Monday, August 20, 2012

Sex and the Church

I've been thinking about sex... in the church... and that we need much more of it.

Let me tell two stories and share a song to help explain.  About 15 years ago, we had taken a youth group from upstate New York to the New Jersey shore to help a church with their summer Bible school.  We took a day trip to Philly for fun and spent some time on south street.  We had given the kids some freedom - they were high school students - and walking down South Street, some of the adult chaperones found the kids... shopping in Condom Nation.  It wasn't a huge deal but there was some embarrassment and off we all went to get water ice.   Later as we were driving back to the shore through the New Jersey Pine Barrens at night something wonderful happened.  It was as dark as pitch and by the time you got to the back of the 15 passenger van, there was no light from the dashboard at all.  A teenage boy, feeling safe and a bit anonymous, asked a serious question, "What's the big deal about sex?"  It led to a wonderful conversation about sex that likely never would have happened under any other circumstances.

Jump forward to last week.  I came across a link to a blog called sexquestionsfromseventhgraders on tumblr.  (It looks as if it is gone now).  The blog was ostensibly written by a teacher who has an anonymous question box in their classroom and is just a selection of the questions put in the box.  Assuming it is real, and there is no reason not to, the questions are at once both shocking and easily imagined.  In a time when pornography is so easily accessible it is not a wonder that children see lots of it.  Many of the questions asked seem to come straight from typical porn themes.  "Do girls like getting semen on their faces?" "If you have anal sex are you still a virgin?"  And on they go.

It is shocking to go from the innocence of the question from a high school boy 15 years ago to the explicit questions from seventh graders today.  More shocking to me is that at least some of those seventh graders are learning about sex primarily from watching porn videos and expecting that because of what they've seen, they know about sexual expression and about what bodies are supposed to look like and how they work.

Sex ed in schools is fine for the mechanics of things but someone needs to be talking about values.  As often as not, parents are uncomfortable with talking in substantive ways about sex.  Conservative churches often have abstinence programs (good luck with that as all of the data shows) but seem to be just as reticent to talk about the real deal of sex.  Progressive churches often ignore the subject.   I think it is time that we bring sex into the church in a big way, being honest, and talking about the way God intended real people to enjoy one another.   Why not tell our kids that sex is fun?  That sex is about mutual pleasure?  That sex is about sharing and communication and giving?  That bodies don't look or work like the ones in porn videos?  That the kinds of treatment of women seen in those videos is not what God intended for our relationships or our sexuality?  That sex is wrapped in all kinds of meaning and is not the same as any other bodily function?  Why not talk about sex in all of its glory, pleasure, and the dysfunctional ways we relate sometimes?  If we don't, who will?  And if nobody does, then we're setting up an entire generation for frustration and failure in their relationships - relationships designed by God for mutuality, pleasure, and the humanizing experience of sharing the entire self with one's partner.

Here's another picture of an earlier time... as Richard Thompson sings about a teenage boy who learned all about sex from magazines and books and cannot understand why his girlfriend is not reacting correctly.


Bev said...

We had the box in my 7th grade classroom in 1974. The questions were very different.

Michael Mahoney said...

We have these kinds of conversations at our youth encounter weekends - not generally that, um, detailed, but nothing is off the table in those sessions. If the question comes up, it comes up. And yeah, we do the "True Love Waits" thing also. Is it 100%? Of course not? Does it help? I honestly believe it does. I see the kids wearing their commitment rings well into their 20s and have to believe some mean it.

We also do marriage workshops from time to time, and those can get pretty frank about sex. And we invite dating couples and engaged couples as well.