There is something we need to talk about. That something is sex.
I recently co-ran a women’s elective called ‘Sex, Violence & the ‘F-word’ – for those of you wondering, it’s Feminism. While it pained us to call the workshop to a close there were a number of lovely people wanting to keep the conversation going – and going – and going – till it was crystal that these individuals rarely had the opportunity to talk openly and candidly about sex. Whether conservative, liberal, progressive – it didn’t matter! Sexuality was something people kept hidden away, only exposed in dear diary entries, awkward conversations with a partner or slightly tipsy conversations with girlfriends.
This is a problem. A problem much more insidious than we realise. Healthy sexuality in all its beauty and brutal awkwardness is rarely talked about, but is something every single person navigates at some point in their life. It’s clear this is a conversation in need of having. I hope that maybe through starting the conversation my thoughts will be eloquent enough to provide some clarity on the subject that is ‘sex’. So I am calling it…Let’s talk.
Over time I will be writing some blogs on just this. I’m going to call it the Great SEXpectations series! And in case you were wanting to gain insight into when, where, how or with whom – I don’t have those answers. I do however have some opinion on where we, as society and as the church, may be getting it wrong. Well-intentioned, but nevertheless wrong. So I thought best to start with that.
Sexuality vs. Sexualisation
Sexuality and sexualisation – they are completely different things my friends. Let’s break it down. There is nothing wrong with embracing your sexuality in whatever form that might take.
We are sexual beings. We are “wonderfully made”(Psalm 139:14, NIV), and part of that wonderful creation is humans as sexual beings.
Bodies are incredible things. Not acknowledging that in yourself is to deny yourself a gift God gave in the physical being you are.
Sexualisation on the other hand is an action enacted upon someone, commonly upon women but men too, which objectifies them on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality. It utilises sex as a means of gain – just think “sex sells!”
Sexuality = Good.
Sexualisation = Very bad!
This is important because the motivators behind each are intrinsically different. Sexuality is an embracing of the sexual self, sexualisation is an act of objectification on someone else.
As Christians we commonly disregard sexualisation as the ‘worldly way’ and so we do everything in our power to control it. And yes sexualisation is bad – but what has happened is that we have thrown sexuality into the mix and so everything ‘sex’ is now just plain bad!
Mistake #1: We think control is the answer
So we know sexualisation is bad and so we control it. We ask women to not wear singlet tops, to not drink in fear that men may take advantage of them, to not walk home alone, and when a girl is sexually assaulted people feel they have the right to say ‘but you were drinking so who’s really responsible?’ – What the FUDGE!?!? And sadly this is the story of many girls I know.
In her goddess-like feminist awesomeness Jessica Valenti (2009) writes,
“there is no separating virginity, violence and control over woman’s bodies”.
Through controlling womens’ bodies the objectification of women becomes normal and totally acceptable. We objectify them. We strip people of the ability to express their sexuality in a healthy way. We strip them of their autonomy to dictate what is right for them. We also strip away every other aspect of that person that makes them wonderful.
In Christianity’s attempt to protect the ‘girlhood’ of women around the world; ownership, dependance and most dangerously a re-sexualisation of women unfolds. So we are doing exactly that which we are trying to stop.
Full stops and feminism
Anyone that has read up on feminism shudders at the mention of Foucault. He has a profound inability to comprehend that full stops exist. Try reading him tipsy & make any sense of what he is saying – I challenge you!
Painfully long sentences aside he is a rather smart man. He talks of this thing called the ‘repressive hypothesis’ where,
“Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered; it called for management procedures; it had to be taken charge of by political discourse” (Foucault, 1978: 24).
Sex has become a societal force of control, regulation and expectation. It’s no longer a personal experience between individuals – it’s something society, and the church feels it holds the ability, and the right, to control…..Na-uh. No. Wrong!
When we don’t give young men and women the information to form healthy concepts of sexuality and sexual expression, sex becomes something that creates guilt and shame. Even worse they have been proven to result in unhealthy ideas of women’s sexuality, with increased rates of STI’s, unsafe sex practices and increased sexual violence – particularly in areas with abstinence only education. A lack of information about sex restricts peoples capacity to make informed decisions… This is not okay! It also perpetuates violent and dominant concepts of women and girls driving the negative culture of patriarchy and sexism many of us sadly live in.
Mistake #2: A woman’s worth is bound to her purity
The fusing of morality with women’s bodies is detrimental to all involved and is a form of structural violence – a violence the Church is guilty of. It makes people see a girl’s worth as contingent on her sexual purity and stops people recognising the value of a ‘girl’ as a smart, beautiful, talented, funny, and yes, attractive, being. This policing of young women’s minds and bodies by the church and society, strategically lowers them to maintain male dominance.
We so easily brush off this form of sexual violence, but by doing that we discount the pervasiveness of forces – social, political and religious – which provide the genesis for horrible and violent ideologies. Ideologies which later result in interpersonal violence and rape culture somehow being ok. As assault being viewed as a misunderstanding and not a crime. It results in 1 in 3 women experienceing violence in their lifetime. In over 81% of sexual assaults going unreported. In sexual harassment at the pub being funny and not offensive. In guilt, shame, uncertainty and insecurity.
See it. Call it. Change it!
None of this is easy to address. It is part of our culture, our society, and our religious practice. So what can we do? Becoming aware is the first step. That’s the genesis. Noticing and addressing your habits is the next. Noticing and calling out the habits of your friends follows. And change grows from there.
Opening our eyes and ears to the way our sexuality is shaped by so-called truths screamed at us by society, empowers us to challenge and to change. It makes the conversation easier, navigating our own sexual experience easier, and begins a new conversation unbound from violence, guilt and shame.
And that my friends, is a conversation worth having.
What great SEXpectation do you think needs to be discussed? Let me know and let’s have the conversation!