A Youth summer camp at an awesome space, with incredible speakers, too much sun, Hillsong worship (pre-oceans but post the brass band stage). There was a buzz about the camp when Saturday morning approached.
We were having a conversation at 9am that day about sex and relationships. Starting together, but splitting into guys and girls. The classic set up. You probably know the drill.
As the boys left to go to the campfire area outside, “Maccas” became the hot topic of conversation. We talked animatedly for an hour or so, covering all manner of topics from “dates to find a mate” vs “waiting for the one,” pornography, masturbation, and sex.
It was such a fun conversation. The leaders handled it really well, I thought. And hey, we were talking about sex! A bunch of Chrizzo youngans getting into the knitty-gritty! We thought we were so mature.
Can you picture a similar experience in your own life? Maybe you were there with me. Maybe it was sometime in church, at Sunday youth, on a Friday night youth group session with a panel of parents, leaders, and the vicar. Maybe you’ve never heard sex talked about in church at all (though, hopefully you have).
I want you to reflect for a few minutes on that experience. Indulge me, if you will. What was the message you took home from that day, and from the other times like it since?
This was what I picked up when I took the time to reflect: As we went back to the girls to pray before we wrapped up the morning on that beautiful day at camp, I remember clearly what was swimming round in my head.
“God wants us to be pure, and pure means running the heck away from anything that will give me a boner, or make me think about my crush’s boobs.”
I’ve been to a lot of talks on sex in different Christian youth environments. I even remember hearing at a school Christian group that “If holding hands gives you a boner, then that makes holding hands for you and your girlfriend a sin.” I think everyone (Christian or not) was confused by that one. What about accidental boners, or innocent boners? What if I get a boner but I’m not thinking about anyone in that way? Was this guy for real? Does he live in the same world I do?
Ultimately, it seems that the approach to sex I was immersed in in the church was primarily about staying as far away as I could from it, so that I could be clean when I got married, at which time, assuming by the lack of conversation about sex in marriage at those discussions, it would just be easy and awesome…?
It wasn’t all bad. There were somereally helpful conversations in this context about sin, boundaries, pornography, and steps to treating my body as a temple. But there was little conversation about treating others as a temple, let alone about love! And that is an issue.
All of this said, I’m thankful for those conversations and those leaders who initiated them. I still advocate for waiting for marriage before having sex. I still don’t advocate for going hard on the foreplay outside of marriage either. I still try utilise some of the tips and tricks I learned in that environment to help keep my thoughts focused on what’s important, and less distracted by my libido and appreciation for the female figure. But, let me level with you, relationships are messy, and people make mistakes, and I’m not perfect, and neither are you. And our theology needs to make room for these complicated situations, as well as the beauty of being created as sexual beings.
Let me be truthful, the approach I grew up in is just not adequate if left on its own. Because, left on its own, it gets removed from dealing with the messy, diverse, and complex needs of any given relationship in real life. The framework is all wrong. The framework is too small, and it leaves little room for people to truly experience grace.
Sex is not dirty, purity is not the only value at play in sexuality, and the emotional and spiritual elements of sexuality shouldn’t be ignored.
Love is the framework. Christ is our example.
There is so much more to attraction than physical shape, and while this was acknowledged all those years ago, I feel like it wasn’t emphasised or explained properly.
Now I try to ensure that I reflect on whether or not where my mind is going, where me and my fiancé are progressing physically, is affecting our relationship with God, and our relationship together. Is what I am thinking and doing for me, or is it coming from a place of self-sacrificing love for the image-bearer before me? Am I dying to myself, that she, he, they might live and live to the full? Am I getting me and mine, regardless of what it will mean for myself, and for others?
This reframes the goal. The goal is not simply saving myself for marriage. It’s desiring a healthy sexuality between myself and others, and ultimately my wife to be, for all of life. It’s a harder goal, a fuller goal, and a healthier goal for everyone. The goal is not about keeping myself away from what I shouldn’t have. It’s about working towards what I should, could, might have, if I learn to love well. It’s about working towards something good, something gracious, and something loving.
Increasingly, the church is learning to talk differently, more fully, more deeply, and honestly about sex. We want to create space for you to be part of that conversation on the 23rd of November, 7:30PM, at Crave Café in Kingsland. Come hang out, tell stories, hear stories, and discover together the possibilities of great sex lives and sexuality in all of life as members of the people of God. The room will be full of grace, focused on love, and grounded in the word of God. Find out more and let us know if you’re coming here.
Jeremy works part time as Diocesan Young Adult Facilitator , studies full-time at Carey Baptist College and volunteers 10 hours a week as a youth group leader at the Cedar Centre in Beach Haven. On an average day Jeremy can be found procrastinating, riding bikes, planning his wedding, and being an egg. He also enjoys spending time with his family, exploring abandoned places with good mates and going on dates with his fiance or his best friend. If you want to chat to Jeremy about anything GC-related, you can email him at jh