Let’s Talk About Sex?

Yesterday the woman across the aisle from me on Southwest Airlines flight 362 was reading Cosmo. The page she was reading was all about sex.

Then she turned the page.

And that page was all about sex.

And so was the next.

And the next.

And the next.

After watching her flip through her primer on sex for the hour long flight (I, of course, was dutifully engrossed in a book on the Catholic Epistles) I was dismayed. After giving it careful thought for those 42 minutes, I decided that Cosmo was basically the equivalent of porn, but geared toward women rather than men. I was also on the verge of deciding that just as I would not want my daughter to marry some dude who looks at porn all the time, so I would not want my son to marry some chick who reads Cosmo.

But then I had to stand around for 7 minutes waiting for a shuttle to my rental car, so I gave the matter some further thought.

In particular, I started wondering where else people might go to talk about sex. Are there healthy and helpful venues for having discussions about sexuality as something that’s larger than the time we spend with someone else in bed? about differences in ways that men and women tend to experience and think about sex (even if stereotyped and not across the board true, these are often helpful starting points if we don’t get stuck in them)? about …. about… about… ?

And, in particular, are there good places for these conversations where people can speak honestly and struggle honestly even while striving to live within something like the parameters of a traditional Christian sexual ethic?

I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of good answers to this question. When we talked about sex here a few weeks ago one of the voiced frustrations was that the only times Christians talk about sex is when we are telling you who you can and can’t sleep with–not so helpful, and not conducive to creating people who are holistically aware of themselves and devoted to God as beings that are not only physical and spiritual and emotional and relational and mental but also sexual.

So that’s my question for you: what have (and have not) been helpful places to engage and/or absorb conversations about sex, especially as a Christian?

I’m looking for some help here, because otherwise I’m going to have to get a subscription to Cosmo.

37 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sex?”

  1. pre-marriage class was pretty good. As was urban missions conf last year, though some of the “what not to do” conversation happened by design.

    And the typical reformed answer is the Dad answer “here, read this book”.

    1. other couples, about 4-5. Fun uncomfortable moment when we were sharing how our families of origin would possibly affect who we are in our marriages and someone who suffered a disfunctional family called foul on the whole enterprise.

      It went for 12 weeks, had some social events, etc. Only 1 of the weeks was on sex explicitly. mechanics, geaography, etc :) but i recall it being valuable.

      recomended ed wheat, Intended for Pleasure.

  2. And let’s be honest here, when we fail to talk about sexuality it is to the detriment of women more than men. If thousands of men were going through life without sexual satisfaction, I think it would be a different story.

    1. Yes, Jeremiah, I see your point. And, women are more likely (it seems from my experience) to have conversations that are intimate and helpful than men are–so we’re sort of out of the loop on what we need to know.

      Unless we read our wives’ magazines…

      1. I agree, there are plenty of places to find information that is mechanically correct, but it is invariably spiritually devoid. Someone needs to write “Orgasm and the Kingdom of God.” I’d read it…but not in public.

      2. Daniel said: “And, women are more likely (it seems from my experience) to have conversations that are intimate and helpful than men are–so we’re sort of out of the loop on what we need to know.”

        I have to very much disagree. At least among Christian women, there is very, very, very little talk about sex in most circles. There is still a “women shouldn’t be sexual” taboo, in my experience. I have always felt Christian men were much more open in talking about sex–whether or not those conversations are actually helpful, I can’t know.

        I’m curious to know where/when you think these sorts of conversations are happening among women. Because I just don’t see it.

  3. There is a Christian discussion board at http://www.themarriagebed.com that I have found interesting and helpful. It used to be a little more “scandalous” in that there were discussions about non-problem issues, whereas it seems to be a bit more restrained now. However, something is better than nothing.

    I have also found (now that I am married) that married Christian women are happy to talk about sex, although this happens on a one on one or very small group basis as opposed to some organized event. :)

  4. I’m part of a small group/church/dinner group thing, and we talk about sex very openly. We formed the group to be irreverent about church; we’ve ended up being pretty irreverent about most things. It’s kind of like church has spread over our whole lives and now encompasses every topic imaginable. We care about each other, we trust each other, and so we are open with each other about everything, including sex.

  5. There’s been quite a buzz going on in the little corner of the blogosphere where I hang out about a young, single, female pastor who gave an interview to Marie Claire magazine about her sex life (or lack thereof). Some commenters are shouting it down as a sad example of over-sharing and others are praising it as a much-needed instance of honesty by a Christian leader on a subject that is all too often ceded to the Cosmos and Marie Claires of the world. The one thing that is almost unanimous is that a mainstream women’s mag with its own agenda and a reputation for skewing interviewee’s words was perhaps not the best place to try to launch that conversation, but as you ask, where else are people going to look?

  6. The need to talk about sex is not God-given. It is a “need” created and stoked by our sex-saturated culture. That’s why magazines of the type you describe never satisfy desire, they only intensify it.

    The proper venue for sex is marriage, and there you will always have someone with whom you can talk about it. And if you’re not married you have no need to talk about it.

    Repentance is what we need.

    1. I strongly disagree, Mike. I think Song of Solomon is enough evidence that talking about sex with someone other than your spouse is okay. I also think it is necessary. Take two people completely ignorant of sex and expect them to enjoy the intimacy that God has designed them for and it is going to be a long time coming.

      But perhaps you have not fully expressed yourself. You don’t think there should be ANY discussion of sex by people other than husband and wife?

    2. Let me clarify. No mother/daughter or father/son talks? No sister/sister talks? No Christian friend to Christian friend talks? No pastor to married couple talks??

      I’m just trying to understand your viewpoint.

      1. Jamie and Dr. Kirk,

        I don’t favor excising SoS from our Bibles. And I do think there are occasions, such as father/son, mother/daughter, or patient/doctor where a person needing guidance, help, or support can find it. My “rule” therefore does have reasonable exceptions. However, I stated it as a “rule” because our society has gone crazy on this subject and, yes, I think we need to repent of the sex-obsessed society in which we live.

        The notion that all prior generations were “sexually repressed” and that only we have reached the maturity to talk about it openly and therapeutically is a worldly and not a biblical notion. Sex is talked about more now than at any time in my life – and yet people’s complaints about it are only increasing. If talking about it helped, the baby boom generation would be the most satisfied that ever lived; it’s obvious that they’re not. I have grandchildren and I am ashamed to think of them watching television, for repeated references to sex cannot be escaped.

        If you think not talking about it at all and talking about it all the time are two extremes that we ought to avoid, then I encourage you to recognize that we as a society are headed full speed toward the latter and are not in any risk of the former. That is, the pendulum is nowhere near center.

        1. I agree that many of the ways about which sex is spoken, and venues within which sex is addressed, are unhelpful. That was my original concern with the Cosmo thing.

          But “we talk about it badly” does not mean either that we should talk about it more or that we should talk about it less. I’m wondering aloud if there aren’t venues within which people are talking about it better.

          1. Yes, Dr. Kirk, that’s a fair way of describing our disagreement. Where you would have us “talk about it better” I would have us “talk about it less.” To me, less is better. To you, it is not. I guess that’s where we’ll have to leave it.

        2. I think the problem, Mike, is that the “talk” that our culture does about sex is not helpful or realistic especially for a Christian wanting to be prepared for or encouraged in their marriage. Seeing the occasional sex scene in movies or on tv did not help me. If anything, it gave me a wrong impression about sex and made things more difficult.

          Christians need to have helpful, TRUTH-filled discussions about sex. It is something that God means to be blessing, but it is so easy for it not to be. Especially if the only information we have is what we get from our culture rather than from the Christian community.

          I share your disdain for the vulgar way that sex is often portrayed and discussed in our culture. But we cannot use the mis-use of a good thing by the non-Christian culture as an excuse to do nothing.

          Do you know what I mean? In other words, I think your extreme of talking about sex too much, is really not an extreme (necessarily), but is rather a talking about sex in the wrong way by the wrong light.

          1. Jamie, you are obviously a thoughtful person and you are focused on genuinely helping people. And I certainly share your view on how modern media causes many problems because of its portrayals of sex.

            You would therefore focus on good sex education to replace the bad. I, however, have a great confidence in true love, the course of nature, the presence of God, and the ability of a loving couple to talk through any problems the encounter. I think the more the subject is discussed by people other than that couple, the more difficult things will be.

            I recognize that I am the lone dissenter to the post and the comments so I’ll be quiet now.

            Thanks for letting me express my views on a subject I’d rather not be talking about.

    3. I only parent two people. But I talk about parenting with people other than my children.

      I am a professor to students, but I have to talk to other professors and professional educators to learn how to teach well.

      We begin exploring our bodies from birth, and our overwhelming, at times, desires for sex begin years before most of us will marry.

      I can’t imagine that it is wise to “repent” of a desire to talk about and learn about sex. Nor can I imagine that it is good for our future spouses to never have heard or learned anything about sex beforehand.

      In fact, I think that most guys probably need to repent of our desire to not talk about it in helpful ways.

      Of course, if we could also suggest that there’s biblical precedent for celebrating “talk” about sex, unless we want to rip the Song out of the Bible…

  7. I’m currently reading “Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship” by David Scharch. The data is overwhelming that most couples will struggle with some level of dysfunction that is not solved by just being in a committed loving relationship.

    Sadly I think the perspective Mike Gant presented is typical in the ‘church’ and leaves many married couples filled with shame regarding one of the most significantly beautiful and profound images of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Not to mention the affect on the divorce rate when these problems go unmentioned and therefore typically untreated.

    I appreciate your attempt to respond patiently and wisely on such an important subject.

  8. Our current culture does bank on exploiting sex, but too often we conflate that with sex itself.

    Intimacy, however, is one of the prime metaphors which is used by Scripture in order to describe the relationship between God and humankind, one which parallels the everyday human condition, as seen in marriage, unfaithfulness, divorce, even remarriage amid scandal (see Hosea). But it also connects with fertility of the land as well. In other words, it gets cosmic:

    “If a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
    and becomes another man’s wife,
    will he return to her?
    Would not such a land be greatly polluted?
    You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
    says the LORD.” ~ Jer. 3:1

    This verse in Jeremiah clearly bolsters the idea that God has bound himself up with humankind and all of creation in startlingly intimate ways. Also, we might point to the bride and groom metaphor which is recurrent in the NT regarding the very eschaton of creation.

    – Furthermore, one might even point to Hosea, if one was so inclined, in order to glean just how dangerously risky, nay, boorishly vulgar the link between humankind and God can be. Though, instead of focusing on the glitz and glam of such drama, as pop mags nowadays do, the Hosea text moves through it toward a reaffirmation of love.

    Sexual ethics aside, such pervasiveness of intimacy and sexuality entails first and foremost a bare necessity that cannot help but come about, one which is all too often squelched by the church. I grew up in a church which skirted the issue of sex, or worse, used it to reproach and purge the congregation of the ways of culture. It would be nice to have a church support and guide (and not the other way around) such a visceral, basic human response mechanism which has been built in us by a loving God.

    If anything, tradition ought to put on the sackcloth for a change and reread the text it presumes to know and understand.

  9. I grew up in the church and was on the receiving end of the massive onslaught of sexual “information” of the world. Without godly voices counteracting the world’s view on sex, the only thorough teaching I really got was from the world. It is gross negligence on the part of the church to only say “don’t do it” (Or my favourite, “girls just keep your legs crossed”; because apparently men have no control or responsibility when it comes to sex) and then leave people on their own to figure out how exactly to do that. It’s the equivalent of whispering in someone’s ear, while the enemy is blasting in the other ear with a loudspeaker–the message isn’t going to get through just on sheer volume.

    “Don’t do it” is also a really simplistic perspective. There needs to be further explanation of the place sexuality plays in our spirituality. Like how marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. Like how our deepest need for intimacy is achieved not through physical-oneness with a human person, but through spiritual-oneness with God (I needed to know this!!). Like the deep bonding that takes place in sex cannot take place without the deep covenant faithfulness of Christian marriage which makes room for people to abandon their emotional barriers and trust their spouse completely because they know they are completely safe, loved and accepted.

    1. @ Bec

      ..Or maybe through physical oneness with another we are able to actualize God’s intended purpose for humans? What I mean is, I am not sure we can separate physicality from spirituality.

      I agree totally regarding the “don’t do it!” rejoinder. Of course, any time you say it like that, squashing any discourse, it just makes you all the more curious. Hmmmm, kinda like a forbidden fruit, perhaps?

  10. Two points, Daniel et al:
    1) We need to theologize about sex, that is, bring it back into the fold of conversation as one of the many ways we as embodied beings enact our discipleship, as single, married, celibates by choice, divorced. Think of how Augustine did this, sometimes poorly and sometimes well, but he understood the power of sex and sexuality. As a theologian, he knew he needed to offer guidance informed by his understanding of the gospel.

    Instead, the church has abandoned sex to Cosmo, the chick flick, and the romance novel for women, and ubiquitous pornography through video and internet for men. (Porn for both genders: another topic for another time?)

    2) And all our talk is overrated. We need to embed ourselves in communities of friends who will help make the talking and theologizing of 1 above possible to enact in our ordinary lives. (See sociological/theological point below.) Community matters for discipleship, esp in a sex-saturated culture.

    On #1, having a robust theology of sex: I think and teach quite a bit about sex, mostly because students at Fuller are hungry for it. I suspect that Mike fears that talking about sex will continue to exacerbate what he rightly notes is a great lie in our culture: that sex matters profoundly for our lives, more than our faith, and that our sexual desires must be satisfied through sex if we are not to be dysfunctional. Freud may have said so, but the tradition of the church (yes, even here we have some good stuff among men hung up on the subject) would deny this with good reason.

    I suspect Mike and I share a rather “conservative” sexual morality, yet I am not sure less talk gets us to a community of believers who witness to Christ in our bodies – the heart of our shared concern? The problem is that Christians don’t generally know why such a morality exists anymore (they have been influenced) or how it is sensible or, more importantly, “saving”, good news. I also find that my single friends need to talk about sex, perhaps more than many of my married friends, especially about how they can understand how they can befriend their desires for the sake of friendship and loyalty to God and neighbor. As Xns, Christ beckons us to faithfulness in our sexual life (among other aspects of our lives): faithfulness to not abuse others’ bodies because of our own needs, faithfulness to (married/dating) partners to honor their bodies, faithfulness to risky, vulnerable union with spouses that might result in children, etc.

    On #2: Sociological research shows pretty solidly that talkin’ the talk is not walkin’ the walk. (See for e.g., Mark Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit.) Only when we are embedded in a network of friendships do we generally make the connection from the church meeting in which get the teaching to the encounter in the back of the car. I think Daniel could weigh in on this from the biblical perspective, but we underestimate the power of our friendships for forming character. Although we enact our sexual life in private (just as we form other intimate relationships and confidences), it is a communal concern – and communally sustained. Especially in a sex-saturated culture in which people are lied to with regularity about its nature (another topic), we need a Christ-centered community of support, forgiveness, understanding, & encouragement that helps us tell and live the truth as embodied creatures.

  11. As a non-Catholic Christ follower trying to write meaningful Family Life curriculum for Middle School students, I came across Theology of the Body. These last posts seem to reflect the Theology taught by Pope John Paul II. As I read it, it deeply resonated with me. The body is not just biological, it is theological. God wanted His eternal plan of love and communion to be so obvious to us that he stamped an image of it in our very being by creating us as male and female. There’s more and it is beautiful stuff! Check it out.

    1. Another quick note on the importance of community: I think that single and divorced people in our churches as well as in the larger culture are often abandoned/damned to loneliness. “Couple-ism,” as some have put it, has taken over our culture so that “you are my everything” consumes the energy of the dating/married as the sole center of their concern.

      This is not true among those who have taken vows of celibacy in the Catholic tradition. In my experience, even those who left orders for marriage deeply miss — after decades — the intimacy they experienced in communities by which they shared in a mission to the world. Protestants have little to no sense of this. We also believe, I suspect, that having sex [a regular partner?] means “I am no longer alone.” Yet this is clearly not the case.

      Thus friendships become crucial for us if we are to sustain faithful sexuality, as singles as well as marrieds. Marrieds need friends so that their marriages are not crushed and broken under the burden of being spouse who is also closest friend/lover/partner/co-parent/husband/confidante/only-person-who-follows-you-through-life, etc. Singles need friends to sustain their need for intimacy, connection that does not lead to intercourse. (I am overgeneralizing, but you get the point, I hope.)

  12. I would argue that there is a need to talk about sex, and in part that need is because of unbiblical teaching that have come from those of us who follow Jesus. What God says about sex has been grossly distorted by some of His followers who thought they had a better plan, or better way. As a pastor, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to correct that.

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