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America's Culture War: Marriage and Family

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God’s Word: Right About Sex

by  Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

In Proverbs 29:18, Solomon noted that when a society eliminates God and His Word, people do what they want to do with minimal nagging from their own conscience or from others around them. In contrast, “happy is He who keeps the [God’s] law.” In the same way that parents’ rules for children are for their good (e.g., “Don’t touch the stove”), God’s Word is for our good always (Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:12-13; Psalm 19:7-8; 119; Romans 7:12). That fact is true regarding how individuals in a society should conduct themselves sexually as well. A little-known study conducted in the early 1900s and published in 1934 lends support to that fact.

J.D. Unwin was a British ethnologist and social anthropologist of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He was no advocate for Christianity or religion. In his book, Sex and Culture, Unwin discusses the results of his study of 86 societies from over 5,000 years of history. These were selected due to the availability of the evidence that substantiated their regulations/expectations regarding sexual activity, and included various Melanesian societies as well as several African, Polynesian, Assamian, Paleo-Siberian, North American Indian, Babylonian, Athenian, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and English societies. Each culture was categorized based on how strict its societal rules and expectations were concerning sexual activity, especially regarding acceptable female sexual behavior in a society. The studied societies were divided into seven classes of sexual regulation—three pre-nuptial and four post-nuptial categories. Regarding pre-marriage customs, some societies allowed (1) total sexual freedom before marriage; (2) some pre-marital activity and allowing for only “irregular or occasional” sexual activity; and (3) no sexual activity—invoking punishment or death to women who failed to remain virgins until marriage. Concerning post-nuptial allowances, some societies (1) considered polygamy acceptable as well as having no restriction on faithfulness. Neither party was “compelled to confine his or her sexual qualities to the other for his or her whole life”; (2) only considered monogamy acceptable, but again, neither party had to confine his/her sexual appetites to his/her spouse for life; (3) required wives to confine their sexual activity to their husband, but the husband could have other sexual partners through polygamous relationships (i.e., strict polygamy); and (4) required strict monogamy as the acceptable practice—where both the husband and wife were confined to each other sexually for life (pp. 341-343). Unwin’s discoveries about these categories are enlightening.

According to Unwin, the “first primary law which operates in all human societies” is that “the cultural condition of any society in any geographical environment is conditioned by its past and present methods of regulating the relations between the sexes [sexually—JM]” (p. 340). In every instance, when sexual restrictions in a society are at their highest level (i.e., strict pre-nuptial abstinence andstrict monogamy), the society inevitably progresses, and the more sexual activity is curbed in a society, the more the society progresses. When restrictions are lessened, the society inevitably stops progressing and begins to digress, ultimately disappearing if the restrictions are not again tightened. “[A] limitation of sexual opportunity [i.e., more sexual restraint in a society—JM] always is, and so far as I know always has been, accompanied by a rise in cultural condition” (p. 2). The rise occurs after the implemented rules have been in effect for “at least three generations” (p. 321). “Any extension of sexual opportunity [i.e., less sexual restraint in a society—JM] must always be the immediate cause of a cultural decline” (p. 326).

Unwin argues that the more lenient a society is in its sexual allowances, the more energy is inevitably used by that society in gratifying its sexual desires. The more strict a society is, the more that extra energy is used in expanding a society and progressing.

[P]sychological researches reveal that the placing of a compulsory check upon the sexual impulses, that is, a limitation of sexual opportunity, produces thought, reflection, and energy. Now the evidence is that a cultural advance has been caused by a factor which produces thought, reflection, and social energy…and that it occurs only when the sexual opportunity has been limited. I submit, therefore, that the limitation of the sexual opportunity must be regarded as the cause of the cultural advance…. If men and women are sexually free, their sexual desires will receive direct satisfaction; but if the sexual opportunity is limited, the impulses must be checked. Then the repressed desires will be expressed in another form…. [U]sually the tension produced by the emotional conflicts is exhibited in some form of mental and social energy, the intensity of that energy depending upon the intensity of the compulsory continence [i.e., the level of restriction placed on sexual activity—JM]. When the sexual opportunity of a society is reduced almost to a minimum, the resulting social energy produces “great accomplishments in human endeavor” and “civilization.” When the compulsory continence is of a less rigorous character, lesser energy is displayed (p. 317).

Among the accomplishments of extremely energetic societies are territorial expansion, conquest, colonization and the foundation of a widely flung commerce. All these things, and their like, are manifestations of what I call expansive social energy. A society which displays productive social energy develops the resources of its habitat and by increasing its knowledge of the material universe bends nature to its will. All such accomplishments as these imply the previous exertion of thought and reflection, these being necessary precursor to all human achievements (p. 315, italics in orig.).

Unwin noted that though he considers high restraint of sexual behavior to be the “immediate cause of social energy,” he is

content to conclude that it is the cause of social energy only in the sense of being an indispensable contributory factor; that is to say, even if other factors also are indispensable and operating, no social energy can be displayed unless the sexual opportunity is limited. Other things being equal, however, social energy will be exhibited by any society which places a compulsory limitation upon the sexual opportunity of its members. Conversely, in all cases any extension of sexual opportunity must result in a reduction of social energy. Such is the evidence from psychological research (p. 320, emp. added).

The inherent power of thought and the potential energy of the human organism can be exhibited only when the sexual impulses are controlled by the operation of social ordinances; and the amount of energy and the profundity of the thought depend upon the extent of the imitation which these ordinances impose. If the compulsory continence be great, the society will display great energy; if it be small, there will be a little energy. If there be no compulsory continence, there can be no energy; it remains potential (p. 339).

When we look at American society today, Unwin’s discoveries, if true, are eerie admonitions to consider, for according to Unwin, “as soon as the sexual opportunity of the society, or of a group within the society, was extended, the energy of the society, or of the group within it, decreased and finally disappeared” (p. 382, emp. added). Using modern layman terminology: unbridled cravings of any sort will tend to monopolize our mind and our time. If a society as a whole allows unbridled cravings to become widespread, then the society as a whole will have much of its mind-power and energy focused on fulfilling those lusts/addictions rather than on doing good for others and improving society. Statistics indicate that sexual anarchy rules the day in America. Pornography, adultery, divorce and remarriage, “shacking up” without even marrying (whether with one person or more than one), homosexuality, polygamy, and pedophilia are rampant in American society and are even encouraged in many cases through law, music, movies, and books. [See Apologetics Press’ book Sexual Anarchy (Miller, 2006) for documentation of America’s growing sexual insanity.]

Interestingly, in harmony with what a Christian would expect based on God’s Word, Unwin found that absolute monogamy led to the most advanced societies. “In the records of history, indeed, there is no example of a society displaying great energy for any appreciable period unless it has been absolutely monogamous. Moreover, I do not know of a case in which an absolutely monogamous society has failed to display great energy” (p. 369, emp. added). “Those societies which have maintained the custom [of absolute monogamy—JM] for the longest period have attained the highest position in the cultural scale which the human race has yet reached” (p. 25). “Generally speaking, in the past when they began to display great energy…, human societies were absolutely monogamous…. [T]he energy of the most developed civilized societies, or that of any group within them, was exhibited for so long as they preserved their austere regulations. Their energy faded away as soon as” this restriction was loosened (p. 343, emp. added).

Unwin argues that strict monogamy fosters an environment where advancement is more likely to be achieved in a society. He argues that the next rung down on the sexual regulation ladder (strict polygamy), does not lend itself to societal advancement. “An absolutely polygamous society preserves but does not increase its tradition. It does not possess the energy to adopt new ideas; it remains content with its old institutions” (p. 368, emp. added). Though admittedly he did not engage in a formal study of the subject, it is interesting to note what famous General George S. Patton observed during World War II about the North African Islamic countries (that practiced polygamy):

One cannot but ponder the question: What if the Arabs had been Christians? To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab. He is exactly as he was around the year 700, while we have kept on developing. Here, I think, is a text for some eloquent sermon on the virtues of Christianity (1947, p. 43, emp. added).

In Matthew 19, Jesus called His audience’s memory back to the beginning—when God defined marriage for mankind.

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ [Genesis 1:27], and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:4-6).

Scriptural marriage is intended by God to be comprised of one eligible man marrying one eligible woman, and the two becoming one flesh for life. Strict monogamy is the biblical definition of marriage. According to the Bible, sexual activity is good and to be encouraged in that setting (1 Corinthians 7:3-5; Hebrews 13:4; Proverbs 5; Song of Solomon). Unwin’s study helps us to see at least one reason why marriage was so defined.

[NOTE: Unwin’s study was obviously confined to societies in existence before the early 1900s when the study was conducted—most of which were likely isolated from significant influences by other cultures due to the state of technology before the 1900s (e.g., a lack of telephones, television, Internet, etc.), as well as natural, geographical limitations (i.e., inability to travel extensively between nations). Such a study might be more difficult today, since societies are, for the most part, not isolated, but rather, heavily influence each other. One society might be perceived to advance in contradiction to Unwin’s assertions, when in actuality, its advancement was merely due to, for example, its acquisition of technology from other societies, receiving aid from other societies, etc.—practices engaged in often today. That said, eliminating many of those influences from the equation, as Unwin’s study did by necessity, would logically seem to allow a more accurate assessment of the effect of sexual behavior on a society.]


Miller, Dave (2006), Sexual Anarchy (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).

Patton, George S. (1947), War As I Knew It (New York: The Great Commanders, 1994 edition).

Unwin, J.D. (1934), Sex and Culture (London: Oxford University Press).

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