sex in community

no, not like that.

A question that is worth asking occasionally is, why are we even talking about this at all?

Evangelicals – and evangelical/post-evangelical bloggers – have this thing about sex. They’re just always talking about sex. We are always preaching and writing about who is and isn’t having sex, who should and shouldn’t be, and who should or shouldn’t want to,  and how, and why. Frankly, it is often a huge, unhelpful distraction and/or ploy to get more pageviews. It’s disproportionate to the importance of sex in the Bible or in a healthy, well-lived human life.

But I don’t think it can really be helped, because everyone’s talking about sex.

Last time I was in Times Square, the largest ads were aerie ads similar to these and featured girls who appeared to be 13 or 14. Beautiful people – but in (I thought) uncomfortably sexually suggestive poses.

All the magazines – women’s, men’s, news, sports, health and wellness magazines. All the TV shows, all the websites, all the movies contribute to a sex-obsessed culture. Yes, I realize that Shakespeare was pretty sex-obsessed and so are humans throughout history; but it’s hard to argue that the accessibility of porn and the rise of hookup culture are not changing the way Western society does sex.

Even more relevant to the Modesty issue is advertising. We see an immense number of ads every day. Thousands. Every day. All offering us something to make our lives better; all imploring us to Get What We Want; all implying that money can fix every problem and fulfill every desire. And beyond the problem of commercializing everything, what’s frustrating about all this advertising is that sex sells, and more sex sells more things than ever before.

What this means is that our kids learn, long before they are capable of actual memory, that human bodies are sex objects (and nothing else) – that they exist for consumption; and this lesson is reinforced for all of us every day. The bodies of men and women in advertising are beautiful, worthy of admiration and respect; but they are not depicted that way. The medium itself communicates the message that they can be conflated with a product to be bought or sold at the will of the consumer, entirely separate from the thoughts, emotions, desires, and history that make up the person whose body it is.

I, for one, am not A Visual Person; I rarely struggle to keep the thought, “that’s an attractive person”, from becoming a lustful or dehumanizing fantasy. But I only have to look to my own daily struggle with my body image – to counteract my culture’s message that my body isn’t good enough – to empathize with someone who is susceptible to the message that consuming others’ bodies is to be expected. A fine habit to be in. The norm.

None of these messages are communicated in a verbal, explicit manner. That is one thing that makes these beliefs so difficult to counteract. They seep into us without our realizing it; we may even say we believe one thing, but at an unconscious level our thoughts and actions are shaped by a different belief.

So what does this mean for Christians?

We do not believe that bodies should be consumed, bought and sold, used for the sexual enjoyment of everyone. We do not believe that bodies – or sex – are just parts of people to do with as they will. We believe that people are bodies, and that people belong to God. More than that, we believe that the people of the Church belong to one another. And up against the powerful current of a culture that treats sex and human bodies as commodities, we need each other’s help remembering that that is a lie.

This is what bothers me about some of the “anti-modesty” arguments of some of my fellow feminists. I have seen several variations of this statement:

We cannot continue to place the distance in our unique, personal relationship with God on other people outside that unique, personal relationship.”

And other sentiments to the effect that “your struggle with sin is not my problem.”

Now, one of the reasons I still consider myself an evangelical is that I do believe everyone has a unique, personal relationship with God; but I absolutely do not believe that other people are outside of that relationship. We never relate to God in an entirely private sphere; we need other Christians and we belong to other Christians.

So I cringe when I hear this exchange:
Christian male: “I’m trying here. I’m coming to you with humility and saying, could you do a guy a favor and think about what you wear?”

The idea that being a Christian means giving up your personal human rights? That’s horrifying. That is how Christians warp religion to justify abuse… the logic you’ve used here is just the same logic that abusers use, but in a smaller, more sanitized form.”

This is a slippery-slope argument that commits the fallacy of assuming there’s no middle ground between making small sacrifices for others and allowing them to abuse you. But more importantly,

Jesus gave up his personal human rights. All the time. Out of love. And it didn’t mean he didn’t respect himself.

(Spiritual abuse is a real problem, and I think there is a time and a place for asserting oneself, one’s own value, rather than sacrificing for something. Sometimes “I have to do this for myself” is all the reason one needs; but I think that is usually a personal situation that requires a lot of wisdom, not an attitude to be prescribed for everybody.)

I don’t think this is a question of assigning rights and responsibilities at all. It’s a matter of building whole people with a healthy sexuality, and a whole community with a healthy sexuality. How do we go about doing that?

My (hopefully constructive) answer to the “do a guy a favor” question: tomorrow!

Part 1: Modesty on the Mount
Part 2: Lust is and isn’t
Part 3: Sex in community
Part 4: Building up

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  1. I appreciate your courage in going against the grain and articulating your own voice in this conversation. It needs to be a conversation, not just an amen chorus.

  2. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  July 11, 2013

    It’s just so much easier to put rules in place (cover up those lusty shoulders, Girl!) than to teach principles and to learn love.


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