Neil Carter crowdsourced an article on ‘Lies the Church Told Us About Sex’ by asking his Facebook friends and followers for falsehoods about sex that they’d been told. It’s a great article and worth a read. It brought up a lot of my own negative experiences with the topic, and also reminded me that it’s not all bad with every denomination.
Through my Roman Catholic upbringing I got the common misperception that the ‘original sin’ was sex. This isn’t official Catholic teaching, of course, but sex is viewed so negatively that it might as well be so.
From there I found my way into evangelicalism, spending a little over a year mistakenly with a mainline Protestant denomination (I didn’t know at first that there was really a difference). It stunned me one evening at an event to share our thoughts with regional leaders on sexuality that we were asked, in all seriousness, whether the denomination should address sexuality with young people, or leave that up to the public schools.
From there I found my way into conservative evangelical churches, where purity culture. In purity culture, sex outside of marriage or with someone of the same sex is considered a grievous sin that contaminates those who practice it. This was no doubt the reason why so many of my Bible college classmates were getting married at 19 and 20 years of age.
In my case, I regret both not having had a long, in-person engagement with anyone, and also having waited for marriage. More than that, I regret having raised my daughter in evangelical purity culture. For her 13th birthday I special ordered a ring from the jeweller to serve as a purity ring, which I gave her at her birthday party with friends from church in attendance. In retrospect, that was creepy as hell.
There’s an ugly double standard in evangelical circles where boys, girls, and sex is concerned. While both are told that sex is for marriage only, we only really ever talk about the virginity of girls. We warn them to avoid being alone with boys and shame them for dressing in anything ‘revealing’ because it might provoke the boys to lustful thoughts and actions, but hardly any such emphasis is placed on the boys for their behavior. I know of one such extended family that has caused no end of trouble for a couple of adult young women (cousins) who were discovered to be in sexual relationships with their boyfriends, while a teenage boy from the same family has gone on vacations with his girlfriend…and no one says a word.
My son has been learning a healthier perspective than sister was exposed to, in that he and I now are part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ cooperated some years ago in producing the award-winning Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum. OWL provides age-appropriate, positive sex education, and it is used in religious education and youth group settings. Although there’s no evidence that young people who go through this program begin having sex any sooner or later than their peers, they have been shown to practice safer sex and have a lower rate of sexuality-related anxiety and depression.
If you have children, you would be doing them and yourself a favor by seeking out a UCC or UUA congregation that utilizes OWL. The United Church of Christ would be a good environment for progressive families that identify with Christianity, and the Unitarian Universalist Association is best for families of mixed or no faith.
Whatever you do, don’t perpetuate the lies so many churches have told us about sex. Give your kids a better chance than so many of us have had.