Friday, January 18, 2013

The Christian Phobia of Sex

Yesterday I sat in a committee reviewing our school system's sexual education curriculum for the high school.  At the same time my wife was reviewing the elementary curriculum.  As our committees talked, one of the pieces of information that we had in front of us was a survey of parents' opinions on what should be taught and when.  For the most part, people were pretty sane -- they knew that you need to talk about puberty in late elementary, and you need to talk about the physical and economic effects of teenage pregnancy in high school.  But there were also those that felt that the subject should never be broached, that it was better for our kids to remain ignorant because "if you don't tell them about sex, they won't be curious about it."  Not to be rude, (well, okay, maybe a little rude); on which planet did these people attend middle school and high school?  My personal experience wasn't that my mind was curious about sex because of what it learned, it was that my body was curious about sex because of its rush of hormones.  It was also my experience that if the trusted adults (like teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, and my parents) didn't talk about sexuality, there were certainly enough unreliable sources talking about it, so that if it was only my mind that was curious -- I would have been learning a lot of misinformation.

Now, I am quite aware that many of those who don't want sex education in the schools are religious people, church people who are concerned about the sexual values and norms that their innocent, non-hormonal, angels will be taught.  Understandable to a point.  People can make sexual choices with devastating and life-altering consequences.  Obviously we want our kids to teach our kids to make smart choices that lead to happy and healthy lives.  But to be frank, many Christians have become far more Puritanical than is Biblical, sensible, and natural.  They border on erotophobia, a fear of sexuality.

So instead we have a culture that tries to explain sexuality, using the birds and bees.  To be honest I am not sure how it involves birds and bees.  You can try to talk about birds laying eggs to make a connection to female ovulation, and you can try to explain that bees pollinating plants is similar to fertilization; but beyond that it is a weird metaphor.  Eventually, if the kid isn't going to end up with an absolutely messed up view of sexuality, where mommy will lay an egg if she is stung by a bee, you have to tell the kids that what we are really talking about are a man and a woman and sex.

And that is not a dirty subject.  Let's be honest, God made us with only one way to propagate the species, and it is a wonderful, amazing thing.  If God thought sex was evil, we would be made so that we could split like amoebas or grow from seeds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  But we don't -- in the words of the bible "a man and a woman come together to become one flesh".  That's pretty racy.

In fact, the bible is pretty racy in a lot of places.  It talks about Tamar pretending to be a prostitute and hiring herself out to her father-in-law so that she can have the child she deserves through Levirate marriage.  (My spell checker just suggested that I meant Levitra or levitate.  No, I don't think I meant that.)  The bible also talks rather plainly about menstruation, including both rules about cleanliness and stories which illustrate them.    We have the story of Esther who pickles herself in perfume so that she can use her feminine charms to persuade an emperor to do away with an unjust law, and book of erotic poetry called Song of Songs that makes a fun bedtime story for any couple.

But many Christians aren't comfortable with the topic, because we still somehow think that the sin of Adam and Eve wasn't that they disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then tried to pass the blame onto the snake, but the real sin was that they had sex.  Not Biblical my friends.  But just in case, we put fig leaves not only our bodies, but on the biblical text, so we don't have to be embarrassed.

We've become the masters of euphemisms -- we translate a word as seed that could just as easily be translated as semen, we skip over stories that make us uncomfortable (like the story of the concubine who is raped and her upset master cuts her into 12 pieces and sends her body to the tribes of Israel to incite them to war), and we even convince ourselves that stories like Ruth lying at the feet of Boaz are innocent, while original author is clearly giving us a nudge-nudge, wink-wink.  Even the wisdom of God is compared to a beautiful woman who is to be trusted and taken into one's home instead of the adulteress of foolishness.

If the bible can talk about sexuality openly, playfully, and without fear of shocking our sensitivities, nor leading our children into moral deviancy, so can we.  It's okay.  Lighten up.  You got your children by being sexual beings.  Teach them right from wrong, give them facts, and be one of those reliable sources of information.

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