I was recently interviewed by Jennifer Bostrom for the blog spuchablog.wordpress.com – a blog for Campus Housing at Seattle Pacific University. The interview centered around how to cultivate a healthy sexuality integrating sexual beliefs/expression with a Christian faith. Here is the interview:
Embracing our Sexuality: A Conversation with Dr. Tina Sellers
It is CHA’s pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Tina Sellers, a Professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy program and Medical Family Therapy Director at SPU. We asked her to spread some insight on the topic of sexuality and young men and women in the Christian college context. Her blog post: “How the Teachings of Sexual Purity Lead to Violence” is the center of today’s discussion.
We invite you to participate in this conversation and if you are in need to talk to someone or seek help there are resources listed at the end of this post and your PA is always available.
On your blog, Musings by Candlelight, your post “How the Teachings of Sexual Purity Leads to Violence” speaks about the way young men and women come to think about their own sexuality. You referenced the book: Sex and Soul which mentioned that there are differing perceptions of gender roles within purity and sexuality:
“…evangelical girls are taught to protect their purity on four levels: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But they also must fight the urge to use sexuality as a way of trying to “capture” a lustful man. This means dressing conservatively, no flirting and no romantic fantasizing.” (p. 79)
“…men are taught that they must guard their purity by understanding sex as “the enemy” in a life-and-death battle, by raising a “sword and shield” against it, and even by making an “ocular covenant” – learning to “bounce” one’s eyes away from “lustful objects” (i.e. women). Men must allow Christ to take their minds “captive” so nary a thought about a woman enters their imagination … In other words, because men are by nature sexual predators, their pursuit of purity revolves around doing battle with their very nature.” (p. 79)
Is there a line between sexual immorality and embracing sexuality for men and women in this context? How do you think there can be a more balanced view regarding sexuality and faith especially for young men and women?
Dr. Sellers:The revelations from interviews of men and women at evangelical colleges shows how the focus on behaviors (“don’t have sex before marriage”, “don’t entertain lustful thoughts”, don’t do this/that or think about this/that) has continued to tie people in knots. The discourses in the above quote show how men and women are pitted against each other – they are taught to not trust each other. Women are taught “men cannot be trusted when aroused” and men are taught “women will try and capture you in her snares of desire”. How is this helpful? How would it ever be helpful for two people romantically involved to be thinking such hurtful distrusting things about each other? And how is it ok for us to undervalue men in this way or undervalue women in this way? Add to all this … how is it helpful to develop such a detailed discourse of sexuality that is centered around “don’ts” while completely silencing all the needed narratives of how we need to treat ourselves, our romantic partners, men, women, our bodies, our hopes, our desires. I think of the fruits of the spirit in Gal 5:22 … we ought to be talking about how to demonstrate each of these qualities in our relationships – what are our challenges, what do we experience when we demonstrate these qualities well, etc. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To develop a balanced view of sexuality that affirms your faith and affirms you as a creation of a loving God – let’s begin talking about what sexuality, sexual desire, sexual expression when single and when partnered looks like when it is loving, joy-filled, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and utilized self-control. In our Judeo roots men when they got married swore an oath of Onah – this oath taught these things.
You also mentioned the influence of media and culture combating the images and messages within the Christian context:
“Second – added to this dearth of awareness of themselves, their sexual longings and the skills needed to cultivate loving touch, these young people are fed images of sex and bodies in the form of porn, advertising, TV shows, movies, music and print. Bodies and sex are displayed for you to buy and use – as if both were not connected to a person – a heart and soul. Everywhere boys learn that women are there for their use, their enjoyment, their pleasure. And women learn that they are responsible to give what men want in order to keep them faithful.”
How do you think the church, as well as campuses can combat these images and misconceptions without supporting the hatred of anything sexual as mentioned above?
Dr. Sellers: I think we need to begin talking about what is beautiful about us as God’s creation – our heart, soul, body-selves. We need to gather and share our stories, our struggles, our hopes as embodied souls – as people created beautiful and with intention, with purpose and in need of grace. We need to begin to speak about the purpose of our bodies, how they are used to demonstrate what is in our heart/soul. How we can be more intentional about how we demonstrate love with those around us. We need to talk about what healthy sexuality looks like and what relational skills are needed to love well within a romantic partnership across all the changes and hardships of life, how we use our bodies and thoughts to either make more love in this world or make more hurt. We need to talk about how to celebrate sexual desire while single in ways that honor us and honor God. For example, we may need to discuss together if there are ways to masturbate that gratefully and intentionally celebrate our intended desire for pleasure in a way that honors God as our creator and honors us as His creation? Can masturbation or becoming familiar with your arousal cycle be an act of worship? We need to bravely walk into every conversation of sacred sexuality we have shut out and silenced for the past 1800 years.
Another quote from Sex and Soul discussed the particular challenge of this discussion on Christian campuses:
“In on-campus battles for purity at evangelical colleges, sex becomes the enemy. Outside of marriage, sex is corrosive of a pure body and heart. Sex eats away at your relationship with God and your community. Moreover, the consequences of sex are irreversible. If you have sex outside of marriage, you are, in a word, ruined.” (p. 79).
How do think Christian men and women should progress to embrace conversations and exposure to sexuality when the topic has been taboo for a major part of our lives?
Dr. Sellers: I am a believer in the loving subversive power of people who are tired of hurting, gathering in love and safety to talk about their experience and their most vulnerable hopes. Sexuality and spirituality are irreversibly woven together – when we are hurt sexually we are hurt in our heart. When we commune with God within our sacred sexuality (alone or with a committed loving partner) we can be deeply healed in our heart. God desires to meet us in this tender place – our holy of holies – but expects us to understand the sacredness of that encounter. Like the priests who prepared to enter the Holy Tabernacle on the Day of Atonement – we are called to prepare our heart, soul, and body to enter fully into the presence of God in and through our bodies with our sexuality. We need to be talking together about this and about our sexual pain and confusion.
You also talked about the way that young men and women approach sexuality in the Christian context can actually instigate violence toward self, you said:
“…There is violence in their story – violence against self, violence against their body or embodiment, violence against their sensuality, violence against pleasure and ultimately violence against the giving and receiving of love. Like a wild bird helpless and barely recognizable in an oil spill, these precious children of God have disdain for themselves – disdain for desire – disdain for expressions of love and their desire for connection – and often a silent disdain for their partner.”
How do you think men and women can learn to love their body and their sexuality in harmony with their commitment to their faith?
Dr. Sellers: To be in harmony with one’s commitment to a Christian faith one must learn to love their body. While many of us have been taught to distrust so much of who we are (our body, our genitals, our arousal cycle, our desires for joy and pleasure, our hearts longings, etc) – when we do, we stand in front of our loving gracious creator devaluing the very gifts He intentionally gave. Our core created nature is to know we are loved and our core vocational call is to speak and demonstrate love. If our story of our body is one of distrust or disdain, we must work to re-write a story of our body and our desire for pleasure in accordance to the joy with which we were created – good. We do this in the community of others seeking to do the same thing. We share our story, how we came to believe what we believed, what we hope or desire to believe about our bodies and our desires. And we love and support each other in our pain, in our healing and in our process of re-authoring a story of our body and our desire that honors us as God’s intentional creation.