Sexuality and Theology: Part 1

Recently I was asked to participate in a private discussion with 15 other national leaders surrounding the topics of sexuality and theology. The group was made up of a few straight conservative evangelicals, a few straight progressive (“liberal”) evangelicals, a few straight mainline clergy members, a couple of academics, an HIV/AIDS physician, a Clinical Sexologist a gay celibate author or two and some GLBT clergy. Over the three days we met, there was an unbelievable array of topics covered – and more than a few thought provoking statements. Over the next little bit here, I want to process some of the things that I was challenged by, disagreed with and was put to task over. I look forward to engaging some of these wild constructs and experiences. Here’s Part 1:

On the topic of being in an intimate relationship, one person commented that:

When it comes to ‘sex and Christian education’ the topic of sex, when mentioned in the Church, leads to a sexual self-loathing – the constant negativity of sex before marriage skews thought processes such that in many cases there ends up being a huge negative impact on sex inside of marriage, even after couples waited until marriage, just because ‘sex negative’ was ingrained in people’s lives from the time they were young. Thesis being: Church needs to focus on ‘sex positive’ in marriage rather than ‘sex negative’ before marriage.

Personally, I had never thought of such a process before. But it makes sense. Looking in my own life, it was definitely strange to have sex for the first time, and times after that. I felt bad. Dirty. Guilty. I was confused about those feelings and didn’t like them because that was the moment with my new wife that I shouldn’t have felt any of those things. A sex positive educational process inside the church sure makes a lot of sense retrospectively. And before anyone comments I just want to say best-case-scenarios in churches are a great idea (as many in churches think they do a great job), but reality speaks differently in many situations.

What do you think?

Much love.

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  • Roren

    In my church, we didn’t get a lot of “sex talks”, even in the youth group. But I was raised in a Christian home, and I had Christian friends at my youth group and Christian friends at my Christian high school. The message we (churched kids) got more was, “Sex is created by God to be good, but pornography ruins it, etc.” So for me, the greater fear was that my future husband (or myself) would watch porn, become addicted, and go down that road (and all the horror stories I’ve read from sites such as and their ministry).

    Even though I’ve overcome a porn addiction, the question of my purity of mind is still there. You never know how much you or your spouse have been shaped (especially in those young years as a teen) by what you’ve consumed…

  • Hey Andrew-

    I love that there was such a diverse group of people at this discussion you are talking about. I am very interested to here more about it!

    What I think was mind boggling to me as I prepared for marriage was the fact that I had a sexual history. Even though I had never experienced intercourse before marriage, I had a history of how media, family, school, church, etc. shaped how I viewed sexuality. These things that were ingrained in me were both positive and negative. It was helpful to look back and examine these things to better understand how the negative tainted the beauty of what God created sex to be.

    I think, as a youth worker, that it’s important to let the kids know that they have a sexual history…we need to be aware of what has impacted us both positively and negatively in preparation for being comfortable engaging in that kind of intimacy with our spouse in the future.

  • Roren and Meghan – I feel like the two main points in what each of you said is something of the major underlying issue: 1) Self-fulfilling sexual fear/exploration prophecy and 2) Sexual history whether we want one or not.

    I’ve actually never thought about outside entities as an identity and part of my sexual history. I wrote in my book that my head is filled with a lot of memories I don’t want to have, but that is of my own doing. Your correlation to media/family/school/church is profound! And yes, youth workers are the KEY to this whole thing (in my opinion)!

  • Robin

    Wow. I’m glad to read this. We’ve been discussing relationships and marriage in our young adult Bible study. Last weekend I wanted to finish it up with a discussion on sexual intimacy and scriptural boundaries. After much prayer I went the direction of discussing what’s it’s supposed to be like when done God’s way. I was surprised to find so many examples in the Scriptures of just how good (and important) sex is within the boundaries of a God-centered marriage. We didn’t spend much time at all on the “don’ts. These guys know all that. I’ve never taken that approach before and it was great! There was a feeling of “Yeah, that’s the kind of relationship I want to strive for.”

  • Gene Robinson talked about this at the UK Christian festival Greenbelt last year. He set the scene (much better than I will describe him doing) as the church saying to people right from being young: ‘Sex is bad, sex is bad, sex is bad,’ and then the day you finally get married, ‘Sex is now good!’, and the difficulties this causes people, esp when they’re now expected to get someone they love involved in something they’ve always been told is bad.

    …I’m doing a poor job of describing what he said, but at the time it was one of those descriptions that made me go: ‘Yes! That’s what’s going on!’

  • Bert

    If you want to read some awesome insight into human sexuality, you should read Pope John Paul II ‘ s Theology of the Body.

  • Seth

    When I was a teenager, my church youth group had nearly zero content on sexuality–positive or negative–at a time in our lives when it would have been helpful. When I was a youth leader several years later, it was included broadly, in the context of other issues, in one Sunday School session on temptation; the book was How Do You Handle Life? by Fritz Ridenour. By contrast, one of the top hits that year was “Minimum Love” by Mac McAnally, as in ” . . . save your heart and let your body be enough/You get the maximum pleasure from the minimum love.” Ouch!

    I trust things have improved since then, but it would have been so much better offer an affirmative, positive message about sexuality as an alternative to the mainstream messages.

    I now do an occasional STD/HIV prevention talk to church youth groups, and although the candid conversation is mostly about clinical stuff, the unspoken question still seems to be, “How far can I go with my boyfriend or girlfriend and still be okay?” That’s a typical question, and I wish it were more upfront, because it needs to be answered.

    But I so wish that the kids were asking a different question: How do I love somebody when I am following Jesus? And in what way does our sexuality fit into that puzzle?

    If we explored that question more fully with our youth and young adults, they’d have more to work with when they enter relationships.

    Hope that makes sense . . .

  • Seth – I totally LOVE your reshaping of the question! Can I use that in the future? (and yes, I promise to give you credit each time I bring it up, if it’s ok with you.)

  • Seth

    Absolutely. I’d consider it an excellent compliment! Doesn’t matter whether you mention me or not. Thanks!

  • I’m a little slow in catching up here, but Andy, I want to assure you that you are definitely NOT alone in those feelings of dirtiness and guilt – even though you found yourself squarely in “Biblically-sanctioned sex land”!

    Rarely do Christian young men admit this in public, but it’s very, very common.

    The problem is that the Church has a complete ignorance about how the brain works. When you establish a neuronal pattern (looking at, liking, practicing sex = bad), there’s no WAY the brain can simply disassemble that pattern just because you’ve entered a new time period (i.e., marriage).

    I think that much of the reason the Church gets so bent out of shape about this is because they also misunderstand a little something about teenage brains: they do NOT have fully functional frontal cortexes which allow humans to put the brakes on various behaviors (i.e., inhibitory control).

    What would it be like if we weren’t afraid of teens’ poor inhibitory control? What would it be like if we weren’t afraid of young people making mistakes (that is, after all, expected with not-yet-fully-developed brains)? What would it look like if we taught sex without attaching fear (and fear tactics) with it?