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I don’t want my 12 year old to have sex anytime soon. In fact, if I could control him (which I cannot) I would hope he would wait until he’s out of high school. But I can’t control him. Maybe he’ll fall deeply in love in high school. It happens. And well, he’ll be horny and in love. That usually equals sex.
We were recently talking about condoms. He wanted to know about condoms because he likes to create survival kits. Condoms can hold a whole lot of water, he explained. They’re good to have in a kit. We then talked about STDs and how condoms actually catch the sperm. He squirmed, but I had him in the car. I ended the conversation with, “I’ll have condoms for you anytime you need them for their proper use. I’m not giving them to you for your survival kit. They’re too expensive!”
Some Christians would be horrified by the previous two paragraphs. Some would wonder what kind of Christian parent talks about condoms with her almost thirteen year old. I’ve heard it before. Lots of people don’t think I’m Christian. That’s okay. I know I am. I know this for certain, because as much as I have tried to escape Jesus’ hold on me, I can’t. I follow.
My confidence in Christ’s calling allows me to ignore such comments. But how about the 15 year old, who loves God, loves her church, is being told sex is a sin, but wants to masturbate? Where does she find a healthy Christian ethic about her developing sexuality? And how about the Dad who is faithful and realistic, knows his young son will be having sex soon, and wants to have a faithful conversation with his son about sex, not just an STD/birth control conversation? Where does he turn for advice? And finally, how about the young single person: unmarried because they haven’t found the right partner, and not feeling so young anymore at 30? Is protecting their chastity really a necessary Christian goal? And who can they talk to?
In my experience, the last place you can find any life-giving Christian ethic about sex is in the church. If you escape the no-questions-asked chastity ethic, your Christian community probably just offered you what they offered me as a young adult: silence.
Silence helps no one. And treating sex--which is a really big deal--as a taboo topic just sows confusion. Mainstream and progressive Christians need to have more open and healthy conversations about sex. Thankfully someone agrees with me: Bromleigh McCleneghan. In her new book, Good Christian Sex, Bromleigh breaks the silence. Infact, she is bold enough to talk about masturbation (even for women) in a chapter entitled “My Favorite Feel.” Hallelujah! If my daughter ever shows up with a promise ring on her finger I might lock her in her room with a vibrator and have her read Bromleigh’s book.
While reading Good Christian Sex, I felt Bromleigh was a kindred spirit. Like me, as a young woman, she didn’t embrace the secular sexual norms saturating our culture that suggest sex is simply about pleasure. She knew her sexuality was connected to God and that any ethic she developed about sex must involve God.
Fortunately, God wants us to have love and sexual pleasure. And for Bromleigh, sex has more to do with loyalty and commitment than marriage and chastity. It’s amplified by love and diminished by promiscuity. At its best, sex expresses our body and soul together, and recognizes the body and soul of our partner. And these aren’t rules to be followed--they’re the ingredients of good Christian sex.
In one of the final chapters, “The Avoidable and the Inevitable," Bromleigh defines good Christian sex more subtly. Through narrative she speaks about being “all in” with her husband. I wish I could articulate more clearly how those few words, all in, will shape my conversations with my own children and the youth in my community, but I cannot. Read the book instead.
Good Christian Sex is funny, honest, and faithful. Bromleigh’s healthy sense of self and personal vulnerability transform this book from a stale ethical and theological pursuit to a comfortable conversation with a friend over coffee. If this book had been published while I was in college, I would have bought it in secret, and then read it cover to cover in my closet. After I emerged from my closet, I’m not sure my developing sexual ethic would have changed, but it would have been deepened, and most importantly I would have felt less alone.
Want to read more about my thoughts on sex? See my previous October 2014 blog: Sex is Great!
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.