It seems like there’s been a lot of talk about sexuality lately, or perhaps I’ve just happened to run across it more because of the people I follow. But in any case, this is one of several different things which has gotten me thinking about the subject lately. And I’m not talking about sexual orientation, though that would be included under the umbrella of sexuality. Some of the topics include: how sexuality is much broader than just sex, gender and gender roles, relationships both romantic and platonic, misogyny, modesty, shame, attraction, desirability, etc.
I’m recognizing that I’m not sure that I have completely settled on a paradigm of sexuality, or at least I’m rethinking it. Actually, I think it has a significant amount to do with how I have only thought of sexuality as being about sex. I’ve grown up and lived in a relatively conservative evangelical environment my whole life. I have re-thought my beliefs and diverged from the traditional conservative point of view on many topics. Beliefs about sex are certainly one of the areas I’ve questioned, though I haven’t changed my position much if at all. I admit that I’m not unbiased when it comes to this subject though (who is?). I’d say I have a significant stake in my traditional beliefs being correct. But nevertheless, I’m always trying to understand the true reality as best as possible.
One thing which this has brought to my attention is how it is sort of an odd thing to be an older single in a conservative environment. The traditional view is that sex is for marriage and we don’t talk about it outside of that context other than to tell people to abstain. But some people recently have pointed out that just because a single person may be celibate does not mean they don’t have a sexual side (meaning a sexual nature and desires). But we’ve had no context or concept of this. Conservative Christianity has been almost just as bad on this topic as mainstream culture. Both have over-emphasized sex and its inevitability. The liberal side preaches freedom and life in free sex without consequences (which is untrue and damaging). But the only real answer the conservative side has come up with is “just get married”, as if marriage is what brings salvation (also untrue and damaging). (I would of course argue that freedom and life come only through Christ.) Anyway, because of this, apparently as a conservative evangelical you only start discussing and learning about sex when you get into a serious relationship and start pre-marital counseling (if even then—I don’t know, I’ve never been there). (Ok, I’m ignoring for the moment that a reasonably high percent of Christians have sex before marriage too, though that of course doesn’t mean it is really discussed or thought out. And I’m not sure that this is any better addressed in mainstream culture either.) So as an older single, I’m in this weird place of not ever having really had a good chance or context for learning and having an intelligent conversation about this. I haven’t been given any guidance on how to form a theology of sexuality, yet it is a part of me I’ve been living with for decades.
So with that background in mind, here are some of my initial thoughts and questions:
Sexuality is a fundamental part of our being. Despite this, it seems that we have long failed to have intelligent conversation about sexuality. Discussion about it is too often repressed on one hand or is approached crassly on the other. Can we have intelligent discussion about sexuality? How might this be accomplished? What is appropriate and helpful and in what contexts? Sexual attraction and desire certainly must be one of the strongest emotions most of us experience. One fear and danger in attempting a discussion of sexuality, especially in a mixed gender group, is that it will ignite these desires in relationships which they best lay dormant. So is it possible to have a discussion without an unreasonably high risk of falling into this trap? Sex is also generally held to be a private matter—another reason we are likely uncomfortable with more public discussion. Would more public discussion be helpful? Has the lack of broader discussion been harmful? Our culture seems ironically divided on sex. On one hand, we are saturated with it in media where it’s used to sell everything and where is typified as normal and good between people who feel passionate toward each other, almost no matter the relationship. On the other hand, we seem quite uncomfortable with it—if not outright outraged when it occurs in certain other contexts. It’s a scandal if a political official has an affair and a crime if one of the persons is too young, etc.
There are a couple of things I’ve read just recently which I feel are great steps in the right direction. The first is “Sexless in the City“, where Anna Broadway does an excellent service in suggesting that we need to build practices and contexts for living out healthy sexuality (in a broad/holistic sense) rather than just preaching about how sex outside of marriage is bad. The second is Christians & Masturbation: Seven Perspectives” over on Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I really appreciate Rachel addressing this subject which seems to me to be taboo to talk about. I appreciate the discussion because the root of all the answers lie in our paradigm of sexuality. In other words, it’s addressing the question, “What is healthy sexuality?”