This past week I ventured into the deep, murky waters of a conversation that is routinely feared by most human beings, especially parents of teenagers. For many, many people the topic of sex is a personal matter and does not behoove public discussion. Unfortunately this is also the case in most churches today. Talk about sex is very hush-hush. But this was not the case last Thursday night when I sat on a couch in the youth room at St. Christopher's (where I work) and engaged in a valuable conversation about the connections between sexuality and spirituality.
We began with the most logical analogy there is for sex: driving a car! I asked the boys (there were no females present) if they could name something that can be done both well and poorly. The first suggestion was driving (cars - a very manly place to begin). We charted out all of the ways that driving is done well and all of the ways driving is done poorly.
We then moved to sports (even manlier!). We charted out how both soccer and lacrosse are meant to be played. Things like teamwork, selflessness, following the rules, playing within the boundaries, not cheating, and playing with skill were mentioned. We also charted the ways that these sports are played poorly - that is, the way they are not meant to be played.
Up to this point I had not even mentioned sex. And then, upon the first uttering of the scandalous three-letter word, came the bashful smiles and awkward giggles. One of them stopped and said, "Wait, really?" They were initially shocked. But why? Because I had mentioned a forbidden subject? Or because they don't expect ANYONE to talk about sex?
Why, in a culture that seems to want sex 24/7, are we afraid to have a real conversation about it?
After I convinced the boys that we were not going to talk about how to physically "do" sex well (like driving or playing soccer), we entered into a more serious state of mind and began asking the tough questions.
In the same way that we know soccer is meant to be played the right way, is sex also meant to be experienced a right way? And, in turn, can sex be experienced a wrong way? If these questions are valid, how can we determine the way that sex is meant to be experienced?
The answer lies within the fact that sex is part of our nature as creations of God. Nothing human is foreign to God! We are sexual beings and we want to experience sex. Nothing wrong there.
But the problem comes when we forget that sex, like everything else in nature, can be done a wrong way.
So the boys and I charted out what might be the right way to experience sex, what might be the wrong way, and why these might be the case. The ensuing discussion was captivating!
In the "right way" column were words like marriage, trust, commitment, honesty, vulnerability, assurance, nakedness, and covenant.
In the "wrong way" column were words like selfish, dishonest, disease, one-sided, and the powerful phrase "people get hurt."
Just like the charts we made about driving, soccer, and lacrosse, we had begun to chart out the reasoning behind experiencing sex as God intended it. But, oddly enough, there was one pivotal word missing from the dry-erase board filled with our notes. That word was LOVE.
Is this not a perfect example of our disconnect between sex and love? I held a 15-minute conversation about sex with three teenage boys without the word "love" ever coming up (at least not as a crucial element)! Sex, according to many people, is not a relationship, it is an act. Sex, as experienced by many, is not the culmination of two humans sharing love, it is a sport.
Do not so many hip/hop and R&B songs on the radio make "sex" about how long, how good, how many ways, and how many times it can be done? And don't so many of these songs turn the sole purpose of womankind into satisfying the sexual lusts of mankind?
And what about all the singers who brag in their songs about how good they are at ... fornication!? Wait, what? Is anyone ever going to stop and ask, "WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS? I DON'T WANT TO KNOW THIS ABOUT YOU!"
Do not the self-aggrandizing lyrics display the broken, shallowness of these artists? How badly do you need attention if you are telling the world about the women you slept with? It's almost humorous if it weren't so sad.
But where's the love?
If nothing human is foreign to God, then I believe that God must have something to say about sex and love. And, of course, God does.
At this point I showed the boys a short film called "Flame," which is part of Rob Bell's NOOMA series. (When I said I was going to show a video clip they all got REAL scared! haha)
The film discuses sex the way God intends it to be experienced. Bell cites some of God's intentions from the book Song of Solomon, which provides some of the most beautiful poetry, imagery, and theology on the experiences of love and sex. In it the author uses three different words for "love."
The first word is Raya. This word would be translated as friendship or companionship. Or kind of like our contemporary concept of soul mate.
The second word is Ahava. This word is meant to express the intensity of love when one's heart and mind are so fixated on the other person that nothing else matters. This word is loaded with passion.
The third word is Dod. This word is the physical, bodily love that occurs when two lovers give their bodies to one another.
After the video we came to the realization that most of what our culture calls "sex" is really just Dod. Most of the "sex" we see on TV, movies, and the internet is really just Dod. And so most of the "sex" out there isn't really sex!
In fact, we even decided that the men and women who get naked together on TV aren't really all that naked after all. Why not? Because they're not TRULY bearing it all. There's no commitment. There's no Raya. There's no Ahava.
On the dry-erase board I had these three words written. Seeing the capital letters, one of the boys bursted out, "Sex is RAD!" Then following his pointing finger toward the board we all saw the cause of his outburst and realized what a great acronym was just created to remember what sex is truly meant to be.
Sex is RAD.
[For anyone who has read Rob Bell's SEX GOD or seen the above said NOOMA clip, please forgive me for borrowing so much content from him. For those of you who have not read the book nor seen the clip, I highly recommend it if you desire a greater understanding of the intimate connection between sexuality and spirituality.]