As Samuel L. Jackson from The Boondocks once put it so eloquently, “There are known knowns and there are known unknowns, but there are also unknown unknowns, thangs that we don’t know we don’t know.” Sex, in Adventism, falls into all three of these categories. It’s surely a known known because, surprise, people do it. It’s also a known unknown, because of the air of mystery it provides, and the fact that everybody knows that nobody’s supposed to know about it, and it’s an unknown unknown because a large part of them have no idea what the hell they’re doing when they get to it.
Sex has always been a tense topic when it comes to religion, which is why it’s subject to a lot of euphemisms, one of the most popular being “God’s gift.” I’ve probably been to hundreds of sermons that told us about the dangers and evils of sex. Copies of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, a supposed return to the biblical values of courtship as opposed to the secular values of dating, floated around my adolescence. So here’s a psychological breakdown (partly personal and partly corporate) of how Christians tend to think about sex.
From very early on, we’re told that sex is a gift from God. It sounds fine at first, until you dig deeper. It is a gift from God…to be shared within the confines of a marriage…between a man and a woman…and depending on where you live, without anal sex…or if you’re a Catholic, without a condom…etc. Once they have been given permission to define your own sexuality for you, it leads to the definition of other things as well. Might I query:
Is it “pre-marital” sex if you never marry or intend to?
If sex is for the purpose of procreation only, shouldn’t barren women (even married) not be having it?
Lovingly married gay people shouldn’t have sex? Oh, so you meant that sex was a gift from God to STRAIGHT people? Got it.
And the two seconds that is spent talking about sex as a “gift from God” is then followed up by years of the most heavy-handed prohibitions against it. At the academy that I went to, boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the school buses when we went on trips, and holding hands could get you on something called “social”, which is short for “social probation.” It was a punishment where, for a specified amount of time (like 2-3 days) you couldn’t interact with your significant other except for in the most functional and necessary of ways. This included sitting at different tables in the cafeteria, avoiding eye contact in class, and having to send handwritten messages to each other through clandestine agents (our fellow students.)
This kind of setup can lead to disaster for students. The pressure and heat of abstinence (no pun intended) surely created some promiscuous diamonds in our midst. Kids who had virtually no freedom to express themselves in a vital, human way went after sex like a caged lion after a Christian in the Coliseum. These neuroses were handed us by our Christian education, and the damage that they did is not done.
When I was a Christian, I can remember actually not being sorry for having sex (imagine that), but then I did feel guilty about not feeling guilty. It’s a vicious circle of psychosis that is created when you lack the capacity to speak honestly about a topic. One solution for these abstractions, exaggerations, and misinformation of sex could probably be fixed with a good dose of straight talk.
At this point, I should direct you to a sentiment that I think carries great weight, and perhaps it’s the key to fixing some of the neuroses surrounding sex in Christian culture:
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
Because maybe, instead of being a gift from God, or the Devil’s attempt to lure you away from God, instead of it being the highest of highs, the holiest of holies, or anything more, maybe sex is just sex.
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Next time, we’ll tackle troubling motifs within Christian sex culture and Christian sex education!