Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

20140226-075803.jpg

“Why do we perceive sex as so gross? Most people think its gross.”

That is one of the questions I received last week from one of my students anonymously on a 3×5 card. Last week we talked about myths and lies about sex from culture. Ironically enough we will be addressing the question this week when we talk about myths and lies about sex from the church. It is actually the third on my list of church myths under the title of, “Bodies and sex are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.” However, if we’re being fair the lie of sex being gross is perpetuated by both the church and culture at large (I feel I should clarify that when I refer to the church in this case I’m referring to the Christian subculture as a whole in America. It’s not just a generalization of local church bodies but also Christian pop-culture of books, movies, and bible study curriculum).

I believe the reason why so many, probably not a majority, but a sizable amount of people, thinks sex is gross is because of the fear tactics meant to discourage us from having sex when we’re young. One of the buzzwords of our sex talk is ‘formational’. There are so many aspects of our culture that is formative in how we think about our bodies and sex. Given some of the messages we receive early on about sex from what is said and also what isn’t said has a way of teaching us that sex is gross.

Given how sex saturated the culture at large is some I assume many disagree that it actually uses fear tactics to scare us out of having sex when we’re young. I would point out that most of my students were apprehensive about having a sex talk to begin with because the sex talk they would have gotten at school was extremely awkward. Think back to the sex-Ed portion of your middle and high school health class curriculum. If you remember nothing else you probably recall being shown pictures of genitalia with rashes or worse due to sexually transmitted diseases, and video clips of a childbirth. Why would our culture, which tends to be fairly reckless with their depiction of sex on the opposite end of the spectrum use fear tactics to discourage young people from having sex? Above all else our American Western culture values individual autonomy. One sure fire way to threaten your autonomy before you even reach adulthood is to get pregnant, get someone pregnant, or get an STD. More to the heart of the issue if any of those things happen before you reach adulthood you’ve sent a shot across the bow of your parent or guardian’s autonomy (and their insurance premium). So if scaring you doesn’t work they’ll gladly teach and instruct you in the proper use of birth control and contraceptives. Also I think we would be amiss if we didn’t give some credit to the pervasiveness of hardcore porn to the belief that sex is gross. Most pornography is completely and utterly dehumanizing.

As for the church its uses fear tactics to try and scare you into obedience to God. Often the unintended overwhelming message from the church in regards to sex is that it is not allowed. Well that is until you get married. In the church premarital sin is treated like the unforgivable sin. I’ve read books and heard talks from Christian sources that would have you convinced that if you have premarital sex, you’ll be haunted by ghosts of your sexual past for the rest of your life, that you are used and soiled goods. Whereas the Bible teaches that purity is as much about sex as it is how we treat widows, orphans, and foreigners, the church has created an entire market around sex being the be all end all of purity from purity rings to the “True Love Waits” campaign. One of the most egregious examples of the church using fear tactics about sex, is Kay Arthur’s book The Truth About Sex where she likens sex to a can of Drano. That’s right, she likens sex to a toxic cleaning chemical engineered to clear out a clogged bog. She highlights the cautions and warning labels where it says “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed. Causes severe burns to eyes and skin.” I get what she’s trying to communicate. Being reckless with you sex life and misusing sex can put you at risk. However, what are the chances that a few teenagers hearing or reading that illustration is ever going to want to have sex even when they get married? In extreme cases they’ll only ever want to have sex in order to procreate or occasionally begrudgingly appease their spouse.

It is likely that both the culture and the church is to blame for why so many parents feel inept to talk to their kids about sex. Sex either becomes part of a child’s null-curriculum leading to curiosity suspicion and at time the assumption that it is wrong to talk about. Some parents feel awkward using technical terms when talking about sex and create code words for body parts and intercourse. Not only does this have the possibility of teaching kids at an early age that sex is always naughty, but it could have even more devastating consequences. I spoke with a psychologist once who told me they and many of their colleagues were witness to failed child abuse cases because the defense attorney seized on the fact that the child referred to their body parts with code words they learned from parents like “flower” and “butterfly” instead of an anatomically correct term.

At the end of the day the fear tactics from both camps fail because sex is good. Sex is designed for us, and in our sinful brokenness we have turned it into something it is not. Despite all the ridiculous illustrations and disgusting pictures of STDs people keep having sex because sex is a tremendous gift that God has given to his image bearers to experience the peak of companionship and oneness. And as with any great gift some people just can’t wait to open it. As with any great gift it can be misused and abused. None of that changes the fact that it is good.

 

If You’re In a Committed Relationship But Not Married Why Is It Bad to Have Sex?

Two weeks ago we started our Sex Talk with middle school students. At the end of this first part I did some Q&A with them. The following is one of the questions they asked anonymously on a 3×5 card that I thought would be a great one to attempt to answer and post on the blog.

As these posts have the potential to gain a relatively large audience I recognize that not all who read it share my faith and worldview. If you are an outsider to the Christian faith reading this chances are you won’t agree on principle with my answer. Even so I hope you may find it a well thought out answer.

Question: “If you’re in a committed relationship but are not married why is it bad to have sex?”

Answer: What makes a relationship committed? Is it simply two people agreeing that they won’t date another? Is it two people agreeing that they won’t be emotionally, physically, and sexually intimate with someone else? Committed is defined as, “being bound or obligated, as under a pledge to a particular cause, action, or attitude.” In marriage you are binding and pledging everything. Property, assets, name, and of course bodies, all legally lawfully bound together. Committed relationships, particularly those of teenagers, are in no way binding except for the fact that they spend a lot of time together, and are therefore exclusive with one another. There isn’t anything keeping them together beyond their affections. Should their affections change they can de-commit by simply, “breaking up”. There is no need to hire lawyers, divide property and assets, or change names back to what they were. Not that committed relationships are bad and should be done away with, but they were never meant to be the Junior Varsity to the Varsity Team that is marriage. Committed relationships are more like tryouts. No one receives nor gets to wear the uniform until the make the team. Sexual intercourse has the potential to bind you to someone in ways that can’t so easily be undone by walking away. The contraceptive industry makes the bulk of their millions by assisting people in a “committed relationship” to prevent being bound to one another via babies and STD’s. The false dichotomy of “casual sex” is built upon the exercise of divorcing your heart and mind from sex as to avoid being bound to someone with your thoughts and feelings. Likewise there is a false dichotomy of “sex within a committed relationship”. A committed relationship is for the purpose of deciding whether or not you want to commit to binding yourself to another for life. Sex then within a committed relationship is to begin binding a big part of yourself to someone while still having the option to “break up” at a significantly lower cost, before you’ve actually decided you want to commit to be bound to only them for life.

What makes sex sex? The Bible teaches that sex is way more than just two bodies joining together for the purpose of experiencing sensual pleasure (even though it doesn’t shy away from that aspect of it). So often the writers of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament writers, referred to sexual intercourse by saying “and they knew one another”. What are the scripture writers saying about what sex is when they refer to it as “knowing” another person?

When I was about 19 years old unmarried and a virgin, a sexually active non-Christian female told me, “If a girl ever tells you she wants you she doesn’t know what it is she’s asking for.” Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what she meant but I know she, a sexually active unmarried non-Christian was provoking me to think of sex as much more than a physical act and thus something not to tread lightly upon. Honestly I think she was urging and encouraging me not to have sex outside of marriage. Think of the colloquialisms we have for sex today; ‘doing it’, ‘doing the nasty’, ‘afternoon delight’, the list goes on and on, but you’d be hard pressed to find any that capture the fact that when you become “one flesh” with someone there is the potential for something transcendent to happen that leaves you very vulnerable and exposed to the person you’re having sex with. I think that’s what she was trying to tell me. There is a power in sex to help heal our brokenness, to affirm our humanity and therefore it also has power to shame and destroy our humanity as well. There is a huge investment being made when we connect with someone sexually. The promises pledge and complete joining together of marriage is meant to provide the security of pledge and promise that frees us to experience it with our whole being without fear, without holding back any part of our humanness.

What is marriage? Contrary to what popular culture often tells us marriage is not shackles that imprison us to another but the safe confines to not have to keep parts of our self, the parts of us that can’t be quantified in limbs curves and skin, hidden from the person we are giving ourselves to and receiving them in return. Marriage is meant to be the confines within which you can be free to reveal and share all of who you are. That’s not to say that people in committed relationships can’t experience these things. It’s just that the cost to walk away doesn’t match nor correlate with the investment that sex dictates whether you want it to or not. We typically don’t tell engaged couples this when they are nearing the altar but the truth is they can still walk away without it costing them much. Sure the money spent on the wedding has gone down the drain, but they don’t have to divide up property and assets, they don’t have to change their name on legal documents and credit cards, and unless they have children they don’t have to be as concerned with who else it will have a lasting affect on. The reality is that some grown adults have chosen to join every aspect of their lives together as a functionally married couple without the formal and legal ceremony binding them together because so many married people have trudged into and out of marriage as though it were just another committed relationship.

How many committed relationships can one person have? Sometimes I wish I had dated more before I got married. I was slow on the pick up on how much a friendship with a woman and a “committed relationship” with a woman is not apples to apples. However, on the flip side if I had had a number of “committed relationships” how might they have formed me for marriage to my wife in ways that would be counter productive to our binding relationship? I can’t say for certain but she and I would have to take the good with the bad and everything in between. Say I had been sexually intimate in some of those hypothetical “committed relationships” I would have to unlearn, and undo the unique ways I had formed myself with those other women sexually, or bring all those things with me to be bound together with my wife. We often refer to all those things as baggage.

Why is it bad? At the end of the day you can do what you want. Even if you want to soften God’s commands into advisory precautions from the one who created human bodies, sex, and gifted them with this complex thing called intimacy, it’s not hard to see why sex outside of the binding pledge and promise of marriage is risky business. Encouraging young people, still dependent on their parents and under their authority, in particular to go ahead and have sex as long as it is within a committed relationship is as fraught with danger as encouraging the same young people to go to the bank and open a joint bank account. We would discourage teenagers from binding to one another financially no matter how much they thought they were in love or felt that the time was right. Likewise there is great wisdom in discouraging two people, especially teenagers, who aren’t joined and bound together by pledge and law from becoming sexual intimate.

One final thought… I have friends who aren’t Christians who have bound themselves to one another in most ways that married couples do. They have share exclusively with one another their bodies, their home, their property and assets. They are exclusively sharing their life and all of who they are with one another. In all likelihood they will never marry, but their hope is to grow old together. While I don’t approve of unmarried couples living together I treat them as a married couple. Given neither or them are Christians thus not holding the same view of marriage as me I want to encourage them to remain committed to one another for the long haul because that is their expressed desire. While I prefer they eventually make their relationship legally binding at this point I would hate for them to break the bonds they’ve formed together. In some ways based upon my view of how God designed humanity and sex they’ve gone too far in sharing their lives with one another exclusively that I’d hate to see them split and start the process over with someone else. If anything their decision not to marry is largely in response to how marriage is so often treated as a committed relationship. Too many married people don’t honor and value marriage for what it truly is. They see it as a means to be happy, and not as a means to bind them self to another person, and be fully known by them. Many people will end a marriage because they are no longer happy or don’t feel the way the once did. Many people who have pledged themselves to another in good times and bad, for better for worse, in sickness and health no matter what may come, in the sight of witnesses and God, only to leave when their marriage no longer suits them. They aren’t happy, they aren’t satisfied, the marriage is not what they thought it would be and so they break the pledge, the promise and the bond. Could it be that committed relationships while training us in some good ways also forms us to ignore, suppress, and break all the ways we have become bound to another person and muster up the ability to walk away because we’re no longer happy? Imagine how much easier it would be to suppress, ignore and break all bonds if you had done it even a few times since you were a teenager? Sex outside of marriage is not only not the best way to live it is a risky personal investment to make. Why is it bad to have unmarried sex in a committed relationship? Sex outside of marriage is potentially very bad for you.

Proof Once Again That Few People Listen To Lyrics

Whether it was Beyonce during the Halftime Show of Super Bowl 47, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performing at the 2013 MTV VMAs, or Beyonce again performing at the Grammy’s I’ve heard people complain and cry foul. They were bothered, shocked and even surprised by their very overtly sexual performances on stage. I didn’t see either one of Beyonce’s performances, who didn’t see at least clips and stills of Miley’s, but all this has gotten me to thinking.

Have you looked at or listened to the lyrics of the songs they were singing at the time? I realize MTV doesn’t actually play music videos anymore. That ship started sailing about ten years ago. The fact of the matter is more often than not music videos and live performances are theatrical in nature. In other words there is a good chance that their stage act will depict the words that are coming out of their mouth. In the case of Beyonce I realize that her public persona is one of womanly grace if you don’t count “popping and locking” while performing at Gospel Festivals against her, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a good number of years the girl has been singing “grown folks music”. It’s hardly the kind of music, if you have a finely tuned moral compass and take a moment to think about it, that is suitable for children. Not that we need to make a big stink about it. In some ways it is what it is. Allow me to go another route for a moment though…

I would argue that the music we (we being evangelical Christians) often say is inappropriate for children or young teens is actually more inappropriate for adults. I’ll speak for myself in saying what I’ve heard many other adults confess as well. I had no idea how truly sexually explicit suggestive and just plain raw a lot of the songs I was listening to as a teenager really were. I speak for myself because I was relatively clueless due to my lack of experience in matters of a sexual nature, thus when I heard these songs I had an idea what they were talking about, but I really didn’t understand. How many of us have gone back and listened to the music of our youth and responded with “Oh my gosh I listened to that!?!” When I had that experience I went to the next step and realize that there is probably a reason why I never had that response as a teenager, and it wasn’t necessarily because I had never listened closely to the lyrics. It wasn’t because I didn’t have a daughter. I just didn’t get it. Now I do, and now I can’t listen to the music of my youth without my imagination filling in what used to be blank. Thus why I must consider whether or not the music of my youth is more inappropriate for me as an adult than it was for me as a teenager. Say what you want but I know I’m not the only one.

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

Four Strategies For Being Chaste

If we are truly to have a gospel centered conversation on sex and bodies with adolescents then we must encourage and equip young people with strategies for how to live chastely going forward. It’s not enough for them to be talked to about it. Ultimately we want them to be about it. Many Christ Followers know and want to do what is right in regards to sex, but have no strategy that helps them remain chaste for the long haul, and thus their resolve is eroded over time. The following is four strategies for practicing chastity.

Be Chaste in Community With Others: Isolating yourself will only make the familiar slogan, “Everybody is doing it” seem all the more true. Christ Followers need to be committed to one another and live life with one another in a way that encourages each one to live the new life to which they’ve been called. Whether it is a small group or accountability group we need to find people we can trust and feel safe with the details of our sex lives and the decision and boundaries we’ve chosen. Personally some of the greatest encouragement I received to remain chaste in my early twenties was from people who were decidedly not chaste and practicing just the opposite. Accountability groups need to have an emphasis on humility and sanctity. Too often accountability has a way of becoming a performance stable where we become full of pride or shame depending on how we measure up others in the group. Humility because ultimately our sexuality is about being restored humanity due to the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sanctity because none of us are perfect and moments of rebellion don’t have to become patterns of rebellious behavior.

  • Encouragement to live chastely
  • Support to live chastely
  • Full disclosure
  • Humility and Sanctity versus Pride and Shame

Be Decidedly Stubborn: Deciding to be chaste is virtually meaningless without making decisions about boundaries for our self and others when it comes to sexual behavior. Boundaries need to be established before a choice has to be made. You don’t want to find yourself in a potentially compromising situation that forces you to have to create a boundary, you need to have the boundary already in place which leads to the next strategy point…

Seek Wisdom: Biblical wisdom places a large emphasis on what the heart is set on, or what it treasures. It would be wise to know your heart and to not underestimate the power of your fleshly desires, because as stated earlier internal pressure is often greater than peer pressure. Secondly, Biblical wisdom emphasizes avoiding situations and scenarios where you may be tempted to compromise your boundaries. Lastly, Biblical wisdom emphasizes having fleeing from situations and scenarios where you might be compromised.

  • Know your heart and your flesh for “you are your greatest enemy”
  • Don’t put yourself in compromising situations
  • Have an exit strategy; think through “what would you do if?” scenarios, so that you can be prepared to do what is right and wise.

Abide In Christ: Ultimately a gospel-centered conversation on sex and bodies is not so much about sex and bodies as it is about being raised with Christ to new life. The new life that we have been raised to and reborn in is not a life that we have to wait for some moment in the future to experience. It is a life that we can begin experiencing now as a foretaste of what is to come. If there is no desire for Christ, no love for Christ, and no practice of Christ, then efforts t be chaste are utterly in vain.

  • Take off the old self (Colossians 3.5)
  • Put on the new self (Colossians 3.10)
  • Practice Christian disciplines
    • Confession and repentance: chastity is not a “pass fail” endeavor, it is a forward calling no matter what has happened in the past.
    • Preach the gospel to yourself regularly so that you can be reminded the truth about sex and bodies, and thus counter the false messages we hear everywhere else.

The Mystery Of His Will Made Known

God’s will has been made known to us in and through Christ. He has redeemed all of creation to himself and his will is to “in the fullness of time, gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1.10). So why has God’s will seemed to remain such a mystery to us? A problem to solve. A code to decipher. As we have often done the message of the gospel has been hijacked and meshed together with the messages and slogans of our culture and led to confusion and misdirection on what exactly it is that God is up to. Our society is all about self and individualism thus the prevailing gospel message of God’s plan of salvation and redemption of all of creation has been replaced with a message of self-help, self-improvement, personal faith and relationship with God. Our gospel message has narrowed from a view of what God is doing in the entire cosmos to what God can do for you as an individual. It is the Jesus for me Jesus. Thus when we try to discern God’s will even the way we go about it is shaped by this subtle misunderstanding.

God has always made his will known to mankind. We are not left in the dark. We are insiders when it comes to what God is up to. The problem is we so often want the details of how it all works. And we want specific instructions on what we are to do the choices to make, the right decision to be made. The mystery has never been an issue of what. It has always been an issue of how. When God made Adam and Eve he made them in his likeness. They were content to figure out what that looked like until they were deceived into thinking that there was another way of how, by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God. Likewise we get distracted from the “what “ of God’s will, wisdom and understanding, and become obsessed with “how” we can get him to reveal it to us. When we do this we fail to realize that Jesus himself is the mystery revealed. When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us God’s will was no longer a mystery. His will for us is to abide in and know him. When the mystery of God’s will becomes a personal thing that involves predestined fixed plot points of our story that require moral adherence or practice of disciplines to be revealed then we fail to recognize that Jesus is the way the truth and life as opposed to specific life events, ‘divine’ appointments, choices, or life decisions.

Do You Believe God Gives in Excess Or Is A Scrooge?

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1.7-8)

 

To say that the riches of God’s grace are lavished on us is to say that God is bestowing them on us profusely and in excess. The redemption bestowed on us in Christ due to his willful sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins is more than enough. Personally I’ve always thought of Christ’s sacrifice cancelling out our sins as though to say they are in equal measure this balancing one another out. But here Paul is saying that Christ’s perfect life, the sacrifice of it, the resurrection of it, and presence of it in the ascension is in excess of our sin and corruption. The scales of justice of been tipped beyond our favor.

The irony of God providing redemption and forgiveness of sins in excess is that the original sin took root in mankind’s suspicion that God was not an excessive provider. Even today many people struggle to believe that God has given to them lavishly. Some believe their rebelliousness against God is too great to be completely overwhelmed and swallowed up by the riches of God’s grace. Some see what they perceive to be God’s lavishness in the life of others in the form of ease, comfort, and material riches, and suspect that God has not in fact given lavishly to them. Either way there is a struggle and sometimes a refusal to believe that God has been lavish.

In one sentence Paul has reminded followers of Christ to see that God, as he always has, gives in excess.  Jesus’ giving of his life for the sin’s of mankind and the redemption available in his resurrection is enough to cover the entire cosmos. Cosmos is the word we use when we want to talk about every particle and molecule that God has created, from the ends of the earth to the farthest and unexplored reaches of the universe. All of God’s creation was subject to sin and death and all of it has been redeemed through Jesus’ work on the cross.

Undoubtedly, this is something that we need to be in the habit of marinating on so that it sinks deep into us. As my mother would always say and now I’m accustomed to saying, “Life is not fair”. There is always going to be people to whom we can look at the fruit of their tree and be filled with the same longing as Adam and Eve when they gazed at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired.” When we consider the depth of our sin and depravity we may say with Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” If we take an honest assessment of our life next to Christ’s we will undoubtedly recognize the chasm of unfairness. Whatever the case may be we need to be reminded of God’s lavish, abundant and excessive giving of riches that can’t be quantified in anything outside of his glorious presence, which is after all the climax of all he has given and provided.