Thursday, January 28, 2010

SEX - Part I

Posted by Pamela Urfer

A few months ago, one of the Newman Center students, Andrea, asked me about organizing a forum on Sexuality and Spirituality. She said:

“I feel that this is an important topic for people of faith, especially since the Christian Church is unwilling to engage in conversation about it. In college people are exploring their sexuality, whether they consider themselves spiritual or not. I think it would be wonderful to engage in conversation that is open and not controlled by leaders who are simply shouting ‘abstinence only’… without a reason why.”

Then, a few weeks ago, an article came out in the Religion page of Newsweek called “Sexual Revolution, Part II” by Lisa Miller. Miller is talking about a recent dispute at Harvard between the True Love Revolution, which supports sexual abstinence as a lifestyle, and feminist students who say that “calling the sexual act degrading to [women] is the complete opposite of feminism.” They say women have the right to have sex with whomever, wherever and however they want. The TLR counted by changing their mission statement to assert that sex outside of marriage is “harmful to both parties,” and that choosing abstinence is “true feminism” which “recognizes the natural characteristics, strengths and abilities of women and seeks to affirm them in this identity.” This position has the feminists up in arms because it raises questions about the goals of the sexual revolution: Does female liberation mean being able to say yes? Or does it mean saying no?

Unfortunately, what might have been a useful discussion has turned acrimonious with hot-headed letters posted in the student newspaper and on message boards throughout campus. Miller thinks this is a shame as she feels TLR is on to something here and admires its ability to articulate students’ dissatisfaction with sex and sex talk on campus. Many students complain that the “hookup culture” is dominant and oppressive. Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul, believes college students are not given an opportunity to tell the truth about what they want out of relationships – desires that include courtship and romance – without drawing the derision of their peers and even their professors.

Their health services hand out condoms and lecture about sexually transmitted diseases. Their friends boast and complain endlessly about hookups real and imagined. “The average college student is miserable about sex. The idea of getting to step away from it is really appealing,” says Freitas. Miller believes that religious groups on campus are missing an opportunity if they don’t invite a more nuanced conversation about sex and help guide students through this modern sexual wilderness. Why not look to religion for some of the most thoughtful analyses of how liberated women and men can reasonably opt out of sex – or, at least, the kind of sex they don’t want to have? Christine Firer Hinze, a theological professor at Fordham University, believes that choosing abstinence can carry a strong counter-cultural message and a vision of personal fulfillment beyond immediate gratification. “A religious viewpoint can point you in a direction that says wholeness, integrity, enjoying life, even being a sensual person, can lead to a kind of fulfillment.” Teaching kids that saying no can feel as good as saying yes – that’s a revolution.

I think Andrea would agree with me that it’s time for us to talk about sex and God in the same breath.

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