This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Sex Culture in the Church

One of the most surprising things about seminary was how many of my fellow students had horror stories from their churches growing up. It’s not something I experienced. One student’s family was slowly pushed out of the church after his parents’ divorced. Another was told that she would go to hell if she became a pastor. God doesn’t call women into the ministry, she was told.

The sex talk might be the worst. The women who were told to “keep their legs shut” or to “keep their present wrapped” for their future husbands. It was mind boggling to me…so I did some research.

I read an article about a woman with a similar experience. She was at church one night when her youth pastor separated the girls and boys. He had all the girls spit into a cup of water, one at a time. Then we collect the cup and raised it up, as if serving communion, and said, “This. This is what you are giving to your husband if you have sex before marriage.” No similar talk was given to the boys, of course.

As a female (single) youth minister myself now, these stories make me sick. I never got these messages as a kid and I still have purity culture PTSD. My views on sex, unfortunately, can be pretty warped sometimes (the church seems to do that to people). I have never said anything remotely similar to a student I work with and yet I still get questions like, “Will I go to hell if I have sex before marriage?” “Does God hate me for making a mistake?” The purity culture is seeping into these kids, even if they are not at a church that preaches it to them.

In Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, she says this:

Too often, the diagram religion draws up for explaining sex takes the snake’s-eye view: it names only the physics of fear, threat, and control, but none of the magic…This magic is what God placed in us at creation. It is the spark of divine creativity, the desire to be known, body and soul, and to connect deeply with God and to another person.

In the church, it is our tendency, because humans suck, to point everything to the negative. Don’t worry, I sense my own irony there. As church going humans, we complain about the color of the pews or the warmth of the coffee. We exclude people who do not fit our mold. We preach about the horrors of secular music, movies, and you guessed it, sex. And don’t get me wrong, there are pitfalls to reckless overconsumption (of anything) but God created us for so much more than fear and complaining.

God created us for life and joy and magic. God created us for worshipping, creating, and sharing. God created us for love.

So church, here is my advice. Stop ruining all the nice things. Stop creating hate where there need be none. Let’s teach our young people, first, about the magic of sex. Let’s teach them to have self-esteem, positive body image, and a divine understanding of love. Let’s teach them to love God and love others – for this is the most important commandment.

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