In church one evening, I was helping to set up for a women's conference. I had lugged a few heavy loads of books from one corner of the church to the other; the creative director standing in the centre and saying , "could you just move the sofa over there a little bit? " Subtext - little bit being the other side of the room!
I was talking to someone in church. He is new and how can I say this politely... he has nice guns? Anyway, I was chatting with him and holding a box crate at the time; I had a sudden urge to put it on my head. Why I do not know. Picture the scene if you will; a nice looking blonde man in a leather jacket, standing in front of a girl with a box crate on her head pretending to be Sponge-bob Square-pants!
I joked about this incident with my pastor later on and part way through the conversation, as I spoke about the fact that this guy was cool, he said "I don't want to know!" He said it in a jokey way, but as I walked from the conversation, it reminded me of how afraid we are, of talking about attraction and sex.
Setting the scene – a sex shy church and why this is puzzling
Before I go into this, I recognise that there is some good literature out there on sexuality. I have also heard one or two great talks from various individuals about sex. Being single means that there will be some things that I cannot comment on with wisdom and insight. Let me speak instead from my experiences and from what I observe.
We are all familiar with the Bible and its teaching on sex. Yet, if you ask people in church, even the ones that have more young people than a 1Direction concert, they will tell you that they do not feel that sex is addressed properly.
Is this a distinctly British thing? Or is it a distinctly Christian thing? We feel totally free to talk about drug-taking, alcoholism and money. God never made drugs. He did not make vodka either. He MADE SEX. He consecrated sex and made it good. Adam and Eve had intercourse with each-other in the Garden of Eden. If this does not show how much God approves and upholds physical intimacy in the right setting, I do not know what does. The key thing about this sentence is "right setting". By this I am not talking about whether you prefer to have sex outdoors!
The world view..
We need to tackle the world-view about sex. As a church we need to confront it head on and expose it for the lie that it is. I attended a really interesting seminar recently on sexual purity. We were asked to discuss what we thought that world believed about sex. Someone described it really well in our group; to the world sex was a commodity, a good; something that is easily got - it is okay to have sex with whoever you want, whenever you want, as long as no one gets hurt.
This is shocking isn't it? That we have got to a stage where we see that what God created as deep, emotional and profound has become something tawdry, trashy and inconsequential. Yet also it speaks to our culture; if a skirt doesn't suit me then I put it in the trash or I give it to someone else. If a relationship is too challenging then I can give up on it right? Or if I do not get what I want from my marriage then I can go and find someone else.
I believe that we have reached a tipping point. The evidence is all around for us to see; the rise in consumption of pornography, an increase in adultery and affairs. There is a sense that, what God made to be satisfying emotionally and physically has become labelled as empty and meaningless. We need to confront this and we need to start now.
When the Church is silent..
It does not help when the church does nothing. I went to a talk in which a bishop said that he believed that the only acceptable way to engage sexually was in one particular position. Every other way that a consenting, married couple may wish to express intimacy was and I quote "from the devil". I laugh as I recall this. Maybe doing it missionary style is accurate – because after 12 years of one way of doing sex, the idea of smuggling bibles into a far-off land becomes positively erotic!
But; this is my fear; that in being silent we permission young people to get their sex education from pornography, from painful and consented experiences and from ways of engaging in sex that demand a really high level of emotional intimacy and commitment, in other words, marriage.
Why are we surprised that young people turn to porn if we remain silent? Why are we shocked that we have so many misconceptions about the opposite sex, when we steadfastly refuse to engage with the big, white elephant in the room? There will come a time when it will trumpet so loud and so insistently that we simply have to hear it. I believe that time is now.
An eye-popping proposition...
I often think about sex. Not because I am lustful but because I am intrigued by why God chose for Man and Woman to engage in this way. Face to face. Your lips are never more than few centimetres away. There is an uncomfortable level of closeness in this. You sense that, if God wanted to make sex more efficient, he could have had us deposit eggs somewhere in a stream like fish, or perhaps get them to hang off a tree.
But no, God chose sex. It has been the source of so much pain and pleasure down the generations. Men use it in war. Women use it to make up. Men need it to de-stress. Women need to feel safe before engaging in intercourse. We have, apparently over 7000 nerve endings in our reproductive organs. Am I alone in finding this slightly staggering?
We are called to pay attention to what God pays attention to. Biologically, it seems to me that God really paid attention when he made the parts that would fit man and women together. So much so that for it to be right, and good we need to be tender, sensitive, deeply connected to each-other, in order to experience the best that God has for us and that our spouse wants for us.
But here's another thing. I often think about the moment before creation, when the Trinity was there in all its power. As a creative moment in time, that would have been key; the power to create and visualise what was about to pass must have been staggering. We have been given that potential to create life in our bodies. I think that in engaging in sex, we are experiencing something divine, almost Trinitarian.
Not necessarily because of its quality, but rather because of what we are representing. In engaging in the act that has the potential to create life, we get a little taste or experience of that primeval creative force at the very beginning of time.
A way forward for us all
What can church do now? I am in the process of putting a proposal together; a series on sex. No holds barred, no questions unanswered. I want Church to be frank, honest; a place where you can come and heal from the wounds that have happened through relationships. I want us to give good, sound, coherent teaching that goes beyond how to save sex for marriage.
I want to know what constitutes honouring each other and what happens when you lust in marriage. I want to know how to ensure that I can honour my spouse in sex and treat him with the respect he deserves. Whether church, life group or a focussed series is the place for this, I am not entirely sure; but any, let's face it would be a step in the right direction.
Rosie Robinson resides in Manchester where, in between feeding myself coffee and bagels I work for an international custodian bank, called BNY Mellon. I attend a lively church called Audacious, enjoy reading, running and watching films and am currently on a trek with Jesus; discovering slowly but surely, all that life has to offer. And I have decided that I have the coolest big sister on the planet! (fellow young writer Amanda living in New Zealand).
Rosie Robinson previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rosie-robinson.html