Mike Cope's blog

Monday, November 14, 2005

Real Sex: the Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner's newest book, is wonderful. It's edgy and insightful, fresh and biblical. A convert to Christianity, Winner is coming to terms with the Christian story of sexuality, explaining her journey toward chastity. A few selections today. Winner scours through studies and anecdotes trying to discover why some teens find the courage to hold off on sexual intercourse: "One might hope that the strongest predictor of teenage virginity would be church involvement--but it's not. A recent study of teenage girls shows that the strongest predictor is actually participation in team sports. The girl who plays lacrosse or soccer is more likely to remain chaste than the girl who attends church and youth group." Why? "At first blush, team sports and sexual abstinence seem to have nothing to do with each other. But in fact, the relationship makes sense: through soccer and tennis and field hockey, those girls are learning how to inhabit their bodies in good, robustly physical ways. They are seeing their bodies change and excel and face challenges and, sometimes, fail them. Their sports teams are communities that are teaching them how to live--not as sex objects, but as bodies that are graceful and disciplined and strong. They are learning, through those tennis matches and lacrosse games, that their bodies should be celebrated, because their bodies do great things. This doesn't mean, of course, that if only the church sponsored more softball leagues, everyone would stay on the chaste straight and narrow. But it does mean that the church ought to cultivate ways of teaching Christians to live in their bodies well--so that unmarried folks can still be bodily people, even though they're not having sex, and so that married people can give themselves to sex freely." It's so easy for the church to slip into a bit of Gnosticism--sending signals that the body is evil, or at least mostly problematic. These signals just don't fit the Christian story: of bodies being created by God, of Jesus coming in a real body, and of bodies being raised and glorified to live forever. About communal sex: "But the Bible tells us to intrude--or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what's going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters." About how we dress: "There is, it seems to me, a certain power in modest dressing, an assertion that though my body is beautiful, I am more than a sex object designed for your passing entertainment. But the power of dressing is also the power of narrative. For our clothes tell stories, and it would be naive and irresponsbile to pretend otherwise. Clothes tell stories about sex and chastity, to be sure, but they also narrate a stance toward our environments; our dress suggests a set of priorities. That is why we enjoy clothing so much, of course--because we reinvent ourselves and our narratives when we try out a new look. So the question for Christians is not an absolute one about skirt length, but rather something about communication. What stories do we want to tell ourselves and others through our choices of clothing?" About sex in marriage: "One hopes that satisfying sex characterizes the majority of American marriages. But the tips and steps and easy how-tos for married folk seem to misdiagnose the problem. The problem is not only that new moms are exhausted and collapse into bed at night wanting only sleep. The problem is also that we think we need to aspire to Hollywood sex; we think husbands and wives, when they're doing it right, will approximate the unbridled passion of Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball. We've defined sex as something unsustainable--bodice-ripping, stupefying, and nightly. . . . Good sex, to be sure, is characterized by physical pleasure. It is also conditioned by moral context. And, as I suggested in the last chapter, it is inextricable from domestic routine. Moms and dads do need to be intentional about making time for sex, but Christians can perhaps remind the broader culture that good sex, by definition, is part and parcel of, not antagonistic to, ordinary marriages and domestic life." Winner discusses four lies that our culture tells about sex: it can be wholly separated from procreation; you shouldn't marry for sex; how you dress doesn't matter; and good sex can't happen in the humdrum routine of marriage. Then she covers three lies that the church sometimes tells about sex: that premarital sex is guaranteed to make you feel lousy, that women don't really want to have sex anyway; and that bodies (and sex) are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.


  • Mike, thanks for sharing those thoughts on a subject that the church as a whole tends to ignore. We forget the fact that God is the One who invented sex--like so many other of His inventions, our world has perverted and abused it. As a single woman currently in a serious dating relationship, there isn't a lot said about how to handle sexual temptations other than "Don't do it." The message to singles seems to be "Sex is bad" but when you get married all of a sudden "Sex is good." Talk about mixed messages sometimes.

    By Blogger Lisa, at 11/14/2005 05:21:00 AM  

  • I'm interested to read Lauren Winner's book. I really enjoyed her first, "Girl Meets God," the story of her conversion from nominal Judaism to Orthodox Judaism to Anglicanism. Very interesting and well-written.

    She is very insightful. I think the quote about girls remaining chaste while playing team sports is interesting. Does she provide any practical suggestions about how to do some of those things as a church or does she leave the idea abstract?

    Mike, I think you might be like Oprah for the Church of Christ world. Once you recommend a book on your blog, it's likely to sell more copies and be the "in" book to read.

    By Blogger jocelyn, at 11/14/2005 06:11:00 AM  

  • Thanks Mike. I'm going right now to sign Kate up for soccer. She's 2 years old. Better late than never!

    By Blogger Dusty, at 11/14/2005 06:55:00 AM  

  • I think the girls/athletic participation link may actually be tied into a more important reason for chastity. I have heard several times, though I can't cite the data right now, that one of the biggest predicters of promiscuity in girls is their relationship to their fathers, or stated in other terms, the level of recognition or worth they feel they have gotten from the men in their lives in areas other than sexual relationships. I may not be stating this correctly, but it seems to me that the girls who have been directed toward athletic participation have been give a sense of their own worth in an area that doesn't depend on their attractiveness to the opposite sex. Not that the achievement or winning is important, but these girls have been allowed or encouraged to achieve on their own merit all their lives.

    Could it be that being taught that they are worth something is at least a key their own sense of value of their own bodies?

    By Blogger don, at 11/14/2005 07:30:00 AM  

  • I'm so glad you mentioned Lauren Winner on your blog. I've been trying to spread the word about her since I read Girl Meets God two years ago. Young women in the church need more people like her to look up to, women who openly share their struggles with sexual temptation. I think girls in the church are getting the wrong message, that only guys are interested in sex and that sexual purity is dependent only on girls resisting guys' advances. If only it were that easy! This is definitely a subject that both male and female Christians need to be grappling with.

    By Blogger kayla, at 11/14/2005 07:31:00 AM  

  • Good article, Mike. And good sermon yesterday. In my opinion, the two areas where we (the church) have ceded the point of view to the world is sex and personal finances. Both have a way of defining our lives and controlling who we think we are.

    By Blogger abileneblues, at 11/14/2005 08:05:00 AM  

  • Sex and Personal Finances - Now you have gone from preaching to meddling!

    There is so much here and I have so little time today.

    I will have to be content to read the great replies.

    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 11/14/2005 08:48:00 AM  

  • I grew up in congregations where so many adults (not so much my parents, though) were obsessed with female youth group members' shorts lengths and whether we danced or swam with boys. If I could have replaced every time I heard "Are those three inches above your knee?" with "How's your prayer life been lately?", I probably would have reached adulthood a much more spiritually grounded person. I finally realized a relationship with God is not about my body and how much of it is showing. But what IS is about? I'm still searching.

    This is one of my major gripes: Let's teach kids their bodies are inherently sinful -- that they have to keep them covered up and for heaven's sake, don't even DREAM of dancing. You'll get pregnant faster than a hamster in heat. In fact, you should never really express yourself with your body in any way. Oh, you're getting married? That's wonderful! Have a lifetime of uninhibited sex with your spouse!

    How in the world is THAT supposed to work?

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 11/14/2005 08:58:00 AM  

  • I was not sexually active before marriage (though not entirely pure either); my wife was quite experienced. In retrospect, neither of us were well-prepared for sexual intimacy in marriage. The church taught me nothing ... neither did my CoC churchgoing parents who were too embarrassed to discuss "it" in our home. My kids WILL be better prepared before and after marriage for what God has in store for them.Thanks for the reminder, Mike, of how important this issue is.

    By Blogger Brian, at 11/14/2005 09:11:00 AM  

  • Mike - I thought you'd get a kick out of Max's statement on the way to lunch yesterday in light of your sermon and Wednesday nights 8th grade class on purity. He said, "Is this sex week at church, or what? But I think it's good that at least our church is talking about sex!" That from a 13 year old girl crazy guy. I, for one, am grateful I'm not the only one trying to talk about it.

    By Blogger Candy, at 11/14/2005 09:40:00 AM  

  • Candy - That comment from my buddy Max is the best feedback I'll get. :) I think it's amazing that a 13-year-old boy would even acknowledge the sermon on sex!

    By Blogger Mike, at 11/14/2005 09:45:00 AM  

  • Wow! It looks like I picked the wrong Sunday to be out of town!

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 11/14/2005 09:46:00 AM  

  • Brian -- because my parents hyperventilated every time I asked about sex, I've also been determined to be open with my kids. My daughter was 4 the day she saw some squirrels "getting cozy" in our yard. She asked what they were doing and I told her. She was fascinated by the whole process until she realized she was conceived that way (don't worry, I told her, Daddy and I didn't do it in the front yard.)

    Speaking of rodent romance, my parents finally bought me a book called "Susie's Babies" when I was about 9. I actually found it online here: http://www.biblio.com/books/51981385.html. I grew up thinking I was going to need wood shavings and a big spinning wheel on my wedding night...

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 11/14/2005 10:08:00 AM  

  • Women are much less restrained than they were thirty years ago in regard to having sex (imo). This seems the biggest difference from the days I was in high school and college and my two boys.

    I can remember Stanley Shipp speaking in chapel at Harding. He said, "The reason I never had sex before I got married was that I didn't have an opportunity." Then he made some comments about how he looked. It was refreshing to here an older adult Christian male be so honest. Classic Stanley!

    By Blogger David Michael, at 11/14/2005 10:21:00 AM  

  • I've seen Ms. Winner's name in so many places lately--surely a sign of some sort! It sounds like she may have some fresh ideas about how to teach and preach a healthy, God-given sexuality. To one such as I who struggles to strike some sort of balance between "Sex is good" but "our society is oversexed" as I teach my teenage sons, this sounds like a must-read.

    You are on to something there when you wrote that we struggle with gnosticism; it does seems that when it comes to sexuality and other issues that we are hopeless Platonic dualists. For years I've been saying that we are too "gnostic" for our own good and drawing confused stares. Of course, I haven't said it with the eloquence and flair that Johnny Cash did years ago when he warned the church not to be "so heavenly minded" that they're "no earthly good."

    By Blogger mike the eyeguy, at 11/14/2005 10:28:00 AM  

  • Deana - What you said really resonates with me - it never made sense to me even as a teenager that I was such a weak young man that whether I lusted or not was dependant upon how short the girls shorts were or how skimpy tops.

    What about what was in MY heart?

    I think Mike may have preached about this once - but every time I swam with girls and I did not lust in my heart after them - there were some church leaders that lost credibility with me - because what they told me turned out not to be true. And yes, I understand that they overstated their case because they cared.

    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 11/14/2005 11:57:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike. Sex is something that needs to be discussed a LOT more in the Christian community. Especially if Deana Nall's running commentary is in accompaniment.

    By Blogger Jana, at 11/14/2005 12:28:00 PM  

  • Way to go on the sexy pots, Mike. I highly reccomend reading Jennifer Thweatt-Bates' thoughts on sexuality:

    sex and mixed messages
    more about sex
    more, more about sex

    By Blogger TKP, at 11/14/2005 01:40:00 PM  

  • Um, I meant "way to go on the sexy POSTS," not pots. Just clarifying. :)

    By Blogger TKP, at 11/14/2005 01:41:00 PM  

  • TKP - was that a Freudian slip?

    By Blogger David Michael, at 11/14/2005 03:37:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger L, at 11/14/2005 04:10:00 PM  

  • Hey Mike, We had to read that book and write a reflection paper on it in Robert O's class. I really enjoyed it and have passed along the word about it to my friends. Good post.

    By Blogger Mandy, at 11/14/2005 05:37:00 PM  

  • Mike-
    I'm disappointed that I missed a great message Sunday morning. Maybe the morning wasn't a complete waste, since I was at a soccer tournament coaching a girl's team that includes my 8 year-old (true!). Little did I know that I was engaged in the ministry of soccer [G]!

    By Blogger Matt, at 11/14/2005 06:06:00 PM  

  • I was pleasantly surprised with that book, having never read "Girl Meets God." It really amazes me that the church had to wait so long for an authentic voice on this subject.

    By Blogger David Johnson, at 11/14/2005 11:28:00 PM  

  • Where are all the comments from the no-mixed-swimming, dancing-will-get-you-pregnant crowd? I know you're out there...

    By Blogger Neal W., at 11/15/2005 08:31:00 AM  

  • My daughter's preschool just held a slumber party fundraiser where they would look after the kids for an evening (or even all night) and give parents a night off. MY mother was horrified at the blatant sexuality of a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds, wearing their favorite pajamas and oversized cartoon character slippers spending the night in the same building. She said, "I don't think Christians should be involved in that." I said, "They take naps in that building every afternoon." She replied, "Yes, but this is at night."

    Apparently even Barney-aged crowd can't resist the lust-inducing power of a dimly lit room.

    By Blogger Neal W., at 11/15/2005 08:40:00 AM  

  • In Richard Foster's book Money Sex and Power (now called The Challenge of the Disciplined Life), he speaks of how we often treat unmarried christians as a-sexual. He has some interesing thoughts on how we can confirm the sexuality of singles and elderly members in a wholesome way. I'm going to have to go back and re-read it. I remember how after getting married I suddenly felt "discovered" by the church. It was like I had become a real person in the eyes of everyone. I'm afraid that we simply don't see the unmarried and elderly as sexual beings at all. That's a shame.

    By Blogger Joel Maners, at 11/15/2005 09:25:00 AM  

  • I appreciate Lauren Winner because she addresses issues that adult single christians deal with. For some, making it to 22 and remaining pure is much less of a challenge than it is to make it to 40 (even logistically speaking) and while it's important to discuss sexuality amongst teens, the issue doesn't go away once you graduate from high school or college. It's nice to have these struggles recognized realistically and taken seriously for once.

    By Blogger Little Light, at 11/16/2005 09:01:00 AM  

  • Actually, what I mean to say is that not only doesn't it go away upon graduation from college, but it gets much worse. You no longer have parents or dorm mothers watching over you. Christian colleges would do well to spend some of their energy used to encourage marriage amongst students to teach students what to do if they don't get married at 22 or at all. Practical advice (like inviting a date to your apartment for coffee means it will be next to impossible to get him out) as well as spiritual. Or what to do when you're at a church bridal shower and all of the married women are giggling and you have to sit there and pretend like you don't get all of the jokes because you're supposed to be completely naive as well as innocent. I could go on.

    By Blogger Little Light, at 11/16/2005 09:22:00 AM  

  • I would have to say I agree most with little light. Being single and nearly 40, I HATE going to wedding & baby showers b/c of that feeling that I'm "not supposed to understand and get the sexual jokes" b/c I'm not married. I don't know how I'm supposed to act. Embarrassed and shy? Or smile b/c I do "get it"! And some of the advice about how to handle dating after college and living on my own in my own place would have been greatly appreciated. It's much easier to be chaste when living at home or in a college dorm with some sort of supervision and expectations, than it is when you are single and lonely. Talk about Satan jumping in with the tempations!!!!
    Thanks for voicing this topic and so many sharing their ideas and viewpoints. I no longer feel like such an outsider.

    By Blogger jettalyn, at 11/17/2005 08:57:00 PM  

  • This sounds like a great book.

    I am a 47-year-old virgin. Yes, it is possible to "wait". I grew up in that "no mixed swimming or dancing" era, a CoC preacher's daughter. We lived on the coast when I was in middle school and I wasn't allowed to wear a swim suit when all my friends were wearing 2-piece suits because I had to be the example for them. Yeah, right. I don't think a one of them wore long shorts and a tee shirt because I did. They all thought I was nuts.

    My parents brought me up to believe premarital sex was wrong because the bible teaches that it is. I never considered having sex outside of marriage as a teenager, partly out of fear of pregnancy, partly out of fear and respect for my parents, and partly out of fear of God. I was in my first serious relationship only a couple of years ago. I knew I wanted to wait until we got married...after all I've waited this long, right? Up front in that relationship I let him know what the boundaries were. I have come to understand that waiting until marriage for sex is not depriving myself of something but is saving something special for my husband-to-be.

    I think part of the problem in our society is the message we are constantly bombarded with on TV, in music, and in the movies that you can't possibly be happy unless you are having sex and that if you don't have sex you are depriving yourself of something you deserve. Talk about a lie straight from the pit of hell. And we expose ourselves and our kids to this all day long every day. The church has become desensitized to the message we are getting every time we turn on the TV--parents are stupid, kids run the family, sex is okay, and on and on. Satan is very good at his deceptions isn't he.

    Two 20-something couples I know have made a vow to not even kiss until the preacher says "You may kiss the bride". Talk about self-control. Talk about a beautiful gift to give each other. Talk about a wonderful first kiss.

    I try not to let the opportunity go to minister to young women with my testimony of abstinence.

    By Blogger LBC, at 11/21/2005 05:51:00 PM  

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