Speaking Up About Sex

Sex. Everyone wants to talk about it, yet no one speaks up. At least not without a wink or two and a few elbow nudges.

At a recent youth group function where I co-lead, my team member (who is married) and I (who am not), opened ourselves up to questions from the teens. We watched a video about the spiritual nature of sex and tried to host a discussion. “Ask us anything,” we said, steeling ourselves for the very, very worst.

Crickets. Total silence. The horniest age group on the planet had nothing to say, nothing to ask.

So why are people afraid to talk about sex? I mean really discuss the meaning of it? Pastors address it once every few years, but always in lofty language. Teenagers joke about it. The elderly often shush discussion of it. I suspect the silence on the subject stems from the fact that sex is deeply personal and discussing it is a little like the act itself—it lets people inside.

More than touching between two people, sex is a physical manifestation of an emotional event—entering into the inner recesses of another’s soul and accepting the enter-er into yours. In cases of abuse, sex feels violating for exactly this reason. It’s an emotional invasion expressed through physical contact.

Sex within marriage offers a mutual, respectful sharing that symbolizes love—an invitation and an acceptance to permanently participate in each other’s whole personhood. It plays a key role in God’s plan for married unity. Sex outside marriage results in eventual pain because that “invitation” will ultimately be returned to sender. The acceptance note receives a “decline” in response. A blended soul rips apart, back into two pieces.

Discussing sex puts us in a vulnerable position, as well. Revealing our deepest thoughts about humankind’s arguably deepest act opens our souls to others in a unique and personal way. And vulnerability is frightening. It creates an opportunity for others to hurt us.

This is why God intended sex for the safety of marriage and discussions of sex for the safety of close community.

Perhaps the teens in my youth group felt insecure in a large group setting. Perhaps we caught them off-guard. I’m convinced they have thoughts about sex. (If I do, they must!) But they didn’t feel they could vocalize those thoughts.

Could this be the key to the Church’s struggle to discuss sex with believers?

To have meaningful conversation about a personal subject, believers need personal connections where it is safe to be honest. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous build upon such a rapport so that participants can share openly and fully with each other. Close group connections conceive a bond of trust that ends in results: alcoholics stay on the wagon, porn addicts turn off the computer, battered women leave abusive relationships. Within a group lies conviction and empowerment.

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For that reason, the young Church met frequently to grow, bond and share in their new faith. The book of Acts portrays small groups as central and foundational to the growth of Christians. And, to an extent, Christians have embraced this concept. We meet for Bible study, for prayer, for the ever-popular potluck. But too often we are silent about sex. Are we really content to let generations grow up with a tagline? “Sex can wait," “Meant for marriage” or my favorite, “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got the ring.”

The rest of the world is talking about sex. Loudly. But not clearly. If others are to understand God’s design for sex, Jesus followers have to talk about it. The repercussions of not sharing are frightening and long-reaching—life-altering STDs, pregnancies, emotional scars, baggage beyond belief. Maybe a sermon series from the podium isn’t the whole answer. Pamphlets left on Welcome Centers can’t do it alone. Youth commitment ceremonies need backup.

The Church can’t afford to be silent on this subject. Without close, small group interaction when discussing God’s plan for sex, a crowd of horny individuals will quickly become a crowd of hurting ones.


James Holt


James Holt commented…

I've seen churches do some amazing sex talks, but always the questions are submitted anonymously - that was probably the aspect lacking from the talk you tried to do with your youth.


Sarah commented…

I enjoyed reading this commentary. I have a couple thoughts though:

1. I work with teens, too. Some teens who felt safe with me have expressed to me that in fact, there is too much talk about sex from adult leaders. In our perception that our fellow Christians are "silent" we constantly bring up the topic with teens, assuming they've never had this conversation when in fact, not only have they had it (with parents, other leaders etc), they feel like we're stereotyping them as "only being interested in sex." Same with abortion... many feel like they could recite our answers back to us word for word because the topic has been discussed so many times. I try to put it in perspective for them (hello, these topics are super important) but also appreciate their need to talk about other aspects of being Catholic, too.

2. I totally agree with needing a closer, safer connection for this intimate topic. Sex shouldn't be taboo but it shouldn't be treated as everyday conversation. Sex is sacred, after all. :)

3. As a young adult who is "plugged into" young adult groups... trust me, we don't just have Bible studies... we talk about sex. :) I think what has happened is exactly what this article describes... we've formed close bonds and feel safe opening up about it. It's very neat to have that kind of community where healthy conversations about important topics take place!


Anna09 commented…

Who said marriage is "safe"? So many people divorce (I've read that evangelicals actually have a higher divorce rate than the rest of the population) , it's hard to believe marriage could be safe.

That said, I do agree that marriage is the proper context for sex, and I wish that more churches would address this hugely important topic. If I had my druthers, I'd be married by now, but social stigma and the fact that my boyfriend and I attend colleges 4 hours apart create problems...


Anonymous commented…

Before I get started, go to www.allsaintsyouth.com/teachin... and listen to some of the ones from February from each of the past few years dating back to 2006--it's what we've been teaching our youth groupies and to be quite honest with you, our youth group is never as big as it is in February...our kids invite their friends in droves to be a part of "Love Month" ...because it isn't a fear based teaching and it isn't a beat around the bush teaching either; we're just honest with our kids...

Anyway, the church and sex...how on earth would you discuss the kind of stuff people usually want to discuss about sex in a corporate setting? I don't see that happening and frankly if it was I'd be stepping out of that room. Some people need individual counseling for past sexual mistakes or abuse; that kinda stuff can't be discussed in detail corporately. Then you have teenagers and their questions but like I tell our parents, these kids know a whole lot more than we give them credit for and if they don't, why do they need to know? You know what I tell kids? I tell them that it's hard as all get out to wait but waiting (abstaining) creates for an awesome sex life in their future marriage, assuming the other person waited too. That can be said corporately! There are no specifics being talked about there. Do I leave them at that? No...I tell them that there is no substitute for being able to trust the one you give your heart to and to look them in the eye with complete openness and truth and say "you were worth the wait." The adventure begins there. Am I missing out on all the fun new ways Cosmo tells you how to please your mate each month? The Kama Sutra? Maybe. But you know what trust and also protecting your eyes and even your conversation does for your sex life: it leaves imagination and adventure. I have told kids that and that's about where I stop. Why? "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not awaken love until it so desires." Because I don't want them to lose their creativity. That's what desensitization does.

Okay so that's teenagers; that leaves the rest of us. For those of us who did premarital counseling with a pastor (and used the obligatory Preparing for Marriage by Dennis Rainey) we got to the sex chapter and cringed. Didn't really want to be talking about our non-existent yet future sex life with our pastor; that was my reaction and I know not a single other couple who felt differently - at least not my friends. Why? Because sex was the easy part. How's that? Because it was something completely foreign to many of us prior to marriage. Sure we saw sexuality abused and misused in everything and anything, but what we were headed toward with our spouse was different. It was pure. It, along with companionship, perhaps a mutual passion to serve God etc. were the reasons we were getting married. And "we" both knew it. "We" were both equally excited and nervous all at the same time. We knew everything was about to change but we "trusted" each other and "we" were at peace to figure it out together.

I just commented to somebody I was counseling with the other day that my parents NEVER gave me the birds and the bees talk. I don't know why, but short of having a concept of human anatomy I didn't know what I was doing before my wedding night. Yeah I'd been given the usual propaganda (Intended For Pleasure and that Tim and Beverly LaHaye book too--which both freaked me out by the way like in a weirded out disgusting way). My reaction to those books was more like "I don't want to know about sex from other couples having sex; I want to learn about sex with my new bride and if we get it wrong the first time, so what. We love each other; we trust each other; we're full of passion for each other and we have time to figure it all out.

So long as the church is not saying sex is anything but good and that married people should have lots of it, I don't need to hear from my church or any church on the specifics of sex. And again, for those who need to counsel about their past or past abuse etc. that NEVER belongs in a corporate setting anyway.

My conclusion: what's the problem people? What do you want!?

Lola Daniel


Lola Daniel commented…

Why choose ignorance when you can acquire knowledge about sex through reading about it. As learner drivers, we are keen to acquire an adequate amount of knowledge about cars and the road before taking the wheel, surely husbands should afford their wives at least the same level of courtesy as their cars.

What is so wrong with learning about sex from other couples in the same way that we learn many other things from other peoples experiences?

Why is sex so different?

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