A Russian View of Sexuality

Last week we set off for a brief vacation up at Yosemite in California’s Sierra mountain range. On the way up, in the wickedly hot central valley around Fresno, we stopped into a Borders bookstore for some light reading material, and I came across what looked like an interesting collection of short stories. Even better, the volume was on sale that day. But I wasn’t prepared for what it contained.

A couple of days later I was out on the deck of our cabin, encircled by fragrant pines and some giant redwoods. Birds chirped and chipmunks scampered about. In a leisurely mood I got out the book and began to read.


It soon became evident that the author, a Russian citizen, was really exercised about the pandemic of sexual promiscuity and disease in his society. He has one of his characters declare: “If a one-hundredth part of the efforts devoted to the cure of syphilis were devoted to the eradication of debauchery, there would long ago not have been a trace of syphilis left. But as it is, efforts are made not to eradicate debauchery but to encourage it and to make debauchery safe.” He went on to point out that sexual promiscuity (the new, airbrushed term for old-fashioned fornication) was actually being legitimized as an innocent recreation, and encouraged as a healthy safety valve for well-adjusted young people. The assumption was widely promoted that an active sex life outside of marriage was natural, pleasurable and necessary. As he saw things, there was in place an integrated system of assumptions and behaviors that was necessary to sustain this way of behaving. It all sounded pretty familiar.


The author seemed at times to be an ardent feminist. “People assure us that they respect women,” he wrote. “Some give up their places to her, pick up her handkerchief; others acknowledge her right to occupy all positions and to take part in the government, and so on. They do all that, but their outlook on her remains the same. She is a means of enjoyment. Her body is a means of enjoyment. And she knows this . . . The enslavement of women lies simply in the fact that people desire, and think it good, to avail themselves of her as a tool of enjoyment . . . They emancipate women in universities and in law-courts, but continue to regard her as an object of enjoyment. Teach her, as she is taught among us, to regard herself as such, and she will always remain an inferior being.”


Next the author reflected on the effect on marriages of this societal preoccupation with sexual expression and satisfaction. The principal character in this story, a deeply troubled man by the name of Pozdnyshev, reflected on what it had felt like to him and his young wife when their brief honeymoon came to an end. “Amorousness was exhausted by the satisfaction of sensuality and we were left confronting one another in our true relation: that is, as two egotists quite alien to each other who wished to get as much pleasure as possible each from the other.” The story takes a dark turn at this point, which we will leave alone.


While contemporary readers may find the language here a bit stilted, the sentiments expressed are remarkably relevant to the present time. They come from a story entitled “The Kreutzer Sonata,” written by the novelist Leo Tolstoy, back when Russia was still ruled by the czars well over a century ago.


Leo Tolstoy! Who knew? Apparently some social attitudes we consider new are not so new after all. Evidently each generation struggles with pretty much the same moral challenges. Surely it’s long past due that the church should take a stand against the still-pervasive objectification of women—for example, by ceasing to rank women chiefly according to their relative physical beauty, and by no longer regarding the winners of vacuous beauty contests as our moral exemplars and inspirational heroines. It would be a huge step in the right direction if we could start regarding women first and foremost as persons.


Likewise it’s been known for millennia that healthy human relations require disciplined control of the self, including discipline of one’s sexuality, and that marriage must be first and foremost a covenant commitment of two wills infused with sufficient resolve to weather the fickleness of feelings and wandering infatuations. But as with just about everything in the domain of ethics and morality, living well depends much less on the extent of our knowledge of what ought to be than on the strength of our character to actually do it.


3 Responses to A Russian View of Sexuality

  1. Scott Wildey August 31, 2009 at 7:43 pm #

    Wow! So compelling. A great complimentary article is, “Designer Sex,” by Philip Yancey. It’s chapter 5 of his book, “Rumors of Another World.” Thanks for the timely insight.

  2. John Mustol August 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    Yosemite is an amazing place. God in his matchless grace has drenched this particular spot in his Sierra Mountains with a prodigal dose of creative love and energy that overwhelms and humbles the attentive human heart. From the massive walls of the valley with its sublime waterfalls, to lofty peaks, to splendid forests, to the sublime loneliness of a foraging bear, to the myriad of exquisite bugs that live in the leaf litter, to the dangerous beauty of a circling red-tailed hawk, to the array of fungi and lichens that live on logs and rocks, Yosemite is an amazing and wondrous place – overwhelming. A million human lifetimes could not take it in.

    Charismatics and Pentecostals look for “signs and wonders,” but God has flooded his earth with marvelous miracles galore – signs and wonders all around us – from the sedulous grace and symmetry of a tiny ant that I observed working along a dusty trail at Cuyamaca to the hardy beauty of the California coastal sagebrush toughing out the long summer months of unmitigated drought and intense heat on the south-facing slopes of Mission Valley next to Ulrich Drive in Linda Vista where I rode my bicycle last month. God indeed has blessed this earth with an array of landscapes, oceans, fields, rocks, soils, and living things that can only fill us with joy, praise, and thanksgiving to the Creator and Redeemer of it all – if we take the time to stop, look, listen, feel, and drink in the incredible grace, love, and beauty of which these signs and wonders speak in praise of their Creator – and blessed us with the capacity to behold and rejoice in them.

    Giant Sequoias, members of the redwood family, are present in Yosemite. They are generally found in groves where conditions of humidity, soil type, moisture, nutrients, and sunlight are suitable. Sequoias are the oldest and most massive living things on earth. Some of the largest living trees are thought to be up to about 2500 years old. (The oldest tree by ring count may have been over 3000 years old when it was cut.) It is amazing to stand before a living being that may have been several hundred years old when Jesus walked the dusty paths of Palestine on the other side of God’s earth. Sequoias are grand indeed.

    During the 19th century, Giant Sequoias were logged despite the very marginal usefulness of their wood. It is brittle and tends to shatter and split. Around the turn of the century, thanks to the outcry of preservationists like John Muir, the remaining groves were protected by law. Thanks to the efforts of these people, we have some 60-70 groves extant today on the western slopes of the Sierras. Interestingly Giant Sequoias require low intensity fires in order to reproduce. Previously, fire suppression lead to the decline of the existing groves. More recently, forestry managers have allowed fires or carried out controlled burns. Also, the Sequoia evidently lives in a mutualistic relationship with a type of beetle that bores into its cones allowing them to open up and disburse, and a squirrel that gnaws the cones, also allowing opening and disbursal. Remarkable! God’s wondrous creative capacities are evident everywhere. Praise be our God and Father and to the Son, Jesus Christ.

  3. Dave Harvey August 24, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    The sexual brainwashing that goes on in this society (and others) is bad enough, but what really gets me riled up is when otherwise well-meaning (I assume) Christians lend their voice to this laissez-faire attitude towards sex.

    As research for a paper, I recently read a book titled “Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration” by J. Harold Ellens. According to his biography, Dr. Ellens is “a retired Presbyterian theologian, an ordained minister, a retired U.S. Army colonel (chaplain), and a retired professor of philosophy, theology, and psychology.” One would think that a person with such an impressive resume would have some worthwhile things to say on a number of theological issues, right? Well, here are some of his “opinions” re. sex & the Bible:

    “The most interesting thing about sex in the Bible is the fact that the Bible does not moralize sex. It simply takes a matter-of-fact view of sex as a central human reality, like eating, sleeping, hunting, gathering, building, and worshipping. That is, the Bible thinks of sexuality as a common form of human creative expression. You could even say that the Bible simply thinks of sex as a valuable form of human communication and connection, and that is all there is to it.”

    “The Bible… assumes that sexual communion between consenting adults who have a meaningful friendship is a natural, normal, and desirable form of communication and sharing.”

    “The Bible says nothing about sexual relationship between two unmarried adults who have a meaningful friendship but do not intend engagement or marriage. The Bible assumes it is taking place in that it is normal; as natural a thing for humans to do as are any other forms of intimate communication.”

    I won’t go on – you can read my erstwhile review on my blog – but suffice it to say that I was deeply disappointed to find a Christian writer so blatantly in bed with (pardon the pun) the secular world and its worldview. The worst part about what he writes isn’t necessarily his opinion – it’s the fact that he never provides any sort of Biblical support whatsoever for his arguments. Like someone who’s so sure of his premise and conclusion that he doesn’t even need to fill in the gaping holes.


    Let’s just hope that the weight of testimony and evidence to the contrary will be enough to drown out his lone voice of dissension advocating for open sexuality reminiscent of the supposed “Sexual Revolution” of the late 1960s. God help us indeed.