On my way home from a haircut after work last Friday, I heard a brief interview with a woman who had gone to her son’s grade 9 sex ed class. This was in a public school in Michigan. She got angry enough about the perspective being presented that she hollered obscenities at those leading the class. I agreed with some of her objections, but she does not seem to be aware that her position begins with the same premises as that of the people who made her so angry.
Both believe there is a profound separation between the spirit and the body.
One of the speakers told his story. He had a challenging past involving an alcoholic father and getting a girl pregnant. He ended up dating and then marrying a different woman who had practiced abstinence. According to Dreger, the man concluded his talk telling the boys that they should look to marry a girl who says no. Dreger’s was very angry about presenting these conclusions to young people because it shames those girls who say yes–girls that she describes as those who “enjoy sex.”
I agree that when we talk about sex with young people we must be careful. The message of abstinence must be delivered without shaming those who might be sexually active. It is important to let children know that abstinence is a state to which one can return. I do object to the implication that people who say no to sex, do so because they don’t, or wouldn’t enjoy it–those practicing abstinence have a pretty good idea that sex is pleasurable.
It’s the whole shaming thing that made Dreger lose it. Here too, I agree with Dreger. But she seems to link between advocating abstinence and being ashamed of sex. Of course these can be linked, but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.
As a side note, both the interviewer and Dreger seemed to be under the impression, perhaps they are right, that the main (or only) purpose of sex education is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This strikes me as a very narrow purpose.
Ironically, Dreger’s view and that of the presenters which so angered her (at least the way she characterized them), both have similar roots going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Both believe there is a profound separation of body and spirit. One view has a negative idea of the spirit and the other has a negative view of the body.
For some, the separation results in the belief that the transcendent is essentially non-existent, thus sex is a solely physical event. It seems as if Dreger fits into this category, and the presenters in her son’s sex ed class (as she characterizes them) fit into the other–where the separation results in the belief that the body is inferior to the spiritual and therefore a corruption of the spirit. Dreger quite correctly objects to the denial of the inherent goodness of sex which comes with this view, but to view sex as simply physical is also, in my opinion, a degradation of sex.
There is a third view avoids this degradation, and celebrates both sex and abstinence, by understanding the integrity of body and spirit. It’s the view of sex found in the Bible, and there it’s described using the term “one flesh.” One flesh is built the understanding that body and soul are one, and it refers to a new entity created by two individuals in the marriage relationship. Sex is only one piece of the “one flesh” paradigm. It’s much more than a physical–the marriage partners become one in every other way as well. Take relationships for example. Once married, all relationships change–with mother and father, with friends, and particularly with every member of the opposite sex. There are changes in the good I eat, the movies I watch and how I spend my time. My money, becomes our money. My big TV becomes our big TV. The physical act of sex is representative of this new entity created by marriage.
You can see why many Christians believe in abstinence before marriage, not because sex is something bad, but that it is a part of a much bigger picture. In the Christian mind, you can’t separate the sex from all the rest without degrading the sex. Just as it would be foolish to share all your banking information with someone with whom you have no commitment, it would also be crazy to share a bed with them.
This idea seems strange to our culture. How can my body–the site of the self–not be mine and mine alone? It’s an alien idea because we are so committed to the autonomy of the individual, that we are repulsed by the idea of belonging to another in such a significant way.
If we are nothing more than animals, we might as well enjoy the pleasures of sex when it feels right–it’s only natural. But if are something more than animal, and that everything we do with our body is linked to every other aspect of our being–including a spiritual reality–then we might look at sex a little differently. This is a Biblical view and those who follow it’s truth believe that sex is a wonderful thing that is best enjoyed when it is shared along with one’s whole life. Placing sex in this context elevates it from the level of a shameful act, but it also lifts it way beyond the level of a pleasant, animal act. If you are going to be pro-sex, it seems to me the Biblical approach is the best.
I agree we with Dreger that we should be honest with children about sex. But honesty about sex, looks different from different perspectives. For me this means we tell children how good it is and also that it’s a part of giving one’s whole life to another.