Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

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“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.

 

Does This Generation of Teens Have it Harder Than Predecessors?: A Different Take

It has frequently been said that this generation of young American teenage Christians has it tougher than any other generation before them. Between technology redefining what is considered the public arena, thus shrinking what is truly private, the pressure to perform in school, liberal media with more graphic content on TV, music and movies, there are many who have expressed deep concern of what will become of the present generation of teenage Christians. Earlier and earlier teenagers are being exposed and have access to the morally bankrupt aspects, pornography and drugs to name a few, of our culture and society than ever before.

Those of you who follow my blog know by now that I’m not into stirring the pot of fear (I don’t think it accomplishes much of anything productive or constructive). Allow me to offer you a slightly different take on what all the societal and cultural changes in America means for Christian teenagers.

Many of the same factors that make for culture being difficult for current generation also means that this generation has the greatest potential for creating and cultivating good things.

In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch describes how Christian cultural engagement in the United States has typically been relegated to one of four responses; condemn culture, critique culture, copy culture, or consume culture. The main point of his book is to encourage Christians to understand our cultural mandate from God to create and cultivate. The first two tasks that God gives Adam prior to the Fall, is to name the animals (create), and to work and keep the garden (cultivate). The focal point of the glimpse we get of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation is of a city filled with “the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21.26). After which it says that nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. Unfortunately a disproportionate amount of teaching and guidance to churched teens is to avoid the unclean, detestable and false over and above aspiring to create and cultivate the glory and honor of the nations.

The advancements in technology in the last twenty years alone have yielded a tremendous amount of creative power into most households in America. If you have a smartphone you have more computing power in the palm of your hand than all of NASA had in 1969 when they launched a man to the moon and back. Just a few days ago I saw a news feature on a 13-year-old girl who attempted to send a Hello Kitty doll into space and back using a high-altitude balloon.

Teenagers can now create and conduct their own music and songs using programs like Garageband. They can create and publish short films and movies on Vimeo and YouTube. There are numerous programs for graphic design. They can take and edit professional quality photographs. They can write and publish poetry, prose, and books. Teenagers have greater access to the rest of the world and it’s problems, and they are being given more opportunities to be a part of the solution. And they still have all of the traditional age-old opportunities to create and cultivate, like drawing, painting, building, and gardening.

It would be a shame if a whole generation of Christian teenagers ended up being behind the curve of everyone else because this generation of parents and youth workers were too busy trying to keep them safe instead of encouraging them to create. Imagine all the good and beautiful things they could produce if we spent more time encouraging and participating in their creative endeavors? We should be encouraging them to create and cultivate things that will one day be considered amongst the glory and honor of the nations. The dangers and pitfalls our culture offers to teenagers are not to be overlooked. However, neither is the plethora of creative opportunities it offers them, the likes of which no generation before them has ever seen.

Can Overtly Sexual Commercials Be A Golden Opportunity With Your Teen?

Watching the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any televised sporting event for that matter can be a perilous activity for a family. Between the commercials for beer, Axe body spray, and GoDaddy, there are plenty of moments to turn the channel momentarily or send the kids to refill the bowl of chips just in case.

Back when I was in college I took a sociology class on Pop Culture. One day we spent an entire day analyzing popular advertising, which to this day was one of the most memorable two hours of any class I ever had in all my years of being educated. Our professor gave a very interactive lecture, meaning he encouraged a lot of dialogue from us on the more subtle messages of advertisements. He displayed numerous clips of print and TV advertising and pointed out some of the more subtle messages that are communicated that we don’t necessarily pick up on, which can also be the most influential because we haven’t been trained to think about it beyond its bad because it’s overtly sexual. In regards to print advertising, he trained us to observe how in clothing and especially fragrance ad women were almost always in postures that suggested she was available sexually and was placed on a lower plane on the page that suggested her submission to the male character. In other words the subtle message of male dominance and female submission to men was more influential than the overt fact that she, or both of them were half naked. More subtle than the fact that all the women look like models in most beer commercials is the subtlety that, one, opposite sex interaction was easier with a beer in hand, and two, if the girl even looked at the guy she not only was attracted to him but wanted him sexually. Some advertisers are savvy enough to poke fun at their own strategy (think the Merc Benz commercial where the guy almost makes a deal with the devil to get everything that goes with the car). If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew numerous guys who went through life thinking in these ways, if a girl even looked at them and gave so much as a polite smile it meant she wanted him, it wouldn’t have been such an impressionable lesson.

Now instead of simply recognizing how women are being objectified I recognize how men in particular are advertised to as if their Neanderthals whose sole purpose in life is to mate and reproduce. By purchasing this product the odds of my happiness, fulfillment, survival, social status or whatever it may be will instantly multiply, is the underlying message. When I was a teenager all I saw was the product and pretty girls who depending on the ad wore next to nothing. It wasn’t until my twenties that I saw more.

Here are some suggestions for parents of young teens who want to help their kids decipher the more subtle messages of advertising. This way they can become more empowered to not fall for the subtle lies used to sell the product. Plus you may have an opportunity to get to know a little bit more about your young teen as you enter into dialogue about something other than what they did or need to do.

  1. Find Out What They’re Thinking. Ask them what they think about what they just saw. Ask them how they think the marketers are trying to convince us to buy the product. Ask them what they think the ad says about the nature of men and women. Ask them what they think the ad says about life, fulfillment, happiness etc. This will also help you get a gauge on whether or not they are thinking concretely or abstractly (Hint: if they already are starting to pick up on the subtle stuff then they are entering abstract thinking).
  2. Make Observations. Instead of making direct comments about what you think is wrong with the commercial, which if you are raising your child to have a moral compass shaped by God’s word will be fairly obvious to them, point out some of the more subtle things. For example instead of pointing out how overtly sexual the ad is, point out how the mood or tone of the individuals change when the product appears or is put into use.
  3. Discuss the Message? Advertisements, whether commercials or print are like art, and portray a worldview; life is good or as it ought to be if ‘x’; there is a problem or life is broken because of ‘y’; life is back the to the way it was meant to be or even better than before because of ‘z’. This doesn’t have to be like work and could be turned into a fun little exercise to connect with your young teen as you watch tv.

Where Are All the Christian Artists? (My Response to Seeing Les Miserables for the First Time)

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Over the weekend I saw Les Miserables. I had never seen the musical, read the book, or seen the previous movie adaptation starring Liam Nesson. What a great movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Everything about the movie was great; acting, cinematography, directing, music, singing (Yes Russell Crowe by far had the weakest voice, but you’d be hard pressed to find an actor who could better capture the presence of the relentless Javert).

More than simply enjoying the movie, I was left with a desire and hunger for more. I don’t know much about Victor Hugo other than that he wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame as well. I don’t know what his religious affiliation was, but it is quite clear he had been influenced by a biblical worldview and its understanding of law, grace, atonement, justice, sin, depravity, and wove those themes into his work. There is so much depth to that story that I don’t even know where to begin if we were to discuss what all makes it so great other than to say it is a beautiful piece of art.

Les Miserables is the kind of work that Christian writers, artists and musicians of today should aspire to make. Les Miserables puts Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and other “Christian” movies to shame. I know that’s a really strong statement to make but allow me to explain what I mean.

There was a time, not that long ago, that we didn’t have this divide between the sacred and secular. You may think that this divide is a good thing but it’s not. All it has done is spawned a separate Christian sub-culture where Christians make art for other Christians to enjoy. In other words Christian art is for Christians only, not the masses.  Christians or at least people who thought Christianly because they had been influenced by a biblical worldview were at the forefront of music, the arts, architecture, etc. Christians were making beautiful things that were accessible to everyone and available for all to enjoy, and not just those who frequented the Christian bookstore or the Christian music section. The work they produced was done with the kind of excellence, creativity, and originality that I feel is often times missing from the work we produced in the CCM world. The last thing we need is another generation of musicians who will make the latest version of “Amazing Grace” or “Better is One Day”, perform for and are promoted exclusively to Christian audiences.

For the next generation of artists, writers, storytellers, thespians, and musicians being in the world but not of it needs to become more than just taking familiar cultural forms and throwing John 3.16 onto it and calling it Christian. For them being in the world but not of it needs to become producing rich, thought provoking, and beautiful pieces of work that engages and is for the enjoyment of the masses, and not just the Christian masses.