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Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

obsessed with sex

In Christianity, marriage, premarital sex on September 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

Growing up I often heard about how obsessed “the world” was with sex and how unhealthy this was. Just think of all the movies, TV shows, song lyrics and commercials that feature gratuitous sexual imagery. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that Christians are as unhealthily obsessed with sex as everyone else.

I love this quote from Jon Busch’s article, “Not Doing It”:

Now that I’m married, I know that sex is a great thing–a ‘natural and zesty enterprise’ as Maude Lebowski so aptly puts it in my favorite film. But I also realize that its not nearly as big a deal as anyone–Christians, Hollywood, Marquis de Sade–makes it out to be. We live in a sex-obsessed culture, to be sure. But the evangelical culture I grew up in was equally obsessed. The way I grew up you’d think that at least 30 percent of the Bible was about sex. Turns out it’s more like .3 percent. And what it does say hardly gives us a one-two-three model for relationships.

Looking back over my own experience in the evangelical world, I mostly agree with Jon’s assessment: evangelicals are equally obsessed with sex and just like the “secular” world, their obsession is unhealthy. Obsession is defined as an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. Being preoccupied with just one idea means that we lose perspective and losing perspective in this scenario means that evangelicals have placed undue importance on sexuality as an “issue” as opposed to say, compassion or social justice. Much of the energy that has been thrown into fighting for abstinence-only education or against birth control availability for minors would probably have been better spent fighting illiteracy, poverty, violence against women and the continued injustices against minorities.

Mark Regnerus, author of Forbidden Fruit, makes a similar argument in his article, “The Case for Early Marriage”. One of the points he makes (among many other interesting and possibly controversial ideas) is that evangelicals have been so focused on the “sexual crisis” that they have completely ignored the very real marriage crisis. He points out that while evangelical sexual ethics seem to remain fixed in biblical norms, ideals about marriage have shifted drastically:

Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed. Increasing numbers of young evangelicals think likewise, and, by integrating these ideas with the timeless imperative to abstain from sex before marriage, we’ve created a new optimal life formula for our children: Marriage is glorious, and a big deal. But it must wait. And with it, sex. Which is seldom as patient.

Mark argues that its unfair to young Christians to push abstinence, while at the same time pushing for young people to wait longer before getting married.

So why is obsession with sex a bad thing? It skews our perspectives about other issues that also need time and attention from Christians and it has created a culture of unfair expectations that ultimately lead to unnecessary guilt. More on guilt next time!

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exploring historical Christian attitudes to sex

In body, Christianity, history, premarital sex on September 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

The Christian attitude toward sex can probably summed up best in the word: ambivalent. Ambivalent means to have mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. Christianity has nothing if not mixed feelings and contradictory ideas about sex.

So where did all the confusion come from? Naturally, there’s no one particular influence we can point a finger at. There are all too many historical and cultural factors that played into the development of ambivalence. One, which I find particularly interesting, is the influence of a strand of Greek thought, in which the body or physical matter was thought of as inferior to the soul. Anything connected to the body was considered a distraction and those pursuing “the good” or “virtue” sought to escape the limitations of the physical world. This way of thinking greatly influenced the early Christian thinkers and writers. They adapted this idea by equating the spiritual life, or the pursuit of God as “the good”, which was hindered by the body and its temptations. Some went so far as to claim the body was evil.

This had a special impact on women. Women were seen as more connected to the body than men, because of their menstrual cycle and the fact that women give birth. In many of the early writings women are vilified as distractions and temptations to men. Women were thought to be unable to reach the same spiritual maturity as men because they were more bound to their bodies (ironic how this later flipped and women were thought of as more spiritual, because they were “pure” and “innocent”, unlike men). Needless to say, these attitudes were incredibly damaging, not only to the status and ultimately the self-esteem of women, but also to the way in which Christians through the centuries have thought about and interacted with their sexuality.

The Bible also contributes to this ambivalence regarding sex, because it is often confusing and contradictory on that topic. It is both extremely explicit and extremely vague about sex. Sex is a prominent theme in the Old Testament. On one hand we have Leviticus, which meticulously details all the possible variations of sexual intercourse that are not allowed, on the other hand the biblical stories that involve sex are often highly complex and morally ambiguous. Tamar and Lot’s daughters come to mind, the concubine who was left to the townspeople and ultimately cut into pieces, David raping Bathsheba, Rahab and the Israelite spies, Absolam raping his sister, etc. In some of these stories the main characters are judged and punished for their actions by God and in others they aren’t, even when their actions seem to be equally reprehensible. Leviticus says very little about what age sex is appropriate to engage in and makes no mention of the issue of premarital sex as we understand it today. Then we have the Song of Solomon in which sexual intimacy is gloriously and exuberantly described in graphic detail.

In the New Testament, Jesus says very little directly about sex, but makes clear that our attitudes and desires around sex can be unhealthy. In his interactions with the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery, he does not condemn their actions for being sexual, but for being unhealthy, and most likely unfulfilling. Paul on the other hand has a lot to say directly about sex and he says it very strongly. Although he also does not explicitly mention the concept of premarital sex, much of our language around sexual immorality comes from his letters. We tend to forget however that he was writing to specific churches that were dealing with specific issues within their congregations, where many were converts from other religions and were navigating a new set of spiritual expectations, which were in turn influenced by Pharisaical law and the Jewish tradition.

Pleasure is another factor that has left Christians ambivalent toward sex and sexuality. What are we supposed to do with pleasure? Is it good, is it bad? Are we allowed to want something merely for pleasure? Christianity has had a very hard time with this word, because whether we like it or not, pleasure is a big component of sex. Even if we choose to spiritualize sex as a sacred act of marriage, or define it as a service to our spouse and part of our marital “duties”, pleasure is still there. Many of us come from backgrounds that emphasized “taking up your cross”, which seemed to equal being serious all the time, not having any fun and living only to serve other people. Pleasure is completely at odds with that concept. How do we connect our ideas of what we should be as Christians with our actual human body?

A few things seem clear. The Christian past has left us unsure about our bodies, unsure about how God really feels about sexuality and unsure about pleasure. How do we begin redeem this uncertainty?

more on why we’re here

In personal on September 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

Erika and I went to college together where we both experienced and watched many other young Christian women experience a lack of open, honest conversation about sex and sexuality. We encountered a huge gap between the rhetoric of chapel speakers and relationship seminars and the lived reality of our own often complex and confusing experiences. Yet no one seemed to want to bridge the gap. As Donna Freitas so aptly describes it in her book, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses,

Evangelical students may be be leaps and bounds ahead of students at spiritual colleges (Catholic and mainline Protestant) when it comes to talking about and actively practicing their faith. But because sex is such a high-stakes religious issue for their communities, it is often a painful, frustrating closeted topic for many evangelical students–the one area where integration and openness just don’t seem realistic.

So we’re stepping into that void and encouraging open, honest conversation about sex and sexuality in the Christian experience. This topic is important for several reasons. Sexuality, the deep longing for connection, both in a spiritual and physical sense, is important because it is a major component of our identities. We cannot know ourselves if we do not accept and explore our sexuality. Sex, the act of physical intimacy in all its variations, is important, because ideally it is the ultimate affirmation and celebration of another human being. It is unconditional love at its finest. We don’t often think of unconditional love as connected to our bodies, and we miss out when we neglect that aspect of it. Sex combines both the physical and spiritual to say, “I love and value you just the way you are.”

In the evangelical subculture, women have traditionally been responsible for keeping themselves and their relationships “pure”. We are taught either subtly or directly, that we must save ourselves for our future husband and that our virginity is a gift that ironically, he has a right to expect. This idea comes largely from an understanding that men are sexual and women are emotional, so he deserves our sexuality and presumably in return we’ll get emotional fulfillment. Because of this responsibility to save ourselves, women have been and are expected to help keep men on the straight and narrow, whether simply by dressing modestly or by making sure that boundaries are adhered to in a relationship. This means that young women are often placed between a rock and a hard place, continuously seen as possible “temptations” on one hand and as “sluts” on the other if we “allow” appropriate boundaries to be transgressed. In both these cases women’s sexuality is being defined by men. We want to challenge women to define our own sexuality (because, contrary to Victorian ideals, women ARE sexual) and to be active in thinking out and discovering our own sexual expectations, desires, morals and norms.

So while we’re here to talk about sex, this site is also about who we are as humans and what it means to live healthy, holistic lives physically and spiritually. We’re not looking to provide answers or ten steps to figuring out where your boundaries are or five ways to improve your sex life. There are enough books and other sites for that out there. We want to start asking questions and hopefully get you to start asking questions. Questions lead to conversation and we believe conversation is one of the saving graces of humanity. Conversation allows for give and take, questions and doubts, exploration and play and listening deeply to someone else. With conversation you can cover a lot of ground, discover a lot about yourself, about other people, about God and about life. Conversation is the cornerstone of any relationship, including our relationship with God.