Tag Archives: sexuality

Don’t Step in It!

[Abstain from sexual immorality] that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.–1 Thessalonians 4:6

When I attended the recent college composition teachers’ convention last week, I walked into the strangest of sessions. Although I don’t recall the exact title of this colleague’s presentation, it had to do with the communication employed by strippers and exotic dancers as they protested legal changes in New Orleans. If you’re wondering how any of that could even remotely help college students to write better, then get in line behind me, but that’s not my point here.

The assumption behind the signs and slogans of the strippers and behind the conference presenter was that “sex work” was a victimless crime. Opposition to this work, they argued, represented a typical male-dominated effort to disempower women and blah, blah, blah.

The reality, however, is that sexual immorality, at whatever level it occurs, is not a victimless crime. Paul says so very clearly here. There are two positive effects of avoiding sexual immorality (which was mentioned much earlier in the sentence, back in verse 3). First, we won’t transgress the laws of God. That ought to be enough by itself, but second, we won’t wrong our brother or wrong another person.

How does sexual immorality wrong another person? It’s obvious how this works in the whole #metoo environment, but what of more “innocent” things. What if both parties consent? What about pornography? What about those nice girls in New Orleans who are putting themselves through college doing pole dances?

One of the realities of life is that every action generates effects. Consensual sex does not leave either party precisely the same afterward. Let’s take a hypothetical case. “Harvey” goes to a local club where lithe young ladies prowl the stage. “Lulu” particularly catches “Harvey’s” attention. She performs for him. He gives her cash. Everybody’s happy, right?

I can’t speak to “Lulu’s” situation other than to agree that it improves her bank account. But “Harvey” will go home to his wife or his future wife or his girlfriend or whoever and will not be able to keep from comparing her physique to that of “Lulu.” Is that fair? Not at all. Transgression. “Harvey” will have associated, at least to a subconscious degree, sexual gratification with money. That leads to transgression against every woman “Harvey” will encounter.

Sex is supposed to be a powerful overflow of the love that binds husband and wife. It’s supposed to mirror the love relationship between Christ and the church. It should involve self-sacrifice, mutual respect, and enduring, eternal love. How tawdry to reduce it to a money transaction.

Walk around my backyard carelessly and you’re likely to step in something objectionable. That only affects you until you walk into the house or sit in someone’s car. To think that you can magically clean your shoes and not affect anyone else is naïve.

So it is with the sexual stuff. While we cannot erase every sexually impure action, image, or thought from our past, we can move in the direction of purity and do our best not to step in it.

Controlling the Belt Buckle

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God. –1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

Recently, as I looked around a group of godly men, most of them my age or a few years older, I noticed something that nearly all had in common: bellies bulging out over their belts. I say that fully conscious that my own profile on that evening looked pretty similar to theirs.

What makes men of a certain age put on weight? You don’t expect a sixty-year-old to have ripped abs, but is there really some reason why we should all look as if we’re a pregnant woman who hasn’t just started to show?

In my case, the explanation is quite simple. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t controlled my body very well. Lest you hear that and recall the verse quoted above, let me hasten to say that my lack of control isn’t in the sexual arena. No, my lack of control involves the amount of food that goes into my mouth and the amount of physical exertion that consumes that food.

It didn’t take me a long span of life to learn that food tastes good. Lots of food tastes good, and it doesn’t stop tasting good when you’ve eaten a bit of it. The fifth piece of pizza is almost exactly as rewarding as the first.

Gluttony–just like sexual immorality–is a sin. My body requires stewardship just as surely as my bank account, regardless of whether that stewardship deals with my sexuality or my fitness. Bad behavior in either area can ruin me for effective Christian ministry.

“Control your own body,” Paul insists, as if it were an easy thing. But of course he knew that it wasn’t an easy thing. It’s not an easy thing to hit the gym in the morning. It’s not an easy thing to stop at one or two pieces of pizza. And it’s not easy to keep your mind from thinking sexually impure things. But actually that’s where the key lies.

Unless I am completely wrong, I will probably never stop looking at at least some workouts as something to be dreaded. I will probably never cease to long for more and richer food. And I will probably never stop being tempted in that other carnal area. Still connected to that “body of death” of mine, I’m subject to temptations.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul does not say that his readers had to escape all temptation. Instead, he urges them to control their bodies and not act upon the temptation. With God’s help and my own efforts, I have mastered my sexual desire. I’ve seen the same combination of forces master my physical shape. Now, wearing a larger size of pants, has God stopped helping? Of course not.

“Learn to control your own body,” Paul insists. Did he suggest it was easy or automatic? Apparently not since it had to be learned. I may not be able to control the physiques of my brothers, but I can, with some effort, make a change to my own.

Poor, Minority, and HIV-Positive

Bad ExampleA recent study among homosexual men attempts to explain why some of them become infected with HIV while others do not.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed patterns of new HIV infections among 594 young men who have sex with men.

Participants were recruited from the New York City area between 2009 and 2011 and were 18 or 19 when they entered the study. At that point they were all HIV-negative.

Over the next three years, 43 participants became infected with HIV.

About a third of black, Hispanic and mixed or other race participants became HIV-positive during the study, compared to about 7 percent of white participants.

The researchers apparently studied such details as number of partners and particular practices–things that I don’t think I would want to spend my working hours studying for 3 years–and concluded that despite basically the same behaviors, the poor and non-white men in the study became infected at a much higher rate. The problem here is that while the researchers did study current behaviors–and we’ll assume here that the study participants told the truth–they did not study past behaviors.

If older members of a community behaved more recklessly, they would, predictably, have a higher infection rate. If the population of potential partners is more infected, then it is not terribly surprising that these young men would become infected at a higher rate. And since they have become infected, they will, barring a change in behavior, contribute to a higher rate of infection for young men over the next 3 years.

Theresearchers’solution to this problem? Comprehensive sexual health education. Honestly, is the education necessary here really all that complicated? My city educates food handlers, people engaged in a far more complicated field, in a couple of hours, test included.

Comprehensive sexual health education can be very simple:

  1. Here is how you can expose yourself to bad bugs.
  2. Don’t expose yourself to bad bugs.

I’m not being simplistic here, nor am I being unsympathetic. Far too often, our society places young people in dangerous situations and then seeks to concoct some complicated solution. That’s what has created our epidemic of campus sexual assaults and it is what has a tiny sliver of our population of young men experiencing a ridiculously large helping of this still-dreadful virus.

While I don’t buy the whole “born that way” argument, I don’t doubt that these men have real desires.It’s not PC to say, “Just don’t engage in that behavior,” but I would urge them, “Just don’t engage in that behavior.”

While poor people, people who have for generations been disproportionately people of racial minorities, typically do not have a lot of worldly wealth to pass on to the next generation, there is no reason why they need to pass on this infection, which, undoubtedly is paralleled by other serious infections.

How the Duggars Are Right and Their Haters Are Clueless

Angry mob with torches and pitchforksMy four kids were all homeschooled, but I have felt totally inadequate compared to TV’s Duggar family, the bunch with 19 kids whose names all begin with “J.” I said that I “have” felt totally inadequate, but with recent news of the “Josh Duggar Scandal” filling the airwaves of the various cable news shows that I see at the gym, I’m not feeling so bad. I will confess that my knowledge of this topic of profound importance to our world is quite limited since I have only seen images and read a few closed captions.

It seems that when one of the family’s sons, Josh, now 27, was something like 14 years old, he did what many 14-year-old boys would do if given the opportunity. He groped a teenage girl. For this, the left-wing lynch mob has assembled, sharpened their pitchforks and lighted their torches, demanding that network TLC cancel the Duggars’ reality show, because, you know, Josh was accused of fondling girls more than a decade ago.

To be clear, especially as the father of three daughters, I do not take lightly any sort of sexual assault, regardless of its nature. However, Josh was a minor, no charges were filed, and it was a very long time ago.

But there’s a message in all of this that the lynch mob is too myopic to notice. The Duggars are right. They are right when they attempt to carefully chaperone their kids. (I’m not sure what happened to allow Josh’s hands their opportunity, but that’s another matter.) The Duggar parents understand that young people, especially young men, have a lot of hormones in action and not a great deal of restraint in the brains. Because of that, these parents attempt to carefully control their kids to keep them out of the sort of stupid actions that Josh apparently didn’t avoid.

My college has campus sexual assault posters plastered all over the halls. Why? Because we as a culture have abdicated our responsibilities to young people and thrown them into coed dorms, booze-addled parties, and a general hook-up culture. It’s no wonder that we have an epidemic of sexual assault and of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to one study, 1 in 4 college students has an STD. That’s 25%, but the Duggars’ TV show is an affront to our national morality? Coincidentally, I hope, 1 in 4 female college students can expect to face a sexual assault during her academic career. That’s horrific, but the real danger here is a TV show that features a guy who, 13 years ago, put his hands where they didn’t belong.

I find it sad that when a family attempts to raise their children according to some standards of decency, they are mercilessly attacked when one of their number is found to have stumbled in the past. Did these parents ever claim to have perfect children? Do the critics believe that they should have performed some sort of ritual honor killing when they learned of their son’s behavior?

The Duggars are right about human nature, about human sexuality, about parenting, and about the nature of sin. In the end, I think, it is this awareness of sin, this willingness to call it what it is, that most rankles the lynch mob. That mobnever wants to think that anysexual behaviorcan be condemned as sin. Unless, of course, it is some groping done by a randy adolescent more than a decade ago.

Not Knowing Enough: Amy DeRogatis’ Saving Sex

9780199942251(An entry coincidentally published on Mark and Penny’s 33rd wedding anniversary)

As a professor of religion and American culture at Michigan State, Amy DeRogatis does not immediately rise to the level of expert on the evangelical world’s view of sex, although she has clearly studied more evangelical sex manuals and advice books than anyone I know. Should you want a long–and I mean long, as in nine pages–bibliography of primary sources on the topic, DeRogatis’ book, Saving Sex is your source, and her mind is clearly powerful as it scans over and analyzes these sources. Unfortunately, as an outsider to the people she is studying, DeRogatis commits the all-too-common interpretive fallacy, allowing her comments to reflect more her own predispositions than the actual content studied.

An example of this thinking is found toward the end of the volume, when she asks, “If sex within a sanctified marriage is fabulous, why do evangelicals continue to buy books about sexual technique and practices?” I might flippantly turn that same question around on the author and ask, “If casual sex in a hookup culture is so fabulous, why does Cosmo need to put several advice articles into every issue?”She might have asked the simpler question: “If evangelical marriage is so great, why do they have so many marriage workshops and retreats?” The answer, whichany honest questioner could provide for him or herself, is that even great evangelical marriage can be better. In fact, returning to her rather catty sex question, the proliferation of books can be easily taken to indicate that “sex within a sanctified marriage” is fabulous enough to be worth making even better.

Not surprisingly, this book focuses on aspects that the author finds particularly peculiar or (my word, not hers) creepy. Honestly, I can see how an outsider might find purity balls, where young Christian girls pledge their fidelity before marriage to their fathers, to be questionable.

Another topic DeRogatis takes up, one much farther afield from the evangelicalmainstream, is found in a book calledHoly Sexby Terry Wier and Mark Carruth. This 1999 publication espouses a belief that you might have never heard before. It seems, according to these authors, that demons are transmitted by bodily fluids.

I don’t fault DeRogatis for including this bizarre teaching in her survey of the topic, but she dedicates roughly 20 pages of the 155-page total inSaving Sexto this one source. This is not a book published by a prominent evangelical house, by a household-name author, or by an organization like Focus on the Family. The book is, apparently, out of print and does not seem to have left much of a footprint on the discipline. Why then, does this author give it so much attention?

An explanation for this, I believe, is that DeRogatis has her beliefs and evangelical beliefs aren’t them. Early in the book, she says, apparently innocently, “Scholar Breanne Fahs explains ‘purity balls enter women into a system of commerce in which their sexuality becomes an object to be traded between men.'” Fahsexplains?Is that the right word? Fahs might be said to “opine” or “suggest” or “theorize,” but she’s hardly explaining in this quotation. By the same token, she might have suggested that Wier and Carruthexplained in their book, but she does not give them that sort of cachet.

As a married Christian, I am enthusiastically in favor of sex. What I favor less is allowing the secular world to define the vocabulary and the values that surround our sexual practices. In this case, the author admits that she did not really know much about the topic before her research began. In the end, I have to argue that while she knows a great deal about it, she doesn’t really demonstrate the sort ofunderstanding that one might gather from within.