Day 10: Sex-positive Christians

Over the last ten days, unpredictability has almost become a way of life. I set off each morning with maps and (usually) knowing where I’m going to stay, only to be surprised by conversations, emails, closed footpaths, media calls, accommodation problems and people’s reactions. And I have to say that, while I find this difficult in some ways, I am in other ways starting to really like it.

Today produced a big surprise on a personal level. I am having a non-walking day in Oxford, prior to speaking at St Columba’s United Reformed Church tomorrow. The church had kindly invited me to a local garden party this afternoon.

I arrived to find my girlfriend, Nicola, already there. I was amazed. Nicola lives in Cambridge, and I’d expected to see her next when I arrive in London on Friday. She’d secretly been in touch with friends in Oxford a week ago to work out how she could be here today, and attend the event tomorrow. She’s been really supportive of my pilgrimage, encouraging me by phone and text as I’ve walked, but I’ve missed her. In Nicola’s turn, she was surprised that I hadn’t even begun to guess that she planned to turn up.

I’m still feeling physically weak and aching quite a bit, despite a very long sleep last night. My friends Sally and Tom, who I stayed with in Oxford last night, had been extremely hospitable, providing me with a hot bath and large meal after I arrived wet, smelly and several hours late. This morning, they kindly left me to sleep instead of disturbing me.

Despite the aches, I discovered that the sleep had revived me mentally. Ideas about religion and sexuality had been whirring round my head yesterday afternoon, but it was difficult to think clearly as I was absorbed in my desire to reach Oxford after getting lost twice.

This morning, I found that the thoughts had clarified themselves into coherent ideas and concepts during my sleep. God does indeed work in surprising ways.

As you might know if you’ve read my blog a few times, I’m keen to promote an approach to sexual ethics that rejects both legalism and hedonism and is based on following the spirit of Christ in lifestyles rooted in love.

This means celebrating sexuality as a gift from God. My concern with this sort of language is that it often seems to be used by Christians who then go on to promote forms of legalism and concentrate on all the bad expressions of sexuality rather than the good ones.

Christians are not the only people to have struggled with  a desire to be positive about sexuality while being concerned that it’s expressed ethically. Shortly after waking up this morning, I was thinking of “sex-positive feminism”. The phrase was adopted by feminists who had become concerned that some forms of feminism appeared to be very negative about sexuality.

And so to me, the obvious phrase to use seems to be “sex-positive Christians”. This seems a good term to describe those of us who want to be unashamed of healthy, ethical, loving sexual expression and to celebrate sex and sexuality as gifts from God. I hope that valuing sexuality in this way can help us to  to be more determined and passionate about tackling abusive and selfish expressions of sexuality. Tackling them not because we are negative about sex, but precisely because we are positive about it.

If you like the term “sex-positive Christians”, please start using it. If you don’t, please challenge me and tell me why. Your thoughts are welcome, whatever your views.


14 comments so far

  1. David in Chippy on

    It was lovely to meet you (and Nicola) today – and I love the idea of sex positive Christians! 🙂

  2. Sophie, Surrey on

    I love the idea too. I’m definitely a sex-positive Christian. Love is what matters: the whole nature of a loving relationship between the two people is what is lovely and God-given. I don’t think God is half as interested in genital details than some people seem to think.

  3. S on

    The starting-point, surely, must be the question, ‘What, from a Biblical point of view, is sex for?’

    That’s what Jesus did when asked a question about marriage: he said, ‘Before you can answer that question we have to go back to why God, when creating the world, wrote marriage into it in the first place.’

    Nothing else can be decided with any confidence until you have first sorted out those foundational principles.

    So: Biblically, what is sex for? Why does it exist? Why did God make sex?

    • Sophie, Surrey on

      God appears to have made sex for quite a number of reasons. Fun, comfort, love, bonding. Reproduction, though crucial, is not by any means the most significant to people in their lives. After all, the number of times sex results in conception is surprisingly small. Conception is not necessary for sex to be sacred or noble.

      Sex in a committed relationship is hugely bonding, and I’d guess most married sex happens because of the couple’s desire to be close to each other, to comfort, to celebrate, to play – not to conceive. Married couples go on making love post-menopause, during pregnancy, after a vasectomy.

      The recognition of the role of sex in keeping people close and bonded is, of course, why gay couples deserve the dignity of being accepted as married, and sharing their bodies in the same supportive way that heterosexual married couples do. The fact that they cannot conceive seems irrelevant.

      • S on

        None of that seems to address the Biblical basis for sex?

    • Sophie, Surrey on

      “None of that seems to address the Biblical basis for sex?” says S.

      Does it not? I thought it did. I suppose the comfort, bonding aspect is in the marriage service rather than the Bible itself.

      There’s not a lot of what you might call practical sex advice in the Bible. But there’s a lot about love. I guess what I wrote is an extension of what I understand as God’s purpose for sex: that it joins people, who then become families.

      One of the posters on group I go to is a grandfather, patriarch with his lifelong male partner of a large extended family, formed through fostering and so forth. Just one demonstration that a couple doesn’t have to be male/female to create the sort of loving, beneficial family that God wants for us.

      • S on

        I may be wrong; where in the Bible does that stuff come from?

  4. Dominic on

    I prefer “sex-critical”, which is perhaps harsher on the ear but reminds one to be dialectical about things. Human sexuality is no more essentially good than it is essentially evil; we are, in our social and sexual being, fully caught up in the world; its struggles and conflicts are ours, all the way down. If we buy into the self-help ethos of compulsory positivity, we will end up constructing a myth of innocence to shelter ourselves, and denying or projecting outwards all of the uncomfortable aspects of our desires. This is no better than living in denial and abjection, because it is no more honest – and no more susceptible to surprise and joy.

  5. tim f on

    I have reservations about the term “sex-positive”, mainly because I see it as offering an unfairly negative critique of some of the feminist writers who I most appreciate, like Andrea Dworkin. Christians can learn a lot from both second-wave and third-wave feminism.

    I do think there should be more exploration within the church of how radical monogamy might express itself, of how enthusiastic consent applies to committed relationships, and of previously taboo subjects like BDSM. It would be great if the church offered a critique of hierarchy within sexual relationships rather than a simple list of “don’ts”. I prefer to think of a truly biblical sexual ethics as being founded on respect for God, other people and your own body.

  6. Andrew Holt on

    Symon, I have enjoyed reading about your pilgrimage and admire your courage in calling attention to and trying to shed some light on the question of our attitudes to one another as followers of Jesus in the area of sexuality. My own views have changed radically on this in the last year mainly as a result of a course of study I am presently undertaking in person-centred counselling. I no longer think it is good enough to hide behind “the bible says this or that” in order to justify my own fears and prejudice. Sadly though we do live in a highly ‘sexualized’ society, so I would be concerned that we do not become sex-obsessed christians but acknowledge and work upon our common heritage as members one of another. Bless you, Andy Holt

  7. Catherine von Ruhland on

    Symon, I was interested to read this piece since I have been interested in these same issues myself, especially as a single Christian not in a relationship.
    You might be interested in the http://www.delphiforums site ‘Liberated Christians’ whose contributors address and debate issues of sex and sexuality. I was led to it a number of years ago via an article I wrote for Third Way – and found it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. I also addressed similar points in the Channel Four doc ‘Desperate Virgins’ (dreadful name, but, hey.;0))
    I will not say anymore here because I could write for an age on this issue based on over a decade of grappling with my discontent – and actual despair – at the ‘traditional’ teaching I was receiving from the Church on sex and sexuality. Thankfully God showed me He had other plans for me.
    All the best with your continued walking. God bless, CX

    • S on

      The problem with that is, it makes it look like you were mis-sold Christianity as a kind of cosmic quid-pro-quo, where if you were faithful and kept the rules God would reward you (a bit like the ‘prosperity gospel’ nonsense, but with marital happiness in place of financial success).

      When of course you only need to look at the Acts of the Apostles to see it’s not like that at all: they were slaughtered, imprisoned, and generally not rewarded for their faith but punished. They kept going because it was the right thing to do, not out of any illusion that eventually they would stop suffering for their faith. They knew that the Christian life is one lived under the weight of a cross.

      Or look around today: Christians in Britain often don’t realise how lucky they are. The worst they face is the aggressive secularist agenda trying to silence the Christian voice in the public sphere. Hardly a life of persecution! But there are places in the world today where Christians really are in danger for their lives. The idea of wobbling because of the prospect of refraining from sex because it’s the right thing to do must seem pretty silly to them.

      After all, if the thought of dying a virgin in forty or more years made you think of renouncing the church, how do you know you wouldn’t renounce Christ if you were a twenty-year-old virgin in Pakistan or Morocco, and the alternative was being stoned to death right now? And if you would renounce Christ in those circumstances, what were your reasons for following Christ in the first place: because Jesus is Lord and therefore the correct response is to bow to him even if that means not getting all the worldly happiness, whether material or emotional, you might want; or for some other reason?

      They’re questions only you can answer, but they are the questions your story brought to mind.

      • Catherine von Ruhland on

        Hmm, this is interesting. I have only just come across it. You seem to mistake my challenging the – evangelical – church teaching I was then receiving with the assumption that I was challenging *God’s*. (Admittedly, I did once reply to a minister suggesting that I ‘accept’ a life without physical intimacy ‘That doesn’t make sense. Then God’s a bastard’ – but, in retrospect, it was *the minister’s* God who was the bastard…) All during that twelve years of questioning and wrestling, I was doing so out of a position of attempting to follow what God wanted of me. I simply found that there were too many holes and shallowness in what I was hearing from the pulpit and in my discussions with ministers.

        I was quite prepared to remain a virgin for the rest of my life as a single woman *had God so desired that of me*. When I took that to Him in prayer, I found him take me down a completely different and unexpected path. The theological grappling and *not* walking away from God was rewarded with entry into the next field, stage of my faith journey.

        I do find that ‘there are Christians being whipped to death on the other side of the world/starving Africans so get with the programme’ argument rather trite. As if, had I found myself living in Jane Austen’s time or after the Great War that I would respond to an assumption of singleness and presumed celibacy as I would in this current place on the planet at this time in history. *None* of us have any idea how we will fare were we put to the test of, say, facing stoning for our faith. If Peter the Rock could deny Jesus three times, then that seems to me a humbling truth for *all* of us to consider

        I chose to lose my virginity and the world didn’t cave in: God didn’t turn His back on me. On the contrary, I was never more certain of His love for me in the weeks before and after the event. Years ago, a Christian counsellor told me of a Christian woman she knew who had similarly lost her virginity in her 40s and described it as ‘healing’. That too was my experience. The psychological millstone around my neck vanished *like that*.

        I find it somewhat perverse that there are fellow believers who would rather people spend their life in crippling misery. I wonder what your response too might be to the protagonists of last year’s films, The Sessions, and Come As You Are:- chronically disabled virgins who chose to pay for sex (all based on true-life tales)?

        By the way, there is one thing I’m curious about: if single Christians are supposed to remain virgins, at what point does a non-married relationship become ‘committed’ enough for the pair to engage in a sexual relationship without them being presumed to have ‘renounced Christ’?


  8. Paul Robert on

    I am very much in favour of sex-positive Christianity, especially in a gay context. Good to hear you are doing something about it.

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