- Tom: The president wants to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Anybody who’s been married knows it’s always the same sex! ~ Robin Williams in Man of the Year
Growing up, I watched ABC morning news programming every day before I went to school. One particular morning, a field reporter did a home and health segment about beds. She claimed that one reason people do not sleep well in their beds at night is because they do too many other things with their bed – eating; watching TV; doing homework; and playing games. This causes the mind and body to unlearn what beds are really for. What were beds really for, in her opinion? Good sleep and good sex.
As a young boy, hearing a reporter tell me that my bed was only for sleeping and having sex was a bit uncomfortable. I was also watching the segment while sitting on my parents’ bed (which apparently you shouldn’t do) and this made things even worse! For the next few days, I really began to consider (as best as I could) how I felt about my sexuality, and what my thoughts were about sex. But who was I supposed to bounce my ideas off of? My parents? Certainly not. My brother? Absolutely not. My friends? Well, if I said the word ‘sex’ around them at that age they would just laugh and tell a sex joke. My pastor? At that time, definitely not.
Luckily, that school year my class went through some state-sanctioned, mandatory sex education course. It answered a few of the questions I had, but not all. Beds and sex were tied together for me at that point due to the surprising news story I had seen, and so as an interesting mental exercise I equated different people’s feelings about sex to different kinds of beds. The mandatory Sex Ed at school was definitely this kind of bed:
No sheets. No pillows. No decorations. Incredibly…sterile. And incredibly boring. I suppose it had to be. I assumed talking to my mom or dad about it would end this way:
To a parent, telling your child about the wonderful world of good sex can feel like you’re pushing them off of the highest branch of the parental tree – with a slight chance that your child won’t flap their wings in time and hit the proverbial pavement.
Others I knew around my age equated their thirst for water or their hunger for food to their desire to have sex. While this drive is just as natural as wanting to eat or drink, the way/means/frequency/method/consequences (good and bad) are very different:
I finally gathered up enough courage to approach my youth director and ask for some guidance on the United Methodist Church’s views about sex and sexuality. However, I couldn’t tell when he was expressing his views and when he was expressing the Church’s views, and I came away feeling a little like this:
When I tried to go outside of the Church and to my peers, well, I got a sensory overload I wasn’t looking for:
As I grew into my high school years and began dating, I found girls who felt and acted one way around me and transformed into something entirely different when I wasn’t around:
It has become painfully obvious to me, in an age that shares it staunch Victorians and it’s over-the-top Wild Oat Sowers, that the Church needs to reclaim talking about sex in a fun, responsible way to youth, young adults, and adults. Sexuality is important. It’s inside and outside all of us. It is a part of the created order of the universe.
Just the other day, I was talking to a youth minister of a medium-sized church in our conference. He was beginning Good Sex 2.0, our United Methodist sex education curriculum for junior and senior high students. He shared with me that the parents of the youth got together and told him he could teach the curriculum, but he couldn’t advertise it as ‘Good Sex’! Is sex not good? Is it not designed to be good, and wonderful, and intimate? Warning children against unprotected, unsafe, extra-marital, multiple-partnered, anonymous sex is something that the Church and families can do. However, instilling in them that sex is not good sex and warning them against it as though we live in the 18th century is something the Church shouldn’t do. We need a model like this:
We need sex education that is technological. The youth, young adults, and adults in our churches are dealing with lots of different kinds of sexuality on the internet and through social media. We need to address it. We need sex education that is maneuverable. Different groups in different areas of different ages and stages in life require different levels of education. You don’t tell a six-year-old that the Red Sea is really the Sea of Reeds and Jonah’s whale isn’t a whale at all. Likewise, you don’t ask an eighteen-year-old to attend a church book fair in a giant, inflatable uterus.
Maneuverability in curriculum can strike a balance with faith stages in mind. We need sex education that offers the students some control. The person that owns the bed above gets to decide how it is positioned. In much the same way, students need to be in an environment where they can feel comfortable enough to ask the questions they want to ask (some of which aren’t in the curriculum, though maybe in between the lines) and even lead in discussion on occasion. Finally, we ned sex education that has contour. It partly shapes itself according to the body that is resting on it, it looks sleek and appealing, and it is attractive to someone who is tired and ready to lay on the right bed.
So I guess what I’m saying is the United Methodist Church should create an open forum for pastors, laity, and Christian educators to talk about what has worked and hasn’t worked with talking about sex in the Church. Cokesbury has several resources, I just don’t know which ones should be recommended and which should be avoided.
It’s good to talk about the mechanics of sex, but also the emotional and spiritual impact of sex. We need Church sex ed that matches the bed above – it gives the youth enough time to work out their giggles and get to serious questions, it allows the young adults to be real and discuss meaningfully what they are feeling and what they are struggling with, and even adults would benefit from small group discussion about sex and sexuality.
So what do you think? What has worked for your church? What hasn’t worked for your church? Comment below and let’s get a discussion going! Christian sex education is a bed that we’ve made, and we’re going to have to sleep in it.