Monday, June 11, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex Again

Because the awkward is never quite awkward enough for me...

Recently, I was directed to read an interesting article on RELEVANT magazine's website.  For those of you too lazy to read the article, I'll be kind enough to summarize.  Essentially, the article points out how studies have shown that 88% of unmarried young adults (ages 18-29) are having sex.  For Evangelicals in those categories, the numbers are not much different, coming in at 80%.  The rest of the article elaborates on the reasons abstinence is failing, and what Christians must do to address these issues, etc. etc.  Read it if your bored (and lets be honest, if you're reading this blog, you're pretty freaking bored.)

This article lead me to wonder "Why is our conversation on sex not working?" and its lead me to a rather simple conclusion:  We're not having one.  More often than not, the conversation isn't a conversation, its a lecture.  And a pitiable one at that.  Many critics and skeptics always love to point out the failures of abstinence-only education, and its no wonder why.  More often than not, when we tell a teen to be abstinent, it comes in the form of telling them what not to do (i.e. sex).  But then we never actually tell them what their supposed to do apart from not doing what their not supposed to do.  Our discussions on sex end up looking like the creepy gym teacher from "Mean Girls".   Or, if we're half-hearted about it, we'll bring in these hyped-up, high energy chastity speakers.  They'll wear a cool graphic t-shirt (usually vintage-esque, either of a rock band or brand of soft drink) and try their darnedest to look just like your average high-school student, to talk like your average high school student, to act like your average high school student, because that's exactly what you'll do if you're a good salesperson, you try to convince your audience that you are just like them in every way except you have the Product, which, in this case, happens to be a hyped-up presentation on why you ought not to have sex.

Now, I'm not trying to bash on the Christopher Wests and Jason/Crystalina Everts of the world, by all means, they're doing a good thing. On many people, this works.  It worked for me, I got the message, listened to the facts, bought into the message, and I'm all the happier for it.  However, according to RELEVANT's study, 88% of the kids aren't buying it.  They see the chastity speakers, or worse, the creepy sex ed teachers, and completely ignore them.  They know, despite the best efforts and the cool vintage "Orange Crush" t-shirt, that the chastity speaker is not a teenager, and thus is absolutely incapable of understanding the life and times of the modern teenager.  The chastity speaker (or the poor, lonely, government funded sex-ed teacher, while engaging, funny, well-informed, and good-intentioned, operates in a void if he/she isn't reinforced.  They'll always be wrote off as out of touch, or ignorant, or prudish.  In the eyes of a teenager, no matter how convincing, or hip, or enthusiastic, or statistically supported a sex educator is, he's nothing more than a sex educator, a thing rather than a person.  And teenagers, like most people, really don't care what things have to say, they only care to hear what people have to say.

When we talk about sex, we actually need to talk about sex.  People don't abandon abstinence because Jason Evert just wasn't cool enough, they abandon abstinence because, despite Jason Evert's best efforts, they just don't believe abstinence can work.  Sure, you can abstain from sex until marriage, but you also can sprinkle broken glass in your socks each morning.  But walking with glass shards in your feet is not fun, and nor is missing out on all the fun your sexually-active peers are having.  And, they look, act, and talk just like all your clearly exemplary MTV role models.  Nobody's going to be abstinent if abstinence is a miserably fearful life, and our current efforts make it seem so.  Speakers will quote statistics and studies until their blue in the face, but statistics don't have faces.  However, JWoww does.  And its a smiling face, and its a very, very sexy face.  Much more sexy than Suzy Prays-A-Lot over there.  Point is, without actually talking about abstinence, without showing that it actually works and that you can be happy being abstinent, Jason Evert and Christopher West are wasting their time.  I love them to death, but nobody's message is going to get across if the audience is convinced that it's irrelevant.

So, if I haven't lost you, or infuriated you for throwing the patron saints of chastity speakers under the bus, you ask "How do we go about this sex education business then, O Cheeky One?"

Well, for starters, we need to stop treating sex like a taboo we're reluctant to address.  The general consensus regarding sex seems to be that it's naughty, dirty, and secretive.  Seriously, when was the last time you ever had a serious conversation with someone about sex and not feel a bit awkward or dirty for doing so?  Our society, ever so awkward, has done a might impressive job of shoving overt sexuality down our throat, but has been absolutely mum to speak about sex with any sort of sincerity.  In an epic irony, the most overtly obvious subject of society seems to be the one its most ashamed of.  If we're ever going to seriously talk sex, we need to seriously talk sex.  No more dirty little secrets, no more naughty stigma.

I can almost hear the choruses of people protesting that notion, primarily on the grounds that there are inappropriate times to discuss sexuality and removing the stigma would let our sweet little schoolchildren run around rampantly, talking about sex.  While I agree, there are times that discussing sex isn't appropriate, that doesn't excuse the stigmatization of sex.  It's inappropriate to get in a fight at your grandmother's funeral, but that doesn't mean it has to be something secretive or dirty.  Additionally on that note, inappropriate or not, teens and young adults are confronting their sexuality, and making them feel shameful about it ain't solving a thing.  Rather, we ought to de-stigmatize sex, to give it its time and place.  Honestly, at the risk of infuriating pretty much everyone reading this, we ought to take a hint from Planned Parenthood.  Now, hear me out first, before you search me out to tar and feather me.  Planned Parenthood is screwed up in their understanding of human sexuality to the umpteenth power, and I wouldn't touch their ideology with a 39 and a half foot pole, but they're not afraid to talk about sex.  Granted, they mostly talk about sex the way a blind man talks about driving a car, but they do talk.  Most Catholics seem to be too afraid to address the subject outside of the comfort of their pamphlets and dog-eared copy of Theology of the Body for Beginners (if even that).  When a kid comes to Planned Parenthood with questions of sexuality, they'll get conversation, and they'll get answers.  Bad answers, but answers nonetheless.  The most that can be expected from a youth questioning a Catholic (or most other Christians for that matter) on sexuality is to have a purity ring and carefully rehearsed verses thrown at them.

Which leads me to my next point.  Kill the cliches.  They're nice, they're convenient, but they don't actually do anything.  Our current models of sex education are based around facts, figures, and well-versed theological discourse (usually condensed into a super-lite kid friendly version.)  When boiled down, most abstinence presentations boil down to "Don't have sex until marriage, because if you do, you're __% likely to get (insert any combination of STD's), __% likely to get pregnant before marriage, which makes you __% likely to live in squalor until you're __ years old.  Oh, and God intended sex for marriage and you'll be happier that way and you'll get your reward in heaven."  Gee... thanks.  That'll really help the next time a Victoria's Secret commercial shows up on T.V.  All snarkiness aside, chastity is a battle between passion and principle, and if we're going to send our youth out to fight it, one high energy bomb of information, while immensely helpful, won't win the battle.

We need parents and guardians to have the courage to honestly and sincerely address sexuality.  Rather than hide the subject, or dodge it, or inadvertently reinforce the shame and stigma that their child might connect to sexuality, parents need to be courageous and compassionate enough to talk about sex.  Not as something dirty, or shameful, or secretive, but as an honest, natural, and dignified aspect of human nature.  Sex ought to reflect the best in us.  It ought to reflect our capacity to love, to surrender to an experience of beauty, to create new life.  Sexuality ought to reflect the best of what it means to be human, not the worst.  Parents need to rethink sex education and be courageous enough to take a role in their kid's maturing.  Teach them what it means to be a human being, or better yet, show them.  Show them that sexuality isn't just genitals and where you want to put them.  Its a matter of the soul.

Sex isn't merely physical, its profoundly spiritual.  Sex reflects, in unbridled passion I know not, the passionate love of the soul.  Sex is good, sex is beautiful, sex is holy.  You'll never find a bad word to describe sex, but you'll find a million to describe sex done badly.  We need sex, if not for procreation than for beauty.  We need to experience the passionate power of love, to understand it not just as something abstract, but as something so very real.  We need to know what love is, true love, and how it transforms us.  We need to know how it makes us husband and wife one.  Our culture has corrupted sex, and so sex must work to redeem the culture.

Our youth (I'm one of them) have a hell of a lot of questions and no one with the gall to give a serious answer to them.  We're sick and tired of insufficient answers, and we sure as hell don't want to get cheated of the truth.  So he're my plea to the Church:  show us.  Please, don't let questions go without answers, or the stories to go untold.  Teach us what it means to be man and woman and everything that comes with it.  We can never be saints without it.  We want to have sexual integrity, we NEED to have sexual integrity.  Let this be a wake up call to the Church (and to myself): Let's save sex.  Our most beautiful gift of sexuality is under assault by those who'd give it to swine and slop.  We need to save it, because without it we have no hope of being saved.

Sexual redemption:  Like the Crusades,
only less blood and genocide.

So redeem sex!  Reclaim sex from a society that's done a deplorable job maintaining it.  Reclaim it because it is ours.  Just like all good things, sex belongs to God, and only when oriented unto God do we find its treasures.  We have a tired and bored culture, one of cheap thrills and exhausted people, they will say that I'm idealistic at best, idiotic at worst.  Whether these accusations are true, time will tell.  However, you cannot deny me this:  I'm bold.  Not just for talking about sex, if that were the case, then a young man's bravest moments would be in the locker room.  No, I'm bold because I am willing to be idealistic.  Yes, it may be practical to hand out condoms to youth and young adults, but it certainly isn't courageous.  Our sexually dysfunctional culture and those who speak for it may say that abstinence is a pipe dream, and that sex is inevitable.  Besides offering up myself and the many others like me who have managed to remain abstinent, and even offering up those who wish they would've, I say this:  No great man achieved by being a coward.  Martin Luther King Jr. never said, "I have a carefully thought out and practical plan of action, complete with a thorough bevy of options."  He had a dream, and by God, that dream is becoming a reality each and every day.  Abstinence can work, abstinence will work, because abstinence has worked.  We are not slaves to our flesh, and we can and will learn, through hard work and discipline like the sinners and the saints before us, how to be holy again.

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