Sex is popular!

It always has been! It feels so freakin’ good!

Its fun! Its funny! It’s entertaining. Shakespeare sure had fun with it in English theatre. Most of us still do! The sexual innuendo, quip and comment, they still get the hoot and the laugh.

But as much as sex is a part of our literature, our history and our modern experience — on TV, in movies, on ads, in books, on the internet, in discussions with friends and family — honestly, it remains an area confusion for so many people. I know it has always been a bit confusing to me!

Sex gets talked about. From the dorm room to the bedroom, from Hollywood to the hovel, from the church to the club, from the bathroom to the board room, people talk, but often the discussions are brags, bits of gossip, judgments, comments on trends, moralizations, envious congratulations or bitter rejections.  They aren’t that helpful in sorting things out.

The church has tried, but it has mostly worked different angles of the “Theology of No. ”

It’s never been much different. Sex has always been super popular, supermentionable (in certain places while not in others), theologized, moralized, humorized and practiced. But that hasn’t seemed to encouraged a better understanding of the deep currants of emotion that swirl around it, how it affects our hearts, our minds, our inner persons. Afterall, sex, isn’t at the core, very rational. It taps into something deep in us, and that deep would be good to explore more.

Questions remain: When, how, why, what or with whom do we do it or not? How does it define us, make us feel, give us identity, and affect other decisions in other areas of life.

I think this kind of discussion is needed more than ever because things are changing quickly, especially in our thinking about premarital sex. The statistics show us moving toward earlier sex, younger sex, more premarital sex.

A study of trends in premarital intercourse over the past half-century in the US shows that 48 percent of women born between 1939 and 1948 reported having had premarital intercourse by age 20. That jumped to 65 percent for women born between 1949 and 1958. Among women born between 1959 and 1968, those reporting premarital sex by age 20 was 72 percent, and for those born between 1969 and 1978, the figure was 76 percent.

The Princeton, N.J.-based Gallup Organization has tracked Americans’ views on premarital sex for decades and found that fewer have disagreed with the practice over the years. In 1969, two-thirds of Americans said premarital sex was wrong; 21 percent said it was acceptable. By the early 1970s. Just 47 percent were critical of sex before marriage.

In 1985, a majority of Americans — 52 percent — said premarital sex was acceptable. Today about 60 percent say the practice is acceptable and 38 percent say it is wrong. For young adults the acceptability is higher; 67% of them see it as acceptable.

What we can see here is that people are now growing up in an environment that is increasingly both accepting and practicing sex before marriage.

Some young people I know, people in their teens and 20’s  have said to me recently, it seems like “Everybody is doing it,” which is pretty true, but not entirely, and so “Why not do it too?” The current powerful wave of acceptance, a kind of tsunami of peer influence, makes sex to many young people a no-brainer! Ride the wave! Just do it! No need to talk about this anymore.

But we don’t need leave our brains at the door when it comes to sex. We can talk about it, and we need to because it matters, what we do, how it makes us feel, how it shapes identity. This discussion isn’t over. A significant number of polled people in the US, 40%, still do not think premarital sex is wise. That’s means it’s still a viable issue, still up for discussion.  I think its smart to talk about it more, think about it more, and not just statistically or just morally.

Sex is a big deal, obviously; it’s so amazing, so powerful, so universally practiced! It has so much built into it to make it fun, meaningful and desirable, but also challenging and painful and even potentially harmful to us! Sex can make a life, but the consequences that stem from it can also break a life. The teen mom living in poverty with her young children is too often a tragedy in the making. Sexual activity is a rich, complex, influential thing that it warrants an ongoing discussion. Identity and sex, the psychology of sex, the emotional component of sex — all would be good to explore more.

Consider the issue of how sex affects identity. Some people think about sex as merely a physical event. Not so. To have sex with someone is to enter into a psychological and social experience. Sex is a movement from me to us. Sex takes us from individuated, to combined, from separated to bonded. When we have sex with another person our bodies merge, and so do our identities. We are now one in a shared intimacy, one in a deeper sense of vulnerability, one in sexuality, one in knowing each other, one in shared history.

Whether or not we later describe this as a good or bad experience, either way we have bared ourselves and opened ourselves to shared experience, mutual vulnerability, common identity. “We did it,” means we combined!

As a result we will never again think of that other person the same, or will our relationship with them be the same. We have crossed a line and entered into the “us” zone of identity. Whether we just fall asleep afterwards or have a long talk into the night, we will in some sense carry that person with us as we go forward. One of the difficulties that ensues from this if it is premarital is that we may well feel closer to that person than we really are. We have, in a sense, acted married and so we may feel married because we have married our most intimate selves to another soul.  Sex sometimes, in this manner, actually confuses people’s thinking. Sex can make us stupid. Once we sleep with someone, we may, in effect stay asleep and fail to notice areas of deep incompatibility that will eventually undo the relationship.

The other way it might go is that if the sex is premarital, and casual, and the partners don’t know each other well, then they may have a tendency to dismiss the ramifications of what they did. “It was nothing! It was just a one-night-stand.” That’s not true; sex is always  something —  it is intrinsically the kind of thing that people build lives on, the kind of thing that has always been honored as sacred, for centuries and centuries, respected, valued, treasured, a kind of gateway to family and community. Pretending that isn’t true won’t make its specialness go away. Sex is a moment of profound mutuality, a moment in which one soul opens its door to another, sups together, and sleeps together, in trust. That special person, chosen to share in that delicious, memorable, soul bonding feast will remain inside, long after the door has closed and the phone stops ringing.

The truth is that whenever we have sex with someone, and then separate from each other for good, the next day or ten years later, there will be a ripping apart of what was bonded by the experience, whether we hear the tear or not. Sex bonds, and that bond undone is a rip in our hearts.

Therefore, to wait to have sex until after marriage has the potential to increase the chance that we may live with a preserved, slowly deepening, enriching and safe experience of shared sexual identity. If we commit with rings and vows, then bond sexually and stay together, we increase our odds of not damaging our fragile identities and those of others.

There is another aspect of shared sexuality, that also needs to be more carefully thought out. It is the underdiscussed factor of self-control. This is huge! Good sex and self-control go hand-in-hand.  I like this part of the discussion; it’s personal to me. Self-control has been something I’ve thought a lot about.

Self-control is crucial to a good life. To live well, we must practice self-control with money, with time, with food, with work, with thoughts, with all our appetites in order to successfully navigate life. Take the issue of self-control and our sexual appetite — this is very important to good relationship. Self-control is deep part of true love.

Here is the deal. Long lasting relationships, marriage itself, has seasons, and they don’t all promote good sex. Couples will find that over a life-time their sex will be limited or even put on hold from time-to-time by stress, tiredness, pregnancy, children, work obligations, fights, psychological instability, travel separation, illness and aging. Sex isn’t always “great!”

During those times when we are not getting from the other person what we need sexually, we will need to practice some level of self-control. It won’t do to have a fling, an affair, a one-nighter with someone else just because sex at home isn’t happening or isn’t good. Our partners won’t be okay with that. The horrible relational trauma that comes with such betrayals indicate in itself how special we really all know the sexual bond is. Sex, married or unmarried sex, is an area in which our souls long for some kind of trust, loyalty, trust and stability.

Self-control is certainly shaped and affected by our experiences with premarital sex. If we practice self-control before we are married, we help ready ourselves for self-control after we are married. If we can’t be trusted before we are married, with our sexual impulses, then that leaves open the question, can we be trusted after we are married? We may be, but trust is built, for us and other people, on a track record. And there is something else here. Our overall outlook on and satisfaction with sex will always be based on our previous experiences. The research shows that the more sexual partners a person has had, the more they are likely to be sexually unfulfilled. They tend to compare experiences, to compare partners, and find themselves dissatisfied.

Sex, good sex, sex within good relationships, sex that fulfills, sex that lasts over a lifetime, is steeped in self-control and shaped by it.

Sex, what to do? The choices matter, and as we have seen, these choices involve the preservation of unfragmented identity and the preservation of relationships. What we do matters, and what we decide can change based on rational thinking and decision-making. Culturally, we as a culture have been moving in the direction of practicing sexuality more before marriage. That can change, and there is some indication that it is changing.

“Teen birth rates fell steeply in the United States from 2007 through 2011, resuming a decline that began in 1991 but briefly interrupted in 2006 and 2007. The overall rate declined 25% from 41.5 per 1,000 teenagers aged 15–19 in 2007 to 31.3 in 2011 — a record low.”

The economy, birth control, education — all have been considers as factors, but even the experts are not entirely sure how to account for these changes.

It is true that we have been talking more to young people about sex than ever before out of concern for the quality of their lives. This is one influencing factior. More talk is needed, especially at the level of understanding the matters of the heart, how sexual activity affects identity, emotion, and the development of needed life skills like self-control.

We will keep having sex, no doubt about that.  So, lets also keep thinking and talking about sex too.

We haven’t figured ourselves out yet, but we certainly should keep trying.

This matters.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for thinking on this brother.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Randy, thank you for the info on sex. If having that information when I was a teen, I know
    my life would have turned out so different, You are bringing the mess. to the young
    in such a wonderful way, I love that. I miss the church , hope to see ya all soon!!!
    chow for now.. Pat

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