The pattern repeats itself: Sexuality in the Church, Part 2.
When we isolate a part of ourselves from the rest of our being, we can so often cause painful and longstanding damage to the wholeness of who we are as friends, partners, and lovers. The church, with respect to sexuality and sexual expression, has for so long asked its young people to abstain from the temptations of the flesh, to fight the hormonal impulses of youth and to flee the desires of the heart, for they are taught that all evil wishes spring from it. The intentions behind such a requirement are certainly noble, and perfectly natural. After all, as parents and teachers, the adults in such an institution wish to provide the best care and protection for their young charges, and there is certainly nothing unreasonable about this drive. As someone who experienced adolescence within the framework of a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, I can attest to the fact that those around me wanted nothing but the best for my future, as well as my present, and their teachings in regard to sexuality and sexual expression certainly reflected good intentions. Many kids who grew up in traditionalist or fundamentalist households experiences trauma or abuse of some sort, but I was blessed, immeasurably, to avoid such a fate.
The church, on the whole, has a wide variety of admirable goals for its young people with respect to their sexual development and maturation. I, and my Millennial peers, came of age during a time when the Church was really kicking into overdrive to help us hormonal teens keep our raging sexual desires neatly tucked away until the moment we were betrothed to a similarly virginal individual. The Silver Ring Thing, True Love Waits, Love Never Fails… these were but a few of the programs and campaigns executed by non-profit and parachurch organizations to help ensure that our Christian youth remained pure and unblemished until the day we committed ourselves to another person. The adults had surveyed the (sexually charged) cultural landscape of America from the 1980s onward, and concluded that in order to protect their children from the sexual decadence of the new Sodom and Gomorrah, projects such as the ones mentioned above were absolutely vital. A study from early 2007 highlights the purity math: over a billion dollars was spent during the 90s into the early 2000s focused solely on abstinence-only education across most of the United States, with few exceptions. Churches pooled their resources and funds to create festivals and weekend events celebrating purity before marriage, and brought in speakers to highlight the supposed risks of engaging in any physical contact with the opposite sex before one was to be married. Tremendous amounts of time, energy, and money was (and still is) spent to help provide a hedge of protection around the teenagers and young adults of the Church, all with the intention of ensuring the all-around purity of those involved.
After several decades of this grand experiment in Evangelical circles, the results are in. David Sessions, a writer for the Daily Beast who has written several pieces concerning the purity movement in America, describes the latest data results we have on the matter: “The facts are staggering: despite almost universal affirmation that premarital sex is a sin, 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals (PDF) are having it, and 30 percent of those who accidentally get pregnant get an abortion.”. If the goal was to keep evangelical Christian kids abstaining from all manner of sexual interaction, the experiment can be rightly considered an abject failure. And when we consider the fact that, anecdotally, many teenagers consider oral and anal sex to mean that they haven’t lost their virginity, the odds are very good that the 80% number might be slightly higher. Sessions continues: “Though an overwhelming majority believe premarital sex is wrong, white evangelicals are sexually active at a younger age than any demographic besides African-Americans, and are one of the least likely groups to use contraception.”
What’s our collective takeaway from this data? At the very least, it means eight out of every ten kids in Evangelical Christian circles has been or is currently sexually active before marriage, even though young adults associated with religious communities often marry sooner than the national average. So if the overarching goal was to keep kids from having sex with one another, it was not a success by any means. Even at the cost of over a billion dollars, teens and young adults still had some form of sexual expression with a partner. The Church, despite its best intentions, has failed a generation of teens who expressed themselves sexually, felt guilt and shame due to their religious upbringing, and continued to carry those psychological scars with them throughout the years. I feel that if the Church wishes to truly protect the hearts, bodies, and souls of their young adults, they desperately need to take another approach, and consider what exactly went wrong over the past few decades.
In the next and final section, I’ll be exploring what direction the Church should consider moving in, with respect to the findings covered today. I’ll be looking at the situation from a much more personal perspective, and sharing insights I’ve gained coming to terms with myself as sexual being.