The Church Doesn’t Know How To Have Sex

The Church Doesn’t Know How To Have Sex January 17, 2012

Sex has become something bourgeois. Not that the proletariat ever experience sex mind you, but the real act is saved for those who can afford to talk about it. In high school sex is a sort of perverse social currency whereby someone’s acceptance is measure and defined by the quantity of partners they have experienced intercourse with. To talk about sex in this context is not only anticipated but is also encouraged. But, what happens when sex becomes nothing more than a transgression? As in, “thou shalt not have sex (outside) of marriage?” (I don’t remember there being a verse for this by the way).

I remember growing up thinking a book by a guy named Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) was going to help relieve me of any need for relationships, instead what it did (like a lot of current theology on the subject) is transformed something life-giving (dating & sex) into an act of guilt, essentially sex became its own antithesis to the point that books like this (among many others) infected sexuality with transgressive theology.

Sex as a master signifier (that which comes to define language, relationships and ultimately reality and how it all should be interpreted) has been part of the Church for long long time. I mean there are even ‘silent’ rules on who should drive who home, who can talk to who behind closed doors, and can have sex with who and why.
Relationships then are no longer relationships, they then become objects and what they are not meant to talk about. This is what books like Harris’ did for Christianity, it didn’t deal with healthy relationships, it said the only way to have healthy relationships is get rid of them, which is one of the most irresponsible things we can do.
The current failure in Christendom is that it seeks to consume reality and spit it back out through some sort of ethical rubric (i.e., you should do this but can’t do that and so on) and what this does is completely denies the ontology of the person and creates for them a role they must fulfill – and in a very vulgar sense creates the very robots that most Christians state that God does not want. The current discourse (which is pretty much a void) on sex has made sex the very signifier that a lot of the Church wants to deny.
They think not talking about it is safe sex.
Or they think by creating ethical rules laden with Catholic guilt is the only option. What they don’t know is that by negating the philosophy of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (i.e., men and women cannot be friends without sex getting in the way), they focus on it.
This is like a failing marriage where both partners don’t talk about the relationship that is falling part in hopes that in the denial is the redemption. The reality is that not talking about is the failure in and of itself. I am not saying we need to spend hours making rules on it, quite the opposite, we need to know how to talk about it comfortably first. This isn’t a step one then a step two process, this is simply a step one and then see what happens next. I think one of the biggest struggles the Church has had historically is its own definition and identity. It somehow thinks its meant to police one another along with the rest of the world and in doing so has lost the very world it claims to love.
The Church has become the very lost sheep it seeks to save. (By the way, in the Hebrew, that parable is about how Israel has lost its way).
Somehow not talking about (repression) is somehow forgetting it. The failure in this ideology is that violently assumes without intending to do so that we are neutered creatures without genitals. The Church has marginalized gender. It has created intra-subordinate roles (i.e., men should drive men home and so on) whereby if one does not fulfill the role (either because of the current laws set in place because of prior social transgressions or because of the intention to prevent ‘any temptation’) they are somehow not just transgressing the Church or the other, but God himself. Which is in reality making something beautiful (i.e., sex, gender differences, relationships and etc.) into something extremely grotesque.
And under the guise of responsibility is the most irrespnsible act because it chooses to forget the person and the rule then mediates as some virtual metaphysical stand-in. So, in reality, what occurs is that Sex has become God for the Church. It now defines ethics, defines relationships (i.e., men can’t be with men, no sex outside of marriage, and etc.). Just because its not spoken doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Sex has become the forgotten whore that the Church does not know how to love.
The idea of a neutered (non-gendered) person is a violent idealistic stance, one that emanates directly from the Ego. And anytime you come across Jesus talking about death, following or a cross in line with his type of discipleship – he is talking about dying to our ego. So, in the hopes of defining some universal ‘Christian’ response to Sex and its discontents, the Church as also exalted the ego (the constructed self) above not only their own, but also of the God we align ourselves with.
We have assumed too much about gender. One that it exists, and two that we are the one’s who should have something to say about it. I am not saying the latter isn’t true, but the former must be dealt with to inform the latter. If gender is a social construct (which I think it is) then we must realize what we have to offer right now isnt failing simply as an ethic, but also an ideology. We can no longer assume our role is to somehow treat sex as a problem, rather it should be something we celebrate.
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  • THIS.

    Oh, you have no idea how much this resonates with my experience. Especially the part about how the Church tends to ignore it and hope it goes away. “If we just don’t talk about it, they’ll forget they have genitals!” This was especially damaging during my youth groups when I was younger.

    “Sex has become the forgotten whore that the Church does not know how to love.” Love it. Thanks for writing this!

  • David Hanna

    I think you are historically back-to-front. This an in-built ambiguity towards sex in the early church rather than something new – one of the unfortunate consequences of the divorce from Judaism and the backward reading of theology into the tragic rejection and death of Jesus. If he had been allowed to live and marry and have children we would not be debating these things or suffering from sexual complexes, inside or outside of ‘the church’. Instead, Jesus was deified into some sort of asexual being. (Incidentally, do you notice how the exquisite Christian choir-boy music elevates the status of the neuter, but the alternative of opera, not shy about its masculine and feminine, gives you a good dose of confused and damaged sex as well.) A lot of good work has been done in Christian circles in recent years to counter the separation between sex and love that the pervading non-Christian ideology wants to promote – but it is hindered by this legacy. Neutering is not the answer – you’re right on that! Thanks, bro!

  • Marty Carney

    Some years ago I served with a mission team–composed of middle-class North Americans–among the poor Christians in Limon, Costa Rica. As we sat talking together in the cooling tropical evening one night, one of the women (I think it was the pastor’s) asked us: “Do you know what we did before we had television and electricity at night?” “What?”–all we unsuspecting, rich North Americans asked–perhaps in our neutered Christian exprience. She responded: “We made babies.” 🙂 Somehow that experience came to mind as I read the article above.

  • Robert

    Well you have done a good job identifying that the Church (et al) doesn’t know how to handle the topic of sex and sexuality well. We don’t, but show me what segment of society does.

    However, just because you haven’t encountered a tradition or community that does handle it well doesn’t mean there are no parameters around how we express it. You say you’ve never read a verse about “thou shalt not have sex outside of marriage” yet there are plenty within the OT and the NT.

    One of the crucial parts of this conversation, which was missed in you Neo-Marxist rant, is that finding authenticity in sexual expression is always located in celebrating as it is designed by God. Outside of that you will always find ambiguity and confusion. We have been given a standard for conduct, by rejecting that we wander further into confusion and hurt.

  • George Elerick

    yes. we need to ‘make more babies’….

  • George Elerick

    Robert: there is no verse that actually says word for word that sex outside of marriage is wrong. one can only infer it, the problem is when someone then reifies their exegesis into a singular defense (i.e., metaphysical theology). I have yet to find any Church, which to me, tells me its a theological problem, not an ideological one. I am not talking about how a church reacts to some act already performed, I am directly dealing with pre-state sex. and how that has affected the development of Church historically (and yes, intentionally back-to-front David 🙂 ) this is a subculture within the kingdom of christianity that has not been mishandled but moreso violently marginalized. and in doing so has created a master signifier not simply within christian discourse, but also in the assumption and deployment of ‘christian’ ethics….

  • Lisa


    I think it is safe to infer from the phrase “neo-marxist rant” that Robert does not plan on contributing anything edifying to this conversation.

  • Frank

    The church knows exactly how to have sex. Man and woman marry and they have sex. It’s simple.

  • I agree completely with the post. Whatever set of ethical guidelines you end up with – and those can be debated, too – Christians as a whole seem to have issues talking about sex other than as the list of rules. As with most theologies and ethics, somebody somewhere down the line of history thought about it from a more relational perspective but the average Christian (and even the average pastor) hasn’t much since. We like the easy way out: “what can we get away with and what can’t we?” and it takes away so much of a possibly beautiful understanding of sex.