Nuancing Sex – Beyond a Bumper-Sticker Sexual Ethic

Complications, Approaches, Challenges, Definitions and Effects

“What is peculiar to modern societies…[is that] they dedicated themselves to speaking of it [sex] ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret” – Foucault

The Complications of Sex:

Sex is complicated, like us! We realize over the course of our lives that sex can be a source of both joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, life and death, community and chaos. Sex is not always demonic, nor always divine… As Jenell Paris reminds us, sex may be a “gift from God, but we don’t receive it straight from heaven.”[1] Of course, the complicatedness of sex doesn’t make it any less important, nor any less desirable. Humanity was not created for sex, but sex was made for humanity!

Virtually everyone agrees: Our sexuality is one of the most important aspects of our personhood from the very moment of our births when most of us learn we are either a “boy” or a “girl”. Our sexuality pertains to the deepest levels of our personalities, passions, and inclinations. As The Vatican Declaration on Sexual Ethics states, sex is,

“…A force that permeates, influences, and affects every act of a person’s being at every moment of existence. It is not operative in one restricted area of life but is rather at the core and center of our total life-response.”

It should not be surprising to Christians that although God may have created sexuality, our brothers and sisters would “follow up” in creating sexual identity categories for ourselves.[2] Sexuality is intrinsically complicated yet it is intrinsically a part of who we are. Thus sex, sexuality and sexual ethics is not to be displaced, replaced, ignored or denied. The New Testament is interesting in this regard. As Margaret Farley notices, The New Testament offers grounds for a sexual ethic that:

  • Values marriage and procreation on the one hand and singleness and celibacy on the other.
  • Gives as much or more importance to internal attitudes and thoughts as to external actions
  • Affirms a sacred symbolic meaning for sexual intercourse, yet both subordinates it as a value to other human values and finds in it a possibility for evil.[3]

Even for Christians, this topic of sexual ethics was inevitable. Inevitably, this topic will be complicated. We should note one of the most wonderful and yet challenging topics of our human experience lies at the very core of our experience of humanity itself. Humans are complicated. Sex is complicated. Humans talking about sex is bound to be complicated. This is why some have stated love is not the solution in sexual ethics, it is the problem.

The complicatedness of “sex-talk” should serve to remind us to tread lightly with one another because when we talk about the topic of sex, we aren’t just talking about topics – we are talking about ourselves. I am talking about me. And speaking about me, and how I think we should be talking about ourselves, I couldn’t say it better than Parris who states,

“We need to set a place at the table for people with conflicted desires, inconsistent behavior and complicated sexual journeys. And if we really receive them, we’ll realize that they are us”[4]…“When it comes to sex, there is no privileged, holy ‘we’ and no sinful, troubled ‘them’; there’s only us, each of whom finds both virtue and vice in sexuality.”[5]

As I begin to form my thoughts on the issue, I am careful not to forget how complicated Jesus was when in Scripture Jesus reveals an amazing combination of forceful demands for complete sexual purity and yet He exhibits gentle treatment of those who were guilty of sexual offenses. In all of this complexity, there is hope for us, and there is hope for me… Your thoughts?

[My next post in this series will be titled, An Approach to Sex].

[1] Parris, Jenell. The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Intervarsity Press, 2011: 24.

[2] Parris, 75. Parris argues in her book (mentioned above) that although sexuality is an intrinsic and important aspect of our lives, and it should be…we go too far in creating sexual identity categories.

[3] Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Bloomsbury Academic, 2008: 38.

[4] Parris, 110.

[5] Parris, 76.

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