This conversation about sex needs to be an on-going one. Not one “the talk” that happens sometime during the teen years. Advertisers target future consumers starting at age four. We are bombarded with messages about sex from early on and constantly, no matter what tower or home-schooling bunker you think you are raising your kids within. At some point they have to go outside, in the world, and they need to be equipped to deal with it. If you wait until they are teens to talk to them, you’ve already lost them.

The idea of on-going conversation got me thinking about what and how churches teach on sex. More precisely, what did we hear, what were the take home lessons from these talks on sex that many of us had to suffer through? For one, I assume that churches speak on it. That alone is quite the assumption since many don’t. For some, it’s perfunctory at best. They don’t want to speak on it as much as we don’t want to listen to them speak on it. Both sides gritting their teeth with a “let us never speak of this again” attitude as we rush out when it’s over. Too many parents hope that the church (or the schools for that matter) handle their job of teaching their kids about sex. Pity the poor youth pastor, only a few years out of seminary himself, who has to speak to kids on a topic too few speak on in their lives.

Back in my youth group days, we had to suffer through such talks. I’ll credit my church with this much: we had a talk on masturbation. When our teacher was done, he asked “any questions?” I was sitting in the front row. I turned around to see a sea of anxious faces wanted to just get out, despite the fact that I knew they had questions. I know because they kept asking me, like I was some masturbation guru. So I raised my hand and one of my other youth leaders lowered it saying “not you.” (Okay, they didn’t like my initial analysis: of course there weren’t any questions – we already know how to do it.)

I’ve asked several friends what their take home lessons about sex from their years in church were. All they could come up with was:
-before marriage, it’s bad.
-before marriage, don’t talk about it, don’t think about it. Thinking about it leads to it.
-before marriage, don’t touch naughty parts and don’t dance. They lead to it.
-after marriage, you are to feel totally comfortable being naked in front of someone else.
-after marriage, you are to do it regularly.
-after marraige, don’t talk about it.

I think one of the reasons that we’re so afraid to talk about sex is because we’re all so worried about appearing judgmental. We live in a post-sexual revolution age. Sex isn’t something to be judged (or more precisely, we don’t want to be judged as closed-minded or provincial). Another reason is because we hide behind decorum. It’s not polite to talk about bedroom matters. What goes on in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom, between those in the bedroom. We forget that there is a communal aspect to our sexuality.

[As a side note: don’t misunderstand me – sex has a public dimension, but it is still personal. I don’t need to hear how and what you’re doing. Or where. Believe me, most of you I don’t even want to imagine naked, much less having sex.]

It goes back to the fact that we say that we want community, but community also means sharing your life, opening it to possible (and hopefully, loving) rebuke. Community means people “intruding” on your life and generally being all up in your Kool Aid. As an example, I will tell you that community saved my marriage.

The first six months of our marriage were especially rocky (you can’t begin to imagine the joy of living with me). I was all over the place, still wishing to be single, not sure what I had gotten myself into, holdover feelings from previous relationships. My various vacillations wore on my wife to such a degree that the word “divorce” popped up on more than one occasion and before long, pretty frequently. However, we were a part of community. Community is one of the points of “church” weddings: swearing before God and community, asking both to hold you in account. The same community we invited to witness our wedding ceremony and the same community that we swore our vows before. Community meant that friends* were in my business, challenging me, encouraging me to remove my head from my rectum. Friends held us together until we (read: me) figured things out.

All this to say that the church has a role to play in talking about sex, but that first means that the church has to begin to say something. In a lot of ways, we don’t know what we want to communicate much less how. The church has been more about what not to do and less why (beyond unclear teachings about what the Bible says we ought to not do). The church is how we speak to one another and how we teach one another. We need to not be so silent … and also have something to fill the silence with.

Next up: what the Bible has to say on the topic (read: let’s look for loopholes!)

*The key word being friends. Also the key to avoiding feeling/being “judging.” If you are going to speak into my life, you have to have a relationship with me. More than an “I recognize your face/I know your name” relationship. We have to have lived life together. Shared times. Then you’ve earned the right to speak into my life.

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