Hot on the heels of my review of Ed Shaw’s excellent little Purposeful Sexuality, here’s a short review of a slightly longer book about sexual intimacy. Adrian and Celia Reynolds have done a helpful thing in writing an up to date book on sexual intimacy. It’s worth noting the subtitle and title: Closer: a realistic book about intimacy for Christian marriages. This is a book about intimacy – crucially but not just physical sexual expression – in the context of Christian marriage. The bolding is deliberate – this book is unlikely to be that interesting to non-Christians (for that, read Ed’s book!) and it is not particularly practically helpful for those who aren’t married, in my view (for that, check out the Keller’s Meaning of Marriage). It’s worth noting that the lovely folk at The Good Book Company sent me a copy to review – but I don’t have to like it.
A word on the cover – I do think that there is something good and important about being discreet within reason about talking about sex – but I do wonder if the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the cover gives off the wrong impression. Yes, marriage is between two people. But it is also a public way of being in the world – and so I do wonder if perhaps both on the editorial and design front this book could have benefitted from a slightly more open approach. My biggest concern about this otherwise very helpful book comes from this slightly complex thing. By and large I am in full agreement with most of what the Reynolds write. However, when they write ‘the Christian principle is this: sex is private‘,I wonder if they are setting us up for a couple of unintended consequences. Firstly – and they do caveat this, to be fair- I think sex is something that should be talked about. Of various couples that my wife and I have talked to, it’s been the simple act of saying ‘we can talk about sex’ that has led to some profound and healing conversations. I’m very wary that by saying it’s not something to be talked about we actually make it harder for those that need to talk. Secondly, I think this perpetuates the myth that sex is mysterious and dirty and needs to be kept behind closed doors. In one sense, yes, it is a private matter. But it seems to me that we can’t really engage in the public square on issues like this if we aren’t willing to be open-handed in both ways. How can we say ‘this is God’s intent for sexuality’ to a watching, wayward world, if part of what we are saying is ‘oh, it’s private, so we can’t really talk about it’?
In some ways, my concern about this book is ironic because it is a good book to provoke conversations within a married couple about intimacy. Intimacy is not just about sex – and I think Adrian and Celia have done a generally very good job writing a book about the mechanics of sex (including language I was very pleasantly surprised to see, around orgasms, the clitoris, and so on) that is rooted in the Bible’s vision. As the Reynolds write, “God’s plan for married couples is to enjoy sexual intimacy together, not simply for what it produces (children) but what it signifies (union with Christ) and therefore what it brings to us as couples (closeness)“. The editor in me would want to add a word like ‘often’ or ‘potentially’ ahead of ‘produces’, but there we go. I agree that God gives us a positive vision for human sexuality – and that it should take place solely in the context of male-female marriage. If you disagree with that perspective, this book is unlikely to be your cup of tea. Another major practical benefit of this book is the authors’ calm way of helping readers work through how to think about the acceptability to God and each other of various sexual practices. This, I think, is very helpful, and I’ll be recommending this book to numerous couples off the back of it.
Overall, then, I’m really glad this book exists. It is a straightforward, practical book about intimacy in marriage. It is aimed at Christians – though I think non-Christians reading it would be confronted with the glory of God’s good design, and lots of practical suggestions. With my concern about communication noted, I will be recommending this book to folk, and if you are married (particularly newly married) or in Christian ministry, you should probably head out and get a copy!