Posts Tagged ‘sex’

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.


Posted: April 5, 2011 in people
Tags: , , , ,

Two weeks before he was to be married,  the student chaplain at the university where my daughter goes to school  told the girl he was about to marry that he was gay.

And so, ended, the dream, they had together; they dropped  the wedding plans, the marriage and then shortly afterwards, the young man resigned from his leadership role at the school. He graduates from college this spring — in pain. And he’s not the only one.

My wife and I, talking over coffee this morning, wondered, about the conversations, behind the scenes, between the couple, with the parents,with friends and with the school leaders —  painful, excruciating, gut wrenching. The words said to this young man will be remembered by him, for life. And some of the words will have to be recovered from.

Sexual identity is no small issues; our reactions to it are so powerful and so life changing. I really suffer for this young man, and his fiancée and their parents and friends and the school’s students and leaders. This is hard, and I can see that the pain of it has not be adequately acknowledged by the school, by those involed and  by the students. But it is there, and it will not just go away. There will be a painful, ongoing conversation, and it will last much longer than some people  want it to.

I know pain.  So do so many people. A girl told me a while back that she was being pressured by an older guy to have sex with him, even though he is married. This isn’t new for her. Sex has been a huge factor in shaping the last ten years of her life.  She’s pained by it and marked by it. What to do? I have told her again and again, “God loves you.”  He does.

As my wife and I talked this morning, on the TV news, operating background to our dialogue, their was a blub about college guys voting on girls, “hot or not.” My wife remarked, “So, is that considered fun or  is it harassment?” The conversation about that and all things sexual  is being had, at the most public level, but much of it will be a report and a few people’s opinions not the much needed exposé of the pain, within the story. The news doesn’t often deal with the pain of men and women who are or who feel or who are made to feel unattactive. Not many people publically talk about the massive, universal insecurity young people have over “how I look,” or with the brutal question some young people pose to themselves, “Am I hot enough to be loved?”  That is not even a healthy question, but it is out there, and we all know it, but we won’t often hear it put that straight.

Too often, when it comes to sexual issues, we don’t have the conversation that is within the conversation, that really matters. Christians, for instance, are known to talk a lot about sexual morality, and of course, morality is very real, and good, and Biblical morality is from God and very important,  but the converstation about what is right must be combined with talk about what has already gone wrong.  Young people need to be able to talk to older people about what is currently happening. They need to talk about  birth control, about STD’s, about sex and marriage and about homosexuality. They are talking about these things with their friends in their dorm rooms but not as much with their parents or grandparents. Why? Sometimes the older people simply will not have this conversation. They may not even know how. But young people still need to talk, to someone who is open and wise and  who has lived for a while and failed and learned to be gentle and forgiving.

The conversation  about sex must include the forgiveness and grace that need to follow failure. We need to talk about how our society and the church and schools have responsed to sexual issues in the past and whether those ways of responding are ways we want to keep using.  There has been a lot of judgment in the past that ignores our universal failure in this area. When it comes to issues of sexual morality, we all fail, actually quite similarly, and that is precisely what is too often ignored. The things to talk about are “our” sexual issues, not “their” sexual issues and we all we need to confess more and pronounce less.

Why confess about this more? Because others  are confessing, openly.  The confessional conversation is  already  going on, in public, in private, in everywhere. Proof? Just go to the movies.

Two nights ago my wife and daughters and I went to see the movie “Lincoln Lawyer.”  It’s a fairly fun movie. Matthew McConaughey actually gets a chance to act, and he does pretty well, at being cool, and fun. In the story, sex is for sale, and  murder after. It’s interesting, what entertains us. Are sex and murder entertaining? Of course they are.  Why? Because sex and violence have a powerful grip on all of us.

Sex is in the conversation that people are having, and if we want to be part of the conversation we must openly talk about sex. And if we don’t talk about sex, well, then we don’t, but that won’t stop everyone else from talking and interpreting it in ways that may not be honest or real. Sex is on the docket, and won’t be taken off, and if we don’t say anything,  we’ll be left out, without weighing in on one of life’s most significant issues.

Weigh in. I will.  Intepret or it will be interpreted for you. Sex is good, normal, fun, exciting, healing, and don’t plan on it stopping anytime  soon. And sexual issues can also be terribly and profoundly painful, because sex is not just a physical act, but a deeply ontological, psychological, social and spiritual part of all of us. It is wonderful and makes a wonderful life, and not.

A friend  sent me a text yesterday, “It’s a boy!”

“Cool!” I texted back, “Congrats!” This will be this young couples’ first baby. Lots of fun ahead for them.

A bit later, my daughter just texted me from her dorm room. “A girl on my hall just told us she’s engaged. Sorry I didn’t get back to you after you texted me, but I was yelling with everybody.”

“Whoohoo!” I texted back. “I guess.”

Of course its “whoohoo!” and I’m sure it will be fine, I guess, but I don’t know.  But it  will have a chance, I think, of being more fine if this young couple has people to talk to before they marry about sex and career and babies and fidelity and about times  coming when life won’t be “Whohoo!”

A happy marriage and happy babies after the wedding is absolutely fantastic, but it isn’t what some people end up as a result of romance, and love and sex. For many, the  relational and sexual stuff, as life goes along,  gets just plain excruciating —  a woman I know who was sexually abused as a child and then cheated on in her marriage as an adult, the  young man at the university who came out as gay, his fiancée, several of my conflicted gay friends, a woman I know who regrets not getting the degrees she always wanted to have before she had  babies. I love them, but they hurt, over choices they have made or others have made, and I know this because they tell me.

This morning my wife and I talked about a couple of people we know who are gay. One of them is in so much obvious pain that I worry about him. His sister just had a baby, made the family proud. He didn’t. I suffer for him. He needs to talk to someone, who is safe, and can understand. If he doesn’t find places to be heard, and understood, then he will really, really suffer, like he is right now. I know that God loves him and wants to enter into this struggle with him, but is this young man hearing this, enough, and does he understand this? I don’t know.

Here is the deal. I’m not shutting up about this, and I don’t think the rest of us should either.

We need to talk. And it needs to be talk that is first of all without judgment regarding people who are outside the norm and people who have made mistakes, and people who are in pain. And we need to talk more to young people who have questions and have never had honest answers from parents or leaders who have the wisdom that comes from experience and thought and morality and God and love.

In my house sex is a common topic. We laugh about it, make jokes about it, answer serious questions about it, have moral standards that we discuss, and yet we are open about our weaknesses and failures to be all we want to be.   We treat sex as a normal part of life, and we take it very seriously when there is ambiguity, uncertainty, mystery,  pain, beauty or love surrounding it. And there is, all this and so much more hovering at the edges of our sexuality.

Sex is a complex issue, and it needs some complex thinking and a complex dialogue. The people with the easy answers are fooling themselves and so they will be fooled, as life unfolds. The main thing is to  be open with ourselves and others and to get to know both ourselves and other people,  especially people who are different from us, and who have had different experiences, and to hear them, and feel with them and understand them and their pain so that we can better understand ourselves and our pain.

We need to have a conversation about sex, that doesn’t stop, with sex, but extends on into morality and God and pain and grace and unconditional love too.

Let’s keep talking.

For more of my thoughts on this, you are invited to visit  Click on the topic button, “Sex.”

Main-Thing Talk

Posted: February 16, 2010 in people
Tags: , , ,

We talk about everything but the main thing.

Not talking directly and openly about the main thing is like not eating enough protein. It is like not getting enough sleep.

What is the main thing? Well, if I say it you might disagree and there we go, not talking main-thing stuff again.

Recently, I talked with my daughter about sex. Now there is a main thing. Ads talk about it a lot and radio songs gush about it all over the place, and so she should know all about it, right? Not really. She’s been saturated with ads and songs and singing ads all her life, but it hasn’t gotten it, and she still didn’t know some very simple and of-the-first-order things about sex. Why? We just don’t talk about it; we let our fear of awkwardness keep us from becoming not awkward with life. So my college-aged daughter and I got down to some honest, simple, raw questions and answers. I know what she doesn’t know, and I’m the safest person in the world to let her know. Dang!

It is so easy to be honest if we just get started and so refreshing too. It’s like leaving a crowded restaurant where there is a constant din of undecipherable noise and moving to a park bench under a quiet tree and sitting close and hearing every nuance of meaning and expression in each other’s voices.

I had a conversation with some one recently about God. Who hasn’t heard of God? But there is a constant din of puzzlement about him too, and silence here too. It’s too weird. People say they can’t talk with certain people about politics or religion. So they don’t. Fine. Who need arguments? But really now? God is arguably a main thing. And he is so main he is integrated with everything else that we talk about or don’t talk about, like sex and violence and pets and movies and the weather. And not bringing him up is bizarre. He is the ultimate elephant in the room. Why wouldn’t we in our role as parent and friend and lover and consumer speak directly and personally about God.

We know stuff and kids have questions and friends have concerns. It is long past time to break the silence and say what we think to each other!  Come on now. We are letting moments pass when we should be jumping on the opportunities to teach and learn and lean while we teach as we just get honest and real and verbal.

The main thing is always the thing below the surface of the thing we have chosen to talk about. To get down to it, we need only look further to the larger structure: what is the branch that is holding this leaf, the trunk that is holding this branch, the root that is holding the trunk, the earth that is  holding this root, the solar system that is holding this earth, the universe that is holding this solar system, the force that is holding this universe? Questions get us deeper, closer to the main things that are so interesting and refreshing and empowering to talk about.

Main stuff needs attention. This is ridiculous. We are shutting up way too much. We are acting like we don’t know about what we do know about. Just go there. Fearlessly dive to the next level.  Admit what you don’t know; say what you do know. Say it plainly, honestly and directly.  People who you love need you to say it, now.