Is it a practical requirement for young evangelical men to refer to their wives in public as “hot,” or, to up the ante, “smoking hot”? Some might think it is.
Mary Demuth recently wrote a noteworthy piece at the Her.meneutics blog interacting with this lingo. The piece got a great deal of attention. In it, Demuth averred that she is not “smoking hot,” that she suffered sexual abuse in the past, and that pressure from various evangelical corners to be a “sex kitten” kind of wife left her in the cold. She is clearly frustrated at the rhetoric she hears.
Sexual image and marital sex are simultaneously two of the most talked-about topics in the Christian world and two of the least talked-about topics. What do I mean? We offer a flood of words on the subject but struggle to talk honestly about these matters. Many of us can think of helpful materials—Danny Akin’s God on Sex, to name just one—but we don’t always find it easy to actually converse about these subjects. Let’s face it: sex is hard to talk about, at least in a personal way. I’m thankful that Demuth has started a conversation on this difficult matter.
Here’s the angle I want to cover in what follows: what’s helpful (or true) and what’s not helpful in the “smoking hot” conversation. I’ve got two points in each category.
First, God has given sex to all humanity as a gift. Sex was not invented by a sin-obsessed culture, but by the Lord God Almighty. He is ingenious, incredibly creative, and he gave us sex out of his kind and marvelously intelligent mind. We’re not anti-pleasure people as believers, we’re the most pro-pleasure people around. Pleasure, of course, is not opposed to holiness and righteousness in the biblical mind; these work together in a seamless and never-ending cycle (see the relationship between law and love in Psalm 119, for example).
The Scripture commends modesty and discretion. It does not commend prudery, as even a quick reading of the Song of Songs shows. We’re able and called to celebrate sex as Christians.
Second, it’s a wonderful thing when a man loves a woman (I see you, Percy Sledge). Really—it is. Marital love is not embarrassing or silly. Our culture has it upside-down. It sneers at married couples showing affection but thrills at the sight or suggestion of adultery.
To the contrary, for one man to take a decided, indeed lifelong, interest in one woman is a grand and holy reality. Adam seemed to exult in Eve when the Lord brought her to him, exclaiming “This at last is bone of my bones, and my flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23, emphasis mine). Whatever else we hear there, I think we should hear delight. The Lord designed Eve in such a way as to captivate Adam. Science backs this up; men are on average far more visual in their sexual interest than women. When you hear a young gun refer to his wife as “smoking hot,” my guess is that he is saying, in modern parlance, “at last.”
All this we want to celebrate. Again, Song of Songs clearly shows that it is good for a husband to intensely desire his wife. This isn’t shame-worthy. It’s glorious for men to put lust to death and direct their affection to just one woman. This is the Christic reality that marriage images—one man pursuing and loving one woman. Many of the young guys who use “smoking hot” terminology were saved from lust-driven lives. They see and even remember what they could be. They could be preying upon women, using them physically only to cast them aside, like you hear in Lil’ Wayne songs. Instead, they’re holding Bible studies with their wives. And yes, they’re young, and yes, they’re very excited about the beauty they behold in their spouse.
When you break it down, that’s glorious transformation at work, my friends.
There are some deeper matters to think through on the other end, too.
First, it is possible that women might hear pressure in this language. Many of us young men do find our wives very attractive. That’s all part of the mystical pull toward marriage. It’s a big percentage of what takes a young man out of silly, self-obsessed, games-playing, immaturity-loving youth and drops him squarely into AdultVille. But while it’s a distinctly God-glorifying thing for a young man to really, really, really like his wife, it’s possible that some women might feel pressure to be some sort of gospel version of [supermodel whose name you shouldn’t really know here].
This is not necessary; I’m guessing that some of the wives whose husbands call them “smoking hot” enjoy that, and that, frankly, is between a husband and a wife. I don’t, in point of fact, think it’s wrong for a husband to use this language of his wife. But I do wonder about the potential public ramifications of this phraseology. It’s pretty obvious that the chief temptresses of our visuals-dominated modern era often need help to achieve their own “smoking hot” status. God made women (and men) in many different forms, but it’s almost impossible for even the hottest of the hot, the scorching-est of the scorching, to look the way they appear on glossy covers or movies without substantial temporary and long-term help.
Our standards of beauty are wholly different from the world’s because we recognize the goodness of the aging process and the natural order (Proverbs 16:31; 17:6). We don’t think that attractiveness means being an Eternal Cheerleader for women (or a Homecoming Quarterback King for men). That, to be a bit blunt, is silly. If a woman looks like a cheerleader in her forties, God bless her. But that should be naturally achieved, not through cosmetic surgery, alteration, obsessive attention to appearance, and what I will call “fronzing,” the frosted-hair-and-weirdly-bronzed-skin look now playing on one of those “Housewives” TV shows.
We men want to appreciate our wives however they naturally and healthily appear, as Demuth noted. It’s unhelpful to expect all women to be a certain size, whether petite or otherwise. Exercise and fitness play an important role in mutual attraction, and neither a husband nor a wife shows great wisdom in “letting themselves go.” Whatever language we use, though, godly husbands do not want to give our wives any hint of an impression that they, in stewarding their body well, need to magically morph into some idealized—and again, often invented—body type. The wife in Song of Songs struggles a bit with her body, but her husband gently and graciously reassures her of her attractiveness (privately—see 4:7-16).
So should every godly husband. We delight in our wives, and we delight in who they uniquely are. That’s part of the mystery of marriage: exclusive love and union, this particular person with this particular body for me.
Second, we want to be aware of women who understandably struggle with their sexuality. Again, I am not interpreting “smoking hot” language as a cruel attack on watching women. I think that’s an overreach. Some who draw considerable fire on this matter are quite clearly for women and their well-being.
It may well be pastorally sensitive, though, for us married men to express our love for our wives in slightly different phrases. Why? Because of the fallout of sexual abuse, for one. We don’t want women to think that they are primarily valued by men because of their bodies. That’s the lie of pornography and the culture that surrounds it (including, tragically, the women who participate in it, whether “empowered” or not).
Christians don’t want to speak unwisely about women and their worth, which is indelibly and for all eternity found in being the image of God and in being united to the fulfillment of that image, Jesus Christ. This is crucial not only for abused women, but for women whose bodies have changed and who may be struggling with this reality . God has made our bodies to take a certain course, and rather than resisting this, we can find beauty in it.
There are deeper battles to fight, too. A woman who has had a mastectomy, for example, could possibly hear the “smoking hot” formulation and struggle with it. Her attractiveness, or a part of it, has been cruelly taken from her. The serpent’s bite is real. She may be on chemotherapy; she may struggle simply to walk to the bathroom, let alone snuggle with her husband. I can imagine that couples who have faced this trial would testify to a profoundly new marital dynamic.
Attractiveness does not ebb in such terrible circumstances, because believers know that beauty is at its apex spiritual—God is himself beauty. But marital love surely takes on a deeper dimension in such times. I suspect that this deepening helps us understand the love of Christ for his church with new resonance, and new force.
As I said earlier, I am thankful for Mary Demuth’s thoughtful piece and for the conversation it struck up. I’m also thankful for godly men who have left the clutch of lust and predation and selfishness and who are building godly families and winning their wives day by day with their Christ-imaging love.
This issue, seemingly rather on-the-surface, actually dives down into some deep waters. Christians aren’t prudes; we aren’t pleasure-hating; we’re not like the world; our standards from soup to nuts have changed in Christ. We celebrate marriage, and love, and beauty, even as we realize that soon, we will meet Christ in the air, and his appearance will shock us beyond all cognition. Resplendent in holiness, he will make very clear that when he promised that he would take us home, and welcome us, unworthy as we inherently are, he meant it.
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