Christian Sex

This essay was written by my friend Oscar. It is not my own opinion, indeed my basic premises are very different, since I personally (like many people) do not believe that sex before marriage is wrong, nor that the bible is a document to be interpreted literally. Nevertheless I think that it is very well written, and displays an open, honest, and above all deeply rational point of view, given its basic assumptions. Sexuality is in many (all?) cultures of our society not adequately addressed, so that something with the capability to bring great joy is often allowed to bring instead tremendous grief even leading to tragic consequences. Especially with young people. Although this applies in particular to Christianity – which is the area Oscar addresses – this essay should be of interest to non-Christians as well as to Christians. (Indeed it should help non-Christians or liberal Christians to better understand the way vital issues might be sincerely and seriously addressed by bible-based Christian young people).

“Christian Sex

From the title, you might think I’m going to write suggestions about how Christians should have sex. If you do, I’m sorry to disappoint you; that’s not my intention. Preference between missionary, anal, oral or other positions are things I leave totally up to the married couple. That’s, after all, a private matter. What I want to talk about is related, but goes much deeper than anatomy, and applies to everyone, not just married people lucky to have each other. I titled this essay “Christian sex” because I’m writing primarily to Christians from what I see as a Christian point of view, and because I am writing about sexual things, which I see as much more than just intercourse. My intention with this essay is to liberate people, particularly young unmarried Christians, from confusion and guilt concerning all the sexual gifts God has given us. That probably sounds like an ambitious goal, and you may finish with this essay angry, confused, slightly humored or just in general un-enlightened instead of inspired and liberated. I wouldn’t blame you if you do. But hopefully the fact that I’m writing about sex will keep you reading till the end, and if I know what I’m writing about you might pick up a few new perspectives too.

Bear with me when I, before actually getting started, want to make some things clear about myself. Even though I’m writing on sex and want to advocate being “liberated” about it, I am still not a theological liberal. I am not advocating sexual intercourse before marriage, or taking a relativistic stance towards scripture. I consider myself a Christian belonging to the conservative side theologically, and I’m not about to part from that position. If you’re interested, I have conservative views both on abortion and gay marriage (not that that’s necessarily relevant to this discussion). Keep especially in mind that I’m a single male, aged 23, who has been in relationships before – these things probably affect my argument enormously.

Young people, especially Christians, struggle more with sexuality than almost anything else (I did and am therefore making this assumption). Young Christians, like other people, have strong sexual urges, but, unlike other people, we don’t necessarily have any ways to deal with them. We try denial, but since being sexual is part of our nature, that will never really work very well. We are frequently told that sexuality is a gift from God, but that doesn’t us help very much either when we can only apply this gift after getting married. It seems like sex starts to be a gift when we’re married, but before that it’s a real curse and cause for embarrassment. But is that really how God intended it?

Concerning the “embarrassment” part, let me share some of my own experience. Because sex was never talked about too much in my youth group, I remember frequently feeling like the most sexual person and the one with the dirtiest mind in my Christian social circle. In high school I would often condemn myself to depthless guilt, based on things ranging from as small as wanting secretly to undress girls I met in class, to more serious things like spending hours watching porn on the internet (by the way, Christians struggle much more with porn addiction than non-Christians do). In addition, I wouldn’t know how to even approach girls at all; I would feel embarrassed just meeting them. My resulting lack of self-esteem in this area contributed to moderate depression during some of my teenage years. However, I felt much too embarrassed to talk about this with friends, and tried to solve the sex problem by simply not thinking about it instead.

Having gone to non-religious schools in Norway’s liberal society, I have received my share of sex education. But I never let what I learned really apply to my own life, partly because as a Christian I didn’t understand why I had to learn it – I felt it wasn’t applicable to me. In addition, I was that person in the class who blushed all the time when sex was the topic (I still do, just ask that Chinese teacher of mine who loves to analyze explicit texts on love in our literature class). In other words, I hated it. Mostly relevant to this essay, though, is the fact that I needed to learn about attitudes on sex from Christian figures, people I could trust in without feeling embarrassed. Only these people could really help me, for only they could appreciate how relevant concepts of sin and righteousness were to these issues for me. Those were certainly no things my teachers ever touched upon.

It is a sad fact that sex is not treated like it should be in many Christian circles. It’s not necessarily that it’s not talked about, although that is frequently a huge problem too. When it is talked about, it is often described as a wonderful gift but actually treated more like the most dangerous thing in the whole world. I imagine many youth pastors, knowing full well that the people they are talking to are not married yet, have real trouble finding out how to approach this topic. It’s not like they can – without getting in significant trouble with the board of elders – say that sex is a gift and therefore free for all. On the other hand, they know well how difficult it is to be a teenager filled with inconvenient hormones. The problem, as I see it, is therefore often not a lack of willingness to approach the issue, but rather the substance of what is actually taught.

Now I get to the primary point in my essay: I believe a lot of the traditional Christian interpretation of what the Bible says on sexuality before marriage is misguided and way too strict. For instance, masturbation is often seen as a sin, when it is not at all clear that it is so in the Bible. The 7th commandment tells us not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), and Jesus reemphasizes this point several times, for instance when he talks against divorce (e.g. Matthew 5:32). These are principles which do not, in my view, necessarily relate to things like masturbation. In fact, connecting adultery and sexual self-stimulation is a very speculative jump indeed.

A passage sometimes quoted to justify that masturbation is a sin is the story about Onan in Genesis 38. Onan is told by the Lord’s servant Judah that he is to sleep with a certain woman, in order to provide an offspring for her. But when he sleeps with her, he intentionally “spilled his semen” (i.e. masturbated) so that there would be no offspring. This was wicked in the Lord’s sight and he was actually struck dead as punishment.

The reason Onan’s actions were wicked, however, was not that he masturbated. What is actually emphasized is that he is given a specific command but tries to cheat his way out of it. Perhaps Judah never found out that he intentionally failed his command, but the Lord knew. From this text I derive the following meaning: Directly breaking a specific command to action you agree to do, in other words failing to be true to your word, is something God dislikes. But that does not have anything to do with masturbation – indeed, nowhere does the text imply that masturbation is wrong.

The story of Onan is as far as I know the only passage in the Bible with a direct reference to masturbation (if there are others, please let me know). When it is not clear from this story that masturbation is a sin – in fact the text is not about masturbation at all – it is in the very least speculative to teach this.

A Christian friend of mine told me that he once asked a youth pastor if it’s ok to masturbate. “Yes, if you’re thinking about a brick,” was the somewhat ironic answer he got back. I respect that youth pastor saying something more than just no, but I don’t think this answer is helpful enough either. In that situation, “Yes, if you’re not watching porn” would be a better alternative (having said that; let’s leave the whole porn discussion for another time). After all, nobody wanting to masturbate would be thinking about bricks. We all know what we like to think about instead in this situation, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything sinful in those thoughts. There can be, sure, but I think it’s often simply a matter of “know thyself” to spot the difference. If thee so does, thee will be able to make the distinction.

Concerning lustful thoughts in general, I’d like to quote a short passage from Song of Songs. That is a book basically filled with erotic love poetry, and it’s in the Bible(!). The first few verses are written from a female narrative (Song of Songs 1:2-4):

2Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine,

3Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; Your name is like perfume poured out! No wonder the young women love you!

4Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king (i.e. the lover) bring me into his chambers.

Is this not about sex? Of course it is. Or if you prefer to use another word; it’s about love. For (romantic) love is sexual. Noone will ever claim that you must wait with love until you get married, but people tend to separate love and sex even where they are inherently united. Now I’m not about to promote sexual intercourse before marriage – that would probably go against the 7th commandment. But sex is much more than just intercourse, and couples are free, I think, to explore and enjoy these other areas before marriage. In fact, if you think about all the sexual things that you can do apart from actual intercourse, I’m sure you’ll find there’s quite a lot to choose from.

My final point in this essay is that Christians are freed from the need to have rules for everything. We live under grace, not under the law (Romans 6:11-14). Moreover, God wants us to live in the Spirit, not in sin leading to destructive guilt. Humans need rules, but often humans make a lot more rules than are really necessary. And as Paul explains well in Romans, rules have the tendency to bring about sin, while what God actually intends for us is something completely different. He wants us to be free in every sense of the word, including sexually free. That is really difficult to accomplish in practice, but not kicking yourself to death for wanting to masturbate is definitely a start. If you don’t know where the limit actually goes, try being relaxed about it, for only then will you really get to know yourself and the nature of your desires.

To conclude, I promote for Christians a more relaxed, though still scripture-based, approach towards sex than the one most prevalent today. Particularly, many unmarried Christians, both single people and those in relationships, can benefit by being less strict on themselves regarding sexuality. There are rules we should follow, notably the 7th commandment, but others are regulations we have put on ourselves which neither have any clear scriptural foundation nor any real benefit. Masturbation, I think, is not a sin, and neither are many of the thoughts in our heads we tend to see as such. Moreover, God ultimately does not want us to live under the law, but under grace and in the Spirit, and freeing ourselves from humanly imposed regulations on sexuality can help many people in this process.

Feel free to comment on this essay!!

Written in early October 09”

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