A little over two years ago I got the chance to participate in an open-mic type reading at the Southern Book Festival. A writer friend of mine had organized it, and I read a non-fiction piece I wrote about my tenth anniversary, sexuality, and body issues. The piece was a little humorous and little serious. It took a lot of guts to get up in front of people and talk about such topics.
Yet it doesn’t surprise me that I felt more comfortable talking about those things in that context than I do in a church or spiritual setting.
The topic of sex and the church is one that I have thought about – and wrestled with – a lot. Much of this thinking and wrestling has been private, as talking about sex in church is taboo. As a woman who’s been married for a while now, you may think that I am far removed from messages about premarital sex. But when I first got married, I found that all of those teachings against premarital sex had filled me with guilt and shame that did not go away once I said “I do.” I felt like I had received one message from the church and another from culture, and it was a struggle to try to mesh the two together. I also have a lot of trouble with both body issues and perfection issues, and there are times that both of those things play into sexuality for me. As I develop as a person, I continue to work through these things and fortunately shame doesn’t haunt me much anymore. But I very much believe that it’s time for a more positive message about sex from the church. All of these things are now playing into my thoughts about what I will tell my children when the time comes to talk about sex.
Today, I am writing about sex and the church over at my friend Lily’s blog. I am talking about how the messages I received about sex from the church were primarily negative, and I am suggesting that we re-work our theology of sex, relationships, and the body. I would love for you to hop over there and check out my post titled Sex and the Church: Why We Need a Theology of Sex.
Here’s a teaser:
I grew up in the True Love Waits era. I wore the T-shirt, signed the card, and once even wrote a newspaper article for my high school newspaper about waiting until marriage. Like a good Christian girl, I waited until my wedding night to have sex. But there was one problem: I still had an enormous amount of guilt and shame. I was afraid of my own body and its impulses. I had no idea how to embrace sex without feeling dirty. The scare tactics that had been used to get me to avoid sex had a side effect: They taught me that sex was bad, not beautiful.
I have come to believe that one of the problems with sex and the church is that we base our beliefs about romantic relationships and marriage on Bible verses that are about sex, not about romantic relationships and marriage. We need to be teaching our young people how to have healthy relationships, not simply to avoid sex.
I actually have written about this topic publicly before at my friend Briana Meade’s blog. I didn’t publicize it much, so you may have missed it. That post was titled: When the Directions Might Be Wrong: On Sex and Purity Culture. Feel free to check out that post as well. Here’s a short teaser from that one:
I was told that the gift I was giving to my husband was virginity, but that was false. The gift is sex. The gift is the ability to trust someone with your body. The gift is being vulnerable with another person. The gift is the shared experience of closeness, lovingness, and fun. I have come to believe that there is a purity in the act of sex, but it is not what was wrapped up in that package with the white bow. It is the inexplicable beauty of being intimately known by another person.
I hope my writings will resonate with you, and you will be understanding of these very intimate and vulnerable writings.
*Also, I want to make clear that in these posts I am speaking of the Protestant realm that I grew up in. Though I know that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t condone premarital sex, I don’t know how they treat the issue of sex when it comes to young people because I didn’t grow up in the Orthodox Church. I cannot speak to that, but I do think my ideas apply pretty generally to most churches and denominations.
I am Roman Catholic and have been married for 32 years to a husband who was raised in the UCC. The Catholic Church not only has strong prohibitions about sex outside of marriage, but a lot of negative messages about sexuality in general, added to a lot of prohibitions of sexual behaviors and birth control, even within marriage. (Fortunately, Catholics are also taught to follow their conscience, so many of us do not follow the nearly impossible teachings of the church regarding sexual behavior.)
What I tried to convey to my own children was the message that sex is a positive part of a loving relationship – whether it was a marriage relationship or not – but that it needs proper attention, listening, give-and-take, ebb-and-flow, and growth like other aspects of relationships do. I emphasized that a sexual relationship was not to be entered into lightly, but that love, care, and mutual respect needed to come first, so that the two people could trust each other in this intimate way and communicate well about their emotions, needs, and vulnerabilities.
I tend to agree with you!! I don’t know that I am ready to admit that in a blog post yet, but I agree that sex should be part of a loving relationship – even if it’s not marriage. (Although I really don’t want my kids having sex in high school.) I think that the focus on premarital sex pushed a lot of kids who grew up like I did into early marriages. But nowadays people are marrying later, and I think that sex is a normal, healthy part of a committed, loving, meaningful relationship.