The presented review is a synopsis of the book The Gift of Sex written by Clifford L. Penner and his wife Joyce J. Penner, each section of which discloses the main ideas and themes of the book and objectively criticizes them. It also determines whether the research that is made by the Penners is trustworthy. The book is an encyclopedia for Christians and helps to understand sexual fulfillment in marriage. The authors of the book present human sexuality from the viewpoint of Christians, but they do not forget to broaden the topic through psychological and physiological analysis. The Penners are convinced about the connection of sex and Christianity and its doctrines due to the spiritual nature of sexual intercourse, as it requires the whole person, the flash, and the soul. The writers deal with a range of the topics in their book, such as Christian sexuality, positive sexual teaching, biblical perspective of the human sexuality, its physical outlook, and the most common sexual problems. In spite of reliable biological research that was made by the Penners, the book under consideration is filled with the deceits and disinformation, which can be explained by the fact that the authors of the book almost solely rely on the doctrines of Christianity.
The book The Gift of Sex was published in 2003 and is intended for married couples. The writers of the book, Clifford and Joyce Penner, are recognized in the whole world for their achievements in sexual therapy. Joyce Penner is a clinical nurse specialist with a B.S. in nursing from the University of Washington, and her husband, Clifford Penner, is a psychologist with Ph. D. from Fuller’s Graduate School of Psychology.
As to the topic of Christian sexuality, it stays extremely controversial even nowadays. The church neglected human sexuality throughout the history of mankind. The book under consideration, The Gift of Sex, by Clifford and Joyce Penner, represents sex from a Christian perspective, thus the book claims that sex is given by God. The authors disclose not only physical research of the phenomenon of sexuality but the biblical one as well. The book reveals to the readers the nature of sexual fulfillment, how it works and guides the audience to an understanding of it.
The Gift of Sex starts with the part where the authors define their intended audience and describe the kind of people who should read their book. At the same time, the writers do not forget to present to the reader the thorough analysis of a biological aspect of the issue, and for this purpose, they introduce graphs and images of sex organs in the book. The Penners share their personal experience and the process of sexual self-discovery with the readership throughout the book. Thanks to this, the narrative seems more intimate and true-to-life.
At the beginning of their book, the authors discuss the various topics that are connected to the self-exploration of human sexuality. They mention stimulation, pleasure, the process of having fun, etc among these topics.
In the middle of The Gift of Sex, the Penners deal with the sexual problems which couples may encounter. The most prominent one is the obvious difference between men and women. Especially it concerns the contrast in their sexual needs. The writers describe the situations when one of the partners feels a lack of love or lust towards the other. After depicting common psychological problems in marriage, the authors present several physiological issues such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, pain during sex, and the effect of pornography.
In addition to such discussed topics as biological aspect, the experience of self-discovery of human sexuality, and the most common sexual problems, the writers explain to the readers how to enhance the sexual experience with the help of building sexual passion and intimacy in marriage. The book also contains such sections as questions and answers, final words, sexual enhancement exercises, and illustrations.
Unfortunately, the book is primarily created for Christians; thus, it contains a great amount of Christian doctrine, which leads to a lack of objectivity and disinformation.
Preface to Sexuality
The book under consideration starts with the explanation of the purpose of The Gift of Sex and why it was written. The section also contains flashbacks of the lives of the writers and description of their experience and self-discovery.
The authors stress the importance of the fact that every couple should try to create an atmosphere of healthy sexuality in their marriage. The Penners claim that sexuality is a gift that was given by God. The writers of the book admit that “the absence of positive sexual teaching, combined with the rigid rules about sexual expression, seemed designed to lead us to believe that sex between a man and a woman was questionable and nonexistent” (Penner & Penner, 2003, p. 154). By this, the authors underline the significance of positive sexual experience and teaching. After having conducted the research, the Penners understood that the Bible could be considered a pro-sex book. They claim that they have found plenty of answers to their questions in the Bible.
At the beginning of the section of the book, the roles of men and women and their correspondence in the marriage are discussed by the writers. They are convinced that the men make the difference when it comes to sex in marriage. Though it can seem unfair to the women, it is clear that the vital energy of marriage and its intimacy spins around the role of the men.
In the book, Clifford and Joyce Penner reveal their thoughts about the fact that God intended the joy of sexual fulfillment in the marriage. The therapists’ advice is to take one’s time and just enjoy each other’s company and bodies, as it is the most important component that helps to understand the so-called Christian sexuality.
In the text of the book, theology, psychology, and physiology connect and intertwine, thus creating a new way of understanding the process of sexual fulfillment. The authors of the presented book are confident that “theological and biblical truths are not in conflict with psychological understanding; rather, the latter functions as an endorsement, confirmation, and amplification of the scriptural teaching” (Penner & Penner, 2003, p. 164).
The Penners point out that basic sexuality should not cause a feeling of guilt, as sexuality is a part of God’s plan. Healthy sexuality should be viewed not only in the physical dimension but also in spiritual. The gift of sex is intended to help the wife and husband to become one whole.
The introduction of the book clearly outlines the main points and ideas that the Penners represent in their book. It explains briefly how they understand the notion of sexual fulfillment in the context of Christianity and how the understanding of it can help many Christian couples avoid the most common problems that are connected with sexual unawareness, which is caused by the negative attitude of the church towards the sexuality of human beings.
The Biblical Outlook
As a rule, it is believed that human beings comprise of two controversial parts, which are not joined and completely separate from each other: one part is good, which is the person’s soul, and the other part is wicked, which is the person’s body. This myth was introduced by the church to stress the sinful nature of the desires that come from the body. The authors of the book under consideration do not agree with this belief, and they claim that it is clear from the Bible that God is not against the sexual relationship in marriage and values individual sexuality. Unfortunately, as the writers noticed, the church blurred and distorted this message about human sexuality in the Bible, and nowadays it continues to misinform Christians.
To prove their point and make the readers believe the ideas that are presented in the book, the Penners employ a great amount of quotation from the Bible. The Bible serves as the main source for an explanation of the nature of human sexuality. With the help of citation from the Old Testament, the writers try to make the audience understand that from the very beginning, sexual nature of human beings is accepted by God, but there are standards and limits in the expression of the sexuality. The writers think that it is in The New Testament where the equality of men and women is shown acceptable in the eyes of God. The message of the Bible contains confirmation of the women’s right to express their sexuality equally to the men, which means that women have the right to receive pleasure from sexual intercourse as well.
At the end of the section, the writers do not forget to discuss the importance of love in the marriage of Christians. According to the Bible and their research on the nature of sexuality, love is considered to be the measuring tool of sexual behavior in marriage. It decides whether the expression of sexuality is right or wrong.
The section presents a thorough and deep analysis of the Bible and how human sexuality is introduced in its parts, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. It is this part of the book that contains mainly theological research without scientific data. As a rule, such type of information and the way it was represented can be interesting only for Christians. The fact that the section under consideration does not involve scientific facts on human sexuality leads to the propaganda of Christian doctrines. The suggestions and argumentations that are made in this chapter do not cause the persuasive impact on the readers unless the reader is Christian and ready to believe theological argumentation about human sexuality more than scientific researches. As I think, the main shortcomings of the section under analysis are the Christian orientation and the lack of scientific facts.
The Physical Outlook
The section deals with the fears and insecurities of the men and the women in marriage. It is obvious that human’s self-esteem directly affects the other partner. That’s why it is so important to find the way for the people to love themselves the way they are and not affect the beloved person with the concerns and fears about the appearance.
The authors summarize the most common dissatisfactions of the people with their bodies. One of the most vivid fears is weight, as most of the people are concerned whether they are too fat or too skinny, which affects their self-esteem. This displeasure with themselves can grow day by day, ruining their relationship and turning their lives into a nightmare. The physiological dissatisfaction also takes place considering the body image. Every day people are concerned about the size of their penis, the size of the breasts, the girth of the hips, etc. These fears come from common beliefs and myths, which are spread in modern society. For example, men are thought to be those who should or even must bring pleasure. As a result, the men are concerned about the size of their genitals. On the other hand, women are considered to be the one who arouses and attract men, which means they should have a pleasant appearance and a sexually attractive body. The authors advise not to be obsessed with body image and enjoy one’s sexual life and each other. This can be fulfilled through positive thinking.
I agree that dissatisfaction with oneself and low self-esteem can interfere with normal communication of the couple. This chapter presents a wonderful possibility for people to change the way they think about themselves, as in the very end of the chapter, the authors introduce the exercises for bettering their self-esteem and body image.
Discover Your Body
The Penners claim that “our bodies-including our sexual anatomy-are God’s work. He created us with all our internal and external body parts; all our sexual organs were made by him.” (Penner & Penner, 2003). It means that people’s body parts, which the church asserted as sin parts, were with people from the moment of the creation, and that is why the authors encourage the readers to discover and enjoy their organs. The idea of exploration of one’s own body is discussed in a detailed way in the next section of the book. The text contains images and characteristics of men and women genitals from a biological perspective. Each chapter of the section of the book presents an exercise for biological self-discovery. In spite of encouraging discovery for men and women, the authors put the limitations to it as well. The reason for that is that each person’s self-exploration of the body should have only one purpose, which is to learn more about the body and how it works. The self-discovery can enhance the understanding of the nature of human sexuality.
Throughout the chapter, the authors discuss various topics that are connected with the nature of human sexuality. One of such topics to which they pay special attention is the children’s masturbation, which is explained quite thoroughly in their book. The Penners find it appropriate and even needed to communicate with the children about sexual awareness and human sexuality. This greatest level of influence is quite often missing, which can contribute to a myriad of problems later, with youth basing their knowledge of sexuality from their peers (Berger, 2011, p. 447). As for the adults, the Penners consider masturbation appropriate and helpful in some situations.
The chapter represents biological research on the issue of human sexuality. The text exposes the physiological information of which every husband and wife should be aware of.
The sexuality of Our Bodies
From the moment of birth, the genitals are present on the bodies of the children. Besides, it was proved that the organs of the children start to function within twenty-four hours of birth. Recent imaging from ultrasound images suggests that there is a possibility that boys may experience their first erection inside the womb (Jones & Jones, 1993, p. 78). All the above states that human beings are sexually centered from their birth and that sexuality is the natural component of any human being.
In the middle of the section under consideration, the authors describe the mechanism of sexual arousal, but this part can cause difficulty in understanding the content as to the scientific terminology that is used in it.
In conclusion, it is worth saying that this chapter presents thorough research of the writers, which can be valuable in understanding the body and the way that it works. It also helps comprehend the difference between reasons for men and women’s arousal. As this section is scientifically based, it contains information that would fit not only for Christians but also for every person that is interested in the mechanism of human sexuality. In my opinion, this chapter can be considered as the most valuable as to the level of scientific awareness.
The previous parts of the book mainly deal with the biological aspect and the biblical perspective of the problem of human sexuality. The section under consideration presents one of the most arguable issues of the church. The very founding fathers of the Christian church were against sexual pleasure permissible. Ambrose and Tertullian wanted the extinction of the humankind instead of uninterrupted sexual intercourse (Driscoll & Driscoll, 2012, p. 253). The sexual pleasure and its nature were considered evil and sinful. This problem still exists in the church, because as a rule, it avoids any discussion of the sexual nature of human beings. As a result, the sexual education of the church remains rigid.
The writers state that pleasure is first of all communication between husband and wife, and only then it is the process of giving and receiving. The Penners say that it is very important to be able to express the preferences to the partner, which can be done in different ways, not only verbally but also by guiding the partner during the sexual intercourse. Clear communication helps the partners to obtain positive experience and learn from each other.
Sexual Needs and Problems
Sexual problems can easily prevent the person from enjoying the body and the process of sexual fulfillment. In the section “When Sex isn’t Working”, the writers present a variety of the most common sexual issues. The most vivid of them are the feeling of guilt during sexual intercourse, the fear of failure, the lack of self-worth, etc. As the authors claim, the problems that are listed above can be a result of childhood abuse or any other shock during this period. As a rule, children who experienced abuse in their families, when they become adults, feel guilt and shame, mixed with the lack of self-esteem. All this can cause anger and later the fear of sexual failure with their partner. The writers also discuss the issue of past traumatic experiences.
The Penners present the variety of not only psychological problems but also physiological, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, pain during sexual intercourse, etc.
This section is very informative, and the fact that the writers mention the influence of the church on the understanding of human sexuality does not minimize the impact on the readers.
The book under consideration, The Gift of Sex, also comprises the section that assists in enhancing sexual experience and building sexual passion and intimacy in the relationship. Besides, the text is supplied with illustrations, notes, and references.
The book focuses its attention on the biblical perspective of sex and human sexuality; it also examines the statement of the authors that sex is a gift from God. The writers present a wide range of topics to be discussed. Throughout the book, they transfer from the biblical outlook to the physical dimension. The Penners describe the biological aspect of the body, the impact of the body image on the relationship and the processes of self-discovery and sharing the body. The book depicts sex organs and sexual responses in a rather detailed way. One of the most interesting parts for the readers of The Gift of Sex will be the section about the experience, as it looks at such topics as sexual arousal, sexual pleasure, stimulation, and the process of having fun. The text also contains the chapter about sexual therapy, which reveals various sexual problems, the difference of sexual needs of men and women in marriage, the lack of love and lust in the relationship, the effect of the birth control, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, pain during sex, and the impact of pornography and the Internet. The writers finish their book with final words and questions and answers from their readers.
Even though the book was published ten years ago, it still contains a great amount of valuable information and advice for Christians to consider. The text contains adult data, which means that a preferable audience of the book should consist of mature individuals, especially those who are in a serious relationship or marriage.
The review cannot possibly cover all the issues and ideas that the authors of the book offered to the readers, though it briefly outlines the major points of it. The word sex is not common for modern churches and Christianity, but the Penners attempt to change this fact by writing a book at the merge of totally different disciplines.
The Gift of Sex is a wonderful mixture of theology, psychology, and biology in one book. Unfortunately, such kind of a book is not intended for the broad audience, because the authors rely on the Bible in the matters of human sexuality. At the same time, some parts of the book, as physical outlook and experience, contain valuable information for an average reader, who is interested in finding out more about human sexuality.