The Female Gaze: He Said What?!

Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

Slut.

Whore. Hoe. Skank. Slag.

Slut.

Ugly words. In light of Rush Limbaugh’s very public outburst, maybe it’s time to start a conversation about why these words still have so much power. After all, Mr. Limbaugh has made a career for himself out of being inflammatory–and, by extension, incredibly rude–so why all the outrage over this statement? Don’t we have him figured out by now? The extraordinary outcry over this insult is perhaps proof of something. Proof that all insults are not created equal, and we still think that “slut” and equivalent slurs are fairly high on the list.

As a woman, am I okay with that? As people, as Christians, should we be okay with that?

If we separate the word from any technical meaning, and focus on cultural context alone, a slut is a woman, and she’s into sex. She might have dated lots of people, she might be dating lots of people right now, she might have simply gotten the guy you wanted, or she could just like sex. She probably likes sex a lot. Or she could just look like someone who likes sex: She could be a slut just because she gained five pounds and so now that dress is an inch too tight or too low. And, yes, five pounds will sneak up and do that to a girl. At any rate, there’s a lot of vague, sketchy sex stuff going on here.

With all this muddled in together, it’s easy to point fingers.

For example, I could be a slut.

I’ve been called one before. The first time was in seventh grade, when a boy asked me out, and I said no. Politely. Apparently sometimes sluts are the ones who say no. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was bad. I was scared enough by the whole thing to tell a teacher, who kindly explained as much as she could. I’ve been called a slut purely because of my genes–apparently sluts are also girls who have D cups. And, if being really thrilled that sex is a thing makes you a slut, I’m definitely one. Me and a bunch of other really smart, interesting, Christian women. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, but here I am, a slut.

Me and my bad self.

For me, that’s the biggest problem with all this slut-shaming going on. It doesn’t just sound ugly, it implies something really ugly. It implies that there’s something wrong with women liking sex. It’s scary. It’s ugly. It makes you a prostitute. It’s a little safer to just keep your head down and act like you are sort of neutral on whether or not you ever get any action. It can even feel righteous.

It’s not.

God didn’t just make sex; God made it steamy. Keep in mind that Genesis says God created gender after He finished making people, so sex was designed for us and not the other way around. Imagine sex is a new product on the market, targeted at you. It will potentially make you happy, physically refresh you, emotionally restore you, and uniquely bond you to that special someone in your life. Also, it’s fun. That product is inherently irresistible. So, why come down so hard on women who crave it? Why does that have to be ugly?

Obviously, most Christians agree that sexual activity needs a certain context. I’m one of them. But, let’s be honest, half of a candy bar is still delicious, and most of us would rather have half than none. Sex, like chocolate, is naturally scrumptious, and it is natural to want it–even more natural to try it, marriage or not. We need to rob words like “slut” of their power by admitting that we like sex too and that it doesn’t feel shameful. It’s time to start giving a little grace to those among us who have had one too many rolls in the hay, and stop putting giant red letters on everyone we suspect.

*Update: The author believes that sex is designed for marriage, and that sexual activity outside of that context is sinful despite its natural appeal. However, it is by the grace of God alone that we are able to resist those impulses and keep them from leading us into serious sin and heartache–but the desire itself is not sinful and is a part of our God-given nature. Insults like ‘slut’ overlook that aspect of our being and dehumanize our fellow sinners while creating an unChristlike attitude in ourselves.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    THANK. YOU.

    I was just talking this morning with a friend about how, particularly in the American Christian church, we’ve denied that women have ANY kind of a sex drive – we’re not supposed to want it, at least not until our wedding night, and if we happen to like it, then we’re a dangerous Jezebel of a woman!

    That, to me, is the most painful part of this whole thing – part of what we’re condemning when we condemn women as sluts is that part of them which is completely and totally natural. John Green once said, “We have this weird thing in the world where you don’t get insulted for what you do; you get insulted for who you are.” And while “slut” may initially seem to defy that principle, it really fits because it is saying “you are a woman who likes sex, something that is [for most people] a natural desire and trait. But you responding to the way your body works is BAD.” It’s fundamentally saying that part of who you are as a person is WRONG. And that’s frustrating.

    Oh and, I’m a slut too, apparently. Sigh.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I agree that women should not be shamed for enjoying sex, and neither should men. But having sex outside of marriage is sinful, and it shouldn’t be talked about flippantly like “a few too many rolls in the hay”. I’m talking for men and women here.

    I don’t know what you are talking about when you start speaking about eating “half the candy bar”, and I really don’t want to know exactly what you had in mind. But that certainly isn’t the way I’ll be talking about sex with my son or my daughter, and it isn’t the admonition of Scripture either. The Song of Solomon teaches us not to arouse sexual passion before its time, and that time is inside of marriage.

    If your point is that we shouldn’t shame women for desiring to have sex, I’m with you on that. If you are trying to argue that we ought to rob words like “slut” of their power because there is no such thing as a slut, I’m not with you there. There is such a thing as a slut, and a whore, and a whore-monger. Now, if you want to make the point that men do not have an equivalent word in our language for “male slut”, I’d agree there, and I don’t think that’s right.

    Also, I’m all for having grace towards those who are repentant, no matter what the sin. But we cannot just shoulder-shrug fornication, and we shouldn’t teach that sex outside of marriage will “make you happy, physically refresh you, (and) emotionally restore you”, because it won’t do that. It will hurt, depress, and emotionally devastate people outside the covenant of marriage.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Brad:

    How many men does a woman have to sleep with before she becomes a slut or a whore? Five? Six? or is just doing it outside of marriage? Does have to be actual penetrative sex in order to qualify a girl for slut-hood, or does just giving and receiving oral count too? What if a girl has had sexual experience within committed relationships that were, for all intents and purposes, headed toward marriage but then fell apart for unrelated reasons? Is she still a slut? Does a woman who makes out with a guy on the second date but refuses to go any further qualify as a slut? Or is it more just an attitude, a “slutitude,” if you will?

    Follow up: What good is to be gained by identifying and labeling women as sluts? What benefit is it to the kingdom to say “yes, there are sluts in the world (and, by extension, X person is one)”?

    I ask these questions both out of genuine curiosity for your response and to prove a point: “Slut” is one of those slippery terms that are used in all manner of ways. As Faith demonstrates here, by many standards, both she and I are sluts (because, if enjoying sex is the baseline, then that’s a REALLY wide net). Indeed, 90% of my female friends are “sluts” because they enjoy sex with their partner, in relationships that are committed, deep, marriage-but-just-not-licensed-yet relationships. I’ve also witnessed “slut” thrown at people who are virgins, simply because they wore a low cut shirt.

    “Slut” is a term that is used to disparage, to lower, to demean, and dehumanize a woman based on – not any actual action on her part! – but on the PERCEPTION that she “puts out” and enjoys it.

    I’m extremely wary of ANY man who wants to defend calling ANY woman a slut, whether or not she “deserves it,” mainly because it seems like the man is reserving his right to put the woman back into her place of “lie back and think of England.” You’re dangerously close to doing that here.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    I should clarify: my above comment was responding to this section:

    “If your point is that we shouldn’t shame women for desiring to have sex, I’m with you on that. If you are trying to argue that we ought to rob words like “slut” of their power because there is no such thing as a slut, I’m not with you there. There is such a thing as a slut, and a whore, and a whore-monger.”

    Which is fundamentally incoherent. “We shouldn’t shame women for sex, but, dudes, sluts and whores exist, amirite?”

    My argument is that the words are FUNDAMENTALLY shaming, regardless of any actual action on the part of the woman, and therefore should not be used AT ALL. EVER.

  • Faith

    Just to clarify for anyone reading this: Having “half of a candy bar” was not intended as a sexual innuendo of any kind. It refers (metaphorically, of course) to partaking of the physical pleasures of sex without the emotional and spiritual blessings that accompany the act inside of marriage.

  • Alan Noble

    Brad,

    I think you’re missing Faith’s point. She’s arguing that “slut” denotes an unnatural sexual appetite, not (primarily) a sinful appetite.

    Boys are reassured all the time in the church that their desire to sleep with every woman they find attractive is “normal” and sometimes “natural,” although it is not appropriate and must be resisted.

    So, if a man sleeps around before marriage, it’s just a natural, although sinful, act considering his sex-drive. We say he was just thinking with “his other head.” quite natural, but wrong.

    If a girl sleeps around before marriage, she’s thought (by some) to be both in sin and somehow broken. It’s both morally and biologically (or even ontologically) wrong.

    I think that’s part of Faith’s point.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Dianna,

    As far as I know, I have never called a woman a slut in my life. Just so that’s clear. However, I’m not above calling things what they are, and there is a dictionary definition for slut. It is: 1) a dirty slovenly woman 2) An immoral dissolute woman; prostitute. That’s according to dictionary.reference.com. We simply cannot get past the fact that God Himself uses this type of language to describe people, men and women, who are sexually immoral. Normally, the word “whore” is used in the Bible, but I count that as a close synonym that is also inappropriately used to bash women in the way that “slut” is. However, it has a legitimate use, and it isn’t only for women who have sex for money. So I am working with the understanding that “slut” and “whore” are nigh synonymous. Maybe you think otherwise? (It’s always in the definitions!)

    So to answer your question as to “what good does it do”? I guess I would just appeal to Scripture and ask what good it does there? I cannot think of any time a specific woman is referred to as such, rather than a group, but we have to know what one looks like before it makes any sense to apply the word to a group, right?

    To be clear, I hope that every woman enjoys sex with her husband. That’s not what bugged me about this article in the slightest. What bothers me about it is the way that the article dealt with the idea of sexual sin itself. The idea that “Indeed, 90% of my female friends are “sluts” because they enjoy sex with their partner, in relationships that are committed, deep, marriage-but-just-not-licensed-yet relationships” is awful. It is awful because without the covenant agreement, not so much a piece of paper, these people are fornicating. If they aren’t willing to make covenant, then they aren’t married. Is that better than hooking up with anyone willing. Yes, I’d say it is, but that doesn’t mean we ought to shrug at it or treat it casually. It’s a big deal.

    It’s hard not to go off topic on such an important and serious topic. I don’t want this discussion to be about how much we all enjoy sex. That’s a moot point to me. The point is that sex is for inside of marriage, and any time we have sex outside of marriage it is an offense to God and we play the whore. That’s Bible language, and it is harsh, but it is true for male and female.

    Let me try to say a few things on which we may agree, and then a couple where we might disagree. First, I think it is ludicrous that men get a pass for promiscuity and women alone get shamed for it. I detest that. I abhor it. I hate it. It is about the most belittling thing that we do to women as a culture, and it creates confusion for women regarding their sexual identity. It can push someone to extreme prudery or sexual immorality. It causes pressure to have sex outside of marriage while robbing woman of the covenant intimacy required for true enjoyment. By ‘truly enjoy it’, I mean something like this if PETA will forgive me. A nice fur coat is luxurious. It is soft, warm, and wonderful. But if you put that thing on in the summer, while it is still soft and warm and beautiful, it will eventually smother you. That’s what I mean about sex outside of marriage being something that cannot be truly enjoyed. It is out of season. Also, Rush Limbaugh is a windbag, was out of line, and I don’t listen to him anyway.

    Finally, I want to respond to this statement you made, “We shouldn’t shame women for sex, but, dudes, sluts and whores exist, amirite?” I never said that. I said that we ought not shame women for enjoying sex inside of marriage. If you are having sex outside of marriage, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, male or female.

    Alan and Fatih,

    That’s not what bothered me about this article. The article seemed to downplay the very real sin of pre-marital sex. If we want to say that there is a double-standard in the world, I will freely admit as much, that I oppose it vehemently, and that I cannot stand it.

    But this was just too weak as a defense of sex inside of marriage to say, “Obviously, most Christians agree that sexual activity needs a certain context. I’m one of them.” What is the ‘certain context’? Committed partnerships like Dianna talked about? Let’s just say it’s marriage only, and if we are having sex outside of marriage, it won’t wind up being fun, refreshing, and bond-making. It will be a disaster, a sin, and a heartbreak. And if it isn’t, then we haven’t grasped exactly what we’ve done by committing that sin.

    Faith, I included you on that because I quoted you, and I always find it weird on blogs to talk about someone as if they aren’t ‘in the room’.

  • Michael Cargill

    Faith, It amazes me that in speaking to the core of the issues that JESUS found to be important (the human heart) that someone can read this blog and still be worrying about labels and definitions. Sin is sin. Not even part of this debate. Clearly not part of the debate.

    You nailed it. We say horrible things about people due to fear, hate, malice, arrogance, and just plain nastiness. And both genders do it. Jesus could have called the woman about to be stoned a slut. He simply loved her and showed her a better way. We can always find an excuse to continue in the behavior of labeling someone due to their behavior. It enables us to make them irrelevant and a lesser human, and somehow makes us feel more important or closer to God. Like the Pharisee at the temple praying that he is thankful to God he is not like THAT sinner. I could go on, but this is a fantastic blog and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your heart.
    P.S. I must be a slut too.

  • Stephanie Cargill

    VERY well said, Faith. There are such double standards between genders that exist regarding sex. As Christians, we are SO afraid of the topic of sex, and because of our fear, we create generations who can’t enjoy sex even within the context that God intended (which you clearly stated).

    Apparently I didn’t do that. I’m glad! :-)

    I love your steamy description. You should be God’s marketer! Oh, wait – YOU ARE!

    P.S. I guess it runs in the family.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Brad:

    Two things.

    First, I don’t believe that premarital sex, given the right context, is sin. With that in mind, it’s basically useless for me to respond to much of your comment, as we won’t see eye to eye on that issue.

    What follows is my view of that particular topic:

    Right context is two loving people in a monogamous relationship who are committed at the time that sex occurs, whether it be before marriage, during engagement, or before engagement. I have a really hard time with a God who has a problem with two 20-somethings bumping uglies when they love each other but just haven’t signed a marriage license.

    And I think “well, they SHOULD feel guilty about it” (or, as you put it, “they don’t really know what they’re doing”) isn’t an satisfactory response. It begs the question of the entire theology of sin – is sin a sign and symptom of brokenness in community (ie, a failure to love one’s neighbor adequately), or is it something private that we’re suppose to feel guilty and ashamed over? My theology is the former; yours, as expressed above, appears to be the latter. For me, sin is when I’ve failed to adequately love my neighbor as myself, and I simply don’t see how I fail to love my neighbor if I have sex with my boyfriend outside of marriage.

    Additionally, the “you should feel guilty!” theology tends to heap a lot of guilt and shame upon perfectly healthy sexual activity. Case in point: a friend of mine emailed me the other day asking for advice and help because she keeps having panic attacks when she has sex with her husband – all because she can’t get over the idea that sex is bad, dirty, and awful and something she’s not supposed to enjoy. The way we harp on premarital sex as a sin does a hell of a damage to women and fails to give us a good, healthy picture of our own sexuality – for years and years and years, we’re taught “suppress your libido, sexual thoughts are signs that you’re lusting and lusting’s BAD, you don’t have a sex drive, it’s your responsibility to keep the man in check and don’t give him the milk for free because then he won’t buy the cow!” And then, when we get married, we’re supposed to just flip a switch and be vixens who know exactly what we’re doing and have no hang ups about anything because suddenly, this thing that’s been sinful our entire lives is open to us and supposedly glorifying!

    It’s not that easy, and we’re seeing the results of that hardline theology in my generation. I’ve had countless conversations with women who think they’re worthless because they had sex before marriage, who struggle with sex within marriage, who have no idea what to do with their own sex drives. And my response to that has been to reexamine the theology of sin within which we declare that premarital sex, in any and every context, is sinful.

    Note, here, that I’m not defending anonymous one-night stands or hook-up culture. That, easily, is still sin under my way of looking at things – it’s very easy to hurt your neighbor that way. Any argument predicated on the idea that premarital sex = anon hook ups is a straw man.

    Second, even if I take your first premise that sex outside of marriage, regardless of context, is sin, I still don’t understand the defense or point of “calling it like it is.” It seems out of place and out of line for another Christian who is not close to a woman in question to be calling her a slut. It seems to me more that you want to keep the word in the vocabulary so that you can sit on your high horse and call out sin as though you have no log in your own eye (and I’m purposefully being harsh there for effect). It is not accountability to call someone a slut. It is shaming. What I’m hearing from your argument is: “I haven’t done it, but I would if I had the chance.”

    And God Himself used this language – his prophets did, actually – to describe the behavior of a GROUP, particularly his OWN PEOPLE, whom he loved and treasured the most. God using the language is not using it to shame, but to display radical love and grace and forgiveness (Hosea marrying the Whore as a metaphor for the church and God, for example). There is little to nothing to be gained from referring to individual women – who are made in the image of God! – as sluts and whores. It serves no greater metaphorical purpose, and only functions to shame, regardless of your high-minded justifications for doing so. By your own admission, there is no place within Scripture where an individual woman is called “whore” or “slut’ as a shaming tactic directly specifically at her own activity – it is ALWAYS used as a metaphor, it is ALWAYS meant to teach a larger lesson to the people of Israel. Nowhere can you find Scriptural justification for calling and using the words “whore” and “slut” in the way they are used in modern-day colloquial language, and it is there that your desire to keep them within our language and within our vocabulary falls apart.

    So, sorry, Brad, any defense of the use of the word slut as it enacted in modern day society will fall flat.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Dianna,

    The use of the words “slut” or “whore” is rather insignificant compared to the chasm of difference we have over what constitutes a sin. As the catechism teaches, “Sin is any lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.” Paul himself taught that it was better to marry than to burn, not that it was better to fornicate than burn.

    So we disagree pretty fundamentally on the nature of sin. So much so that it seems kind of silly to argue over the semantic value of the words “slut” or “whore” if you are of the opinion that pre-marital sex isn’t always a sin.

    Alas, we had been getting along so well lately!

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    @Brad – in that case, can you pretend I said that second part of Dianna’s comment and then address that? Cause I pretty much am with you on the first part but with her on the second part. And I don’t think it’s silly to discuss it. I would hope that disagreement on “fundamental” issues wouldn’t preclude the ability to discuss other issues, however trivial they may seem to you. To Dianna and I, slut-shaming is far from trivial, anyway.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    For Rich and Dianna,

    Is it possible for a woman to be a slut?

    If yes, is it permissible to tell her she is acting like a slut?

    Words have meaning. They define things, and if the shoe fits, why can’t someone wear it?

    My point in not going further with you (Dianna) wasn’t because I think you are not worth the time. It was simply that we fundamentally disagree on what constitutes sexual sin.

    Secondly, I would say that being ashamed of sin is a good thing, not a bad thing. One of God’s rebukes to Israel goes like this, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jer. 8:12). For further examples of being ashamed reference Ezra 9:6; Isaiah 1:29; Jer. 6:15. That’s just verses that contain the word “blush” in the ESV. Examples of “ashamed” could be multiplied to quite a list. Sexual immorality is something to be ashamed of, as is evident in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Now, the problem is that if (you), Dianna, think sexual immorality only means sleeping around with multiple partners, then nothing Paul says applies really.

    So Dianna, what is the point of marriage at all? If it isn’t sin to sleep with ones boyfriend, why marry? For children? For a “bigger” commitment? Personally, I think you are falling off the other side of the horse here.

    That is, you and I both agree, I think, that calling sex “dirty” or “shameful” in and of itself is damaging to men and women both. However, saying that pre-marital sex is forbidden, and that fornication is sinful is completely different. It would be sinful for my son to drive a car because he is six years old. Even when he is fifteen and presumably competent, he still can’t drive one lawfully. Even if he is 27 years old, he cannot drive a car until he gets a license. Now, if I tell him it is sinful for him to disobey the law, that no matter how bad he wants to drive he cannot do so until he is sixteen and licensed, am I being a tyrant? If he gets his license and is scared of driving because he thinks driving is dirty, the answer isn’t to quit licensing drivers.

    Nowhere have I condoned “slut-shaming” in the sense that either of you are meaning it. I have only argued that slut has a semantic range of meaning, and that we cannot ditch words because we are uncomfortable with what they mean. Should we ditch ‘sinner’? Liar? Thief? How many times do you have to steal before you are a thief? Do we count? Or misogynist? Can we ever use that word? How many women does a man have to mistrust and hate for the label to be applied accurately? Should we take his feelings into consideration?

    If a guy says, “I hate women.” Can you say, “You are a misogynist.” If a woman says, “I like to have sex with a bunch of different boys, and I do it as often as I can, and I’d sleep with yours if I could.” Can you say, “You are a slut.” Why not? Because it is unhelpful to call things what they are? (Genuine question). Or should you just say, “You are sexually immoral.”

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    On that last thing, let me re-phrase. Instead of “should you say”, I mean to say, “is it permissible to say”. There is a difference in “should” and “permissible.”

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Let me qualify one more time. Does that mean that name-calling is always appropriate, or that Rush Limbaugh was right to say what he said? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. You can call a spade a spade in a way that is sinful because of motive.

    I do not have the slightest clue as to whether or not the woman Limbaugh was talking about was a slut, but even if she is one, Rush’s name-calling was an ad hominem at best, which has the effect of making his argument about the hormonal bc issue look stupid.

  • Seth T. Hahne

    I think part of the problem, Brad, is that slut (however one intends its use) is a derogatory term used only against women. As such, it not only wraps in the idea that there’s something sexually broken about the person but also makes as if the reason for the brokenness is the activity + the fact that the object of derision is female.

    Slut cannot be used in a derogatory way against a male. It is, therefore, a sexist slur—just as a derogatory term to describe, say, a Korean person who is suspiciously good at Starcraft would be a racist slur. We’re better off abandoning such terminology for words that treat persons as persons rather than simply The Other.

  • Kiel

    Brad, you said “I would say that being ashamed of sin is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

    Paul says:
    “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”

    As someone who has experienced first hand the shame-filled, guilt-ridden Christianity that pervades so many churches and felt and seen the damage it inflicts on everyone involved, I’ve found your approach to this conversation to be a tad unhelpful. I’m not trying to lump you into a group with which you may not belong, but I have to ask – as a pastor, what do you say to young (or old), unmarried people in your church who have had premarital sex? Is your response one of judgement or of grace and understanding?

    Many of us have been involved in youth groups and college gatherings where it was beat into our skulls that premarital sex was pretty much the worst sin you could commit. Furthermore, once it happens – there’s no coming back. Once you’ve blown it, you’ve blown it. Shame on you.

    That mentality never lent even an ounce of help or grace to anyone who has already committed the act. I understand that your view of premarital sex is just different from some of ours, and that makes the conversation more difficult, but I’m hoping that you at least have a more hopeful and graceful response to those in your community who you view to be in sin. I’m certain that you believe Christ’s work to be big enough for even premarital sex and that his response is one of love and compassion, not shaming and condemnation.

    Faith – Great post!

    Dianna – We’ve never met, but I feel compelled to say that I agree with about 99% of everything I’ve ever seen you post here. So, yeah.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Kiel,

    What I think or say really doesn’t matter that much. So let me ask you a question, should someone be ashamed of sin or not? If not, then how do you make any sense of this verse, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Rom. 6:21). Paul assumes that the Romans were still ashamed of their former sins, and yet he still offers grace.

    What matters, in the end, is what the Scriptures teach. And if you say that people disagree about what Scripture says, I will agree. However, I think I stand on pretty solid historical ground when I state that pre-marital sex has been roundly condemned by the church consistently.

    So Kiel, I’d simply say that this isn’t an either/or scenario. We ought to be ashamed of sin and embrace the grace of forgiveness found in Christ. If someone is repentant, they don’t need me to make them feel ashamed, and if they aren’t, then they ought to be ashamed and repent. It’s fairly simple. Just because some have been legalists and beat someone over the head for their sins does not mean that shame is a bad thing.

  • Seth T. Hahne

    Hey Kiel, not to speak for Brad, but I’d imagine he’d say that there’s a difference between those who are unrepentant in their sin and those who are repentant.

    Part of the privilege of being in the church is the anguish one probably ought to feel when actively rebelling against God. That drives us to recognize folly and repent of it. At that point, there should no longer be shame but instead peace (though there may still be consequences, like going to jail or whatever). I suspect that Brad would not want the repentant to live in shame of their past mistakes.

  • Seth T. Hahne

    Oh hey, Brad responded while I was on the phone. Like magic.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Seth,

    Magic!

    I would agree with you if you mean that “slut” is now only an expletive. I don’t know if I can agree with you simply because there is no male equivalent. Does the word “whore” now have no use at all either because it is sexist? We still have whore-monger, I guess.

    My point was never that we ought to just run around calling women who are promiscuous names in a unlawful way. I am saying that there is such a thing as a whore, and it isn’t only a woman who trades in money for sex. I’m fine with ditching the word ‘slut’, as long as people aren’t afraid to affirm that there is such a thing as sexual immorality. I can’t ditch the word whore though. It’s a Bible word, and it names something important. Also, I am for reviving the use of whore-monger to keep things fair.

  • Peter S

    Wow, what a thought-provoking post with equally thought-provoking comments.

    Brad,
    I agree with much of what you have said, but I feel 2nd to last comment really struck the heart of the matter. At the end you said:

    “Just because some have been legalists and beat someone over the head for their sins does not mean that shame is a bad thing.”

    Shame is only a bad thing if you are not repentant and are not forgiven. Then, shame becomes a unremitting problem that one can only deal with if they deconstruct the religious or social morals that inform their consciences to feel shame. As Christians, our task is to proclaim the Lordship of Christ as well as the Grace of Christ in a way that simultaneously illumines both sin and grace. As we encounter Christ, we experience the shame of our own failures and inadequacies at the same time that we become aware of his loving warmth and hospitality.

  • Jodi Furno

    First, congratulations Faith on a most thought-provoking article! Well done!!

    Seth, I appreciate your words very much; to me its a very accurately balanced scriptural point. Jesus’ message was one of repentance and forgiveness. The two go together. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. The woman who washed his feet realized the depth of Christ’s forgiveness and out of that realization came to love Christ more dearly than the less humble pharisee who hosted dinner that night. The law is valuable because: it tells us how to bring God glory, it tells us how to experience an amazing intimacy with God, it tells us how to have an abundant life AND because it first points us to our very personal need for a Savior.

    Moving on, this is such a fantastic topic as it relates to today’s culture. Its fascinating to me that the original definitions of words are often slurred and even completely changed over time. Therefore the meaning of what is said is often determined by the interpretation of the hearers rather than the intent of the speaker. Culture, context and relationship all come into play.

    I believe the dialogue this article has spawned is very valuable in God’s sight. There is such diversity in the body of Christ and as we listen to one another and add our own voices it’s a symphony, greater than the sum of its parts. Greater, as we remind one another of the importance of God’s commandments and why they exist, of God’s mercy and how we are to extend it to one another (and ourselves!), and of the beauty and passion of His design.

    Returning to the original article I will add my thoughts: Despite the disturbing “broad-spectrum application” in our society of the word ‘slut,’ the point Mr. Limbaugh was making – however distastefully – was that a young woman appeared before the United States Congress to state her case that our tax dollars should be used to pay for her contraception. She enjoys sex (outside of marriage in this case) and wants us to PAY for her choice to have SEX without the concern of getting pregnant. So the question he pointed to, as it is relevant to our culture and to how we represent God on this earth is: Are we willing to PAY for someone else’s choice to HAVE SEX?

  • Daniel

    Very interesting article, and interesting comments.

    @Jodi, you wrote: “Returning to the original article I will add my thoughts: Despite the disturbing “broad-spectrum application” in our society of the word ‘slut,’ the point Mr. Limbaugh was making – however distastefully – was that a young woman appeared before the United States Congress to state her case that our tax dollars should be used to pay for her contraception. She enjoys sex (outside of marriage in this case) and wants us to PAY for her choice to have SEX without the concern of getting pregnant. So the question he pointed to, as it is relevant to our culture and to how we represent God on this earth is: Are we willing to PAY for someone else’s choice to HAVE SEX?”

    If I understood correctly, tax dollars had nothing to do with the discussion; rather, it was a question of insurance coverage. Those who pay premiums–generally employees and their employers–are the ones subsidizing the purchase of the medicine, not the generic “taxpayer.”

    Those who pay insurance premiums are subsidizing the medical costs of plan members. Many insurance plans cover birth control; some do not. I understand that employers (or in this case, the owners of an educational institution) may want to not cover certain kinds of care that they morally object to. Many of us currently pay premiums into plans that cover things like birth control, Viagra, even abortion. We also pay for the healthcare for those conditions that likely arise from lifestyle choices, such as tobacco-related lung diseases (including cancer, emphysema, etc.), certain forms of diabetes, treatment for injuries sustained in recreational activities, etc. Yet I very rarely hear any Christian have moral qualms about paying their insurance premiums. At most, if they discuss their insurance premiums at all, it’s merely to grouse about their high price and what they don’t cover.

    Does the Catholic Church have a right to refuse to cover certain treatments in insurance plans offered to their employees and/or students in institutions they support? Perhaps; consider, would the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to specifically exclude the cost of blood transfusions from insurance plans they offer?

    I don’t really know, but I think that the issue is far more complex than Rush’s false and insulting characterization of the argument (and those involved in the argument.) Perhaps this will at least start Chrisitans talking about the fact that they currently are probably subsidizing many abortions (as well as other sinful behaviors) through their insurance premiums without seemingly have any moral qualms about it.

  • Jodi Furno

    Dan,
    Thank you for your information/clarification on the taxes…I am under the impression that, due to ObamaCare, our tax dollars now somehow subsidize the insurance companies. But the point is moot, as either way you are correct: I (and others) have not thought through the implications of our insurance premiums and how that money is spent. And as your example demonstrated, the issue can become very sticky…This will be on my mind (and prayer list) for a while now. I find myself thinking
    how good it is to know that our God is merciful and sovereign!

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    @Jodi: I would suggest actually reading Ms. Fluke’s testimony and not what’s been reported by conservative media. She actually testified not about herself, but about a lesbian friend who lost an ovary because she was unable to get coverage for her birth control and suffered from ovarian cysts, which are controlled by hormonal BC. The testimony had literally nothing to do with sex.

    @Brad: Thanks for engaging me in this discussion. I don’t think all is lost, but I think you’re being blinded by the first prong of my two pronged point. My first prong is that which we disagree upon immensely, and has already been beaten to death here. But the second point has been virtually ignored – the idea that, by your own admittance, “whore,” in the Biblical sense, was always reserved for a metaphorical lesson. Hosea marrying a whore, for example, wasn’t about the woman being a woman who gets paid for sex (which is what the word means). It was a metaphorical relationship used to represent how God felt about Israel. And notice this: even though the “woman” (Israel) is unrepentant, even though she runs around on Hosea (God’s prophet, and in the metaphor, God), HE STILL MARRIES HER. He doesn’t spend his time shaming her, going “tsk tsk, shouldn’t be doing that, you unrepentant whore.”

    No, he welcomes her back, time and again, regardless of her state of repentance. Is he upset? Sure! But does he shame her and make her feel like less than human? NO.

    So when I hear you arguing that we need to keep whore as a category in order to understand the simulacra metaphor for which “whore” is used in the Bible, what I hear is someone wanting to hold on to a word that is used as an insult to shame, belittle, and dehumanize. Your argument seems to be that “whores have to exist and we have to be able to call them whores in order to understand what this word means in the Bible,” despite the ample evidence from the Bible itself which gives us plenty of context for understanding the word. You’re basically saying that we (the laypeople of the church, etc), need to be able to have a real person in mind in order to fully understand the implication of a Biblical metaphor.

    And that’s weak. I don’t have to KNOW a rake or a libertine to get what it means when a poet talks about them (I’m think particularly of the Decemberists’ “The Rake Song.”). I don’t have to be able to point to people in my life and know that they’re usurer in order to get what it is in the Canterbury Tales. The historical category of the word as metaphor exists. It’s established. People understand what is meant when the Bible discusses Israel’s “whoring” ways. We don’t need to hold on to the word as a modern-day insult in order to understand. Indeed, we can speak against the use of the word and still talk about Israel’s unfaithfulness.

    And, sorry, but until you know what it’s like to feel the shame, pain and anger that comes with the shaming tactics that surround our modern-day discussion of sexuality in the church, I’m not going to buy a “shame is useful” argument.

  • Daniel

    Hi Jodi,

    Thanks for your response. If any good comes out of Rush’s intemperate words, it will be that it makes some people stop to think about these issues.

    Although I may be getting off-topic, one thing that I’ve been thinking about with “Obamacare”, specifically, the mandate to buy insurance coverage:

    Under current US law, hospitals are required to give life-saving medical care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay. For example, let’s say I’m a generally healthy young male who gets hurt doing something stupid (I once was a young male and occasionally did stupid things, so I know that it’s not uncommon). Let’s also assume I’m gainfully employed and decided to forego health insurance coverage because it costs too much, I’m healthy and frankly I have other things I want to spend money on. But I’m hurt, and so I get taken to the emergency room.

    Who pays for my visit? Well, I do–if I can. Let’s say I lose my job…who pays for it? Everyone else, especially those who currently have the insurance that I’ve spurned. In essence, I have managed to socialize my irresponsibility.

    Now enter the insurance mandate. I can no longer refuse to pay for something I don’t think I need. I have to buy the coverage. Now I’m helping to pay for stupid young males like myself. Even if I lose my job, I have at least paid into the system SOMETHING, rather than nothing.

    Which system sounds like true socialism–a system where I can legally demand treatment that I cannot pay for, or a system where I have to help cover the cost?

    (Of course, there’s always the “let him die!” crowd when it comes to healthcare, but I’m thinking that that is not exactly in alignment with Christ’s will.)

  • Stephen Newport

    Brad,

    Are you speaking from experience? I am referring to your comment:

    “[sex outside of marriage]…. will hurt, depress, and emotionally devastate people outside the covenant of marriage.”

    If so, please preface those bold of statements.

    It is a moot point, however, as there is probably an equal amount of passionate, refreshing, committed sex goin on around the globe outside of the “covenant” of marriage as there is emotionless, drab, boring and forced sex inside of marriage. So marriage obviously is not the secret bullet to sexual success.

    Feel free to preach whatever theology you want that you believe aligns with the desires of any given God’s desires. To preach, however, that certain actions will have definitive consequences outside of simple observation and experience is irresponsible and immature.

  • Peter S

    Stephen,
    In response to Brad, you concluded that:

    “Marriage obviously is not the secret bullet to sexual success.”

    To further explore this statement, I want to ask you how you define this ambiguous “sexual success”? Is success defined as short-term and physical, or does this also include the long-term, emotional implications of sexual intercourse?

    Secondly, I would like to know what you have to back up what you are saying?

    In a recent study on sexuality by Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels called “The Social Organization of Sexuality” they found married men have sex more often and report it to be more satisfying, both physically and emotionally, than single men. Furthermore they found that cohabiting men have the same quantity of sex as married men, but they are less satisfied with it. They discovered that sexual satisfaction and the level of commitment directly correlated. Another study by Mattox found that married men who attend church weekly and believe strongly that sex should be limited to marriage report higher sexual satisfaction than those with more liberal views.

    So while commitment is the magic bullet (and not necessarily marriage) what says commitment more than committing to one’s spouse in a ceremony before God and other witnesses?

    Those are just a few thoughts and questions that I have. Looking forward to hearing your response.

  • Stephen Newport

    Peter,

    Thanks for your insight.

    “Success” in relationships, for me, are when people are approaching and receiving the value they are looking for in a mutually open and honest way.

    Studies on people’s “feelings” are flawed from the start, as feelings are not objective. You could do a study in America on how people feel when they eat tarantulas. The response would be fairly negative. You could do the same study where people eat fried tarantulas all the time and the results would be different. Similarly you could do the studies you referenced in small-town Baptist country and of course no one would speak positively of their non-marital sex, because all they’re thinking about is not getting caught and damned to hell. No coherent conclusion could be had from them. If there is a single outlier, the only conclusion can be that the issue isn’t sex, it is much for complicated.

    “what says commitment more than committing to one’s spouse in a ceremony before God and other witnesses?”

    I would say a relationship that is hard to get out of, both by burden of legal and societal consequences (ie marriage), is not “secure” in my definition of things; it breeds contrived feelings and guilt for changing and prolongs bad, unnecessary relationships. Personally I would feel more commitment and love from someone who could leave me at any time but chooses to stay and work through things out of a personal drive (not guilt or “responsibility”) because of the value we both bring to each other.

    So, I’ll ask you: what added value do you believe marriage has over personal commitment (aside from taxes ;-) ?

    Did I address all your points?

  • Stephen Newport

    More food for thought:

    Could “commitment” only be the magic bullet for the dependent and and emotionally insecure? What would you say to the independent, emotionally secure individual who was able to happily, joyfully, passionately and kindly maintain an active and permiscuous “healthy” sexual life?

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    “Another study by Mattox found that married men who attend church weekly and believe strongly that sex should be limited to marriage report higher sexual satisfaction than those with more liberal views.”

    Of course, it couldn’t possibly be that they have such limited experience that they don’t know what sexual satisfaction actually feels like? I’m thinking specifically of women I’ve talked to who were married for multiple years before they ever experienced any form of orgasm. And when they figured that out, they realized that what they had thought was satisfying before was actually really bad.

    Self-reporting studies, as Stephen points out, are inherently flawed.

  • Peter S

    Dianna and Stephen,
    Thanks for the posts and sorry for being AWOL for a couple days.

    Interesting defense to the studies that I presented. I want to point out that the study by Mattox merely found that “that married men who attend church weekly and believe strongly that sex should be limited to marriage report higher sexual satisfaction than those with more liberal views.” This says nothing about limited experience. Perhaps many of these married men have had a wide array of sexual experiences and yet they still consider marriage to be more satisfying. Certainly these studies are subjective in that they ask people how they feel, but that is alright as long as you reject the notion that sexual satisfaction or “sexual success” can be objectively measured. Even if we stuck electrodes on people’s brains while they were having sex, this wouldn’t give us a true picture of whether or not their sexual relationship is satisfying. Relationships are more than just biology and this makes them subjective by nature. Therefore, you cannot say that a subjective study is not relevant to a discussion about an issue (sex, relationships) that is fraught with subjectivity.

    Dianna, you queried whether “it couldn’t possibly be that they have such limited experience that they don’t know what sexual satisfaction actually feels like?”

    This is a possibility, but a far more reasonable possibility in my mind is that married people that have made a lifelong commitment to each other are more likely to hold nothing back in the bedroom (or wherever else they so choose to copulate for that matter).

    Stephen, you said: Personally I would feel more commitment and love from someone who could leave me at any time but chooses to stay and work through things out of a personal drive (not guilt or “responsibility”) because of the value we both bring to each other.”

    Well, you are assuming that marriage is all about guilt. The ol’ ball and chain if you will. Well, that’s simply not the way that Christians look at marriage. We look at it as a relationship of mutual love and value that mirrors Trinitarian love and Christ’s love for the Church.

  • http://www.StephenNewport.com Stephen Newport

    Peter,

    No worries, so have I!

    “…merely found that “that married men who attend church weekly and believe strongly that sex should be limited to marriage report higher sexual satisfaction than those with more liberal views.” This says nothing about limited experience. Perhaps many of these married men have had a wide array of sexual experiences and yet they still consider marriage to be more satisfying.”

    Perhaps, but I would find it more likely that if they “believe strongly” that sex should be limited to marriage, they also believe divorce is wrong, therefor it can be easily inferred that the only sexual experience they have had is with the one person they married…. after marriage. Therefor they don’t have much to compare it to. But this is all inferred, which is the flaw in these kinds of studies. Who’s to say that my happiness is inferior or superior to your own?

    “but that is alright as long as you reject the notion that sexual satisfaction or “sexual success” can be objectively measured.”

    This is why I posted in the first place. People making comments like Brad, suggesting any sex outside of marriage will be devastating, are making an objective statement; which is why I am challenging it.

    “Therefore, you cannot say that a subjective study is not relevant to a discussion about an issue (sex, relationships) that is fraught with subjectivity.”

    I disagree. Studies must be objective for any conclusion to be drawn from them. Sure, details about people’s “claims” of satisfaction need to be included, which are subjective, but the objective information which could be related needs inclusion as well (age, sex, background, philosophical beliefs, as well as other details which would just be too vast to even collect.) This study would be more informative and interesting with details like that. The study as is is too simple, it shows one correlation. Any study that wants to be taken seriously needs tens, or hundreds or thousands of correlations. And in the end, correlation does not equal causation. How do we know the men who were more satisfied were not so because of the level of commitment that causes somebody to want to marry (whether or not the concept of marriage is flawed or not) and not the act of marriage itself?

    “married people that have made a lifelong commitment to each other are more likely to hold nothing back in the bedroom”

    More likely? I don’t know, I know of many people with very open, no-bars-held [enjoyable] sexual relationships who are not married. I think it more has to do with proper chemistry, trust, communication and honesty. As I said before, you can see both extremes in and out of marriage, which is why you can’t conclude that marriage is the magic bullet, it must be something else or we would be seeing 100% satisfaction on one end or the other.

    “Well, you are assuming that marriage is all about guilt. The ol’ ball and chain if you will. Well, that’s simply not the way that Christians look at marriage. We look at it as a relationship of mutual love and value that mirrors Trinitarian love and Christ’s love for the Church.”

    Please excuse me, I did not mean to imply that. I [hope] most people marrying are doing it for mutual love and value (although we all know not *everyone* is). My criticism is if/when the bride or groom changes in a way the other can no longer respect/value/love, they are bound to perform the “actions” of love despite the emptiness of “feeling” love. This makes “love” a contrived thing, it contorts it into a duty instead of a passion. If two people maintain a relationship for their whole lives, and both grow in ways harmonious to the other, and maintain the feelings and are true with their actions, that is wonderful. I fail to see how making a promise to say it will be so at the ripe age of 18, 25, 32 or 48 will help that come to be. Which brings me to the question I posited earlier:

    What can a couple achieve inside of marriage that *can not* be done outside of it?

  • Stephanie Cargill

    The problem with studies on sexual satisfaction is, that they are ALWAYS subjective. Satisfaction, by its very nature, is a feeling, and is therefore subjective. In addition, these studies only measure people where they ARE (i.e. married), with no regard for where they may (or may not) have been. Everything else is just based on assumption.

    I find it most interesting, however, that a discussion which began on the topic of derogatory name calling of women who enjoy sex, ended with a discussion of men’s sexual satisfaction inside or outside of marriage.

    Thanks, Faith, for your brave and though-provoking post. And thanks to all for participating in this lively discussion.


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