Our theme for the month of June is “Sex and the Church.”
Chapter 1: Physical Science
When water drops below zero degrees Celsius, it freezes to become ice. Its state changes, and it exhibits different properties. This change is reversible, however; when the temperature rises, ice becomes water once again.
By contrast, a lit match to a piece of paper produces an irreversible state change. It is not possible to collect the scattered ashes and return them to a single, unmarred sheet.
Question: Is sex more like ice or fire?
Chapter 2: English Vocabulary
1 A person who has never had sexual intercourse.
1.1 The mother of Jesus; the Virgin Mary.
1.2 The zodiacal sign or constellation Virgo.
1.3 archaic A young unmarried woman.
2 A person who is naive, innocent, or inexperienced in a particular context.
-Oxford English Dictionary
SEXUAL INTERCOURSE (mass noun)
Sexual contact between individuals involving penetration, especially the insertion of a man’s erect penis into a woman’s vagina, typically culminating in orgasm and the ejaculation of semen.
-Oxford English Dictionary
Question: Is the Oxford English Dictionary definition more or less strict than that of your tenth-grade classmates?
Chapter 3: Human Anatomy
“The hymen is a thin fold of mucous membrane situated at the orifice of the vagina… Occasionally it is cribriform, or its free margin forms a membranous fringe. It may be entirely absent, or may form a complete septum across the lower end of the vagina; the latter condition is known as an imperforate hymen. It may persist after copulation, so that its presence cannot be considered a sign of virginity.”
-Henry Gray, Anatomy of the Human Body
“Studies found that hymen examination does not accurately or reliably predict virginity status. In addition, included studies reported that virginity testing could cause physical, psychological, and social harms to the examinee.”
-Rose McKeon Olson and Claudia García-Moreno, “Virginity Testing, a Systematic Review.” Reproductive Health Journal. 2017; 14: 61.
“Male virginity (or the lack thereof) cannot be detected.”
-”Is Male Virginity Detectable?” GoAskAlice.Colombia.edu
Question: Anna from summer camp said you could tell by how loudly a girl peed whether or not she was a virgin. A Ugandan doctor swears you can identify a male virgin by the color of his knees. What additional erroneous views have you encountered?
Chapter 4: Sociology
“To say of something that it is socially constructed is to emphasize its dependence on contingent aspects of our social selves. It is to say: This thing could not have existed had we not built it; and we need not have built it at all, at least not in its present form. Had we been a different kind of society, had we had different needs, values, or interests, we might well have built a different kind of thing, or built this one differently. The inevitable contrast is with a naturally existing object, something that exists independently of us and which we did not have a hand in shaping.”
-Paul A. Boghossian, “What is Social Construction?”
Question: Which different aspects and versions of society value, protect, or fetishize virginity, and why? What need does it fill? What value does it add?
Chapter 5: Religious Studies
“Paul the Apostle expressed the view that a person’s body belongs to God and is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:13, 3:16), and that premarital sex is immoral (1 Corinthians 6:18) on an equal level as adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9). Paul also expressed the view in 1 Corinthians 7:1–7 that sexual abstinence is the preferred state for both men and women. However, he stated that sexual relations are expected between a married couple.
“In early and ascetic Christianity, sex (procreation of children) was not emphasized, while celibacy and virginity were highly praised. Paul the Apostle stated in 1 Corinthians that it is good for [the unmarried] to remain this way, but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, “for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Some have suggested that Paul’s treatment of sex was influenced by his conviction that the end of the world was imminent
“It has been sometimes asked whether there is a special virtue of virginity; and in spite of the affirmative answer of some authors, and of the text of St. Thomas, II-II:152:3, the statement of which cannot be taken literally, the question must be answered in the negative.
“Formally, virginity is but the purpose of perpetually preserving perfect chastity in one who abstains from sexual pleasure. Ordinarily this purpose is inspired by a virtue superior to that of chastity; the motive may be religious or apostolic. Then the superior virtues of charity or religion will ennoble this purpose and communicate to it their own beauty; but we shall not find in it any splendour or merit of another virtue.
“The Church, following this teaching of St. Paul, has always considered the state of virginity or celibacy preferable in itself to the state of marriage.”
-”Virginity,” Catholic Encyclopedia Online
“Dear future husband, I will wait for you.”
Question: Does the Church today see virginity as an expression of a “superior virtue” or simply prelude to a marriage that all are expected to achieve, that all are expected to want?
Chapter 6: Statistics
“Eighty percent of young unmarried Christians have had sex. Two-thirds have been sexually active in the last year. Even though, according to a recent Gallup Poll, 76 percent of evangelicals believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong.”
-Tyler Charles, “(Almost) Everyone Is Doing It,” Relevant Magazine
“As of 2002, about one in eight teens, or 12 percent, pledged to be sexually abstinent until marriage. Some studies have found that taking virginity pledges does indeed lead teens to delay sex and have fewer overall sex partners. But since just 3 percent of Americans wait until marriage to have sex, the majority of these “pledge takers” become “pledge breakers,” as Anthony Paik, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, explains in his new study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
“The results were even more striking for out-of-wedlock pregnancy: About 18 percent of the girls who had never taken virginity pledges became pregnant within six years after they began having sex. Meanwhile, 30 percent of those who had taken a pledge—and broken it—got pregnant while not married.”
–Olga Khazan, “The Unintended Consequences of Purity Pledges,” The Atlantic
Question: If eighty percent of Christians have had sex outside of marriage, and seventy-six percent believe this to be morally wrong, how many hands will you have to shake on Sunday morning before you reach an untroubled soul?
Chapter 7: Economics
For most of history, the rape of a virgin was a property crime. A woman’s sexuality belonged first to her father, and then to her husband.
“The ancient near east, including Israel, didn’t have a proper notion of ‘forcible rape’ – just adultery with another man’s wife or fornication with another man’s virgin daughter. The other man, in either case, was the victim of the crime.
“For instance, in Babylonia, if a woman who was set to be married was raped and she was a virgin, the rapist would be killed. But if the woman was married, she would be killed, too. In Assyria, the father of a rape victim was allowed to rape the rapist’s wife as punishment.”
-Allie Conti, “A brief and depressing history of rape laws,” Vice.com
“You have to remember, if God hasn’t picked this person for you, your lips are on another person’s mate”
-“A Touchy Subject: Kissing, Handholding, and More,” United Church of God
Question: Does a part of me belong to a man I have not met yet? Shall this be the reason for other men to respect me and my body?
Chapter 8: Religious Studies II
“There is no such thing as a condom for the heart. Once you have had sex, you are never quite the same.”
-“Pure Again,” Focus on the Family
“Just like any other enticing option, once you have said “yes,” it’s infinitely harder to say “no” after that. Especially when the gossip mill has spun and you acquire a “reputation.” Some girls have found that if they can’t be “in” with the purity gang, they can at least feel momentarily “accepted” with guys who are ready to take them as they are – for sex.
“True, you can’t get your virginity back – you’ll never be the person you once were. You can, however, be stronger and wiser than you were before – and more able to resist what you know is wrong.”
-“What your teens need to know about sex,” Focus on the Family
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”
Question: What is the word for a young woman who has not yet committed an act against the poor and needy? In what ways, once she first sins against them, is she never quite the same?
Question II: Who is spinning the gossip mill, and why does it only crush girls?
Chapter 9: Current Events
“The phrase “rape culture” refers to a way of thinking that systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.”
-Lisa Wade, thesocietypages.org
“In the past few years, a subset of straight men calling themselves “incels” have constructed a violent political ideology around the injustice of young, beautiful women refusing to have sex with them…The incel ideology has already inspired the murders of at least sixteen people.”
“…If what incels wanted was sex, they might, for instance, value sex workers and wish to legalize sex work. But incels, being violent misogynists, often express extreme disgust at the idea of “whores.” Incels tend to direct hatred at things they think they desire; they are obsessed with female beauty but despise makeup as a form of fraud.”
-Jia Tolentino, “The Rage of the Incels,” The New Yorker
Question: How can women both remain virginal while also submitting to the sexual whims of a violent class of men?
Chapter 10: Logic
It is dirty—it is holy—it is harmful—it is life-changing—it is nothing at all. We approach this “it” like a brain teaser, hoping that when we finally guess the answer, the seemingly-unrelated clues will finally make sense.
This confusion is hurting us. It is hurting young people who conflate their virginity with virtue, who learn to say “no” but not why they should, who make mistakes that they then see not as acts to be forgiven but as a permanent change to their identities that will trail them their entire lives.
Our confusion is hurting those who have survived sexual assault and wince as their youth group leader crushes flowers or flaunts dirty toothbrushes, chewed bubblegum, stained clothing and tells them this is who they are.
Our confusion is hurting queer people whose sexuality our very definitions erase.
Our confusion is hurting couples who do wait and find sex neither as magical as they were told nor as intuitive as they hoped, who must spend months or years overcoming shyness, fear, or shame.
Our confusion fuels a culture that values women more for what they don’t do with their genitals than the sum of their other accomplishments—and I say women because this has always been about women and girls—forced to bear the brunt of sexual purity on their own (modestly-attired) shoulders.
Question: If all consecrated sex is married, and no unconsecrated sex is holy, is all married sex holy?
Question II: Who gets to decide what is holy?
Chapter 11: Religious Studies III
- Eye to Body
- Eye to Eye.
- Voice to Voice
- Hand to Hand.
- Hand to Shoulder.
- Hand to Waist.
- Face to Face.
- Hand to Head.
9-12. The Final Steps.
(9) Hand to Body,
(10) Mouth to Breast,
(11) Touching Below the Waist, and
the final acts of physical contact should be reserved for the marital relationship, since they are progressively sexual and intensely personal.
-James Dobson, “Twelves Steps of Intimacy”
“I am less concerned with which “acts” are “okay” for unmarried Christians and more interested in helping people ask questions about healthy intimacy, experiencing pleasure and desire in holy ways, and in learning to be vulnerable with a partner in ways that affirm their mutual identity as children of God.”
Question: In what ways can we do better in discussing sexuality in the Church? In what ways must we?
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).