Sorry for the wait, folks.  I’ve been working at the restaurant and fighting off being sick (which means sleeping a lot, rather than staying up late and writing). Thanks for your patience. Without further ado, here is the second half of the essay.

How Christians Can Get Better at Sex (Or, at Least, at Handling It)

When they’re out in the dating world, Christians would do well to remember Jesus’ advice to his disciples, which was in the last post, but here as a reminder:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men.” (Matt. 10:16-17)

When it comes to sex, too many Christian young adults are “doves” who completely lack the “shrewd” predatory knowledge of the “snakes” of this world. Knowing too little about sin, sex, and evil, as well as the tendency to create well-intentioned-but –impossible rules to safeguard against sin, can trip up a genuinely God-chasing Christian in some potentially devastating ways.

Innocents Mired in Ignorance: How the Doves Get Bitten by Serpents

The first danger, of course, comes about from lack of knowledge about sex in general—a gap of ignorance that usually plagues the sheltered, homeschooled Christian. When the world intrudes on the happy-puppy bubble of the sheltered Christian, that Christian suddenly faces a sexual situation for which he or she had no preparation or defense.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to define common sexual terms to an over-sheltered Christian gal-pal of mine who stood in the middle of a conversation and blindly (deafly?) didn’t even realize what she was laughing about while she tried to fit in.  If she’d been solicited for a “blowjob” in high school, I think she might have thought someone wanted her to inflate a balloon animal.

Funny?  Yes. Tragic and dangerous as Hell?  Ohmybunnies, yes.  This girl needed to learn the ways of the serpents and fast—and that meant she needed to study some Parseltongue (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference; it refers to the language of snakes).

Herpetologists-turned-Ophidiophobes: Hiding From the World and from Sexuality

On the other end of the scale, we have those Christians who have seen and heard enough of our sex-saturated culture to decide that they would like to find ways to shut themselves out of it completely–and away from all the serpents hidden in the grass.  These are our paranoid law-makers in the purity movement, those like Leslie Ludy , who, after being scarred in the battlefield of the early high school dating game, pulled herself out of public school in order to keep her virginity intact. She now counsels girls not to even kiss a man until they’re at the altar.1    Others, like Joshua Harris, counsel against close contact, being alone with one’s love interest, and even hand-holding.

Holding hands is really evil. See these sea otters?  Totally going to hell for their lusty thoughts as they float along.

Holding hands is really evil. See these sea otters? Totally going to Hell for their lusty thoughts as they float along.

A good idea? You decide.  All I’ll say is, it’s not exactly biblical.  The bride in the Song of Solomon sure mentions kissing prior to the wedding, even complaining that she’s upset that they can’t respectably steal kisses in public until they’re married (Ch. 8, v. 1).  Apparently, it’s natural for lovers on the edge of commitment to have that kind of longing; there is no judgment against it from a “God-voice” in the text.

Again, I have to wonder what all of this phobic treatment of sexuality does for their future intimate relationships.  I will say that it certainly doesn’t help Christians to have a great influence in the modern dating world, since many of these Christians retreat from that as well, preferring small Christian circles of “courtship” where these rules are adhered to and accepted.

Modest vs. Maddeningly Frumpy

Another side-effect of this movement involves a big emphasis on modesty. Now, I am a fan of modesty on principle, just because I know how visual men are.  I don’t do miniskirts and I try to keep my pitiful cleavage hidden, just so I don’t tempt some poor soul into some really dirty thinking. Also, I don’t want to look like a whore.  Just sayin’.

However, take a good concept like modesty, give it over to the paranoid-Christians, and it becomes a kind of law-enforced frumpery.  In an attempt to deter the sexual instinct, Christian women (and men) begin looking less like pretty, innocent doves and more like drab pigeons.  Or like Puritans.  (Heck, not even like Puritans–those men wore really tight pants back in the day, and the women actually defined the shape of their waists with stays and aprons.)

Some of you might think this is a silly point to bring up, since a shapeless wardrobe and a lack of cosmetic sense isn’t spiritually dangerous.  But I think this kind of hyper-modesty is a symptom of a nasty trend of scripture-twisting that is as risky as it is ugly.

A lot of Christians justify their drapery (sorry, I won’t call that stuff clothing) and their rules against makeup based on 1 Timothy 2, in which Paul tells little Timmy about his hopes that their little communities of the followers of the Way (early Christianity) would “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (v. 3).  One of the suggestions/desires Paul lists to this end is one about modesty:

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (v. 9-10, NIV)

Paranoid Christians take this to mean that we shouldn’t wear clothing that shows the shapes of our bodies (it’s too sinful, even if skin is covered), and that makeup, ear piercings, or anything that would alter our so-called “natural” appearance should never be worn, since it can be distracting to the opposite sex.

But 1 Peter 3:3 clarifies what’s really meant here:

“Your adornment must not be MERELY external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses …” (emph. added)

In other words, it’s not the adornment that is the issue; it’s the lack of internal beauty to back it up that the apostles wanted to warn us against.

makeupevil

Makeup is evil. Here is Ruth, dragging herself, and maybe some men, down to Hell because she cannot resist eyeliner and lipgloss.

Adornment is never explicitly frowned upon in scripture, and is often given to the most important women in the Good Book, including the beautiful Sarah (Abraham’s wife), Rebekah (wife of Isaac, see Gen. 24),  Esther, Abigail (David’s first wife, whose beauty kept him from killing a man in a fit of fury), the Shulamite bride in Song of Solomon, Israel’s female incarnation in the famous metaphor (Isaiah 16), and even the bride of Christ described in the Book of Revelation.   As for cosmetics, we know that Esther underwent months of beauty treatment in the Persian palaces and used cosmetics in her bid to win the heart of the king and save her people.  Heck, even Moses and Joseph would have worn guyliner in Egypt, both as a symbol of their status and as cosmetic enhancements. God appreciates and celebrates beauty, and doesn’t condemn those who do the same.

Moreover, God designed both men and women to be visually stimulated, men especially so.  When godly single women decide to dress themselves hyper-modestly, it often sends men the message that they are sexually unavailable, and often makes them look unattractive as well.   These mistaken impressions make it hard for these women to compete in the current dating market—and they get unfairly passed over.  Men who underemphasize the importance of a well-maintained appearance and gentlemanly wardrobe likewise get passed over by women seeking an attractive mate.  This issue, created by an over-emphasis on modest dressing and anti-sexuality, has even been covered in an article by Boundless Webzine’s Candace Watters, entitled “Not Enough Beauty.”  In this piece, Watters admits, “knowing that men have to fight their sin nature … is not justification for women to neglect their outward appearance.”2  I’ve talked to a lot of Christian women who use this excuse as a reason not to lose weight, wear more tailored garments, or put on makeup, and I’ve also heard it from some men who claim they want a woman to “love them for who they are,” rather than for their biceps.  As a result, I now have a sneaking suspicion that many Christians are really just using the whole modesty issue as justification to get away with not trying very hard, and that’s bad stewardship of our bodies.

So you see, ugliness really is a problem in Christian churches—it’s not just my pet peeve.  Worse, in their attempt to shut down those naughty sexual instincts by dressing themselves in the modern tailor’s equivalent of flour sacks, paranoid Christians not only fly in the face of biology, stewardship, and even God’s taste, they condemn the sacred connection between the sensual and the aesthetic.

Their attempts at severing of that connection is a great poverty, and not what God intended for us.  Not to mention, unsexy to the detriment of relationship potential. eHarmony is full of nice Christian guys who are not sexy at aaallll. And it frustrates the heck out of a girl like me who is saving sex for marriage and would like to have it with a Christian man who turns me on. Too much to ask?  Apparently, yes. If I don’t stop being matched to twenty-something-aged men already gone soft in the gut who wear elastic waisted pants with pleating on the trouser-leg, I’m going to get desperate and ask God to strike me blind so I can get married off to the first Christian man on my match list who has a nice voice.

And . . . that’s enough for my rant on ignorance and prudery.   I want to close this discussion with some considerations that are more elementally vital to the topic of Christian sexual ethics.

First, I think we can all agree that the act of sex is intended to be sacred.  But does that necessarily mean that it is something to be feared, or something to be respected and revered?  I would contend that Christians who treat sexuality as something that is dirty or frightening or wrong in-and-of itself are going against the way God would have us treat his gift for us.  Sex, with all its emotion-altering, pleasure-giving, and generative power, should not be treated lightly, but neither should it be treated like Satan’s dark secret.  For Heaven’s sake (literally) educate your kids and yourselves on the subject; don’t avoid it like the plague.

Second, concerning our flesh, we as Christians need to decide whether our bodies are inherently evil as a result of the Fall, or if our bodies still hold good instincts and beautiful desires that have been merely flawed, turned awry, or “bent” as C.S. Lewis calls it in his novel, Out of the Silent Planet.  Reread the first few chapters in Genesis for yourself tonight, and see what you make of it.

Finally, I’d like to close with a scripture that is often overlooked, but may help us to better understand how God views our struggles with the flesh:

 “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:13-14)

This is a reminder that we shouldn’t judge ourselves more harshly than God does.  The occasional lust is just a sign that we are still dust, and hormone-ridden little dust bunnies at that.  Take those urges and pursue marriage–which is a God-honoring use of those feelings.  And if you’re married, go have fun messing around with your spouse. That’s God-honoring, too.  Hooray for sex!

References:

  1. Ludy, Leslie. Authentic Beauty. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003.  45-62.
  2. Watters, Candace. “Boundless Answers: Not Enough Beauty.” Boundless Webzine. <http://www.boundless.org/2005/answers/a0001400.cfm&gt;.

 

Notes:

In 1997’s extremely popular Christian pop-culture-forming book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, author Joshua Harris argues that Christians

“have to understand purity as a pursuit of righteousness. When we view it merely as a line, what keeps us from going as close as we can to the edge?  If sex is the line, what’s the difference between holding someone’s hand and making out with that person?  If kissing is the line, what’s the difference between a goodnight peck and fifteen minutes of passionate lip-lock?”

He concludes that the only way to keep ourselves pure is to “flee as far and as fast as [we] can from sin and compromise” (91).   This leads him to give all kinds of advice on how couples should behave—extending laws of nearly no-contact—in his follow-up book, Say Hello to Courtship.  Harris steps into legalism here and begins to ignore important things like intention in one’s behavior in a relationship. Is it sinful to express affection and longing to your fiancée?  I argue that it isn’t—that it’s a natural and necessary stoking of the fire that will be lit in a passionate marriage; Josh argues that it is  simply because such behavior can tease one’s beloved with the prospect of sex that can’t be righteously be fulfilled yet.  Please note, dear readers, that even Harris admits to having trouble keeping his eyes from lusting after his fiancée.  I giggled when he admitted it with a terrible sense of shame, like it was something Satanic.   I think God might have chuckled a bit and wished he’d included a verse in the Bible that told over-anxious gits who desire to foreswear all natural desires to just get over themselves.  I’m sure God wouldn’t tell them to follow the other alternatives: to join the Gnostics or the Buddhists, who view flesh as either entirely evil or as an illusion, respectively.

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