Throughout the late 2000s and early 21st century, it has been a common refrain to say “There is too much sex in television and movies.” The popularity of Games of Thrones, which was essentially a mash-up of various forms of fantasy, including soft-core pornographic fantasy, is certainly evidence of the deep pervasive that sex has in the entertainment industry. Why? Because sex sells. It always has and it always will. Saying there is too much sex in entertainment is like saying there is too much greed on Wall Street and too much politics in Washington D.C. Tell us something we don’t know.
At the same time, how we as Christians have tried to respond to the inundation with sex has proved counter-productive. The response has been to increasingly treat sex as a taboo, to purify and sanctify television with “family friendly” television. After all, a good Christian doesn’t really think about and talk about sex. And when we do, there is some sort of “holy talk” that is often a form of “managed avoidance.”
But I have a question: what Bible have these Christians been reading? If we treat the Scripture as we did “family friendly” TV, there would be large parts of the Bible that would be censored. We wouldn’t get two chapters into the Bible until we would have to start censoring Adam and Eve’s naked, not to mention the possible double entendre of the ‘serpent’. And as move on further in the Bible, we would have to remove a whole book from our canon. Then, we would need to remove this little bit from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians that needs only a little imagination: “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her?”
There is, to be clear, a very real and very important difference between sex in entertainment and sex in the Bible: the former is more direct and graphic in its depiction of sex, whereas the latter is more indirect and often suggestive in its portrayal. But this indirect, suggestive manner is not the same thing as making sex taboo. Nor is it suggestive in the sense of some sort of suggestive sexual propositions to another person.
The indirectness of the Scriptures about sex is reflective of the assumption that experience of sex is a part of intimacy between husband and wife, just as Adam and Eve ‘know’ each other. There is a ‘secret knowledge’ that is shared between husband and wife of a deeply personal manner. Sex is a very real and very important thing in human life, and it is so important and so essential that it is something that should be handled with care. On the other hand, there is a public knowledge about sex as a reality of human life, and the Scriptures have no scruples about speaking about the public understanding about sex, including in indirect, suggestive ways. The Song of Solomon is evidence of this, as anyone who has the willingness to recognize the metaphorically laden depictions of romantic love can tell you.
My ‘provocative proposal’ is that we Christians learn how to recover this public knowledge of sex in such a way that does not, simultaneously, break into the domain of the private, and thus leering towards the pornographic. Far from trying to shield young eyes and ears from sex and reserving it for the parents talk about the “birds and the bees” and specially crafted Christian curriculum as a a Christian form of “sex education” (both of which are still VERY important, by the way), we learn how to use a public, Scriptural language about sex that trains people, young and old, about it. We should have Christians artists talking about the public aspects of sex. We should have Christians eagerly knocking on the academic doors towards becoming sex therapists. Of course, this means such people should become ‘intimately’ familiar with sex in the Scriptures, both in the good and the badness of all of it. We should have Christians trying to bring about a theology of sex, like Faithful written Beth Felker Jones.1
However, in seeking to “purify” family friendly media and Christians circles of sex talk, we have been unwittingly doing something: giving more power and influence to the cultural liturgies of the wider society, letting their voices be the first and most regular voices people hear about sex. For the young in the churches and families, sex is reserved for those awkward talks, which are only awkward because we don’t know how to address them. And, as I myself experienced, the awkwardness we can feel about the ‘conversation’ leads it to never be discussed, leaving an understanding about sex to be a patchwork of other cultural ‘liturgies’ along with a little bit of sprinkling of the all-too-common Christian teaching that sex is bad and scary, so save that for marriage.2 To the old, sex is something we dodge around and don’t address directly to the point that when some sexual transgression has happened, we lack the real language and conviction to speak about it. As a consequence, the taboo-ness of the subject has given power to attempts to keep sexual problems and, may God have mercy on us, sexual offenses in the dark by making people inordinately comfortable with the even public conversations about sex.
Instead, we have treated the topic of sex as if it is something that if brought up, would unleash a contagion and pox upon the church, as if people are just waiting for any excuse at any moment to engage in all sorts of indecent and grossly immoral sexual behavior. Instead, our silence has taken away our ability to speak forth, bring, and hear God’s Word as a healing balm to the illness that has spread. Instead, and most grievously of all, our silence has betrayed our lack of faith in the power of the Word and Spirit to form our hearts and minds to keep our desires appropriately directed.
Sex will be a part of the lives of Christians and the body of believers. It is inevitable. Sex will be part of the lives of society and all humans. It is inevitable. But, the best way to fight a fire that has raged and burned out of control isn’t to try to escape from it and hope it won’t reach you, because it is very likely get to you and burn all you own, with or without your help, but rather to find the water to contain the fires. And, fighting a wild, raging fire is not a battle that can be accomplished over night, but it takes a lot of time and dutiful care to bring the fire under control.