A while ago Evan wrote “Christians, Sex and Marriage”, in which he discussed the culture of sex among Christian young adults. Most of them, it was assumed, would be “saving themselves” for marriage, which is (on the surface) a fairly safe assumption, and applicable to a fair amount of Christian students. The culture of silence about sex, however, and the nervous giggles that attend any discussion of it, and the lack of admission that respected, smiling young Christian couples could possibly be doing anything but kissing chastely behind the dormitories makes me want to shout from the rooftops:
Lots of Christian students are having sex. What’s more worrisome is that lots of Christian students are professionals at alternately justifying and denying it.
Even more students are doing everything they possibly can with each other as often as possible without having the kind of sex that potentially impregnates women—and yeah, I think that the long list of not-actually-that-kind-of-sex possibilities is significantly different from the real deal. I also think that it’s sex. I’m pretty sure it would be as defined by our commandment-following-12-year-old selves, at least.
The problem with sex (for nervous promise-ringed young adults) is that it’s a good thing. The other commandments have translated pretty well into a social behavioral code, because one could argue that stealing, lying, murder, etc. are basically destructive things; sex, however, out of all of the commandments, is not.
So sex is super important, is my point, and an essentially good thing. It is one of the most creative things humans can do. It’s taught to us, however, with all the other Evangelical commandments: Don’t be drunk, Don’t do drugs, Don’t have sex. It’s treated, largely, as a thing to be avoided, feared, or even dismissed (“I Love My Future Wife, And I haven’t Even Met Her Yet” shirts, I’m looking at you). Our sex drives, in a vestigial Gnosticism in the contemporary church that saddens me, are seen as shameful things to be suppressed or ignored.
This attitude works fine until we are actually with someone. The main reason to remain celibate was often, basically, “Because the Bible says so,” an argument which weakens palpably the moment you’re alone with an attractive human being who’s attracted to you too. Most of the sex—including the sex leading up to the “real” sex, which, yes, is very different and which, yes, I’m going to continue to assert is still a big deal (commandment-breaking, I would posit, if you’re concerned about such things)—is wrapped up in substantial layers of vague guilt and shame and self-berating.
To assuage our guilt, we also end up deciding upon arbitrary Ultimate Borders of Virginity (which tend towards frequent revision), e.g., “We’re going to keep on all our clothes.” We then realize, e.g., how much one (I guess two) can actually accomplish while remaining clothed. Rinse and repeat with almost any “line” with which we decide to define Purity. I have never seen any line, like “hands above the waist,” work for a couple. Ever. And yet, sadly, it seems to be one of the main strategies of the inhabitants of steamy cars (or, for the carless: stairways, practice rooms, lean-tos, lobbies, cafeteria booths, parking lots, closets, or lawns).
So what we do is immerse ourselves in cycles of guilt and denial and more guilt. This, needless to say, isn’t super healthy. We start to talk about how it’s basically impossible to find a consistent definition of “adultery” as it’s used in the Old Testament. We find out that “fornication” often only applied to women and commandments against it are preceded by things like “don’t marry your dead husband’s brother.” We reassure ourselves that “sexual immorality” in the New Testament, when you come down to it, is pretty vague. The subject of our “Virginity Rocks” t-shirts becomes somewhat more complex than perhaps we once thought, and these newfound nuances conveniently complement our recently emerged interests.
This quick justification, while rather impressive in its ability to persuade even the previously prudest new couples (our argumentative skills and ability to think outside the box can probably be attributed to a strong liberal arts education), is seriously unhealthy. We are taught from an early age to regard sex as plainly Bad, down there with murder and lying and stealing, and so when we realize that it isn’t quite so terrible, it’s pretty easy to renege on our former simplistic convictions. This—not the sex itself, but the quick way in which we flip from “Obviously Not” to “well maybe just a little bit”—is worrisome.
Christian students are deprived of practical conversation about sex. It seems that the contemporary Christian church doesn’t really know what to do with sex besides tell young people to avoid it. Unless the goal is to leave young people confused and ridden with guilt, unless the goal is to communicate an attitude of oversimplified fear and denial when it comes to sex, and unless we prefer a confused silence to more risky and constructive dissenting discourse, the attitude with which sex is approached throughout young Christians’ lives needs to change.