. Our culture undervalues those skills, but loving relationships are the greatest source of human happiness.
7. Sex makes babies.
Call me Captain Obvious, but it’s important. As a teenager, that thought used to scare the pants off me (or actually scare the pants on). One of the arguments against sex outside marriage was the fear that pills can fail and latex can tear and pregnancy means having to pay for a child for the next 21 years. But I didn’t see then that we’re talking about more than money. We’re talking about sharing DNA, blending who you are with another person: could there be a higher compliment than that? I used to say to my wife, “You’re amazing. The world should have more people like you.” And now it does. Sex can make a person, a whole human life. Sex can create someone in my own image, a human being who can be alive forever. So reproduction is a Godlike power, entrusted to humans by the Creator, whose first recorded command was “Be fruitful. Multiply.” Reproduction (or even the chance of reproduction) is too awesome to be wasted with just anyone.
8. I get enough variety at home.
A happy old husband quietly told me at my wedding, “I’ve only ever slept with my wife, but I’ve never slept with the same woman twice.” If a person feels loved and free to be creative and express their feelings, sex will never be boring.
I believe in “Yahweh . . . the dependable God who keeps His covenant and constantly shows faithful loving-kindness to those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut. 7:9, author’s translation). What would that God think of unfaithfulness, of a selfish grab for temporary pleasure at the expense of someone I’m meant to care for and who has my solemn promises? Would I want to disappoint a Spirit who can help my human weakness and neediness and stupidity and give my spirit what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “strength to love”?
God’s love for me doesn’t waver when my actions let Him down: this God died for my sins. But even that shows how my love should be. As Don Francisco sang:
“Jesus didn’t die for you because it was fun
He hung there for love because it had to be done
And in spite of the anguish His word was fulfilled
Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of your will.”†
God’s commandment echoes across 35 centuries: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14, KJV). Why wouldn’t I take advice from Someone who actually knows everything?
And so . . .
There’s an invitation for coffee hanging in the air. But coffee is unhealthy, as every Seventh-day Adventist knows.
I decide to stay caffeine-free, and I blurt out some clunky answer like, “I’ve enjoyed your company, but I really love my wife.”
There’s a surprised pause, then she flashes a gracious smile and says, “Well, how romantic.” Things change gears now because she understands I’m Mr. Safe. She asks if I’d mind her asking about my relationship. I’m sure Carla would be flattered by what I’ll say, so as we touch down I try to tell this stranger what love is like for me, about spiritual ideals and trying to live up to them, about two imperfect people who feel like they’ve somehow snuck back into Eden to play in Paradise.
With shiny eyes she says she has similar dreams but can’t seem to find them in the real world, so she takes pleasure where she can.
I tell her I hope she finds love.
Where do you take a conversation after that? We can hardly go back to discussing our favorite photographers, but we’re disembarking anyway at the John F. Kennedy airport, and saying goodbye in a city of 8 million souls.
And now I’m alone in my hotel bed with my heart in another time zone, writing in my journal about wising up to temptation and wishing I could see my wife’s face.
My next flight is with my friend and film director, Marcus, and I tell him my story. He says, “What, wasn’t she attractive?” I say she was, and he calls me an idiot (with several unprintable adjectives) for missing an opportunity like that. Marcus is a devout atheist and we see the world very differently, debating a lot while staying great mates. I start arguing passionately for marriage and faithfulness as the most sexy and sensible choice. Marcus champions “sexual freedom.”
The Pakistani Muslim guy beside us listens in from behind thick glasses, then the Swedish backpacker girls behind us lean forward to make comments, and the Dutch and American executives in front turn around and chip in their views. It turns into a miles-high discussion of sex and love, and one key question is whether humans are just walking bags of biochemistry or whether we are spiritual.
That’s a very important question to people of no faith and of all faiths—and it’s a deeply religious question. I throw in some verses from that inspired work of literature, the Song of Solomon, and they’re surprised to learn the Bible contains erotica. They ask me to tell them about it, so I do, and the questions roll. We end up talking most of the way to London, into the wee hours.
Eighteen days later my welcome home was balletic and heartfelt. Ah, the rewards of virtue.
Seven months later Marcus told me he was marrying his beautiful partner, Elle, and asked me to say a prayer at the wedding.
Carla and I have had three more children since then, people who wouldn’t exist if . . . but that’s unthinkable. And we’re nine years deeper into a marriage that’s still flying miles high.
* Author’s translation.
Grenville Kent is a besotted husband and the proud father of five young children. He is producer/presenter of the Big Questions outreach films for the Australian Union of Seventh-day Adventists and is a gospel minster, especially to young people. He also lectures in Old Testament at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia. This article was published April 8, 2010.