I never watched the sitcom Friends much, but I came across a quote yesterday that reminded me of one of the few episodes I did watch. Monica asked a friend whom she’d begun having sex with: “Can we still be friends and have sex?” “Sure,” he replied. "It’ll just be something we do together – like playing racquetball.”
I think that pretty much sums up what sex has largely become in our culture. Racquetball. A nice form of pleasurable recreation. It's so pervasive in our culture that to call it into question -- as I will do here -- is to come across to many as moralistic, repressive, Victorian and just down-right unenlightened.
I've been doing some research on sex for my book Revolting Beauty, and what I'm finding is head spinning.
For example, did you know that roughly 65% of American teens today experience sexual intercourse before graduating from high school, while an additional 10 to 12% have experienced oral or anal sex without intercourse? (It turns out most young people today don’t regard these latter activities as “having sex”). By the time they get married, only about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men are still virgins, and the percentage that have not had oral or anal sex is even smaller than that.
Sadly, as with all other facets of American life, statistics on the sexual behavior of professing Christians don't vary much from the general populace. In fact, research suggests that being involved in an extra-curricular sport does more to lower the rate of sexual activity among teenagers than does attending church.
The stats on porn are in some respects even more mind-boggling. Revenues from the porn industry topped 13 billion in 2006, which is more than the revenue from professional football, basketball and baseball combined. For the last several years, “sex” has been the single most common word fed into internet search engines. Every second, 372 new internet users start typing adult search items into search engines. Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the United States. Close to half of all guests at major hotel chains watch adult films, accounting for nearly 70% of their in-room profits. A 2004 survey revealed that 44% of U.S. workers with an internet connection accessed porn websites while on the job. Whereas porn was once seen as a strictly male thing, today one in three visitors to porn sites are women.
Here too the evidence suggests professing Christians differ very little from the general population. For example, some recent research suggests that about 50% of all Christian men and 20% of Christian women regularly use pornography. A study of 5 Christian college campuses disclosed that 68% of the men had viewed porn during the school year. A 2000 Christianity Today survey revealed that about a third of all clergy had visited porn sites within the last year. I could go on and on.
This feels overwhelming to me. It feels completely out of control -- because it is! What implications does this have for me as a pastor? Am I really to believe that more than half of the single people in my congregation are sexually active and that half the men and a fifth of the women are into porn? It would be arrogant to think otherwise, but I also can't conceive of it.
Lord, what do we do about this?
I know that screaming shaming Bible verses at people doesn't help. Plenty of churches do this, but the stats speak for themselves. It's not what's needed.
What's needed, I believe, is that we've got to help people get free of the incessant cultural brainwashing that leads us like a herd of cows to accept that sex is no different from racquetball. We've got to help people see that sex was designed by God to be the precious sign of the most important covenant two people can make with each other: the pledge of marriage. And, perhaps most importantly, we've got to help people see that the racquetball philosophy of sex is ugly bondage while the sign of the covenant view of sex is beautiful FREEDOM.
Now -- how do we do that?
I'm working on it.
Pray for me to get God's wisdom on this...
and to not feel overwhelmed.
Walk in the way of love.