Cross Talk: Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby)

Columns, Cross Talk, Featured — By on November 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm

In this column, we’ll discuss important current event topics with two Burnside writers who disagree on the issues. One leans left, the other right. Their faith is what helps them to meet in the middle. Usually.

Adam and Eve

Emily: Alright, let’s talk about sex.

James: I read your recent  HuffPo post and took issue with some of your assertions about the view that many Christians have of premarital sex. My observation is that Christians today have minimized the importance of premarital chastity more than ever before, at least in my lifetime. So imagine my surprise when I read your assertion that pretty much says the opposite.

Emily: James, what assertions, specifically, did you take issue with from my article? To refresh for anyone who didn’t read it, what I wrote for the Huffington Post was  why I think the church today is harming young people by expecting them to remain virgins until they’re married, encouraging them to marry young to avoid pre-marital sex, and then acting as if their lives are over if/when they mess up. My point was not that young people shouldn’t wait. It was that the current methods older Christians and the church are using to encourage abstinence are not working. 80% of evangelical Christians admit to having pre-marital sex. That’s a huge number, and one that stand true in my own social circle. My feeling is that older Christians and the church need to be honest about how their words can, and will hurt this large percentage of young people, who the message of abstinence has failed.

James: Emily, as is often the case, your response is a mixed bag. You make a lot of points that I can’t argue with, including the idea that Christians would shame someone for their premarital activities. No reasonable person would argue that, but as you point out, there are plenty of unreasonable people in the world, and sadly, scores of them are in our churches.

But here’s the thing: promoting abstinence is thoroughly in line with what Christians should be doing when engaging with other Christians. The fact that a number of times, they do it in insensitive ways doesn’t change that truth. In fact, presenting the truth about sin–any sin–to another believer is going to save them grief later, not necessarily hurt their feelings now.

You presented a statistic that helps make my point. The fact that so many believers are not following God’s commands is very problematic, not something that we should just shrug our shoulders and accept.

I could help make my point with some bible verses, but you most likely know them anyway, so I’d ask you to simply read this Op-ed. It’s a biased piece, but the statistics contained within are from reputable sources.

“25.3% of sexually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of sexually abstinent girls. The study found that 14.3% of sexually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers.”

Between those facts and your own story of regretting your own experience right after it happened, a solid case is being built that young men and women are much better off following the plan presented by the One who designed us. And if an older Christian can find a way to convey that truth to them in a loving way, wouldn’t they be saving those young people from a lot of heartache?

Emily: I don’t believe I’m “shrugging my shoulders and accepting” the fact that young Christians aren’t choosing to wait to have sex. I think I’m being realistic. Looking at the reality we face today, not the fantasy so many evangelicals have of what it “should be.” If the reality is that teens and young adults aren’t waiting, we need to re-think our approach.

Just to be clear, Biblical wisdom is not something I shrug off. Like I said in my HuffPo piece, I do believe, personally, that sex should only be in a monogamous, marriage like relationship (I say marriage like since I believe this for gay and straight Christians and many gay’s can’t marry – but that’s a whole different argument.)

I agreed with some of what the article you shared with me said. The hook-up culture can be destructive, and it can lead to emotional problems. But there are also plenty of people who’ve had multiple sexual partners, who are now happily married, or coupled, and don’t suffer any of the scary statistical worries the author of that article warned us about. What should be our message to them? When we preach about how horrible it is to have sex outside of marriage, what’s the message that the 80% of Christians who didn’t wait hear? I’m afraid they’re hearing that what’s horrible is them.

This is why I think a more effective message is needed, since “don’t do it,” isn’t working. Trying to scare people off of sex, like that author is, fails. What I believe is best, is not scaring young people, but encouraging them to wait for the incredible sex intimacy brings. The kind that’s body, mind, and soul. You don’t get that from hook-up culture.

At the same time, I also think it’s extremely important we’re offering grace for the people who didn’t wait.  Currently, I don’t see much grace in the church’s attitude towards those who’ve engaged in pre-marital sex.

James: We do agree that it’s best for unmarried people to wait? Because honestly, that’s not what I got out of reading what you wrote. My point is that while it’s never OK to shame a person for their sin, it’s equally harmful to act as if it’s perfectly acceptable to have sexual relations outside of the boundaries God set up.

Emily: I do think it’s best for unmarried people to wait. I just think that we, as humans, rarely do what’s best for us. So my point was in trying to keep in mind the reality of how people act, not the ideal. And treat them thusly.

James: Emily, I’m glad to hear we’re not as far apart as I thought, but we are still not on the same page, if I am reading some of your statements correctly. I agree that countless Christians have done more harm than good in talking about sin, especially sexual sin, to other believers. But when we observe extreme behavior, we should always be cautious not to over-react. In this case, the overreaction would be to decide not to say anything, out of fear that we will come across as uncaring, unloving, and judgmental. If we convey the message to young believers, either explicitly or implicitly, that sex outside of the boundaries is acceptable, then that’s the least loving thing we can do.

Emily: I get that. The struggle then is how we merge both goals, of not over-reacting and staying silent on the issue, but not under-reacting and keeping the failing, less than graceful message the same. Which is no easy task. Readers, do you have any ideas?

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  • Nathan Bubna says:

    The same as always. Speak the truth in love. Affirm the person, not the sin. Remind people that God loves them, no matter what. Remind them that God cares very much how we live and what we do with our bodies, not just for His sake, but for ours.

  • At the outset of this post, I was under the impression I was actually going to side with James, since I tend to lean on the conservative side when it comes to sex. But then I read Emily’s original post, and saw that she clearly states that sex ought to be saved for marriage. So it turns out we agree after all. I have no qualms whatsoever with your original ideas, Emily!

    I think you make a good point, Emily: we do overemphasize the importance of virginity, and exaggerate the damage that losing your virginity before marriage can have.

    That being said, I definitely still think it’s God desire and design that we save sex for marriage. So I, too, wonder how we can encourage more Christians (and non-Christians, honestly) to wait without shaming or terrifying them.

    I have a hard time understanding the problem because I’m in an unusual situation: I and my husband were both virgins on our wedding day; and we belong to a close-knit community of 11-12 young couples who all managed to do the same. So I frankly have a hard time understanding why/how it’s so hard for young couples to abstain. Most people consider it impossible, but obviously it’s not.

    Of course, we (in our community) all married young (we’re Mennonite: we all married before we were 25 — most of us before we were 22). We almost all remained living with our parents until we got married. So the temptation to give in was lessened. I think it also helps that we all had each other — we all belonged to a supportive group that shared similar values.

    So I guess belonging to a close-knit group like that helps. I wish all young Christians had such a community. We’ve remained in close touch with almost all the members of the group, and all the marriages seem strong, and many have been married between 5 and 10 years.

    I guess I’m just rambling now . . . . It’s a complicated, frustrating, fascinating issue.

  • Mom says:

    As parents we have stressed the importance of abstinence until marriage to our children from an early age. Presented them with carefully selected “promise rings’ in their teen years. Stressed that it was God’s best for them to save sex for “the one” on their wedding night.
    Last week our 26 year old daughter told us regretfully that she wasn’t a virgin. It was an extremely emotional conversation. A one time, stupid choice, (her words not mine)and the “purity” that we had instructed her to guard so closely was gone. As a mom I looked at my beautiful girl and was heartbroken. Sad and angry that she’d waited so long, and thrown her innocence away to a virtual stranger. i still don’t get it. I don’t know why she told us. I kind of wish she hadn’t. That we’d have our illusions about the white dress, and her dad walking her down the aisle, maidenhead intact. So archaiac sounding. Yet, as I look at my girl, I am realizing that she is still the same. She’s still herself, the girl I love madly. Yeah she made a foolish choice, and will have to live with the consequences of that decision, but I make stupid choices in my life too. Why is it we as Believers tend to categorize sin? Sexual “sin” seems to be the most abhorrent within church circles. Certainly the most talked about. I realize that God hates all sin, my gluttony yesterday, the gossiping today, is no less distasteful to God than sex outside of marriage. It’s true.
    Am I sad that she didn’t wait? Yes. Have I cried? Yes. Does she still have relationship with parents that love and adore her? Yes. I can only imagine the grace and love that is overflowing to her from Father God. Yes as believers I think it is our responsibility to instruct the best we can. But am I to judge, and love less when oher believers step out of God’s best laid plans? Nope.

  • Randall says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of sex, singleness, and the church lately. I’m in my last year of my MDiv program and I’m focusing my final project on this subject.

    Right now, talk about Christian sexual ethics centers around morals – what and when people can or can’t do certain things. I think that line of reasoning has become tremendously unhelpful.

    I think we need to reframe the conversation so that instead of talking about morals, we talk about how to have good, healthy, loving relationships – relationships with God, neighbor (significant other), and self. So when we talk about saving sex for marriage, we can talk about how that can lead to better, more loving relationships. At the same time, if a Christian couple does have sex before their married, the focus is still on helping them to live in loving relationship with one another and within the church – that means no shaming from others in the congregation.

    Prioritizing relationships over morals also reframes the same sex marriage debate… but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

    Anyway, I share more about this relational framework on my blog.

    Thanks for opening up this conversation – it’s one that’s WAY overdue in the church.

  • Laura says:

    I’m a pragmatic person so I tend to be pretty anti-abstinence education for the reasons you stated above. There are also a lot of other statistics that back up such a position. For instance, free birth control results in a radical reduction in teen pregnancies and abortions (doesn’t the Church want less abortions?!) and that Christian teens have a higher rate of STDs than non-Christian. As such, whenever we are around my husband’s younger brothers (who are good Christian teens and virgins as far as I am aware) he always has the condom talk with them and the “no-baby-daddy” talk, even though I know they’ve both publicly made “purity” statements. I just think its pointless to only emphasize abstinence in the church w/o offering young people important information should they have sex before marriage, which they probably will… My $0.02.

  • Betsy says:

    “I realize that God hates all sin, my gluttony yesterday, the gossiping today, is no less distasteful to God than sex outside of marriage. It’s true.”

    Thank you, Mom. We are grateful for your comment.

  • Betsy says:

    Thank you for your post,

    I don’t know if I could say it better myself.

  • Gem says:

    I am getting more and more confused by this conversation as life goes on.

    I’m 26, a virgin, raised in a conservative family.

    Yet – this doesn’t seem to make any sense to me anymore.

    I see so many contradictions in the Bible (double standards for men and women who have premarital sex) and honestly, I know loads of committed couples who are happily unmarried and living together – and they have a strong faith. I struggle to even find a verse in the Bible that bans premarital sex, and isn’t song of solomons referring to unmarried lovers?? It just doesn’t make sense.

    There are so many bigger issues in the Bible (and world) – ie justice and poverty – and yet we make sex out to be the biggest of them all. I don’t get it at all.

    • “I know loads of committed couples who are happily unmarried and living together – and they have a strong faith.”

      Really? How do you know what their faith is like? Not saying that to be confrontational, but looking for an actual answer. My experience is that what’s going on inside a person can be very well hidden to others.

      Song of Solomon was definitely written about a married couple, probably on their wedding night.

      Sexual sin is mentioned often–even by Jesus–because it’s powerful. We have a real enemy, named Satan, and he knows how to push our buttons. Sexual strongholds are typically stronger than other ones. I’m not sure why that is, but I am clear on the fact that I need to be aware of the dangers involved with sexual sin.

      The old cliche is that sex is like fire: Keep it in its boundaries (say, a fireplace), and it’s a wonderful thing. Lose the boundaries, and it has the potential to be very destructive. Sometimes, cliches can hold a lot of truth.

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