Excellent post. Despite the good intentions, I too think we do teenagers in the church a disservice with our emphasis on "purity." Ultimately it offers very little in the way of a framework for thinking positively about relationships– romantic or otherwise. Other people are potential contaminants to my purity. What's more, who feels "pure" about their sexuality? Virgin or not, you're going to carry some shame around the issue.
I find it much more helpful to encourage our teens to pursue "wholeness" as opposed to "purity." Wholeness in the broad sense– a well-rounded, purposeful life consisting in a range of healthy, non-sexual relationships. Dealing with one's own sexuality is never easy. But a life that possesses some level of wholeness is less likely to depend on sex to provide more than it's capable of. That person is more likely to find their security and self-worth in other things.
Theresa, you are so right (again!). As the parents of three teenagers, my husband and I feel pretty alone in trying to help them navigate sexuality. How are they supposed to make sense of the messages they hear? On the one hand, they get an occasional, well-meaning "talk" at the Christian school amounting to "Sex is a bee-YOO-tiful thing between husband and wife. Don't do it now." On the other hand, their days are filled with constant, unrelenting messages from TV and movies and "culture" amounting to "Sex is a fun and casual thing between consenting people and you should definitely get as much of it as possible. Feel free to joke crudely about it, too. Oh, and don't forget to be safe!" As parents, we try to model and talk about a healthier, more wholistic view of things, but it's not easy. It's the analogous situation to the "healthy eating" guidelines from the government, right? Sure, the cute little graphics tell you what healthy eating looks like, but how can they compete with the constant battering of the food industry's million-dollar ad campaigns?
Lauren Winner tried to offer some decent, wholistic, Christian wisdom about sex a few years ago with her book (*Real Sex*, Brazos, 2005). The book did well, but there's much more to be said. Theresa, a new book idea for you?
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