The Terrence Higgins Trust has published what they describe as “much-needed guidance on having sex while managing the risk of COVID-19”. After months of lockdown the charity says “it is unrealistic to expect people to stop having sex indefinitely”. The advice suggests people avoid kissing, wear a face covering and avoid being face-to-face. I will spare you the description of other options suggested.
The Trust goes on to recommend that the best person to have sex with is “someone you live with”. However, they counsel that “if you are having sex with people outside of your household, sticking with one partner or as few partners as possible is important”.
I am sure that this is well-intentioned advice to protect lives and that it is based on sound medical facts. But the assumptions behind it are a sad reflection on our society. Behaviour is determined by a desire for personal gratification – and protecting ourselves from attendant health risks – rather than any kind of moral framework.
The best the Trust seems able to offer is a rather depressing set of selfish and reductionist options which reduce sex to little more than a biological function. It has very little connection with a meaningful relationship or any lasting commitment. As Glynn Harrison writes of the sexual revolution in ‘A Better Story’: ‘In the space of just a few decades the Christian moral vision, which had buttressed the ancient institutions of marriage and family for centuries, effectively collapsed’.
Earlier this year we heard of the cases of Neil Ferguson meeting up with a romantic partner who was apparently in an ‘open marriage’ (otherwise known as an unfaithful one) and Labour MP Rosie Duffield who met up with her married partner while they were living separately, in breach of coronavirus restrictions. All the outrage aimed at them was not about their breaching the marriage covenant but the lockdown rules.
As you would expect, God’s ways are best in every context. To fight a potentially deadly virus (and indeed a whole host of other sexually-transmitted diseases), having one sexual partner for life, (formerly known as marriage) is best for us. Even the Terrence Higgins Trust advice admits to that.
But Christian marriage is not just good for our health; we delight in marriage as the secure, fulfilling and joyful context for sexual intimacy. It is the place for freedom to express ourselves, to know and be known and accepted within the relationship of loving commitment. Marriage is not only good for Christians, but good for everybody, and helps to build stronger communities that protect the most vulnerable.
But we do not elevate sex (or marriage) to the role of a god which promises us ultimate satisfaction. Our marriages are a reflection of a stronger, better relationship – the one between God and his people, between Christ and the church.
Whether you are in a marriage or not, we can all enjoy this relationship with Christ, and there is no social distancing to observe. We are made clean in him, so that we may enjoy the closest of relationships without risk of illness or fear of rejection.