WARNING: This is an adult conversation. Do with that what you will. You've been warned.
I wish we talked more about sex in church. There. I said it.
Though I have been frustrated by the way in which some evangelical churches have used their conversations on gender and sexuality to demean women and LGBT folks, I often wish leaders in my own tradition were as intentional about starting a conversation about sexuality as those in the evangelical stream have. Growing up in church, I was quite concerned about what I was and wasn't "allowed" to do according to God. I wanted specifics. What can I touch and what can I not touch? How far am I allowed to "go" without tainting myself? I know I wasn't alone in this because I watched as church after church did entire sermon series where parishioners were encouraged to text or email questions, which would be addressed during church. What I liked about those series is that they opened up the floor for a discussion about literally any topic that parishioners wanted addressed. What I disliked about those conversations is that usually a straight, white man stood up on stage and gave definite answers to those questions. No diversity, no panel of discussion, and no differing approaches. Like I said, I'm grateful that these conversations on sexuality have happened, but I believe many of them have been done wrong.
I'm in my fifth year of college and my sexual/relationship ethics are much different than they were five years ago, but I'm still relatively traditional in some aspects. It's always interesting for me to talk with other folks my age about this topic, because everyones ethics vary. Many of us are still trying to sort through the things we have learned over the years in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I can complain all I want about what the church should/shouldn't have taught me, but it's up to me to be a part of changing it. I've been thinking this week about the things I wish the younger me had been told, so with that being said, here is a list. (Note: I'm writing as a cisgender, heterosexual woman, so please be patient with me if you are not cis or hetero. I hope that you still find some nuggets of value here.)
- We all have legitimate biological needs. If you're trying to wait to be sexually active with someone you really love and care for, you best be taking care of those needs in the meantime. If not, you risk doing some pretty irresponsible things all because you're suppressing those desires. (Whew. Thank God we got that one out of the way!)
- Sexuality is not something that we suddenly turn "on" if and when we end up in committed relationships. We are sexual beings long before that and it would benefit both us and potentially our partners to learn about what we prefer, dislike, and whatnot instead of shaming ourselves for having "that thought" or "that feeling." Practice being nonjudgmental with yourself.
- Women are not responsible for preventing men from lusting. Men are responsible for preventing men from lusting. (*cough* Women also lust. *cough*) Also-- this whole conversation on modesty often makes men seem as if they have zero self-control. If a man sees cleavage, it's not like he's a shark that has just caught the scent of blood and is getting ready to attack. Likewise, I have seen many men in tight pants and I've had the self control and decency to go on about my day without being a creep or catcalling him.
- While we're on that topic-- not every man wants to have sex 20 times a day and not every woman despises sex. Most of you know this, but these perspectives on men and women continue to be falsely perpetuated.
- Committed relationships, like marriage, do not "fix" you. And from what I've heard it's not like you put the rings on the fingers and you're suddenly sex gods. When you get into a relationship, understand that both of you have your issues. The challenge is to love and commit to one another, help one another along with your issues, and together be a blessing to the world around you. (I say all of this while acknowledging that there are instances in which some issues, like abuse and anger, do irreparable damage to marriages. That's something to be cognizant of.)
- Some things you are just going to have to figure out for yourself. As difficult as that it is, it's true. When is the right time to have sex with someone? First date? After 6 dates? After you get married? How long should you wait before you start having conversations about sex with your partner? (Y'all I have practically called committee meetings because I wanted answers to these questions. And you know what? I was given advice, but the decisions were still up to me. They will be for you too. So ask for advice if you feel better, but at the end of the day, it's still on you to decide.)
- If you think for even a moment that you should buy contraceptives, you probably should. It's better to be safe than sorry.
I've said all this because I believe it's valuable information and there are folks out there who need to read it. It has been horribly uncomfortable to write while sitting here in a public place and it will be even more uncomfortable to publish on the internet for the world (my Dad included) to see. But I've always believed that part of my call is to be as authentic as possible and discuss those things which may not be easy or popular to discuss. All I know to do is be faithful to that call, regardless of repercussions.
PS-- if you're looking for a well written book that discusses sexuality from a Christian perspective, I'd highly recommend "Good Christian Sex" by Bromleigh McCleneghan.
I'm ending here trusting that the Spirit of God will use these words to comfort, to bring hope, to liberate, and to heal.
Grace and peace, friends.