I am in the middle of a series of blogs setting out a positive and life-enriching Christian understanding of sex. This is the last of my foundational posts before I set out four pillars or characteristics of the Christian view of good and God-designed sex.
This week we are arguing that sex is not shameful.
As with each of the posts in this series I recommend reading the archetypal account of God’s intention when creating humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:4-7, 18-25 together with the use of it by Jesus (for example in Matthew 19:3-6) and St Paul (for example in Ephesians 5:25-33).
Sex is Not Shameful
There is nothing shameful about sex itself.
The archetypes we have in the creation accounts are quite clear:
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Shame is a consequence of human sinfulness and brokenness. It isn’t a part of God’s plan for sex.
Before sin and brokenness entered the world, Adam and Eve were one flesh, they were naked and they were not ashamed. There is no intrinsic link between sex and shame or sex and sin.
If we’re honest there is much we need to repent of in church history and even our more recent approaches here. Too often we have treated sex itself as something to be ashamed of or which is in some way dirty rather than as God’s good gift to us. We need to repent of this. To take the good gift that God has given us and say that it is something shameful is a sin. Doing so has consequences and is not the Christian or Biblical view.
When we treat sex as shameful it affects how we see God.
God uses sex as a picture of his love for us and of our future being united with him. When we become embarrassed of that picture or treat it as shameful we are saying that there is something shameful about how God sees us or, at very least, that we are not interested in hearing it. God loves us, he desires us, he longs for his church. When we treat sex as a subject that needs to be hidden and treated as an embarrassment we are refusing to receive God’s revelation of himself. In turn that can leave us with a cold and distant view of God.
When we treat sex as shameful it affects how we see the honour and dignity of singleness.
If we refuse to talk about the Biblical understanding of sex we don’t honour those who are so committed to it that they will abstain from any other sexual activity. There is something beautiful about someone refusing something they want for the sake of a greater ideal and we miss that if we treat sex as shameful.
When we treat sex as shameful we make it seem illicit.
This is particularly an issue for those who have responsibility for caring for, raising and shaping young people. If we are not willing to engage with them about sex then their values will be shaped by others either from within their own head (in which case they will be confused), from online pornography, or from a culture that is both confused and hostile to a Christian understanding of commitment and love and fruitfulness. If we are not too embarrassed to talk about sex then others will not look to us for guidance.
When we treat sex as inherently shameful or sinful we make it harder for people to speak about and confront its abuse.
We deprive the culture around us of a view of sex that is more robust in protecting the weak and protective of the joy and intimacy of sex than anything else it has come up with. The Christian understanding of sex is superior to a lot of what passes for contemporary sexual ethics and we should be open about it, not to condemn the world around us. We have surrendered public debate to a wholly anaemic and inadequate sexual culture that is impotent to protect victims.
Moreover, and even more seriously, if people believe that we see sex as shameful they will be unable to speak to us about their experiences, to confront their accusers, to find protection and refuge in the arms of Christ. Worse still we may find that we have created a culture in which abusers can take refuge, confident that they will not be confronted because of our distaste for the subject. The church is not the only institution that has been confronted by sex abuse scandals – almost every institution has. But it is tragic that the church was affected at all and I am convinced that part of the reason abuse was so difficult to talk about was the sense that sex itself was treated as in some sense shameful or dirty. It made victims feel that they were in some sense dirty or used and it meant that men could hide for years within the church when they should have been exposed and punished.
This doesn’t mean that seeing sex as not shameful at all is no protection at all – the Weinstein scandal arose in the most liberal culture in the world. What does offer protection is the good and life-giving understanding that God has given us and which we will be looking at over the following few weeks. But we will only be able to offer that protection if others know that they can talk to us; if our children know that their parents do not consider them stained because they have had a sexual encounter. Our children have to know that they are not dirty or broken if they have been abused.
Pause for Reflection
Next week we will begin looking at how, when it is used as its Creator intended, sex is good. For now I want to suggest some points for reflection.
First, where is our understanding of sex derived from? Is it adapted from TV or movies, is it from your parents, is it from Scripture? We need to reflect on the ideas we have acquired and internalised, to critique where our understanding of our self-worth comes from, and to try to challenge improper shame or idolatry where we find it.
Second, I want to encourage those who are trying to follow the Christian perspective on sex to have confidence in it. It is a good and beautiful view that revolutionised the world, stood for thousands of years, and will more than likely outlast any of the passing values of today.
Third, we should make sure that we treat others who disagree with us with respect and dignity. Where we encounter others who are pursuing lifestyles that show a different understanding from ours – whatever their sexual relationships – we must remember that they are created in God’s image and were made with the potential to become his children irrespective of their sex lives. Don’t dismiss them, don’t ignore them, don’t despise them; love them.
We’re dealing with the goodness of sex more next week. Before that, however, I want to leave you with this.
Sex is about the gospel. It is about the Son of God who came and redeemed for himself a bride. It is about him being united with that bride forever. If you are a Christian, you are a part of that. In that sense, sex is simply a signpost on our journeys back to God.
If you want to read further about the ideas we are discussing in this series I recommend these two books:
- A Better Story by Prof. Glynn Harrison. Professor Harrison is the former Professor of Psychology at Bristol University and has written a fascinating, compassionate and informative account of the changes in how society has viewed sex and sexuality over the last 50 years together with a proposal for how faithfully to live and explain a Christian understanding of sex. It is very easy to read and combines depth with precision and kindness.
- Sex Talks by Matthew Hosier. Matt is the Pastor of a large church in the New Frontiers church network as well as an interesting and helpful sexual ethicist. This book deals with various issues and questions he has dealt with as part of his work with teenagers and young people. It is rigorous, loving, and brutally honest. It deals with real questions that real young people have wanted to discuss and so some of the topics may make readers feel uncomfortable.
 For example, Ephesians 5:29-31