Sex(uality), Gender, and Faith
Part 1 of an 6 part series.
My mom took me to what was, in my remembrance, the second movie I ever saw in a theatre. By the time this fateful day had occurred, I had been through my school’s sex education class and understood the basics of this thing called “sex” but I didn’t really understand very much aboutit. For instance, the first time a girl on the playground talked about oral sex, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about and found the idea completely shocking. I remember standing there, staring at my friend with what must have been a dismayed look on my face as she described all the details. Even after she was done, I understood the operating instructions of how it worked, but I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of it was. Looking back now as an adult, it feels innocent enough, but for me at the time, the opening credits of Look Who’s Talking were almost more than I could handle. I watched in horror and anxiety, sitting right next to my mom as my entire sex ed class got played out on the big screen! The movie opened with a woman’s egg getting ready for the sperm that are quickly heading her way!
The manner in which they show this part of the film, it is as if you, the audience, are one of the sperm. You follow the leader sperm who shows you the way. It was like being on a simulated ride at Disneyland. Can you imagine parents having to explain to their kids what that ride is about?! To make the “ride” more personal, the sperm all have their own voices and personalities as they rush and search for the egg. And to add to the cheeky humor of it all, a Beach Boys song plays loudly in the background,
Round, round, get around, I get around
Get around, round, round, I get around
I geeeeet arooooounnnnnd
Through the maze of the fallopian tubes, the sperm finally reach their destination and begin head butting the egg hoping to be the first to make it in. One little guy successfully does so and with that we’ve just seen a woman get pregnant!
This opening seen horrified me as a young girl. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame as I was sitting next to my mom watching what felt like a pornographic film to my young eyes. I could not shake the feelings of shame throughout the entire movie. Why did I feel so bad about seeing a sperm and an egg? I think it has to do with the way we think about and talk about sex as Christians. It’s a big thing and yet we aren’t very good about talking about it.
I don’t think my friends whose parents aren’t Christians did any better job talking to them about sex than my parents did, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that my non-Christian friends didn’t have a book called the Bible enforcing strict purity for all. As a young girl, I didn’t really understand why people had sex, or what it was about, but I did understand that it was shameful and very powerful. I also was constantly feeling frustrated by my gender. I wanted to have fun and play with the boys, not wear lace and frilly dresses. This desire to get dirty and build forts made me feel different. As a young adolescent and later a young woman, I became more aware of the power and desire of sexual encounters, but still only knew that I was supposed to stay far away from it until I married a godly man.
With these narratives, many young Christians turn to masturbation as a means of encountering their sexuality, but this too is met with shame. The demand to be a “good Christian” means to deny anything sexual until our wedding night. What are we to do with our gender and sexuality as Christians – both as married and single people?
As an adult and as a therapist, I’ve found adults have just as many questions and uncertainties about sex; straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are all trying to find ways to embody their sexuality, have healthy relationships and feel fulfilled during sexual encounters. This series will explore where we unite as humans in our sexuality and relationships, why we’re having sex, how we’re having sex and how our gender plays out in relational dynamics.
Even though the Bible makes it clear that we are made as sexual beings it seems that fact feels too scary or too big to internalize for most of us. We see God putting it in a place of importance by talking about it in the beginning of Genesis, and it is notable that the Bible addresses sex right off the bat by calling us to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Many see the “obvious” link between sex and procreation; sex is for the purpose of making babies.But the Talmud would add a second reading, questioning what “fruitful” and “multiply” really mean. It is possible that fruitfulness (fruit= sweet, typically summer blossoming, and increased libido in all kingdoms of life) is something more than multiplication?Indeed, if we really believed sex was for procreation, why would we try to stop it by telling young adults not to have sex, but if you do, at least use protection? There are also plenty of “godly” married couples who are having sex, but don’t want (or can’t) get pregnant, so why are they having and continuing to have sex outside of the purpose of procreation? More, if God’s desires for our sexual selves, shown in the Genesis passage to only be experienced for means of procreation, I wonder does He bless sexual relationships that occur outside of this boundary?
In this series, it’s important not to exclude how our gender and sexual orientation play into the way we live our lives and the way we engage in romantic relationships and the world around us. There are so many polarized, traditionally Christian ideas of gender; what does it mean to be a man of God and what does it mean to be a woman of submission? Yet as a therapist and as a person living in the world I haven’t always found these two categories helpful. I know we all want to please God with our full, embodied selves, but are there other options besides the strict boundaries that have been laid out for us by our youth group leaders and pastors preaching strict purity? As a Christian I want to explore ideas within the straight and LGBTQ Christian communities around these questions and more; how do we embody, or live into our gender, what should a Christian romantic relationship look like and what is the purpose of sex.
My intention is not to define these categories for you, offend you, or exclude your experience if its different than what I focus on. This conversation isn’t often had. As Christians, especially in light of the Bible, I know it will be easy to criticize me.
Disclaimer: I am not claiming to be a Bible scholar or perfect exegete. I’m also not claiming to have all the answers. In fact I have far more questions than answers, but I do desire to explore mine and others genuine wonderings about life, love, sex and what the Bible has to say about it and what perhaps God meant for us in these ways. How spectacular would it be if there was far more freedom in what it means to be a man, or a woman and far more freedom in desire and pleasure and if all of it was blessed by God?! Wouldn’t that blow your mind?! As I embark on this journey I hope just that happens, that my and your experience of God and ourselves will open in new ways and that our minds will be blown by the beauty and freedom God has for us.
As a Christian and as someone who was made by God as a sexual being, I don’t want to just leave the “real” sex talk to the secular world. Ask yourself, has the traditional Christian way of thinking about these things for you in the call to stay pure before we get married and then have pure sex with our spouse been helpful or realistic? I’m beginning to think that maybe God had a different idea of purity for us. For most of us this category of purity has only lead to shame, fear and self hatred, but when I think about who God is and how much deep enjoyment I believe He wants us to have in life I’m not convinced that He indented us to be weighed down by this kind of shame.
I hope you’ll take this journey with me. I hope you’ll find a place within you to stay open and allow yourself to ask questions and hear from others experiences. I hope that you will let yourself let go of the shame you’ve had and wonder with me about what God wants for you. I’m grateful to get to write this and grateful to all of those who contributed by allowing me to interview them on topics of gender, sex, sexuality and embodiment. Without your vulnerability and courage this would not be possible.