December 6, 2023

Christian Communities Do Poor Job with Sex, Shame

by Liam Adams ’17


  Sexual repression is a state of being experienced by an individual, in which a person will attempt to ignore or push away her or his sexual desires for some other cause. In Christianity, Christians will suppress their sexual desires for the purpose of pleasing God and remaining spiritually and physically pure. In many Christian groups, sex is a topic that has been seemingly resolved. The act of sex (which is never clearly defined by many Christian leaders, but I would assume it to be oral sex or vaginal sex) is not allowed until a couple is married. The defense for this theological stance is that God created man and woman to become one entity through marriage. The belief is that God created marriage so that the couple’s union will glorify God through mental, spiritual and physical means. Sex is seen as a God-glorifying act, because it celebrates the bodies that God gave humans. That celebration of bodies through consummation, however, is seen as only being righteous in marriage.

    This theological belief about sex and marriage doesn’t seem too problematic. It’s just one perspective among a plurality of perspectives in our post-modern American society. Unfortunately for Christian purity theology, the idea of not having sex does not mix well with the maturation process that most young Christians experience. High school and college is a time in a person’s life in which a whole new world explodes before them. For the first time, they can think for themselves and interact with different types of people (who they might be romantically attracted to). Moreover, their bodies are biologically developing in a sexual way. At the culmination of interacting with newness and also undergoing puberty, young people become curious and excited about sex. Sex is among many facets of life teenagers will become curious about and begin to pursue. The next sensible step for many is to experiment with this beautiful and exciting prospect of sex. Simultaneously, while these individuals are growing in intrigue with their own sexuality, they are being instructed from their Christian background that their interest in sex is unnatural and perhaps, unacceptable in the eyes of God.

    One of the most serious symptoms of sexual repression is guilt. As these young people are pursuing their curiosity about sex by participating in sexual relationships, they might feel an overwhelming sense of dirtiness, guilt and shame. There is a part of them that knows that having some sort of a physically romantic relationship is healthy for them. At the same time, they feel that what they’re doing is deeply wrong. They might be feeling this overwhelming guilt, because years of theological teaching about sexuality have been ingrained into their subconscious. This sense of guilt is bad, because it hinders those individuals from having a healthy and open relationship with their significant other. I am not saying that a healthy relationship is defined by sexual activity. What I am arguing is that a healthy relationship does include a physical relationship (unless the person is asexual). The guilt wrought by sexual repression doesn’t restrict people from having sex; it restricts people from feeling comfortable with any kind of romantically physical relationship.

    One other issue that can occur as a result of sexual repression is early marriage. In Christianity, the only open doorway to sex is through marriage. A couple might want to have sex, but they’re repressing those desires, because they feel like that should only occur within marriage. As a result, they might get married before they are “ready” to get married because they want to have sex. “Ready” for marriage is relative to each relationship, but there might be some lessons that that couple needs to learn before they get married. Those lessons are rushed, however, because the couple wants to have sex. Also, just because a couple gets married early to have sex does not mean that they do not have to deal with sexually repressed guilt when they begin to have sex.

    I want to conclude by offering a few solutions in light of this issue. Having sex is not the solution. Just because people are marrying early to have sex does not mean that the resolution is to have premarital sex. There are a few actions that Christians can take personally and institutionally, however, in order to treat our sexually active neighbors with greater respect.  First, more agency needs to be given to these young people. They should be able to make their own responsible decisions and not worry about a single narrative informing them how they should act sexually. There shouldn’t be rigid policies that are instituted that are created out of fear of people having sex. My second suggestion is that there needs to be a greater openness to hearing about others’ sexual experiences, rather than denying it and labeling it as “sinful.”

    I want to approach this conversation with grace. I am not seeking to deconstruct or attack the Christian theology of sexuality. I am just highlighting a certain issue that some of our neighbors struggle with that we should be open to hearing about and creating change as a result of their pain.

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