The Common Good

Top 5 Best and Worst Bits of 'Christian Sex' Advice

Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com
Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”

I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of Half the Sky as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.

Sadly, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. Truth is, I kinda wish my parents did — not in a lecturing way or in an embarrassing way, incorporating stick-figure drawings, but honest talk about human sexuality. When you give youth freedom and a framework for values that don’t demand or shame, they are generally receptive to what you have to say. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry. We can talk about this over Christmas dinner. Should make for lively conversation while we’re passing around the ham.)

According to the 2010 National Campaign report, eight-in-10 teens (80 percent) say that it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Similarly, six-in-10 teens (62 percent) wish they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents.

Moving from home to public education, I remember first being presented with the birds and the bees in sixth-grade health class. I didn’t quite understand it, but “The Miracle of Life” video in ninth-grade biology class certainly helped clear up a few things. Then came my freshman year of college in which my Sexuality in a Diverse Society professor had the class write a list of as many words as we could think of for “penis” and “vagina.” One person from each group had to read their group’s list aloud to the class. There were lots of giggles and guffaws, plus a few phrases I never thought to associate with human genitalia, leaving me utterly baffled and slightly disturbed.

Sex-ed’s debut can be traced back to the 1970s, when there was growing public concern about STDs, teen pregnancy, and increased access to birth control. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education; 17 states and D.C., require that information on contraception be provided; 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed, while 11 require that it be covered.

Generally speaking, you can’t be a teen in America and not hear something about sex during the course of your education, but the content of what you hear may vary greatly depending on your state, locality, whether the school is public or private, or whether it has a religious affiliation.

Now from public education to religion: this is where I heard both the most appalling — as well as the most beautiful — messages about sex, some of which are quoted below. Too often, I fear the church is silent and bashful about sex. One reason, I purport, that youth look to society and friends for answers to questions is they fear it's taboo in religious settings, perhaps feeling embarrassed for even having such thoughts or questions. 

And when the church has spoken out about sex, many messages I heard have either been shaming or repressive. Specifically, some ways in which many Christians condemn premarital sex have hurt and shamed young men and women who have regrets in this arena. It is not a picture of the grace and forgiveness I believe Jesus wishes we could experience, and it’s certainly not helping any of us to forgive one of the hardest people to forgive when it comes to something so personal: ourselves

I think there is a place away from both the over-sensualized music videos of Rihanna gyrating on YouTube, and from bashful “don’t-have-sex” conversations, that discusses sex in a real, authentic way, unabashed in rich, non-shaming, gracious, and open discussion. Bona fide conversations, not lectures, that point to something to bigger than ourselves … our Creator. Herein describes some of those aforementioned messages and a more holistic alternative:

5 Worst Messages Received About “Christian Sex:”

  1. “In the past, teenagers heard lessons or sermons with theologically suspect object lessons – involving simulated plane crashes, cupcakes with mangled frosting, boards with nail holes in them, roses with missing petals, and wads of chewed gum–meant to be analogies for sexual sin and its consequences.” -Linda Hoffman Kimball, "Teaching Saintly Sex" (great article on not-so-great teachings)
     
  2. "Have long hair." -Athol Kay, Girl Game: Have Long Hair
     
  3. "It is your role to lead your wife into a fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches about your sexual relationship." -C.J. Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know (with a Word to Wives from Carolyn Mahaney)
     
  4. "We women were designed by God to be helpers and to make men successful." - Carolyn McCully, "Sex and the Single Woman"

  5. "We need to discover what makes us attractive to our husbands. What clothing, hairstyle, or makeup do they find most appealing? As always, the standard of 'modesty and self-control' set forth in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 applies. And we should strive to care for our appearance — not only when we go out, but also at home where only our husbands see us. As my childhood pastor used to say, 'If the barn needs painting, paint it!' Well, what color should that barn be painted? The answer is, whatever is attractive to our husbands!" - Carolyn Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know

5 Best Messages Received About “Christian Sex:”

  1. “Let me teach you something. Those who tell you that sex is intimate and sacred … they’re right. But please also know that you are God’s child, not an item to be assigned a value. Your sexuality can never make you worthless. It is your responsibility to respect and love the part of yourself that creates pleasure and life. ... if you lose your own voice amid the warnings, whining, and admonishments, you’ll lose the most important matter at hand: Your Creator gave you sexuality because He loves you. It’s a blessing. And it only belongs to you.” -Abigail Wurdeman, “Sexual Responsibility"
     
  2. “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” -Song of Songs 2:7 (“Can’t Hurry Love” pops in my head every time I come across this verse.)
     
  3. In response to Rob Bell’s five year old son asking his wife, Kristen, what “sexy” means: “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right, it feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, p. 46
     
  4. “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” -1 Corinthians 6:12 (This is something to the tune of: we have freedom here to be whoever, do whatever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also remember that every choice we make — not just our sexual decisions — has a consequence- either positive, negative, or a mix of both).
     
  5. “Her desire for children doesn’t come from between her legs. It comes from her heart. She believes it’s possible God wanted to give His children a gift so grand, that He created the most intense bodily sensation.” -Susan Diamond, "God’s Gift So Grand"

If none of those messages hit home, may I offer another alternative: Gracious, comprehensive, and holistic dialogue to counter an all-too-often rote conversation only about just waiting to have sex until marriage. This one’s particularly for all the girls out there — as many messages (such as the  “lollipop” quote) are disproportionately directed at girls’ “purity:”

  1. To all the high school (and middle school) girls out there — if you have a friend who is being pressured into having sex, do her a favor and help her listen to and discover that voice inside of her, her very own, somewhere, potentially pleading to be heard among the sea of other voices trying to drown or dissuade her. 

    In a joint-survey, Seventeen Magazine and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy discovered that one-in-five teenage girls (22 percent) reported having sex because they were pressured to (not because they wanted to).  Help a sister out and ask her to look deep inside and see what she really feels.
     
  2. If anyone tries to shame you or invoke fear about a sexual decision you have made in the past, remember that you are more than your past regrets and realize that the person sharing this is more concerned with displaying pompous power than being a source of grace and guidance in your life.
     
  3. Ask yourself some good questions. What does sex mean to you? What do you think is the purpose of sex? How do you believe you can honor yourself, your relationship(s), and God with your choices?
     
  4. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you hear something that seems incongruent with what your heart, soul, and faith tell you — even if it is someone from the church.

  5. Challenge yourself to define your view of love. This, to me, is the most beautiful thing I’ve read about love and wish to include it as a reading at my wedding one day (way down the road):

“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

And one final question to ponder … where does your affirmation come from? If you can’t find value, worth, and acceptance from within — the person made and loved by God — it’s going to be even harder to find it when placed into the hands of someone else.

What messages have you heard about sex? What resonated with you as wise and helpful and what was not?

Melissa Otterbein is a research assistant at a Baltimore City HIV/AIDS clinic and blogs at melissaotterbein.wordpress.com.

Photo: Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati | View Portfolio, Shutterstock.com

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