50 Shades of Flourishing

Current Events

The last “Fifty Shades” film grossed more than $500 million worldwide, despite horrible reviews and weak word-of-mouth scores. And now the newest installment in theaters this month may drive the Fifty Shades dynasty into its seventh digit.

As Christians, we know God abhors the sorts of practices portrayed in books and films that glamorize sex apart from intimate knowledge of and marital commitment to one’s partner. But how can we remain counter-cultural as we seek to pursue purity, dignity, and a long-view perspective on sexual pleasure? Here are some ideas:

  • Teach healthy sexuality. God is the designer of sexual intimacy, and He intended it for human flourishing. So our families and church members should hear what God has revealed about sex in Genesis 1, Proverbs 5, Song of Songs, and 1 Corinthians 7, to name a few. Rather than keeping silent about sex or speaking only to condemn what God abhors, we must help people envision the far better plan for intimacy that He offers. God speaks openly and unashamedly about human sexuality, and so should we.
  • Model appropriate sharing. That said, some—including Christian leaders—“overshare.” Perhaps most do so in an effort to model authenticity, but too much candor about our own intimate lives may actually add to the problem. We must distinguish between secrecy and privacy, and avoid making fuzzy the line between intimate and public.
  • Think about how you and your church use technology. The Father is invisible, but Christ came as a flesh-and-blood human in the Incarnation. And in doing so, he dignified physicality. So be wary of limiting yourself to “virtual” communion and mediated interactions that leave you with a false sense of relational depth. The apostle Paul sent correspondence to help people grow, so there is a place for distance relationships. But never underestimate the importance of face time for helping to overcome a false sense of intimacy.
  • Think “family.” In the broader culture, often men and women compete for power and sexual conquest. But Jesus redeems believers from such practices and instead encourages us to think in terms of familial relationships. If we view fellow Christians as brothers and sisters, we’ll be more likely to treat them like family than as objects.  
  • Be the parent your kids need. Subscribe to cell services that tell you who your child texts and when. Have your teen give his or her phone to you at bedtime. Have a “no internet in the bedroom” policy. And perform random checks so you know to whom they’re talking. And as for teaching sexuality, recognize that you can’t leave the job of teaching to the Sex-Ed teacher or youth pastor. School friends, billboards, YouTube videos, Facebook pictures, magazines, movies, texts, and sit-coms expose kids to lies. Be the accurate, candid, go-to source for information on sexuality. And don’t wait for them to seek you out on the subject.  
  • Analyze what you watch, read, and text. In the dominant culture’s stories, men and women enter into so-called relationships that are mere acquaintances built on instant gratification. Brought to us by mainstream media, such stories desensitize us so we may hardly even notice. So we must pay attention. Some questions to ask include, “Will this film help me flourish as God designed?” and “Will this site help me build more intimate relationships?” and “Does this text honor Christ?”
  • Offer help to the porn-addicted and, if married, their spouses. Porn is to intimacy what junk food is to morbid obesity—it’s a slow killer. Viewing porn expands imaginations in a way that usually leads to selfishness in bed. In contrast, at the heart of true intimacy lies Christlikeness—kindness, love, joy, holiness, and the ability to think of someone other than one’s self. Studies suggest that the best way to beat sexual compulsions is for believers to have a combination of Spirit empowerment and human accountability. Help your church and religious organizations to offer both.   

In the same way the Slow Food movement shifts eating to local, sustainable connections, we the church must offer a Slow Sex movement, which encourages committed, sustainable, long-term monogamous connections. If “Supersize Me” taught us anything, it’s that “fast” satisfies for a moment, but nourishment over the long hall requires us to eat more than dessert. A diet rich in nutrients makes us healthier in the short term and improves our odds of living, really living, long and well on the earth.

Dr. Sandra Glahn is associate professor of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has authored or coauthored a number of books on sexual intimacy in marriage, including a Bible Study on Song of Songs titled Solomon Latte (AMG).

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