This morning, I read a post that reminded me of the way we try to put people in boxes labeled, “Christian, moral” and “Non-Christian, immoral.” It made me feel strange, like something I’d read before only with different words. Shaming, harmful words. While I get it that sex wasn’t the whole point, it still made me rage. It made me want to ask “but what about…” questions.
This, in particular, pushed my buttons:
The Christian view says sex is a sacred, initmate act between two people, the ultimate place of vulnerability, and is better enjoyed within the context of the marriage covenant, of complete trust, honesty and commitment.
The secular view says we should be free to have sex with whoever we want, whenever we want, however we want, as long as it’s ethical, legal, consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone. It comes from the view that we make our own choices and we should be able to have sex with whoever we want, whenever we want, within the obvious boundaries of ethics, morality and law.
But going deeper, it actually comes from a view of the world which says it’s all about us.
Our enjoyment, our good, comes before anything else. And all the good things should be enjoyed now. Anything which restricts our decisions, or tells us to live in a way we’re not comfortable with, is limiting. We make our own decisions, and if it feels good and it’s legal and morally good, then we should be free to do it.
No. That is not the “secular” view. The opposite of the “Christian” view (which I would argue is better called the “conservative Christian view”) is most definitely not “it’s all about me.”
Are there people who operate from the perspective that it’s all about them? Sure. Those people take what they want, when they want it, and others don’t matter to them. But that’s not split between Christians and non-Christians. It’s not even split between those who want to wait and those who don’t . It’s split between nice people and assholes.
The idea that waiting is unselfish and not waiting is self-centered denies some pretty basic, important truths. First, it implies that marriage means trust and commitment. People get married for all sorts of reasons, including some who get married because they are forbidden to have sex otherwise. Lots and lots of married people don’t have trust or commitment. Yet when they have sex, it’s sacred because the state issued them a piece of paper and a minister signed it? What an odd way to look at things. If trust and commitment are required, there are plenty of married couples that should probably not be morally allowed to have sex.
Second, it implies that being unmarried means there isn’t trust or commitment. Right there, that rules out anyone living in a state where they can’t legally get married. (Of course, if one believes same-sex relationships are a sin, then I guess that person would say it doesn’t matter whether they can legally wed or not.) It also suggests unmarried people are only having sex because they don’t have the self-control to wait til marriage to have orgasms. I think it’s a pretty bold leap to decide we know what motivations a person has for sexual intimacy and whether or not their relationship includes trust and commitment.
Third, it ignores the reality that selfish sex can occur within a marriage, too. Some people firmly believe they have the right to someone else’s body once they are married. Some pastors (ahem) even teach that. I would rather that two unmarried people have sex that honors one another’s autonomy than that two married people treat each other’s bodies with disrespect.
Fourth, it makes sex into something it isn’t (and shouldn’t be). Sex, in conservative Christian circles, has taken on meaning and importance that it shouldn’t have. It has become something considered “sacred,” and therefore it can be used to control others, either by restricting it or by using it against them. I don’t see sex as “the ultimate place of vulnerability” between two people. I’ve felt far more naked and exposed when revealing my innermost thoughts than when I’m literally naked and exposing my vagina. The way we talk about sex should not turn it into something emotionally and physically terrifying.
I wish that it were as simple as married sex = good, unmarried sex = bad, but it isn’t. Intimacy is so much more complex than that, with all the intricacies of the lives we’ve lived and the experiences we’ve had built into it. The way to create a healthy sexual ethic, Christian or otherwise, isn’t to draw lines based on perceived motives or what we think is or isn’t part of a relationship. I’m not suggesting that Christians should necessarily drop the idea that intimacy is best within marriage–it may very well be the case, at least for some people. But we could certainly learn a thing or two from an ethic that isn’t fixated on the magic moment of marriage. Doing what’s best for our bodies, giving and receiving consent, feeling good, doing no harm, and making our own choices should always be part of healthy sex, regardless of when it occurs.*
*One might argue that those things are all part of trust, honesty, and commitment, I suppose, but one cannot argue that those things are an automatic part of marriage. Too many married people–yes, lots of them Christians–are not experiencing any of those things.