As a teenager, I often felt that sex was bad. Even though my parents never told me this, I felt that thinking, talking, or joking about sex was wrong. I felt that any mention of it was too dirty for me to hear.
I knew that sex was good and made by God. The church–that is, my church and upbringing–taught me this. And I knew that sex could be destructive in the wrong contexts–the church taught me this, too. But I also believed, subconsciously maybe, that sex was vulgar, repulsive, and for “bad” people.
The church did not teach me this.
Rather, I actually believe that popular songs and sitcoms taught me this. Because songs talk about sex like a drug, and sitcoms talk about it like it’s a joke. Not all of the media gets it wrong, but what I have seen is a concentration of stories that either glamorize sex into something it’s not or degrade it into something it’s not.
I was lucky enough to go to a church that did discuss sex at times, and sometimes this came with backlash from parents who didn’t want their kids to hear about it. But I welcomed those times because of the opportunity to hear a truer perspective that was neither glamorous nor degrading, but pure, beautiful, yet flawed by human nature.
Unfortunately, this voice of the church was still losing the fight with the media, and I still had mixed messages. I can still see the effects that the association of sex with shame has had on several generations of Christians. Because of shame, we feel that we can’t talk about it even when it has caused severe damage in our lives. We can’t talk about our temptations, or fears, or our past. Instead, that becomes a separate part of ourselves, and we can begin to live two lives with constant fear of being found out.
In some Christian circles, talking about sex is off limits unless you are either talking about how evil it is or how sacred it is. Either way, it can become an abstract conversation, and teens and young adults must go to friends, television, or the internet to learn anything concrete.
But if we don’t talk about sex in church, we will hear about it on television, at school or work, or the on internet. We will see men and women being objectified, hear vulgar sexual jokes, or listen to songs that glorify sex. All over the media is the message that it is normal to be obsessed with sex and our identities within it.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes that this obsession is not normal at all by comparing it to food: “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”
Our culture has elevated sex into something to revolve our lives and identities around. If the church does not have a counter-conversation, then the truth may be drowned out.
When we talk about sex as bad, we more deeply ingrain the idea that it is objectifying and vulgar, and we associate it with only shame. When we describe it only as sacred and private, we gloss the idol in gold, as if it were the communion bread that was sacred and not the remembrance.
But even the sacraments must be discussed. We plan what kind of bread to offer, how many servers are needed, whether to serve wine or grape juice, when to take communion and in what context, etc. Talking about these things does not defile the sacredness of communion but helps us experience it in the best way.
Burying the conversation about sex in the Church can either degrade sex into a temptation or sin, or it can elevate it until it becomes an idol. All the while, the silence of the Church is amplifying the voice of the media.
We need to raise up a healthier conversation about sex that counters that of the media, not just through sermons but through everyday conversation with those close to us. I’m not saying that privacy isn’t important, or that we need to talk about our individual sex lives and spouses with the lady at the check-out counter, but we can talk about it with others in healthy ways that remind us of its naturalness and goodness.
We can talk about how–just like prayer, baptism, and communion–sex is not an end in itself but a means to deepen a relationship and reflect God’s love. We can talk about how sex can be sacred and fun, awkward, or “just okay.” We can talk about how it is something we do and not something we are.
We can talk about it as it was intended to be and not obsess over what society has made it–an idol that can give us no true satisfaction in itself. We can talk about how sex is too sacred to do casually or as something purely physical–while also addressing its physical aspects and how sacredness does not equate stoicism.
Maybe we can even joke about it at times–not because it’s not sacred but because it’s also human.
We can even talk about how purity is not something we achieve but something given to us through Christ’s forgiveness, and how the purest body can carry an impure mind, or how an impure body can carry a pure mind and soul.
We can show grace and love in the same the way that Jesus showed grace to the woman caught in adultery in John 8, when he said, “I do not condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”