Sexuality & Holy Longing – 2

Chapter two of Lisa McMinn’s book, Sexuality and Holy Longing, is titled “Adolescence: Awakening and Choices.” In it she discusses our cultural understanding of sex before the 1960s and after the sexual revolution of the 1970s. She discusses “postrevolution morals” in which sex “as biology” and sex “as personal choice” are the primary emphases. McMinn then turns to a Christian perspective and unpacks the consequences of sex and focuses on the tendency today to confuse love and sex and to focus narrowly on the pleasure of sex.

 

After a discussion of pregnancy, STIs and abstinence, McMinn considers what it means to aspire to more. In the section on abstinence, she shares the following:

 

We can tell our adolescents that sex outside of marriage is a sin and inside of marriage a gift. We can show them pictures of lesions, boils, and warts. We can give them numbers about infertility and cervical cancer. But unless we help them embrace the beauty and sacredness of the image of God within them, encouraging meaningful engagement with others through bodies that are sensual and sexually alive and awake, we stop short. [pp. 52-53]

 

For reflection: What are some ways in which the church might help in the area of education and prevention? What challenges exist in implementing the vision McMinn’s articulates? 

12 Comments

  1. personally, I found that when adults are able to connect with the teenagers and not be ashamed of taboo topics, but speak it like it is… education to teenagers becomes easier, because the teenagers can relate to people who treat them like adults (not a totally top-down approach), yet giving them space as children to understand something new.

    Respect is something I think about when talking to the adolescent.

  2. I think one way the church stops short of the vision that McMinn describes is the unwillingness to admit that there is little difference in the activities of the sin out of marriage and gift inside of marriage. There is a gap there that many churches simply chose to ignore. In my experience, sex has been reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts with many activities not on the list. This reduces many Christian adolescent to naive individuals who go into the ‘real world’ without a clear understanding of sex. I would like churches to admit that there are activities not mentioned in the Bible and encourage open discussions between parents and their children or at least within the church about these unmentioned topics. Churches may enable prevention if they were more honest about what the Bible says and how the Bible does not clearly answer every question an individual may face. I wish I had been more prepared to encounter so many people who did not hold sex as sacred… but was that the church’s job?

  3. I agree with Sharayah about how the church has responded. There has been a lot of confusion in my generation (particularly those within the church) on what is the right perspective of sexuality. There is a lot of emphasis on the negative; you cannot do this, that is wrong, that kind of behavior is sinful, etc. We desperately long to know why we have these sexual and emotional feelings as single teenagers or young adults, knowing we are currently not ready for marriage (and the questions become more complex and bewildering if one is like me struggling with same-sex attraction). We often feel ignored by our churches. It is so sad to see reports from The Barna Group that reveals many evangelical teens are engaging in premarital sex.
    I was greatly blessed to read Joshua Harris’ book Not Even a Hint and Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Marriage. Both of them gave me a greater vision of sexuality within a Biblical framework. It is exciting to embrace a theology of sexuality; to know God designed it and He blesses sexuality within marriage. I think if done with discernment, a study on these types of books among youth groups would be very effective.

  4. I agree with the idea that we have to move beyond negative messages and try to cast a vision for sexuality and sexual expression. I haven’t read Joshua Harris’ book, but I have read Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Marriage, and agree that it does provide a greater, more substantive vision for sexuality.

  5. I have to confess to writing and rewriting this post several times because I can’t seem to find a way of summarizing the various thoughts this topics provokes for me. Overall, I think that the church needs to re examine their concept of humanity and sexuality and how these relate. I have been truly enjoying Rob Bell’s book, “Sex God.” I think that he takes a good look at what it means to be both sexual, human, and spiritual. Even though I have been fairly open about examining and discussing sexuality, this idea of humanity entering the picture was truly a new concept for me. This tells me that perhaps I was reading the wrong books or asking the wrong people, or that I was not alone in this blindness of sexual humanity. Also, it seems that promoting more humanity will detract from the shame which the church has so successfully instilled in the conservative culture. With the element of shame, sexual relationships, even inside of marriage, cannot be truly embraced to the fullest potential.
    Although we intermittently touch on the subject with the youth group which my husband and I lead, I am very much looking forward to examining these concepts in depth with them in the future. I think one of the reasons I have not plunged head first into the topic yet is because I have yet to resolve my own understanding of human sexuality. Although I know I will never fully solidify my view, I would like to arrive at a solid point from which I may begin to evolve and aid youth to do the same.

    Overall, trainings, seminars, small groups, and sermons addressing this topic IN DEPTH would all be refreshing and helpful in moving toward a more holistic view of human sexuality.

  6. Growing up in my church community (Catholic) I cannot recall one instance in which sexuality was discussed. I’m not sure if this is typical, but it seems very possible that sexuality is a taboo subject in many churches, and mention of it may be limited to not having sex before marriage, or not commiting adultry. Churches definately need a broader base of moral sexual education, and to some extent churches need to accept the fact that young people are having pre-marital sex in order to dialogue with them effectively. Of course it’s good to promote abstinence from a Biblical standpoint, but the reason’s for this must be more fully fleshed out in teachings, and I think there must be room for appropriate challenges to this doctrine in order to encourage a full discussion.

    Also, consider how sexually active teens may respond to a strict doctrine of abstinence coming from their church. Perhaps they will just brush this teaching off as the church being out-of-touch, and engage a more personally selective theology (which can be both a good and a bad thing), or perhaps their feelings of guilt and shame will cause them to devalue themselves and lead to emotional problems as they find it too difficult to resist their urges. Perhaps a strict church doctrine on sex will push some young people away from their faith if they have trouble reconciling that with what they have been lead to believe by popular culture. In my opinion that is the greatest risk of a strict theology; it can alienate people from the church and subsequently their faith. It is far better to have imperfect people in communion with God than to try and perfect people at the risk of alienating them from God.

  7. Boy, I really resonated with the “scare tactic” approach mentioned in Dr. Y’s original post. Sex ed in my church focused on what NOT to do, and punctuated these messages with lots of education on the dire consequences of engaging in sexual activity before marriage. Unfortunately, they really only told us about the physical consequences such as STI’s and unwanted pregnancy. What about the emotional implications of engaging in a sexual relationship outside of marriage? I wish we had been better prepared with an understanding of sexuality and how our existence as sexual beings fits in with the rest of our personhood. Sexual relationships affect us deeply whether we realize it or not. The church needs to be more honest with youth about the good and the bad of sexuality. It seems like the church presents the negative aspects of sex in order to scare youth away from it. However, the church needs to get over its embarrassment about the topic and also needs to trust its youth to make intelligent decisions once they are fully informed. It’s as though the church thinks saying anything good about sex will encourage youth to start experimenting. I know that if I had been more educated about the role that sexuality plays in a healthy marriage, and the fullness of what it means, I would probably have made some very different decisions. Many churches have great youth pastors who really connect with the kids – they need to use these relationships to their advantage in speaking about sex. Get someone in there that the kids respect and can relate to, and have them be honest about a full view of sexuality. That’s my “simple” answer, anyway.

  8. I think that the church has an important role to play in the education of its members on sex and sexuality, but I also believe that, perhaps more important than the church are parents. I believe that the church needs to educate parents on how to teach and model good behavior to their children. As we know, it is not good enough to say that sex is bad until you get married then it is good. This overly simplistic message may work for prepubescent girls who think that boys are gross anyway, but as they begin to grow and mature and explore their own sexuality, it leaves many questions unanswered. As someone once said to me, “sex is a physical need, like the need to eat. How is my fulfilling that need wrong?” Many parents are not prepared to answer a question like that without saying “because I said so.” These questions that go unanswered or partly answered by parents often lead individuals to seek out answers elsewhere, and in a society that says that physical needs and wants are to be fulfilled, they find the church’s (seemingly) overly simplistic answers lacking. Parents should attempt to create an atmosphere in the home that welcomes discussion about religious and moral issues. Children and adolescents are probably less likely to reject the teachings of the church out of hand, if they are taught by their parents how to go about seeking answers to their question.

  9. The church has a unique opportunity to provide education, prevention, and spiritual integration that public sources do not have. In the church I think that it is important to offer information about the sacredness of sexuality along with teaching their self-worth in Christ. In addition to educating the adolescents, it is also important to educate the parents in order to gain their support in prevention and education. Mentors and positive role models are also crucial to support the adolescent through this stage while providing opportunities for adolescents to ask questions.

    Some challenges that may exist with McMinn’s ideas may include differing perspectives in the church on sexuality, sexual education, and the church’s role. Since adolescents are minors there are challenges with discussing potentially controversial topics when a parent may not share the same view or have differing views on discussion of sexuality with their children.

  10. I would like to see the model of good old fashioned mentoring as the best way to impart holistically healthy sexual education. I feel the best way to truly speak into the lives of adolescents is to recognize the need for continual relationship over time. Older spiritual mothers (for girls) and spiritual fathers (for boys) being able to impart the wisdom they’ve gained, into the next generation (I think) should be done as much in the context of meaningful relationship & less in the format of one-shot education programs. I like the positive paradigm McMinn uses & I’d really like to see that incorporated into the adolescent sexual experience of psychosexual education.

  11. Sex has been used for various purposes depending on the context used, the culture involved, and the set of attitudes and beliefs held. Some uses of sex include power, spiritual growth, and procreation. The view on sex as sinful for Christianity is when engaged before marriage. Such views have influenced the way in which sex is practiced in a society. Also due to the covering of Adam and Eve, nakedness associated with sex became shameful.
    Television influences have continued to play a major role in sexuality. The level of sexual exposure in TV shows and advertisements today is vastly different from those as recent as five years ago. The exposure of people in the society to sex has increased and has influenced their sexual attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. The internet is another important source where individuals go to obtain resources for their sexual lifestyles. The impact of the internet on sexuality has grown rapidly. The internet has provided a refuge for sexual predators that are able to use the secrecy of the internet to exploit children and exercise personal choices. It has contributed to the increase in extramarital affairs through the easy access of pornography and sites used for cyber-sex. The internet provides quick access to materials relating to sexuality and children and adolescents today are exposure earlier to sex than in the past. The internet has also contributed to the continual viewing of women as sex objects that are available to pleasure and to satisfy men’s sexual urges.
    In terms of evaluating sexual behavior, the use of internet provides a way to conduct research because as much as the media portrays sex with such freedom, individuals still shy away from discussing sexual issues. Therefore, research conducted via the internet can be a help to collect data from a vast and diverse population on sexual behaviors. With this information, the church can decide to provide tools based on the reality of sexuality in our society. By accepting that it is a natural response to pleasure. With this view point, the church can move from being judgmental and offering the kind of hope and education that is required to help put an end to sexual diseases and mental health issues that arise from a view that sex is dirty and the natural feelings experienced should be ignored.

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