Sex Ed in the Church: Part 1

Over the past three decades I’ve come up with quite a few different product ideas that could have been pretty profitable if (a) I hadn’t been a kid when I dreamed it up or (b) I had the gumption required to patent a product or (c) I didn’t forget the idea immediately.

Electric long-johns, pedal-powered PC, and a slurry of action-sport related gear.

In college we did what is now ultra-trendy paddleboarding only with the much better name “surfboat,” and I swear I came up with the idea for those really short skis that became super popular around the turn of the century, but luckily have gone the way of the rollerblade since.

But my all-time highest-potential billion-dollar idea stands high above the rest: condoms with Bible verses stamped on them.

The Billion Dollar Idea

The way I see it, slapping some popular passages about purity could be one last wall of defense for a couple Jesus-lovin kids about to go all the way. It may sound totally ridiculous—and maybe it is—but judging by the typical Christian bookstore inventory, I’d guess the most ridiculous items are by far the most lucrative.

However, the only thing more powerful to Zondervan big wigs than the possibility of making a few extra bucks exploiting the good book is their debilitating fear of sex.

It’s the very same fear that would ultimately doom this product because this fear keeps Christian young people from using condoms in the first place.

Evangelical couples do not use (or own or maybe know about) condoms because to them possessing condoms would be setting themselves up for failure. It would mean they are giving up. They’re committed to abstinence, and any acceptance of pre-marital birth control would be not only demonstrate a lack of faith, but would also be in direct contradiction to the personal values they claim.

Unfortunately (as David Sessions pointed out in his fanastic post earlier this week), even though all these evangelical couples claim to value sexual purity, very few of them actually affirm that belief in practice.

The Truth about Abstinence

According to the data represented in Sessions’ article, 80% of unmarried evangelicals have had sex.

(Of course, those studies generally define sex as “vaginal intercourse.” With an even slightly more liberal definition you’d end up with much closer to 100% of young dating evangelicals as sexually active.)

As an adult in the church I know how much energy has been spent (particularly in the past decade) to empower teens to take control of their passions, commit to sexual purity, wait until marriage, promise rings, and all that stuff… but apparently it gets a little harder once you’re actually in a real relationship.

Pun intended.

Obviously this strategy, no matter how well intentioned or impassioned, isn’t working.

So what does this mean?

First of all, it means a lot of the “true love waits” girls end up pregnant if they actually get into a relationship.

Complicating that issue further is the statistic that aborting in the case of an unplanned pregnancy—one of the few sins evangelicals  consider more serious than fornication—is just as likely among their young people as it is among those with no religious affiliation.

Seems crazy, but it makes perfect sense to those of us reared in this world. These young evangelicals are more terrified the truth of their sex life will be revealed than they are to have an abortion.

What it does not mean is that the church is failing to communicate its case for abstinence to young people. The message is definitely heard.

What it does mean however, is the church needs to address its own psychological condition affecting the way it views sexuality.

The Church Must Face its Fear of Sex

I have a theory that the contemporary church’s fear of sex is something that goes back far beyond rock & roll, beyond puritans, beyond Constantine into the time of the Old Testament when sexual activity was so interconnected to the worship practices of the Canaanites (and later, the Romans) that the Jewish believers eventually allowed the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater, and sex became quite synonymous with idolatry.

Or at least they (like most of us) didn’t have the psychological prowess to separate the rightness of sexuality from the wrongness of paganism.

So thousands of years later we avoid certain words, or conversations, or jokes, or lyrics, or art, or thoughts because they are “dirty.”

Oh sure, we say sex is a beautiful thing, a gift from God. We listen to Mark and Grace Driscoll go on and on (and on) about Song of Solomon, but just as the teens affirm abstinence with their words but not with their wieners, we adults do the very same thing with our attitudes toward our own sexuality.

You can see evidence of the past few generations failure in sex ed as it now bleeds out in unhealthy and unbiblical teachings from the most popular evangelical leaders, like the aforementioned Driscolls, or this past week’s “sexual authority/submission” post from The Gospel Coalition (courageously called out by Rachel Held Evans ).

Or me, for example.

I am a casualty of this extreme fear-of-sex evangelical culture. I am a man exiting youth into mid-life who never was allowed the psychological development that comes with a healthy dose of sex ed. Honestly, I didn’t even get the less-than-healthy locker room talk with my bros (we were all in the same repressed boat together). At least that would have been some sort of sustenance. Instead, that part of my mind was starved, with mentors hoping it would just die—or at least lie dormant until my wedding night.

As a result, I’m years into therapy attempting to retrain my psyche to accept my sexuality as a good part of myself, and it is practically impossible because that is not a developmental stage appropriate for a 30-something guy with three kids.

Until the church is able to come to terms with the fear and demonization of our own sexuality, we will continue failing to effectively teach the following generation a healthy view of theirs.

Where to Begin

I think a great first step for the church to begin acknowledging its own sexuality is to accept that its members are sexual. It is a fundamental essence of their being. Part of their Imago Dei.

No matter how much you tell them not to, young unmarried members are having sex anyway. They might be abstaining from inserting his you-know-what into her  you-know-where, but let’s be honest… if that’s all they’re abstaining from, the church can’t really consider its efforts successful. It’s still basically just birth control with a whole bunch of false righteousness thrown in.

They’re not deviant, they want to be chaste. It’s just really, really difficult, and the primary motivation of fear and guilt is never going to work.

Let’s just get that out on the table. For a start.

Sex Ed in the Church: Part 2

In Part 2 we’ll talk about some steps the church can take to start a healthier understanding of our own sexuality, as well as creating a culture where we can be honest about our sexual shortcomings. And the far-out idea that both condoms and abstinence can go hand-in-hand.

Comments 12

  1. A very interesting blog, I look forward to reading part 2. My mum is a devout Christian, I was raised as such and went to a Catholic school, so this is something I’ve pondered on in the past myself. It’s great to hear your thoughts given form.

  2. I really appreciate your writing style. Sometimes its like reading quotes from my own life. Although I was raised under a different worldview (conservative southern Pentecostalism), the ever present fundamentalist atmosphere kept me repressed and insecure, sometimes even until the present (you saw a little bit of that in our brief conversation at WMCFest.)

    I admire your openness and honesty in getting it out in the open for discussion. It really goes a long way toward helping those of us heal who haven’t yet found our voice to talk as openly about it.

    Also, great illustration for this topic. Its significance went over my head the first time I looked at it, but eventually it dawned on me. Bold and witty, my friend.

  3. I agree with the article.

    But what do you mean by the church needs to accept that it’s members are sexual?
    Are you proposing that that is the solution, to accept?

    We know its a sin. So if “accept” is not what you are proposing as the solution then what is the solution to this?

    We should be pursuing the holy spirit which then points us to holiness, but we are still failing at a rapid pace. Is there any insight to why?

    Thanks for addressing this issue, I’ll be looking forward to part 2!

  4. “As a result, I’m years into therapy attempting to retrain my psyche to accept my sexuality as a good part of myself, and it is practically impossible because that is not a developmental stage appropriate for a 30-something guy with three kids.”

  5. I appreciate your openness! I can also relate to the struggle of understanding sexuality and that part about mentors seemingly wanting that part of me to either “die or lie dormant until my wedding night.”

    I’d love to read your thoughts in a blog about two issues that I think are related to this. (Or we can talk over a beer the next time you’re in the area.) First, I think there is more to be said about the fear of sex – talking about sex – in evangelical Christianity that you’ve already alluded to. Is it really limited to religious circles, or do parents/families in general avoid this topic because it feels awkward? Second, I feel like the Church in America is drifting further and further away from Romans 12:1-2. Doesn’t it send a mix message when we take most of our cues from culture and then suddenly and summarily reject culture in this area?

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  7. This really got me thinking…
    I think it’s interesting to me that you posted this on the anniversary of my wedding that failed after 7 years…and sexuality was a HUGE part of both parties’ failures.

  8. This is an interesting post, the thing I am struggling most with though is that the argument for changes to the way (evangelical) Christians view sex tend to focus around the fact that most are having sex before marriage anyway (whilst still holding that the Bible teaches it’s a sin) so we must reassess, rather than engaging with what the Bible says about sex. Dose it actually teach that pre-marital sex is a sin? Is becoming ‘one flesh’ only about sex and thus meaning marriage is the only acceptable context for it for God? The other issue I find is that discussions about pre-marital sex always seem to reference teenagers and youth, as if singles in their 30s have no interest in it. Well, I’m in my 30s and am just becoming aware of how many of my fellow evangelical Christians are no longer waiting till they’re married but just keeping quiet about it. I also hear nothing from any evangelical pastors/leaders who believe that sex before marriage is not a sin – do they exist? Are they just keeping quiet? Where are the robust discussions about what the Bible teaches? All I can find is endless websites saying the Bible says don’t do it (to teens and students) or everyone is doing it anyway.

  9. Seriously… fantastic post. I don’t really even have words for what a relief it is to see that other people are sharing this line of thought. Thank you!

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