Chris: So let’s just start by listing body parts, to show we are not anxious about this conversation AT ALL.
Ryan: OK, so just to get this out there and normalise the conversation, I’m going to say the words ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’ and ‘boobs.’
Chris: ‘Testicles.’ That’s a great one. I think it’s described as “clusters of grapes”, in the Song of Solomon.
Ryan: Something about mountains, or goats skipping on the hills?
Chris: OK, that makes me feel less weird.
Ryan: That’s it, I’m done now. I feel the conversation’s been normalised.
Chris: So why do Christians find talk of sex so anxiety-provoking?
Ryan: I think that sex is something people think about a lot; I don’t really believe this, but apparently men think about it once every three minutes or something.
Chris: Well, let’s test this: have you thought about it since we’ve met up today?
Ryan: OK, obviously we’ve been thinking about it quite a lot today.
Chris: You wriggled out of that one quite well.
Ryan: Is it something you think about a lot?
Chris: Yeah, it is. I think we can’t help it – it’s thrown in our face all the time. It’s always used in advertising, or songs, or music. You can’t not think about it. I don’t know if we should try and not think about it.
Ryan: I think that what the Church does is make sex a taboo subject. And you know what happens when there’s a culture with a lot of taboos – you want to experience it more, you want to go wild on it. It’s human nature. We need to bring sex back into the mainstream conversation of the Church. Christian culture needs to own that conversation, because right now secular culture definitely does.
Chris: Yeah, you’re saying we should talk about it more: ‘bringing it back’ doesn’t mean everyone should go and have sex. We’re anxious about it as Christians because we don’t talk about it. Sex has also been labelled as something really ‘rude’. I’m interested in why that is – there’s definitely such a thing as filthy talk, and it mentions that in the book of James, but you read Ezekiel 23, the whole chapter – and it’s really rude. We’ve connected those two things – coarse language and sex – and that makes things more taboo.
There’s two plans, two voices, at work in our culture: and one voice is talking really loudly about sex at the moment and that’s not the voice of God. That means we’re only hearing one message, which is attached to shame and to ‘rudeness’. And there’s a contempt for purity. What we need to do as a Church is speak up.
Ryan: And yet, the Church has made talking about sex feel forbidden. And that just piques our interest, let’s be honest. The Church just reacts. It sees that the world’s got an unhealthy relationship with sex, and so it swings in completely the opposite direction, rather than going for a balanced perspective. What we do, when we’re not in a healthy balance, is we either go straight out and want to try the forbidden fruit, or we get all religious and do everything we can to avoid it. We shouldn’t do either of those things with sex.
Chris: So, what you’re saying is that Church has taken sex off the table and we should always have it on the table.
Ryan: I think yes, we need to put it back on the table again.
Chris: Yep, sex on the table.
Chris: I think there’s another issue which is prevalent in the Church. What happens is, when a couple gets married, and one or both have saved themselves for marriage, they often struggle with sex at the start. Women especially might physically struggle with sex at the beginning. I was talking to a church leader the other day, and he was saying it’s a huge issue in their church. And it’s not just about the fact that it might hurt, but it’s like the ‘good girl syndrome’ where actually, a woman who maybe hasn’t had sex before, isn’t fully OK with the fact, in her head, that she can have sex now.
We can’t be scared of sex, and talking about it. In Jewish culture, sex was part of the wedding ceremony. I reckon sex is mentioned more in the Bible than it is in Game of Thrones – OK, that is not based on research. But the Bible’s full of sex.
Ryan: Shows like Game of Thrones make sex something a little bit dirty. It’s about power and using people. That’s what people are being fed. But that kind of sex is about objectification, about getting your kicks; it’s selfish. The heart isn’t connected. The Church needs to step in. And you know me, I always bring this stuff back to identity, every time.
Chris: Yeah, every time.
Ryan: EVERY time. But for me, sexuality is so linked to identity. One of the things that happens in church, which makes it so anxiety-provoking, is that people don’t yet know if they’re going to be chosen. We make this a qualifier in the Christian world – that when you get chosen by someone, then you can have sex. That’s fine, if you know that you’re going to get chosen. If you don’t know who you are, if you don’t know you’re valued and God’s got you, you may be thinking: “How do I know that I’m going to experience this? How do I know that I’m going to be chosen?”
We all want to be loved for who we are and we’re designed for union. So we’re anxious. For me, I’m a committed Christian, I’m in my 30s, and I’m newly single. So I’ve got to be confident enough in the fact that God’s got me, so that I don’t get worried about that and start asking: “Am I going to be chosen?”
Chris: The thing I love about you, is you have really taken that message of ‘Don’t look for the one, become the one’ to heart. And sometimes you’re in a good season, sometimes in a painful one, but either way you’re going to work on that with God, you don’t shy away from the issues.
Ryan: Yeah, and we don’t have to strive to get noticed, or fight for the scraps under the table. God wants to get us to a place where we know we’re enough. A friend of mine said: “What is for you, can’t move past you.” Well, God is for us. He’s not going to pass us by. And when someone knows they’re lovable, it’s interesting, things start to work out a little more easily.
Ryan: Now, what I want to know is: do you think sex should only exist within marriage?
Chris: Yeah, I do. Before I met my wife, I hadn’t waited to have sex and what I know now is, that I used to have sex for affirmation and love. I used to do it for love, not from love. There was no peace in it. I’m now married to an amazing woman, and sex feels safe and there’s no anxiety. There’s a huge difference. Before, there was always the anxiety that if the sex wasn’t good enough, the person might leave; in marriage, even if it’s not always great, there’s the attitude of ‘we’re here now, so OK let’s work on this.’ It’s much, much safer to me.
I know a married couple who were both Christians and they had sex with each other before marriage, and they would say that it was totally fine, everything’s OK. I would say that’s because they never broke up. But if a couple breaks up, and they’ve had sex, it feels like a little bit of you is gone. It’s a huge risk to your heart to connect with someone in that way before marriage.
Ryan: Yeah, and that’s what the Church does get right. Sex is designed for marriage. At any point where we let our level of intimacy go above our level of commitment, there will be pain. The human heart is designed for covenant. And the thing about covenant is, it’s not about a set of legal requirements: it’s an unconditional, heart commitment. It’s saying: “I’m here for you, I’m not going away. You can’t get rid of me.” Before anyone gets access to our true value, to our true intimacy, they need to be committed to us.
Chris: So how can we be counter-cultural?
Ryan: We need to know our identity, and we need to know that in three areas: do we know how valuable God is? Do we know how valuable we are? Do we know how valuable others are?
Chris: For me, to be counter-cultural is to value sex, which the Church does well. And to talk about it, which is what the world does well.
Ryan: Ok, so let me ask you about porn.
Chris: Porn is a massive problem. We have so much access to it. And that problem exists in Church, definitely. There’re very few people that I’ve spoken to, of our generation, both male and female, who haven’t had a problem with it.
Ryan: For my money, I’d say it’s when there’s a vacuum in the Church around openness and sex, that’s where porn will creep in. And we don’t acknowledge it can affect women too. There’s a thing we say in Church: “Oh we’re going to have a guy’s group and we’re going to be talking about sex,” and actually I think there’s a lot of women who want to talk about that, too! I know some amazing women who have really struggled with porn. Women should get to talk about it too, and actually, it would be great if women could talk to men about it, not just women’s group and men’s groups.
Chris: We run a student’s ministry together at our church and we want to create a safe space for people to take their armour off, and show us their wounds and receive that healing from connection with God and others. What if we had more environments of safety – where there’s no worry about judgement – but if instead we said: “Come as you are, we’ll love you, let’s have a look at this all together. Come as you are. We know who you are, we know who you could be.” As a community, as a Church, we need to cultivate that sort of environment.
Ryan: Overall, what I think we’re saying is, we need to put sex back on the table. And once you’re married, on the kitchen worktop, bathroom, sofa, and wherever else.
Chris: Yeah, that’s right.