This week I got to navigate some of the most treacherous waters possible: a pastor talking about sex and sexual ethics with a group of middle-schoolers. It’s the conversational equivalent of a root canal. You’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but you’re pretty sure it’s going to hurt.
Talking about sex shouldn’t be difficult! The very first thing we told the kids was that this discussion feels weird mostly because our culture has done weird things with sex and sexuality, rather than sex itself being weird or bad. Americans tend to make sexuality an asterisk in the grand scope of life. “You can depend on us to think this way and follow these patterns, but when it comes to sex…well, that’s different.”
Why? How come the room changes and different discussion starts when sex is the topic as opposed to literally everything else? Why are people of faith willing to talk about every topic under the sun, but when sex comes up, it’s controversial?
This approach harms our children. Not being able to talk about sex, or put it in perspective, leaves it as a big, powerful mystery. They get coded clues from movies, passed on and amplified through discussion with peers. This is like trying to learn how to drive a car watching James Bond/Fast and Furious films, plus getting tips from your friends who have no more experience than you. That’d be a disaster! Yet it’s what we do to our children because of our tendency to segregate sex and sex talk into their own categories.
After we got over some of the weirdness of the discussion, the first thing we assured our middle-schoolers is that sexual ethics are ethics. We don’t take a strange left turn and start whispering in corners when the topic is sex. Nor is the Bible a manual to give us all the supposedly-right, supposedly concrete answers about sexuality.
Several Bible stories and passages deal with sex, some in great ways, some horrifying. We have to deal with those and interpret them just like we do all of scripture: through the greater ethic of Jesus Christ, who tended to give less detail and more overarching concepts to help our understanding of God and goodness.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn’t actually say definitively when and how to engage in sexuality. For every example given, you can find another example where it didn’t work that way. The Bible does give us guidance about how to treat each other, and that includes in matters of sex and sexuality.
Next time we’ll look at the texts we used to form our discussion of sexual ethics. Come back and see, so you can help us start talking about this subject in a healthy, faithful way.