Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

THE WRONG CONVERSATION
Recent discussions sparked by John Crist’s public confession have led me into a strange land, one where I spend a lot of time thinking about the generational differences of sexual behavior, beliefs, and norms. What I’m realizing, now more than ever, is that the western evangelical Church (the Christian subculture I am a part of) is woefully ignorant about what is actually happening in the sexual culture of today’s teens and young adults. This is especially apparent when sexual sin and misconduct within the Church become the topic of public debate.

Photo by Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash

After the story of John Crist broke, many prominent Christian voices asked, not for the first time, how we can best address and care for those who “fall” into temptation, commit “sexual sin,” and experience “moral failure.” Usually, by the time the Church starts to engage in a conversation publicly, individual churches are already engaging in similar conversations. Individual churches are talking about sexual temptation, sin, and moral failure – from the pulpit, in our small groups, at youth group. There’s no shortage of books, studies, or sermons on sex, sexual sin, and how to avoid it. Our problem isn’t that we’re not having the conversation – our problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation.

Most people who are familiar with the sexual culture of today were not surprised by John Crist’s confession, his behavior, or the behavior of the women who willingly engaged in sexual activity with him. (For the purposes of this post, I am only referring to Crist’s confessed behavior and not the allegations made against him.) Crist’s behavior is well within the norm of sexual behavior today. He is not unique, unusual, or an outlier among single Christian men. His actions are, sadly, typical. And that is why the Church’s conversation about sexual sin and moral failures misses the mark: it assumes a collective moral standard, namely that sexual activity (intercourse, oral sex, sexting, etc.) outside of marriage is wrong, is a sin in the eyes of God. But what if there is no collective moral standard?

If that’s the case, and I humbly suggest it is, then we need to stop, back up, and begin a new conversation. A conversation about what we really believe about sex. Not just what we say we believe but what we actually do, how we act, how we live, how we treat ourselves and other people with our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

This post is just my small way of opening up that new conversation. Of bringing to light what hides in the shadows. I know this post is ridiculously long but only because there is a TON of information, provided not only by me but by unnamed collaborators who also believe it’s important for you to read this. You may think you can’t afford to spend time reading it, but we think you can’t afford not to.

An Unlikely Divide
I think it’s safe to assume that most church leadership is over the age of 35, consisting largely of Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree, GenXers like me (there are simply fewer Xers in the world). Admittedly, we’re not exactly poster children for sexual restraint. Boomers led the free-love sexual revolution, and Xers carried on the practice, albeit minus the free-love ideology. At first glance, one might think that makes Boomers and Xers less likely to experience a wide ideological gap between them and the next generations. However, in some ways, I think it has blinded them.

Personally, I viewed my pre-Jesus self and my generation as widely accepting of sexual activity outside of marriage. The generations that came after us, Millennials and iGens (or GenZ), didn’t seem all that different. As a result, I assumed that I understood, at least on a basic level, the sexual landscape of younger generations. I was wrong.

Entering the Christian subculture as a young adult blinded me in other ways. For example, when I became a believer, I came to understand that sex outside of marriage was wrong. Not just because someone said so, but because I experienced its emotional and spiritual consequences. I was, as we say in Christian circles, convicted. Therefore, I assumed that most other people must experience these same consequences, and if they just took a moment to examine themselves, they would ultimately experience the same conviction. Again, I was wrong.


GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES
So what’s so different about this generation of teens and young adults? I mean sex is sex, right? Ummm sure…but sex culture changes. And wow, how things have changed. Over the years, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of these teens and young adults. What a gift they are! And how honored I am that they have given me a glimpse of what it’s like inside their universe, including the sexual atmosphere of their generation. In turn, I’ve shared with them about the sexual behaviors, beliefs, and norms of my generation. It has been more than an education – it has been a re-education – for all of us.

Look, for some of you, this next section may be a little uncomfortable, shocking, even painful. The truth hurts sometimes. But it’s necessary. However unlikely the sexual culture generation gap may be, it’s real. And it’s significant. And until we understand the differences, we, the Church, can’t have an honest or effective conversation about the issues of sex and morality.

A few notes before you continue:
1. My “Back in My Day” personal experiences and observations below are that of a white, female teenager from a non-religious, non-traditional, non-affluent family, growing up in a predominantly white, affluent, New England suburb in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
2. Those of younger generations from whom I’ve learned are mostly, but not exclusively, Christian females growing up in families of varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in New England.
3. I can only address the differences between Christian and non-religious sex culture (if and when such differences exist) when commenting on current culture; this is because I was not familiar with the Christian subculture as a teen or young adult. 
4. What follows is explicit because it has to be. Proceed at your own risk. 

{ 1 } The Bases
I start with The Bases because this is often a teen/tween’s first introduction to the sexual norms and expectations of their day. They are a crude and immature measurement of sexual behavior, because they are created by and for immature individuals. 

Back in My Day:

  • 1st Kissing
  • 2nd Male touching a female’s breasts
  • 3rd Male touching a female’s vaginal area
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex, anal sex, and females touching males were not included in The Bases. They were not exactly anomalies, but they were not the norm.
    • Language surrounding The Bases was primarily about how far males advanced with females. One commonly asked males, “How far did you get with her?” and one commonly asked females, “How far did you let him go with you?”
    • Heterosexual sex was considered the cultural norm and the bases reflected this.

Today:

  • 1st Kissing and any above the belt touching by/of either person
  • 2nd One person touching the genitals of the other person
  • 3rd Oral sex performed by/for either person
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Grand Slam/5th Anal Sex
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex is on The Bases and expected before sexual intercourse.
    • Anal sex makes a bonus appearance. Perhaps not quite a norm but more normalized than generations prior.
    • Both males and females touching each other are included and assumed in The Bases.
    • Sexual relations can include a variety of gender combinations.

{ 2 } Oral Sex

Back in My Day:

  • As seen above, oral sex was far enough outside the norm that it was not even on The Bases.
  • My peers and I did not talk openly about oral sex often. It seemed there was still something a bit taboo about it.
  • Personally, I believed that oral sex was far more intimate than intercourse. When I told someone of today’s generation that, while I was sexually active before marriage, I had never performed oral sex on any of those partners, they were jaw-drop stunned.

Today:

  • Unquestionably considered the norm
  • Males expect oral sex very early in a relationship. So much so that males (Christian and non-Christian) are known to ask for oral sex moments after a first kiss. Imagine a man, on a first date, after some kissing, unzipping his pants and pointing to his penis while looking at his date with expectant demand. This is the real world.
  • Within Christian teen culture, oral sex is viewed as the way to have sex without “losing your virginity.”

{ 3 } Photos and Videos of a Sexual Nature, Sexting

Back in My Day:

  • Any personal photos or videos of a sexual nature were considered borderline pornography. (Pornography was not widely accepted nor easily available.)
  • People who participated in sexual or nude photos/videos could face ostracization by their peers, and painful, demeaning labels.
  • Of note:
    • At that time, photos and videos were much more difficult to obtain. One had to take a photo on a camera with film; bring the film to a developer (ensuring that at least one person would see the photos); then pay for and pick up the photos when they were completed.
    • Personal video cameras were rare.
    • Videos and photos existed in hardcopy and, if lying around, could be found by anyone.

Today:

  • Sexting, digital photos and videos of a sexual nature sent to others via text and phone apps, are the norm. These photos and videos can range from flirty to suggestive to nudes to recorded masturbation.
  • Photographing and recording sexual activity between two or more people is also more common.
  • It is not uncommon for individuals to send nude photos of themselves to one another before ever meeting in person.
  • Of note:
    • Sexting, short for “sex texting”, is a direct result of advances in handheld digital technology such as the camera phone.
    • The social lives of most tweens and teens today are inextricably linked to handheld digital technology. So it makes sense that all of their social interests, including their sexual interests, would find expression in digital technology.
    • One young individual points to a “culture of secrecy” that has developed around sexting, which may help fuel its prevalence. Secret messaging apps, photo hiding apps, and apps like Snapchat with disappearing messages, allow teens to not only avoid getting caught by attentive parents, but also to experience the thrill of “getting away” with something.
    • While some parents are ignorant of what their children may be doing on their phones, many are not. However, even the most conscientious parent will have a difficult time keeping up with the technological savvy of today’s teen. For this reason, more restrictions are rarely successful in curbing such behavior. Various sources agree that open communication about sexting is the key to parents even having an opportunity to address these issues with their children.

{ 4 } Online Dating and Hook-Up Apps

Back in My Day:

  • We had no internet.
  • Personal ads for relationships existed but they cost money and were inconvenient; few people used them.

Today:

  • A plethora of apps range from things like Christian Mingle to Tinder.
  • Hook-up apps are used to find a sexual partner, often for just one encounter.
  • Before agreeing to meet in person, people often exchange nude photos to determine whether or not they want to have sex with that person. (Apparently on hook-up apps penis size really does matter – too big or too small can both be deal breakers.)
  • Of note:
    • One night stands via online dating and hook-up apps are not just for the younger generations. This practice is seeping into older generations. I was recently told about a divorced middle-aged man looking for a new, long-term relationship who was shocked by how many women his age were only interested in one night stands.

{ 5 } Sex, Love & Exclusivity

Back in My Day:

  • While sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable, sex was still considered a big deal.
  • Sexual intercourse, even outside of marriage, was expected to take place within a loving relationship.
  • Teachers and other adults warned us about the emotional consequences of sexual intercourse, and urged us to only have sex within a mutually loving relationship.
  • Exclusivity – only engaging in sexual activity with one partner over a period of mutually agreed upon time – was expected. People who did not honor exclusivity often faced negative social consequences from their peers such as anger, rejection, demeaning labels, etc.

Today:

  • The prevailing cultural message is that sex is not a big deal.
  • Sex has, in many ways, been reduced to a simple exchange of services.
  • One does not have to be “in love” or even in a romantic relationship with another person to engage in sexual activity with them.
  • Exclusivity is not expected. People may have multiple sexual partners in one day, or at one party, without facing negative social consequences from their peers.
  • Of note
    • While sex is, in theory, reduced to an exchange of services, many individuals still experience emotional consequences when engaging in sexual activity with others.
    • Individuals of the Christian subculture appear to be more likely to save sex for a loving relationship and to expect exclusivity, even if they aren’t waiting for marriage.

{ 6 } Virginity, and When to Lose It

Back in My Day:

  • Expectations: While people were generally not expected to remain virgins until they were married, when and how one lost one’s virginity mattered.
  • In practice: Most of my peers did not wait until marriage to lose their virginity.
  • A female losing her virginity was significant. She often wanted to wait for the “right person” which usually implied being “in love” with that person.
  • When a female lost her virginity, especially if she lost it earlier than many of her peers, her peers would consider it news and spread said news among their social circles.
  • Males were expected to lose their virginity as teens and when they did, it was often seen by their peers as an accomplishment. Conversely, if a male remained a virgin longer than most of his peers, he could be labled as weak, unmanly, defective, or gay.

Today:

  • Expectations:
    • Secular culture: people are not expected to remain virgins until marriage.
    • Christian subculture: individuals are taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and not part of God’s best plan for humanity, because it has signficiant physical, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences.
  • In Practice:
    • In both secular and Christian culture, the majority of people do not wait until marriage to have sex.
  • Many individuals now see losing their virginity in terms of “I just want to get it over with”, and it is spoken about very cavalierly both before and after. Some individuals schedule their first act of sexual intercourse with a friend or acquaintance as if it were as simple as meeting for a cup of coffee.
  • Though they do not always, Christians who have sex before marriage seem more inclined to wait for the “right person”, someone they love, and/or the person they want to eventually marry.
  • Of note:
    • A variety of surveys and polls have confirmed that there is very little difference between the sexual practices of Christians and non-Christians today.
    • One can’t ignore the fact that men and women are getting married later and later in life. In 1960 the median age at first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women; but by 2018 the median age at first marriage had increased to 30 for men and 28 for women! Those who are saving sex for marriage are waiting a long time.

{ 7 } Reputations

Back in My Day:

  • The number of sexual partners one had mattered. The more partners you had the more your reputation diminished. Women were generally expected to have fewer than men. (Where all my math people at?)
  • “Slut-shaming” was so common and accepted that the term “slut-shaming” did not even exist.
  • Females who had engaged in sexual activity early and/or with multiple partners were particularly vulnerable to being judged, picked on, ostracized, and labeled.
  • A teenage female I knew was institutionalized for having sex with, what was considered at the time, too many partners.
  • Males were rarely slut-shamed in the same way that women were.
  • However, males known to have many sexual partners outside of committed relationships, or who did not honor exclusivity when in a relationship, or who dumped females shortly after having sex, were often accused of “using women” and might be called a “male slut”, “man whore,” or “womanizer”.

Today:

  • The number of sexual partners one has does not have the same effect on a person’s reputation as it once did. This will differ in the Christian subculture; to what degree can depend on that person’s family and individual church.
  • “Slut-shaming” is no longer considered acceptable.
  • Of note:
    • This change is due not only to the normalization of sexual activity outside of marriage, but also to the growing awareness of and refusal to perpetuate gender bias in all areas, including sexuality. For example, why would a woman who has five partners be a slut and a man who has five partners be a stud? People today are pushing back against these stereotypes.
    • You can see the cultural shift in reputations related to sex if you watch old episodes of Friends where the characters ask one another how many partners they’ve each had. Rachel and Monica, both in their mid-twenties, each only report a handful of partners. They are reluctant to share and express their fear of being judged or shamed. Compare that to shows today in which even prostitution by teens and young adults is being normalized as “sex work” when that money helps pay the bills.

{ 8 } Contraception

Back in My Day:

  • We had condoms, birth control and surgical abortion readily available.
  • The rise of AIDS factored significantly in our decisions about whether or not to use condoms.

Today:

  • In addition to condoms, birth control, and surgical abortion, young women today have access to chemical abortions (the abortion pill RU-486) and Plan B, often called the “morning after pill”, which can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after sex.

MALE/FEMALE DIFFERENCES
There is just so much here to talk about, I honestly think I could devote an entire post to it, so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • If nothing else, women appear to have more agency, and equality today. For example, Back in My Day, The Bases gave women little agency as they all measured when something was done to her. Today, The Bases more clearly indicate that she is an active participant who both acts and is acted upon. Additionally, there is less of a double-standard when it comes to sexual activity and one’s reputation.
  • The converse of this is that the pressure has increased for women to engage in sex with a partner before they are ready. Because more women are willing to have sex outside of marriage or meaningful relationships, men have more options and less incentive to wait for a woman who isn’t ready or is waiting for marriage.

DIFFERENCES IN CHRISTIAN CULTURE
Again, too much to cover so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • Not so different after all:
    • The majority of unmarried evangelical Christians engage in premarital sex. As mentioned previously, study after study has shown very little difference between the sexual behavior of evangelical Christians and their non-religious peers.
    • Christians use dating and hook-up apps to arrange sexual encounters.
    • Christians, especially teens and young adults, sext. A lot. They sext their partners, peers, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Within their culture, Christian women are still more likely than non-religious women to face a double-standard when it comes to sex. For example:
    • Christian women who have sex young, outside of marriage, or with multiple partners, are more likely to face judgement by their peers than young Christian men who engage in the same behavior.
    • Young Christian women are also more likely to face pressure, judgement, and even punishment from Christian authority figures (parents, teachers, pastors) for “inappropriate behavior” (ranging from clothing choices to hand-holding to sex) than are young Christian men who engage in similar behavior.
    • At the same time, Christians who don’t engage in premarital sex are often viewed as odd or unusual by many of their peers. It is a no-win situation, especially for girls.
  • In recent years, many young adult Christians have shared how the evangelical Christian purity teachings of the late 20th and early 21st century (sometimes called the “sex prosperity gospel”) negatively impacted their view of sex, themselves, Christianity, and God. There were many things wrong with this teaching, which focused heavily on works and shame, running contrary to and often entirely missing the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you care about teens and young adults at all, I recommend you find out more about this.

WHY IT MATTERS FOR THE CHURCH
Well, if you’re still with me, I’m impressed. That was a lot of information. Even if you don’t read another word, I will feel that I’ve accomplished my main goal today – which is to inform people of the gap that exists between generations when it comes to sexuality.

For those of you who want to stick around, I just have a few more things to say about why this matters.

This is the New Norm
Like I said before, John Crist’s confession did not surprise me at all. I am (reluctantly) aware of (too many) young men who practice this same behavior – many of whom receive positions, awards, and honors for their Christian “leadership” and “integrity”.

As I read the original article by Charismanews.com, I noticed that several of the young women interviewed (and even the author) did not seem overly concerned about Crist’s choice to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Rather the emotional energy seemed focused on the fact that he was in relationships with multiple women at once. Indeed, it seemed that some of the women would have been fine with Crist engaging in sexual activity (sexting, sex, etc.) outside of marriage just so long as he was doing those things with them, and only them. (This was not true of all women interviewed, and again does not pertain to the allegations of sexual harassment.)

Most single Christian teens and young adults aren’t getting caught up in the moment and “going too far”. They aren’t battling their urges and giving into temptation once in a while. They are consistently engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. It is the norm.

That said, this doesn’t mean all single Christians are participating in sexual activity outside of marriage. Some are waiting for marriage. Some are participating in certain kinds of sexual activities and abstaining from others. Some who previously engaged in sexual activity felt it was a mistake and are now practicing abstinence.

This also doesn’t mean that all sexually active single Christians believe sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable or without consequence. Some believe it’s wrong but have a difficult time waiting. Some wonder if biblical teachings about sex are still relevant today. Some think it’s ok to have sex with a person they love or intend to marry. Some don’t know what to think.

So even though we acknowledge that sexual activity outside of marriage may be typical for single teens and young adults, we don’t want to assume we can predict the behavior of every teen, young adult, or single Christian. And we don’t want to assume that people who engage in sexual activity outside of marriage have no concern for the morality or consequences of sex. It’s likely that they are thinking about it. They do care. But they are also trying to navigate a highly sexualized culture at a time in life when their brains and bodies are screaming for sex. It’s tough to think straight when your brain is sloshing around in a soup of testosterone.

I guess the bottom line is that issues surrounding sex and healthy sexuality are extremely complex.

The Church is Having the Wrong Conversation
And yet, the Church’s response to Crist’s confession has been overly simplistic, focusing on “moral failings”, “warnings for leaders”, and “sexual addiction” (which may be a valid issue but doesn’t excuse bad behavior). As mentioned previously, the problem is that most of these articles, and many of the conversations we’re having in our local churches, assume a collective moral standard that sexual activity (sexting, oral sex, intercourse) outside of marriage is a sin. Yet, if the majority of single Christians do not adhere to this moral standard, if they aren’t convinced that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, if sex outside of marriage has become the norm, then there is no “failure” to speak of and the entire conversation is built on sinking sand.

It’s time for a new conversation.

A New Conversation
So what does a new conversation look like? I think it looks like starting over. I think it looks like clearing all the cards off the table and taking a brutally honest look at our cultural landscape. I think it looks like asking questions. Listening to the answers. And giving everyone an equal voice.

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

Maybe we could start with questions like: “When you were growing up, what were you taught about modesty? Dating? Sex? How does that affect how you see yourself? How you see others? How you see God?”

I can’t be the only one who wants to know more about how decades of shame-inducing purity teaching has shaped generations. I mean seriously….Do you know that some girls have been told that once they have sex they’re like a dirty sock and no one wants a dirty sock? Or they’re a stick of gum and after sex it’s like they’ve been chewed up and spit out and no one wants used gum? Where’s the hope in that? Where’s the gospel in that? I don’t remember Jesus telling the adulterous woman that she was a dirty sock or chewed up gum.

I want to know our mistakes so we can learn from them. Are there things the Church is doing today that might be harmful? What can we do better? And, perhaps above all, are we fostering a gospel-centered culture? Even a gospel-centered sexual culture? Those are the conversations I want to have. Those are the conversations we need to have.


WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? 
I wish I could offer you more direction but I’m no expert and I’m new at this, too. My gifting is more in the realm of prophet which means I’m pretty good at “speaking truth” about a problem but not so fond of creating a five-point plan to address the problem. That said, I really don’t want to leave you feeling discouraged or frustrated. So with the help of some friends, I am offering a few ideas about how we can move this new conversation forward.

  1. Learn. Read a book or some articles about cultural trends in sexuality, the effects of purity teaching, the impact of digital media on relationships and mental health, and how these things are shaping lives. Here are just a few suggestions:
    1. Sexting the Night Away, youth and youth ministers respond to the prevalence of sexting among teens
    2. Sex and the iWorld, by Dale S. Kuehne
    3. Pure, by Linda Kay Klein
    4. Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom
  2. Consider those in your life with whom you could have open, honest conversations about these issues. There is great value in talking with people who are different than you and who don’t necessarily agree with you. In these conversations, remember to listen well, build relationships, and be respectful of one another, even when you disagree.
  3. Whether you’re a leader, parent, volunteer, young adult, or teenager, think and pray about how you can encourage your church leadership to have more informed and honest dialogue about sexuality.
  4. I invite you to add your own ideas in the comments section. For those who would rather not respond publicly, I’ve created an online form where you can respond anonymously with your story, feedback, and ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Well, it’s FINALLY time to wrap up this beast of a post, which is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. Thank you to my collaborators, editors, and readers for taking this wild ride with me.

I hope and pray that in some small way our time here together will help spark a new conversation. One that looks like more than just starting over and talking openly.

What else does it look like? I think it looks like judgment-free space and building trust, freedom to ask hard questions, and courage to give honest answers. I think it looks like disrupting false peace, like flipping tables in the marketplace of our own ideas, so in the face of reality we can know true peace. I think it looks like the gospel. I think it looks like drawing a line in the sand and refusing to throw the first stone, or the second, or any stone at all. I think it looks like remembering the Bible is a love story to redeem and not condemn. I think it looks like hope. I think it looks like Jesus.

© Nichole Q Perreault

6 thoughts on “Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

  1. Hi Nichole. Thx for the very (VERY 😳!) informative post and the warning early on.
    I must admit I skipped over a few sections.
    This info is invaluable for Christians in the Western culture. Many of us have been “in the dark,” only seeing the damaging effects of today’s sex culture but not understanding the roots of it. Seems like each generation takes the “sins of the father’s” a step or two further downward, using whatever modern-day tools are available.

    I have a few brief responses:
    -first Thank You for using your gifts of prophecy & discernment and your writing skills to help the church be more effective in this world. You are truly a gift, my sister!
    -Living in the Middle East as I do, it stood out to me that you are addressing Western culture, specifically American culture. I’ve observed that each culture has different ways of abusing/perverting God’s gift of sex. Likely this is also a downward spiral into further depravity for each place & culture, generation after generation, similar to what you described of the American continuum of sexual sin.
    – lastly: perhaps the American church needs to repent for our part in the downward spiral; for any and all contributions we made to this generations’ sexual downfall. Our repentance could make a huge difference as repentance is a mighty tool in fighting the Enemy and taking back ground.

    Bless you ~ Love you!

    • Hello Jennifer! Thank you so much for reading and responding. Yes, this is very much about western culture, specifically American culture, and then even more specifically, American evangelical culture, which is why I mentioned that in the first paragraph and in my notes before the generational differences detail. It’s important to remember that and to be careful we don’t assume everyone’s experience is like ours. I agree that repentance would be a great next step! We have played a part in this downward spiral, so what does repentance look like?

  2. As a Christian, nurse and mother of 4 adult children, I agree with most everything you wrote. The majority of my nursing career was in the area of maternal-child health. I’ve worked in a high-risk ob hospital unit, NICU and ob-gyn clinic. I worked briefly in a grant-funded visiting nurse program targeted at 12-21 year old single mothers. Then I worked as a
    school nurse in a Catholic & a public high school.

    The ob-gyn clinic was in a Catholic hospital which was also the
    sending agency for the visiting
    nurse program. There I saw almost as many Christian as non-Christian
    unmarried, pregnant females. Ditto for the high schools. The difference was that fewer pregnant teens were seen in the Catholic high school because the girls were
    encouraged to stay at home and
    be tutored or even withdraw once the pregnancy became visible. The
    double standard was astounding
    as the male students who
    impregnated the female students
    could continue attending school
    with no discernible consequences-
    aside perhaps from enduring a “Go
    and sin no more”, private lecture.

    At the Catholic hospital clinic personnel spoke with what Texans call a “forked tongue”. Abortions were not performed at the hospital, and, and personnel tried to dissuade those who wanted to get one. But there was an unwritten list of ob-gyn doctors who had staff privileges at other hospitals who would do them. So if a person was adamant about getting an abortion, a staff member who was so inclined would give her one of those doctors’ names.

    One of my daughters experienced an unplanned pregnancy at age 18 despite our having conversations at home re abstaining from sex until married for emotional, spiritual and even financial reasons. I freely shared stories with her about the negative consequences my clients at the ob-gyn clinic and on my home care roster experienced. Broken hearts when a boyfriend bailed on learning of a pregnancy, STD’s including HIV, interrupted education, being thrown out of home by angry parents, ostracized by friends, relatives or church groups, post-abortion complications, having to take a low income job to support herself & a baby, overwhelming feelings of guilt & shame as a Christian, etc.

    Oral sex may be more acceptable in some circles today, but anal sex still is considered outside the norm for many. I’ve heard a number of high school students & 20 somethings say they refused to do That with a partner or even broke off a relationship when he/she wanted to do it. There was outrage by parents & faculty members when it was discovered that oral sex among several students took place on a bus filled with the public high school’s students on their way to a football game. Some students declared their classmates’ behaviour tacky or scandalous, but others just thought it was funny- no big deal other than they got caught and were suspended for a few days.

    How the church responded to my daughter’s unplanned pregnancy was a mixed bag. Two pastors were compassionate as were some of our friends. Others gave the cold shoulder to her (a moral failure or contagious, cautionary tale) and me ( a failure as a mother?). She was never again invited to join any of the kids in the youth group in any personal or church-sponsored activity. One church leader on hearing my daughter was pregnant punched me in the gut by asking “Does she know who the baby’s father is?” What an insult since the question implied she was having sex with multiple partners! My short, teeth- clenched answer was “Yes! He is her high school sweetheart; two kids who just made a mistake.” I will forever be grateful to the woman who gave her a gift for her baby- amazing grace instead of condemnation.

    So yes, the church needs to have
    a reality-based conversation on this topic. In my heart of hearts, I still believe godly people should wait until marriage to engage in sex. But that ain’t happening with all Christians today. So how do we balance holding our fellow Christians to a higher standard while simultaneously extending the same grace Jesus showed to the woman at the well with multiple partners and the woman caught in adultery?

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Pat. Your experiences speak volumes. Wow. I am especially saddened by how your daughter (and you) were treated during such a challenging time. It seems to me that God puts so many boundaries around sex because the consequences are so great. He sees and understands far better than we do the complexity of sexual activity, and not only the psychical, emotional, and spiritual consequences but the practical ones as well – finances, relationships, and above all the creation of life. Sex is a big deal because sex is a big deal. And I think your closing question is key here!

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