The church, over the years, hasn’t done a very good job, in my opinion, of addressing sexual ethics. We invoke “you’ll feel guilty” (but sex feels good as often guilty, for lots of reasons I won’t address here), or “you’ll get a disease, or get pregnant” (but there are ways of dealing with both of those things), or “because God says so” as if we should just blow our brains out, not caring for God’s rationale, becoming mindless servants in spite of the fact that we’re to love God with all our minds. Here’s my take on God’s sexual ethic, prompted by recent events in the news.
Whether it’s MTV’s newest show exploring the seemingly endless sexual appetites of some American teens, or the now famous Karen Owen F*** List powerpoint, her tale of bedding various Duke athletes, offered in sordid detail with ratings for each (based on anatomical size, lovemaking skills, attractiveness), the reality is that an increasingly large percentage of our youth culture are floating on the stormy seas of awakening sexuality and adulthood with neither an anchor, nor a compass.
This is, in itself, troubling. Worse though, is the observations by some that Karen Owen’s diary of drunkenness (she woke up with bruises after one encounter during which she blacked out), servitude to thoughtless males, and objectification of her stream of partners, is a lifestyle praised by some highly educated and powerful people. Penelope Trunk, author of The Brazen Careerist, writes:
I, for one, am fascinated that Owen has so much self-knowledge. I wish I had had Owen’s self-confidence, pluck, and earning power when I was her age. I wish I had been taking control of male tools when I was that young. I wish I had been so good at getting the guy. I am twenty years older than Owen, but she inspires me to be brave, take risks, and let my creativity get the best of me.
Other students confessed that they secretly envied her brazen boldness and “strong sense of self”. To hear from her positive admirers, one gets the sense that she does, indeed, have a map and compass, and that’s she’s charting the way into previously untested waters of sexual freedom, if only the women of America can muster the chutzpa to rise up and follow her.
Oh. I’d better mention this too. As the Atlantic Monthly article about her exploits reveals: Asked by a reporter from Jezebel for her thoughts on everything that had happened, she responded with a fully human and entirely feminine sentiment. “I regret it,” she said, “with all my heart.” Sexual anarchy, it appears, isn’t as fulfilling as we’d like to believe.
There’s a better way and perhaps once we’ve stepped into the cesspool of sexual anarchy and taken a look around, we’ll be open to considering something different. That’s my hope anyway. Here are some valuable insights, some lessons to be learned as we survey the current sexual landscape of America:
1. Anarchy and Freedom aren’t the same thing. It’s strange to me that the marvelous generation of young adults who are so intent on changing the world by ending hunger, homelessness, poverty, and oppression could, at the same time, so often be unaware of the destructive and oppressive nature of sexual anarchy. With every casual bedding, every broken relationship, every serial sexual exploitation, another heart is trampled, another barrier to long term intimacy is erected, another weapon of cynicism and anit-vulnerability is created. “No matter” is what is often hear. “What two people do in the privacy of their space is their business alone.” Really? Such an assessment presumes that none of us have an interest in the social capital destroyed by divorcing sex from commitment. But look around – the carnage is everywhere, including our precious economic prosperity.
2. If sex and commitment go together – then sex belongs in marriage. The reason for this? It’s because sustaining a relationship of intimacy and commitment with one other person for a lifetime is perhaps one of the most challenging things any of us will ever attempt, outstripping the challenges of career, finances, and more, by sometimes exponential degrees. Because it’s so hard, and so important, cultures throughout history have built support systems to bring the community together and stand with those who are making such a vast commitment. The support begins with that thing called a wedding, and continues on, ideally, with ongoing collective energy working towards the well being of couples. There are spiritual, economic, emotional, political, and societal reasons why everyone has a stake in the success of these long term commitments. But make no mistake about it: everyone has a stake. That’s why your sexual hobbies aren’t only about you and who you bed. They’re about the whole community, the whole civilization, though in our hyper-individualistic culture, you need to really work to wrap your brain around this one. Work it at please. It’s worth it.
3. God’s not anti-sexual, neither should we be. I completely understand that it’s hard to hold one’s sexuality in the ways of which I speak, especially during your youth, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture. And believe me when I say I’m not writing to condemn our failings. I’m writing to name our commitment free sex for what it is: a failing, and invite a vision for holding sexual differently, inviting us to restore the linkage of sexual intimacy to marriage and commitment. You’ve failed? Start over. You’ve failed again? Start over again. It’s never too late to recapture God’s vision of intimacy, for God has this great capacity for renewal.
4. Learn to really be free. Seeking to live this way though, will mean that we’ll struggle with abstinence. But of course, this is the real freedom right? I was with some students in Austria recently and we all went out for supper after class because I wanted to introduce to one of my genuine Austrian loves: Garlic Soup. These students have agreed to abstain from alcohol while studying there, even though they’re over 21. Some of them were Germans who grew up drinking beer. But on this night, we practiced, all of us, our freedom to abstain because the truth of the matter is if we don’t have the freedom to abstain, we don’t have freedom. Note, please, that the freedom to abstain from sex will be asked of you once married. Children, illness, weariness, company. I can share that there will be bio-rhythms of intensity and abstinence, even in the best of marriages (and mine’s one of the best ) So, we might as well learn that our freedom to indulge must include the freedom to abstain – otherwise it’s not freedom at all. It’s slavery.
If you like this post – please pass it on. It’s an important subject for everyone who has an interest in sex. And, as always, I welcome your thoughts.