How To Talk About Sex (in public)

Conor Friedersdorf (via Noah Millman) suggested a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint:

Let’s imagine a private, residential college in purple America. It was once an explicitly Christian institution, and while now avowedly secular, the faculty still has a few beloved old-timers who retain a sense that part of their job is moral education. There is also a Christian pastor who lives on campus, runs a campus ministry for Christian students, and sits on a collegiate interfaith counsel. Each year, he plays a role in freshmen orientation—initially, to introduce himself to the students and invite any who are interested to join his ministry; and later, as one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality. He has 15 minutes to share whatever thoughts he has with the freshmen, who’ve already learned where to get free condoms and been counseled in consent and sexual assault. This is the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation.

What should he say?

Should he say that abstinence is the only acceptable method for preventing unwanted pregnancy, because premarital sex is always wrong and contraception violates natural law by subverting God’s design of the human form? Should he say that while gays and lesbians are as loved by God as anyone and their desires are not themselves sinful, acting on them is immoral? Should he say that gay students should think about a vocation besides marriage, because the institution is inherently procreative and always will be? Or that students who never accept Jesus as their personal savior may be consigning themselves to eternity in hell? Should he say that anyone who aborts a pregnancy is murdering an innocent human? Or that the weight of tradition should cause students to look askance at masturbation? These are all beliefs a particular traditionalist Christian might well hold. You can imagine why he might feel impelled to speak them aloud—to “stay true” to his beliefs, despite their present unpopularity, or to facilitate what he regards as the potential saving of as many student souls as possible.

Should he say that you should imagine your future wife going to one of these parties and thinking of how to encourage men to show her respect?

Here’s part of what Friedersdorf came up with:

Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There’s always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?

There are so many situations you’ll face—so many more questions I could pose.

I don’t pretend that confronting these situations with the question, “How can I be good to others?” will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you’ll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you’re much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You’ll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!

Can you imagine a chaplain talking like this to students at a Christian college? Of course, not (unless it’s Boston College — ahem).

But can you really imagine Christians talking to other Christians about movies — MOVIES!?! — the way Samuel D. James does (via Tim Challies)?

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?

12 thoughts on “How To Talk About Sex (in public)

  1. What’s to say that any non-Christians don’t exercise sexual restraint? Perhaps said Christian should just mind his or her own business.


  2. All you can do is say something to appeal to those who are going to listen and try to live a moral life, provide some encouragement for decisions that are going to go against the tide of peer pressure.

    And it doesn’t matter what someone’s spiritual claims are, they do whatever they want to from youth and continuing to the grave. Sometimes a changed life occurs when one comes to their senses.

    Several of the World of Life Daily Quiet Time Gold Medalists from my youth group got pregnant in high school, a few others went “that way” and died of AIDS, while pretending and getting credit for being the holiest people on the planet.


  3. maybe you could say something like – we all have the same Creator, who, having created us, has the corner on the market on how created things work; how things work best; how things don’t work; how things thrive; how things destruct . He then also is the author of love, what it is; what it isn’t; how it works; how it doesn’t work; how it gives life; how it destroys. You could say at least He has warned us all is vanity and fulility apart from His purposes and ways. You could say that the situation is that there is a thief who only lies, steals, and destroys who takes advantage of our sin natures and the world systems to accomplish destruction, to which he is fully invested; but that our Creator, fully invested in our lives, having created it in us, and further, having sacrificed His own for us, has come to offer life and life in abundance. Being so invested, He has warned us any cooperation with that thief ( ie the disregarding of the Creator’s ways) ,results in death and destruction in some way and of some sort. Always. He can’t lie. He sets life and death before us. Our choice to make. He has warned us our own human wisdom is faulty and will fail us and so He advises heeding His wisdom as it is always true and results, truly, to always benefit us and those our actions affect.
    I guess if one is talking to atheists, then all that would be out the window for any kind of persuasion though.


  4. “I guess if one is talking to atheists, then all that would be out the window for any kind of persuasion though.” That’s true. But we share the same common space, so it seems to me that it there is real value in finding ways to “restrain evil” (as Paul describes the role of the state in Romans) even if it doesn’t do them any good for eternity.

    Whatever the case, I don’t see any evidence that the moral hectoring coming from student affairs during freshman orientation has any positive impact on behavior. They have been pushing the “drink responsibly” meme for decades and it seems that the drinking is only growing. Maybe everyone would be better off if Student Affairs just ceased to exist and we orientation was reduced to instructions on how to register for classes.


  5. no fair-ies sdb, jeff, and zrim, you didn’t address DG’s question and btw not sure what DG’s proposal means -it as weel is very vague and unhelpful

    DG asks : for a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint .. condition: one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality, having 15 minutes to share thoughts, it being the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation…..and (I think he is saying) in light of a better way for Christians to talk to Christians about it

    DG’ s Proposal: Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?


  6. @MohammedAli So you are saying Jeff, Zrim, and I aren’t fairies? That’s still a compliment right? Especially comming from you!


  7. Conor is an interesting thinker. He rejects theism, but he respects the value of much of classical Christian morality. He is interested in finding effective ways to translate what he sees as useful aspects of the judeo-Christian (for lack of a better word) tradition to a secularized environment.

    I don’t think anyone looks at the social scene of secular universities and thinks “healthy” environment. No question that binge drinking, sexual assault, and injury/death from drinking are major concerns all around. How does one get a handle on this? It is tough…OCR has made a hash of things, nothing has worked on the drinking front, and there isno question these are related.

    Do Christians have anything to offer in the common realm? In the ultimate sense, of course! The gospel. But what about those who don’t accept the gospel? Frankly, I am not so sure that a speech like Conor’s would help. No idea what this has to do with Bathsheba. I think I go with sean – less sex talk (especially in public ) from Christians would be better.


  8. sdb says: @MohammedAli So you are saying Jeff, Zrim, and I aren’t fairies? That’s still a compliment right? Especially comming from you!

    avoidance, but still funny, sdb
    so anyway mr. avoidance…. since DG suggests those biblical accounts are what ought help that guy’ prepare his 15 minute but doesn’t say how,did DG mean for the guy to use those minutes:
    to tell the students not to commit evil by ever taking another poor man’s one little lamb, then when one goes ahead anyway, at least admit it’s despicable, deserves death, warrants quadruple restitution; and know that the Lord may exact further serious tragic life consequences, just as he sees fit. (2 Sam 12); ?
    or did he mean those minutes should include conveying how beautiful God’s intent for marriage -two beloveds desiring each other; love as strong as death, jealousy as severe as Sheol; that many waters cannot quench love, nor rivers overflow it; and if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised;.. not to mention how romantically communicative a husband be along with his wife (SoS)?


  9. sdb, sorry but I don’t do filters. Still, the m-word is in the link so…

    Ali, I wasn’t aware there was a right and wrong way to chime in–there’s that pietist tick. But are you sure you’re the one to call fouls when it’s never really clear what you’re saying yourself? That tick again.


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