Being 'hung up' about sex isn't so horrible

This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  A direct link requires a subscription, so I reprinted it here.


Being ‘hung up’ about sex isn’t so horrible

One of the chief objections to Christianity is that it meddles in people’s personal lives. This is a curious objection, in some ways. Christianity has fairly little to say about food or drink, except to advocate moderation. And very little to say about clothing, except that modesty is appropriate. It’s silent on computers and automobiles. And it generally advocates discipline couched in love where children are concerned.

What its detractors mean often comes down to this: ‘Christianity has something to say about sex, and we don’t like it one bit.’ Typically, one hears that Christians are prudes and spoiled-sports, ranging across the earth, shutting down sexual pleasure wherever we locate it. Of course, higher birth rates among evangelical Protestants and Catholics seem to suggest either a staggering number of virgin births, or a tendency to, well, you know.

If we’re hung up on sex as Christians, we’re certainly no more so than a world filled with sexual images and activities. However, I think the world at large is less ‘hung-up’ than heedless and selfish when it comes to the thing it seems to value above all else.

I could delve into STD’s and their terrible effects. But I think on some level few people really care. It’s like your parents telling you about terrible car crash injuries when you drive. ‘Sure, but not me!’

However, there’s more than STD’s to show us why we should be more careful in our valuation of sex. I read an article online recently. It was an advice column for young singles. A woman wrote about her concern that a young man whom she had met (and promptly taken to bed), had not called her for several days after their initial meeting . The columnist was aghast that she was so uptight. As if, after sleeping together, she shouldn’t expect anything at all in terms of connection. Sex as a kind of post-modern handshake.

Not surprising. The idea that one can simply have a casual, sexual relationship with no emotional connection or support is a common theme in movies and television. Actress Mila Kunis, of the movie ‘Friends with Benefits,’ was asked if she thought such a relationship was possible. Her answer was insightful: ‘It’s like communism; good in theory, but in execution it fails.’

Despite the ‘theory’ society clings to, there has been fascinating research on the emotional and chemical connections that result from sex. Still, our society continues to treat it as a thing with no repercussion and precious little value.

I agree that the Church down the ages has sometimes done a poor job teaching about sex and sexuality. Many young people were taught nothing at all about sex, except that it was wicked. That was to their detriment and the shame of their parents and clergy. Odd teaching, since the Bible is full of sex, and not just warnings about it.

But far worse, the world at large was, and is, mindless about sex. If the church is too careful, it is only because sex is too important to be handled poorly. Sex not only produces us, as it were. It connects us. It not only connects us, it chemically addicts us to one another for good reasons.

Sex is a thing of enormous power. It has brought down kingdoms (and governorships, more close to home). It has united powerful families. Sex has caused murders and assassinations, sealed marriages and ended them. It has led to children and to the murder of children through abortion. It has given us literature and sculpture, both elevated and base. It has given us beautiful love stories and terrible song lyrics.

But it is no trifle. If the Church has been ‘hung up,’ the world has been reckless and irresponsible The Church has at least tried to teach us that sex has consequences more grave and wonderful than the physical, while the world has tried to teach us that it is a worthless thing, devalued and diminished once the conquest and pleasure have passed.

Some may call this right-wing, conservative clap-trap. But an epidemic of depression and anxiety in young men and women testify to the pain of connections made and broken. The markers of the dead, lost to HIV, also disagree. And generations of young, poor children with no fathers and scarcely any mothers all testify to the misuse and abuse of one of the most wonderful, and powerful, forces in the world.

Maybe it’s not so bad to be ‘hung-up’ after all.

36 thoughts on “Being 'hung up' about sex isn't so horrible

  1. You have stated in the best of terms and language my feelings about sex after 6 decades of wandering within the Catholic church.
    May the grace of our creator whichever form they take shine upon you and that which you write.
    May those who might disagree with you open their ears and hear that there are many voices which scream their views in the cacophony of many lives.

  2. Harry, “Puritans” were quite enthusiastic about sex…within marriage. If you are looking for a word to disparage sex in any circumstance, try “feminist”.

  3. Sorry Harry, while the Puritans certainly can be called on any number of things sex isn’t one of them. The term you are looking for is Victorians.

  4. Being Christian (LCMS), I’ve heard this supposed “the Christian church is anti-sex” spiel from non-Christian friends and acquaintances before.

    My reading of Scripture is that, as long as you’re married and monogamous, and everything is agreeable to both partners, then, have fun.

    Mrs C and I sure do.

    And, likewise, I have yet to see any historical examples of planetary devasatation arising from “sexual hang-ups”.

  5. I think you mean: And it generally advocates *love* couched in discipline where children are concerned.

    –couch v. couched, couch·ing, couch·es. –tr. To word in a certain manner; phrase: couched their protests in diplomatic language.

  6. The Church errs in its “one size fits all” approach. As with any large organization it targets it rules to the center of the target population. Those on the distribution extremes will forever be sinners. No matter how successful their adaptation to their personal needs.

  7. Sorry, Simon.

    The Catholic Church does not err in its one size fits all approach. The fact is, we are meant to have one partner (of the opposite gender) for life. That partnership should be blessed by the church of your denomination. The temptations for other sexual partnerings, are wrong. They are bad for you no matter what.

    Any good thing can be abused and mistreated and become harmful. Even water, if you drink enough of it, will kill. Even food, if too much is eaten, will make you feel bad, and lead to bad health consequences. No one makes the statement that if someone wants to eat five pounds of chili cheese fries every day, that that is natural and good for them. But for sex, people do make that same argument.

  8. Contrary to what you may think about them, the Puritans regarded sex as non-negotiable within marriage. They once excommunicated a man for NOT having sex with his wife.

  9. Yeah, the Bible doesn’t have a lot of hang-ups about sex. I don’t get where you all get the idea that it sanctions ONE wife. Or even sex only within marriage. There is a rather large loophole for raping virgins, see Numbers 31:

    31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
    31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
    31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
    31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

  10. Of course, if you deal with all the loudmouths in our decadent culture at all, you soon come to realize that being “hung up” on sex just means you’re not going for it every time it’s offered. The “open-minded” anything-goes free sex crowd sure are narrow-minded toward those of us who advocate the virtue of abstinence.

    As to the church’s reputation over the centuries, I’d say the church’s problem isn’t that it’s been so gung-ho in promoting abstinence as that it’s been so apathetic in promoting marriage. It’s only teaching half of the sexual virtues: abstinence is indeed a virtue, but it’s one of the more passive ones. Abstinence comes to about a five-minute lesson: “Don’t fool around. Don’t even think of fooling around. If anything you’re doing with your sweetheart is making you think of fooling around, stop doing that.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Marriage, on the other hand, is the one active virtue I’ve almost never heard preached and taught in church. I don’t remember, in all my years as a teenager, having had so much as one lesson on how to attract a mate, how to get her to marry me, and where to find encouragement and support for this whole process. I’ve never seen the church be so passive on any of the other virtues; just think how absurd it would be if it tried to teach, for instance, the virtues of charity just by repeating over and over “Don’t oppress the poor. Don’t make their lives any worse than they are already. Don’t even think of making fun of them.” Uh, yeah: oppressing the poor is bad. We get it. Really. Can we talk about maybe putting some food on their tables and helping them make some money?

    Yet I’ve often gotten a downright hostile response when I dare point out how my fellow Christians are subtly encouraging their kids to misbehave and discouraging marriage by neglecting advocacy for the more active part of sexual virtue. I always have to start with a bit of a disclaimer that by calling for being more actively virtuous sexually, I’m not advocating promiscuity or homosexuality or any other libertine agenda, and even then some do-gooding self-righteous busybody insists on making all these accusations anyway.

    Another discouraging response I hear quite often is that parents say they’re afraid if they start teaching their teenagers about the virtues of marriage, they’ll go rushing into marriage too soon. Why oh why are people always trying to solve the wrong problem? Hasn’t anybody noticed the real problem these days is that the youngsters are getting married too late or not at all? A lot of this generation has been waiting for the “right time” to get married into the thirties and later! Does anyone really believe those aging youngsters been putting off having sex in the meantime?

    In our society, due to (among other things) improved nutrition, the children start maturing physically and their sex drive starts awakening right around the age of thirteen. Naturally, we tend to agree they’re still too young and inexperienced to be getting married at that age, although in the rough-and-tumble societies of past centuries, a lot of thirteen-year-olds would actually have been ready for marriage. (Being able to make your own tools, raise your own crops, trap and kill and devour wild animals, and do your own cooking gives you a great advantage in preparing your own marriage as well.) Teaching abstinence at this time makes sense, as we can certainly make the case that they’re young and there’s still so much they don’t understand about life and they need more education before they get involved with anything so complicated as sex and marriage.

    However, while teaching them to abstain for now, we should also start telling them that the right time to get married is no later than their late teens and early twenties. Insisting that they’re still “too young for that” as you’re sending them off to college (or work, or even war) is not going to be very persuasive. Another problem is that even if they aren’t math prodigies, thirteen-year-olds can figure out that a marriage in their mid-twenties, let alone in their thirties, is a whole second lifetime of theirs away; that’s a terribly long time to have to wait! Even without our wretched culture bombarding our youth with sexual come-ons, no one really has any excuse for wondering why the kids are getting impatient.

    Meanwhile, though virtually all the outrage I hear from various churches and family values advocates is over teen pregnancy and promiscuity, the fact remains that it’s the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who are out partying and looking at porn and getting the majority of new STD infections, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and abortions. Study after study shows that young never-married singles are one of the most miserable, underpaid, and ill-treated demographics in the USA. Even divorced people are happier! (My hypothesis about this is that they’re happier because while they know full well what they’re no longer getting, most of them are ready to try for another marriage; even if they’re not, they’ve also learned from experience that sex is a bit overrated.)

    On the whole, I’m convinced the source of a lot of our trouble these days is that families and churches have all been focused for far too long on abstinence and keeping our youngsters from getting married too soon while completely neglecting to teach them the active virtues of matrimony and marital sex. It’s as though we’re in the middle of a catastrophic flood and everyone is rushing around with fire extinguishers while the lifeboats sit empty and neglected at the dock.

    • An outstanding point! We act, even in the church, as if marriage is a terrible danger; only less dangerous than fornication for the young! We should be, as you say, encouraging our young people to find mates earlier, and at the same time equipping them with the attitudes, skills and theology necessary to make marriage work. Oh, and we must teach them to abandon that old ‘only one person in the world is right for me’ mantra. While not everyone is right, quite a few are. Well said!

  11. M. Simon is a self-righteous, preening fool. Any time on his blog makes it clear he’s bitter and angry because some people actually have the nerve to think differently than he does. The unbelievable thing is that his blog partner actually still puts up with him.

  12. Pingback: Terrible Tuesday « Oddly Said

  13. Blake R.L. Coryn,

    Very, very good. I’ve been on something of the same kick for the same reasons.

    Its reasonable to ask for abstinence for a few years, which is what we used to do, and then marriage. Now we ask for abstinence for decades.

    Or there is the world’s solution–just sleep around with anyone mildly attractive.

    It does require some change of society when you have the much younger marrying.

    Perhaps Instapundits ‘higher ed bubble’ bursting will help solve this issue of how to change society so that this works.

  14. As ever, here comes a pervert sneering with hatred to wrench Bible passages out of context in order to smear Judeo-Christianity and make an argument from ignorance. The Old Testament did indeed provide for taking women as spoils of war, but it’s hardly “the loophole for raping virgins” he makes it out to be. Specifically, see Deuteronomy 21:10-14:

    10 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

    In other words, those Israelites in Numbers 31 could indeed have their way with the captive women… so long as they gave them a thorough cleansing, let them mourn their parents for a whole month, and then took them as wives. Then if they ever changed their minds, they had to let them go free. One often wonders how many men actually bothered to go through with this whole process, and how many just dumped them a few days into that whole cleansing ceremony and told them to go find somebody else to take care of them. (Being dumped that way would actually be kind of a hardship, considering that a woman out traveling by herself in those days would have been in a world of danger. Any woman recently released this way would most likely immediately go looking for another prospective husband among the Israelites.)

    This practice, of course, stands in stark contrast to the practices of every other culture on Earth at the time, where typically the victors in a war would immediately proceed to pass all of the captive women (virgins and otherwise) around from man to man until everybody was worn out from the gang rape orgy, whereupon the uglier women would mostly be either killed or sold into slavery while the prettier ones would be dragged off to the wealthier victors’ harems as somewhat higher-priced slaves. To put it mildly, I think the vast majority of women back then would have found Israel’s laws and practices a lot more to their liking.

    As for polygamy, it’s true I’ve nowhere seen it formally outlawed in the Bible. I do notice, however, that the New Testament states in 1 Corinthians 7:2 that “…since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” I notice it doesn’t mention any plural nouns anywhere in there. As even the pagans of the time were beginning to realize, why should a man want to divide his passion among so many?

    Polygamy in Old Testament times, much the same as in cultures where it’s still practiced today, was mostly done for practical rather than prurient reasons. With many young men getting killed off early in those violent times, a lot of women were going to be left without husbands unless they got to share one with somebody else. (This is why there’s an elaborate passage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 all but requiring a man to marry his brother’s widow if she’s childless, with no exceptions granted for already having a wife as he almost invariably would.)

    Of course, this is all mostly academic these days. Ask any bunch of married men how many of them would like to take a second wife (while making clear they still have to keep the first), and you’ll get very few takers. Meanwhile, polyandry is even less popular with the women and has never been commonly practiced in more than about two or three cultures on the whole planet. (There again, the driving concerns are wholly practical, with poverty-stricken men who have a shortage of available women teaming up to marry the one so that they can pool their meager resources together under one roof and give her children a decent inheritance. Most polyandrists would stick to monogamy if they could.)

    While polygamy is not technically outlawed in the Bible, therefore, one does have to ask modern-day polygamy advocates what could possibly be practically or spiritually preferable to men or women about a marriage which necessarily divides their affections. Aren’t we all striving for the deepest and most passionate kind of love in our sexual relationships? Why settle for second-best when the best is freely available?

  15. Tennwriter,

    I agree. It’s too bad the bursting of that bubble, whenever it comes, will be too late for my generation.

  16. When I was being brought up, what was said and what was practiced were totally different.

    I was a fool. I believed what my elders, those who I looked up to for moral guidance, taught me.

    I believed that when the marriage celebrant said “you may now kiss the bride”, that was permission to do it, and that normal people didn’t engage in that outside marriage. Sexual activity before then was forbidden.

    Many engaged in it of course, just as many shoplifted, or swore, or vandalised, but it wasn’t considered any more “socially acceptable” than robbing a bank.

    What gets me is the hypocrisy, the fundamental dishonesty practiced by every branch of christianity I’m aware of. What I can’t forgive them for is that they lied to me, those I trusted. I believed what they said, and in my naive innocence, practiced what they preached – without looking down on anyone who didn’t.

    They didn’t believe that anyone could actually fall for that claptrap. That’s obvious in hindsight, you were supposed to engage in sexual activity – from kissing onwards – just keep it hidden and discrete. You were supposed to live a lie, as did everyone else who wasn’t in with a “bad crowd” and did so openly and honestly.

    I genuinely believed that almost all girls, and the vast majority of boys, were virgins on their wedding night, even if they’d engaged in forbidden sexual activity before then. When my sister became pregnant, she was ejected from the family so her misbehaviour wouldn’t contaminate her young and impressionable sibling. I didn’t even know she was pregnant until many years later, when I next was allowed to see her.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you can take being “hung up” too far. I don’t just have “issues” as the result, I’ve had a lifetime subscription.

    • Anne, I know a woman who was pregnant as a young teen, and her step-father (her pastor) forced her to stand in front of the congregation whenever there were visitors, and apologize for her sin. While I do not believe that treatment is common, I believe that it is 1) non-scriptural and 2) reprehensible. There is a wide gulf between identifying sin and even condemning sin, and the act of embracing and loving the sinner. I believe that Jesus perfectly did both. He did not say to any sinner, ‘it’s OK, everyone does it,’ but He also ate with them, forgave them, loved them and ultimately offered them redemption in His death and resurrection.

  17. Engage much in the “I am the world” fallacy, Anne? Just because your family didn’t practice what it preached doesn’t mean what they preached was “claptrap” or that everyone who preaches it is a hypocrite. Your projection of your own family’s failings onto others to smear Christianity is despicable.

    The fundamental dishonesty of all the sexual libertines I’ve ever encountered is how they’re constantly engaging in a bandwagon approach and the naturalistic fallacy by insisting that everyone must be fooling around and anyone who isn’t doing so openly must be doing so secretly, so anyone who disagrees that any sexual practice whatsoever is to be openly practiced and affirmed must be a hypocrite.

    You speak disdainfully of living a lie, but that’s just what you’re doing right now in pretending this somehow justifies any of your attacks on Christianity and our doctrines of sexual restraint. Your self-pitying story elicits no sympathy from me; you’ve just identified yourself with every one of the bullies who used to oppress me at school when I was growing up, many of whom are now out there poisoning the minds of the next generation with their perversions.

    You couldn’t beat the bad crowd, so you joined them; and now you come praising them to us for being sincerely evil? There’s more hope for the hypocrites in your family than there is for you.

  18. From a secular perspective, this reads a lot like a really extended “I am rubber, you are glue” argument. I’m not sure how many secular people you actually know, but living in a large, liberal, urban area I can tell you that lots of secular people approach sex with a great deal of caution, not because of their fear of god’s judgement, but for a lot of the reasons you described — desire for a genuine connection, fear of STDs, etc. The reason people think conservative Christians are hung up about sex is not that you have opinions about sex, but that you think your opinions should matter to other people, and that everyone should approach sex the same way.

    Also, your statement about Christians being concerned about the dangers of STDs are pretty laughable, given the fact that that Christians with political influence oppose measures to minimize those dangers, like the HPV vaccine and AIDS treatments.

    • Tom, back at you. I live in a non-urban, conservative Christian area and I know lots of people concerned about HIV, about the well-being of homosexuals and willing to give their children the HPV vaccine;myself included, even though I’m a Southern Baptist.

      Furthermore, one of my best friends in the world is a brilliant atheist. I also think it’s odd that you think I want others to have my opinion; don’t you want me to have yours? It’s like judging someone for judging!

      Look, to the extent that the church tries to impose its will on others with cruelty and legalism, it’s wrong You, as a secularist, don’t play by my rules. But just as you’d like to see us play differently, we’d like to see the world view sex as a holy thing, not merely for fear of STDs but for the incredible thing it is. And we’d like to protect our kids, and our society, from the emotional and medical consequences of debasing it.

      I think we could agree on that, couldn’t we?


  19. A couple of things:

    -I don’t want you to have my opinion. I merely point out — and you seem to agree — that many of your co-religionists want to impose their beliefs on others through force of law, and that’s wrong. That’s the primary source of the belief that Christians have “hang-ups” about sex. You are welcome to view sex as a holy thing — whatever “holy” means to you. But some people are going to see it differently. The difference is that at the bedrock of

    – I find it biologically unlikely, to say nothing of other unlikelihoods, that you and I have children together. So I don’t want to protect “our” children from anything, since there are no such people. And I tend to think that society doesn’t need protection from things as much as things need protection from society. But that said, sure, I agree in principal that we — as individuals — should as best as we can prepare our kids to have sex in a manner and at a time that feels comfortable for them.

  20. Disregard the last sentence of the first point, it was a tangent I didn’t end up completing because it sounded really unproductive…

    • I agree; we are remarkably unlikely to have children together. However, when I speak of ‘our children,’ I mean the future of our nation and world. Surely this is no less hyperbole than those who want to protect the environment for ‘our future generations,’ of which you and I share none. Or those who want to ensure an education for ‘our children’ as a nation. As far as co-religionists, some may want to impose, by law their beliefs. Law is a moral activity; in saying theft is wrong, we impose a morality, whatever we consider its source. Secularists also want to impose their beliefs. Removing religious references in graduations, populated mostly by ‘religionists’ is just as much an imposition of beliefs as forcing prayer. Forcing a person to employ a person whose lifestyle is at odds with their beliefs is also an imposition, by law, of a belief system. We will all, likely, continue this tug-o-war until time ends. At least, in America, we can do it amicably and without violence or collective oppression.

  21. Re: monogamy, the first mention of marriage as instituted by God clearly called for monogamy — and indeed, for regarding said relationship as a sort of living unified organism. This was not a secret within Judaism, and all other marriage laws are regarded as a sort of add-on kludge.

    Jesus of Nazareth pointed out the original law fairly strongly. Seeing as how his followers regarded him as being God Himself, they sorta took this as a hint. Anything else is fairly clearly to be regarded as an add-on kludge.

  22. It was after I saw Star Wars Episode III opening night. I took a leak along side everyone else, but was kind of distracted, so when I went to wash my hands I just walked up to a running sink and stuck my hands in and rinsed really quick……moments later it registered why the water was running, some other dude was already standing there washing his hands. I cleaned mine over his and he just watched.I stopped turned around and just said Why the fuck did I just do that? I’m really sorry about that He just nodded and went back to cleaning his hands.

  23. These pseudo-liberals of our society must now realize that the world does not revolve around them. It was necessary to deliver justice to bring down their fever. These women decided their fate on their free will. Rest is all myths. So stop moaning and take the back alley.

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