Guidelines for a holistic sexual ethic, part 1

Guidelines for a holistic sexual ethic, part 1 June 23, 2013

I know I told you the other day that I would be too busy to post much this week. Well, that’s true. I’m pretty busy. But when your choices are “write a paper for health class” and “write about SEX” which are you going to choose (unfortunately, my paper for health class is not about sex)?

Really, though. I’ve been seeing conversations about sex circling throughout the blogging world, and I want to add my own thoughts. This isn’t a response to anyone in particular, but the past few months I’ve heard many people state the need for Christians to form a “sexual ethic.” I actually think this is a good conversation to have.

Unfortunately, most of the time this “ethic” ends up sounding just like harmful, shaming, fear-mongering purity culture–“Don’t have sex, or your penis will fall off and you will DIE”–or ends up getting snagged on this idea that marriage is the answer to any sex-related problems that exist in our culture. Also, far too many of these conversations make it sound like 1. Christians are the only group that needs a healthy sexual ethic, and 2. Only people who wait until marriage are interested in forming a healthy sexual ethic.

Sexual ethics are important for everyone. They’re also going to look a little different for everyone. But I want to propose four basic guidelines that everyone should consider when forming a personal ethic:

  1. Consent.
  2. Respect and affirmation of the humanity of self and others.
  3. Emotional and health risks, and how to approach them.
  4. The meanings that you and your partner attach to sex.

The first guideline is pretty straightforward. Consent. Get it.

After that, however, things can get more complicated, and that’s OKAY! People are complicated. A difficult, but often interesting and exciting thing about sex is that it involves getting to know a person (even if that person is yourself) or multiple people in a unique way.

How you approach guidelines 2-4 will look a little different (though there are some basics that can apply to everyone–don’t objectify people, etc.) depending on who you are, what you value, how you want to be treated, your personal health status, etc. Your approach to guidelines 2-4 will also have to take into account your sexual partner(s)’ approaches to these guidelines. You might have to compromise. You might have to back off on a certain approach. You might have to ask a partner to back off, or you might have to find someone more compatible with your wants/needs.

I’m going to talk more about these guidelines, either tomorrow or over the next couple of days, because most of the conversations I see about sex in the Christian blogging world focus mainly on number 4–the meanings people attach to sex. And, I use “conversation” loosely. It’s more of an assumption that we all have the same meaning for sex. When it comes to the other three guidelines, I see too many Christians assuming that adhering to the “Christian meaning” (as if there is only one) for sex will cover everything else.

This isn’t a holistic approach to sexual ethics, and it’s often not a healthy one. We need space for bigger conversations.


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