I Hate Writing About Sex

I hate writing about sex; I want to be over the whole sex conversation in general. Honestly, as interesting a subject as it might be, there is nothing easy, simple, or straightforward about it; it’s not the sort of subject I get up and think, “Wow, that would be a great angle for an article to write!” Honestly, I get a pit in my stomach. Culturally-speaking it’s a minefield. The amount of shame, hurt, obsession, money, and political-vitriol attached to discussions of sex makes it nearly impossible not to trigger some negative experience for someone. Our media is over-saturated with issues either directly or indirectly tied to it (gender, family, homosexuality, etc.) making it nearly impossible to say something on one topic without somehow involving another, making the whole thing exhausting and daunting.

The problem is that the conversation about sex isn’t going away. In fact, it just keeps getting louder.

Recently The Atlantic ran a piece entitled “Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex.”  Opening with Elizabeth Smart’s painful remarks about the deep sense of guilt and shame she endured following her ordeal linked to teachings about female sexual purity, the article highlights some of the recent “purity culture” debates and dialogues going on in the Evangelical blogosphere. In particular, it notes voices “from within” conservative Christian communities are increasingly critical of the way teaching on virginity and premarital sex is often presented in more popular church setting.

As Alastair Roberts has noted, a good many of these criticisms are warranted and welcome. For far too long many have been taught a conscience-destroying, un-biblical notion of purity, rife with double-standards, divorced from a Savior who truly wipes clean the deepest of stains, giving us confidence, whoever we are, to approach the throne of grace. So amen to those who go about lifting loads off of people that are too great to bear, laid on by false teachers unwilling to help.

And yet, while much is helpful and good, Roberts also notes that some significant voices in this conversation are correcting not with biblical categories, but by uncritically appropriating liberal or feminist lines of critique, some of which flow from theologically-incompatible presuppositions. Culturally-acceptable buzzwords and categories like “holism” or “mutual consent” are used, instead of righteousness and holiness. The drift of the Atlantic article, of course, was “Thank God, some of these benighted Evangelicals were coming around to more mainstream, less conservative, views on sexuality.”

My point here isn’t to go into the purity culture debate. It is rather to point out that as much as I, or many others, might want to just drop these conversations and move on to more pleasant things like “building the Kingdom”, in whichever way we take that phrase, we simply can’t.

Because in a culture where…
…pornography affects everything, even the kind of phone you can buy your 10-year old…
…Victoria’s Secret pitches lingerie to junior highers…
…there are websites dedicated to arranging extra-marital affairs…
…objectification of the human form is the norm in film, TV, magazines, and advertising…
…there are these horrifying rates of sexual assault rates…
…that includes the church too…
…you have to talk about sex.

I could go on, but C.S. Lewis sums up the point in one of his lectures, possibly “Learning in Wartime,” writing: “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” There’s a lot of bad philosophy and theology about sex out there having real-world consequences. We need good preaching, teaching, and writing about sex to deal with it. There’s just too much at stake.

So how can we keep engaging on this issue in a Christ-honoring fashion? While that deserves, and probably has received, book-length treatments, I would put forward three attitudes that should characterize our efforts:

1. Courage - It takes courage to write about sex nowadays, especially if you’re presenting anything like a traditional Christian sex-ethic. The culture has shifted and the basic cosmological and moral framework within which Christian ethics makes sense, is no longer the one that animates our cultural imagination. You have to be willing to risk misunderstanding, scorn, nasty words, and rejection. Evangelicals, especially younger ones, dislike being disliked. Take heart in the Savior that maintaining his word for the sake of the world is worth the risk. God has you.

2. Self-Denial - Christians, this can’t be about you on a number of levels. Self-denial goes hand in hand with courage. We must put our fears, our frantic need to be affirmed, and comfort aside in order to have the awkward discussions we’ve been called to. Beyond that, I can’t help but sense that one of the spirits animating responses from conservative believers is not that of Christ, but rather pride or a fragile identity. When we make the mistake of identifying ourselves by our sexual ethics, any challenge to them is an assault on our personal or group identity. Our calls to holiness cannot be animated by insecurity, but rather the confidence we have in the beautiful harmony of God’s creative will for sexuality. Our counter-cultural existence is not to be self-serving, but self-sacrificing;  we are called to be set apart for the sake of the world and God’s glory.

3. Grace - Of course, it’s almost cliche to note the need for grace when it comes to sexuality–that doesn’t make the point any less worth making. The grace given to us in the Cross of Jesus is the indispensable foundation to all of our efforts here. It reminds us that God’s vision for sexuality makes a claim that all of us have fallen short in one way or another; none of us can think of sex as somebody else’s issue. Pride in this area is deadly. We have been shown grace upon grace, and so we give grace upon grace to others, whether they be the broken and hurting, or the rebellious who violently oppose, our call is to show them the grace of Christ. It is not a grace divorced from truth, but on the contrary, grounded in the truth of the Gospel. It is also the grace the forgives the missteps and failures we are sure to encounter on the way.

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About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, serving college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Mere Orthodoxy, and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog. You can connect on Facebook and can also follow him on Twitter at @DZRishmawy.